Thoughts And Ideas
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Thoughts And Ideas

The World as Immanence

Rediscovering the vitality in and all around us.

Vincent van Gogh, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When we immerse in immanence, that which creates us, we are nourished with the vitality to create ourselves. When we sense, feel, intuit and think the immediacy of our relationship and connection with the world, a universe alive opens up to us:

A universe of pure spontaneity, diversity, evolution.

Spinoza

The concept of immanence was most fully developed by Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677). Immanence is the opposite of transcendence: there is only one substance in the universe and no substance that transcends it. Spinoza’s primary postulate in The Ethics is that this one substance, whether we consider it God or Nature, thought or extension, is in everything; and everything that exists is a modulation of this substance.

Spinoza rejects a theory of the “emanation” of substance, and develops a theory of the “expression” of substance. Under a theory of emanation, God is the first substance and the universe emanates from Him, but is not Him, and is therefore of another substance. But for Spinoza, there is only one substance, and it expresses itself in attributes, which for humans can only be either thought, or something extended in the universe.

Attributes are active and dynamic expressions of substance. Attributes in turn are expressed in modes, ie., modifications of attributes. And modes make up everything in the universe. But substance does not create attributes, and attributes do not create modes. Attributes and modes are all expressions of one substance that constitutes all of the diversity in the universe.

Enter Deleuze

Deleuze takes this theory of expression of substance as his starting point, but creates his own interpretation of Spinoza’s philosophy. Deleuze applies the term univocity to Spinoza’s immanent ontology. Univocity of being is the notion that there is only one indivisible substance of Being, no differing layers or levels of Being, no divisions or hierarchy of Being. Deleuze argues that in order for there to be a thoroughgoing theory of expression of substance, it must be accompanied by the concept of univocity:

The significance of Spinozism seems to me to be this: it asserts immanence as a principle and frees expression from any subordination to emanative or exemplary causality . . . And such a result can be obtained only within a perspective of univocity. (Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza)

It is at this point that Deleuze turns Spinoza’s philosophy on its head. While Deleuze adopts Spinoza’s concept of immanence, he interprets Spinoza’s notion of expression as temporal and not spatial. For Deleuze, expression is a process, and as a process there is no longer a need for the concept of “substance as thing” in a philosophy of immanence.

What is immanent and univocal is not substance as thing, but the process of expression itself. But if not expression of substance as thing, then expression of what exactly?

Difference

According to Deleuze, univocity and expression is of a single temporal process, the process of differentiation. Univocity is a single sense of Being, but Being itself is a process of difference, in a purely modal or differential universe.

Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

That is, there is only one Being in the universe and it is of this universe and it is expressed in an infinite number of modes. That Being is not a thing, but a process of difference, a becoming. Being is becoming. Difference is the single sense of everything that exists in the universe.

Being is, univocally, difference, and a univocity of difference is summed up in Deleuze’s formula:

Pluralism = Monism.

The One, as a process of becoming, is expressed in the Many, is of the Many, produces the Many; and the One is internal difference or difference-in-itself.

There is no one substance as thing, only an always-differentiating process, in what Deleuze calls an origami cosmos, always folding, unfolding, refolding. Substance as process is the foldings, unfoldings and refoldings of the universe.

The substance of the universe is process, and the process of expression is of an animated universe in which Being is becoming.

Why Does This Matter?

Everything is of the one field of immanence, which is difference expressed. So, what kind of world is this? It is a world of infinite change and creativity.

The forces of difference are the energies that thrash through everything there is in an open whole. Expression of difference is the power of all things, all life broadly conceived, including us, to unfold creatively.

Change or difference is not merely the empty space between things, but more fundamentally runs through things, constitutes things.

Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

Imagine an undifferentiated egg, a mini cosmos, a nebula of energy. But over time the egg differentiates, creates its own change, until one day, at one moment, it consists of differentiated parts.

In one sense, all Deleuze is saying is that reality needs to account for that change. If we focus only on the differentiated egg and compare its parts, we have overlooked the most fundamental aspect of reality. Reality is not just what is.

Reality is becoming, and it is open ended.

Life is an expressive and open whole: the creation of differentiating forces colliding and relating and connecting, folding and refolding, to produce the new in an ever changing universe.

We can relate to this in our own lives, during those moments when we come out of ourselves and take a leap of faith. We are touched by the pure force of difference during those moments when we let go of identity and our familiar surroundings and jump into adventure, forgetting who we are and sensing we are forever changed.

In those moments when we are driven by forces within us that are pre-individual, intuited and not a matter of reason, we connect with the forces of difference within. Deleuze, then, simply asks us to imagine the entire universe informed and constituted by that same process of change.

Immanence restores our place in the universe, brings the universe back to life. We are no longer separated from the universe, but part of it, and we participate in its process of creativity.

If we open up to the creativity and life in everything in the universe, we regain life itself.

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!

Tomas

Please join my email list here or email me at tomas@tomasbyrne.com.

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.

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Tomas Byrne

Tomas Byrne

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Jagged Tracks Music, Process Philosophy, Progressive Ethics, Transformative Political Theory, Informed Thrillers, XLawyer tomas@tomasbyrne.com