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Âûïóñê: N 100 , 2005 ã

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The Spinoza-intoxicated man: Deleuze on expression

Robert Pircey

To the extent that Deleuze tries to make substance turn on its modes, he might be seen as an even greater thinker of immanence than Spinoza. Perhaps, then, Deleuze is not just a Spinozist. Perhaps he is a more thorough-going Spinozist than Spinoza.


The Spinoza-intoxicated man: Deleuze on expression








That Deleuze’s thought is heavily indebted to Spinoza is a claim that is both

obvious and obscure. On the one hand, Deleuze says quite plainly that he is

“a Spinozist,” and that Spinoza is for him “the ‘prince’ of philosophers.”1

On the other hand, it is hard to imagine that the thinker of difference and

pre-individual singularities could have anything in common with Spinoza,

thinker of the one absolutely infinite substance and monist par excellence.

One might, under the circumstances, be tempted to divide Deleuze’s books

into two groups: those in which he speaks in his own name, such as Difference

and Repetition and The Logic of Sense; and those which deal with the history

of philosophy, such as Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza.

But to make such a division would be a mistake. Deleuze’s reading of

Spinoza, far from being peripheral to his own thought, is in fact central to it.

Indeed, I want to argue here that Deleuze’s ontology of difference cannot be

adequately understood outside the context of Expressionism in Philosophy.

I intend to show that Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense

are in large part attempts to articulate an expressionistic ontology, and that

they must be read in light of what Deleuze says about expression in his

work on Spinoza. Accordingly, what follows is divided into three parts. The

first gives an overview of Deleuze’s ontology, and shows that it invokes a

tripartite distinction among Being, the virtual, and the actual. Part Two traces

this tripartite scheme back to Deleuze’s reading of Spinoza, and fleshes out

Deleuze’s claim that it is a necessary part of an expressionistic ontology.

And in Part Three, I explain how Deleuze both preserves and modifies the

Spinozist scheme in his own work. In doing so, I try to show that Difference

and Repetition and The Logic of Sense are attempts “to make substance

turn around the modes – in other words, to realize univocity in the form of



1. Deleuze as ontologist

It is often said – indeed, it has become something of a clich´e

– that Deleuze’s texts operate onmany levels at once. In Constantin Boundas’s apt expression,

they create multiple “series,” series which “converge and become compossible”

at the same time as they “diverge and begin to resonate.”3 Thus Deleuze’s

texts contain a highly original semantics, and a theory of subjectivity, and

certain views on the relation of philosophy to political practice. It is less commonly

recognized that they contain an ontology – where ‘ontology’ means,

roughly, an account of what there is. ButDeleuze’swritings abound with ontological

claims. Difference and Repetition describes its task as the articulation

of a “philosophy of ontological difference” (DR, xix). Similarly, The Logic

of Sense insists that any genuinely philosophical inquiry eventually “merges

with ontology.”4 Deleuze’s work of the late 1960s advances an ontology of

difference – that is, a metaphysics in which differentiation and determination

are seen as the principal characteristics of what there is.

At the same time, Deleuze’s ontology is a kind of transcendental philosophy.

5 His ontological claims emerge from something like transcendental

analysis, in that they describe “not the sensible, but the being of the sensible”

(DR, 266). They are a “transcendental empiricism” (DR, 56) – “empiricism”

because their subject matter is something “which can be perceived only from

the standpoint of a transcendental sensibility” (DR, 144);6 “transcendental”

because they describe not the material world itself, but the conditions of there

being such a world. Deleuze’s ontology seeks “to determine an impersonal

and pre-individual transcendental field, which does not resemble the corresponding

empirical field” (LS, 102), but which makes the empirical field


The notion of a “field,” then, is central to Deleuze’s ontology.7 Deleuze not

only talks about a “pre-individual transcendental field;” he distinguishes three

fields in his ontological writings. Now, to say that Deleuze distinguishes three

ontological fields is merely to say that he makes three different types of ontological

claim. It is also to say that claims referring to one field have a different

status than those referring to another – that claims about (say) the material

field are fundamentally different from ones about a transcendental field. But

it is not to say that the two sets of claims concern different worlds. It is not to

say that in addition to the empirical world, there is another actual realmwhich

transcends it or from which it emanates. To distinguish fields as Deleuze does

is just to say that different kinds of ontological claim are formally distinct. A

familiar example of a formal distinction in ontology is Heidegger’s insistence

that the Seinsfrage is fundamentally different from questions about entities.

To the extent that this is so, Being and entities belong to different ontological

fields. Another example – and one Deleuze incorporates into his own work –

is Duns Scotus’s theory of virtual descriptions. Scotus maintains that some of

a material entity’s properties are virtual. They genuinely belong to the entity,

but do not correspond to any of its material features. “Unity” is an example

of a virtual property. Every entity is unified, so unity may be truly predicated

of any object; but we cannot sense an object’s unity as we can sense (say) its

colour. Virtual properties are indeed properties, but they cannot be isolated

in the material world. They are real but not actual. While they do not belong

to the same ontological field as material properties, neither do they pertain to

an extra-material world. Talk about the virtual is simply a different way of

describing the one world. Similarly, Deleuze’s talk about fields is a way of

keeping apart formally distinct types of ontological claim, without suggesting

that they describe different worlds. But what are the fields he has in mind?

Difference and Repetition invokes three fields. The ontology put forward

here consists of a tripartite scheme: two types of “repetition,” and the “difference”

that lies between them. This scheme, Deleuze argues, is implicit in

even the simplest attempt to explain what “repetition” means. We naturally

think of repetition as “difference without concept” – that is, as what appears

“when we find ourselves confronted by identical elements with exactly the

same concept” (DR, 23), such as different drops of water. But how is such

repetition possible? What must we presuppose in order for non-conceptual

difference to occur? The answer, Deleuze claims, is that this “bare, material

repetition (repetition of the Same) appears only in the sense that another repetition

is disguised within it, constituting it and constituting itself” (DR, 21).

This is the “secret subject” of repetition, a repetition that “unfolds as pure

movement” (DR, 24). Whatever this “more profound” repetition is, Deleuze

urges that it not be confused with the “bare, material” kind – that is, with

what goes on in the empirical world. He writes:

We are right to speak of repetition when we find ourselves confronted

by identical elements with exactly the same concept. However, we must

distinguish between these discrete elements, these repeated objects, and a

secret subject, the real subject of repetition, which repeats itself through

them. Repetition must be understood in the pronominal. (DR, 23)

Thus statements about the empirical world belong to a different field than

statements about the profound repetition at its heart. Moreover, there is a

third field “between” the two. A third kind of ontological claim can be made

about that which lies “between the levels or degrees of a repetition which is

total and totalizing” (DR, 287). This is the field of difference.We might also

call it the virtual field, since it has to do with ideal structures that are “drawn

from” (DR, 287) the inner repetition and that get “incarnated” (DR, 267) in

the world of objects. Deleuze denotes these ideal structures with a variety of

terms: Ideas, events, intensities, and singularities. Explaining just how these

terms are related would take us too far afield.What they all share is that they

bridge the two repetitions. Difference is “between two repetitions: between

the superficial repetition of the identical and instantaneous external elements

that it contracts, and the profound repetition of the internal totalities of an

always variable past” (DR, 287).

We find a remarkably similar scheme in The Logic of Sense. Deleuze

again speaks of a field of virtual structures, a field of difference “behind” the

empirical world. But unlike Difference and Repetition, The Logic of Sense

concentrates on one particular kind of virtual structure – namely, events.

Events are not bodies but, properly speaking, “incorporeal” entities. They are not

physical qualities and properties, but rather logical or dialectical attributes.

. . . We cannot say that they exist, but rather that they subsist or inhere

(having this minimum of being which is appropriate to that which is not

a thing, a nonexisting entity). (LS, 4–5)

Events belong to the virtual field, since they are “ideal by nature” (LS, 53)

and are not to be confused with their “spatio-temporal realizations in states

of affairs” (LS, 149). Statements about events are fundamentally different

from statements about “physical qualities and properties” (LS, 4). Events are

“not what occurs” but are “rather inside what occurs” (LS, 149). But at the

same time, Deleuze is careful to distinguish events from what he calls the

Event. Events (with a lower-case “e”) “communicate in one and the same

Event” (LS, 53). They are the “bits and pieces” of the Event, which Deleuze

calls “the paradoxical instance . . . in which all events communicate and are

distributed” (LS, 56). Deleuze seems to equate the Event with Being – he

claims it is that in virtue of which entities are. The Event occurs “Eventum

tantum for all events, the ultimate form for all of the forms which remain

disjointed in it, but which bring about the resonance and the ramification of

their disjunction. The univocity of Being merges with the positive use of the

disjunctive synthesis which is the highest affirmation. It is the eternal return

itself, or . . . one Being for all forms and all times” (LS, 179–180). So again

we have a tripartite division of ontological fields: the Event; events, or ideal

states of difference which “communicate” in the Event; and the world of

material objects, which is the “spatio-temporal realization” (LS, 149) of these

ideal events. This scheme is so similar to the one found in Difference and

Repetition that it must be the same one, with minor changes in terminology.

The Event corresponds to the “good” or “secret” repetition; thematerialworld

corresponds to the “bad” repetition, or the repetition of the same; and the field

of events corresponds to the difference lying between the two repetitions. Each

field is distinct from the other two. So statements about one have a different

ontological status than statements about another.

Thus Deleuze’s ontology is based on a tripartite distinction among Being,

the virtual, and the actual. Let me say a little more about each. First, Being

is synonymous with the Event or the good repetition. Claims about Being

are not to be confounded with claims about entities, whether actual (material

objects) or virtual (such as Ideas). As I suggested above,Deleuze understands

Being in the pronominal mode. He views it as something like expressive

agency, something like movement or force. More specifically, he views it

as the activity of differentiation8 – a destabilizing or decentring force which

shatters fixed identities. One might think of this by analogy with Heraclitus’s

primordial fire. In both cases, Being is seen as an incendiary force, a force

which makes different and makes difference. Paradoxically, it is because

Deleuze understands Being as a differentiating agency that he sees Being as

univocal. All entities arise through differentiation; to be an entity at all is to

have an “identity swallowed up in difference” (DR, 56). All entities “share”

difference. In this way, “difference immediately reunites and articulates what

it distinguishes” (DR, 170).

But to to say that Being “is” univocal is not to say that it is predicated

only of the actual – that is, of states of affairs in space and time. Like Duns

Scotus,Deleuze maintains that virtual structures are as well, though not in the

same way actual entities are. Being, Deleuze argues, should be understood

as “extra-Being, that is, the minimum of Being common to the real, the

possible, and the impossible” (LS, 180). Hence his famous insistence that

virtual structures such as Ideas are “real without being actual.”9 For Deleuze,

the former predicate has a wider extension than the latter. Nor should Being

be seen as the ground of entities, at least not in any usual sense of “ground.”

Since Being is understood as that which decentres or destabilizes – in short,

as that which “makes” difference – we might rather think of it as “a repetition

of ungrounding” (DR, 200). Deleuze wants to say, paradoxically, that the only

“ground” entities have in common is the lack of a common ground. That in

virtue of which all things are, is the activity of differentiation.

Deleuze’s second field is the virtual. Again, this field concerns the differential

states or structures which lie “between” the two repetitions, between

the secret repetition associated with Being and the repetition of the same

associated with the empirical world. The field of difference should be distinguished

from both. It is a “transcendental field which does not resemble

the corresponding empirical fields, and which nevertheless is not confused

with an undifferentiated depth” (LS, 102). The entities associated with the

virtual are all ideal structures (though “ideal without being abstract” (WP,

156)): Ideas, intensities, singularities, and events. Like Duns Scotus’s virtual

properties, these structures cannot be isolated in material actuality, though

they reveal something true of the actual. A battle, to borrow one of Deleuze’s

examples, is something real, and to say that a battle is taking place is to give

a correct description of something going on in the actual world. At the same

time, a battle is not an isolable, spatio-temporal state of affairs. It is virtual

because it is actualized in diverse manners at once, and because each

participant may grasp it at a different level of actualization within its

variable present. . . . But it is above all because the battle hovers over

its own field, being neutral in relation to all its temporal actualizations,

neutral and impassive in relation to the victor and the vanquished, the

coward and the brave. (LS, 100)

An event, like any virtual structure, is “Something” (LS, 157) without being

a thing. It is real but not localizable. Thus it is not something possible, even

though virtual structures get actualized in much the same way as possibilities

get realized. Unlike the possible, the virtual does not need to be realized,

because “it possesses a full reality by itself” (DR, 211).Moreover, to conflate

the virtual with the possible is to see the virtual as a mere image of the real,

an image which gets existence added to it. If, like Deleuze, we view Being as

that which makes different and makes difference, there is no room for such a


Deleuze’s final field is the actual, which is synonymous with ‘material

world.’ In both Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense, Deleuze

sees the material world as a manifestation of principles which, though immanent

to it, are not actually part of it. It is the actualization of virtual structures.

Deleuze therefore speaks of the actual as “an external envelope or a detachable

shell” which is “animated by the other repetition” (DR, 289) – that is, by

the Event. He also calls it the spatio-temporal realization of virtual structures.

Of course, this does not mean that the empirical world is just in space and

time, as if these were passive, indifferent media. On the contrary, Deleuze

wants to say that space and time are somehow constituted through the activity

of differentiation. Thus he speaks of “the production of existence occurring

in a characteristic space and time” (DR, 211).

We are now in a better position to understand the different types of ontological

claims Deleuze makes, and to see what sets them apart. But while

Deleuze’s tripartite scheme clarifies some issues, it obfuscates others. For

one thing, it is not immediately clear why he invokes three fields. Why not

two, or four? Moreover, Deleuze is unclear on how the fields are related.

He often suggests that they are linked causally. In Difference and Repetition,

for instance, he claims that the inner repetition “should be regarded as the

cause, of which the bare material and horizontal repetition (from which a

difference is merely drawn off) is only an effect” (DR, 289). The Logic of

Sense, however, invokes the Stoic notion of surface effects to suggest that any

causal chain linking the three fields goes in the opposite direction, with the

material somehow causing both the virtual and the Event. He argues that in

any reversal of Platonism – and he considers his own thought such a reversal

– “impassive extra-Being” becomes seen as “sterile, inefficacious, and on the

surface of things: the ideational or the incorporeal can no longer be anything

other than an ‘effect’” (LS, 7).What is Deleuze up to here? Just what relation

holds among the three ontological fields? To answer this question, I now take

a necessary detour through Spinoza’s account of expression. Doing so will

shed some light on how Being, the virtual, and the actual are related.


2. Spinoza as expressionist

It is impossible to understand Spinoza’s views on expression without grasping

the role of immanence in his thought. Spinoza’s entire philosophy could be

seen as an ontology of pure immanence. Thismeans two things. First, Spinoza

sees Being as univocal. Being “is” one, and everything that is, in so far as

it is, has a common, unitary ground. Second, that in virtue of which all

entities are is somehow in them – it is not, say, a transcendent creator-God,

or a Neoplatonic One from which they emanate. Entities manifest a ground

with which they are in some sense identical. This ground is substance – for

Spinoza, to be an entity at all is to exist “in” or “through” the one substance, to

be a modification of that substance’s essence. Nothing can be or be conceived

outside of substance. All things are “in” it. Unitary Being is immanent in its

diverse manifestations.

But what entitles Spinoza to claim that all entities are manifestations of

an immanent, unitary ground? Basically, it is his insistence that the one

substance can be understood in two different ways. Substance can be seen

from the standpoint of its essence, or what it is in itself; or from the standpoint

of its existence, or what it is in actuality. Essence and existence, though

formally distinct, are not really distinct. They are not different things. They

are, as it were, dynamically identical.10 The essence of substance is absolutely

infinite power, and more specifically, the absolutely unlimited power to exist

and generate effects. Spinoza equates essence and power at several points

in the Ethics. He states, for instance, that “God’s power is identical with his

essence.”11 Similarly, he claims that “the potentiality of existence is a power,”

and that the greater a thing’s essence, “so also will it increase its strength for

existence” (E, 53). So substance’s essence is the absolutely infinite power to

exist and generate effects. But things are not the same with respect to the

existence of substance. Substance actually exists as mode, as the “things”

which follow from its essence and which express that essence determinately.

Substance’s essence gives rise to an infinity of modes in an infinity of ways.

Thus substance actually exists not as the power to generate effects, but as those

effects. And each expresses, to the extent that it can, substance’s essence.

To say this differently, substance is both active and passive, both expressive

agency and the expressed enactments of that agency. In essence, substance

is natura naturans, or ‘nature naturing.’ It is unlimited productive force,

considered in abstraction from any manifestation of that force. But seen from

another perspective, substance is just as much the enactments of this agency.

It is natura naturata, or ‘nature natured’ – power rendered exhaustively

determinate in act. Thus natura naturans expresses itself in natura naturata.

At the same time, “the existence of God and his essence are one and the

same” (E, 63), and the possibility of viewing substance from two perspectives

does not make substance divisible or multiple. Natura naturans and natura

naturata are not different things. Rather, the former is expressed immanently

in the latter. Hence the advantage of thinking Being as power. Power is

precisely a One that is a Many. It is a unitary, “pent-up” phenomenon whose

nature is to pass over into a flux of appearances with which it is identical. Thus

we can distinguish power and its manifestations in a philosophical analysis,

but they are actually the same thing considered in different ways.12 So in

identifying substance’s essence with power, Spinoza is able to keep essence

and existence formally distinct without tempting his readers to see them as

different things. He is able to say both that natura naturans grounds and

expresses itself in natura naturata, and that this ground is identical with its

manifestations. Expression – themovement frompower to act – is the concept

Spinoza uses to develop an ontology of immanence.

Deleuze bases his reading of Spinoza on the notion of expression. Indeed,

he claims that Spinoza’s greatest achievement is his expressionistic understanding

of Being.“With Spinoza,”Deleuze claims, “univocal being ceases to

be neutralized and becomes expressive” (DR, 40). Two things about expression

particularly fascinate Deleuze. One is that in every case, “expression

presents us with a triad” (EP, 27).Whenever we speak of a power expressing

itself in act, we must distinguish three terms: that which “expresses itself,”

that “which expresses,” and that “which is expressed” (EP, 27). It is no accident

that expression forces us to distinguish three terms. In Deleuze’s view,

expression always involves three terms, and “remains unintelligible while we

see only two of the terms whose relations it presents” (EP, 27). Accordingly,

Deleuze’s reading of the Ethics – the expressionistic ontology par excellence

– is full of references to triads and triadic structures.13 He claims, for instance,

that the essence of substance cannot be understood apart from a triad of properties,

namely “perfect,” “infinite,” and “absolute” (EP, 337). Similarly, he

claims that Spinoza’s understanding of conatus is based on an “individual

modal triad: essence, capacity to be affected, [and] the affections that exermawo1760.

cise this capacity” (EP, 339). But the most fundamental triad around which

Spinoza’s thought turns is “the remarkable division into substance, attribute

and modes” (DR, 40). To view substance as expressive is to distinguish three

terms: substance, or “that which is in itself, and is conceived through itself;”

attribute, or that which “constitutes” or “expresses” the essence of substance

in a particular way; and mode, or “that which exists in, and is conceived

through,” attributes (E, 45). Deleuze, in short, understands Spinoza’s substance

in terms of three distinct fields, and argues that this understanding is

dictated by the logic of expression.

The second aspect of expression that fascinates Deleuze is that it is a

double movement, a duplicating movement. We never encounter expression

simpliciter; rather, “expression, through its own movement, generates a second

level of expression” (EP, 105). In other words, “expression has within it

the sufficient reason of a re-expression” (EP, 105). But how does expression

at the first level differ from its re-expression at the second? Simply put, the

first is a process of determination. When power expresses itself in act, it first

casts itself into some determinate form. Hence Deleuze’s description of this

movement as “formal” or “qualitative” (EP, 165). Deleuze has in mind the

relation of substance to its attributes here. Each attribute “expresses eternal

and infinite essentiality” (E, 45), but in one determinate way. Thus Thought

and Extension both express the essence of substance, but determine that

essence into different forms. Once this first expression has taken place – once

substance is considered under one attribute rather than another – substance

re-expresses itself at a second level.14 More specifically, “the attributes are in

their turn expressed: they express themselves inmodeswhich designate them,

the modes expressing a modification” (EP, 105). Each mode expresses the

power of substance, after its own fashion and to the extent that it can. So “this

second level defines production itself: God is said to produce things, as his

attributes find expression” (EP, 108).And since production is always of particular

modes, Deleuze says that “the production of modes [takes] place through

differentiation” (EP, 182–183). Thus expression comprises two movements:

one from substance to attribute, the other from attribute to mode. The first is

qualitative expression, through which substance renders itself determinate in

certain (infinite) forms. The second is quantitative expression, through which

these forms express themselves in turn through the production of particular

modes. Expression comprises both determination and differentiation.

So much for Deleuze’s reading of Spinoza. Let me now explain what light

it sheds on his own ontology.



3. Deleuze as Spinozist

Some similarities between Spinoza’s ontology of immanence and Deleuze’s

ontology of difference have, no doubt, already suggested themselves. But the

twomost important similarities parallel the twomain themes of Expressionism

in Philosophy. First, Deleuze’s ontology, like Spinoza’s, invokes a triad. Just

as Spinoza’s ontology revolves around the triad of substance, attribute, and

mode, so does Deleuze’s ontology revolve around the triad of Being, the

virtual, and the actual. And this is no coincidence. Deleuze’s ontology must

invoke three distinct ontological fields, because he, like Spinoza, understands

Being in the pronominal. He views it in terms of power or expressive agency.

Of course, Deleuze and Spinoza do not understand this agency in precisely the

sameway. For Spinoza, it is the absolutely infinite power to exist and generate

effects. ForDeleuze, it is something like the activity of differentiation, a power

of divergence or decentring to which “the entire alternative between finite and

infinite applies very badly” (DR, 264). Nevertheless, both understand Being

as a power which expresses itself in act. Consequently, they distinguish this

power both from the qualitatively different forms into which it determines

itself, and from the quantitatively different entities which actualize those

forms. For Spinoza, the determinate forms are attributes and the actualizations

are modes; for Deleuze, the forms are ideal structures such as Ideas and

events,while the actualizations are empirical entities. So for both Spinoza and

Deleuze, the attempt to view Being as expressive requires us to distinguish

three ontological fields. This tripartite scheme is dictated by the logic of


Second, Deleuze, like Spinoza, makes use of the notion of double expression.

For Deleuze as for Spinoza, “expression has within it the sufficient reason

of a re-expression” (EP, 105). When we say that Being expresses itself,

we must distinguish two stages. First, Being determines itself into certain

forms; next, those forms get actualized through the production of particular

things. In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze distinguishes expression from

re-expression by distinguishing differentiation fromdifferenciation. Differentiation

is a “formal” or “qualitative” (EP, 165) process. It is “the determination

of the virtual content of an Idea” (DR, 207), or, more generally, the process

through which Being renders itself determinate in ideal structures. Some of

these structures get incarnated in the material world through the process of

differenciation, which Deleuze calls “the actualization of [a] virtuality into

species and distinguished parts” (DR, 207). Virtual structures are forced to

differenciate themselves. Indeed, as Deleuze writes in Bergsonism, “the characteristic

of virtuality is to exist in such a way that it is actualized by being

differentiated and is forced to differentiate itself, to create its lines of differentiation

in order to be actualized.”15 For Deleuze, the actual does not resemble

the virtual, and a material entity is not a copy of the Idea it incarnates. On

the contrary, to actualize an Idea is precisely to differ and diverge from this

structure – “the nature of the virtual is such that, for it, to be actualized is to be

differenciated” (DR, 211). While organisms incarnate biological Ideas, and

social entities incarnate social Ideas, these material systems do not resemble

that of which they are the actualizations. To be an actualization in the

first place is precisely to differ from such virtual structures. So like Spinoza,

Deleuze sees expression as a double movement, the dual process of determination

and actualization. The movement from Being to the virtual parallels

that from substance to attribute; the movement from virtual to actual parallels

that from attribute to mode. Deleuze’s conception of expression is, at bottom,

a slightly modified version of Spinoza’s.

The upshot of all this is that in Difference and Repetition and The Logic

of Sense, Deleuze is working with a Spinozistic model of expression. Those

unfamiliar with Deleuze’s work on Spinoza are bound to miss important

parts of his own expressive ontology. They will fail to see why Deleuze

carefully distinguishes difference from the two repetitions that surround it,

events from the Event. They will fail to see exactly why differentiation is

not differenciation, why determination is not actualization. But to say that

Deleuze uses a Spinozistic model of expression is not to deny that there are

crucial differences between the two. There are many. For one thing, Deleuze

makes clear that actualization, as he understands it, is not realization. It is not

the process through which something merely possible has existence “added”

to it and becomes real. It is rather the process through which the virtual –

already fully real, in so far as it is virtual – differenciates itself. Spinoza,

on the other hand, seems to view natura naturans as a potential which does

get realized in natura naturata. After all, substance’s power is precisely the

power to exist. No doubt Deleuze would see it as the power to add existence

to essences that are merely possible. The distinction between virtuality and

possibility is, therefore, one rift between Spinoza and Deleuze. Another is

the way in which they understand the notion of ground. For Spinoza, natura

naturans grounds natura naturata by expressing itself in it. To the extent that

all modes are modifications of the one substance, they are all expressions of

the same “thing.” Deleuze wants to distance himself from this understanding

of “ground.” If the entities in Deleuze’s universe have anything in common, it

is, paradoxically, the activity of “ungrounding” (DR, 292) out of which they

originate. All things “share” difference. What they have in common is the

lack of anything in common. In this respect as well, Deleuze parts company

with Spinoza, while at the same time describing himself as a Spinozist.

The greatest difference between the two, however, has to do with a brief

remark Deleuze makes in Difference and Repetition. Let me close with it.

With Spinoza, univocal being ceases to be neutralized and becomes

expressive; it becomes a truly expressive and affirmative proposition.

Nevertheless, there still remains a difference between substance and the

modes: Spinoza’s substance appears independent of the modes, while the

modes are dependent on substance, as though on something other than

themselves. (DR, 40)

Deleuze thinks that although Spinoza is the philosopher of immanence, his

treatment of substance still contains a residue of transcendence or emanation.

Spinoza, in Deleuze’s view, privileges substance over mode. How so? One

possible answer – and perverse as it may seem – is that Spinoza philosophizes

before Heidegger, Deleuze after. Despite Deleuze’s apparent indifference to

Heidegger, he does seem to accept the validity of the ontological difference.

Deleuze carefully distinguishes Being from entities. But Spinoza does not,

and cannot, because he identifies Being with substance. Substance is. Spinoza

thinks of it as a being, albeit a being fundamentally different fromthe “beings”

we call modes. For Spinoza, there is a sense in which substance and modes

are both “things,” in so far as both are. But the former is more real, so it is

a bigger and better thing. This violates what Deleuze sees as the first rule of

an ontology of immanence – namely, that Being be “equally present in all

beings,” and that entities not be “defined by their rank in a hierarchy” (EP,

173). Spinoza, despite his preoccupation with immanence, seems at the end

of the day to think that Being is not equally present in all entities. He seems

to rank entities hierarchically, and to rank substance more highly than mode.

Deleuze will have no truck with this view. He is adamant that substance

“be said of the modes and only of the modes” (DR, 40). As I suggested

above, he wants “to make substance turn around [its] modes” (DR, 304). He

does not want the realm of particular empirical things to be subordinate to

anything. This, I take it, is what he is up to when he bridges Being and the

actual with the virtual (instead of with, say, attributes). As I have repeatedly

urged, virtual things are, but are not actual. They are “surface effects” (LS,

4) on the actual. The only actual things there are belong to the third field, the

material field. The first and second fields do not “contain” any actual things

– since Being is not, and virtual structures are not actual – so there can be no

question of anything having “more” Being than material entities. There can

be no hierarchy of entities. Being “is” equally present in all entities, and so

“is” truly univocal.

I have tried to show that Deleuze is a Spinozist, and that certain themes

in his work make sense only in a Spinozist context. I have also suggested

that part of what draws him to Spinoza is the ideal of pure immanence –

that is, Spinoza’s search for an ontology in which Being is said equally of

all things. But Spinoza, in Deleuze’s view, cannot realize this goal as long as

he privileges substance over mode. To the extent that Deleuze tries to make

substance turn on its modes, he might be seen as an even greater thinker

of immanence than Spinoza. Perhaps, then, Deleuze is not just a Spinozist.

Perhaps he is a more thorough-going Spinozist than Spinoza.




I am grateful to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of

Canada, which generously funded the research leading to this article through

a doctoral fellowship. I am also grateful to Keith Ansell-Pearson, Constantin

Boundas, Nick Land, and Steve Watson, who made helpful comments on an

earlier version of the article.




1. Gilles Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, trans. Martin Joughin (New York:

Zone Books, 1992), 11. Hereafter cited parenthetically as EP.

2. Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (London: Athlone, 1994),

304. Hereafter cited parenthetically as DR.

3. Constantin Boundas, “Deleuze: Serialization and Subject-Formation.” Gilles Deleuze and

the Theater of Philosophy, ed. Constantin Boundas and Dorothea Olkowski (New York:

Routledge, 1994), 101.

4. Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans.Mark Lester and Charles Stivale, ed. Constantin

Boundas (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), 179. Hereafter cited parenthetically

as LS.

5. For a very different view, see Nick Land, “Making it with Death: Remarks on Thanatos

and Desiring-Production.” The Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 24/1

(Jan. 1993) 66–76.

6. My emphasis.

7. For a detailed and recent discussion of this point, see Deleuze’s “L’immanence: une vie .

. .” in Philosophie 47 (Sept. 1995) 3–7.

8. For now, I do not distinguish differentiation from differenciation.

9. Gilles Deleuze and F´elix Guattari, What is Philosophy?, trans. Graham Burcell and Hugh

Tomlinson (London: Verso, 1994), 156. Hereafter cited parenthetically as WP.

10. I am indebted to D.V. Maxwell on this point. Indeed, my entire reading of Spinoza owes

a great deal to Professor Maxwell.

11. Spinoza, The Ethics, in Works of Spinoza, Volume 1, trans. and ed. R.H.M. Elwes (New

York: Dover, 1955), 74. Hereafter cited parenthetically as E.

12. As will be obvious, my treatment of power owes a great deal to Hegel’s discussion of

force and the understanding. See the Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V.Miller (Oxford:

Oxford University Press, 1977), 79–103.

13. For an extensive list, see EP 337–342.

14. Of course, the first expression need not be thought of as temporally prior to the second.

15. Gilles Deleuze, Bergsonism, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (New York:

Zone Books, 1991), 97.




Man and World 29: 269–281, 1996. 269

(c) 1996 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.


Department of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556-0368, U.S.A.


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