The Ultimate Kernel of Deleuze’s Ontological Proposition: Univocity of Being

With Deleuze the Cartesian mind-body dualism has been replaced by body-language dualism. Without being too insistent about it at this initial stage I would like to hint at where the relationship between these dualisms is heading. I propose, therefore, what Deleuze has already pointed out, namely a new possibility of investigating the nature of dialectics in the context of the relationship between language and its affective quality, what he calls the sense-event. As he puts it in his Cinema 2: Time-Image, Deleuze eventually comes to realise that neither the grounds of mind-body dualism nor those of body-language dualism are sufficient to theorize a progressive movement towards a new mode of signification.

The interval of movement was no longer that in relation to which the movement-image was specified as perception-image, at one end of the interval, as action-image at the other end, and as affection-image between the two, so as to constitute a sensory-motor whole. On the contrary the sensory-motor link was broken, and the interval of movement produced the appearance as such of an image other than the movement-image. Sign and image thus reversed their relation, because the sign no longer presupposed the movement-image as material that it represented in its specified forms, but set about presenting the other image whose material it was itself to specify, and forms it was to constitute, from sign to sign. (Deleuze, Cinema 2 33)

“The event considered as non-actualized (indefinite) is lacking in nothing. It suffices to put it in relation to its concomitants: a transcendental field, a plane of immanence, a life, singularities.” (Deleuze, Pure Immanence 31) What we encounter with Deleuze is therefore a replacement not only of mind-body dualism with body-language dualism, but also a beyond of both, a trinity is at work; body-language-event. This event is the sense-event and it is here that what is meant by meaning becomes relevant. Referring to Klossowski’s book on Nietzsche, Deleuze points out the passage from intensity to intentionality, from sign to sense.

There is in Klossowski an entire “phenomenology,” which borrows from scholastic philosophy as much as Husserl did, but which traces its own paths. As for the passage from intensity to intentionality, it is the passage from sign to sense. In a fine analysis of Nietzsche, Klossowski interprets the “sign” as the trace of a fluctuation, of an intensity, and “sense” as the movement by which intensity aims at itself in aiming at the other, modifies itself in modifying the other, and returns finally onto its own trace. (Deleuze, The Logic of Sense 298)


One of the meanings of meaning is signification: what does an object/subject signify? The other meaning of meaning is significance: what makes an object/subject significant? Common to both meanings of meaning is this question: what difference does the object/subject make in sensibility? What does it change in the sensible world with its words and actions? At stake here is the emergence of new sense not only out of non-sense but also out of the old sense, that is, a repetitive explication of a new sense within the old sense with a difference. The new sense always appears in the form of an absurdity at first, but in time, through repetition and persistence this absurdity appears in a new light and becomes new sense. Absurd is not the same as non-sense or absence of sense, but the non-sense inherent in sense, and hence in-between sense and non-sense. In and through the absurd the unconscious manifests itself revealing another realm of consciousness which resides in-between the subject and the object. This consciousness is the becoming of being, a (w)hole in process, always incomplete and yet already (w)hole, a non-all. Being is an incomplete idea of wholeness in the process of becoming present. The pre-subjective impersonal consciousness in-between being and non-being generates the space between past and present out of which the future emerges. The event initiates the emergence of being out of non-being, what Deleuze calls a static genesis, the driving force of becoming. This emergence, however, has neither a beginning nor an end, and therefore being is itself the becoming impersonal of self-consciousness; “I am all the names in history,” says Nietzsche.

The dissolved self opens up to a series of roles, since it gives rise to an intensity which already comprehends difference in itself, the unequal in itself, and which penetrates all others, across and within multiple bodies. There is always another breath in my breath, another thought in my thought, another possession in what I possess, a thousand things and a thousand beings implicated in my complications: every true thought is an aggression. It is not a question of our undergoing influences, but of being “insufflations” and fluctuations, or merging with them. That everything is so “complicated,” that may be an other, that something else thinks in us in an aggression which is the aggression of thought, in a multiplication which is the multiplication of the body, or in a violence which is the violence of language – this is the joyful message. For we are so sure of living again (without resurrection) only because so many beings and things think in us: because “we still do not know exactly if it is not others who continue to think within us (but who are these others who from the outside in relation to this inside which we believe ourselves to be?) – everything is brought back to a single discourse, to fluctuations of intensity, for instance, which correspond to the thought of everyone and no one.” (Deleuze 298-9)

The bounds of possible experience forces the subject to imagine itself as a thinking being. The orientation of thinking is thereby born by way of constituting the self as vision-in-one a la Laruelle wandering in a field towards the supersensible beyond possible experience. The self is given by itself an image of what it is to think in relation to the thing-in-itself. (Deleuze, Difference and Repetition 176-7) The need to venture beyond the limits of possible experience is in turn constituted by the self in such a way as to reclaim the unthinkable from transcendence. The unthinkable is situated within the immanent field of being as a fractured I, a split self. All conceptual thought begins as such, as an unthought within thought, an internally constituted external world. The non-philosophical cause of philosophy, the unthinkable source of thought, that which is actually not, is thus a virtual condition of possibility for the generation of a life already past, always here and yet to come at the same time. It is almost there that we recognize the immortal subject as the eternally returning prodigal son without a visible father to see him coming from beyond the life-death-drives.

We will say that THE plane of immanence is, at the same time, that which must be thought and that which cannot be thought. It is the nonthought within thought. It is the base of all planes, immanent to every thinkable plane that does not succeed in thinking it. It is the most intimate within thought and yet the absolute outside-an outside more distant than any external world because it is an inside deeper that any internal world: it is immanence… (Deleuze and Guattari, Difference and Repetition 59)

The non-external outside and the non-internal inside is where thought encounters its being. The being of thought and the thought of being within and without the field of transcendence and the plane of immanence is the space-time within and without which the production of thought gives birth to the generation of being and inversely. If being requires being conceived, and since, as Schopenhauer puts it, the eye cannot see itself unless there is a mirror in front of it, an idea worthy of the name of truth can only be generated in an through an overcoming of the physical and the metaphysical presuppositions alike. The passage from transcendental idealism to transcendental empiricism takes place when and if the creative act is turned into a generic act. Here comes the difference between qualitative and quantitative modes of change and how they can be disjunctively synthesized.

Perhaps this is the supreme act of philosophy: not so much to think THE plane of immanence as to show that it is there, unthought in every plane, and to think it in this way as the outside and inside of thought, as the not-external outside and the not-internal inside –that which cannot be thought and yet must be thought, which was thought once, as Christ was incarnated once, in order to show, that one time, the possibility of the impossible. (Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy? 59-60)

The being of the sensible cannot be represented because it is different from the sensible being itself. (Deleuze, Difference and Repetition  176-80) The sense and the non-sense are split in such a way as to situate the source of the given to the realm of ideas which can neither be known nor experienced but can be thought. (Ibid. 191) God begins to emerge as an idea not externally constituted but internally generated. We have already turned towards an ontology of eternity in time. We determine God as a regulative idea first and foremost. This internal determination already situates the infinite object within the finite subject. The real, the non-being is thereby placed within the temporal dimension of being human. God as an intuitive idea contains human as that which it has created. (Ibid. 194-5)

happy deleuze


We hope the reader can now see how the self generates here a regulative idea suitable for thinking the infinite. The self is thereby retroactively given to its passive receptivity as an active subjectivity in the last instance.

It would be wrong to confuse the two faces of death, as though the death instinct were reduced to a tendency towards increasing entropy or a return to inanimate matter. Every death is double, and represents the cancellation of large differences in extension as well as the liberation and swarming of little differences in intensity. Freud suggested the following hypothesis: the organism wants to die, but to die in its own way, so that real death always presents itself as a foreshortening, as possessing an accidental, violent and external character which is anathema to the internal will-to-die. There is a necessary non-correspondence between death as an empirical event and death as an ‘instinct’ or transcendental instance. Freud and Spinoza are both right: one with regard to the instinct, the other with regard to the event. Desired from within, death always comes from without in a passive and accidental form. Suicide is an attempt to make the two incommensurable faces coincide or correspond. However, die two sides do not meet, and every death remains double. (Ibid. 259)

Deleuze invites exploration of a text in the way of explicating a progressive potential within the text which had hitherto been consciously or unconsciously ignored or neglected, or even repressed. This theme is linked to Deleuze’s life-long concern with Nietzsche’s thought of eternal recurrence and difference qua repetition. The emergence of the unthought within thought requires an encounter with the already thought in such a way as to expose its inner dynamics and hence show what’s inside it as its outside. That is, what the thought seems to be excluding as its other constitutes its subject as self-identical. It is through the exclusion of the other that the subject becomes itself. If we apply this to subject-object relations it becomes obvious that the split between the subject and the object is itself a construct, but nevertheless a necessary construct for the subject’s subsistence. In-between the subject and the object, then, there is an unfillable gap that is constitutive of both the subject and the object.

There has only ever been one ontological proposition: Being is univocal. From Parmenides to Heidegger it is the same voice which is taken up, in an echo which itself forms the whole deployment of the univocal. A single voice raises the clamour of being… In effect, the essential in univocity is not that Being is said in a single and same sense, but that it is said, in a single and same sense, of all its individuating differences or intrinsic modalities. Being is the same for all these modalities, but these modalities are not the same. It is “equal” for all, but they themselves are not equal. It is said of all in a single sense, but they themselves do not have the same sense. (Ibid. 35-6)

For Deleuze new thought can only emerge as a curious absurdity, as in the Beckett case. That is because the new thought, although it comes from within the old thought, is beyond the interiority and the exteriority to a context in its primary emergence. This means that new thought always appears to be a non-sense, for no thought can be meaningful without a context. But non-sense is not the absence of sense. It is, rather, sense with its own particular context which it creates in the process of emergence from out of the old context. Being without the predominant context makes the thought seem absurd, non-sense, but not meaningless, for meaningless means absence of thought.

Consciousness becomes a fact only when a subject is produced at the same time as its object, both being outside the field and appearing as “transcendent.” Conversely, as long as consciousness traverses the transcendental field at an infinite speed everywhere diffused, nothing is capable of revealing it. It is expressed, as matter of fact, only when it is reflected on a subject that refers it to objects. This is why the transcendental field cannot be defined by the consciousness which is coextensive with it, but withdraws from any relation nevertheless. (Deleuze, Pure Immanence 26)

In this light we now see more clearly what Deleuze is aiming at with his disjunctive synthesis of transcendence and immanence leading to his transcendental empiricism. Empiricism starts from the material world rather than from the metaphysical world which it sees only as a product of the representations of experience through language. In fact, it knows no world other than the material world, and even if it does, it prioritizes the physical world over the metaphysical world. Experience of the world before subjectivation is what Deleuze is trying to access. Since reaching the pre-subjective field of partial objects is possible only through language, and he knows that, he says that we have to produce that pre-subjective field which juxtaposes the transcendental field and the plane of immanence as “one Being and only for all forms and all times, a single instance for all that exists, a single phantom for all the living, a single voice for every hum of voices and every drop of water in the sea…” (Deleuze, The Logic of Sense 180)

Reference Matter

DeleuzeG. Pure Immanence: Essays on A Life, trans. Anne Boyman (New York: Zone Books, 2001)

Deleuze, G. The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990)

Deleuze, G. Cinema 2: Time-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (London: Continuum, 2005)

Deleuze, G. Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (London: Continuum, 2004)

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. What is Philosophy? (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994)


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