Beyond Representation: Plato, Deleuze and the Simulacra

Reason is the black widow in the cage of time. Spiderlike sufficient reason allows nothing to escape its dark power. Even the infinite cannot escape the grasp of this deadly creature, the venomous touch of reason kills everything within its purview, and like its dark precursor dissolves even the smallest elements into the acid bath of its formidable categories: identity, difference, doubling, and reflection. Representation is the disease of time, the cracked wand of a dead wizard whose power is dispersed among the broken vessels of light scattered to the four corners of the universe. Like ministers to a dead god our philosophers and scientists serve a Master illusionist, a sorcerer who has hoodwinked them all into believing in the power of the mind to capture reality in a box, when in truth the Real is the wilderness that can never be captured by thought.

The dialectic sought to push contradiction to its supreme limits, when in fact the filaments of this web thrown across this universe of doubt was itself made of the very essence of identity it sought to dispel, instead of truth we discovered in this net the capture of difference within the logic of identity that makes it the sufficient condition for difference to exist to begin with. In Hegel the game was rigged from the outset, the player and the played were bound to the curve of sufficient reason and clarity all along, and the touted power of this method was bound to a monocentric system of circular ratios that left no doubts to chance and necessity. Do not be fooled by those others who offer you the incompossibility of the world, either. Between compossibility and incompossibility there is no true connection or reversal, the former is not reducible to the identical, and the latter is not reducible to contradiction.1

As Deleuze reminds us incompossibility and compossibility testify to nothing less than the specificity of sufficient reason and to “a presence of the infinite – not only in the totality of possible worlds, but in each chosen world” as well (DR 263). Representation may be infinite, but it has no positive power to decenter or diverge from the repetitions of the Same. Caught in its own infinite loop it repeats itself ad infinitum like some clockwork god whose sole purpose is to subdue its own ouroboric horizon. “The ground of sufficient reason is nothing but a means of allowing the identical to rule over infinity itself. and allowing the continuity of resemblance, the relation of analogy and opposition of predicates to invade infinity” (DR 264). Between infinity and the finite, excess and default, difference is snared by a limiting point whether it seeks its ratio in the macro or micro, large or small, both directions lead back to the identical worlds of representation.

Underlying his critique of Hegel and Leibniz is the ever present thought of Nietzsche, the subterranean current of its genealogical movement. Of the two, Leibniz seems to fair best, for as Deleuze remarks:

His conceptions of the Idea as an ensemble of differential relations and singular points, the manner in which he begins with the inessential and constructs essences in the form of centres of envelopment around singularities, his presentiment of divergences, his procedure of vice-diction, his approximation to an inverse ration between the distinct and the clear, all show why the ground rumbles with greater power in the cast of Leibniz, why the intoxication and giddiness are less feigned in his case, why obscurity is better understood and the Dionysian shores are closer.(264)

Deleuze asks the question: What motivated the subordination of difference to the requirements of finite or infinite representation? As with everything in Deleuze we return to the spider-man, Plato, who began it all anyway. One should slow down and listen carefully to Deleuze at this point, study the movement of his logic, his method of teasing out the intricate layers of Platonic discourse that have down through the history of philosophy invaded the very core of its representational theories. If one could do nothing else, one should not only every commentary but every thread that has ever been mounted in uncovering what Deleuze confronts within his attack on certain false Platonisms, certain misunderstandings and misrecognitions in the long line of metaphysical thinking. Let us start here and see what we can:

It is correct to define metaphysics by reference to Platonism, but insufficient to define Platonism by reference to the distinction between essence and appearance. (264)

For Deleuze the claim that Ideas find their expression in actual entities might allow one to think of an Idea as the essence of a thing or object, but Deleuze would argue instead that “Ideas are by no means essences”(DR 187). He continues saying: “the domain of Ideas is that of the inessential. They proclaim their affinity with the inessential in a manner as deliberate and as fiercely obstinate as that in which rationalism proclaimed its possession and comprehension of essences” (DR 188). Yet, as Henry Somers-Hall in his new commentary on Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition qualifies: “perhaps more precisely …we can call an Idea an essence ‘only on condition of saying that the essence is precisely the accident, the event, the sense’ (DR 191/241).2

Deleuze’s theory of essences is both generative and genealogical, one apprehends the essence not as in Aristotle by eliminating all the properties that a thing is not, but through analogy and the singular genetic conditions for each of these states. Now what if Ideas had a shape, a structure that stretched across time? What if to really see an Idea is to directly experience its evolution, the immanent relations of its genetic conditions evolving over time, that in the instant of perception we apprehend both the original symmetry to which the Idea  remains anchored across time, as well as the forces that have acted both from outside and from within to produce it. There are two ways to think of this in an analogous way: first, in European art forms we see the gradual filling up of every aspect of space, the representation of every facet within the limited scope of the eye’s horizon; while in certain Eastern forms of art we discover that that there is at the center of the painting (not the literal center) an absence, a hole in the painting that cannot be filled up.  To the sensitive eye, even the simplest picture within our European traditions presents the spectacle of an object expanding from its center, pushing  outward and being checked by the counterforces of the environment. On the other hand within Eastern traditions the obverse effect comes about: the spectacle of an object recedes toward a black hole, imploding and sinking into an immanent darkness and obscurity that squeezes all the light into a singular point.

As one can see I have barely begun to tease out the underlying problematic of even the first sentence in this commentary and already I’m entering a labyrinth. I thought I’d be able to compress this into a simple discursive moment, but I’m seeing now that one could almost write a book on just this one page I’m dealing with. But I shall continue over a series of posts as I try to understand the kernel of Deleuze’s theory of problems (Ideas).

Ever since Plato the theory and practice of the representative arts have been founded, almost exclusively, upon the relationship between the real and its copy, essence and appearance, original and reproduction, image and likeness. In the long history of representation the enemy has always been the simulacrum which always undermined the dichotomy between essence and appearance, the real and its negation. An image without a model, lacking that crucial dependence upon resemblance or similitude, the simulacrum is a false claimant to being which calls into question the ability to distinguish between what is real and what is represented. The simulacrum also disturbs the order of priority: that the image must be secondary to, or come after, its model. For Deleuze the copy is an image endowed with resemblance, the simulacrum is an image without resemblance. “The catechism, so much inspired by Platonism, has familiarized us with this notion. God made man in his image and resemblance. Through sin, however, man lost his resemblance while maintaining the image. We have become simulacra. We have forsaken moral existence in order to enter into aesthetic existence” (“Plato and the Simulacrum”).

For Deleuze  what is needed is “to reverse Platonism”, and this  means to make the simulacra rise up out of its obscure ground and to affirm their rights among icons and copies. The problem no longer has to do with the distinction between essence and appearance or model and copy but rather with dissolving these distinctions entirely.

The simulacrum is not a degraded copy. It harbors a positive power which denies the original and the copy, the model and the reproduction. At least two divergent series are internalized in the simulacrum— neither can be assigned as the original, neither as the copy…. There is no longer any privileged point of view except that of the object common to all points of view. There is no possible hierarchy, no second, no third…. The same and the similar no longer have an essence except as simulated, that is as expressing the functioning of the simulacrum (“Plato and the Simulacrum”).

It was his friend Michel Focault who first understood the radicalism of Deleuze’s reversal of Platonism. In his essay “Theatrum Philosophicum,” Foucault showed how the “philosophy of representation—of the original, the first time, resemblance, imitation, faithfulness—is dissolving; and the arrow of the simulacrum released by the Epicurians is headed in our direction” (Foucault 1977, 172). The Latin term “simulacrum” has its crucial beginnings in Plato’s Greek dialogues, where it appears as the term we would translate as “phantasm” or “semblance.” Plato sought to distinguish essence from appearance, intelligible from sensible, and idea from image. His famous banishment of painters and poets from his republic was founded upon the embodiment of truth in the Eidos or Idea and his deep mistrust of “the imitator,” who, “being the creator of the phantom, knows nothing of reality” (Republic X, 601 c).

It was out of this logic of the simulacrum that Jean Baudrillard would push it to its final limits in a totalistic nihilism that would at once disperse its power and forgo any movement into the Dionysian seething maelstrom. In his now infamous work of 1981, Simulacres et simulation, he tells us that what has possibly always been at stake has always been the “murderous capacity of images: murderers of the real; murderers of their own model as the Byzantine icons could murder the divine identity. To this murderous capacity is opposed the dialectical capacity of representations as a visible and intelligible mediation of the real. All of Western Faith and good faith was engaged in this wager on representation: that a sign could refer to the depth of meaning, that a sign could exchange for meaning and that something could guarantee this exchange… Then the whole system becomes weightless; it is no longer anything but a gigantic simulacrum: not unreal, but a simulacrum, never again exchanging for what is real, but exchanging in itself, in an uninterrupted circuit without reference or circumference” (5-6).3

Another denizen of the simulacra was the science fiction Philip K. Dick. In his strange amalgam The Exegisis he suddenly realizes in the moment of a psychotic interlude, a creative movement when the world totters on the brink that “the black iron prison is the corpus of the great it as it was; our world is the process metamorphosis, interim, of an insect-like camouflaged, mimicking organism”.5

This breakthrough realization unifies all my themes:

(1) What is reality really? Not what it appears.
(2) There are “androids” or “the mantis” among us which appear human but only simulate humans.

The key linking (1) and (2) is: simulate.
Here is where I went wrong: the simulation is (1) not evil (as I thought) and it is not less than what it simulates (as I thought) but more: not clever simulacra-reflex machines, but angelic, and not a human here and there but our entire reality (or nearly— it does cast out— reject— parts of what it was and not incorporate them).

[21: 22] This all goes back to what I figured out before: it is the irreal vs. the real; the inauthentic vs. the authentic. I.e., that which is (being) in contrast to that which only seems. So to me it is epistemology which is involved: rootedness in truth vs. the lie. Throughout all my writing (including TMITHC especially) there is a preoccupation with fakes and the fake: fake worlds, fake humans, fake objects, fake time, etc. “The authentic human vs. the android or reflex machine” is the essence of it. Again and again I attempt to formulate criteria for what is fake and what is not fake, in every area. From a comic book to a world leader to a girl friend to an entire universe. “Things are seldom what they seem”— right. It has to do with reality testing, which is related to another theme of mine: mental illness (which brings in hallucinations) and deliberate deception (v. Penultimate Truth, The Simulacra, Game Players of Titan, etc., novels I usually overlook, and mental illness brings in Martian Time-Slip, Dr. Blood Money, The Simulacra, Clans. So virtually all of my writing interlocks at this substratum.).

This idea of reality testing, of testing the perimeters of the real at its limiting intervention, at the moment that it breaks down and the order of the symbolic and imaginary fail us and drive us to experience the “sense” of the Real in all its murderous flux brings us back to Deleuze. Here I quote in full the final movement from Difference and Repetition of this particular post regarding the problematique of Platonism:

The primary distinction which Plato rigorously establishes is the one between the model and the copy. The copy, however, is far from a simple appearance, since it stands in an internal, spiritual, noological and ontological relation with the Idea or model. the second and more profound distinction is the one between the copy itself and the phantasm. It is clear that Plato distinguishes, and even opposes, models and copies only in order  to obtain a selective criterion with which to separate copies and simulacra, the former founded upon their relation to the model while the latter are disqualified because they fail both the test of the copy and the requirements of the model. While there is indeed appearance, it is rather a matter of distinguishing the splendid and well-grounded Apollonian appearances from the other, insinuative, malign and maleficent appearances which respect the ground no more than the ground. This Platonic wish to exorcize simulacra is what entails the subjugation of difference. (DR 264-265)

Unlike later representative theories Plato’s was based on an ethical decision. Deleuze tells us that what Plato condemned “in the figure of the simulacra is the state of free, oceanic differences, of nomadic distributions and crowned anarchy, along with all the malice which challenges both the notion of the model and that of the copy” (DR 265). He tells us that later on theologians and philosophers alike would forget this moral grounding, but would “nevertheless continue to act in the distinction between the originary and the derived, the original and the sequel, the ground and the grounded, which animates the hierarchies of a representative theology by extending the complementarity between the model and copy” (DR 265).

This is a good spot to finish up this particular post… I’ll continue again as I begin to tease out more and more of the Deleuzean problematique.

1. Gilles Deleuze. Difference and Repetition. (263) (Columbia University Press).
2. Henry Sommers-Hall. Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition. (Edinburgh Philosophical Guides, 2013).
3. Jean Baudrillard. Simulacra and Simulation.  University of Michigan Press (February 15, 1995)
4. D.E. Wittkower. Philip K. Dick and Philosophy: Do Androids Have Kindred Spirits? Open Court (October 17, 2011)
5. Dick, Philip K.; Lethem, Jonathan; Jackson, Pamela (2011-11-08). The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick (Kindle Locations 5378-5379). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
* Note: Some of my notes on Simulacra were mined as well from an excellent essay by Michael Camille, “Simulacrum and Art History”. Critical Terms for Art History, ed. Robert S. Nelson and Richard Shiff. University of Chicago Press, 1996. pp. 31 – 44.

8 thoughts on “Beyond Representation: Plato, Deleuze and the Simulacra

  1. Accelerating toward the end of my project I find everything sucked into its wake. Fiction is a kind of simulacrum without an original. If the writer is describing in words a reality that’s already pre-existing in his head, then there is a kind of idealistic original to which the text points. But if you’re making things up as you go along, then the fictional reality takes shape in conjunction with the words and sentences and paragraphs — the map coincident with the territory.

    But it’s hard to make texts non-representational. It’s easier in the plastic arts, where line and shape, color and texture need not refer to anything beyond themselves. But it’s hard to shuck language of its descriptive function without delving into solipsistic psychosis. Even a poem, a textual object made out of words, tends to trigger in the reader — or in me, anyhow — the nearly instinctive attempt to make sense of it, to find its meaningful referents.

    What seems equally hard to resist is turning even non-representational artworks or incompossible fictions into representations of the world outside of themselves. So an incompossible text is read as pointing beyond itself metaphorically to the inchoate and infinite potentialities of the world and of the imagination, etc. etc.

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    • Exactly! Yes, in that sense writing is already bound to a frame, Book, Essay, etc. McLuhan’s the medium is the message, etc. You’re already forced within a mold, a copy of a copy, a simulacra that binds you to a linguistic trap marked out for you ages ago. The whole ideas of subverting this of providing actions theory and action practices to move to the side of this frame and produce both relays and networks that would deterritorialize without returning it to a hierarchical system (reterritorialized). I don’t think there are any easy answers to this dilemma for fiction authors. In some ways what Philip K. Dick was doing with his use of the gnostic metaphor and insanity metaphorics was an attempt to subvert representational techniques.

      There was always that fine line between schizophrenia and schizoanalyis in his own work (he admitted issues and concerns). When I read Stanislaw Lem and others… Bill Burroughs, Will Self, J.G. Ballard, etc. I see pointers in this direction. There is always an edge between comprehensibility and incomprehensibility in these works, of what is composible and imcompossible. Even the work between Deleuze and Guattari were experiments in this direction… I think that if we escaped Reason and Representation altogether we would be forming alternative worlds with new ways of being…. isn’t this the problem for those we have put in institutions and asylums? Haven’t they already circumvented the realms of reason and representation? Yet, being unable to renter the halls of reason and communicate to us their worlds in our terms we lock them away and isolate them from the rest of society. Maybe one day they will lock us away instead….or, better yet, maybe they will enter those networks and relays and vanish from our world altogether. The emptiness of asylums….

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    • Also kept thinking of Deleuze’s conversation with Foucault in a new post, where he says: “It is always a multiplicity, even within the person who speaks and acts. All of us are “groupuscules.” ”

      Deleuze once said: “Guattari’s formula, “we are all groupuscles,” indeed heralds the search for a new subjectivity, a group subjectivity, which does not allow itself to be enclosed in a whole bent on reconstituting a self (or even worse, a superego), but which spreads itself out over several groups at once. These groups are divisible, manifold, permeable, and always optional. A good group does not take itself to be unique, immortal, and significant, unlike a defense ministry or homeland security office, unlike war veterans, but instead plugs into an outside that confronts the group with its own possibilities of nonsense, death, and dispersal “precisely as a result of its opening up to other groups.” (‘Three Group-Related Problems’ from Desert Islands )

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      • This also reminds me of James Joyce when asked about Finnegans Wake he said, “I’m not writing this. No, the guy over there, and that guy, and you, and all these others, their the ones writing this. Not me.” It’s as if he were already practicing that intensive multiplicity that Deleuze would later see in Joyce. With all fiction if seems to move in that “as if…” it’s always situated outside representation in the sense that it floats between “sense” and “nonsense” and communicates more that it contains, an excess that cannot be bound within a stable representative theory.

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    • Are you suggesting something like Baudrillard’s notions? Do you have examples? Obviously in the Platonic sense we are copies of copies, etc. But that’s within a dualistic framework, of which Deleuze rejects for a radical immanence precluding this Platonic distinction.

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