death to “flat ontology”

Too much peddling in ‘flat ontology’ when it should really be process ontology.

(not to even mention the impossibly pernicious ‘paracite‘ of D&G that claims ‘ontology first’ when it’s really ‘politics first’ –> “For politics precedes being. Practice does not come after the emplacement of the terms and their relations, but actively participates in the drawing of the lines […]” ATP, 203).

To put the false Deluezism of ‘flat ontology’ to rest, I present to you a wonderfully strong philosophical reading of the rapport between the molar/molecular in ATP. Note, this does away with any lingering base/superstructure that may have tinged Anti-Oedipus. Rather, it’s the ‘telescopic’ doubling also called reflexive clearly articulated through Hjemselv, but found in other places like Luhmann, and expanded into the general D&G metaphysics, but missed by DeLanda…

Alberto Toscano, The Theatre of Production, 2006, p 184-7:

These three propositions can provide a brief counter to some of the fundamental arguments in Manuel DeLanda’s Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, arguably the most comprehensive and ambitious work to date to have considered Deleuze’s work from the standpoint of an ontology of individuation. DeLanda, aiming to present a Deleuze who is both the nemesis of essentialism and the harbinger of a metaphysics worthy of current research in mathematics and the natural sciences – precisely to the extent that Deleuze allows us to consider ‘immaterial entities whose job is to account for the genesis of form’85 – bases his exposition of Deleuze’s theory of multiplicities on the assertion that they are both ‘mechanism-independent’ and ‘stimulus-independent’. This amounts to espousing a functionalism which, if closely investigated, is unlike that of Deleuze and Guattari: in DeLanda ‘actual’ matter would provide the field of application for formal structures that are themselves invariant across actual domains. Interestingly enough, DeLanda wishes to retain this thesis, whilst also defending a position whereby ‘the resources involved in individuation processes are immanent to the world of matter and energy’, arguing further that ‘the virtual is produced out of the actual’.86We are thus thrown back onto the difficulties, implied by some of the founding criteria of structuralism, that had beset the separation of cause and genesis in Deleuze’s philosophy. Where Deleuze’s doctrine ofthe differenciator seemed to push him into the forbidding territory of the third synthesis and the (de)individuation of the thinker, DeLanda’s entire aim is to reconfigure Deleuze’s work as an ontology of modelization. This is why so much emphasis is placed in Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophyon the idea of phase space, but it is also why DeLanda can permit himself to introduce notions such as possibility, probability andpredictability which are, to all intents and purposes, alien to the Deleuzean system.

The specific source of DeLanda’s ‘deviation’ from Deleuze’s theory of multiplicities, as well as of its application to the modelling practices germane to contemporary systems theory, has to do with DeLanda’s usage of the theory of groups. This theory, which had also served long before as the royal road to structuralism for Piaget, poses a significant problem with respect to the ontology of individuation. As DeLanda writes:

The term ‘group’ refers to a set of entities and a rule of combination for these entities. The most important of the properties is the one named ‘closure’, which means that, when we use the rule to combine any two entities in the set, the result is an entity also belonging to the set.87

This set is defined by its permutations and by a degree of symmetry, which is itself defined by the number of operations the set or group can undergo whilst remaining invariant. On this basis, DeLanda plausibly turns to ‘symmetry-breaking bifurcations’ as a model of differentiation appropriate to the Deleuzean ontology.

Whilst DeLanda is by no means insensitive to the asymmetry of production in Deleuze (the ‘ontological difference’ between virtual and intensive, intensive and extensive), providing ample demonstration of the speculative and empirical force of this crucial tenet of Deleuzean ontology, he seems to invert what Deleuze referred to as ‘the heterogeneity in the production mechanism’. The ontological consistency of Deleuze’s continuous multiplicities is such that no permutational symmetry may be ascribed to them, the ‘ideal connections’ between their dimensions and the constellation of their singularities being entirely asymmetrical. The ‘resolution’ of these multiplicities in actuality is in fact symmetry-producingrather than symmetry-breaking, giving rise to the domain of extensive representations in which permutations that leave structures indifferent or invariant can take place. As Deleuze writes:

 it is not the elements of symmetry present which matter for artistic or natural causality, but those which are missing and are not in the cause; what matters is the possibility of the cause having less symmetry than the effect…The negative expression ‘lack of symmetry’ should not mislead us: it indicates the origin and positivity of the causal process.88

This ontological thesis concerning causality and the preindividual also bears on the question of modelling. The precise problem that arises [The Drama of Being 185] inlinking virtual multiplicities to the concept of model is that only the former are capable of becoming. In other words, the question that arises with multiplicities is that of their relational ontogenesis or machinic composition, not that of their instantiation. One of Deleuze and Guattari’s exemplifications is particularly topical here:

 This has nothing to do with models, all models are molar: it is necessary to determine the molecules and particles in relation to which ‘proximities’ (indiscernibles, becomings) are engendered and defined. The vital assemblage, the life-assemblage, is theoretically or logically possible with all kinds of molecules, silicon, for example. But it so happens that this assemblage is not machinicallypossible with silicon: the abstract machine does not let it pass because it does not distribute zones of proximity that construct the plane of consistency.

Here, Deleuze and Guattari once again reiterate the methodologically primordial difference between conditions of realization and conditions of possibility, between internal difference and conceptual difference, which we have attempted to track throughout this chapter. As they go on to say, ‘machinic reasons are entirely different from logical reasons or possibilities’.89 It is the imperative of maintaining this difference, of affirming the wedding of singularity and the concept, that seems to have led Deleuze and Guattari to repudiate structuralism. It is also what makes us doubt the fidelity (though not necessarily the interest or the coherence) of an approach that would try to ‘naturalize’ the theory of multiplicities by recasting it as an ontology of models; much as if Deleuze were the heir of Husserl’s metatheoretical project, now applied to the theory of complex systems. That is also the reason, however, why it seems that the last word on Deleuze’s theory of individuation is perhaps to be found in a Spinozist ethics or pragmatics of composition, and no longer in the determination of sufficient reasons within a transcendental field of preindividual being.

Throughout the transformations we have tracked in Deleuze’s thought, with and without Guattari, the ontological matrix provided by the theory of multiplicities is never abandoned, and, as I have been at pains to argue, provides the key to Deleuze’s approach to the problem of individuation. Whilst DeLanda is unmatched in the formal elucidation and application of this relationship between multiplicities and individuation, he formulates an ontological stance that is quite unacceptable on the conceptual and terminological bases set out in this book. Such a stance is encapsulated in his affirmation of a ‘flat ontology of individuals’, [186 Elements for an Ontology of Anomalous Individuation] which is put forward in the context of DeLanda’s treatment of biological species. It boils down to positing an ontology ‘made exclusively of unique, singular individuals, differing in spatiotemporal scale, but not in ontological status’.90Now, unless virtual multiplicities are to be considered as both purely formal and a posteriori– the products of modelling processes and nothing besides – this stance utterly contradicts what DeLanda elsewhere describes as Deleuze’s realismconcerning the immateriality of the virtual.91Even if we are to consider this argument at the level of actuality alone, the problem remains with the adjective ‘flat’. This term is of course used by Deleuze and Guattari to characterize rhizomatic multiplicities in A Thousand Plateaus. The latter are conceived as possessing no supplementary dimensions; they are beings of internal difference, in other words. But actual individuals are on these selfsame grounds anything but flat, they are reallyorganized into classifiable systems, extrinsically constrained and, at least implicitly, subjected to the functions of representation (or, to use the vocabulary of A Thousand Plateaus, stratified). The only way DeLanda’s thesis becomes coherent with Deleuze’s theory of multiplicities is therefore in terms of the mereological considerations rehearsed above. DeLanda’s aim is to substitute the species as an abstract universal with the species as a concrete entity. Thus, he considers the species–individual relationship as one of whole to parts, a relation he qualifies as causal: ‘the whole emerges from the causal interactions between the component parts’.92Now, to the extent that DeLanda wishes to account for the operations of species on their own scale, and in terms of their own spatiotemporal dynamisms, this relationship which he defines as ‘emergence’ can be brought back to the non-inclusive difference posited by Deleuze and Guattari between ‘whole’-multiplicities and ‘part’-multiplicities. With these considerations in mind, let us now turn to another treatment of Deleuze’s philosophy, one almost entirely concerned with Deleuze’s fidelity to a Bergsonian notion of the whole.


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