Chapter 12: “Immanence: A Life” by Gilles Deleuze
What’s on Gilles’s mind is life. More to the point, it is at what point can a life be called “a life”? This is what’s consuming his theoretical brain, causing him to overload. After reading this selection from his 2001 book Pure Immanence: Essays on a Life, you may feel odd knowing that the author’s brain has yet to short circuit; this is because after trying to piece together how terms like “transcendental field” and “absolute immanence” interact with a sort of “Spinozism consciousness.” In any case, it may freak you out a bit.
Deleuze says that what he calls the “transcendental field” may be distinguished from experience in that “it doesn’t refer to an object or belong to a subject (empirical representation). It appears therefore as a pure stream of a-subjective consciousness, a pre-reflective personal consciousness… (178)”. This mode of consciousness is then at odds with sensation, or, simple empiricism. Deleuze’s effort here is not to describe what cannot be proved, but to give life to the concept of pre-life which remains lodged in every living creature’s identity.
This being said, however, the relation of consciousness to the transcendental field is “only a conceptual one (178)”. The transcendental field is defined but only by its removal from all things concrete, material. Yet consciousness is a “coextensive with it.” A partner in the field so as long as it “traverses the transcendental field at an infinite speed everywhere diffused”, is the field able to relate itself to the transcendent; without this concept the transcendental field would only be a field of pure immanence. Neither are defined by their relation to the transcendental subject. Rather, it is through their conceptual apparatus which collides with one another are we able to gleam the purity of their thought.
Such is important to grasp because the transcendental field “is defined by a plane of immanence, and the plane of immanence by a life. (179)” This life is pure life: unadulterated and devoid of corruption. Only this sort of life may define the plane of immanence; why? Because it is a singularization which contrasts against individuation, freed from the worldly aesthetics which defined it, the singular life is pure in its meaning of the transcendent it represented. Moreover, this liberated life (as it may be called), is everywhere: “an immanent life carrying with it the events or singularities that are merely actualized in subjects and objects. (179)” Therefore, it is not a life as you or I understand it but rather a metaphysical life, a concept, which encompasses an indefinite article; that piece determined by the singular. Put another way, “The One is not the transcendent that might contain immanence but the immanent contained within a transcendental field. (180)” Taken further, everyone, Deleuze gives the example of small children, has this trait, at least in the beginning before individualization sets in. Ergo “all transcendence is constituted solely in the flow of immanent consciousness that belong to this plane. Transcendence is always a product of immanence. (180)” Which in turn gives life to the thesis of (1) life formed from these seemingly abstract possibilities, and (2) this said life relating back to its origins in terms of being composed only of “virtuals,” or “events and singularities” those strata “engaged in the process of actualization. (180)” Henceforth why a wound is something far grander than a mere boo boo.
After spending a bit of time engaged with the material, it will not appear as ludicrous as it appears. The overall concept is rather simple: life is formed from only a large finitude of possibilities which exist for the sake of existing prior to material fruition. It takes a while to wrap one’s head around this, and even longer to consider taking this kind of philosophizing to the next level. Foregoing the masturbatory dissemination, theoreticians (especially those living on the existential edge), will find Deleuze’s short essay here thought provoking.