Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition

Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) was a French philosopher, literary critic, art critic, and film critic. He was born in Paris, and was educated at the Lycée Carnot and at the Sorbonne. He taught philosophy at the Sorbonne, at the University of Lyon (1964-69), and at the University of Paris VIII-Vincennes (1969-87). At Vincennes, he met the psychoanalyst Félix Guattari (1930-92), with whom he co-authored Capitalisme et Schizophrenie (1972, Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Volume I: Anti-Oedipus; Volume 2: A Thousand Plateaus) and Qu'est-ce que la philosophie? (1991, What is Philosophy?). He retired from teaching in 1987. After years of declining health due to a chronic respiratory illness, he committed suicide by jumping from the window of his apartment in Paris in 1995. His other philosophical works included Différence et répetition (1968, Difference and Repetition), and Logique du sens (1969, The Logic of Sense).

Difference and Repetition explains how a philosophy of difference may enable difference to become an affirmative concept. Difference is not merely a negation of sameness, says Deleuze. Difference may have a meaning that is independent of sameness, and repetition may be independent of the sameness of any given events or actions. Difference may be internal to the nature of every idea, and every idea may have various elements that differ from each other. Pure difference may not depend on a relation of sameness between concepts or representations, and it may affirm the actuality of a Platonic, Leibnizian, or Kantian Idea.

Pure difference may be reflected by complex repetition, because both difference and repetition may be independent of any relation of sameness, similarity, resemblance, or equivalence between events or meanings. Complex repetition may disguise its own variability, and it may thus conceal difference within itself. Perseveration, on the other hand, is an invariable form of expression that has a mode of sameness but not difference in its presentation.

A "bare" (simple) repetition is a mechanical, stereotyped repetition of the same element, but a "clothed" (complex) repetition is a repetition that conceals its own variability. Complex repetition may have various elements that multiply or reflect each other.

Repetition is horizontal and static insofar as it is sameness, but it is vertical and dynamic insofar as it is difference. The play of difference between sameness and difference is also the play of difference between simple and complex repetition, between covered and uncovered repetition, between masked and unmasked repetition, between horizontal and vertical repetition, and between static and dynamic repetition.

Difference may be internal to an idea or external to a conceptual mode of representation. It may be extrinsic or intrinsic, generic or specific, essential or accidental, actual or virtual. It may have extensity and intensity. Difference in itself is intensity. Difference as intensity may be explicated by a mode of inquiry that explores its extensity. Intensity may be explicated by extensities that are "differenciated."1

Difference may be subordinated to sameness by being represented as a lack of identity of concepts, as a lack of resemblance between perceptions, as a lack of analogy between judgments, or as an opposition between predicates.2 These four aspects of subordination of difference to sameness may combine to form a fourfold root of inadequate representation.

Deleuze proposes eight "postulates for the image of thought" that conceptualize the process of thought as a mode of representation. These eight postulates of thought affirm sameness and not difference as the primary mode of representation, and thus they do not provide an affirmative basis for a philosophy of difference. The postulates are (1) that everyone already knows how "thought" is to be defined, (2) that common sense and good sense guarantee this knowledge and understanding, (3) that recognition of an object is determined by the sameness of the object, (4) that representation can appropriately subordinate the concept of difference to the Same, the Similar, the Analogous, and the Opposed, (5) that any error that occurs in thinking is caused by external rather than internal mechanisms, (6) that the truth of a proposition is only determined by whatever is designated by the proposition, (7) that problems are only defined by their solutions, and (8) that learning is only a means of gaining knowledge.3 Each of these eight postulates or models of thought may become an obstacle to the understanding of pure difference and complex repetition.

Pure difference may be distorted if it is forced to comply with the limitations of representation. Pure difference cannot be represented affirmatively by any concept that reduces it to being merely an absence of sameness. Representation affirms the mode of expression by which a concept may be identical, similar, analogous, or opposed to another concept. Representation thus considers difference to be a contradiction of sameness. Difference as divergence, deflection, disparateness, or dissimilarity cannot be affirmed by representation.

In relation to sameness, similarity, resemblance, or equivalence, difference and repetition may only be seen as objects of representation. Representation can only simulate bare, mechanical repetition, and it cannot simulate complex repetition, which may be characterized by difference, dissemblance, disguising, displacement, and variability.

Just as repetition implies a relation between a "repeater" and a "repeated," difference implies a relation between a "differenciator" and a "differenciated." "Differentiation" is the determination of the virtual content of an idea, while "differenciation" is the actualization of the content of an idea as diverse elements or parts. To actualize something is to "differenciate" it. Thus, "differenciation" may be a mode of problem-solving. It may be a process by which the solution of a problem is integrated into the solution of other problems in order to form a more global and integrated solution.4

Every proposition has a dimension of expression and a dimension of designation, explains Deleuze. Expression is the dimension of sense, and designation is the dimension of truth or falsehood. These two dimensions of logical function (expression and designation) are not independent of each other, because expression must establish the relation between a proposition and whatever truth or falsehood is designated by that proposition. Thus, the truth or falsehood of a proposition must be grounded in the sense of that proposition.

According to Deleuze, "signification" is a relation between concepts and their objects in a given field of representation, while "sense" is the expressive content of a conceptual object that may not necessarily be located in a representational field. Thus, a conceptual object that is self-contradictory may have sense without having any meaning or signification.

Sense may be found in problems. Propositions may be inspired by problems. Problems are not merely hypotheses or categories of uncertainty; they are ultimate questions that must be answered. Problems may be singular or universal.5

Problems are ideas, says Deleuze, and ideas are problems.6 An idea is different from a concept, because it may be differentiated into various elements, while a concept may have only a single identity that is determined by the four dimensions of representation (identity, similarity, analogy, and opposition).7

Concepts may in some cases be blocked from being fully comprehended.Although blocked concepts may be prevented from being fully comprehended, unblocked concepts may be infinitely comprehended. A natural blockage may be due to a discrete extension or finite comprehension of a concept, but an artificial blockage may be due to a logical limitation involving the comprehension of a concept.

Ideas may express a kind of difference that cannot be reduced to a lack of similarity between concepts. Ideas are different from concepts, because they have a mode of internal differentiation that is not blocked by finite extension. However, the internal differentiation of any idea may be displaced or disguised by complex repetition of the elements of that idea.

Nietzsche’s theory of eternal recurrence affirms the nature of pure difference, says Deleuze, because it views reality as a continual state of becoming. Difference and repetition are affirmed by the eternal recurrence of all things. The eternal return may be compared to a circle in which difference is at the center and sameness is at the periphery. In this circle, difference becomes a divergence or decentering, and the eternal return thus leads to multiple centers of meaning that give depth to the world of difference.8 However, representation of an object or perception is a kind of mediation that has only a single center and that lacks the depth of the world of difference. If sameness is placed at the center of the circle of representation, then difference is at the periphery. Even if an infinite number of representations of an object are produced, they will all converge at the point that corresponds to the identity of the object at the center of the circle of representation.9

Deleuze emphasizes the importance of describing difference and repetition affirmatively. Difference as intensity is explicated by defining its extensity. Intensity is implicated in the actualization of extensity. Extensity cannot be separated from intensity. Thus, the philosophy of difference has a diversifying as well as unifying influence on our understanding of the world.


1Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, translated by Paul Patton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), p. 230.
3Ibid., p. 155.
4Ibid., p. 211.
5Ibid., p. 163.
6Ibid., p. 168.
7Ibid., p. 288.
8Ibid., p. 55.
9Ibid., p. 55-6.


Deleuze, Gilles. Difference and Repetition. Translated by Paul Patton. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994

Review by Alex Scott

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