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Deleuze and History 2

Perspectives on Deleuze: History as Opening

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Deleuze’s critique of the philosophy of history focuses in large part on Hegel’s highly influential teleological vision of history.


Teleological theories of history up until Hegel’s time were predominantly influenced by religious views; that there is a divine plan and purpose to history.

Hegel replaced the intervention of divinity with his idealism of reason.

He viewed history as the structural unrolling of reason; a tripartite dialectical process of thesis-antithesis-synthesis, guided by reason and moving closer to an ultimate purpose of pure reason.

Through contradiction and negation, reason is the driving force that leads humanity to the realization of unified reason, an objective consciousness of the rational unified whole of all of reality.


Deleuze’s starting point is Nietzsche.

Nietzsche denied that there was any historical truth; that history is nothing other than a power struggle of values. For Nietzsche, history is not something that we can study objectively, but instead is something we experience and live under the burden of.

Nietzsche rejected any attempt to systemize history. There is no meaning or purpose to history.

History is a chaotic power struggle and we can only interpret history from perspectives. The narrator of events is intrinsic to the story.

The will to power is all there is, and it can free humanity to become all it can be.


Nietzsche’s views influenced philosophers of history that came after him.

Existential thinkers, such as Heidegger and Sartre, insisted that the being of the person experiencing history is intrinsic to an understanding of history itself.

Post-modern thinkers, such and Foucault and Derrida, took the view that authoritative historical narratives are constructed in order to justify existing biases and power structures in society.

Deleuze was particularly influenced by Michel Foucault:

History as a series of past events that has congealed over the present, hanging over it in time, in the form of a present-day power-based subjectivity.

Grand Narratives

As such, history is contingent in nature and does not participate in a grand narrative that is inescapable

There is the necessity of the present, which is informed by the past; but there is freedom in the present to break from historical power narratives.

Deleuze similarly viewed social reality, social formations, as contained in the present, but rejected any narrative, teleological or otherwise, that would suggest there is some structure or order to history. In response to Hegel:

We have seen all that this valorisation of the negative signified, including the conservative spirit of such an enterprise, the platitude of the affirmations supposed to be engendered thereby, and the manner in which we are led away from the most important task, that of determining problems and realizing in them our power of creation and decision… History progresses not by negation and the negation of negation, but by deciding problems and affirming differences. (Difference and Repetition)

Theories of history grounded in structure, find that structure in something beyond history itself.

The transcendent nature of structural theories of history comes into full relief in the conclusion that there is an order to history, an inescapability from the order of history, an identity that history obtains.

Structural theories have a conforming influence, reflexively shaping the present with their views of the past; they set limits on the past, present and future.

History as Pure Difference

For Deleuze, the past informs the present, but only virtually, as duration.

The past as duration on the plane of immanence overflows onto the present, but only as the pure change that creates actualization.

Duration is pure difference informing actualization, and it returns eternally as the affirmation of difference.

The present is informed by necessity, but it is an effect, not primary.

The present is who we are, and who we are ceasing to be. The virtuality we experience now, and the actualization we create, is who we are becoming.

Primary are the intensities and singularities bursting through and informing social formations.

Social formations striate and territorialize the virtuality of history in a necessity of the present. But pure difference and repetition deterritorialize social formations, making way for the open, the new.

There is freedom in the present as actualization, freedom to create the original and diverse.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Thanks for reading!


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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


Jagged Tracks Music, Process Philosophy, Progressive Ethics, Transformative Political Theory, Informed Thrillers, XLawyer