Desire as connection with the flow of difference-in-itself
Gille Deleuze’s conception of desire as unconscious and pre-individual is linked with his overall conception of life. For Deleuze, life is more than organic life. Life is an impersonal and inorganic power that goes beyond lived experience.
Life is an ontological / ethical concept.
Deleuze incorporates the logic of multiplicities in his philosophy of life.
Life is the genesis of multiplicities, in which the multiple must be made and is never given in itself. The production of the multiple involves intensities forming pure singularities and establishing relations or syntheses between them so as to produce the variable and open whole.
Life is a process of producing singularities and placing them in continuous variation. Life is a power of creation capable of inventing infinite relations between singularities.
Life is infinitely vital and infinitely innovative.
But this process is pre-individual, unconscious to a unified subject. To be sure, it is not mystical; it is real, but virtual.
The closest we can get to sensing the virtual is by immersing our desire in the process of creativity and experimentation.
An individual is a specific moment in a multiplicity, the actualization of a set of virtual singularities. But the virtual forces in which singularities combine and recombine are pre-individual.
It is the pure virtual process on the plane of immanence that drives one’s life forward.
The self is not an identity but a process of becoming.
And at the limit, the individual as subject dissolves and passes entirely into the virtual chaosmos (a process Deleuze refers to as “schizophrenization”).
Affects and Percepts
In a process of becoming, singularities encounter one another and connect in infinite ways. The becoming is in the pure relation between singularities. It is in these relations that Deleuze locates “affects” and “percepts.”
Affects and percepts are pre-individual singularities that run through a life; they are life’s genetic elements understood in terms of pure difference; they are intensities of pure difference.
Affects and percepts are ontologically prior to affections and perceptions. Affects and percepts are the virtual becomings of affections and perceptions. They are becomings that overflow and go beyond the actualization of a life.
Affects and percepts are the stuff from which desire is formed.
Desire and Power
Affects and percepts increase desire, which in turn increases the power to act.
When desire channels pure difference through to our power to act, we experience the genesis of the expansion of life, unmediated creativity and transformation. Desire is the flow of difference-in-itself and repetition-for-itself that passes through a life.
Desire runs through life and propels it through a process of becoming.
The Immanent Plane
A life is constructed on an immanent plane that is none other than relations of affects and percepts. And the effect, the individual as multiplicity, the individual as vitality, is a composition in flux, a zone of “indiscernibility.”
This is to be contrasted with the individual as subject, the individual actualized, organized into organs and functions, clinging to identity.
Only by releasing the subjective within (the tendency to transcendence), and passing through the death or dissolution of the subject, to access virtual forces (which are the active forces of a mode of existence), can one go to the limit and achieve true individuality.
Individuality is never constant and always changing: true individuality is driven or empowered by pure difference.
The Body Without Organs
The correlate of the dissolution of the subject in the body is what Deleuze refers to as the “body without organs.”
The model for the body without organs is the egg, an intensive field of thresholds and movements.
The body without organs is life itself, an intensive vitality that traverses the organism. It is not an embryo of life as such. It is the real, the now, the intensive reality of life.
The body without organs is a concept that highlights the pure intensities of life that in turn translate as desire overflowing, and are capable of connecting and reconnecting in infinite ways.
The pure intensities of life are not locked down in the framework of an organism.
The body without organs is our reservoir of infinite creativity. In a state Deleuze and Guattari refer to as “delirium,” we can experience the relational intensities that are the becomings of the body without organs, the experience of desire as it produces and creates the new.
The Ethics of Desire
Whether we express life in terms of virtual forces or the body without organs, we are doing ethics and ontology all at once.
The health or activity of a mode of existence is the capacity to affirm the power of life, and to transform in accordance with forces encountered.
A sickly mode of existence cuts itself off from the power of action or transformation, and judges life from the perspective of transcendent values it adopts against itself. A healthy mode of existence lives through the impersonal forces within it and blows out the blockages of guilt, shame, ressentiment and vengeance.
Herein, perhaps, lies the secret: to bring into existence and not to judge. If it is so disgusting to judge, it is not because everything is of equal value, but on the contrary because what has value can be made or distinguished only by defying judgment. What expert judgment, in art, could ever bear on the work to come? (Essays Critical and Clinical)
The Good Life as Immanence
Life and how to live a good life is always only a process of immanent production and creation that operates by way of experimentation with the unknown. Death is imprisonment under a transcendent principle of judgement.
To live well is to fully express one’s immanent power, to go to the limits of one’s potential, to participate in the flow of desire that is the genesis of becoming.
To express one’s immanent power over a lifetime is to lead a life of experimentation and creativity; immanent value creation and evaluation in a infinite process of becoming. To do immanent ethics is to immerse in reality as pure difference and repetition, to think in terms of pure difference, to create a new language to express difference-in-itself.
A life created on the plane of immanence is subjectless, neutral, preceding individuation, immanent to itself; specific but impersonal; alive in the virtuality and singularity of becoming:
We will say of pure immanence that it is A LIFE, and nothing else… A life is the immanence of immanence, absolute immanence: it is complete power, complete bliss… A life is everywhere, in all the moments that a given living subject goes through and that are measured by given lived objects: an immanent life carrying with it the events and singularities that are merely actualized in subjects and objects. (Pure Immanence: Essays on a Life)
I hope you enjoyed this article. Thanks for reading!
Excerpt from my forthcoming book, Becoming: A Life of Pure Difference (Gilles Deleuze and the Philosophy of the New) Copyright © 2021 by Tomas Byrne. Learn more here.