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Fr. 387

September 8, 2013

Another area in which Adorno (at least, the Adorno of Late Marxism) and Deleuze might be thought to be close centers on the notion of repetition within the “constellation” or “model”.

In order to elucidate Adorno’s use of the former terms, Jameson links the former’s thought to that of Walter Benjamin in the “Epistemo-Critical Introduction” to The Origin of German Tragic Drama. Therein, Benjamin distinguishes between concept and idea. Whereas concepts possess an instrumental value in that they are empirical notions of which the thinking subject makes use to effect change within his or her environment, ideas contain their own worth in that they advance truth-claims, i.e. larger claims about some aspect or other of reality. It should be noted that one is no more real or world-oriented than the other, for, although the concept or the arrangement of concepts into a wider system constitutes the means by which the thinking subject attains the idea, ideas take form in such notions as freedom, ethics, domination, capital, governance, etc, notions that are often amongst the most pressing in the world. If individual concepts come together and stand in relation to one another, the whole of this relation constitutes the idea or aforementioned constellation or model, which tends to take on the quality of a system or totality. Indeed, of any of the above ideas, it is plausible that one could present each in a systematic manner such that the total state of the world could be seen to follow from that one, to the exclusion of all others.

Yet the constellation is other than totality. Jameson specifies on Adorno’s behalf that:

“Pseudo-totality: the illusion of the total system is aroused and encouraged by the systematic links and cross-references established between a range of concepts, while the baleful spell of system itself is then abruptly exorcized by the realization that the order of presentation is non-binding, that it might have been arranged in an utterly different fashion, so that, as in a divinatory cast, all the elements are present but in the form of their juxtapositions, the shape of their falling out, is merely occasional. This kind of Darstellung, which seeks specifically to undermine its own provisional architectonic, Benjamin called configuration or constellation…” (p. 50).

Such is the manner in which the constellation bounds the idea and prevents it from becoming a full-fledged system: the knowledge that there are other constellations or models and that arrangement of concepts comprising this constellation or idea is contingent. Certainly, the idea has a totalizing tendency or effect insofar as the relation and interchange between concepts crystallizes in the whole of the idea, which can then stand in relation to itself as system or totality. Yet formation of this totality, i.e. the idea qua constellation, is always subject to numerous contingent factors, e.g. context, perspective, and arrangement, that change from one formation to another. In other words, although all of the elements at hand are caught up in the establishment of the idea, their arrangement at a given time can always be altered and so never attains to a definitive status. The process of formation is always bound to repeat itself, and the creation of ideas can continue to infinity.

This repetition is parallel to that to be found in the work of Deleuze, for whom the notion of eternal return plays an important role in thought. Yet this return is not the return of the same or a brute repetition; rather, it is the return of one time for all times. Perhaps somewhat more clearly, if the realization of a concept or system of concepts starts from an experienced or felt difference and then incorporates difference into itself, the process does not end there, for the realization of this concept or system could always follow a different path to reach that same concept or system or even result in an entirely different concept or system: the repetition of the different. More importantly, the entirety of the thinker’s experience is bound up with the creation of this concept or system, such that all of the materials at hand are implicated in the creation of this concept or system. In other words, with each new creation, the process begins again and experience (or the world) is (re)ordered from the ground up. In sum, in every case of creation, the entirety of experience at hand will be caught up in this creation and redistributed, hence the sense of the eternal return or repetition, for Deleuze, as the return of one time for all times.

Accordingly, Deleuze’s repetition in the contingent creation of concepts or system from a felt difference reveals itself to be rather close to the contingent crystallization of a network of concepts in the constellation of the idea. At work in both is a strong element of luck and chance.


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