Rick Dolphijn and Iris van der Tuin

New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies

    II. Cartographies > 6. Pushing Dualism to an Extreme

    6. Pushing Dualism to an Extreme

    This chapter engages with the way in which several significant contemporary (Continental) philosophers establish a philosophy of difference in the form of a “new materialism.” It builds on work on new materialism’s specific philosophical impetus as well as carefully unpacking the methodology through which it is actualized. Though we will demonstrate that this double move concerning ontology on the one hand and methodology on the other is inherent in the new materialism, most contemporary commentaries focus on ontology only by positing the new philosophical stance. In other words, the materialism of new materialism is reflected upon, whereas a clear perspective on how new materialism is new remains underdeveloped. This chapter addresses this discrepancy by demonstrating how the new materialism produces a revolution in thought by traversing modernity’s dualisms (structured by a negative relation between terms), and by constituting a new conceptualization of difference (structured by an affirmative relation) along the way. This conceptualization of difference entails an ontological philosophical practice predicated on leaving behind all prioritizations (implicitly) involved in modern dualistic thinking, since a difference structured by affirmation does not work with predetermined relations (e.g. between mind and body) nor does it involve a counter-hierarchy between terms (which would make the new materialism into a postmodern philosophical exercise).

    The “new” of new materialism (that is, the way in which its non-dualist philosophy is related to dualist philosophical stances) comes close to Jean-François Lyotard’s plea for a “rewriting” of “modernity.” In chapter 2 of his The Inhuman ([1988] 1991) Lyotard, who is famous for his thoughts on “post-modernism,” critiques this concept in particular because of its implicit notion of time. Postmodernism is modernism in the sense that the issues raised by modernism are also on the agenda of postmodernism, which is rather an after-modernism. Issues, as Lyotard continually stresses, that predominantly include the emancipation of humanity as a whole. Yet by appropriating the term post-modernism, his project automatically claims itself to be a linear consequence of modernism and (at the same time) refuses to think the here and now (or at least, it can only think the here and now as a consequence of a period in cultural history long gone). In re-reading Aristotle’s Physics (Book IV), however, Lyotard agrees with the idea that what has already taken place (proteron) and what is about to take place (husteron) cannot be considered apart from the now. Both history and the future unfold from the now. Our age then should not be considered an age that follows from modernity, but rather an age that sets itself to a continuous rewriting of several of the (emancipatory) features that have been raised by modernity, thus actively creating a past (while projecting a future). That is why Lyotard ([1988] 1991, 24) suggests rephrasing his project as “rewriting modernity.”

    The idea of rewriting modernity might also be considered a good description of what Gilles Deleuze (Lyotard’s close colleague at the University of Vincennes) proposed. Deleuze (e.g. [1966] 1991) too seems to accept the Aristotelian notion of time, which, in his books, is mainly at work in how Henri Bergson rewrote Aristotle (using the concepts of actuality and virtuality). Deleuze himself (like his interpreters) always claimed that he intended to rewrite the history of philosophy as a whole, or at least, his goal—especially in the early part of his career—was to question the History of Philosophy (with capital letters) as a whole, as its dominant lines of thought overcoded many ideas that he considered to be of the greatest value. Yet without prejudice to his timeless contributions to thought, there are good reasons to consider the work of Deleuze not so much a rewriting of the entire History of Philosophy, but rather as a rewriting of modernity. For although authors like Lucretius, Duns Scotus, and the Stoics play an important role in his thinking, they have never been at the centre of a particular study, nor has Deleuze made much effort to shed new light on their ideas. He did, however, give philosophy and many other parts of academia important rewritings of philosophers such as Spinoza, Leibniz, Nietzsche and Bergson, and writers like Proust and Kafka. These were authors who, in very different ways, all lived their lives in the so-called modern era. Renaming Deleuze’s project as “rewriting modernity” seems all the more agreeable, because its key feature, being the emancipation of humanity in its most radical form, seems precisely what Deleuze’s philosophy is all about. Gilles Deleuze’s (and Félix Guattari’s) rewriting of modernity was about the rewriting of a “minor tradition” in thought, as it was named (e.g. Deleuze and Guattari [1980] 1987), which is mainly based on the four “modernist” thinkers mentioned above. By rewriting their modernity, and not in the least place modernist ways of thinking emancipation, Deleuze did not create a post-modernism that continued (in any way) the traits that had given form to the modern era. Rather, in line with how Lyotard conceptualized it, Deleuze’s goal was to set this whole tradition in movement. We will show later that Deleuze’s take on the Other, for instance, cannot be captured by the post-modern countering of the One.

    In Lyotard’s wake, the perpetual rewriting of modernity is something also taken very seriously by those inspired by new materialist thought today, as already seen in the interviews in Part One of this book and subsequently noted at the end of the previous chapter. The work of this rapidly growing group of contemporary scholars rewrites modernism, or bits of modernism, opening this (philosophical) tradition up to the arts and the sciences, actualizing and realizing it in the here and now. Some authors, like Braidotti and DeLanda, are very much interested in re-reading Deleuze and his minor tradition, though it should be mentioned that both of them are also using other fertile (modern) grounds. Braidotti has always shown an interest in psychoanalysis (Freudian psychoanalysis in particular). DeLanda, on the other hand, though always viewed as a committed Deleuzian, makes at least as much use of the work of Fernand Braudel, Mario Bunge, and Max Weber. Others, like Karen Barad and Quentin Meillassoux, have come to this path through still other routes. Barad (2007), emerging from the field of theoretical physics, is mostly inspired by the work of Niels Bohr. Quentin Meillassoux ([2006] 2008) sets himself to rewriting the dominant stream in the modernist project as a whole (which he labels “correlationalist”), which brings him back most of all to an affirmative re-reading of David Hume.

    All of these authors are in touch with a material spirit whose imperceptible forces they perform in their writing in diverse ways. Yet their common interest in doing this affirmatively, in and through a re-reading of modernity, demands more refinement. For instance, in Nomadic Subjects Braidotti (1994, 171), in a Lyotardian vein and in reference to Deleuze’s minor tradition, states that we ought to “work through” the notion of woman: “Like the gradual peeling off of old skins, the achievement of change has to be earned by careful working through; it is the metabolic consumption of the old that can engender the new.” Expanding their interest in “naturecultures” (as Donna Haraway [2003] puts it) or in “collectives” (which is a concept of Bruno Latour ([1991] 1993)), the way in which they rewrite modernity’s processes is by rewriting the dualisms that are so central to modern thought. Latour for instance has stated that he is “trying the tricky move of unveiling the modern Constitution without resorting to the modern type of debunking” due to the fact that his project is to affirm “that the [modern] Constitution, if it is to be effective, has to be aware of what it allows” (Latour [1991] 1993, 43). This kind of argumentation can be summarized, in the words of Bergson ([1896] 2004, 236), as a movement of “push[ing] dualism to an extreme.” In this chapter we discuss the way in which a new materialism comes to be constituted precisely by this movement, which Deleuze ([1956/2002] 2004, 32) in discussing Bergson has typified as methodological (it touches upon ways of arguing, ways of doing philosophy) as well as ontological (it is interested in a material spirit, that is, in what Brian Massumi [2002, 66] calls “ontologically prior”). It is the type of movement Deleuze himself has adopted as his own methodology, especially in Capitalism and Schizophrenia, the diptych written together with Guattari. In their Anti-Oedipus ([1972] 1983), they already claimed to perform what they called a “schizoanalysis” (a materialist philosophical practice interested in conceptualizing sexuality beyond the male/female dualism and even beyond human sexuality), and in breaking through the Oedipal plot that overcodes the ways in which we think (through psychoanalysis), and oftentimes individually and collectively experience, desire. Far from respecting Cartesian dualisms, this style of thinking is much more interested in rethinking Spinoza’s monist solution by means of these oppositions and what they can do, as Eugene Holland argues (1999, 111–2). But it was in A Thousand Plateaus (Deleuze and Guattari [1980] 1987, 20) that they came closest to capturing their project in words, when they state as follows: “We invoke one dualism only to challenge another. We employ a dualism of models only in order to arrive at a process that challenges all models.” Hence, the methodology and ontology proposed in rewriting modernity in no way “follows from” modernity. By pushing dualism to an extreme, “difference is pushed to the limit” (Deleuze [1968] 1994, 45). Consequently, by radically rewriting the dualisms of modernity, new materialism precisely becomes a philosophy of difference that opens up for a “new” ontology, or rather, a “new” ontogenesis.

    In the previous chapter we suggested that new materialism is a transversal cultural theory that qualitatively shifts the dualist gesture of prioritizing mind over matter, soul over body, and culture over nature that can be found in modernist as well as post-modernist cultural theories. We thus “invoke[d] the same testimony” (Bergson [1896] 2004, 236) against two seemingly opposite cultural theories. Despite the fact that such prioritization appears commonsensical even today in prominent parts of the sciences and the humanities, its reliance on dualism is by no means beyond question. The outcomes of the prioritization exercises are generally presented as True in its most totalizing meaning, whereas minor traditions throughout the centuries have opposed them in convincing ways. In other words: a new materialism is constituted by demonstrating how the canonized relations between the aforementioned terms are in fact the outcomes of “power/knowledge” according to which Truth is an instantiation of a politics or régime, as Michel Foucault (1980) would have it. In this chapter we will take our previous arguments a step further by focusing on the methodological and ontological issues surrounding the present-day rise of non-dualist thought. We will begin by considering what a radical rewriting of modernity in the case of new materialism entails. How do scholars such as Braidotti, DeLanda, Barad, and Meillassoux produce their work?

    New Materialism’s Radical Rewriting of Modernity

    Let us agree on the point that a cultural theory can only be truly distinctive and original if its establishment does not claim to be the next step in a discussion that is structured according to the dominant lines of sequential negation and the narrative of progress; that is, if its installment does not follow the classificatory lines that started dominating thought within modernism as it has branched off into so many different parts of life. Similarly, opposing this narrative is also not an option. Lyotard has already taught us that his increasing concern with the idea of postmodernism also had to do with the prefix “post-,” and the way this opposed yet (re)created the narratives of modernity. As already mentioned in the previous chapter, it was Michel Serres who put the latter into a general theory, when he stated: “An idea opposed to another idea is always the same idea, albeit affected by the negative sign. The more you oppose one another, the more you remain in the same framework of thought” (Serres with Latour 1995, 81).

    Therefore, not just the idea of postmodernism but actually all thought that starts either with classification or with the repudiation of it, does not radically rewrite, cannot set forth a revolution in thought. Elizabeth Grosz (2005, 165), who follows Luce Irigaray’s investment in thinking through (feminist) revolutions in thought, states most clearly that it is only in a radical rewriting that revolutions in thought can come into being. After all, such movement

    is not a revolution on any known model, for it cannot be the overthrow of all previous thought, the radical disconnection from the concepts and language of the past: a revolution in thought can only use the language and the concepts that presently exist or have already existed, and can only produce itself against the background and history of the present.

    Earlier, Grosz (2000) had already explained that the seemingly constraining model, or framework of thought, or concept allows in fact for the indeterminacy of a revolution in thought. [15] Wishing to anticipate future thoughts and practices by negating the past, one positions oneself in a relation to past thoughts and practices that is solely constraining. In such a situation, the past undergoes nothing but re-confirmation in the present, albeit that progress is assumed to be made. This, we want to argue, is the structuring principle of classificatory modes of thinking, which are consequently prevented from a radical rewriting of thought, from being truly revolutionary.

    Our goal in this chapter should thus be to find out in what way the revolutionary constitution of new materialist cultural theory rewrites modernity as a present according to which a past and future unfold. In order to get there we shall first demonstrate by what means the new materialist breakdown of dualism, of the structuring principle of modernist cultural theories, stirs a revolution in thought. New materialist cultural theorists do not involve themselves with ongoing repetitive discussions in the modernist humanities (cf. Serres with Latour 1995, 86). New materialism helps us analyze and (therefore) shift the structuring principles of these discussions by showing how classificatory negation involves a specific relationality, which is reductive. Later we will demonstrate how new materialist cultural theories are not relational in a negative, reductive manner, but rather are structured along the lines of an affirmative intensity, which in the end turns into a non-dualism, a monist philosophy of difference, or more precisely, immanence. Invoking one dualism in order to challenge another allows new materialism to rewrite modernity as an emancipation.

    Dualism: A Negation is a Relation Structured by Negativity

    Bergson ([1869] 2004, 297) argued that “[t]he difficulties of ordinary dualism come, not from the distinction of the two terms, but from the impossibility of seeing how the one is grafted upon the other.” Bergson’s “ordinary dualism” indicates the structuring principle of Serres’ repetitive discussions, and Grosz’s (failed) overthrow of previous thought. Even in our time cultural theory is structured predominantly according to this ordinary dualism. It continues—implicitly or explicitly—the modernist framework of thought, accepting and thinking along the dominant lines of dualist distinctions of mind and matter, soul and body, and culture and nature. But although Bergson demonstrated that ordinary dualism is inherently problematic, the act of making distinctions between terms is not. The treatment the distinguished terms receive is what makes dominant cultural theory, then as now, questionable. Bergson implies that as long as we are clear about the fact that one term of a dichotomy is “grafted upon” the other, we will not fall into the trap of setting up a discussion that leads us away from serious thought. This also applies to how contemporary thought, often through denial, is grafted upon modernist cultural theory—such as through Barad’s term “representationalism,” as will be discussed below.

    Let us provide an example that proves our point. Consider a big name in contemporary sociology and philosophy: Jean Baudrillard. Baudrillard was no doubt part of a very talented generation of French scholars that also included Lyotard and Deleuze. But in contrast with the latter two, Baudrillard was from the outset very much accepted in mainstream cultural theory. He is the prototype of those post-modernist thinkers from whom Lyotard implicitly wanted to distance himself, insofar as Baudrillard wholeheartedly accepts the modernist dualisms and continues their arguments. There is no other way to think, for instance, of Baudrillard’s theory of simulacra (e.g. Baudrillard [1981] 1995, [1995] 1996) as anything other than a continuation of modernity, as a general acceptance of its theories, and a refusal actually to rewrite the dualisms involved. Discussing for example the imaginary of Disneyland, he concluded that “[i]t is no longer a question of a false representation of reality (ideology) but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus of saving the reality principle” (Baudrillard [1981] 1995, 12–3), he refuses to make any analysis whatsoever of the duality of real vs. representational. Accepting the difference (even while twisting it around) is by no means the way in which new materialism is always already questioning these principles and rewriting them from the start.

    Thus the time has come to draw a formal difference between this ordinary dualism, as Bergson analyzes it, and the radical writing of modernist dualisms as proposed by Lyotard and Deleuze, but also by scholars such as Latour. The difference lies not in the fact that this latter group suggests a dualism that begins with the act of relating whereas ordinary dualism denies this relational nature. Rather, both groups start from this relating (insofar as it exists outside of its terms). Yet ordinary dualism is undergirded by a negative relationality, and it is this particular type of relationality that is not subscribed to by Lyotard, Deleuze, or Latour (or even Bergson, for that matter). Let us continue therefore by focusing more specifically upon the set-up of argumentations about the deficiency of ordinary dualism. We have to return once more to Bergson, whose work provides insight into the ways in which the concrete cases of ordinary dualism that structure cultural theory (the humanities) as well as scientism and common sense can be overcome. Yet his work also shows how non-dualist philosophy is always “onto-epistemological” (Barad’s term)—that is, how philosophy involves the way in which “concept and creation are related to each other” (Deleuze and Guattari [1991] 1994, 11). This refers back to Deleuze’s remark about the work of Bergson as both methodological and ontological: Bergson not only provides insight into ordinary dualism as the structuring principle of non-revolutionary thought, but also he re-writes modernism so as to provide a non-dualist ontology structured by the “unity of the thing and the concept” (Deleuze [1956/2002] 2004, 33).

    When Bergson introduces the concept of ordinary dualism in Matter and Memory, he works on the problem of the union of body and soul. The centrality of this union comes to the fore, according to Bergson ([1896] 2004, 235), on the basis of a distinction made between matter and spirit. This ontological distinction, and more importantly the specific way in which it is treated, constitutes Bergson’s analysis as exemplary of the (necessary) circumvention of ordinary dualism. Moreover, a distinction is still being made between terms:

    We maintain, as against materialism, that perception overflows the cerebral state; but we have endeavoured to establish, as against idealism, that matter goes in every direction beyond our representation of it […] And against these two doctrines we invoke the same testimony, that of consciousness, which shows us our body as one image among others and our understanding as a certain faculty of dissociating, of distinguishing, of opposing logically, but not of creating or of constructing. Thus, […] it would seem that, after having exacerbated the conflicts raised by ordinary dualism, we have closed all the avenues of escape […] But, just because we have pushed dualism to an extreme, our analysis has perhaps dissociated its contradictory elements (ibid., 236; cf. Balibar [1989] 1998, 106 on Spinoza).

    This lengthy quotation provides insight into the way in which the terms that are divided up by ordinary dualism are grafted upon one another, but also in the way in which ontology and methodology/epistemology are grafted onto one another. The two levels of analysis (for lack of a better term) indicated here are intrinsically intertwined. We want to underline that “all the avenues of escape” do exactly not end up being “closed,” because of the complexity with which Bergson shifts ordinary dualism and moves into the direction of thinking differently, of thinking a non-dualist ontology. Let us explain this complex move by seeking recourse to Deleuze and Guattari’s What is Philosophy?, this time read through the work of Barad.

    Deleuze and Guattari ([1991] 1994, 11) state that “the question of philosophy is the singular point where concept and creation are related to each other.” Not defining the nature of philosophy as such would seduce one into uncritically affirming commonsensical and scientistic representationalism, found also in the humanities, which is predicated upon an ordinary dualism in a two-leveled manner. Barad (though without referring to Deleuze and Guattari) elaborates upon precisely this point. In “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter” she states:

    The idea that beings exist as individuals with inherent attributes, anterior to their representation, is a metaphysical presupposition that underlies the belief in political, linguistic, and epistemological forms of representationalism. […] representationalism is the belief in the ontological distinction between representations and that which they purport to represent […] (Barad 2003, 804).

    In other words: what she calls for is a “performative understanding, which shifts the focus from linguistic representations to discursive practices” (ibid., 807). [16] We have alluded to these practices already, when we explained how philosophy both addresses and explains the structuring principles of the dominant, classificatory lines of thought. The work of Barad can explain that what Bergson ([1896] 2004, 260) calls thinking through scientism, or common sense, or the one pole of any dualism (in the humanities too) “in its remotest aspirations,” one affirms an onto-epistemology. According to onto-epistemologies, “[w]e do not obtain knowledge by standing outside of the world; we know because “we” are of the world. We are part of the world in its differential becoming” (Barad 2003, 829; original emphasis). Onto-epistemology demonstrates how philosophers do philosophy, which following Deleuze and Guattari ([1991] 1994, 11) is a discursive practice according to which

    the concept is not given, it is created; it is to be created. It is not formed but posits itself in itself—it is a self-positing […] The concept posits itself to the same extent that it is created. What depends on a free creative activity is also that which, independently and necessarily, posits itself in itself: the most subjective will be the most objective.

    Philosophers do philosophy in their work with concepts, when studying the concepts that arise in a specific practice and which are related to concepts that are at work in other practices with which they interfere. Elsewhere, Deleuze clearly states that when it comes to what philosophy does, he will not accept that it is any form of representational dualism structured by negative relationality. The created concepts, he claims, are no less “practical, effective or existent” (Deleuze [1985] 2000, 280) than the practices in which they happen. Thus “philosophical theory is itself a practice just as much as its object. It is no more abstract than its object” (ibid.). Doing philosophy, then, means engaging in this creation of concepts, and not relying on “referential signs” (our term). [17] The latter is a representationalism, implying a negative relationality that does not do justice to matter as “the aggregate of images” and perception of matter as “these same images referred to the eventual action of one particular image, my body” (Bergson [1986] 2004, 8; original emphasis).

    When Bergson ([1896] 2004, 243) invokes “consciousness” against materialism and idealism, and against empiricism and dogmatism, he claims that this concept can show that “a third course lay open,” which allows him to escape from the representationalist traps affirmed in any dualist philosophy. His conceptualization of consciousness, which shows in this case how the four epistemic classes are all predicated on ordinary dualism on the two levels of analysis simultaneously, breaks through ordinary dualisms by positing a continuity against discontinuity, that is, a “pure duration” (ibid., 243). Such a concept cuts across metaphysical classes, that is, it creates a third, and revolutionary course:

    Homogenous space and homogenous time are then neither properties of things [materialism, realism] nor essential conditions of our faculty of knowing them [idealism, dogmatism]: they express, in an abstract form, the double work of solidification and of division which we effect on the moving continuity of the real in order to obtain there a fulcrum for our action, in order to fix within it starting-points for our operation, in short, to introduce into it real changes. They are the diagrammatic design of our eventual action upon matter (ibid., 280).

    The third course, then, opens the way for “the true power of creation” (ibid., 236), which we already encountered in the work of Deleuze and Guattari, and will find in the work of de Beauvoir as well. This power is not attributed to either body or mind, either matter or the perception/representation of matter, or any other such alternative. The creation of concepts entails the breakdown of representationalism on two levels. This revolutionary shifting entails precisely the activity of “pushing dualism to an extreme,” which opens the way for a thinking in action that is affirmative, practical and thus necessarily revolutionary. [18]

    Difference, or: The Shift to Affirmative Relationality

    Pushing dualism to an extreme helps to further our thoughts about new materialist cultural theories and the way in which they are constituted. New materialism does not rely upon a representationalism; it shifts the representationalist metaphysical premises of Bergson’s ordinary dualism by invoking a discursive practice centered on the creation of concepts in their relationality. The often binary oppositions that dominated modernity, and that are still accepted as premises in much of the theory of our age (which can therefore be considered post-modern, as Lyotard defined it) are structured by a relation of negations, and by re-affirming these negations. New materialists instead install a philosophy of difference by engaging in the activity of creating concepts, which is an onto-epistemological activity. A relationality in the negative, dualistic sense presupposes the terms of the relation in question, whereas the creation of concepts entails a traversing of dualisms, and the establishment of a relationality that is affirmative—i.e., structured by positivity rather than negativity. What happens here is that “difference is pushed to the limit” (Deleuze [1968] 1994, 45). By “pushing dualism to an extreme,” “difference is pushed to the limit,” the latter movement being less evaluative and more performative. Let us now demonstrate the workings of the affirmative relationality and the philosophy of difference thus constituted.

    In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari ([1980] 1987, 20–1) state that they “[a]rrive at the magic formula we all seek—PLURALISM = MONISM—via all the dualisms that are the enemy, an entirely necessary enemy, the furniture we are forever rearranging.” Similar to Bergson, Deleuze and Guattari do not avoid or negate dualisms, but traverse or pass through them. This affirmative approach to the modern, ordinary dualisms is an instance of what Lyotard called a rewriting of modernity. It shows how dualisms are inherently untenable, whereas holding on to a negative relationality between terms appears historically to be seductive. (Even feminists have fallen into the trap of relying too much on such a dualist logic!) Bergson and Deleuze and Guattari effectuate an affirmative take on the way in which two terms relate, and this shifts dualism by pushing it to an extreme. In an affirmative approach, a dualism does not only involve a binary opposition, a relation structured by negativity according to which different-from is necessarily worth-less-than (Braidotti 1994, 147). [19] The starting point is that “[r]elated terms belong to one another” (Deleuze [1968] 1994, 30). Only when this sense of belonging is affirmed are we able to work “towards an absolute concept, once liberated from the condition which made difference an entirely relative maximum” (ibid., 33). It is precisely the activity of working towards an absolute concept that defines the rewriting, the revolution in thought that interests us.

    Deleuze contends in Difference and Repetition that “The negative and negativity do not even capture the phenomenon of difference, only the phantom or the epiphenomenon” ([1968] 1994, 52). This phantom-like character of negation should be taken literally, because here Deleuze produces a critique of representationalism. Capturing difference can only be done when “difference” is “shown differing” (ibid., 56; original emphasis) when the thinking does not start with the respective phenomena that are then claimed to be different from one another, but with mapping difference in itself. How does this work? In “Postmodernism is a Humanism: Deleuze and Equivocity,” Claire Colebrook (2004, 287) asserts that “one should go beyond the fantasy and structure of signification to its possibility.” What we are looking at here is the invention of the conditions of invention (cf. Serres with Latour 1995, 86)—namely, the establishment of a non-dualist logic of univocity as opposed to the dualist logic of equivocity: whereas “equivocity posits two radically incommensurable levels” (that which signifies, e.g. gender, and that which is signified, e.g. sex/the body), “there is just one plane of expression” according to a static univocal logic (Colebrook 2004, 288). Colebrook goes on by stating that “both the simple image—as a world of simulation, signification, representation or social construction—and the criticism of this notion are equivocal without justification,” [20] whereas under a univocal logic “truth may be intuited as that which expresses itself, not as that which is in itself and then belied by relations, but that which gives birth to—while remaining irreducible to—relations” (ibid., 290; original emphasis. Cf. Bleeker 2008). Under univocal logic, “a perception of x is perceived as a power to x” (Colebrook 2004, 297; original emphasis) which is to say that difference is shown differing. Here we see an affirmation that feminism as a practice has nothing to offer but paradoxes: it posits sexual difference and is emancipatory insofar as the hierarchical element (different-from as worth-less-than) is broken down. Equivocity, that is, is locked up in a dualist framework of thought, structured by negativity (and linear time: sexual difference implies that women/femininity should become equal to men/humanity), whereas univocity pushes difference to the limit, producing a shift to an affirmative relationality (producing a situation in which, as we will see that de Beauvoir envisioned, new and as-yet inconceivable carnal and affective relations between the sexes are born). By way of another example: in the concluding section of “Postmodernism is a Humanism” Colebrook talks about the work of Virginia Woolf who pushes equivocal gender to univocal sexual difference, thus evoking a situation in which “[t]here are no longer distinct kinds or generalities, or genders, so much as essences that are the power to differ, essences that are sexual precisely because they have their sole being in creation” (ibid., 304; cf. below).

    The remaining question is how exactly differing or affirmative relationality is a non-dualist univocity? Deleuze demonstrates how representationalism is an identity politics or régime in what he calls the major History of Philosophy (with capitals). In case difference is thought of in terms of identity (under this dominant way of thinking, assuming one perspective or multiple perspectives), the Other (e.g. the woman), a concept so central in the work of other early philosophies of difference (think of Levinas and Derrida, for instance), can only be thought to exist in relation to the One, or Same, or Centre. Rejecting the idea that otherness can be reduced to a particular subject or object, thus refuting the idea that his philosophy starts with an ontology of the One (as Alain Badiou [1999] wrongly supposes), Deleuze ([1969] 1990, 307) then concludes that “the Other is initially a structure of the perceptual field, without which the entire field could not function as it does. […] It is the structure of the possible. […] The terrified countenance bears no resemblance to the terrifying thing. It implicates it, it envelopes it as something else, in a kind of torsion which situates what is expressed in the expressing.” This is when and where a dualism comes to be installed that is structured by negativity (distribution), and when and where different-from is transformed into worth-less-than (hierarchy or asymmetry). It is for that reason that Deleuze himself, contrary to his contemporaries, found it difficult to relate this concept to his thoughts. The Other is the expression of a possible world as he, reading Tournier’s Friday, developed this idea in Difference and Repetition. In an interview with Magazine Littéraire (reprinted in Deleuze [1988] 1995, 135–155) and in a letter he wrote to his Japanese translator Kuniichi Uno (reprinted in Deleuze 2006, 201–203) he continued this argument by making an implicit comment on Derrida’s “Letter to a Japanese Friend” ([1985] 1988) and his use of the Other as Deleuze comes up with a Japanese man whose words can function as the expression of a possible world. Contrary to Derrida (referring to Heidegger [1959] 1971) who emphasizes the non-translatability of his French text into Japanese and yet simultaneously the necessity to do so, Deleuze does not accept the relative existence of the One (the Same, the Centre) and the Other (here the French language and the Japanese language) and the negative relation drawn between them. In line with the anti-correlationism of Meillassoux, Deleuze ([1988] 1995, 147) stresses that the expression of a possible world (even when done in Japanese), “confers reality on the possible world as such, the reality of the possible as something possible [...].”

    In contrast to the negative dualism then, and in line with the Bergsonian virtual/actual pair, Deleuze proposes a logic according to which “[e]ach point of view must itself be the object, or the object must belong to the point of view.” (Deleuze [1968] 1994, 56; cf. Leibniz [1714] 1962, 263 §57, Deleuze [1956/2002] 2004, 39) That is to say, the moment we think differing or difference in itself a univocal logic is established. This occurs when we think dualism to an extreme—Deleuze states that it is within Kantianism, or “in the same stroke” (Deleuze [1968] 1994, 58; original emphasis) that such a shift is effectuated. Difference is then established as “the element, the ultimate unity,” that is, difference that “refer[s] to other differences which never identify it but rather differentiate it” (ibid., 56). Difference then comes awfully close to the (mathematical) object that speculative realists and materialists like Graham Harman and Meillassoux talk about. Meillassoux’s statement that “[t]here is no reason for anything to be or to remain self-identical” (Meillassoux [2006] 2008, 88) emphasizes this difference in itself, this difference always already differing. Refusing the idea that “to be is to be in a correlate,” (as Harman [2011b, 15] summarizes Meillassoux’s critique of correlationist ontology), Deleuze states that difference is not in need of relations yet at the same time does not exist in a void. It is a thinking according to which

    [e]ach difference passes through all the others; it must “will” itself or find itself through all the others. […] a world of differences implicated one in the other, […] a complicated, properly chaotic world without identity (Deleuze [1968] 1994, 57; original emphasis).

    Referring to the work of Nietzsche, Deleuze states that

    What is then revealed is being, which is said of differences which are neither in substance nor in a subject: so many subterranean affirmations. […] for a brief moment we enter into that schizophrenia in principle which characterises the highest power of thought, and opens Being directly on to difference, despite all the mediations, all the reconciliations, of the concept (ibid., 58).

    In other words: what is established is the univocal logic (ibid., 67).

    It should not come as a surprise that it is not only Nietzsche who then practices philosophy as a creative act, but Bergson as well. In “Bergson’s Conception of Difference,” Deleuze ([1956/2002] 2004, 33; original emphasis) states that “either philosophy proposes for itself this means (differences of nature) and this end (to arrive at internal difference)” or else it would always end up in a representationalist, equivocal logic. Bergsonism, as said, is looking for “the unity of the thing and the concept,” that is, for a philosophy that practices a univocal logic. Such a logic enacts what we previously called an onto-epistemology whose concept of difference is predicated on affirmation. Deleuze is explicit about this when he says that Bergson “rais[es] difference up to the absolute” (ibid., 39) by thinking difference following a univocal logic, which entails a qualitative shift away from equivocity, that is, among other things, negation:

    If duration differs from itself, that from which it differs is still duration in a certain sense. It is not a question of dividing duration in the same way we divided what is composite: duration is simple, indivisible, pure. The simple is not divided, it differentiates itself. This is the essence of the simple, or the movement of difference. So, the composite divides into two tendencies, one of which is the indivisible, but the indivisible differentiates itself into two tendencies, the other of which is the principle of the divisible (ibid.; original emphasis).

    The relational nature of the structuring logic is kept in place (previously we saw that Bergson continues to make distinctions). But relationality at work is not predicated on equivocal notions such as negation, or analogy for that matter, because the relationality is never predeterminable from the outside. Deleuze ([1956/2002] 2004, 40, 42) even explicates how “vital difference” for Bergson is “not a determination” but rather “indetermination itself,” which is not to say that it is “accidental” but rather that it is “essential.” In other words, “[d]ifferentiation is the movement of a virtuality actualizing itself.” This non-reductive, univocal take on difference cannot be a dialectic and cannot be structured according to dualism, because according to Bergson

    the negation of one real term by the other is only the positive actualization of a virtuality that contains both terms at once. […] The opposition of two terms is only the actualization of a virtuality that contained them both: this is tantamount to saying that difference is more profound than negation or contradiction (ibid., 42–3).

    Allowing for the virtual, for pure recollection, to be reflected in the actual, constantly exchanging the two into one another as it creates the circuit of duration—this is what Bergsonism does. Such a philosophy, which amounts to a new materialist rewriting of modernity, is the production of revolutions in thought not by negating ordinary dualism (the structuring principle or equivocal logic of modernist thought), but rather by pushing ordinary dualism to the extreme, thus installing a new take on difference, the univocal logic of which is an affirmative relationality. Such a philosophy is the activity of pushing difference to the limit by traversing dualism.

    When speculative realists and speculative materialists today propose to move away from Kantian correlationism to the “eternal-in-itself, whose being is indifferent to whether or not it is thought” (Meillassoux [2006] 2008, 63), they push dualism to the extreme in a similar way. When Harman (2010, 202) for instance notes a “[…] global dualism between the reality of objects and their more or less distorted or translated versions for other objects,” he follows Bergson’s distinction between difference in itself and ordinary difference. The latter is representationalist and negative, while the former demonstrates an interest in the true power of creation (Bergson), morphogenesis (DeLanda), or metamorphosis (Braidotti).

    New Feminist Materialism Pushes Sexual Difference to the Limit

    Let us close with a provocative example of a rewriting of modernity, which will be developed further in the next chapter. Previously we hinted at the possibility of transforming equivocal gender—which is structured by a negative relationality (distribution and asymmetry) between men and women, masculinity and femininity—into univocal sexual difference, which allows sexual difference to differ. New feminist materialism is the cultural theory that enacts this possibility. New feminist materialist cultural theorists work along the lines of affirmative relationality, the workings of which we have demonstrated in the previous section. In doing so, they push sexual difference to the limit by pushing the dualism that is ordinarily installed (gender) to an extreme. The new feminist materialism does practical philosophy and thus produces a revolution in (feminist) thought. In this final section we will address new feminist materialist cultural theory, not only because it can demonstrate the workings of difference structured by a univocal logic of affirmative relationality, but also because feminism per se is an interesting site for our exposé about new mater-ialist cultural theory, that starts with difference as a practice, that is not “about” sexuality or gender (as a theory opposed to the practice or act) but that is a practice or act itself, by means of the concepts it gives rise to and through which it practices its power.

    Feminism has always enveloped sexual difference in its ordinary dualist sense as well as the traversing thereof. Both movements were a necessity for feminism, as Joan Wallach Scott (1996, 3–4; original emphasis) explains:

    Feminism was a protest against women’s political exclusion; its goal was to eliminate “sexual difference” in politics, but it had to make its claim on behalf of “women” (who were discursively produced through “sexual difference”). To the extent that it acted for “women,” feminism produced the “sexual difference” it sought to eliminate. This paradox—the need both to accept and to refuse “sexual difference”—was the constitutive condition of feminism as a political movement throughout its long history.

    The book in which Scott makes this complex diagnosis is entitled Only Paradoxes to Offer, and we want to demonstrate here why the situation she explores is in fact not at all paradoxical. Sue Thornham (2000, 188; original emphasis) makes exactly this point, when she explores the work of Irigaray:

    One cannot, she writes, analyse the gendered nature of culture by stepping out of the identity “woman” into a gender-neutral discourse—by claiming an “equal right” to speak—because there is no gender-neutral discourse; the public discourse of analysis is thoroughly masculine. To write from outside that discourse is, however, to be ignored. To do either is to remain within the terms of the dominant discourse.

    Despite the fact that many feminists, including Irigaray and Braidotti and Grosz and Colebrook, have found their individual and/or generational answer to the seeming paradox, we want to show here how feminism is Scott’s diagnosis, which is not a paradox that is in need of a solution.

    Grosz (2005, 156), a feminist new materialist, states that major Philosophy, a philosophy structured by the dominant lines of thought, has traditionally excluded women, whereas it has produced a discourse that is implicitly gendered masculine. Philosophy has objectified women, thus erecting the male philosopher figure. The Irigarayian analysis of this onto-epistemological diagnosis proceeds as follows:

    The question of sexual difference signals the virtual framework of the future. What today is actual is sexual opposition or binarism, the defining of the two sexes in terms of the characteristics of one. Sexual difference is that which is virtual; it is the potential of this opposition to function otherwise, to function without negation, to function as full positivity. It is the future we may be able to make, but which has not yet come into existence (ibid., 164).

    That is to say, sexual difference functions prominently in feminist theory: namely, both as an ordinary dualism and as virtuality. Feminist theory will produce a revolution in dualist thought not by overcoming sexual difference (conceptualizing emancipation as a striving for equal gender relations or as the overthrow of a discourse that is gendered masculine) but by traversing it (allowing for sexual differing). Feminist theory has to push sexual difference as an ordinary dualism to an extreme precisely so as to push sexual difference to the limit. A sexual difference according to which women are worth-less-than men, to speak with Braidotti, has to be pushed to an extreme so as to release sexual difference as that which is virtual. This is precisely how we should read Simone de Beauvoir’s conclusion to The Second Sex, which indeed thinks through the emancipation of humanity in its most radical form. After a full description of the dialectic of sex (a dualism structured by a negative relationality), she concludes that: “new carnal and affective relations of which we cannot conceive will be born between the sexes” (de Beauvoir [1949] 2010, 765). It is precisely by thinking through sexual difference to its remotest aspirations, thus alluding to difference structured by an affirmative relationality, that de Beauvoir came to produce the revolution in thought that has made her famous (and infamous), for constituting feminism as a rewriting of modernity—that is, feminism-as-differing. de Beauvoir exemplifies a new materialist take on difference, since by traversing the (sexual) dualism structuring modernist thought, modernity comes to be rewritten and difference is shown differing.


    1. The feminist point being that women are not “to deny […] the resources of prevailing knowledges as a mode of critique of those knowledges” (Grosz 2005, 165). When modernity can be (re)thought as thinking emancipation, women had better affirm it.return to text
    2. Deleuze and Guattari ([1980] 1987, 66) use the concept of “discourse” similarly to how Barad does. Following Foucault, this long quote brilliantly explains how this does away with the linguistic representations that have been so important in academia up until today:
      Let us follow Foucault in his exemplary analysis, which, though it seems not to be, is eminently concerned with linguistics. Take a thing like the prison: the prison is a form, the ‘prison-form’; it is a form of content on a stratum and is related to other forms of content (schools, barracks, hospital, factory). This thing or form does not refer back to the word “prison,” but to entirely different words and concepts, such as ‘delinquent’ and ‘delinquency’, which express a new way of classifying, stating, translating and even committing criminal acts. ‘Delinquency’ is the form of expression in reciprocal presupposition with the form of content ‘prison.’ Delinquency is in no way a signifier, even a juridical signifier, the signified would be that of the prison. That would flatten the entire analysis.
      return to text
    3. Grosz (2005, 123) reminds us of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s criticism of precisely the onto-epistemological aspect of the work of Bergson. He claims that it is a transcendentalism. We, however, do not define the onto-epistemological as “collapsing our knowledge of a thing with its being” and accept another onto-epistemology.return to text
    4. In an article that questions the monism of Bergson and claims that his work is Eurocentric and phallocentric, Rebecca Hill (2008, 132–3) ends with the following conclusion, thus undoing the argument presented in the article, yet affirming consciousness as a concept:
      In my view these passages demonstrate the valorization of a hypermasculine theory of life and corresponding devaluation of matter as feminine. This is not a binary hierarchy because Bergson’s concepts of life and matter are never actualised as pure activity and pure space. […] matter’s inclination towards pure repetition is never fully achieved. […] At the same time, life is not manifested as pure creative energy. […] Moreover, Bergson admits that if materiality was pure repetition, consciousness could never have installed itself within matter’s palpitations.
      return to text
    5. When different-from translates into worth-less-than, emancipation either means the inclusion of women, laborers, black people, and other Others in the hierarchically privileged domain (a strategy of equality) or the revaluation of the underprivileged domain (a strategy of difference). This binary opposition will be repositioned in the final section of this chapter.return to text
    6. In other words: modern and post-modern cultural theories are both structured along the lines of an equivocal logic.return to text