An illustrated version
of this article is available at http://www.dreamgate.com/pomo/deleuze_dreams04oct.htm
Key: DR = Difference and
Repetition by Gilles Deleuze
"Representation fails to capture the
affirmed world of difference. Representation has only a
single center, a unique and receding perspective, and in the
consequence a false depth. It mediates everything, but
mobilizes and moves nothing." DR p, 56
In Difference and Repetition [i]
, Gilles Deleuze sets forth an odd phrase,
the repetition of difference. The example given is of Monet's
Water Lilies, a series of paintings where, according to
Deleuze, each water lily repeats the first, but is never the
same. Instead, it repeats the pure difference of the original.
The same is said of Carnival and Bastille Day, where the
subsequent festivals repeat the initial festival, but never
Difference in Deleuze is a creative difference, usually
spoken of in terms of multiplicities of transformation that
reside alongside the actual. These creative differences are
the change in all changes, the process that continues across
time, repeating itself differently through novel
transformations set out on alternative trajectories.
This is a poetic way of saying it. The philosophical
deductions are somewhat more involved.
First, Deleuzian difference is not the same
difference as in difference between two things, but rather
difference as concept that has freed itself from similarity
and contrary, and opposition and contradiction, a concept of
productive difference that resides alongside the actual and
produces the actual and the change in the actual, but is not
itself actual. This essay will develop these ideas, but
because the development difference in Deleuze is of a
difference that resides in multiple, alternative realities, I
will sometimes use d-difference (d-eleuzian) or
v-difference (v-irtual), pure difference (purified of actual)
and difference-in-itself, (not subsumed under identity and the
same) to refer to this Deleuzian difference. Other times I
will simply use the term alone, to indicate that v-difference
and difference as we normally use the term share some
Beneath the boardwalk, the beach!
The dream seems almost a perfect laboratory for this
process. In sacrificing the heavier, slower aspects of
material reality for a lighter, more transformative material,
the dream seems the perfect environment to stage d-difference
and come into relation with the core of creativity. In waking
life, the things that change rapidly are suspect and
dangerous. They are the blinking commercials, the rushing
crowd, the frantic animal, the unstoppable robot, the swerving
car. We have to stay out of their way. But in the dream,
transmutation of the objects of our consciousness are not so
harmful. Transmogrification (changed, as if by magic) is
almost expected and a key note of dreaming.
Still, centuries of theories of representational dream
imagery and symbolism tend to make the dream the worse place
to find a transformative power that resists and subverts
representations. Some de-construction many be needed to
remove the concrete sidewalks and asphalt highways of theory
that have crusted over our dream life. The first step is
to find a place for creative difference to emerge by peeling
back some of the theories that tie difference to the same.
Aristotle and Categorical Difference
Aristotle used difference to divide and create divisions
within being. We learn about the difference between plants and
animals, between men and women, between the living and dead.
In other worlds, distribution into sets. And behind any
division into categories is always a higher similar category.
Thus the two apples are different because one is red, the
other green. But red and green what? Apples. What if we
just put all red things in one category and green in another,
what higher category is this subsumed under? Well, things
sort-able for one.
In place of this set theory of difference under the
similar, Deleuze will ask how we can make these things have a
more profound difference, a difference that makes them fall
outside a category. Difference between things gives way to how
the thing itself becomes different, difference in itself.
If we base difference on the judgment of things into sets,
then we are in the realm of identity and representation.
Identity (sure things) and representation (a thing standing in
for something else). Its either a judgment of common sense (is
this an apple or an orange?) or good sense (Which is better to
each?). Why abandon common and good sense? Deleuze argues
that this view is incomplete and static in its abstract
categories, hardly addressing the full becoming of
things. In other words, things have a way of becoming,
and this is independent of what they are. Deleuze sees the
judgment of what they are as artificial. The natural appeals
to the way things really are, in their eternal ideal and
natural way, and so then the appeal is to their essence and
Real difference then, is difference in process.
However, replacing static being with dynamic becoming is
harder than it first appears. We can essentialize becoming as
well, and then shift from natural things to natural
processes. Rather, Deleuze will substitute virtual
multiplicities in place of essence and identity, and similar
morphogenetic processes at work in place of categories. Genes
then don’t follow a map to construct a being, but rather are a
collection of processes that each does a particular thing to
protoplasm. These tiny particulars just do what they do, they
don’t attempt to fill out some kind of plan. In the end, it
appears as if they have followed a plan, because we see a wide
variety of, say, oak trees, and note their similarities. But
the similarity is in the microprocesses, not the same map.
In dreamwork we may come upon a dream of an eagle. We begin
essentializing the dream eagle by asking what it represents,
and categorizing it by its nature. The eagle is a bird, and
birds soar like the spirit and so on. If the bird
represents our own spirit, then we begin discussing the state
of our own spirit in terms of the behavior of the eagle. Is
our spirit soaring, diving, sick, have something in its claws,
is seeking something for its baby eaglettes and so on.
If we drop the categorization, we can begin to look for the
morphogenetic [ii] processes that produce the dream eagle.
Instead of the waking life eagle and the dream eagle sharing
something of the same nature, we can now say they share
something of the same processes that give rise to each.
That is, dream eagle and waking eagle have both undergone some
common processes. But there is a caution here. If the common
processes are just a re-working of the eternal natures, we
haven’t really done anything essential different. Similarities
of process are still abstract similarities, not creative
differences. To undermine the return of essences, the
concept of multiplicities is used.
How can multiplicities help? Won’t this just multiply
the problem? If multiplicities were just
more-of-the-same, this would be true. But Deleuzian
multiplicities (d-multiplicities) are not so much multiples of
the same as they are swarms of alternatives or virtual
difference. Landa [iii] refers to them as
specifiers of structures of possibility, structures of a kind
of space that is in creative time. We might poetically look at
multiplicities as flows of time without content, creative
spaces in continual transformation. Or mathematically we can
look at these somewhat like the manifolds of calculus. These
spaces have many dimensions, but never a supplementary
dimension to which it is tied, as with surfaces and curves
tied to axes. Rather they are immanent; they lack
extrinsic coordinatization or unity. Essences have this
external unity, (such as rationality defining humanity) and
are tied to that arch identity. Multiplicities, swarms
of d-difference, create planes of consistency, and not
kingdoms with kings. Rather than distribution in sets
(this goes here, that goes there) there can be nomadic
distribution, and open distribution without enclosure.
"Here, there is no longer a division
of that which is distributed but rather a division among
those who distribute themselves in an open space, - a space
which is unlimited, or at least without precise limits"
Dreamwork wise, we can talk about the way something fills a
space rather than how the space is divided. (Look, there
seems to be more arising there and there) These nomadic
distributions introduce difficulties into set structures of
representation. In this sense, they are demonic rather than
divine, the gaps between territories, the intervals between
the spaces, like the demons that inhabit the time between the
end of one year but before the beginning of the next. The
chorus in Oedipus speak of the demon who has leapt further
than the longest leap.
I'd like to give an example, but here is the rub. Examples
come from the world of representation. That is, they say,
"Look, here, its like this and that." One gets the feeling
with an example that if the example is clear enough, the
concept will be understood. Contrast this notion of examples
with poetry. While most anyone can give a good example, not
everyone can write a good poem. But let's try it anyway.
Sarah arrives at the dream interpreters meeting with a
dream that she would like the group to interpret. "I had this
dream last night," she says "I was looking outside the kitchen
window to see where the kids were playing when black Raven
that flew across a field. What do you think that means?"
Laura responded, "Well, the Raven is a symbol to the Greeks
of a messenger - and used to be white until Apollo didn't like
one of its messages and turned them all black. "
Bill said, "In many middle eastern countries, the Raven is
a messenger of bad news."
Tela said, "Sarah, what part of you is like a raven?"
Michael asked "What has the Raven meant for you in the
All the while all this was going on, Sarah began to sense
something inside her that was new, hard to place, even
dangerous. Her good sense told her to stay away from this
area. She couldn't get a fix on it, and was afraid that maybe
IT would get a fix on her. It was something that just didn't
fit in. She tried to change to adapt, but IT changed as well.
Now she began to see that no matter how she re-organized, IT
changed in a way that brought that organization into question.
Later, Sarah was able to talk about how this strange
repellent/attractor changed her life, began to inhabit her
life, became a way of seeing the whole world, became the new
stream down which she flowed. But these were again more like
pale explanations. They did not get at the truth, that the
channels down with her life flowed did not just change, but
that the whole notion of channels had been undermined and the
streaming down channels had transformed in streaming outside
of channels like a swarm of ravens crossing a field. A mutual
In other words, the representations and symbolic analysis
may have had their role in keeping Sarah’s attention on the
dream image, but it was that something between the categories,
something that undermined the whole notion of categories, that
provided the real transformational force.
"Things distribute themselves in a way that
must remain opaque to an understanding that attempts to fix
If these representations are all we can be directly
conscious of and help to get the person focused, why attack
them? Basically there is a need to free up some space for
d-difference to inhabit. The game of difference appears
to begin under representation, when really they are in mutual
or reciprocal relations of influence.
Hegel, Leibniz and Difference
Upon first inspection, it appears that Hegel and Leibniz
both attempt to put difference at the core and show that at
the limit of identity, analogy and similarity fail. For
Hegel, where every thing finds is antithesis, there is an
endless cycle of incompleteness. A thing can never wholly find
its own stable identity nor be represented. For Liebniz,
there are always infinitely small differences that keep
anything from being the same, and so these tiny differences
subvert the notion of a complete representation or
identity. But Deleuze feels they just don’t go far
enough, and identity and representation return in the "analogy
of essences" and the "similarity of properties" [vi]
Hegel's categories are not as imposed from without as
Aristotle's, they evolve out the dialectic of
thesis-antithesis-synthesis. However, Deleuze does not feel
this goes far enough. Difference here is found in
contradiction and not in its own positive power. Deleuze
sees d-difference involved in the endless play of
disappearance and birth, creation and destruction, but the
approach is in how things become and are undone, difference as
a power in-itself. How do things evolve and change in a world
where the actual is just one movement in a flowing field of
infinite processes and alternatives? Deleuze argues for an
extravagant, Dionysian or orgiastic representation. In Hegel’s
difference, identity is unstable as well, but there is just no
break in the logic, (thesis-antithesis-synthesis) and so an
abstract net is placed over reality from without, and
essence and identity return in the synthesis, where the Real
is revealed. Deleuze wants a difference that is not based
In Leibniz, identity is unstable due to infinitely small
differences that keep any identity from remaining uniquely
different. Instead of essential relations via contradiction,
there is similarity of non-essences, or mutual relation of
them. Think how seemingly tiny events change the course
of history. She walked into the room at the wrong time, he
hesitates before crossing the street, the left instead of
right path is taken. The path taken and the one forsaken are
different, but not contradictory. Rather, Deleuze calls them
vice-dictory. The alternatives vice-dict one another and play
out life in alternative ways. Though these tiny differences
are not necessarily related, the two paths can set up a
reciprocal determination, though this is not a normal
causation. That is, the actual path and its alternatives are
connected by seemingly insignificant differences. From one
moment to the next, these divergents are carried forward along
with the actual path. Deleuze refers to them as being virtual,
but meaning d-virtual, virtual in the sense of almost-actual,
virtually true. D-virtual repeats all the alternatives
becomings, but not actually. The actual is created out of
these d-virtual differences, but the virtual is not actual.
Still, the virtual has power, the power to create divergence.
This power is carried along as well. Deleuze refers to this
creative divergent space as incompossibilty.
"..for each world a series which converges
around a distinctive point is capable of being continued in
all directions in other series converging around other
points, while the incompossibilty of worlds, by contrast, is
defined by the juxtaposition of points which would make the
resultant series diverse. We can see why the notion of
incompossibility in no way reduced to contradiction and does
not even imply real opposition: it implies only divergence,
while compossibility is only an analytic continuation which
translates the originality of the process of vice-diction.
In the continuum of the compossible world, differential
relations and distinctive points thus determine expressive
centers (essences or individual substances) in which at each
moment, the entire world is contained from a certain point
of view." DR pg. 48
And so from Liebniz, Deleuze pulls out the idea that
infinitely small spaces can make significant changes. This is
one way of looking at why they aren’t conscious, they are just
too small. On the other hand, its also why experimenting and
acting connect with these tiny divergents, regardless of our
consciousness (object consciousness) of them. Yes Liebniz does
not go far enough either. Though the spaces between two actual
things can become infinitely smaller, they always have an
identity. Because the event is not primarily an actual
event for a conscious person, but rather the event is an
actual event surrounded by swarms of multiplicity, by infinite
series of alternatives, but continually transforming
d-differences, then the event is better seen as
something which resist representation and subverts identity.
This makes an event a reconfiguration of intensities, of
swarms of d-difference that light up different relations in
varying degrees of clarity and obscurity. For dream
events, the same holds true, and perhaps more so, where tiny
changes can lead to dramatic shifts.
Since Deleuze has defined real difference as the power of
variance outside of the actual, yet has a desire to engineer
difference in a way that is positive and creative, he
needs an approach to a his definition that doesn’t get tied up
in categories. That is, he needs to talk about how
d-difference works without referring to its nature or essence
The first way-it-works is as an experiment in freedom.
"…every time we find ourselves confronted or
bound by a limitation or an opposition, we should ask what
such a situation presupposes. It presupposes a swarm of
differences, a pluralism of free, wild or untamed
differences; a properly differential and original space and
time; al of which persist along-side the simplifications of
limitation and opposition." DR pg. 50.
This experimentation is not just a self and its objects.
Rather it’s the setting free of a space, a rolling of the
"It is the temporary coming together of an
infinite series of pure differences in to a areas of more
and less clarity and obscurity, accounting to the
experiment…. Real experience of difference connects with as
much as possible but it does not connect objects in
consciousness or memory. " (Williams, 76)
That is, object consciousness blocks the connections of
real difference. When Williams and Deleuze refer
to experience, it is more like a momentary fix on an eternally
changing pattern, as when we see a wave form along an ocean
beach. When I awake from a dream, this fixation occurs
rapidly. I write in my dream journal, "I was walking across a
field of corn, when several Ravens flew by." But deep
down, I know that the field was not exactly of corn, and
the flying things were not exactly Ravens, and their movement
across my field of vision wasn’t exactly flying, and my
relationship to them was more than a man standing in a field
What exactly were they then? The point is that it was not
the problem of a faulty memory or identification process. Its
not as though if I had stronger faculties of mind I could
identity the birds as Northern American Crows and the corn
field was really maize. It is that the dream Ravens were a
swarm of multiplicities, which became actualized as
Ravens. In one sense I have saved the dream by fixing it
into representations, and on the other hand, I have fixed a
somewhat freer process, or excluded its
alternatives. How to hold both the fixed and its
Deleuze counters the repetition of the same with the
repetition of difference and notes that difference must be
affirmed in itself. This might be seen as the difference
between saying, "It’s not a starling or a wild crow, it must
be a raven." and saying "Here, this becoming, this becoming
Raven," and all its supporting differences. One might
think this would become a burden, carrying forward the ever
growing alternatives. However, while d-difference affirms
itself in making as many connections as it can, it also lets
go of any previous connections. Those connections that are
alive and affirming will continue along trajectories of their
own course without burdening the current event. Another way of
saying this is that the virtual differences are repeated while
the actual differences/same are shed.
Deleuze uses Nietzsche's Eternal Return to help explain
this. At one level the Eternal Return was a test
Nietzsche devised to examine how deeply once could affirm
one’s life. If you could accept that you would live your very
same life over again and again throughout eternity without
shrinking from this prospect in horror, then your life was
positive and self affirming. But Deleuze uses the concept in a
sense where the actual does not return, but only pure
difference. That is, the point of the test of the
Eternal Return is not Sartre’s Nausea, where nothing can be
changed, but rather a way to uncover the superior form of
everything that is.
"Everything which cannot pass the test of
the eternal return -- all these must be denied. If
eternal return is a wheel, then it must be endowed with a
violent centrifugal movement which expels everything which
'can' be denied, everything which cannot pass the test. "
(DR. pg. 55)
We affirm that something that is itself not carried
on. (When out waking the dog, I forget that I am out
walking the dog. I forget when I sing that I'm singing)
Plato and Difference
Deleuze sees Plato's difference as involving
selection. He sees that Plato doesn’t ask, which is
categorically opposed or different, but first ask which is
best? This shifts the question to one of
valuation. Normally we follow Descartes, and ask what is
the object, then talk about its attributes and
qualities. Deleuze wants to base the selections of
creative difference on valuations first. Plato had to
resort to Myth to decide which was best, and Deleuze parts
from Plato here. That is, the myth is the measure of
the ideal for Plato. Objects can be judged according to
how closely they correspond to the ideal. (which is the best
dog, which is the best singer). Actual things can never be the
ideal, but can participate in it to varying degrees. Likewise
in Spinoza, its not participation, but expression, and in
Nietzsche, its affirmation.
Rather than eternal ideals, which have to be imposed from
without, Deleuze suggest irresolvable problems, which emerge
from within. Thus we can say of Shakespeare’s phrase "To be,
or not to be, that is the question." expresses or participates
or affirms an eternal problem to some degree or another.
It is this kind of problematic that is the ground of all
"'corresponds' to the essence of the problem
or the question as such. it is as though there were an
‘opening’, a ‘gap’, an ontological ‘fold’ which relates
being and the question to one another. in this relation,
being is difference itself. Being is also non-being, but
non-being is not the being of the negative; rather it is the
being of the problematic, the being of problem and question.
Difference is not the negative; on the contrary, non-being
is Difference" (DR 64)
This means one of the conditions of d-difference is that it
avoids resolving tensions between d-differences. There
is no selection between the true and pretenders of the true,
as all things have the status of pretenders. [vii]
"Plato gave the establishment of difference
as the supreme goal of dialectic. However, difference does
not lie between things and simulacra, models and copies.
things are simulacra themselves, simulacra re the superior
forms, and the difficultly facing everything is to become
its own simulacrum, to attain the status of a sign in the
coherence of eternal return." DR 67
…and more to the point that these virtual-differences are
more than just poor copies of an original, but rather
challenge the whole notion of an original:
"Everything has become simulacrum, for by
simulacrum we should not understand a simple imitation but
rather the act by which the very idea of model or privileged
position is challenged and overturned. … It is here
that we find the lived reality of the sub-representational
Ideas then inhabit this sub-representational domain as
well. Ideas become multiplicities of pure difference. Ideas,
no longer fixed to identities, begin to enter into and give
shape to the flux. A species may be said to express and idea.
It is its own set of questions and problems. The species may
not have an essence or plan, but rather carries forward its
problematics, a multiplicity of becomings that occur and
reoccur, transforming, transmuting, and affirming themselves
in the eternal cycle of genesis and creation. Impossible
to represent, we can connect with them by entering into a
creative field, and improvisational stance, and experimental
It is interesting how closely this definition follows that
of the dream. A creative field not (essentially) tied to
direct ego will, an autonomous zone, an improvisational
movement, an experimental play. "This may frighten us a
little. Dreams are often socially transgressive. As Marc Ian
Barasch says in Healing Dreams, "They chafe at boundaries,
championing the rude, lewd, and wholly unacceptable."
Though the recorded dream will be mediated by
abstract consciousness and fixed in an actual narrative, this
very recording or fixing is in the direction of and tolerance
of a kind of object consciousness that is more and more able
to carry with it the alternatives that surround it. That is,
not only is attention to dreaming itself a model of the swarm
of alternatives around waking life, but within the dream
itself there is openness to alternatives as well. Though
most dreamworks and interpretative methods rely theoretically
upon notions of representation, the actual engagement of the
dream, regardless of the theory, engages the waking ego in a
more complete reality. Perhaps as we challenge the limits and
boundaries of representational dreamwork, these engagements
may become even more significant and profound.
Gilles (1994/1968). Difference and Repetition. Paul
Patton, Trans. Columbia University Press: Columbia.
[ii] "morphogenetic" is a term I borrowed from Manuel
Delanda’s Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy.
2002, Continuum : New York.
DR p. 36
[v] Williams, James (2004). Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and
Repetition: A Critical Introduction and Guide. Edinburgh
University Press: Edinburgh.
DR p. 49.
See my paper on Dream
Aristotle (---). Categories.
Translated by E. M. Edghill
Deleuze, Gilles (1983/1962).
Nietzsche and Philosophy. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson. New
York: Columbia University.
Deleuze, Gilles (1994/1968).
Difference and Repetition. Paul Patton, Trans. Columbia
University Press: Columbia.
Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari,
Felix (1972/1977). Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia.
Preface by Michel Foucault. Translated by Robert Hurley, Mark
Seem, and Helen R. Lane
Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari,
Felix (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and
Schizophrenia. Trans by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota Press.
Hegel, G.W.F. (1830). Philosophy
of Mind. Translated by William Wallace
Nietzsche, Frederich (1967).
Basic Writing of Nietzsche. Translated by Walter Kaufmann. New
York: The Modern Library.
Plato (online). http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/aut/plato.html
Wilkerson, Richard (2000). Dream Replicants and the
Emergence of Simulacra. Electric Dreams
Williams, James (2003). Gilles
Deleuze’s Difference and repetition: A Critical Introduction
and Guide. Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh.
Postmodern dreaming theorists’ essays can be found on
the Postmodern Dreaming Page: http://www.dreamgate.com/pomo