Thursday, April 17, 2008

Thoughts on Simulacrum

[*Sorry about the missing references for this post]

Arguably, simulacra have been misunderstood, in philosophical terms, since Plato. For Plato the production of simulacrum represents the move away from the real and into unreality. Overall, Plato regards simulacrum as merely pretenders of the real that appear as (bad) copies of the real. For example, if I photograph a chair and then paint a picture from that photograph, in a Platonic world, I am continually moving away from the real and into unreality. The Platonic world can therefore provide a hierarchical ordering of reality and realness. Firstly there are the Platonic ideas. These Platonic ideas are the essences of an object that are never realised in the actual world. Secondly, there are the copies that are closest to the essence of the Platonic ideas. For example, a ‘real’ wooden chair is the closest the actual world can come to the Platonic idea of a chair. Thirdly, there are the copies of the copies, which are the simulacrum. For example, a poet who writes about a chair in their poem is producing a simulacrum in the Platonic world. The poet is further away from the Platonic idea of a chair than the carpenter who constructs the chair. This understanding of simulacrum still persists in contemporary academic literature, and is found in the work of Frederic Jameson and Jean Baudrillard. Even if both contemporary scholars agree that simulacrum are dominant in today’s world they both define simulacrum as moving away from the real. This is evident in Jameson’s example of photorealism to define simulacrum and Baudrillard’s argument that we have lost the real and entered into a virtual world of simulation and hyperreality.
In contrast to the Platonic trend of defining simulacrum as the move away from the real, Deleuze argues simulacrum is the (continual) production of the real. On the whole, Deleuzian simulacrum is defined through the task of reversing Platonism, which aims to remove the idea that there are Platonic ideas. The problem of Platonic ideas is it represents an essentialist perspective that generates a privileged and narrow idea of the real. As Deleuze writes ‘the motive of theory of Ideas must be sought in a will to select and to choose. It is a question of “making a difference” of distinguishing the “thing” itself from its images, the orginal from the copy, the model from the simulacrum.’[1] In other words, I should recognise that the chair I sit on is more ‘real’ than the chair I read about in the poem. Against this Platonic world Deleuze argues there is no essential real that serves as the Archimedean point to define everything else. For Deleuze there is only the continual, and creative, production of the real, which is summed up in the maxim ‘everything is production.’[2] This means a chair in a poem or painting is no less real than the chair I use to sit on. Instead, each chair affirms its difference and realness through its presence, which has been generated from a necessity and contingency. Steven Shaviro explains this ‘implosion’ of the real and the simulacrum in terms of the various cartoons and comics of Batman:

Batman is a simulacrum. There is no Platonic Idea of Batman, no model that all the all iterations of Batman would conform to more of less, and in relation to which they could hierarchically according to degree of their resemblance. There is no best of all possible Batmans, no iteration which can be judged more perfect than the rest. Rather, the disparity between the different iterations of Batman, their distance from one another, is itself the only common measure between them. Each Batman arises independently, as a unique “solution” to a common disparity or problem…In the absence of any Platonic criterion, or any Leibnizian God, there is only the disjunctive synthesis which affirms each iteration, one at a time, in its divergence from the rest. This means that any particular Batman is entirely contingent, although the synthesis itself, with its affirmation of all these multiple iterations, responds to a necessity.[3]

Overall, Shaviro is expressing the important point that one Batman cannot be privileged as the real Batman that the rest copy. Instead each Batman is created as a result of necessity and contingency. In Deleuzian terminology it is a disjunctive synthesis that produces each Batman simulacrum. The notion of a disjunctive synthesis is used to account for how the heterogeneous flows of life generate a self, which in this case is the self of Batman. In other words, a disjunctive synthesis is required to produce a simulacrum, and this disjunctive synthesis is entirely contingent and necessary.

[1] Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense (Continuum: London, 2004) p291
[2] Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus (Continuum: London, 2004) p4
[3] Steven Shaviro, God or the Body without Organs (, accessed 12th March 2008) p17

Books on ontology?

Hi there,

I was wondering if anyone could recommend books that focus on the subject of ontology? Especially any books that review the move to consider existance without essense and the transcendence of language. In other words, the move away from the linguistic turn.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Recommended Audio Lectures

I found these audio lectures of Herbert Dreyfus. The lectures are from his course on Heidegger's Being and Time. I can highly recommend them as they have even convinced me to give Being and Time another go. Lets hope I have more luck understanding it this time.

The lectures can be downloaded from

Monday, April 7, 2008

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Difference and Repetition- Reading Notes (Part 1)

In preparation for the Deleuze camp, at Cardiff University (4th-8th August 2008), I thought I had better get reading, in more depth, some Gilles Deleuze.

The book I have decided to start with is Difference and Repetition. Sorry about the lack of critical thoughts. At present I am more concerned with understanding the book. Any thoughts, corrections, and critiques are welcome.

These reading notes are from p1-5 ‘introduction’. I am using the 2004 Continuum edition that is translated by Paul Patton.

Deleuze begins by stating that ‘repetition is not generality’ and the two need distinguished. In defining generality Deleuze claims it has two major orders, ‘the qualitative order of resemblances and quantitative order of equivalences’ (p1). It figures from this definition that repetition needs to avoid resemblances and equivalences. In generality I have the ability to express a point of view that can substitute or exchange a term. For example, I can use any human, as a particular, to express the generality that man is mortal. It is here, I believe, that generality, for Deleuze, is in the paradigm of the general and the particular. This means a generality will state a ‘fact’ about a particularity, and this particularity will have that generality.
To define repetition Deleuze writes ‘repetition is a necessary and justified conduct only in relation to that which cannot be replaced’ (p1). It is here I figure that Deleuze is aiming to remove repetition from the idea of the general and the particular, as Deleuze claims repetition ‘concerns non-exchangeable and non-substitutable singularities’ (p1). At this point Deleuze does not provide a substantial definition of a singularity, but does provide empirical examples. One of these examples is how we cannot exchange or substitute twins with one another. This means, I think, that Deleuze wants repetition to be connected with something unique and singular, ‘as Peguy says, it is not Federation Day which commemorates or represents the fall of Bastille, but the fall of the Bastille which celebrates and repeats in advance all the Federation Day’ (p2). In other words, the fall of the Bastille was a unique and singular event, and not in the order of generality. It is from here Deleuze provides his differentiation between Generality and Repetition:

‘Generality, as generality of the particular….
Repetition as universal of the singular’ (p2)

After the definitions of generality and repetition Deleuze then proceeds to associate generality with the orders of the laws, and consider the phenomenon of scientific experimentation. In this section Deleuze is careful to argue that we do not fall into the trap of connecting repetition with (natural) law. For Deleuze there requires a recognition that scientific experiments are conducted in a ‘closed environment in which phenomenon are defined in terms of a small number of chosen factors’ (p3). However, natural, or real, phenomenon occur in a open or ‘free state’ where ‘everything reacts on everything else’ (p3). In sum, we may state that scientific experiments have the ‘luxury’ of setting the conditions of the experiment. I think the point of this section is scientific experiments cannot, for Deleuze, provide the idea of repetition as unique and singular. The only repetition these experiments find is the general laws of nature, which once again brings us back to the scenario of the general and the particular. This unacceptance of the repetition of the natural can help to explain the move of repetition from the natural sphere to the moral sphere.
For Deleuze repetition in the moral sphere dreams of finding a law, or laws, that is sanctified and makes reiteration possible. Some moralists, according to Deleuze, create the ‘Good’ by aiming for a repetition that is not a ‘law of nature but a law of duty’ (p4). In other words, ‘we’ create principles, such as, for example, do not kill, that can (and ought) to be repeated as a duty. These principles are formed in the mind (i.e. idealism). Deleuze finds this an unacceptable definition of repetition as it still leaves us within the realms of generality, and, if we remember, repetition is not generality. The reason repeating principles is a generality is it is acquiring a habit. Or more accurately, the habit of acquiring habits. In addition, this form of repetition bring us back to resemblance and equivalence, the two concepts Deleuze does not want to associate with his definition of repetition. It is resemblance as we conform to a model and equivalence because we have the same elements of action once the habit is acquired (p5).