Deleuze on Whitehead & Leibniz (2)

[Part 2: Everything is event ]

Everything is event, yes, including the great pyramid, says Whitehead. Even from the perspective of style, he’s quite Leibnizian.
Generally, we consider an event as a category of very special things, for example, I go out into the street and get run over by a bus. It’s an event. But the great pyramid is not an event. At most, I would say, well ok, the construction of the great pyramid is an event, but not the great pyramid itself. A chair is not an event, it’s a thing. Whitehead said that the chair is an event, not only the chair’s production. The great pyramid is an event. It’s very important to understand that this is possible, the expression “everything is event.” In what way can the great pyramid be event? I jump to Leibniz, and I would like to jump perpetually from one to the other. We started off from certain determinations related to Adam. He was in the garden and he sinned, he committed a sin. To sin is obviously an event, it belongs to what everyone calls event. But the garden itself is equally an event. A flower is an event. Ok, so what? Does that mean insofar as it grows? Insofar as it emerges? But it never ceases to emerge, to grow. Or when it has finished growing, it never ceases to wither. It’s part of the flower itself, and at each instant of its duration, I must say it’s an event. And the chair? The chair is an event, not only its production. In what way is the great pyramid an event?

It is so insofar as it has duration, for example, five minutes. Insofar as the pyramid lasts five minutes, it is an event. Insofar as it lasts five more minutes, it’s another event. I can connect the two events by saying: it lasts ten minutes. Every thing, says Whitehead, is a passage of nature. In English, it’s “passage of nature”. Let’s correct a little in order to get back to Leibniz: every thing is a passage of God. This is strictly the same. Every thing is a passage of nature. The great pyramid is an event, and is even an infinite multiplicity of events. What does the event consist of? Literally every thing is a dance of electrons, or every thing is a variation of an electro-magnetic filed. And with that, we place a foot quite carefully into physics.
For example, the event which is the life of nature in the great pyramid, yesterday and today. Perhaps we must foresee that there is not a single great pyramid, but that there are perhaps two great pyramids. That’s what he says in the text. But we are going too quickly… for the moment, that’s how it is. Ok, there are no things, there are only events, everything is event.
An event is the support for an infinity of processes, processes of subjectivation, of individuation, of rationalization. Everything you’d like. Subjects are going to be born, rationalities, individualities are going to be traced, but all of that is in the events. Everything is event, but a classification of events is indeed required. For example, now must we pose the problem of freedom in terms of events? Is there a difference in nature between the events that a subject – assuming that I know what a subject is – that a subject undergoes, or that a subject brings forth? Which means: for create an event (faire événement).
[turning over the tape]
Cours Vincennes – St Denis : l évènement, Whitehead – 10/03/1987, part II
If I can identify the great pyramid through two passages of nature, by saying: it’s the same pyramid, it’s the great pyramid, it’s uniquely thanks to an eternal object. I wanted to make you grasp what this philosophy contains that’s at once very familiar and very strange for us. Philosophy should create such modes of thought. Besides, that the title of one of Whitehead’s books, Modes of Thought. If I summarize, I see three coordinates: the actual occasions defined by conjunctions, prehensions, and eternal objects.
To the actual occasion correspond the concepts of conjunction, concrescence, and creativity; to prehensions correspond all the elements that we’ve not yet seen from prehension, all the components of prehension; to eternal objects correspond the different types of eternal object. For example, there are sensible eternal objects and there are conceptual eternal objects … no that’s bad, what I just said… there are eternal objects that refer to sensible qualities, and other that refer to scientific concepts. All of that is relatively easy. But we have three problems, and it’s there that I really need Isabelle.
First problem: we started off from conjunctions, that is, from actual occasions, we already gave ourselves events and a world of events. Can we undertake the genesis of the event? How do we arrive at conjunctions? Are conjunctions just given like that? For it is not at all a given that there are conjunctions in the world. How are we to explain that there are conjunctions in the world. For me, I don’t know what Isabelle will say, it’s the fundamental problem of Whitehead’s philosophy. If that problem is managed, all the rest unfolds, not as a given, but all the rest unfolds rather well. That is really the most difficult problem, where Whitehead is both a physician and mathematician. He needs there an entire mode of physico-mathematics to take account of the formation of conjunctions, that is, of the formation of actual occasions. Why? Consider this: we start from an random distribution, a type like the random distribution of electrons, or a variation of an electro-magnetic field. How do conjunctions form in such a world? If we don’t have a precise answer to that, well then we will have failed. We need a precise answer to that question.
The second question will be: what is a prehension made of? What are the elements of a prehension? And if it’s true that the actual occasion is a conjunction, we must say in Whitehead’s vocabulary, I forgot to indicate this, that an aggregate of prehensions is a nexus. Second problem: the components of prehensions.
Third problem: the modes of eternal objects.
The most difficult for me is this initial genesis. How do we arrive at conjunctions, why are there conjunctions? Is there a reason for conjunctions, a reason that can only be mathematical and physical? I would like Isabelle’s thoughts. How do you see all this?
Isabelle Stengers: [Isabelle is quite far from the microphone, and her long intervention is barely audible].
Gilles Deleuze: That’s very interesting. We don’t have to discuss everything. What strikes me is that seems to interest Whitehead – the fundamental aspect of all great thinkers – what seems to interest Isabelle Stengers in Whitehead is not what interests me most. It’s not a question of saying who is right or wrong, it’s my turn to ask Isabelle questions because I am sure she is able to answer, without at all giving up her viewpoint. She told us this quite exactly: it is true that at the start of his work, for example in the Concept of Nature, Whitehead still thought it possible to create a genesis of the actual occasion, that is, a genesis of conjunctions. And OK, she tells me, at that moment, he thought only a mathematical physics can give us the key to this genesis. And then she says, he might have senses that, at the moment if he made a genesis of conjunctions, an idea to which he was greatly attached, since every conjunction is new, it is in fact novelty (nouveauté), in its essence it is novelty; there is not actual occasion that would not be new. It [the conjunction] is not the effect of preceding actual occasions, there is no determinism. An actual occasion is active, it is prehension, that is, prehending – well, since an actual occasion can not be deducted from anything other that itself, Isabelle thinks that he would have renounced, or at least less interested in its genesis in order to take the problem to a level of a finality and of a very particular conception of God which, ultimately, operates at the level of actual occasions. As for me, I think, as we will see, that the genesis of conjunctions, or the genesis of actual occasions, the physico-mathematical genesis, is something that Whitehead will not renounce, provided that this genesis fully respects the requirement that Isabelle signals, specifically that is must not be a genesis such that the actual occasion would derive, flow or result from its genetic components. It must be a genesis that takes account of this, that the only law of the actual occasion is always to be a novelty in relation to its components.
And it is precisely this genesis of novelty that is essential, genesis of novelty as such, that is, that implies no reduction of the new to the former. It is this very genesis that Whitehead, because he knows so much math and physics, is going to create in conditions that, in fact, make of him and his philosophy one of the rare philosophies – in my view, with Bergson’s – to have operated a fundamental linkage with modern science.
In this, we have to ask Isabelle each time, does that work, or does it not? He starts from something, he gives himself something. We are in the problem of the genesis of occasions, or the genesis of conjunctions. A conjunction in something new, of the type: there’s a concert this evening. It’s a novelty, and you won’t engender it; it is not a result. It is not the effect of a cause. A genesis is not causal. So then, what is it? Where does it come from? I am adding a question mark to all my sentences. It comes from “many,” you will excuse my accent, I’ll never be able to pronounce it. I say it in English… I would say it comes from the multiple, but a pure and random multiplicity. He gives it a name in Process and Reality, it’s the pure state of disjunctive diversity. He gives himself any disjunctive diversity whatsoever (une diversité disjunctive quelconque). The word disjunctive is very important since one starts from the opposite of conjunction. Disjunctive diversity, what is it? I don’t know. We’ll see. What matters is that at each of these steps, there is a kind of adjustment with Leibniz that is astounding, such that all of this is a prodigious reading of Leibniz, at the same time that it brings forth a new Leibniz for us. It’s a new actual occasion. Astounding. It comes in this way from “many”, a random multiplicity defined by the disjunctive diversity. Isabelle, do you grant me that?
Second point, that is going to be the first step of the genesis. It will show us that, starting with this step of disjunctive diversity, something absolutely new is produced, the first step of novelty, sketched in this disjunctive diversity of infinite, limitless series, which tend toward no limit. Infinite, limitless series. It’s like the step, this first moment, it’s infinite divisibility. The disjunctive diversity, we will see how and why — there are many questions in what I am saying, I am setting out a map – undergoes a process of infinite divisibility that organizes infinite, limitless series [inaudible word]. So at this stage, a question: what are these limitless series, unlimited series, infinite series without limits? I will begin to answer by saying that this first step rests on an analysis of vibration. Ultimately, at the basis of the event, there are vibrations. At the basis of actual events, there are vibrations.
The first step was the “many”, any old vibrations, random vibrations.
For those who know Bergson, perhaps you recall the splendid ending of Matter and Memory: the basis of matter is vibration, and vibrations of vibration. The intersection with Bergson emerges at all sorts of levels, these philosophers are very close. Everything is vibration. Why does vibration already produce this initial order? It’s because every vibration has sub-multiples and extends on these sub-multiples. The property of vibration is to extend on these sub-multiples. In this I am not really speaking scientifically, it’s just so you can locate things in your head; that has a famous name in all domains, these are harmonics. In this I don’t need to underscore the wink at Leibniz. All this is important for your future. A color is a vibration, a sound is a vibration. As such, every sound has harmonics, every color has harmonics.
My hypothesis is this: it is vibration that emerges in the “many,” but how does it emerge, there where we are pushed back… we have to answer, and I beg you please not to abandon me if I don’t answer everything, or else everything will collapse, and so fine. If everything collapses, we will say: we were wrong, Whitehead isn’t a great philosopher. Yet obviously Whitehead is a great philosopher, one of genius. So ok, a vibration is formed in the “many”, and with that moment, disjunctive diversity starts to be organized into an infinite, limitless series. We must assume that each vibration has sub-multiples, has harmonics into infinity, within pure cosmos. The cosmos was the “many”, that is, chaos. It was the chaos cosmos.
Third step: infinite vibratory series… in other words, every infinitely divisible vibration has certain intrinsic characteristics. The intrinsic characteristics either concerning the nature of the envisaged vibration, or even – extrinsic characteristics – its relations with other vibrations. I would say that a sonorous vibration has characteristics of duration, height, intensity, timber. Color has characteristics, intrinsic and extrinsic, that are tint, saturation, value, the three great dimensions of color, of what color will be, but it’s open, we can always find a new one. For a long time, these three variables of color were noted: tint, saturation, and value. Since the end of the 19th century, we tend more and more to add to these the extent (l’étendue) of color to then define a very interesting new variable that also depends on extent and value, and that is called the weight of color.

You recall the vibration enters into infinite, limitless series; these are characteristics, or rather as Whitehead says, the quantities, the quantitative expressions capable of measuring them, of measuring these characteristics; the quantitative expressions able to measure these characteristics enter into series that converge toward limits. The vibratory series are not convergent and have no limits. It’s the first stage of genesis. Second stage of genesis: the series of intrinsic and extrinsic characteristics converge toward limits. This time we have an idea of converging series. The timbers are going to form a converging series; the intensities are going to form a convergent series; the heights are going to form a convergent series, etc. etc. The tints are going to form a convergent series. It’s beautiful. It’s a thing of very great beauty. It’s a genesis of the most… and it’ also so full of science, it’s a very modern way, but yet it’s very simple.
So the first stage, the “many” or the disjunctive diversity; second stage, the organization of infinite, limitless series with the vibrations and the sub-multiples of vibrations; third stage, formation of convergent series toward limits. Fourth stage, everything is ready: the actual occasion is the conjunction. The conjunction comes after the convergence. The conjunction is a meeting of two convergent series, at least. You have engendered the actual occasion, and that does not prevent the actual occasion, which is a conjunction, from being radically new in relation to the genetic series that engender it, in relation to two convergent series, at least. It [the conjunction] is completely new.
Hence, fifth [stage] then, from which the actual occasion is made – once we say that we must not confuse the elements of the actual occasion and the conditions of the actual occasion, I would say the requisites of the actual occasion. The requisites of the actual occasion are: the disjunctive diversity, the infinite, limitless vibratory series, the convergent series. These are the successive requisites of the actual occasion, that is, of the conjunction. So you have four terms: 1) the many, 2) the infinite, limitless series, 3) the convergence of series, that is, these are evidently not the same series that become convergent, these are new series; 4) the conjunction of series which yield the actual occasion; 5) what are the elements to be, and not the requisites, the elements of the actual occasion, that is, what is an actual occasion made of? Answer: it is made of prehensions. But what is a prehension made of, what are the elements of the prehension, what are the component elements and not the requisite conditions? So why does this matter to me?
Is this very clear as a schema? Realize that this refers to all kinds of things in math and in physics, it correspond to each person’s taste, you don’t strictly need to know anything to understand, or at least to feel it. As for “feeling” as Whitehead says, you can even see this world being formed; the “many” is a kind of soup, it’s the great soup, it’s what the cosmologists call “the pre-biotic soup,” the disjointed members, what Empedocles already called the membrae disjunctae. That links so well with everything that is important in philosophy. It’s the river that carries along the membrae disjunctae, the scattered members, an arm then a nose, it’s chaos. But we must assume that it’s not a nose, it’s an electron of a nose. So that in this soup are traced limitless series without convergence. It’s so close to Leibniz. And then each one of these limitless series without convergence has a characteristic, and the characteristics of series enter themselves into convergent series. When they have entered into convergent series, then conjunctions are produced, like lumps in your soup. It’s an actual occasion precipitated by a lump; wow! An occasion, and you will notice that your lump is composed of prehensions. Well, is this clear, if not I will start it all over again! I am insisting on this; in my view, such a genesis escape the danger indicated by Isabelle, because the actual occasion is not at all presented as a passive result. Each time there is activity and retro-activity. The convergent series react on infinite series without convergence, the conjunctions react on the convergent series. At each level, there is emergence of a new type of activity. The series is an activity, the convergence of series is another activity, the conjunction another activity, etc… So there, she granted me the stage of “the many” or of the disjunctive diversity. We pass on to the second stage. Isabelle, when you wrote “States and Process”, did you already know Whitehead? Yes! My question is very simple. We don’t know very well what happened in the disjunctive diversity, but we grant ourselves vibrations. There is the formation of vibrations. Where do they come from, vibrations? On this point, I need Isabelle less. Can I say that these vibration form infinite series that convergent toward no limit, and it’s the case of a vibration in relation to its harmonics, assuming an infinity of harmonics within chaos? Can I say that, or else is it a physically stupid proposition?
Isabelle Stengers: [Unfortunately still inaudible due to the distance from the microphone]

(to be continued…)

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