Electric Dreams .
Deleuzian Difference and Non-Representational Dreamwork
Richard Wilkerson

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Wilkerson, Richard (2004 November). Deleuzian Differences and Non-Representational Dreamwork. Electric Dreams 11(11). 

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 the same.

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 superficial connections.

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 stable identity.

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" [iv]

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 past?"

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 reorganization.

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 categories" [v]

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 upon contradiction.

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 or identity.

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 dice.

"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 watching them. 

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 alternatives?

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 things.


"'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 domain."
DR 69

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 play.

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.


[i] Deleuze, 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.
[iv] DR p. 36
[v] Williams, James (2004). Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition: A Critical Introduction and Guide. Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh.
[vi] DR p. 49.
[vii] See my paper on Dream Replicants


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 , 7(12)

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