What is subjectivity other than a pattern of life? A pattern that answers the question posed by a dialectic of subjectivity. Among the candidates of this pattern: Locke’s selfhood, Husserl’s transcendental ego, personal identity. In this blog I will show how a different logic reveals this pattern of life: Gilles Deleuze’s “impersonal individuation,” (Difference and Repetition, p. 277) one that is distinct from personal individuation, a singularity instead of something particular.
If life is indefinite, then no pattern can ever completely graph life tout court; it is always just “a” life. The characterization of life as “impersonal, yet singular” distinguishes it from the self and obliges a more unbridled version of empiricism, that of transcendental empiricism.
As opposed to classical empiricism, which is but an shopping list for epistemic ingredients (where ideas are born from atomistic sensations, and are amplified according to rules of logic or abstract generalizations), transcendental empiricism is an ontological poem about beings. A poem that credits difference its due as a primary concept, rather than a derivative concept of identity, as well as a philosophy that allows far greater role to the social and historical nature of experience than classical empiricism. Less of a philosophy of the senses, empiricism, since Deleuze sees it as experimentation, is a philosophy of the imagination. The act of thinking is belief, which means knowledge is actually legitimate belief. This description invites a philosophical investigation of the conditions that legitimate belief. However, unlike Kant’s transcendental idealism, those conditions are not logically necessary, but dependent upon the nature of experience as it is lived.
What Deleuze found in David Hume was a brand new conception of subjectivity that radicalized the traditional reading of associationism. Since ideas lack an inherent structure, there is an infinite number of ways to bring them together in different patterns that generate understanding and creativity. Hume rejected the possibility of universal principles that govern the association of ideas, which is not to be understood as a scientific model of the human mind or anything more than the practice of cultural and conventional formulations. The existence of the laws of society, of economics, aesthetics, etc., results in these association of ideas.
Sensation is often confused with “sense data” which is something inert and awaits their placement in a categorical or discursive synthesis that guarantees the unity of their multitudinous instances for the cogito. The being of sensation is merely that which can only be sensed, for there is no pre-existing category for it. Sensation occurs at the inception of sense, at a virginal moment that is prior to cognition, before it becomes categorized or synthesized in discourse.
This account of sensation is presented according to the unique logic of multiplicity that is neither dialectical nor transcendental, prior not only to the world of the subject and object, but as well as the logical connection of Gottlob Frege’s subject and predicate and set functions (his proposed substitute for sensation).
Hume was the first to describe the logic of multiplicity as the logic of an “and,” which is both irreducible and prior to the “is” of predication.
“Think with AND instead of thinking IS, instead of thinking for IS: empiricism never had another secret.” (Dialogues, p. 57)
This is a constructivist logic of an unfinished series, rather than a calculus of distinct, countable collections that is governed by conventions and problematizations, or axioms or fixed rules of inference. Constructivism is inseparable from play, artifice, and fiction.
Hume connects empiricism and subjectivity in a new way that departs from Locke regarding personal identity. For Locke, self is not “le moi” or “le je” (the I or the me), but the individual ownership (myself, yourself) and sameness over time (identity). But in Hume, the idea of the self, the person the possession is no longer given, merely an artifice or fiction that endures and entrenches a habit we believe as an incorrigible illusion of life, and through this artifice the self becomes part of nature. Once this insight is understood properly, then instead of the habits of the self and the assumption of human nature, other ways of composing sensations become possible. A new and superior empiricism emerges, one that is concerned with the singular, yet inhuman, in the composition of ourselves.
Deleuze was much like the other contemporary French thinkers who were suspicious of a constituting subject or consciousness, but he found an empiricist way out of suspicion through a radical reading of Hume.
Hume presents the self as an incorrigible illusion, and how we live with the consistency of an enduring self, although it is born of “delirium, chance, indifference.” This leaves us wondering whether it is possible to construct an empiricist or experimental relation to the persistence of this zone or plane of pre-subjective delirium and pre-individual singularity in our lives as well as our relations with others?