I’ve recently been reading through some of the work of Mexican born ‘street’ philosopher Manuel DeLanda, particularly his book Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy (ISVP), and viewing some of his lectures online. This has been a challenging experience for me as he draws on the mathematics and physics that influenced Deleuze (and himself), subjects that have long sine been alien to me. However, DeLanda has helped me to construct, or understand Deleuzian ontology, which is best regarded as an open whole without essences. In what follows I shall write positively about DeLanda, but in later blogs I will compose critiques of his approach.
The issue of essentialism has been something that has always played on my mind, and something I have always felt uneasy towards. However, until reading DeLanda, my criticism of essentialism has come from the realms of cultural criticism, arguing there is no essential way for people to live, demonstrated by the different cultures in the world. This type of argument would come from a social constructivist position, aiming to stress how individuals and cultures construct their own worlds; while this argument has a lot of merits, the work of DeLanda appears to offer a more concrete (and dare I say more objective) critique of those philosophers aiming to uncover essences to explain identity (e.g. uncovering an essential human nature to give an identity to man).
In ISVP DeLanda begins by giving a short description of a Deleuzian ontology:
‘In a Deleuzian ontology…a species (or any other natural kind) is not defined by essential traits but rather by the morphogenetic process that gave rise to it. Rather than representing timeless categories, species are historically constituted entities, the resemblance of their members explained by having undergone common processes of natural selection and the enduring identity of the species itself is guaranteed by the fact that it has become reproductively isolated from other species’ (ISVP, 2002, p10)
The important point is there are no timeless essences that form species and instead an acknowledgment of historical contingencies. One example could be a species, who are reproductive, living in an ecosystem are separated by a river entering into that ecosystem, which separates the species. After a period of time this separation could create two different types of species that can no longer reproduce with one another. Rather than the species being formed by a timeless category (a transcendent factor), species are considered from their form-generation in terms of ‘resources which are immanent to the material world’ (ISVP, 2002, p10). This is what DeLanda terms as ‘the idea of progressive differentiation’ (ISVP, 2002, p16), where life has the power to differentiate and become something different than it was before (the same argument made by Deleuze in Difference & Repetition). In short, there is no Being (a personal god) that provides the blue print for beings, but instead a continual becoming with no final product.
While this example may take us away from Platonic essences, Aristotle’s ‘natural states’ are not transcendent but immanent, and this is an issue DeLanda considers. The problem with Aristotelian philosophy, for DeLanda, is that while it is non-essentialist it ‘is still completely typological, that is, concerned with defining the criteria which group individuals into species, and species into genera’ (ISVP, 2002, p38). DeLanda gives the example of the botanical taxonomies of Linnaeus to illustrate Aristotelian typology in practice, which took resemblance as its departure point, and these resemblances created identities to assign individuals to an exact place in the table. The problem with this table is it constructed a natural order that was fixed and continuous, which did not allow time itself to be considered as a constructive role in the generation of types (ISVP, p38). Four elements informed this table (and many others tables): resemblance, identity, analogy, and opposition, and following Deleuze, DeLanda thinks these four categories are to be avoided. DeLanda writes:
Deleuze, of course, would not deny that there are objects in the world which resemble one another, or that there are entities which manage to maintain their identity through time. It is just that resemblances must be treated as mere results of deeper physical processes, and not as fundamental categories on which to base an ontology (ISVP, 2002, p38-39)
Simplifying this argument somewhat, we can look at the example of a identifying a particular animal. In the Linnaeus type of taxonomical system we could identify a particular animal by relating it to a gerenal form, which that particular animal would have to resemble for it to be identified as an animal. This is how the general and particular interplay, where we have an agreed (idealised) general form, which the particular gains its identity through being related to a general form. From DeLanda’s perspective this system does not go far enough, and should take into account the forces that allows for such judgements, where we should look at the individuation processes that are historically constituted. In terms of the animal we could look at how a particular animal was created as a concrete universal or how the animal became a ‘natural kind’ in the world that has its creation in history. Importantly, the species of the animal is not essential and could become extinct, which demonstrates how natural categories actually refer to historically constituted individuals that can disappear from life (e.g. dinosaurs). This process would also allow for the role of time to as part of the constructive process. The phrase ‘Always Historize!’ by Frederic Jameson seems relevant here, but in a different, and more complex manner than he intended.
In short, DeLanda argues not to focus, or begin from identities, as these identities are mere results of other forces. Following Darwin, he argues that species are born not from essences but from a particular point in time and can die from extinction. However, unlike Darwin DeLanda thinks we should consider species as individuals, and not as kinds. This moves us away from a particular instance and a general type, to one that considers the relationship between the whole and the parts. DeLanda writes:
Unlike the relation between a particular instance and a general type, the relations of parts to whole is casual: the whole emerges from the casual interactions between components and parts (ISVP, 2002, p57)
Species separation is therefore a causal relation, where something has intervened to cause reproductive isolation. The above example of the river creating two individual species from one demonstrates how this could occur.
I will write a lot more about DeLanda in the future, but I think the point of this blog entry is to argue against those people who create reason from essential features. From my perspective this is a claim for a transcendent reality that structures and provides the blueprint for life. Instead we should see identities and species as historically constituted products, but products that have no final form. I have yet to read Bergson’s creative evolution, but maybe this is the point he was arguing?