This is a quick post Jon Roffe’s review of Nathan Widder’s Reflections on Time and Politics in the latest issue of Parrhesia. I do not have time for a substantial post. I want to briefly point out an alternative reading of Deleuze that relates to Roffe’s final point in his review:
My final point concerns the status of the individual and identity in Widderâ€™s account. I think that the central thread of Widderâ€™s analyses â€“ the primacy of individuation as a process subordinated to temporal diremption â€“ is both a good reading of Deleuze and a convincing ontogenetic account. However, the danger in such a reading is that identity is cast as entirely insubstantial.
Despite the fact that he indicates at the start of the work that â€œto hold that identities are semblances of stability is not to suggest that they are unimportant or dispensable,â€ (p. x)6 Widder sometimes7 seems to flirt with just such a position at a number of points. For example, of the project of an ontology of sense, Widder writes (at 107):
In this ontology, the generation of surface sense is accompanied by illusions of identity, which metaphysical philosophy has always considered the sense of being but which has always remained
abstract and inadequate to the task. Exceeding the sense given by metaphysics and identity, however, is another sense structured by concrete difference, in which identity is no more than a superficial
In reducing identity to no more than a superficial effect, Widder runs the risk of evacuating reality from the product in trying to place it on the side of the productive mechanism, thereby rendering the regime of identity not just secondary but inconsequential. Ironically, this brings Widder close at points to endorsing the reading of Deleuze proposed by Alain Badiou, which would make of the actual, the individual, the regime of identity nothing but epiphenomenal flares on the surface of virtual One, an irony that is particularly striking given Widderâ€™s powerful rebuttal of Badiouâ€™s The Clamor of Being.8 It is only by (correctly, I would maintain) asserting the significance of both â€˜halvesâ€™ of Deleuzeâ€™s ontology that we can avoid both Badiouâ€™s Scylla (the posit of the irreality of the actual and the individual) and Peter Hallwardâ€™s Charbydis (the posit of the elusive status of the virtual).
(Diremption means ‘a violent tearing apart’.)
I have enjoyed Widder’s writings since he was a productive member of the old Spoons D&G email list and I would trawl through the archives of the list reading the threads of discussion within which Widder would take part. Rather than ‘actual’ ‘identity’ as the end point of an individuation process pertaining to what can only be considered a ‘thing’ — and therefore the ‘event’ defined in Heideggarian terms — and the ‘virtual’ a liquidated totality as the two poles which frame the ontogenetic process of becoming there is a far more useful way to approach this.
I have been concerned with the problem of scale of events for some time and the point I’d like to make is that the ‘individual’ is not the most appropriate scale of event relevant for any kind of political analysis. Maybe I am naively misreading Joffe and Widder and ‘individual’ refers to more than a neo-Heideggarian ‘thing’.
Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘assemblage’ is a way to discuss complex arrangements of virtual and actual relations on scales that are both ‘bigger’ and ‘smaller’ than any actualised entities in the world. This is relevant because it is the role of intellectuals to articulate (in Stuart Hall’s sense) individuations happening on scales that exceed the language afforded by everyday discourse.