On Honesty and Deceit: An Interpretation of Difference and Repetition


Abstract: Foucault famously questioned the humor, and possibly deceit, at the heart of Deleuze’s philosophy by asserting its sincerity and seriousness. In this paper I address how humor and sincerity, and thereby truth and falsity, are philosophical concepts at the core of Deleuze’s thought. Using Deleuze’s work Difference and Repetition as the focal object of my interrogation, I seek to show how truth and falsity are structured by difference and repetitions. Deleuze’s philosophy of pure difference does not merely try to critique traditional notions of truth, but attempts to define a new model of truth and falsity that bears both difference and repetitions from the previous models in the history of philosophy.

I: Humor and Irony


Michel Foucault ends his preface to Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus with an interesting observation:


The book often leads one to believe it is all fun and games, when something essential is taking place, something of extreme seriousness (Anti-Oedipus, p. xiv).[1]


Taking this as my point of departure, I would like to inaugurate a reading of the humor and/or seriousness, truth and/or falsity, at the heart of Deleuze’s philosophy, particularly his earlier work Difference and Repetition.

The question of sincerity raises difficult questions in regards to philosophical interpretation. Bernard Williams famously claims that Nietzsche’s philosophy “is booby-trapped,”[2] therefore making it inaccessible to hermeneutics and the history of theory. It is no stretch to apply this very reservation to the work of Gilles Deleuze. As, arguably, the epitome of Nietzsche’s announcement of “future philosophers to come,” Deleuze’s work is notoriously difficult to dissect. The style of his work can rightly be said to be “pre-deconstructed,” indeed “booby-trapped.”

Foucault’s observation,[3] and the question of sincerity in general, is not solely relevant to the “fun and games” of Deleuze and Guattari’s collaboration. Rather, the question can rightly be asked in regards to Deleuze’s earlier work, especially the work that separates his historical monographs from his first attempt to “do philosophy,” Difference and Repetition. How serious must we take the claim: “The entire world is an egg” (Difference and Repetition, p. 216)?[4] On one hand this appears to be a joke, or at the very least a hyperbole. On the other hand Deleuze appears to be quite resolute that embryology is an appropriate way in which to describe the world.[5] This problem is compounded by Deleuze’s own admission in his Preface to Difference and Repetition that his methodology “bears the maximal modification appropriate to a double.” Put more simply immediately thereafter: “One imagines a philosophically bearded Hegel, a philosophically clean-shaven Marx, in the same way as a moustached Mona Lisa” (Difference and Repetition, p. xxi). Deleuze’s methodology of deducing “monstrous difference” threatens, indeed promises, to disfigure philosophy.

Deleuze’s “fun and games” begin with Difference and Repetition. He claims that his depiction of the history of philosophy is analogous to collage in painting, that his own philosophy initiates a theatre of philosophy, and finally, that his work is aligned with Borges’ method of creating literary forgeries. All of this leads to the conclusion that Deleuze might be pulling our leg, a joke made at the reader’s expense. Is there any other conclusion drawn from Deleuze’s creative license to compare philosophy with the defacing of art, the theatre of the absurd, and modernist fiction, than the proclamation that Deleuze is lying, that he is being deceitful and not telling the entire truth, and that in whispering aphorisms with a sly sarcastic smile and a touch of irony he is not that far removed from the serpent’s plea to taste the fruits of the tree of good and evil?

Appearances can be deceiving. Duchamp’s defacing of the Mona Lisa was not merely a spectacle, but a veritable critique. Cannot humor and irony tell the truth? Cannot it tell the truth in ways that are more incisive than other methods? This gets to the heart of Foucault’s observation, which is actually a warning in disguise: laugh, but be scared. In fact, this is why Foucault’s preface is so poignant to Deleuze’s enterprise. One needs that third person perspective, as if from the outside, to warn the reader to not be so overly enchanted with the shadows playing upon the wall, less you miss the hole that has been ripped open in the roof of the cave allowing the sun to shine down upon you. Deleuze’s philosophy might be “booby-trapped,” and this might scare away those philosophers afraid of a little adventure, but in spite of all of the hermeneutic banana peels placed throughout the text, there is treasure to be found. Deleuze’s lies reveal a more fundamental truth. Deleuze’s “fun and games,” his ironic humor, in fact, tells the truth of a viable critique of truth and falsity that cannot be discounted for fear of riddles. Deleuze’s philosophical theatre is both a comedy and a tragedy that speaks with an unflinching and revealing honesty that has not yet been properly understood.

Therefore the paper that follows attempts to explore the nature of truth and falsity in Deleuze’s philosophy as spelled out in his work Difference and Repetition. The structure of my claims are not that foreign from Deleuze’s own structure. Each section stands on its own, but differs in how it repeats the many angles of Deleuze’s engagement with the question of truth and falsity. The principle antagonism has already been addressed: can we trust Deleuze in what he says? This question has not been fully answered yet. To do so, we must approach Deleuze on his own terms; we must clarify what Deleuze means by truth. This task will have three sections. First, I will analyze truth and falsity insofar as they produce differences and repetitions, the focal nexus in which Deleuze structures his work. Second, I will explore the Nietzschean roots of Deleuze’s project through Nietzsche’s early essay “On Truth and Lying in an Extra-Moral Sense.” Third, I will exact Deleuze’s own references to truth and falsity in Difference and Repetition as he attempts to put forth a productive and affirmative theory of ideas.


II: On Difference and Repetition in Honesty and Deceit


            The history of philosophy has always held truth as the hallmark of its enterprise. Deleuze would call this philosophy’s image of thought, or that unjustified common assumption that “everyone thinks.” Hence, truth as has been predominately proselytized by the cannon of philosophy is squarely in the crosshairs of Deleuze’s critique.

Difference and repetition is the principal theme of Deleuze’s work of the same name. Deleuze contends that it is necessary to think difference without a concept and not in terms of representation or identity (as in the case of Hegel). Further, he posits that we must understand repetition outside of its essence and instead as a lived repetition. Finally, he understands the two terms, difference and repetition, as conjoined; repetitions are literally differences, and differences often repeat. Difference and repetition becomes a foil in which to understand a plethora of divergent philosophical topics, from ontology to ethics. The point is that everything, the world itself, as well as our experience and explanation of it, is entirely structured by differences and repetitions (properly defined).

Therefore, it follows, that truth and falsity, honesty and deceit, are structured by difference and repetition. Allow me to explain.

Immanuel Kant was the canonical philosopher par excellence who determined truth as the vocation of philosophy. It is also Kant who says the most about truth and lying. However, it would be unwise and incorrect to accuse Kant of being an apologist for dogmatic assumptions and falsehoods held as idle truths. Kant creates stringent criteria for anything to be regarded as true (thus the definition of Critique). Rather, metaphysics itself is an experiment in testing the limits of what one can say as either true or false. Remember that for Kant we can only talk about God speculatively, and that the external world is always somewhat inaccessible as noumenon (we can never fully know the thing-in-itself).

Kant provides the framework in which to understand truth and lying in terms of difference and repetition. Kant unequivocally contends that lying is immoral as it violates the first law of the categorical imperative, which requires your maxim be chosen as it accords to a universal law of nature. This is the famous “universalizability test.” For a decision to be moral it must hold that you can universalize your decision for all people at all times. Thus, for an action to be moral it must be infinitely repeatable. Deleuze makes this point about Kant explicitly:


What is Kant’s ‘highest test’ if not a criterion which should decide what can in principle be reproduced- in other words, what can be repeated without contradiction in the form of the moral law? The man of duty invented a ‘test’ of repetition; he decided what in principle could be repeated (Difference and Repetition, p. 4).


Lying cannot be infinitely repeated. This was made all the more certain after Benjamin Constant inverted Kant’s example of lying to a police officer in exchange for the now-famous example of lying to a murderer about the whereabouts of a friend hidden inside your house. The example goes as follows: a friend knocks on your door and asks for you to hide him as a murderer is chasing him and trying to kill him, but after you agree and allow him haven, the murderer knocks on your door and asks you if your friend is hiding in your house. Should you tell him the truth or should you lie to him to protect you friend from undeserved and irreversible violence? Kant remains headstrong against Constant’s criticism and indisputably responds in his 1797 essay “On a Supposed Right to Lie from Philanthropy” that it would be immoral to lie to the murderer. Kant’s contention is that lying cannot be universalized without contradiction. If one imagined that all people at all times lied, the world would dissolve into chaos: no one would believe anyone, life would become unlivable. Therefore, lying, according to Kant, is immoral, because its universal repeatability is infeasible. Hence, one should tell the truth in all circumstances, even to a murderer, and especially when it is in your advantage to lie.

Kant’s observation about the morality of lying allows us to see how honesty and deceit are structured by difference and repetition. Deleuze’s contention is that difference and repetition go much deeper than mere moral algorithms. In fact, Deleuze’s reference to Kant’s ethics of repetition is tongue-in-cheek. The modal presuppositions of Kant’s moral calculus by means of possible worlds theory is one of Deleuze’s primary targets. To universalize, to propose an infinite repeatability without difference, is physically impossible. Rather, Deleuze inverts Kant’s schema to instead argue that difference is infinite and repetition is always variant. However, this does not mean that Kant is not useful. Kant’s analysis, while disfigured and morally suspect, demonstrates how truth and lying yield differences and repetitions.

Honesty is absolute repetition. To be an honest person one must repetitively and automatically speak the truth. Honesty is the absolute repetition of truths. Any deviation and one has failed the categorical imperative and universally willed lying as an acceptable form of behavior for all people at all times. Moreover, to tell the truth is to repeat the world. Truth, roughly defined, is the correct representation of reality. Truth, as an act involving language, must repeat the essence of the world in terms of the correct words. The question of reference is in fact a question of repetition.

Deceit is absolute difference. To be deceitful one must interpose various truths so as to disguise the falsity of one’s remarks. In fact, deceit, properly defined, need not lie at all. Kant allows a final hope to the homeowner who wishes to protect his friend from the murderer: don’t answer, or change the subject, anything but lie. Deceit always has truth as its foundation: the most successfully deceivers are the ones who deceive by only telling half-truths, much like the serpent in the Garden of Eden. However, deceit can never tell the entire truth, it can never repeat it fully. Deceit works by indistinguishable differences. As Kant proved: you cannot lie all the time! Infinitely repetitive deceit is a contradiction in terms; rather the art of lying successfully is disguising when one is lying and when one is telling the truth. There is no repetition of the same in deceit and lying, but rather an infinite difference at the level of repetition. Moreover, to lie is to say something about the world that is different than the reality of the actual world. Lying is a difference, in the form of language and words, about the world. Likewise, the critique of reference is assuredly an account of difference implied in each repetition.

Deleuze describes a world governed entirely by differences and repetitions. Deleuze’s ontology is the play of differential repetitions. Truth and lying are no exception. They too are structured and created by difference and repetition. However, perhaps I am being deceitful as this is only half of the story. I have described how truth and falsity exhibit difference and repetition as elements of language, but it is imperative to describe how the world itself exhibits difference and repetition so as to better understand the possibility or impossibility of making truthful or disingenuous statements about the world.



III: On Truth and Lying in a Nietzschean-Deleuzian Sense


If traditionally philosophy has always defined itself in terms of its propensity for truth, then the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche is the paradigm break with that tradition. It is no surprise that juxtaposed alongside Bernard Williams comments about the pitfalls of interpreting Nietzsche, is his conclusion that Nietzsche’s work exists outside of the history of philosophy. Nietzsche’s philosophy is predicated upon its staunch critique of truth. The irony is that he admits his fear that his own commentary risks becoming true in the final paragraph of Beyond Good and Evil.

Deleuze’s philosophy is inherently and obviously indebted to Nietzsche’s philosophy. There is no other philosopher so routinely praised in Difference and Repetition as that of Nietzsche. In fact, Deleuze takes Nietzsche ambiguous theory of the “Eternal Return” as the prototypical analogy of the account of difference and repetition. The “Eternal Return” has often been caricatured as the return of the same. However, Deleuze’s constantly challenges this interpretation and instead opts for a rival thesis that posits the “Eternal Return” as the repetition of difference. To properly understand how Deleuze configures this hermeneutic turn it is perhaps prudent to return to the beginning.

Nietzsche’s essay “On Truth and Lying in an Extra-Moral Sense” was one of Nietzsche’s first endeavors. Written in 1873, immediately after his first publication The Birth of Tragedy, this monumental essay is perhaps the first attempt to spell out Nietzsche’s radical break with the history of philosophy. The essay has two conclusions: both the empirical world and human language are radically differential. This allows Nietzsche to critique truth, not as an ideal, but as a possibility. Deleuze points this out in his monograph on Nietzsche (which immediately preceded Difference and Repetition):


Nietzsche accepts the problem on its own terms, he does not call the will to truth into doubt, he does not remind us once again that men in fact do not love truth. He asks what truth means as a concept, what forces and what will, qualified in this way, this concept presupposes by right. Nietzsche does not criticize false claims to truth but truth in itself and as an ideal (Nietzsche and Philosophy, p. 95).[6]


Indeed, Nietzsche’s assault on truth was as powerful, if not more powerful, at the beginning as it was at the end.

“On Truth and Lying in an Extra-Moral Sense” repeats our problem of interpretation. It is difficult to discern Nietzsche’s humor from his seriousness. It begins with a colorful euphemism that makes fun of the human condition and its futility to exact purpose. Nietzsche remarks that the odd advent of humans will be merely a minute compared to the infinite time of nature and the universe. Such a proposition should humble our grandiose claims in regards to truth and moral righteousness. Nietzsche’s conclusion ends with a depiction of three types of humans and their different modes of existence. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or to cry when the stoic individual decides to put his  head down, wraps himself in a cloak, and walk out into a thunder storm.

Nietzsche’s essay is thematized by truth and falsity (as the title makes clear). As it begins with humanity’s impossible existence and concludes with its stubborn reserve, it is appropriate that his examination of truth and falsity begins out of necessity. We create truth as it is necessary and useful for human co-existence. Truth, properly defined by Nietzsche, is simulation: truth is absolute repetition. Nietzsche’s essential premise is that truth is derived falsity. In fact, according to Nietzsche falsity is the primary term and truth is secondary:


In man this art of simulation reaches its peak: here deception, flattering, lying and cheating, talking behind the back, posing, living in borrowed splendor, being masked, the disguise of convention, acting a role before others and before oneself—in short, the constant fluttering around the single flame of vanity is so much the rule and the law that almost nothing is more incomprehensible than how an honest and pure urge for truth could make its appearance among men (Portable Nietzsche, p. 42).[7]


Falsity is the norm, whereas truth is fleeting, rare, and incomprehensible. Nietzsche claims that the world is an illusion and that we constantly and ceaselessly lie to ourselves whether through dreams or social convention. Simulation, by which Nietzsche means convention, is our chosen mode of survival. We repeat without appeal to truth or falsity because of our real or supposed social contract to cohabitate. Truth is convenience. In desiring truth we are indifferent to pure knowledge and knowingly ignore inconvenient truths. Thus truth is not its own measure; rather humanity is the measure of all things.

Nietzsche famously makes the claim that humans can only produce truth by an act of forgetting. We forget out existential cohabitation. We forget the anthropology of language. Finally, we forget, perhaps we don’t even notice, the way the world forces itself upon us. This creates the stark contrast that Nietzsche is predominately concerned with: the ability of language to adequately describe the world it explains. Nietzsche defends a thick anti-realism by contending that both the world and language are esoteric. Language, as he says, is entirely metaphorical. However, does its symbolic essence correspond to what it refers to? Nietzsche explains:


One designates only the relations of things to man, and to express them one calls on the boldest metaphors. A nerve stimulus, first transposed into an image—first metaphor. The image, in turn, imitated by a sound—second metaphor. And each time there is a complete overleaping of one sphere, right into the middle of an entirely new and different one (Portable Nietzsche, p. 44)


Language is separated from the world and the world is separated from language. It is revealing that Nietzsche’s first contention is based upon nervous stimuli. The main thesis of Deleuze’s reading of Nietzsche is that his philosophy is predicated upon a complex play of differential forces. The world forces itself upon us on a micro-level. The combination of an infinite series of micro-forces is both a statement about the world and about human biology. We have no more access to the complex and infinite play of forces in the world than we have of them in our own constitution and decision-making. The result is that the world is estranged from its ability to be adequately captured in words.

The world is differential. This is Nietzsche and Deleuze’s foremost conclusion. The empirical world is radical difference without a concept. This is never as clear as when Nietzsche describes the concept of a leaf. In distinctly Deleuzian terms Nietzsche makes the argument that the concept is unequal to the reality. This is not merely a problem of reference, but a claim about the nature of the world.


Every concept originates through our equating what is unequal. No leaf ever wholly equals another, and the concept “leaf” is formed through an arbitrary abstraction from these individual differences, through forgetting the distinctions; and now it gives rise to the idea that in nature there might be something besides the leaves which would be “leaf”—some kind of original form after which all leaves have been woven, marked, copied, colored, curled, and painted, but by unskilled hands, so that no copy turned out to be a correct, reliable, and faithful image of the original form (Portable Nietzsche, p. 45).


This is the intersection where Nietzsche and Deleuze’s philosophies meet and is most pronounced. Nietzsche utilizes the concept of a leaf to critique generic identity. There is no master form “leaf” that all individual leaves correspond to. Arguing against Aristotle classification of living things in the form of overarching genus, Nietzsche instead opts for a model of radical individualization. Each leaf, even leaves of the same kind, are radically and infinitely different. This is Deleuze’s thesis par excellence. He critiques the tradition of representation that has always worked from the top down, instead demanding a theory that respects irreconcilable individual differences. This is Nietzsche’s great legacy as pronounced in Deleuze: ontologically the world and human biology are radically differential, whereby micro-forces and individuation operate unbeknownst.

Language cannot attest to the world. How then does language deceive us into thinking otherwise? Precisely through the misuse of truth.


What, then, is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms—in short, a sum of human relations which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins (Portable Nietzsche, p. 46).


This is Nietzsche penultimate conclusion: truth is metaphorical illusion. All language is metaphorical; “metaphors which correspond in no way to the original entities” (Ibid). In representing the world, language is symbolic and by no means identical to what it seeks to describe. Truth is no more than a convenient fiction, a lie we tell ourselves so as to make our co-habitation simpler. Truth is derived falsity. As Deleuze points out: “I want the truth means I do not want to deceive…if someone wills the truth it is not in the name of what the world is but in the name of what the world is not” (Nietzsche and Philosophy, pp. 95-96).

According to Nietzsche humanity is the measure of all things. We forget this by mistaking language as the things-in-themselves and not mere metaphors. Truth, as convenience, is this forgetting. However, Nietzsche’s position is not mere nihilism. Rather this is the very point that captures the beauty that Nietzsche recognizes in humanity. Man is an “artistically creating subject” and language is his art-form. While this disconnect of language from the world banishes the trite dogmas of truth, it also heralds a new philosophy of affirmative aesthetics. As Nietzsche remarks: “there is, at most, an aesthetic relation: I mean, a suggestive transference, a stammering translation into a completely foreign tongue” (Portable Nietzsche, p. 47). Language cannot be honest, but all is not lost. Nietzsche inverts the traditional dichotomy that values truth over and above falsity. According to his new ontology falsity becomes the golden value.  Nietzsche asks the reader to returns to the world of myth as opposed to the modern world of science and pseudo-enlightenment. He contends that if we believe, as the Greeks did, in myth, or the aesthetic power of falsity, then: “anything is possible at each moment” (Ibid). We should not be scared of a world without truth. Language as incomplete translation fragments into the beauty of collage with humans as archetypal artists. We should affirm such a condition, but not without a reservation or two.

Nietzsche concludes his essay with a mystifying allegory. He compares the rational man against the intuitive man. He says: “The latter is just as irrational as the former is inartistic” (Ibid). Might Deleuze be the intuitive figure that Nietzsche describes? The “overjoyed hero” “who keeps falling over and over again into the same ditch,” whereby “he cries aloud and will not be consoled” (Ibid). If so, this marks the first difference between the two. For Nietzsche concludes the text with the stoical man who spurns both the rational and the intuitive, instead choosing to walk alone into the wild storms of the world. It is impossible to not recognize Nietzsche’s self-description, where he glorifies his isolated existence and imperviousness to the elements.


IV: Deleuze on Truth


Nietzsche’s essay “On Truth and Lying in an Extra-Moral Sense” is nothing short of a tour de force. A tour de force compacted into five pages is a feat in itself. Its importance for my project is its Deleuzian overtones (or the opposite such that Deleuze has distinctly Nietzschean overtones; whichever way you slice it, it still tastes the same). Truth is inherent falsity because of a differential empiricism. There are forces in the world and in humans that cannot be completely identified by language. We cannot know the sense of something if we cannot calculate its force. This leads Nietzsche to conclude that truth and falsity is außer (or outside of experience). Truth and lying are transcendental to both knowledge and experience. This is not too far removed from Deleuze’s own project of transcendental-empiricism. However, taking our cue from the contrast between the intuitive man and the stoical man at the end of Nietzsche’s essay, what is different in Deleuze’s repetition of Nietzsche’s thematic?

The question of language, particularly metaphor, for Deleuze is a thorny problem. In Anti-Oedipus Deleuze and Guattari assert that nothing of what they say is metaphorical. However, if one accepts Nietzsche’s conclusion, they cannot help but utilize metaphors: all language is metaphorical. Should we trust Deleuze at his word? Or call him a liar?

One of the principal adversaries in Difference and Repetition is representation. Whereby Nietzsche contends that representation is a necessity, an inescapable and hegemonic one at that, Deleuze appears to offer a theory of ideas that is non-representational and entirely consistent with a non-metaphorical philosophy of language. Deleuze goes so far as to completely severe the world from language. Language does not represent, rather it is virtual. Language, for Deleuze, is not the uneven alignment of unequal terms that fail to map onto the play of micro-forces in the empirical world. Language is an internal and differential system which creates its own connections and potentialities. By operating according to its own intensity, language is more heuristic than metaphorical. Deleuze offers a dynamic and complicated theory of ideas that exceeds that of Nietzsche. In doing so, we can take him at his word that his non-representational project is not metaphorical and has no need of the baggage entailed with the problem of reference, which futilely attempts to chart the world upon language. However, how does this new discourse configure truth? In forsaking truth as the ability to correctly identify the world, does Deleuze have any recourse to the evaluation of the truth or falsity of any of his own claims? Might he be the crowned spokesman of nihilism and irrationalism as many charge? To answer these questions we need to concretely analyze Deleuze’s theory of idea and the role of truth in his philosophy.

I contend that in spite of the above reservations Nietzsche and Deleuze are not all that different (though the slightest difference, of which there are many, is truly infinite). Nietzsche’s commitment to language as metaphorical is nuanced. By pointing out this nuance, I believe that we can properly capture the spirit of Deleuze’s theory of ideas.

Immediately following Nietzsche famous definition of truth as a “mobile army of metaphors,” he provides a series of competing images that demonstrates a richer perspective. Nietzsche claims that truth is a game of dice with a series of mathematical moves governed in advance. Metaphor is perhaps too ordered a connotation; chaos and random configuration are now more appropriate. This very opposition between order and chaos, structure and genesis, is what Nietzsche addresses next. He claims that the grand edifice of false metaphors make humanity a “might genius of construction,” who succeeds in spite of building his concepts on “unstable foundations,” “as it were, on running water” (Portable Nietzsche, p. 46). The game of dice that Nietzsche describes has no metaphorical affiliation with the external world. Rather it has no referee and is governed by its own volatile formation. The maintenance of this erratic structure is a true art form, as Nietzsche says it imitates the beauty of a spider’s web: “delicate enough to be carried along by the waves, strong enough not to be blown apart by every wind” (Ibid).

How is such a description amenable and helpful to understanding Deleuze’s theory of ideas? Deleuze’s central contention is that language is severed from the world; therefore, it cannot be metaphorical. However, just because it cannot be metaphorical, this does not mean that it cannot be artistic. When Deleuze’s describes language as virtual this signifies a self-contained field of multiple combinations and potentialities, without any rules governing how language will escape its dormancy. The counterpart of the virtual is actualization. Language eventually realizes, randomly, an individuated potential and attempts to becomes-actual. Thus language is undetermined much like a game of dice. As Deleuze says, “The throw of dice carries out the calculation of problems, the determination of differential elements or the distribution of singular points which constitutes a structures” (Difference and Repetition, p. 198).

Moreover, the web weaved, from the throw of the dice, is on unstable ground. To properly survive the raging currents and billowing winds, it creates its own structure apart from representation or support. A web is a prototypical differential structure. It is designed by an internal calculus governed by the entropy of its own random connections. Just as the world is a combination of differentials, forces that operate at the micro-level, language is also differential. Ideas are unconscious of the forces that administer their creation. Language is the play of these internal forces (which Deleuze calls Ideas).


The Idea is thus defined as a structure. A structure or an Idea is a ‘complex theme,’ an internal multiplicity- in other words, a system of multiple, non-localisable connections between differential elements which is incarnated in real relations and actual terms (Difference and Repetition, p. 183).


This parallelism is often confused with correspondence. Language is absolutely and irrevocably separated from the world.  Its differences are internal and do not repeat the world. The result is the work of a play of differentials.


An Idea, in this sense, is neither one nor multiple, but a multiplicity constituted of differential elements, differential relations between those elements, and singularities corresponding to those relations (Difference and Repetition, p. 278).


Language produces its own structure and governs its own genesis. Ideas are alive. They are singularities and individuated, but they also help generate a complex structure.

The world, as well as language, is literally and honestly an egg. Language is virtual it is embryonic and larval form. Only by an unascertainable play of differential forces is language able to move from virtual to actual. However, ideas are never complete or absolute, and therefore are always governed by their limitless potentialities. The movement of the virtual never ends. “Ideas thus defined possess no actuality. They are pure virtuality” (p. 279). Language is pure potential, and therefore Ideas are never essential. By its own internal intensity it becomes dramatized with little evidence of a pattern, mimesis, or resolution.

In spite of Deleuze’s staunch anti-Hegelianism, James Williams calls Deleuze’s theory of ideas Deleuzian dialectics.[8] Indeed, Deleuze’s theory of idea has a strict structure made to be compatible with his differential ontology. By conceiving of language as virtual, Deleuze effectively side-steps the problem of reference and metaphor. However, in attempting to synthesize difference into a coherent system of Ideas, Deleuze has committed himself to a dialectical operation. Virtuality is nothing but a nuanced dialectic, pregnant with individuated and unrealized potential.

Further, Deleuze states: “Dialectic is the art of problems and questions” (Difference and Repetition, p. 157). Deleuzian dialectic is not a solution-based calculus; it never escapes it essential nature as problematic.


Far from being concerned with solutions, truth and falsehood primarily affect problems. A solution always has the truth it deserves according to the problem to which it is a response, and the problem always has the solution it deserves in proportion to its own truth or falsity- in other words, in proportion to its sense (Difference and Repetition, p.159).


Deleuze creates a circular dialect in which problems produce more problems. Traditionally philosophy has presupposed that problems are ready-made or necessarily solvable. Deleuze argues the opposite. Problems are not pre-given, rather they are produced. Deleuze’s believes that any “sense,” does not come from the assumptions of dogma, but rather from the ceaseless act of posing problems. Moreover, problems are not determined by solutions. There can be many answers to a problem, or partial answers, or problems can create new questions and more problems.

In Meditation 4 of Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes advocates a position in which solving problems is about providing clear and distinct solutions. In this Mediation, entitled “Concerning the True and the False,” Descartes puts forth the famous criterion of truth as being both clear and distinct. Deleuzian dialectics, which is predicated upon problems without pre-given solutions, disfigures this schema. Rather, Deleuze argues that “a clear idea is in itself confused; it is confused in so far as it is clear” (Difference and Repetition, p. 213) and that “the nature of the Idea is to be distinct and obscure” (Difference and Repetition, p. 214). As opposed to truth being clear and precise, Deleuze believes that ideas are more obscure and confused than clear and distinct. According to Deleuze, language can never be clear and distinct because it is perpetually virtual and, hence, becoming-potential. Even though all Ideas are singular and individual, they can never be distinctly separated from the rest of the differential field. Therefore, Deleuze creates his own schema whereby clarity is allied with confusion and distinctness is coupled with obscurity.

Deleuze nestles in a middle ground. Just as there is some “sense” in the posing of problems, there is some clarity and distinctness in all obscurity and confusion. Perhaps he is attempting to provide caution to those overly caviler in their demonstrations of truth, while refusing to fully endorse a meaningless nihilism. Regardless, Deleuze is eerily pragmatic. By severing language from the world, Deleuze is centrally concerned with thinking through an epistemology without any outside measure. There is no “sense,” clarity, distinctness, or even obscurity and confusion, without the dialectical solicitation of self-critical and self-evaluative problems. The truth and/or falsity of any claim, within the manifold of Deleuzian dialectics, is purely internal to the structure itself.[9]

Deleuzian dialectics is based upon three separate conclusions as regards truth and/or falsity. First, Ideas are undetermined regarding objects. The world is empirically differential. Therefore, everything said about the world is false, de facto. One cannot determine the indeterminate, the play of complex forces. Second, ideas are determinable in regard to experience. Deleuze is an odd hybrid of both materialism and empiricism. According to him, ideas can’t misrepresent experience. Experience can’t be wrong. Even the schizophrenic’s experiences of the world is true. Therefore, while everything said about the world is false, especially as it is intended to adequately identify and represent the world, everything I say as an individual is true. As Deleuze says: “truth is a matter of production” (Difference and Repetition, p. 154). The transcendental aesthetic signifies that we can create and say anything. Genesis creates structures. Truth knows no bounds. Truth is just a misunderstood concept confused with creation and the art of synthesize difference into Ideas. Everything, as a matter of transcendental human decisions and creation, is true. Even the schizophrenic can speak the truth! Third, and finally, ideas are infinitely determinable in terms of understanding. Truth knows no bounds, but this means that truth is always catching up to itself. Truth can never know itself as true, because it is infinitely determinable. We can never know something as true, because we can always know something more fully and therefore as “more true.” Ideas, after all, never reach actuality, but rather their virtual potential is eternal. Understanding (and education) is a limitless project that cannot identify its own moments of honesty and/or deceit, truth and/or falsity. Indeed, Ideas cannot even measure themselves, even if they are internal to their own structure.

This three-fold configuration produces confusion between the empirical and the transcendental. When we attempt to derive the empirical we find that words cannot properly describe the play of differential forces. When we attempt to blindly create truths through a transcendental aesthetic we ignore the empirical link to understanding and the infinite education it presupposes. As Deleuze says:


Every time a proposition is replaced in the context of living thought, it is apparent that it has exactly the truth it deserves according to its sense, and the falsity appropriate to the non-sense that it implies. We always have as much truth as we deserve in accordance with the sense of what we say. Sense is the genesis or the production of the true, and truth is only the empirical result of sense. We rediscover in all the postulates of the dogmatic image the same confusion: elevating a simple empirical figure to the status of a transcendental, at the risk of allowing the real structures of the transcendental to fall into the empirical (Difference and Repetition, p. 154).


Truth and falsity are parallel. Whether we are telling the truth as it is, or trying to be honest in vain, or lying in spite or amusement, Ideas are indistinguishable. We are always telling the truth entirely while lying perpetually, at the same time. Truth and lying, honesty and deceit, obey the same rules and produce the same effect.

The entire question of truth and falsity is a pseudo-problem caused by too many years of numerous, but aligned, dogmatic images of thought that have subjugated the discipline of philosophy. Truth has extended its dictatorship into every cranny of philosophical speculation. Much like Nietzsche, Deleuze’s great lie was that truth was never ascertainable. If we are to take him at his word, then on the contrary we must distrust everything that he said. It is not a question of whether he is right or not, but whether it works! If there is any honesty to what Deleuze says, it is not because his ontology corresponds to the world, or even that his epistemology is equivalent to the structures of language, but that he created concepts, concepts which produce their own internal play of differences and repetitions, thereby producing something useful, or cathartic, at times beautiful, hopefully internally consistent, but, most importantly, his candor ought to force the transformation of our preconceptions about the meaning of truth and/or falsity.


V: A Conclusion for All and None


It is prudent to return, to repeat albeit differently, where we started. Foucault concludes his Preface to Anti-Oedipus with this powerful paragraph:


It could even be said that Deleuze and Guattari care so little for power that they have tried to neutralize the effects of power linked to their own discourse. Hence the games and snares scattered throughout the book, rendering its translation a feat of real prowess. But these are not the familiar traps of rhetoric; the latter work to sway the reader without his being aware of the manipulation, and ultimately to win him over against his will. The traps of Anti-Oedipus are those of humor: so many invitations to let oneself be put out, to take one’s leave of the text and slam the door shut. The book often leads one to believe it is all fun and games, when something essential is taking place, something of extreme seriousness [my emphasis]: the tracking down of all varieties of fascism, from the enormous ones that surround and crush us to the petty ones that constitute the tyrannical bitterness of our everyday lives (Anti-Oedipus, p. xiv).


Indeed the question of the truth and/or falsity, the humor and/or seriousness, at the heart of Deleuze’s work, both Difference and Repetition and those works he collaborated upon with Guattari, is a paradox and a tautology. Why attempt to track down the residue of truth in Deleuze’s work when that is the exact thing he is critiquing and trying to disguise? We are asking about the very thing he is refusing to answer. Truth and lying is always a question of ethics, indeed politics, in spite of Nietzsche wish to transcend this divide. There is no outside; there is no way to transcend ethics or politics. The question of the truth and/or falsity, humor and/or seriousness, within Deleuze’s work is an “effect of power,” a variety of “fascism,” even if a “petty one,” whereby we look to those authoritative of the subject and ask to be directed. Deleuze no doubt wishes to “neutralize” this perversion in own “discourse.” If he is being honest it is only by not telling the entire truth, and if he is knowingly being deceitful it is only so as to trick you into a greater awareness and more satisfying enlightenment.

[1] Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Tr. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen Lane. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, MN. 1977. Hereafter cited as Anti-Oedipus.

[2] Williams, Bernard. “Nietzsche’s Minimalist Moral Psychology.” Making Sense of Humanity. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, MA. 1995. p. 66.

[3] Foucault’s observation should also be compared with Deleuze’s own anecdote that in spite of the seriousness of Foucault’s own writing style, he was quite the clown and always telling jokes.

[4] Deleuze, Gilles. Difference and Repetition. Tr. Paul Patton. Columbia University Press: New York, NY. 1994. Hereafter cited as Difference and Repetition.

[5] This problem is made all the more difficult if one considers Deleuze and Guattari’s statement in Anti-Oedipus that nothing of what they say is metaphorical. Is the world literally an egg, or is an egg just an appropriate way in which to describe the world as if?

[6] Deleuze, Gilles. Nietzsche and Philosophy. Tr. Hugh Tomlinson. Columbia University Press: New York, NY. 1983. Hereafter cited as Nietzsche and Philosophy.

[7] Nietzsche, Friedrich. “On Truth and Lying in an Extra-Moral Sense.” The Portable Nietzsche. Ed./Tr. Walter Kaufman. Penguin Books: New York, NY. 1976. Hereafter cited as Portable Nietzsche.

[8] Williams, James. Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition: A Critical Introduction and Guide. Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh, UK. 2004.

[9] In fact, the dogmatic image of thought, in which he distinguishes 8 errors, in only recognizable as such because of its opposition to Deleuze’s own system.

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