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Deleuze’s Transcendental Empiricism, Part 2

On a plane of immanence, we create reality from within the chaosmos.

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

Thought as Genetic Process

Deleuze outlines a process for the synthesis of thought that is rooted in difference-in-itself: a genetic model that proceeds from an encounter with intensity in sensation to the genesis of virtual ideas, through to an intensive individuation process resulting in an actual idea or concept.

In his theory of the faculties, sensibility, imagination, memory, and thought all communicate a violence from one to the other. The “free form of difference” in intensity moves through each faculty and communicates its violence to the next.

Intensity sets off the process of thinking; it is a temporal force, the genetic condition of extensive space. Virtuality, duration, difference, are all characteristic of idea formation.

The virtual Idea is a multiplicity, the process of progressive determination of differential elements, differential relations, and singularities.

Individuation is the process of the actualization of the virtual Idea.

Two Moments of Individuation

Individuation involves two moments: “differentiation” within the virtual and “differenciation” from virtual to actual.

Differentiation is a continual process of pure difference, a force of difference surging through all of reality, a continuum of difference-in-itself.

Differenciation is the conversion of temporal force from the virtual continuum into the discrete, the spatial, the actual.

But the individuated actual is never a fait accompli, never static. The process of differentiation at the level of pure difference continues within and is inherent to the actual; and the actual can be reabsorbed into the virtual.

Differenciated actualities continue to evolve; change inhabits and informs all differenciated things.

From Virtual to Actual and Back Again

Differentials in intensities are the pure unconscious givens of receptivity, the flux of sensible intuition which is conceptualized as continuous multiplicity. Differentials in intensities are limit concepts, ideas that do not represent objects, but how objects arise.

The power of imagination synthesizes these differentials, and the perception of an object is the reciprocal determination of those differentials. Differential intensities are the virtual reality of a flux of sensations, which are then synthesized further into thought in one process involving no duality of sensible and intelligible.

Multiplicities are formed which, as they step over the threshold of consciousness, are perceived as integrated and unified, actual ideas.

The Being of the Sensible

In effect, Deleuze finds Kant’s noumenal to be internal to the phenomenal. For Deleuze, the noumenal is the being of the sensible, and can only be encountered or intuited, not represented.

The process of encounter which forces us to think is not a sensible being, but the being of the sensible. It is not what is given, but that by which the given is given. The encounter is forced into the sensible realm by intensity. Intensity is real, but insensible in terms of representation, unthinkable in terms of concepts.

The real transcendental condition of the given is the virtual Idea, within which intensities flow and surge. Conceptual thought is not applied to already given objects, but instead, thought is forced on us in the encounter. The virtual Idea refers to the genetic and temporal process of pure difference based in intensity.

There is no external conditioning of the object of experience, but only internal generation and determination of the real object. There is no duality between concept and given.

Deep within the interior being of experience, there is only pure difference-in-itself, where differences in kind affirmatively determine and individuate things.

Unmediated Experience

Differentials in intensities determine the virtual Idea. But the virtual Idea is not conscious, pure difference is not conscious. The virtual Idea, pure difference, is the condition of real empirical experience; it is in the field, and it is temporal.

The virtual Idea can be encountered or intuited, but not sensed or conceptualized.

It can only be accessed via unmediated experience beyond the realm of conscious sensation.

The synthesis of difference generates experience and thought, and it is not mediated by a transcendental subject. Instead, the subject, the “I,” is created as a result of this process of pure difference.

The Formation of the Subject

Deleuze argues for an “impersonal and pre-individual” field in which the subject is the result or product of differential passive syntheses. Together, the passive syntheses form a differential field within which subject formation takes place as an integration or resolution of that field.

Subjects are the patterns of these multiple and serial syntheses which fold in on themselves producing a site of self-awareness. The resulting subject in turn acts as an immanent identity pole producing empirical identities by active syntheses.

For Kant, the self is a transcendent subject that functions as the locus for a principle of identity, subordinating difference-in-itself. For Deleuze, the self is not defined by its identity but by a process of becoming.

The self is in constant flux; is a threshold, a door, a becoming of multiplicities.

The Fractured Self

The self in the sense of identity is fractured, in a continual state of dissolution and resolution, via a process of difference: individuation within the virtual continuum, and between the virtual and actual.

The subject is constructed, like all of reality, on an immanent plane of consistency, what Deleuze refers to as a “plane of immanence.” Absolute immanence is in itself, it is not in something or to something. It does not depend on an object and does not belong to a subject.

When immanence is no longer immanence to something other than itself, then it is the plane of immanence. And the self is an effect of becoming on that immanent plane.


Deleuze cites Jorge Luis Borges’s famous story, “The Garden of the Forking Paths,” in which such a virtual world is described in a story by a Chinese philosopher named Ts’ui Pên:

In all fiction, when a man is faced with alternatives, he chooses one at the expense of others. In the almost unfathomable Ts’ui Pên, he chooses — simultaneously — all of them. He thus creates various futures, various times which start others that will in their turn branch out and bifurcate in other times.

Deleuze refers to choosing all simultaneous options at once as a world of “incompossibilities.” The world is no longer a continuous world defined by its pre-established harmony. Instead, divergences, bifurcations, and incompossibles must now be seen to belong to one and the same universe; a chaotic universe in which divergent series trace endlessly bifurcating paths, and give rise to violent discords and dissonances that are never resolved into a harmonic tonality; as per Joyce, a “chaosmos.”

The Nomadic Self

The self is not closed in upon by a compossible and convergent world it expresses from within. The self is now torn open, and kept open through divergent series and incompossible ensembles that continually pull it outside itself. The “monadic” subject, as Deleuze puts it, becomes the “nomadic” subject.

Incompossibilities and dissonances belong to one and the same world, the only world, our world. But they belong to our world as its virtual register.

We can think in terms of incompossibilities if we can set aside the assumption that thinking has a natural ability to recognize the truth. Then we attain a “thought without image,” a thought without representation, a thought always determined by problems rather than solving them:

[The dogmatic image of thought]… presupposes codes or axioms which do not result by chance, but which do not have an intrinsic rationality either. It’s just like theology: everything about it is quite rational if you accept sin, the immaculate conception, and the incarnation. Reason is always a region carved out of the irrational — not sheltered from the irrational at all, but traversed by it and only defined by a particular kind of relationship among irrational factors. Underneath all reason lies delirium, and drift.

On the plane of immanence, a subject or object is not simply within a larger system, but folds from that very same system, functioning and operating consistently upon it, with it and through it, immanently mapping its environment, discovering its own dynamic powers and kinetic relations, as well as the relative limits of those powers and relations; and in so doing, changes the system itself:

This is what it’s like on the plane of immanence: multiplicities fill it, singularities connect with one another, processes or becomings unfold, intensities rise and fall.

The Open and New

On the plane of immanence, reality folds, unfolds and refolds. And our self-consciousness and our experience of reality folds, unfolds and refolds.

There are infinite possibilities for all things and all forms of life on the plane of immanence: new sensations, new modes of existence, new creations. Infinite becomings.

We now can see the parallels between Deleuze’s ontology and epistemology. The process of virtuality-actuality, of intensity-virtual Idea-individuation, in a field of differentials-singularities-multiplicities, is ontological and epistemological all at once. Reality and our experience of reality are caught up in the same process.

Free thought sparked in the immanent field unites ontology and epistemology, being and thought.

Direct experience and participation in the immanent field by an immanent subject is one and the same as the real processes of the immanent field itself. Our self-consciousness is nothing more than that: a singularity or moment in an ever folding, unfolding and refolding process moving from intensity to intensity, forming multiplicities and dissolving back into the pure and temporal forces of difference-in-itself.

To think ontologically in terms of pure difference and repetition, to view reality this way, is to participate in thought as pure difference and repetition.

Reality and our experience of it are one, in a state of becoming: a flow in which the new is created and the open self rises and falls.

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