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Internal Difference and the Practice of Non-Identity

In a previous publication, in order to expound on the philosophical ramifications of this historical event, I thought through the phenomenon of Ottonelli and his scenic priest by turning to Deleuze and Guattari via an essay by Maaike Bleeker in order to uncover the conditions that make possible an “I” that acts as an identity for converted individuals to occupy.34 In that study, I determined that the Jesuit theatre of the world functioned as an ecclesia universale (in this sense, a “universal gathering space”) that produced Christian subjects as much as it provided a space for them in which to congregate. Instead ofcreating a cohesive and unified subjectivity, the Jesuit theatre of the world produced a split subject, and it was the split I sought to understand with the help of Bleeker’s perspicacity. By drawing her readers toward the zone of interference that Deleuze and Guattari refer to as the “No” in What is Philosophy? (a kind of contact zone in which the practices of philosophical, scientific, and artistic thinking come up against that which is not philosophy, science, or art), Bleeker is able to discern the vital role of the negative within all conceptual, perceptual, and affective operations. Here, the negative amounts to that which the mode of thinking is not. Art’s negative is that which is nonArt. Philosophy’s negative is that which is non-Philosophy. The nuance of the definition of the negative does not show up here, probably because of the tendency in Deleuze’s work to build concept after concept without returning to interrogate the foundations upon which the conceptual machinery stands. This, in fact, becomes a problem, one that I will explicate below. Leaving that aside for the moment, however, and heading back to the argument at hand, Bleeker intriguingly defines this “that which they are not” as theatricality and thus points to a productive performance underscoring the encounter between art, philosophy, and science, and their respective negatives.

In the light of Bleeker’s argument, Ottonelli’s parable of the scenic priest came into focus for me as what I would now call a performance philosophy of the “No” functioning at the level of the individual Christian subject through which all who enter the Jesuit theatre of the world encounter that which they are not and, in doing so, commence a theatrical life as a divided subject under the watchful eye of God. To articulate the historical specificity of the Jesuit situation, I argued further that, whereas Bleeker (via Deleuze and Guattari) understands the encounter with the “No” as a productive engagement with the play of difference on the plane of immanence, this encounter in the Jesuit theatre of the world crafted a schism in the subject, one that led not to a complex dualism of self and other but to an internal divide induced by one’s acknowledgement of one’s self as other. The moral exigency of self-renunciation so crucial in the spiritual exercises insisted that the individual foreclose (instead of absorb or adsorb) the generative chaos of the world, to mark it as that which the individual was not, and to recognize the world outside the Jesuit teatro del mondo as the world against which the subject must define his or her self.

I am eager to return to this argument because of its potential entail- ment for the theory of the baroque I am presenting in this book. If, as it most certainly did, the Jesuit theatre of the world and its underlying performance philosophy (schematized by Ottonelli’s theatrical treatise and recorded by Polanco) had such a profound global reach, and if the resulting subjectivity forged from the encounter with Jesuit conversion practices led to an enduring split in the self, then is it possible to diagnose a foundational crisis of self supporting Jesuit Christianity, a crisis performed and maintained by each Jesuit-inspired Christian and required for perpetual residence on the great stage of the world? Was the “virtuous actor” truly a collective subject position formed around a Deleuzo-Guattarian “No,” albeit sublated and ultimately supplemented with the audibility of Catholic doctrine? At stake in these questions is the possibility of a philosophical subjectivity structured by an internal difference and maintained by explicitly theatrical practices, as well as a critique of Jesuit ethics waged at the philosophical level.

Years after undertaking this initial analysis and now returning to these questions, I would like to wrestle with my own internal difference by arguing against myself and proposing a new understanding of the crisis of subjectivity glimpsed in the Jesuit conversion practices set forth in Ottonelli’s treatise. I recognized this alternative interpretive path while crafting the original argument, and it is only now that I am prepared to flesh it out in its entirety; namely, that an understanding of the negative self discovered through and carried around after the completion of the spiritual exercises requires recourse to Adorno’s philosophy of non-identity more so than it does to Deleuze and Guattari’s “No.” Whereas the latter skirts the dialectical negativity of the self/non-self confrontation so as to uphold the philosophers’ fidelity to affirmation, immanence, and immanation, the former grounds immanence within a negative dialectical tension. This tension and aporetic subjectivity that results from it more properly express the crisis of self instigated by the Jesuit mission, the dehiscent rupture that only heals through divine intervention. While the next chapter will unfold the parameters of this aporetic and divided self in more detail (a self, moreover, that I recognize as baroque), the remainder of this chapter will follow this alternative path (the one I chose not to take in the previous publication) and clarify the central importance of nonidentity within the creation of “I” within Jesuit theatricality.

Mike Nesbitt and Lutz Ellrich have both provided maps for this discussion. In “The Expulsion of the Negative: Deleuze, Adorno, and the Ethics of Internal Difference,” Nesbitt, after surveying Deleuze’s treatment of the phrase “internal difference” throughout the body of his oeuvre (with particular focus given to “Bergson 1859-1941,” “La conception de la difference chez Bergson,” Nietzsche et la philosophic, Difference et Repetition, and Logique du sens), claims that, despite Deleuze’s frequent use of the term, the philosopher never adequately explains what it means or pursues the ethical entailments of internal difference. Nesbitt attributes this fact to Deleuze’s allergy (my term) to Hegel and his desire to move beyond the dialectic which he claims to be unhelpful in the understanding of being since “‘the Being of Hegelian logic remains merely thought being’” (cit. Nezbitt 76). Sensing the relevance of internal difference within his own study of Bergsonian duration (“Duration is [... ] what differs with itself”) but unwilling to recognize any dialectical (Hegelian) friction within duration, Deleuze, according to

Nesbitt, ushers the concept of internal difference into his own philosophical system as an “article of faith.” He never explains how it works, but insists that it is there, working as a pure positivity within the foundational structures of thought, being, and event. Internal difference becomes an ontological foundation of Being in Deleuze’s philosophy, but nowhere does he excavate that foundation and inspect it.

Ellrich reveals this problem in more detail by magnifying the moments in Difference et Repetition and Nietzsche et la philosophic where Deleuze’s desire to move beyond Hegel allows the negative (the prime mover of internal difference) to remain in the picture surreptitiously. One of the goals of Difference and Repetition is to overcome Hegel’s reliance on negation and, through this act of overcoming, articulate negationless difference. As Ellrich says:

Whereas negation-like difference inscribes all differences into the figure of opposition so as to determine them further as contradictions and, finally, through the sublation of the latter, to reconcile all that is different in the construct of an always already governing and all-determining unity, negationless difference aims at the diversity of non-representable singularities that constitute series without center or convergence. (Ellrich 470)

Ellrich situates this maneuver historically in the philosophical environment of late 1960s Paris where Deleuze and Derrida were working to re-direct thought away from the priority of identity and toward the “originary as well as originless play of difference” (464).

Deleuze sees the illusion of identity thinking sprouting from Hegel’s philosophical system, especially in the figure of the negation of the negation where, in Ellrich’s concise summary, “the Other, cut yet required in the process of determination, becomes manifest as a constitutive element of what is determined through the sublation of this cutting. The Other of the Something becomes discernible as its Other, as Other within itself” (469). The problem for Deleuze lies in the supposed symmetrical relation between affirmation and contradiction driving the dialectic of Self and Other. He addressed this problem in Nietzsche and Philosophy where he wrote, “Negation is opposed to affirmation, but affirmation differs from negation. We cannot think of affirmation as ‘being opposed’ to negation: this would be to place the negative within it” (188). By replacing the symmetry of Hegel’s dialectic with the Nietzsche-inspired asymmetry (negation opposed to affirmation, affirmation differs from negation) Deleuze opens the path to nomadic distribution and leaves Hegel in the dust.

For Ellrich, however, as well as Nesbitt, this is only an attempted breakaway. “[Deleuze] overlooks the fact [... ] that Hegel’s analysis of identity as the determination of reflection results in an ‘in-itself-absolute non-identity’ (‘an ihr selbst absolute Nicht-Identitaf) (LII, 41). Had he not overlooked this, he could have culled difference-theoretical profits from Hegel's line of argumentation in his representation of the constitution of identity” (Ellrich 467). Recalling the historical situation of philosophy in late 1960s Paris, this overlooking of non-identity resulted from the exclusion of critical theory (such as that of Heinrich Rickert, Ernst Cassirer, and Adorno) from the conversation. Thus, even after all the impressive conceptual work of Difference and Repetition, especially the introduction of repetition as that which sets difference “into a rapport with itself” and thus reveals negation as an illusory image of identity, Deleuze never manages to free himself from the role of mediation and thus fails to banish negativity from the scene (485). “With the role of medium, or catalyst, of affirmative self-bonding, negativity abides, uninvited but unavoidable, in the interior of difference” (487).

Nesbitt demonstrates that even in Logique du sens, where Deleuze comes closest to confronting his Hegelian shadow and where readers encounter the most tantalizing treatment of internal difference, one senses a missed opportunity. There, in the articulation of the difference between sens and non-sens, Deleuze locates not a true/false distinction but an “and/and” relation where the compossibility of sens and non-sens denotes “a sensuous logic of internal self-contradiction demonstrable not through classical logic but through the aesthetico-artistic dramatization of internal difference” (Nesbitt 83). For Nesbitt, the most surprising aspect of Deleuze’s discovery is its proximity to Hegelian thinking achieved through the greatest attempt to break free of that thinking. In his words, “[Deleuze’s] philosophy of internal difference and pure singularity is, in both its substance and logic, sheer identitarian ideology” (93). That is to say, Deleuze works incredibly hard to escape Hegel, forges a tremendously impressive philosophical understanding of difference and sense/nonsense, and then comes face to face with the type of ideology he was trying to avoid. Had Deleuze encountered Adorno earlier, he might have had a similar response to that of Foucault, who stated in a 1978 interview that, “If I had read their books [i.e. those of the Frankfurt School philosophers], I need not have said a lot of things, and could have avoided some mistakes.”35

To overcome the gravitational pull of identity thinking and reveal where Hegel’s insights actually anticipated many of Deleuze’s maneuvers, Nesbitt continues his search for an understanding of internal difference that does not function through fiat as an article of faith referring to the ontological foundation of Being, but, rather, exists as “a practical and situated modality of understanding the world. Rather than making transcendental claims as to the structure of Being, internal difference can and should remain a tool used to describe the actual and potential forms of becoming of specific and limited totalities” (Nesbitt 94). To flesh this idea out, Nesbitt turns to Adorno.

Seeking to realize the merit of Hegel’s philosophical process without leaning on the inherited certainty of his conclusions, Adorno pursues an understanding of internal difference throughout Negative Dialektik. At the very beginning of that work, Adorno sets forth his thesis:

The name of dialectics says no more, to begin with, than that objects do not go into their concepts without leaving a remainder, that they come to contradict the traditional norm of adequacy [... ]. It indicates the untruth of identity [Er ist Index der Unwahrheit von Identitat], the fact that the concept does not exhaust the thing conceived. (Adorno 5)

This untruth of identity pervading all of the material world, what Adorno calls non-identity, forces him to confront many of the same philosophical problems Deleuze confronted, but he chooses to do so by tarrying with the sedimented history of each concept he treats, which, in turn, pulls the negative back into the foreground of his inquiry where it reveals itself as the aporia between matter and thought. As Nesbitt says, “Adorno is a philosopher of the immanence of thought and matter, but not of their identity” (Nesbitt 81). For Adorno, dialectics names not a symmetrical system of opposition but “the ontology of the wrong state of things” and becomes the means of describing the historical becoming of the aporia that rests at the heart of the thought-matter relationship.

Recall that the exercitant, upon completion of the spiritual exercises, would commence living this wrong state of things, divided between his new self and the self which he was no longer. This division never resolved. Instead, as Barthes argued, it was the burden of the virtuous actor to carry around the divided self until such time as God marked the correct self. God actually marked the true self at each moment of the day and thus required the virtuous actor to present the choice at each moment of the day for God’s consideration through a virtuous imitation of Christ, guided by Jesuit spiritual directors. The virtuous actor was the embodiment of internal difference and his performance upon the theatre of the world its protracted enactment. Functioning in this way, as a kind of mobile foundation structuring the Jesuit post-conversion subject, internal difference attained the status of theatrico-philosophical praxis.

While I agree with myself, then, that the Jesuits created their own theatre through which all individuals would think the world, I no longer agree that Deleuze’s philosophy of the “No” and the plane of composition provide the best way of thinking this theatre in the present. The scenic priest, as the allegorical epitome of all converted subjects, did not manage to live in harmonious compossibility with his non-self discovered through the spiritual exercises. Rather, he was forced, through the desire of securing eternal life, to dwell within the incompossible worlds of his two identities. For Adorno, an irreconcilable gap laid at the heart of all identities, indeed of identity itself. Contradictions, he insisted, could be neither banished by means of thought nor within thought. The story of the scenic priest, in this regard, reveals the historical migration of philosophical non-identity from the realm of the concept to that of the modern subject.

The analytical paths mapped through Deleuze by Nesbitt, Ellrich, and, to some extent, my former self, lead then to a question. Does Ottonelli’s theatrical treatise present a performance of the Jesuit-molded subject’s affirmative recognition of the other within himself or, instead, to the founding of modern non-identity within the individual? While before I chose the Deleuzian direction with a nod toward Adorno, I now emphasize the irreconcilable gap instantiated at the heart of the subject, the negative dialectical movement between self and non-self driven through Jesuit theatricality, and the burden of the incompossible identities foisted upon the converted individual. I speak of burden because Jesuit conversion, while eventually becoming the means of salvation for the masses, began as a mystical experience. For the mystic who seeks to shed himself or herself so as to gain more direct communication with God, the erasure ofselfcomes as matter of cause in the process of mystical communication. Likewise, for religious subjects choosing to learn (on the pedagogical and psychagogical levels) from this mystic teaching, such as the Jesuits following in the wake of Loyola, the burden of ascetic self-reckoning may be a welcomed weight. But for the common individual living in a historical moment when such asceticism breeds with the explosion of printed material, the insistence of post-Trent papal authority, and the global spread of the Society of Jesus, this mystical practice forces a rude awakening. In other words, Ottonelli’s scenic priest marks for us in the present the historically relevant moment at which non-identity spreads through a repeatable performance practice, the moment when the spiritual maturation of Christian self forces an unsutur- able wound into the identity of the Christian subject.

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