Becoming and Difference
Gilles Deleuze and Creative Philosophy
What if life could be continuously fresh and new, light and free?
What if even during our most difficult moments we had a light source within, a strength that could help us see beyond the darkness? What if every day we woke up, we could live life in the open, where everything is alive, affirm our lives and everything around us?
To truly think and feel in terms of limitless possibilities and opportunities. Not just for a fleeting moment, but every day and for the rest of our lives. Surely, this would qualify as fulfillment over a lifetime. But how could we truly be this?
How might one live a fulfilling life?
If one canvasses all the important questions we ask ourselves, isn’t this the one that covers it all? There are a plethora of questions we ask from time to time and at different stages of our lives: Who am I? What do I want in life? how can I live a happy life? What is a good life, a valuable life lived? What is the meaning of life? How can I live a meaningful life?
And for as many questions as might be posed, there are an exponential number of answers. Words like: pleasure, security, ambition, success, status, wealth, health, reason, knowledge, prudence, temperance, honesty, courage, loyalty, honor, autonomy, freedom, spontaneity, adventure, creativity, happiness, faith, spirituality, romance, family, empathy, love.
All of these in one way or another fall under the scope of a fulfilling life: everyone in one way or another wants to lead a fulfilling life and no one wants to lead an unfulfilling life.
But where does that get us? Not very far. All we’ve managed to do is generalize and abstract in such a way as to not get any closer to what is meant by a fulfilling life.
Introducing Becoming and Difference
I my writings I will argue for one vision that speaks to the question: how might one live a fulfilling life? And in doing so, I will implicitly argue against a number of other visions. And I will likely be silent on many visions that might also be valid and important. No one person can have a comprehensive view in this regard, and I make no attempt at that here.
The vision I want to focus on is in the title of this article: A fulfilling life is a life of becoming. It is a life led as pure difference. But what is becoming? And what exactly is a life a pure difference?
Becoming is a process, a transformation, a discovery, a threshold, a door, a journey, a mystery. Becoming is not being, not static, not defined or extended, not self-evident, not traceable nor provable. Becoming is not within the realm of judgement, whatsoever. And it has no beginning nor end in time, as we have come to accept the meaning of that term.
Pure difference is internal, temporal, ongoing, dynamic, creative, change, flux, genesis, overflowing. Pure difference is not a comparison, not an identity, not a dissimilarity, not relational, not spatial, not reducible, not derived, not an effect, not empty. It is not the space or time between things or events.
It will take some time to develop what I mean by becoming and pure difference and apply it to a life lived well. This article is an outline and introduction to the approach I will take.
What I am proposing is a framework for the radical freedom to live life to its fullest: a new way of envisioning the universe, a new value creation process, a new method for evaluating what is important in our lives, a new way of acting out our lives.
My hope is that you will gain a new way of understanding reality and value, rooted firmly in this life, here and now. One that serves to provide an empowering perspective in approaching life’s ups and downs.
This is perhaps the secret, to make something exist, and not to judge. If it is so distasteful to judge, this is not because everything is of equal value, but on the contrary, because everything that is of value can only create and distinguish itself by defying judgement. — Gilles Deleuze, Essays Critical and Clinical
Gilles Deleuze (1925–1995) was a French philosopher who might be characterized as both “continental”and “post-structuralist.” He was continental insofar as he did not write in the tradition of Anglo-American analytic philosophy. And he was post-structuralist insofar as he rejected the notion that any theory could form an objective and comprehensive grand narrative of life.
Underlying all of his writings is the sense that there can be no discovery of a comprehensive and objective truth about reality. We can only aspire to remarkable perspectives on life and the universe we live in.
And permeating his writing is the assertion that all of life is flux. There is only change in the universe. Hence, we obtain to a remarkable perspective on the universe, and our lives, when we think in terms of process.
What did Deleuze propose that would turn ontology, or the question of being, on its head? In his magnum opus, Difference and Repetition, he provides us with a clear answer as to the nature of his project:
That identity not be first, that it exist as a principle but as a second principle, as a principle become; that it revolve around the Different: such would be the nature of a Copernican revolution which opens up the possibility of difference having its own concept, rather than being maintained under the domination of a concept in general already understood as identical.
In other words, Deleuze inverts the traditional relationship between identity and difference. More commonly, difference is considered to be derivative of identity. That is, “difference” is the difference between two or more already prior identities.
Deleuze demonstrates the opposite: that identity is the result of difference. In doing so, he wholesale changes our understanding of reality, of thought and of ethics, which in turn has a fundamental impact on any vision we might propose for leading a fulfilling life.
Fulfillment as Pure Difference
If difference is primary and identity derivative, what does that mean for fulfillment?
Deleuze takes the approach that difference permeates everything as a force of becoming. Everything is produced by difference, an expression of all of the diversity that exists and continues to be created in the universe. The universe is pluralistic, continuously changing, but is infused by a monistic expression of change or internal difference. And the expression of difference is temporal.
Being is temporal. Being is process. Being is becoming.
And if that illuminates our real experience of life as it unfolds, and resonates with how we view the universe as it unfolds, then we must also come to view fulfillment as a process.
Fulfillment is expressed in the ongoing genesis of life.
A philosophy of difference is a progressive view that at its core embraces creativity and experimentation, and abandons the quest for the discovery of truth and objectivity. It is a living philosophy in the context of a world in which there are no comprehensive true and objective statements about life. There are only perspectives.
In order to grasp this, we need to stand back and understand what it is to be a human being, an individual in a modern context, and we have to put to rest some old answers to old questions. Questions posed and answers provided during the Enlightenment: that man presides over nature, that progress is the exclusive means by which we achieve excellence, and that reason is a priori and transcendent of experience.
Deleuze’s philosophy is aimed clearly at the question of how to lead a fulfilling life, but it also breaks down the borders and walls traditional philosophy has constructed around itself over time. Deleuze’s ideas easily translate into fields such as psychology and some of the world’s spiritual wisdom traditions. Ideas from psychology, such as consciousness, meaning and narratives, and from spiritual traditions, such as Buddhism, that together support an overriding vision for how to construct a vital life, a life of unmediated experience, life as a personal work of art.
Open or Closed
Life is an exploration in creativity, not something to objectify or fear. Life evolves and is bursting with creativity, provided we open our eyes and engage in it with a spirit of acceptance and adventure. We either participate in this evolution, or we wither away.
The eternal return of difference affirms life and, in any case, is quite simply inevitable. Life progresses and the way we think and experience life transforms, regardless of whether some in society would care to admit so or not.
Life cannot be reduced to an image seen through a static, backward-looking and deterministic magnifying glass held up from a throne on high. There will always be the freedom to explore the new and the open.
Tradition feels safe, but search deeper and you will find it is hollow and meaningless. As meaningless as the majority. When you look closely enough at your own life, there is no tradition and there is no majority. There is only this life you have, to live, now.
There is circumstance and history, but we participate in history, and in doing so can change it. There is no prescription, and there are no rules. Nothing to cling to. Life is open and new, or nothing at all.
The Flow of Life
Why does Deleuze demonstrate for us the derivative nature of identity? He does so to make the point that life is a process of eternally recurring difference. Pure flux is the only reality, and the only idea upon which we can participate in the flow of the universe.
Process reflects reality because it incorporates genesis, the creativity of all that there is. Deleuze posits difference-in-itself as the core idea that enables us to emancipate as the fullest version of what we can be as human beings.
If we embrace pure difference, we can become all that we can be, and be all that we can become, now and everyday of our lives.
We access our natural ability to experiment and play in the flow of universal life. When we encounter the unmediated intensity of life, the being of sensibility, we are empowered to create with life.
I disengage from my projects, I release, and I am free. Free to invent again. I am free to participate in a universe becoming, one that I create and one that creates me. I engage again, in pure experimentation, pure change, pure creativity. I feel the energy and power of pure difference surge through me, overflowing in desire and productivity.
The Primacy of Experience
The overriding theme I put forth here is that we must create for ourselves a fulfilling life. It is not a question of finding or discovering a life that is fulfilling.
And fulfillment is not a goal. It is not an endpoint or state of affairs. It is an act, a process of acting. Fulfillment unfolds in the act of creating. Fulfillment is in the creativity itself, not the creation.
Life as a work of art is the act of creating, not the effect: the process of creating life as a work of art.
The ongoing act of creating life requires stepping into the pure force of life, pure difference, the temporal.
Just as art can transform us, we can transform ourselves by affirming our lives as a work of art, evolving on transformed expanses of time measured in terms of pure difference.
Fulfillment realizes within us as we recognize the primacy of experience, and the contingent nature of closed psychic and social wholes. When we open up to the life that passes through us, and resist objectifying our own specific life, we are energized with pure desire, creativity and radical freedom.
I hope you enjoyed this article. Over the coming months I will be posting articles on fulfillment, and a vision of fulfillment that is linked to becoming over being, and the force of difference over identity.
I hope you will join me.
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.