Volume 11, 2007
Daniel W. Smith
Deleuze and Derrida, Immanence and Transcendence
Two Directions in Recent French Thought
This paper will attempt to assess the primary differences between what I take to be the two primary philosophical "traditions" in c o n t e m p o r a r y French philosophy, using Derrida (transcendence) and Deleuze (immanence) as exemplary representatives. The body of the paper will examine the use of these terms in three different areas of philosophy on which Derrida and Deleuze have both written: subjectivity, ontology, and epistemology. (1) In the field of subjectivity, the notion of the subject has been critiqued in two manners, either by appealing either to the transcendence of the other (Levinas, Derrida) or to the immanent jlux of experience itself, in relation to which the Ego itself is trancendent (Deleuze, Foucault, Sartre, James). (2) In the field of ontology, a purely "immanent" ontology would be an ontology in which there is neither a "beyond" or an "otherwise" Being, nor "interruptions" in Being, both of which would require an appeal to a formal element of transcendence (Deleuze). Such a "transcendent" and aporetic structure, which can never appear or be present as such within Being, is what lies at the basis of the project of deconstruction, with its attendant aporias (Derrida). (3) This distinction, finally, finds parallels in Kant's epistemology, for whom the possible experience is conditioned by purely immanent criteria (Deleuze), whereas what goes beyond the limits of possible experience is transcendent (Derrida). Drawing on these three thread of analysis, the paper concludes with an assessment of what is at stake in the ethical differences between the two traditions. The question of "transcendence" is "What mast I do?", which is the question of morality (a duty or obligation that is beyond being, an "ought" beyond the "is"). The question of "immanence" is "What can I do?" (my power or capacity as an existing individual within being). For Levinas and Derrida, ethics precedes ontology because it is derived from an element of transcendence (the Other); for Deleuze, ethics is ontology because it is derived from the immanent relation of beings to Being at the level of their existence (Spinoza).