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Jakub Zdebik (University of Western Ontario/ Freiburg)

Constraint and Structure: the organization of a philosophical system


The undercurrent of violence Gilles Deleuze’s philosophical corpus resides in its construction.  In the relationships that he places himself with other thinkers when writing about their philosophies, one could hardly think in terms of a seduction that lead to their coupling on paper, rather a surprise, unreciprocated sodomy occurs, to paraphrases Deleuze’s own description of his critical activity.  The monstrous birth, that he also acknowledges, is the outcome of this coupling, sometimes little monsters get created in vitro in the form of monographs when Deleuze perpetrates his distorted misreading.  On a more particular scale, Deleuze’s view on epistemology is compared to an act of restructuring that has the subtlety of the reshaping of a skeleton of a living organism through the brutal act of breaking its bones in order to make them fit into the shape of a completely different life form.  But this reshaping has larger implications for his philosophical system since the same dynamism that is released from the force of the epistemic manipulation can be read as a blueprint to the way that Deleuze’s own system functions.  Deleuze’s interpretations will be compared to Michel Foucault’s more sober and subtle work on epistemology from which a structuring method can be extrapolated out of his readings of the history of biological taxonomy.

It is at the level of the organism that Deleuze, through a flexible assessment of the concept and the idea, focuses on Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, a nineteenth century biologist.  While Foucault sides his epistemological model on the theories of Cuvier, a contemporary of Geoffroy, Deleuze aligns himself exclusively with the discoveries of Geoffroy’s abstraction as a necessary step towards the development of the Idea of the Organism.  Geoffroy who believes that through the abstraction of structure a vertebrate could be folded into the shape of a cephalopod.  In fact, for Deleuze the opposition is clear between these two personas: Cuvier is the man of Power and Terrain while Geoffroy is the nomadic thinker of speed.  A thematic reading of poststructuralist theory, this paper wants to filter out from this opposition a way of thinking of the violence of epistemological formations through abstraction and the constraint, the bone breaking force that rips out of nature the necessary structures from which thought and philosophy can emerge, a violence that makes us see the world and think about it. 


Vacuoles: an introduction to thinking biologically about political repression.

In guise of introduction, I chose to focus on a biological metaphor that Deleuze annexes to a programme of political resistance.  And so, Deleuze constructs a conceptual space out of the biological model of vegetal cells, vacuoles, which serve at first look as a silent meditative space in the midst of social turmoil.  It is a vacuous space structured by silence and expression.  He writes in Le couple déborde a short essay in Pourparlers:  “The problem is not one of letting people express themselves, but to furnish them with vacuoles of solitude and silence from which they will finally have something to say”(Pourparlers 177). 

“Vacuoles of silence and solitude” is a telling space. A tiny space within the cytoplasm of a cell containing water.  A space within the cell that in the original Latin means empty.  A tiny, empty space, certainly but a space that articulated in Deleuze’s ongoing interest in the history of evolutionary biology, opens to not only all of the conceptual mechanics of folding, unfolding, refolding, but also to a direct notion of style in writing: the orginary fold of the cell, the originary egg, a model towards which Deleuze aims to bend his own writing as a process.  In biological terms, the vacuoles are particular to vegetal cells.  They form a sort of negative skeleton.  Filled with water, the empty vacuoles are actually what gives the plant its shape, what makes it hold up straight.  In the larger context of Deleuze (and Guattari’s) philosophical models, the rhizome, the famous diagrammatic concept that not only illustrates a non-hierarchical philosophical model but also, because diagrammatic, spills into a model of politics and society, this rhizome is held up by these very vacuoles.

And these vacuoles are then a space in the midst of political turmoil from where thought can rise up and be expressed.  Still in Pourparlers, Deleuze continues: “The forces of repression do not prevent people from expressing themselves, on the contrary, they force them to express themselves”(Pourparlers 177).  This is indeed a compact formula:  the forces of repression do not prevent, they encourage.  It is a manipulation of the negative and positive dimensions of expression and silence, where a silence is not a lack of expression, or a capitulation, but a forced, imposed silence pressures the individuals caught in a network of society, formulate a resisting form of expression.  

Repression has clear political overtones.  When people are repressed, they express themselves. Deleuze then, makes constraint productive, productive like the negativity that he seeks to erase, to make a politics emerge instead.  And the politics of language that emerges is one that Deleuze and Guattari never stray far from.  The same politics that is the elusive programme behind Foucault’s writings that Deleuze explicitly conceptualizes in the form of mapping in the book that he wrote on his friend’s work.  Deleuze and Guattari’s notions of tracing and mapping are present as an undercurrent from which the mechanism of constraint emerges as an organizing, structuring device.  And hence the politics involved in tracing and mapping infuse déborde with another meaning: déborder des lignes, missing the outline, the tracing.

Repression and constraint have a clear place in Foucault’s late writings on the history of sexuality.  But for our purposes here, an earlier version of constraint as it operates in thought formation, elaborated on by Foucault coincidently in a passage where he discusses epistemological shifts that occur in the context of botanical classification, will be addressed.  When the flower or plant observed by the botanist is sketched out, black on white, ink on paper, it results in a positive constraint.  Thus, the concept of tracing in The Order of Things is described by Foucault as the motion between the observable object passing into language through the structures present in graphic representations.  The structure that enables intelligibility operates through constraint.   “By limiting and filtering the visible, structure enables it to be transcribed into language”(Order of Things 135).  At the crux between the visible and language, Foucault places structure as a device that functions by constraining: as a limiting and filtering mechanism.  Yet even as he is able to pinpoint exactly what occupies this terrain between the visible and language, and through which process it operates, this structuring mechanism functions spatially: there must be a space between the observable world and the expressing language that is occupied by structure as a mechanism, a filter that makes things around us intelligible. 

The notion of constraint that functions in Deleuze as a structuring principle is found in Mille plateaux in between tracing and mapping.  The specific separation between these two notions seems at first an opposing division that favours one process over the other.  The tracing operates by constraint, repeating what is already manifest, whereas the map is a device for reaching unexplored counties, regions that are not known (Mille plateaux 21).  Yet, as Deleuze explains in his work on Foucault, both are necessary for the formation of diagrams, engines of thought that permit not only the movement between visual and textual realms (that could be summarized in tracing and mapping), but also between the comprehensible and the incomprehensible.  What is crucial here are the spatial elements that are suggested, especially in the specific geographical connotations.

Tracing operates through blind repetition, through a process of constant skipping back onto the outline of the object that it traces.  Tracing functions by constraint, keeping in mind that constraint is etymologically the root of machine: “Tracing is rather like a photo, a radio that would start to elect or isolate that which it has the intention of reproducing through artificial means, with the help of dyes or other processes of constraint”(MP 21).  Mapping, on the other hand, opens up undiscovered spaces, expanding the terrain covered by thought so that it spills out into unexplored regions. 


Embryonic sketches and the dynamism of folding ideas.

In Mille plateaux, Deleuze and Guattari relate a Dogon myth about how the Blacksmith came into existence.  The myth serves to illustrate their concepts of organism, machinic assemblages, and stratification.  The body of the blacksmith becomes an organism under the continuous effects of a machine, or conceptually, under the machinic assemblages that organize the stratification, which can be understood as a pause in a state of flux that is the ensemble of differing historical, social, economical, natural events. Perhaps Kant’s definition of the organism in Opus Postumum can quickly clarify the relationship that Deleuze and Guattari see between the organism and the machine.  “Organism is the form of a body regarded as a machine –i.e. as an instrument (instrumentum) of motion for a certain purpose.  The internal relationship of the parts of a body, whose purpose is a certain form of movement, is its mechanism”(21:185).  And so, they write, the legend goes: “The weight of the hammer and the shock of the anvil broke [the blacksmith’s] arms and his legs, at the level of the elbow and the knee that he didn’t have until then.  He received the articulation proper to the new human form that would from then on spread on the surface of the earth and that was destined for work.  In view of his work, the blacksmith’s arms bent” (MP 56).  The forces of constraint in the relationship of the mythical unarticulated body to the machinery of the hammer and the anvil restructured the body into an organism as it was subsequently engaged into a relationship with the outside elements and structured in a way as to fulfill a specific purpose.

This structuring is what happens at the embryonic level of the living creature, as the embryo is just a sketch at that stage, waiting to become functional.  And so through a series of predestined constraints it is to take the specific shape, but this shape will then become diagrammatically an organism as the embryo is always already meant to fulfill some sort of operative function within a larger be it social or political network.  Embryonic space is for Deleuze the sketch of the organism as an epistemological organization.  The embryo is diagramming  its own space.  It is a diagramming in that sense since it is repeating genetically a model, yet it is open to a potential.  Yet, the embryo as an epistemological model functions as a chimera.  “The embryo is a sort of phantasm of its parents; every embryo is a chimera, capable of functioning as a sketch and of living that which is unliveable for the adult of every species.  It undertakes forced movements, constitutes internal resonances and dramatises the primordial relations of life.” (D&R 250)  Returning the notion of diagramming, the embryo functions as a sketch since it undertakes forced movements, repeating what it is genetically programmed to do, in effect operating like a tracing that enacts a blueprint, and at the same time, as it is thus forced to repeat, it is also a chimera since, like a dream, it has not yet mapped what it has not lived.  Already, Deleuze would like the embryo to be diagrammatically plugged into a life that is social through its potentialities.

But it is at the level of the repressive force and the movement that it generates that Deleuze dwells in his discussion of the history of anatomy and this is his interest in the mechanics that can be inferred at an abstract level from the discoveries of the anatomists.  Something of an avant-goût of a theory of diagrams, through his deductions of anatomy and organism, Deleuze deploys an architecture in movement: it is the juncture points that are of major importance, because what is crucial within the development of an organism is the dynamics that fill it like a breath of life.  “A whole kinematics of the egg appears, which implies a dynamic” (D&R 214).  The dynamics within the architecture of the organism are of course hung on the skeletal frame of space and time and are further articulated through the determination of orientative element that carries difference within it.  “Types of egg are therefore distinguished by the orientations, the axes of development, the differential speeds and rhythms which are the primary factors in the actualisation of a structure and create a space and a time peculiar to that which is actualised” (D&R 214).  Different types of eggs are distinguished by the different orientation of developmental axes, and soon, for Deleuze, this is the determining factor of the actualization of a structure.  For Foucault, who evidently considers a whole different century as his ground of investigation, structure allows the passage of the visible into the textual, of the observed into language. But Deleuze here seems to supplement the notion of structure, admittedly within the limits of epistemology of anatomy, through a redoubling of the notion of space onto the place of structure within the process of classifying.  If Foucault discusses the notion of method that he distinguishes from system, Deleuze disregards these categories completely and instead opts for a method as folding and folding as system.  Folding, which Deleuze will fully express in his philosophical assessment of Leibniz, in Différence et répétition is originally located in the very material matter of the skeleton and its articulation.  The fold is also considered here as a passage.  The passage in question is an articulation at the level of the materiality of the organism.  “The discussion finds its poetic method and test in folding: is it possible to pass by folding from Vertebrate to Cephalopod?  Can a Vertebrate be folded in such a manner that the two ends of the spine approach one another, the head moving towards the feet, the pelvis towards the neck, and the viscera arranged in the manner of Cephalopods?”(D&R 215).

Dynamism is what accounts for the formation of a typology.  Through dynamism between one type and another, a passage is formed that brings together different types.  A passage joins together different types and creates a network between typological elements.  In effect, creating system through the method that comes out of a dynamism.  Dynamism then functions in two different ways:  one, it determines the differentiation of types through explicitly spatial directions; two, in an inverse motion, it brings these differences together: the dynamism as a passage between constraint and structure (D&R 216).


Power and terrain, speed and the nomad: movement towards abstraction

Deleuze and Guattari write that epistemology is not innocent.  It is a brutal business where vendettas are not rare.  In this battle for a biological model of thought, they polarize Cuvier and Geoffroy around the figure of Napoleon from whom they are trying to gain favour.  And so Cuvier, for Deleuze and Guattari, is serious and violent whereas Geoffroy is nice and clever, both using their strengths in order to convince the authority on the importance of their respective models.  Their thoughts are also opposite: Cuvier thinks inside of an Euclidean space whereas Geoffroy thinks topologically.  And so, for Deleuze and Guattari, Geoffroy is a great artist of folding. They align his method to topological mapping, that unfolds animals into rhizomes, unhierarchized models that can be folded and refolded into one another.  His method is important for Deleuze and Guattari, because through such an approach, when one is mapping unknown counties, one is bound to run into monsters, that Geoffroy constructs and gives a place to in his system.  Cuvier, to continue the comparison, “reacts,” as Deleuze and Guattari writes, “in terms of photos and the tracing of fossils”(MP 63).  Obviously hinting at the mapping / tracing dichotomy, Geoffroy and Cuvier are not be taken as rivals in this context, but rather as two epistemological models that operate, one through an unbridled line of flight, even if contained within a system, and the other through constraint and structure.  Ultimately, however, what leads Deleuze and Guattari to consider Geoffroy the genius of the two, is the fact that he is able to articulate specifically the elasticity that permits the movement between constraint and structure in the first place.  And caught up in this dynamic passage is the notion of abstraction.

But some years earlier, in Différence et répétition, it was at the level of the organism that Deleuze, through a flexible assessment of the idea, favoured Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire.  While Foucault in The Order of Things mentions Geoffroy in connection to the organization of the organism in Cuvier, Deleuze deals exclusively with Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire’s abstraction as a necessary step towards the development of the Idea of the Organism.  In a less polemical manner than stated in Mille Plateaux, Foucault writes on Geoffroy and his claims to abstraction: “The internal link by which structures are dependent upon one another is no longer situated solely at the level of frequency; it becomes the very foundation of all correlation.  It is this displacement and this inversion that Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire expressed when he said: ‘Organic structure is becoming an abstract being… capable of assuming numerous forms’”(The order 263-64).   Stopping on the notions of structure and abstraction, Foucault reiterates the ideas that were part of his assessment of the structuring mechanism of thought.  Abstraction is the necessary step to move from the observed object into its systematized form.  Here, the dynamic flux that Deleuze is interested in Geoffroy is taken up by Foucault as the dynamic force behind the drive towards structure: “The space of living beings pivots around this notion, and everything that until then had been able to make itself visible through the grid of natural history (genera, species, individual, structures, organs), everything that had been presented of view, now takes on a new mode of being” (The order 263-64).  Through the dynamic force that is unleashed by this unbridled model of abstract organic manipulation, possibilities of a thought of a model of structure emerge. In fact, this very dynamism and its violent shocks bring into being the very possibility of a new being, an abstract being.

In Geoffroy’s model, Deleuze focuses on the bone structure breaking and folding and the way that dynamism that emerges from these very breaks and violent reconfigurations of species.  It makes for a diagrammatic model of the skeleton that can fold from one species into another.  The implications for Deleuze’s own view of a system are enormous.  Here, Deleuze is able not only to demonstrate the flexibility of a systematization at an epistemological level, but also the flexibility of epistemology itself: Deleuze is able to isolate the element that is responsible for the movement from one epistemological order to the next at a material level that is reconfigured through abstraction. 

What permits him this flexibility is the notion of Idea that he reconstructs from Kant through a structuralist approach.  Considering Kant his most worthy enemy, Deleuze plays a facetious trick and gains a victorious satisfaction out finding in a system he praises for its solidity and rigidity a concept that will provide him with the most fluid element in the systematic articulation of thought. Rearticulating Kant’s definition of Idea through the forms of time and space and determining its function within Kant’s philosophical system, as an element that resides in-between the categories, Deleuze writes:  “The Idea appears as the system of ideal liaisons, that is to say the differential relations between reciprocally determined genetic elements”(D&R 182).  For Deleuze, Kant’s Idea functions as a mechanism, a system, or network or ideal relations.  Deleuze then deploys in more detail the mechanism of the idea, its internal circuitry: “A multiple ideal connection, a differential relation, must be actualised in diverse spatio-temporal relationships, at the same time as its elements  are actually incarnated in a variety of terms and forms.  The Idea is thus defined as a structure” (D&R 183).  From these diverse elements, Deleuze infers that the Idea defines itself as a structure: “A structure or an Idea is a ‘complex theme’, an internal multiplicity –in other words, a system of multiple, non-localizable connections between differential elements which is incarnated in real relations and actual terms”(D&R 183).  Therefore, as an Idea is spatially deployed as a structure, it forms the system, and when Deleuze then discusses the ‘biological Idea,’ he is in fact defining a system that has been structurally formed, as in the case of the organism.

Second example: the organism as biological Idea.  Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire seems to be the first to have defended the consideration of elements that he called abstract, taken independently of their forms and their functions.  …  These purely anatomical and atomic elements, such as small bones, are linked by ideal relations of reciprocal determination: they thereby constitute an ‘essence’ which is the Animal in itself (D&R 184-85). 


The differential relations between pure (abstract) anatomical elements become the point of focus of animal figures.  Animal figures become the incarnation of pure differential anatomical relation.  The space of the in-between becomes the abstract element that then takes on the concrete flesh of different figures.  The abstract element is what accounts for the difference between different figures.  What is of interest for Deleuze in these historical anatomical models is the way that Geoffroy was able to make bones into spirits, to deconstextualise Hegel rather abruptly, and therefore creat an ideal realm out of physical matter that will then be the base for his own philosophy of transcendental empiricism.

            As Deleuze says, abstracion does not mean immaterial, and here the abstract is a matter that is articulated through a necessary mechanism of dynamic forces on which the whole passage from the material into the systematic hinges upon.  A dynamism that is present in Deleuze’s nimble method of concept construction.  Material objects making themselves liquid at the level of Ideas so that they fit into the tight passage between objects and constitute a loose system  of thought.