7. Gilles Deleuze, Foucault, and Alain Badiou, “Gilles Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque”

by breavman99

I’m still trying to understand Gilles Deleuze’s book on Leibniz, and what exactly he means by “the fold.” Back I go to Elizabeth Adams St. Pierre’s essay, “Methodology in the Fold and the Irruption of Transgressive Data,” which started me off on this journey. She does refer to Deleuze’s book The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque in that essay, but she also refers to Deleuze’s book on Michel Foucault, and to Alain Badiou’s essay on The Fold. The thing to do is obvious: take a look at both of those texts in my ongoing attempt to comprehend exactly what “the fold” is all about.

deleuze foucault

All of St. Pierre’s references to Deleuze’s book on Foucault come from the last chapter, “Foldings, or the Inside of Thought (Subjectivation.” That chapter is a discussion, in the main, of The Use of Pleasure, the second volume of Foucault’s four-volume The History of Sexuality. I’ve read the first volume, but I haven’t read The Use of Pleasure, so once again I’m reading something Deleuze wrote about another text without having read the original. That’s not a good place to be, but that’s where I am; I’ve strayed beyond the list of 130 books I’m obliged to read, and the further I wander off course, the harder my job is going to be. If I need to read The Use of Pleasure later, I can; but today, I’m working through Deleuze’s interpretation of that book.

According to Deleuze, in The History of Sexuality Foucault is searching for a new axis, separate from power and knowledge, which might explain the failure of 1960s resistance movements in the 1970s (94-96). That’s his purpose in The Use of Pleasure, and the search for that new axis will lead through the fold or the double—the two terms are synonymous for Deleuze and, he argues, central to Foucault’s work. “The inside as an operation of the outside: in all his work Foucault seems haunted by this theme of an inside which is merely the fold of the outside, as if the ship were a folding of the sea,” he writes, something he finds in Foucault’s earlier works (The Order of Things, Madness and Civilization, and The Birth of the Clinic) but which receives its most significant exploration in The Use of Pleasure. “Or, rather, the theme which has always haunted Foucault is that of the double,” he continues, in a paragraph that neatly describes the Fold:

But the double is never a projection of the interior; on the contrary, it is an interiorization of the outside. It is not a doubling of the One, but a redoubling of the Other. It is not a reproduction of the Same, but a repetition of the Different. It is not the emanation of an ‘I,’ but something that places in immanence an always other or a Non-self. It is never the other who is a double in the doubling process, it is a self that lives me as the double of the other: I do not encounter myself on the outside, I find the other in me. . . . It resembles exactly the invagination of a tissue in embryology, or the act of doubling in sewing: twist, fold, stop, and so on. (97-98)

But this focus on folding or doubling, although it “haunts all Foucault’s work,” only surfaces at a late stage, in The Use of Pleasure, because of Foucault’s search for “a new dimension which had to be distinguished both from relations between forces or power-relations and from stratified forms of knowledge” (99).

Foucault returned to ancient Greece to find that new dimension, and in particular to education in that culture, and the way that on the one hand, it produced “a ‘relation to oneself’ that consciously derives from one’s relation with others,” and on the other hand, it also produced “a ‘self-constitution’ that consciously derives from the moral code as a rule for knowledge” (100). “It is as if the relations of the outside folded back to create a doubling, allow a relation to oneself to emerge, and constitute an inside which is hollowed out and develops its own unique dimension: ‘enkrateia,’ the relation to oneself that is self-mastery,” Deleuze writes (100). “Far from ignoring interiority, individuality or subjectivity they invented a subject, but only as a derivative or the product of a ‘subjectivation,’” he continues. “They discovered the ‘aesthetic distance’—the doubling or relation with oneself, the facultative rule of free man” (101). In fact, the relation to oneself produced by the Greeks involves four foldings: the body and its pleasures; the relation of power between forces; knowledge (or “the fold of truth”); and finally “the fold of the outside itself, the ultimate fold,” which constitutes the subject’s hopes for immortality, eternity, salvation, freedom or death or detachment” (104). But the folds that were characteristic of the ancient Greeks were not the same as those that were characteristic of Christian cultures—so the folds Foucault is describing are historicized. “And what can we ultimately say about our own contemporary modes and our modern relation to oneself? What are our four folds?” Deleuze asks:

If it is true that power increasingly informs our daily lives, our interiority and our individuality; if it has become individualizing; if it is true that knowledge itself has become increasingly individuated, forming the hermeneutics and codification of the desiring subject,  what remains for our subjectivity? There never ‘remains’ anything of the subject, since he is to be created on each occasion, like a focal point of resistance, on the basis of the folds which subjectivize knowledge and bend each power. Perhaps modern subjectivity rediscovers the body and its pleasures, as opposed to a desire that has become too subjectivity rediscovers the body and its pleasures, as opposed to a desire that has become too subjugated by law? Yet this is not a return to the Greeks, since there never is a return. The struggle for a modern subjectivity passes through a resistance to the two present forms of subjection, the one consisting of individualizing ourselves on the basis of constraints of power, the other of attracting each individual to a known and recognized identity, fixed once and for all. The struggle for subjectivity presents itself, therefore, as the right to difference, variation and metamorphosis. (105-06)

Deleuze’s conclusions here touch not only on the two forms of subjection—of power—that we see everywhere today: incorporating the “constraints of power” into ourselves, and the lure of rigidly fixed identities. I thought about the yellow-vest protestors I saw on the Albert Street bridge before Christmas; the Canadian version of that protest seems to display an affinity for both. And yet, on the other hand, we can also recognize the resistance to these forms of subjection in our contemporary world, in the insistence of many people on the rights to difference and “metamorphosis.” Deleuze wrote this book 30 years ago, and yet it seems quite prescient nonetheless.

Deleuze then sets out to name the new dimension Foucault uncovers in The Use of Pleasure, “this relation to oneself that is neither knowledge nor power” (106). That relation, Deleuze states, is the self. But those three dimensions—knowledge, power, and self—are irreducible, even though they constantly imply one another. They are ontologies, but for Foucault, they are also historical, because “they do not set universal conditions” and “they gain their value from their particular historical status” because what they present is “the way in which the problem appears in a particular historical formation” (114). In the questions Deleuze asks about knowledge, power, and the self—what do I know? what can I do? and what am I?—there is no single solution that “can be transposed from one age to another, but we can penetrate or encroach on certain problematic fields, which means that the ‘givens’ of an old problem are reactivated in another” (115). As a result, Foucault writes a history of thought, rather than a history of events: 

Knowledge, power and the self are the triple root of a problematization of thought. In the field of knowledge as problem thinking is first of all seeing and speaking, but thinking is carried out in the space between the two, in the interstice or disjunction between seeing and speaking. On each occasion it invents the interlocking, firing an arrow from the one towards the target of the other, creating a flash of light in the midst of words, or unleashing a cry in the midst of visible things. Thinking makes both seeing and speaking attain their individual limits, such that the two are the common limit that separates and links them. (116-17)

“To think,” Deleuze writes, “is to fold, to double the outside with a coextensive inside”: this is the general topology of thought (118). 

Does this chapter help me understand what Deleuze means by the Fold, or folding? Yes, I think it does—and it certainly leaves me interested in reading the other volumes of Foucault’s The History of Sexuality. One book leads to another, and then to another, and another—that is the nature of this kind of work. Certainly the equation Deleuze makes here between the double and the fold is useful. But I set out to read Alain Badiou’s essay on The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque as well. I had thought that essay would be a kind of bluffer’s guide, an explanation of the references in Deleuze’s book for a non-expert in the field, someone who wasn’t a philosopher—in other words, someone like me. But that’s not what it is: Badiou sets out to think through Deleuze’s book and his own responses to it. “This rare, admirable book offers us a vision and a conception of our world,” Badiou writes. “We must address it as one philosopher to another: for  its intellectual beatitude, the pure pleasure of its style, the interlacing of writing and thought, the fold of the concept and the nonconcept” (51). The central concept of that book, he writes, is the fold itself, and in order to understand Deleuze’s argument, “[i]t is absolutely necessary to unfold the fold, to force it into some immortal unfold” (52). Badiou sets out to unfold “the lasso Deleuze uses to capture us” in three ways. First, the fold is “an antiextensional concept of the multiple, a representation of the multiple as labyrinthine complexity, directly qualitative and irreducible to any elementary composition whatever” (52). Second, the fold is “an antidialectic concept of the event or of singularity,” “an operator that permits thought and individuation to ‘level’ each other” (52). Third, the fold is an anti-Cartesian concept of the subject, “a ‘communicating figure of absolute interiority, equivalent to the world, of which it is a point of view”; it allows us to imagine “an enunciation without ‘enouncement,’ or of knowledge without an object” (52). 

Deleuze’s “ruse,” Badiou writes, “is to leave uncovered no pair of oppositions, to be overtaken or taken over by no dialectic scheme” (53). So when Deleuze distinguishes between three different kinds of point or element—the material or physical, the mathematical, and the metaphysical—he demonstrates that “it is impossible to think of them separately, each supposing the determination of the other two” (53). The “quasi-relations” in the story Deleuze tells are “subsumed under the concept-without-concept of fold,” which means “[t]hey can never be deduced , nor thought within the fidelity of any axiomatic lineage or any primitive decision. Their function is to avoid distinction, opposition, fatal binarity” (54). And that’s what makes Deleuze’s writing so hard to understand. His writing is hostile “to the ideal theme of the clear,” which is, according to Badiou, “the metaphor of a concept of the Multiple that demands that the elements compositing it can be exposed, by right, to thought in full light of the distinctiveness of their belonging” (54). Against clarity, Deleuze employs nuance and shade; they “dissolve the latent opposition” (54) that structures binaries and dialectical logic.

For Badiou, “[t]his vision of the world as an intricate, folded, and inseparable totality,” such that “the multiple cannot even be discerned as multiple, but only ‘activated’ as fold,” is the reason Deleuze finds such an affinity with Leibniz (55). But not only Leibniz: because Deleuze sides with the organicist paradigm of the multiple, he reanimates Aristotle (55). But despite Deleuze’s focus on the multiple, the real question, Badiou asserts, is singularity: “where and how does the singular meet up with the concept? What is the paradigm of such an encounter?” (55). For Badiou, it is the question of the singular that dominates Deleuze’s book. The world is a series of events, a transmission of singularities (56); the word event is a synonym for singularity, and it “designates the origin, always singular, or local, of a truth (a concept)” (56). “Thus,” Badiou continues, “the event is both omnipresent and creative, structural and extraordinary” (56). The multiple exists in the singular: “This is precisely the function of the monad,” Badiou asserts: “to extract the one from the Multiple so that there may be a concept of the multiple” (58). But this configuration submits thought to an extreme tension: “either the Multiple is pure multiple of multiples, and there is no One from which it can be held that ‘everything has a concept,’” or else “the Multiple ‘possesses’ properties, and this cannot be only in the name of its elements, or its subordinate multiples” (58). Leibniz has God to integrate all the multiplicities in one figure, but Deleuze does not (58). Instead, he uses the monad: 

From the point of the situation, and so in ‘monadic’ immanence, it is true that everything has an (encyclopedic) concept, but nothing is event (there are only facts). From the point of the event, there will have been a truth (of the situation) that is locally ‘forcible’ as an encyclopedic concept, but globally indiscernible. (58)

This leads—or seems to lead: to be honest, I am as over my head in Badiou’s essay as I was in Deleuze’s book—to two levels of thought in the world: “the level of actualization (monads), and the level of realization (bodies)” (58). Those two levels are distinct, but at the same time Deleuze folds them together—and why not? Everything seems to fold together in Deleuze’s conception of things.

For Badiou, interiority—the fold—is the key to Deleuze’s book: Deleuze follows Leibniz “in his most paradoxical undertaking,” to “establish the monad as ‘absolute interiority’ and go on to the most rigorous analysis possible of the relations of exteriority (or possession), in particular the relation between mind and body” (61):

Treating the outside as an exact reversion, or ‘membrane,’ of the inside, reading the world as a texture of the intimate, thinking the macroscopic (or the molar) as a torsion of the microscopic (or the molecular): these are undoubtedly the operations that constitute the true effectiveness of the concept of Fold. (61)

The subject is thus an interiority whose own exterior forms a link to the multiple, the world, and this produces three effects. First, “it releases knowledge from any relation to an ‘object.’ Knowledge operates through the summoning up of immanent perceptions, as an interior ‘membrane’ effect, a subsumption or domination, of multiplicities ‘taken as a mass.’ Knowing is unfolding an interior complexity” (62). Second, the subject becomes a series rather than a substance or a point—it is not a limit, but “what provides multiple supports for the relation of several serial limits” (62). Third, the subject becomes the point of view from which there is a truth: “Not the source, or the constituent, or the guarantee of truth, but the point of view from which the truth is. Interiority is above all the occupation of such a point (of view)” (62). 

The fold, Badiou writes, might be the most important of Deleuze’s concepts—“after difference, repetition, desire, flux, the molecular and the molar, the image, movement, etc.” (65). “Deleuze submits it to use through partial descriptions,” he continues, “as that which possibly describes a great description, a general capture of the life of the world, which will never be accomplished” (65). And truth? It’s “neither adequation nor structure”; rather, “[i]t is an infinite process, which has its origin randomly in a point” (65). 

Badiou’s explication of Deleuze’s book is helpful, but at the same time, his prose is almost as slippery and sinuous as the prose he’s writing about. It’s a thinking-through of The Fold, rather than a guide for the perplexed. Like Deleuze’s book about Foucault, Badiou’s essay helps me understand more about the image of the fold and why Deleuze, and St. Pierre, and Badiou, think it is so important. It is an image of irreducible complexity, of interconnecting and intertwining relationships, of opposites in relation. Does that mean my own research finds itself in a fold, or the fold, or a folding? I still don’t know, but it’s something I’m going to continue to think about over the coming weeks. But now, it’s time to return to my reading list and stop getting carried away by tangents.

Works Cited

Badiou, Alain. “Gilles Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque.Gilles Deleuze and the Theater of Philosophy, edited by Constantin V. Boundas and Dorothea Olkowski, Routledge, 1994, pp. 51-69.

Deleuze, Gilles. Foucault, translated by Seán Hand, U of Minnesota P, 1988.

——-. The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, translated by Tom Conley, U of Minnesota P, 1993.

St. Pierre, Elizabeth Adams. “Methodology in the Fold and the Irruption of Transgressive Data.” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, vol. 10, no. 2, 1997, pp. 175-89.