The Syntheses

Since I spent a lot of time on Friday attempting to get language and my brain to collaborate, I decided to work through the discussion of Deleuze’s syntheses of time in Difference and Repetition in relation to the syntheses of D & G’s Anti-Oedipus. Some of this is my own thoughts, some comes from paraphrasing James Williams’s text…  It’s also a rough articulation, so if something seems wrong- please correct me


1st: Living present. Defined by expectancy through habit; contraction

The past is synthesized or contracted in the present as a behavior towards the future. There is an inherent linear projection of time with this synthesis. Past experience informs the present condition, so that a future may provide an expectation of what is to come. Fundamentally, or teleologically.

An active consideration of a thing presupposes the passive synthesis. Williams uses the chair as example, where he states “syntheses can be ordered in terms of priority, in the sense of which are presupposed by others.”

1. Passive synth of time as condition. Any contraction through repetition presupposes that a series can be contracted into the present.

2. Repetitions of sensations into a sense. Sense is an ‘umbrella’ thrown over many sensations. Synthesized as they are repeated to form the sense.

3. Sensations into a sensation of a thing. Different sensations associated with a thing are brought together so that we may sense the thing as a whole.

4. Active. We operate consciously. We apprehend and consider the object in front of us. The chair, we consider the chair and judge it in relation to our preformed idea of the thing, which may be defined by a shape or quality that is already registered in our understanding. This activity is directed from past to future via expectancy (‘is this sixties polystyrene purple blob really a chair?’) The active consideration involves synthesis of different sensations, in this case, materiality and form. Each of these individual sensations is itself the synthesis, individuals but also through generations, of prior ‘quasi-sensations’ into a fully developed sense. (In this case, we could consider these as partial objects, in which we create an assemblage of sensations to arrive at an understanding of the thing in front of us.)  For Williams, without the passive synthesis, there would be no chair to consider. We could not formulate an idea about the shape, the usage, or the material. It would be one discrete entity among a sea of entities, and its ‘thingness’ wouldn’t even stand out as being something to consider as a unique thing.

As with most things, there is a positive and negative way in which to regard a thing that stands before us. The past can serve to overcode any perception and acceptance (I’ve never understood/liked modern art, therefore I cannot fully apprehend this abstract painting in front of me; I’ve had a bad experience with another race, therefore this experience will be no better.) Positively, we can consider each sensation as an assemblage, allowing the form to cohere as a collection of partial objects, without overcoding them based on held assumptions.

In relation to AO- Connective synthesis: connecting with everything, legitimate production of production, would seek to connect based on partial objects in relation to the particular spatio-temporal location, I like this brush stroke here, and this color there, rather than connecting to preconceived ideas of a ‘whole’ identity, or, I like all Modern Art. I think this is a superficial example, but to be able to view a painting in terms of its qualities and identify/connect with one quality in one painting, while a completely different quality in another would enable one to appreciate an atmospheric Turner painting and also Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase.

2nd. The present that passes. Backward looking, archival, memory

The present and future is understood as a dimension of the past. That which passes can be considered ‘lifeless’, but it is still open to return to the present as something from the past. Williams states this is somewhat counterintuitive. But. Our present condition and future opportunities are considered in relation to past occurrences, which doesn’t seem very counterintuitive in relation to AO and the Disjunctive Synthesis: if I allow myself to be defined by my mother and my father, their subject positions then predetermine the possibilities I see for myself. I am a homemaker, I am a military personnel, I am a republican, etc.

Deleuze insists that there is a pure past, in which all objects and events exist, regardless of their trace, physical or in our memory. The positive orientation would thus be, I am all the names in history. My individual tastes and affects are recorded onto me from many exterior forces, not those simply defined by my parents. That we might possess an antagonistic disposition may be defined less as a reaction to the parents, but perhaps more to an event witnessed that shifted one’s orientation to obedience. In terms of AO then, the illegitimate recording would foreclose the nature of external forces that have affected me by conceiving of them in relation to the mommy-daddy-me triangle; whereas the legitimate recording would allow for the multiplicity of variations that have produced a rebellious individual.

3rd. Conditions of the present as possible future. Transcendental. The conditions of a given thing.

The present given thing is a manifestation of all the past conditions. We can never know all the past conditions that have determined its existence, but its existence is determinable. This conclusion doesn’t negate what isn’t known, but completes the determinable. In this instance, we can understand an assemblage as being influenced in visible ways, but the hidden forces that may have had an impact aren’t negated, simply because they aren’t visibly manifested. Well-determined doesn’t translate into ‘completely known.’ All of the unknowns are still operative and can manifest themselves in unknown ways at a later date, what Holland calls incorporeal transformations. Allowing all the potential past conditions to exist within the present becomes the virtual, which is distinct from the actual condition. If everything remains operative in the present, the possibilities of the future maintain its openness; the field of partial objects remain full, rather than a field of ‘wholes’ that are limiting, the ability to connect and join up in new ways is also maintained.

The positive orientation allows one to connect with everything, not foreclose unimagined possibilities. So instead of the painter saying ‘it’s all been done before’, the partial objects of qualities and intensities of painting can continue to form into different assemblages, the potential future is only limited by the creative work of artist who experiments.

Inherent in allowing the pure past to exist in its entirety threatens a sense of continuity. If we don’t hold on to the ‘wholes’, like our own nuclear family, and only pursue new connections, there is a danger acquiring a nihilistic attitude (and the loss of ritual), in which nothing holds ‘meaning’ for long because future is full of as possibilities as we allow ourselves to see. In it’s extreme, we would fail to see the consequences of our actions and how they impact those around us.

3 characteristics of the 3rd synthesis

Drive towards the new. A cut in time, cuts us off from the past in order to have a new orientation toward the future. This can be seen as a before and an after, but without continuity of causality. This assembles time, so that an event can be conceived as a radical break, ie, nothing is the same after September 11. The past is severed from all events of the future. This presents a series: those events which cannot return and are consigned to the past; moments that can be understood in relation to the ‘cut’ regardless of their temporal relation to it. Thus the ‘return’ of an element can never be an identical return, as each return has a different set of relations. An annual festival serves as one example of this: it returns each year, but it can never return identically. The assemblage is different. If we go to a festival and look to reaffirm past experiences, go to the same food stalls, the same rides, we fail to see the uniqueness of this particular moment in time. While the present moment is measured against past experiences that provide a continuity, if we measure the present against past experiences, we predetermine or limit the future experiences to come from the present moment. Severing the past experience (I always eat mini-donuts, I never eat cheese curds) and allowing oneself to have new experiences (the smell of deep frying in this humid air makes me want to try a cheese curd.)

In terms of AO, the schizophrenic thus offers a productive model of orientation, for each present is regarded in the moment, not predicated on the whole of the past. Each element or partial objects on its own is whole or ‘full’, not lacking any component that would make it ‘Whole’. The schizo makes new combinations or connections in relation to the intensities at that moment in time, without reason stepping in to point out that there might be a break or rupture, “I can’t believe you are eating a cheese curd! You’ve never wanted one.” The illegitimate conjunctive moment then forecloses future possible connections, because the past cannot be severed, the continuity must be maintained. The danger, then, is the struggle against the hold of the past when the present desire demands a break a from it. The positive Conjunctive Synthesis is and … and … and … and … and, there is no choice between which past experience to maintain. The past is severed from contracting the present condition through habit and expectation of possible future.

Ultimately, the ethical component in all of this is the active synthesis, in which we are embodied conscious beings and we perform actions based on consideration of a present situation. Having a more ‘open’ orientation to that consideration is where being truly schizophrenic is no longer productive but can be quite damaging. The danger of ‘nihilism’ is then specific to the individual that questions or challenges their own continuity, where the dangers of ‘relativism’ are not inevitable, but only one possibility of allowing pure difference to exist.