Deleuze and the Prepersonal

By Colwell, C | Philosophy Today, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

Deleuze and the Prepersonal


Colwell, C, Philosophy Today


The dissolution of the subject has been one of the staples of continental philosophy for the last half century or so. This dissolution has been asserted, denied, championed, and bemoaned by various thinkers across the philosophic, literary, and political spectrum. What has received less attention is the question of what the subject is dissolving into, of what is left in the wake of the dissolved subject, the fragmented Self, the cracked I. Moreover, this question involves not only what becomes of the subject but also what becomes of the correlative entities that the subject has fundamental relations to, namely, the Other and community. One of the more promising ways of addressing this problem lies in Gilles Deleuze's notion of the prepersonal. The prepersonal functions as both that which constitutes the subject and that into which the subject dissolves. What I will do here is to explore this notion and the correlative notion of the Other that Deleuze offers. Following that I shall examine the notion of a prepersonal community and the possibilities and dangers that that presents.

As a propadeutic let me sketch out how we become who we are and what freedom is for Deleuze. The short answer to the first question is that we are produced, or actualized, by series of prepersonal singularities that are not contained by the individual so formed. As to the second question, freedom exists in the field of the prepersonal and not in the field of the individual or personal. These sketches, to be sure, are promissory notes at best-cashing them out will be the bulk of this exercise. But they suffice for the moment to gesture to the image of the subject, the Other, and the community towards which we are bound. If we are constituted by a field of prepersonals that are not themselves personal (and not contained by the subject), then, to a great extent, we are all composed of the Same (albeit through a differential repetition of the Same that precludes us from becoming that). The distance between the Same and the Other is reduced such that the Other is not Other than me but an Other which I myself am. Moreover, the question of freedom here does not involve what I choose, since I do not have the faculty of free choice. At best, that which acts freely is what chooses within me, what wills within me.

Having said all of that let me now turn to defining the admittedly slippery terms of Deleuzionary discourse that I have deployed in an effort to sketch out this view of the self and its Other. We must first recognize that in our time Deleuze is the philosopher most opposed to explanations in vertical terms of height and depth. For Deleuze there is no transcendent realm or term to which we can turn for a ground or foundation (whether that be Being, God, or the Forms) nor is there any depth of the self or the world that can explain all (no unconscious or economic explanation of reality). Reality is a series of intermeshing surfaces that interact and produce effects on one another in the composition of both human and nonhuman existence. Neither the unconscious nor Being exist at any vertical distance from the surface of our empirical life. The prepersonal must thus be thought of as something empirical, something that lies at the same level as the personal or individual, something co-present and active in our lives rather than a mythical or metaphysical element that lies at such a vertical distance from us, so that turning to it is an exercise in futility.

Let me now turn to the constitution of the subject. Again, the subject is formed by the differential repetition of series of prepersonal singularities. The prepersonal is a field of forces, wills to power, that resonate with one another, that interact in ways that produce effects on one another, that enter into combinations with one another. Sexual drives, the surfaces of the body, aggression, one's internal organs, emotions, experiences, thoughts, sensations are all prepersonal. …

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