Reading and Walking

Walking, Reading, and Reading about Walking

Tag: The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque

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

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.

6. Gilles Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque

the fold

I decided to read Deleuze’s book on Leibniz, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, to answer a question that came out of my reading of Elizabeth Adams St. Pierre’s essay on data in qualitative social-science research: is artistic research, or walking-as-art, in the fold? What is the importance of Deleuze’s image of the fold, which is central to St. Pierre’s understanding of what she calls “transgressive data”? That question remained with me after reading St. Pierre’s essay, because I didn’t quite understand quite why she found that image so compelling. The thing to do, I decided, was to read the source where St. Pierre found that image–or at least one of them. Perhaps I’ll find the answer to my questions there.

After finishing The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, I’m still not sure I understand why the image of the fold is so compelling for St. Pierre. In part, that’s because Deleuze’s book is a gloss on or reading of the work of the seventeenth-century philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz—a “dazzling reading,” according to translator Tom Conley (xi)—and I’m not sure it’s possible to follow Deleuze’s serpentine argument without being familiar with Leibniz’s writing, and all I know about Leibniz is that Voltaire mocked him in his satire about the problem of suffering, Candide, as the idiotic Pangloss, who taught “metaphysico-theologo-cosmolo-nigology” and “proved incontestably that there is no effect without a cause,” and that in this best of all possible worlds, “everything is made for the best purpose”:

Observe: our noses were made to carry spectacles, so we have spectacles. Legs were clearly intended for breeches, and we wear them. Stones were meant for carving and for building houses, and that is why my lord has a most beautiful house; for the greatest baron in Westphalia ought to have the noblest residence. And since pigs were made to be eaten, we eat pork all year round. It follows that those who maintain that all is right talk nonsense; they ought to say all is for the best. (Voltaire 20)

Pangloss’s doctrine that what we understand as evil will, if considered properly, be seen as part of the general good, is, according to translator John Butt, “a perversion of Leibniz’s teaching, and perhaps Voltaire knew it” (Voltaire 8), but still, Voltaire’s mockery is so powerful that I have never been tempted to read Leibniz. For that reason, I am not prepared in any way to confront Deleuze’s exploration of Leibniz’s thought. Besides, as Conley’s foreword suggests, Leibniz’s philosophy—and therefore Deleuze’s reading of it—are extraordinarily complex, touching on atomic theory, differential calculus, grammar, visual art, and the history of logic. The breadth of references is stunning, but it’s also a problem. What do I know about calculus or logic? Nothing. When I encounter equations in Deleuze’s text–and they are everywhere in some of the chapters–I cannot understand them. I just don’t have the background. Nevertheless, my questions still persist—why is the fold so important? is walking-as-art within the fold?—and the only way to answer them, or to try to answer them, is to try to read Deleuze. And so that’s what I did.

For Deleuze, Leibniz is the philosopher of the Baroque, but the Baroque isn’t simply a historical period. Rather, Conley suggests, it is a trope, an “intense taste for life that grows and pullulates,” a fascination with “a fragility of infinitely varied patterns of movement” (x). Deleuze begins his discussion by claiming that the Baroque is not an essence but “an operative function” that “endlessly produces folds” (3). These folds are characteristic of Baroque visual art, but for Deleuze they are more than that: “the Baroque trait twists and turns its folds, pushing them to infinity, fold over fold, one upon the other. The Baroque fold unfurls all the way to infinity” (3). Leibniz apparently imagines a house with two levels, one upper and one lower, which correspond to soul and matter, but those levels are connected by folds and pleats, like veins in a marble tile: 

Sometimes the veins are the pleats of matter that surround living beings held in the mass, such that the marble tile represents a rippling lake that teems with fish. Sometimes the veins are innate ideas in the soul, like twisted figures or powerful statues caught in the block of marble. (4)

These folds are curved, fluid, elastic; they divide endlessly, forming “little vortices in a maelstrom, and in these are found even more vortices, even smaller, and even more are spinning in the concave intervals of the whirls that touch one another” (5). The folds are thus “caverns endlessly contained in other caverns,” and “each body contains a world pierced with irregular passages” (5). All of these folds can be understood as “a continuous labyrinth” or “a sheet of paper divided into infinite folds or separated into bending movements” (6). “A fold is always folded within a fold, like a cavern in a cavern,” Deleuze writes. “The unit of matter, the smallest element of the labyrinth, is the fold, not the point which is never a part, but a simple extremity of the line. That is why parts of matter are masses or aggregates, as a correlative to elastic compressive force. Unfolding is thus not the contrary of folding, but follows the fold up to the following fold” (6). It’s pretty clear that Deleuze, or Leibniz, is not thinking about folds in a Baroque painting, but something else, something much more fundamental: a way of understanding the complexity of the world: “an organism is enveloped by organisms, one within another (interlocking of germinal matter), like Russian dolls” (8). Moreover, nothing travels in a straight line; everything moves in a curvilinear fashion, an arch. And, just to complicate matters, there are folds, but there is also the Fold, which might be a principle of folding rather than an example of that principle: “It is because the Fold is always between two folds, and because the between-two-folds seems to move about everywhere” (13). So not only are the folds infinitely complex; they are also in motion, or seem to be in motion. How can we possibly grasp any of this complexity? And yet we do, partially, incompletely, and no doubt incorrectly. (That’s how I feel about the process of reading this text, in fact.)

Soul and body are folded together as well, according to Deleuze (or Leibniz—one of the recurring challenges of The Fold is determining where Leibniz ends and Deleuze begins). In the second chapter, “The Folds in the Soul,” Deleuze describes inflection as “the ideal genetic element of the variable curve or fold” (14), a definition that also complicates the image of the fold. Inflection moves through three transformations: it is vectoral, projective, and it cannot be separated “from an infinite variation or an infinitely variable curve” (15-16). Inflection becomes fluctuation: “there will always be an inflection that makes a fold form variation, and that brings the fold or the variation to infinity” (18). The object therefore becomes an event, and the subject comes to represent a point of view, a perspective (19-20). The object, an “ambiguous sign,” according to Leibniz, which is “effectively enveloped in variation, just as variation is enveloped in point of view. It does not exist outside of variation, just as variation does not exist outside of point of view” (21). The law enveloped by a variation is called “involution” (21), which appears to be a technical term. In fact, the second chapter’s use of calculus makes it difficult to follow, but its references to Henry James, which suggest that point of view is akin to focus, cryptography, the secret of things, or even “the determination of the indeterminate by means of ambiguous signs” (22) is a little clearer—not that clarity is ever one of Deleuze’s concerns. The point, it seems, is that things are folded in order “to be enveloped, wrapped, put into something else” (22), and the soul itself “is what has folds and is full of folds” (22). “But this is no less true for the world,” Deleuze writes: “the whole world is only a virtuality that currently exists only in the folds of the soul which convey it, the soul implementing inner pleats through which it endows itself with a representation of the enclosed world” (23). Why “currently,” though? And is it true that the world only exists in the soul which conveys its folds? Does the world really have no existence outside of our perception—is that where this argument is going? Wasn’t there a world before humans evolved, and won’t there still be something here after we are gone? “The world is an infinite series of curvatures or inflections,” Deleuze contends, “and the entire world is enclosed in the soul from one point of view” (24)—from one perspective, one optical position, that is (I think). How can the soul—one particular soul, or soul in general?—envelop the whole world? Isn’t each point of view or perspective going to be incomplete and particular? I don’t understand. Indeed, he continues, “The world is the infinite curve that touches at an infinity of points an infinity of curves, the curve with a unique variable, the convergent series of all series” (24). Fair enough: the world is infinitely complex. How, then, can it be enclosed in the soul? But this is one of the claims Deleuze (or Leibniz) makes: that the individual unit—the monad, in Leibniz’s terminology—includes the whole series: “hence it conveys the entire world, but does not express it without expressing more clearly a small region of the world, a ‘subdivision,’ a borough of the city, a finite sequence” (25). Moreover, because the soul is filled with folds stretching to infinity, it “can always unfold a limited number of them inside itself, those that make up its subdivision or its borough” (25). But we can’t get at the infinity inside ourself: “Closure is the condition of being for the world,” although “[t]he condition of closure holds for the infinite opening of the finite: it ‘finitely represents infinity’” (26). How does the finite represent infinity? Through “the torsion that constitutes the fold of the world and of the soul. And it is what gives to expression its fundamental character: the soul is the expression of the world (actuality), but because the world is what the soul expresses (virtuality)” (26). The folds of matter seem to reduplicate the folds in the soul, which is no wonder, because in Leibniz’s formulation, matter and soul are infinitely folded together.

There are other figures in The Fold, most importantly the monad, but my focus—my point of view, perhaps—on this text (the complexity of which may be a figure for the infinite folding and unfolding it describes) was the fold. (If I tried to think through or write about all the other lines of argument or all the other figures or images here, I might never stop writing.) Many other themes and figures and notions are introduced in this difficult text, but let me range through my 30 pages of notes to find more descriptions of the fold. Here’s one: “The ‘duplicity’ of the fold has to be reproduced from the two sides that it distinguishes, but it relates one to the other by distinguishing them: a severing by which each term casts the other forward, a tension by which each fold is pulled into the other” (30). So the two sides of the fold are related, but also separate, and this contradiction produces a kind of movement outward and inward. The fold—in Baroque painting, at least-is “the infinite work or process” (34); it is the inside and the outside, the high and the low, folding and unfolding (35-36). It is simultaneously one thing and its opposite, and it “appears only with infinity, in what is incommensurable and in excess, when the variable curve supersedes the circle” (38). Knowledge is only known where it is folded, according to Deleuze: “Ideas are so folded in the soul that we can’t always unfold or develop them, just as things themselves are inextricably wrapped up in nature” (49). The fold is related to the other central figure in Leibniz, the monad: “It is as if the depths of every monad were made from an infinity of tiny folds (inflections) endlessly furling and unfurling in every direction, so that the monad’s spontaneity resembles that of agitated sleepers who twist and turn on their mattresses” (86). Our perceptions, or perhaps the perceptions of the monads,“are these little folds that unravel in every direction, folds in folds, over folds, following folds” (86). Those are “microperceptions” (86), but there are also “macroperceptions,” which take in “great composite folds” (87). “Folds over folds: such is the status of the two modes of perception, or of microscopic and macroscopic processes,” Deleuze writes: 

That is why the unfolded surface is never the opposite of the fold, but rather the movement that goes from some to the others. Unfolding sometimes means that I am developing—that I am undoing—infinite tiny folds that are forever agitating in the background, with the goal of drawing a great fold on the side whence forms appear. . . . At other times, on the contrary, I undo the folds of consciousness that pass through every one of my thresholds . . . in order to unveil in a single movement this unfathomable depth of tiny and moving folds that waft me along at excessive speeds in the operation of vertigo. (93)

No wonder Deleuze goes on to claim that “Every perception is hallucinatory because perception has no object” (93). How could it have an object, given the infinite, mobile complexity of consciousness, perception, and the world itself?

In the second-to-last chapter of the book, Deleuze asks, “Where is the fold moving?” His response tells us something more about the fold, or perhaps the process of folding:

As we have seen, it moves not only between essences and existences. It surely billows between the body and the soul, but already between the inorganic and the organic in the sense of bodies, and still between the ‘species’ of monads in the sense of souls. It is an extremely sinuous fold, a zigzag, a primal tie that cannot be located. (119-20)

The distinction in Deleuze, or Leibniz, between the inorganic and the organic reminds me of the distinction between inanimate and animate nouns in Cree. It seems, though, that as the fold moves, it crosses the boundary between inorganic and inanimate, along with other boundaries, including time and space, the finite and the infinite, and world and soul. The folds produce a kind of harmony, however, Deleuze contends in the last chapter: “The text is folded according to the accords, and harmony is what envelops the text. The same expressive problem will animate music endlessly, form Wagner to Debussy and now up to Cage, Boulez, Stockhausen, and Berio” (136). That endlessness is expressed at the very end of Deleuze’s text, where he writes, “We are discovering new ways of folding, akin to new envelopments, but we all remain Leibnizian because what always matters is folding, unfolding, folding” (137). Not only is Leibniz, according to Deleuze, the most important philosopher for the postmodern era—how else is one to understand the claim that “we all remain Leibnizian”?—but the series begun by “folding, unfolding, folding” apparently continues infinitely. Why wouldn’t it? That’s been Deleuze’s claim throughout, that the fold, or the process of folding and unfolding, moves infinitely in two directions, outwards and inwards. Everything is folded together. Everything is related through the figure of the fold.

So, does any of this answer the questions that came out of my reading of Elizabeth Adams St. Pierre’s essay? I’m not sure. Her take on the fold is, compared to Deleuze’s, finite: her research is in the fold because it generated three different types of transgressive data, and perhaps her claim is that those data are folds in what she describes as “the ruthlessly linear nature of the narrative of knowledge production in research methodology” (179). How so? Her shift from ethnography to autoethnography through her incorporation of emotional, dream, and sensual data arguably represents a fold or an enfolding between self and other: the two polarities touch through the process of folding. Is that true of artistic research as well? How could it not be? Doesn’t art, at least potentially, accept such enfoldings and refoldings? I don’t mean simply in a visual sense, although Deleuze is eloquent in his discussions of drapery and fabric in Baroque painting in sculpture. Is art in a more fundamental manner a way to grasp, briefly and incompletely, the infinity of foldings and unfoldings of both the world and the soul—and the infinity of foldings and unfoldings between those polarities? Yes, I want to say–yes. Isn’t that the purpose of art–in theory, if not always in practice?

I’m still not sure what that answer means for my own project, and I’m also not convinced that The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque is the best place to find answers to my questions. After all, most of St. Pierre’s discussion of the fold comes from Deleuze’s book on Foucault, and from Alain Badiou’s essay on Deleuze’s discussion of Leibniz. Maybe that’s because they provide a clearer definition or description of the figure of the fold—although it’s important to restate the fact that clarity is not a value in contemporary French philosophy. Indeed, Deleuze’s book on the fold reinscribes that image in its prose. Nevertheless, my next step will be to take a look at those additional sources. That’s how scholarship works, isn’t it? You start somewhere, and then follow the path as it unfolds—an unfolding that is, of course, potentially infinite, because there’s no end of connections and relationships and things to learn. I did my best with The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, although I am aware that I’ve only begun to follow its sinuous foldings and unfoldings. I would have to take up the challenge Deleuze offers his readers, and read Leibniz and the other texts that lie behind his argument. I don’t have time to do that—I need to remember what I’m trying to accomplish by reading for my comprehensive examinations—but maybe by reading Deleuze’s book on Foucault, or Badiou’s essay, I’ll find answers to the question that brought me here.

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.

Voltaire. Candide or Optimism, translated by John Butt, Penguin, 1947.

5. Elizabeth Adams St. Pierre, “Methodology in the Fold and the Irruption of Transgressive Data”

st pierre methodology image.jpg

I read Elizabeth Adams St. Pierre’s “Methodology in the Fold” during my MFA work, and I wanted to return to it, because I’ve been wondering if my research can be described using Gilles Deleuze’s notion of the fold. St. Pierre, who teaches in the College of Education at the University of Georgia, clearly states the purpose of her essay near the outset:

This essay represents an attempt to think differently about one word commonly used in research, data. By employing Deleuze’s image of the fold to trouble the received meaning of data . . . I have been able to shift my understanding of the research process to some extent and thus to think about different kinds of data that might produce different knowledge in qualitative research in education. (177)

St. Pierre is thinking about a particular research project—her PhD research, I believe: an ethnographic study of older, white, southern women in the town where St. Pierre grew up. She found herself working with data that escaped language, that could not be textualized, that “were uncodable, excessive, out-of-control, out-of-category” (179). These “non-traditional kinds of data”—non-traditional in the context of qualitative social science research, and therefore “transgressive” (180)—included emotional data, dream data, and sensual data, as well as another form of data she named “response data,” which she believes “has been folded into our research projects all along under other signifiers such as member checks and peer debriefing” (179). “I am sure there are still other unidentified, unnamed data working in my study,” she continues (179). 

The emotional data St. Pierre collected during her research was “almost overwhelming at times” (180). She writes, “I found, indeed, that it was impossible for me to ignore the emotions that sometimes threatened to shut down my study” (180). If those emotions are data, she wonders what method produces them. She writes: 

I came to believe that my emotions were most often produced when, in a search for some kind of scandalous, rhizomatic validity, I forced myself to theorize my own identity as I theorized my participants’. . . . It was during this very emotional process of deconstruction that I found myself working much harder to understand my participants, to respect their lives, to examine my relationship with them, and to question my interpretations. The examination of one’s own frailty surely makes one more careful about the inscription of others’. (181)

As a result of these data, St. Pierre came to understand that to make her study valid, she needed to consider both the construction of her own subjectivity as well as that of her participants’. “I also believe,” she continues, “that it was this search for validity within self-formation that produced corrosive, painful emotional data. I therefore name the ‘desire for validity’ a method of data collection in my research project” (181). 

St. Pierre dreamed about her research, even interviewing her participants in dreams, and although she says she never deliberately analyzed those dreams, “it seems appropriate and even necessary to adopt the view that dreaming is a process of inquiry” (182-83). Her dreams added a layer of complexity to her research, drew attention to problems, reconstructed and reproduced the data she was collecting in representations that helped her think about that data differently (183). “Dreams refuse closure; they keep interpretation in play,” St. Pierre writes. “I slipped into that dream world night after winter night, often desperate for meaning that eluded me, and sometimes for refuge from the demand for clarity” (183). Those dreams were never officially accounted for in her work, she continues, but “the dreams remembered and those deferred linger in some dislocated space of my text, producing dissonance, alterity, and confusion. My dreams enabled and legitimized a complexity of meaning that science prohibits” (183).

The sensual data in St. Pierre’s research was “produced by the very physical act of having lived in the community I studied when I was a child and a young woman,” she writes (183). “If our understanding of the world has been and is influenced by the earth itself,” she asks, “then my question is whether we can ignore those effects on our bodies and, in turn, on our mental mappings?” (183). St. Pierre doesn’t think we should ignore those effects, but, she asks,

how do we account for the sensual effects of our responses, for example, to the soft rolling fertility of the stream-laded Piedmont, to a field of tobacco turning golden in hot September afternoons, to the sharp and musty scent of pines and azaleas growing in shady red clay, to a fitting angle of the sun to which our bodies happily turn, to the rhythm of southern September days so very different from the same days in Yankee country, to a bone-deep attachment to one landscape in particular, a “sweet spot” which is the literal ground of our knowing? (183)

The knowledge these responses produce is an embodied knowledge, according to St. Pierre: “Our bodies’ peculiar angles of repose have much to do with what and how we know, and the knowing that is mapped beyond the mind/body trap produces lines of flight that remain uncoded” (183). This embodied knowledge, which exceeds or escapes standard qualitative social-science research methodologies, adds “folds of situated richness” to the research (184).

“My understanding of emotional data, dream data, and sensual data seems to have emerged from a close analysis of barely intelligible transgressive data produced by my own subjectivity,” St. Pierre writes, “yet I hardly ever worked in isolation during my study” (184). She worked and consulted with others in order to avoid making mistakes, and she comes to call the data that working with others produced response data. Traditional social-science methodologies produce that kind of data through such methods as peer debriefing and member checks, but they only bring the outside—the views of other people—into the research in a limited way (184). “Yet our members and peers do provide us with data that are often critical and that may even prompt us to significantly reconstruct our interpretation as we proceed,” St. Pierre writes. “These data surely influence the production of knowledge, yet we hardly ever acknowledge them. How might our sense of inquiry shift if we began to focus on mapping responses and examining how they enable our mapping of the world?” (184). In her own research, she collected response data from “an official peer debriefer,” her committee, members of writing groups at two universities, her mentor, her mother, her aunt, her cousin, friends who aren’t academics, an informant “who is a dear friend and almost-participant,” members of seminar and conference presentation audiences, participants, non-participants living in the community she studied who could’ve been participants, “the women of my dreams,” the authors of books she read, journal editors and referees, among others (184-85). “All these others move me out of the self-evidence of my work and into its absences and give me the gift of different language and practice with which to trouble my commonsense understanding of the world,” St. Pierre writes. “They help me move toward the unthought” (185). St. Pierre’s hope is that by naming this process—one that is completely familiar to anyone who has conducted academic or artistic research of any kind—other researches will begin to think about “this disruptive, unplanned, uncontrollable, yet fruitful fold in their work so that we can begin to collect data about response data and study the transgressions they enable” (185). Moreover, for St. Pierre, thinking about the relationship between researcher and those who respond to the research “has foregrounded an ethical relation . . . that generally escapes scrutiny” (185).

Those non-traditional data presented St. Pierre with her first problem. Her second problem is “the ruthlessly linear nature of the narrative of knowledge production” in qualitative social-science research:

first, we employ methods, such as interviewing and participant-observation, which produce data; then we code, categorize, analyze, and interpret those data; finally, from that analysis and interpretation, we develop theories of knowledge. (179-80)

“What happens, however, when this linear process is interrupted because the researcher enters this narrative in the middle?” she asks (180). In other words, what happens when an ethnographic study veers into autoethnography? Why would this have happened during her research? St. Pierre was both an insider and an outsider in her research project: she grew up in the town where her research participants lived, and had known many of them since childhood, but she was also an outsider, because she left the community 20 years before (177). “Since my study focuses on the construction of the subjectivities of these others,” St. Pierre writes, “it necessarily examines the construction of my own subjectivity that was folded into theirs in particularly fruitful and disturbing ways” (177). St. Pierre is using the word “folded” deliberately, in a Deleuzian sense, because she believes that her similarity to and difference from her research participants deconstructs the binary oppositions of standard or traditional qualitative social-science research: “I was both identity and difference, self and other, knower and known, researcher and researched. Foregrounding this doubling of subjectivity became crucial to my theorizing and my methodological practices. . . . I determined to pay attention to what this folded subjectivity might enable as I practiced qualitative research in a postmodern world” (178).

Deleuze’s image of the fold is obviously central to St. Pierre’s reflections on her research. That image, she writes, “enabled me to make intelligible the imbrication between the inside and outside of the research process” (177). According to St. Pierre, “Deleuze writes that the fold disrupts our notion of interiority”; it defines the inside as an operation of the outside, and it avoids distinctions, oppositions, and binaries. Therefore, she continues, “it breaks apart humanist dualisms like inside/outside, self/other, identify/difference, and presence/absence” (178). “I believed, since I had such difficulty separating myself from my participants, that I was working within a fold,” St. Pierre continues, “and that that fold was constructing a subjectivity, my own, that enabled me to think differently. Like a fold, my subjectivity had no outside or inside; the boundary, the division, the violent binary partition was not there” (178). The “shiftiness” of being in the fold led St. Pierre to her interconnected problems “with the signifier data as it is used in traditional qualitative research methodology” (179).

I’m an artist, or maybe a writer, and definitely not a qualitative social scientist, so the forms of data that are, in St. Pierre’s research context, “transgressive” are a normal part of what I do. Of course walking and thinking about those walks involves my senses and my emotions. That activity could also involve my dreams, although I rarely remember those. I also rely on the responses of others to my work, whether they are members of my committee or faculty members or Elders or other artists or just people I meet when I’m walking somewhere. So when I read this essay during my MFA work, and when I reread it yesterday, I found myself wondering whether artistic research can be described using Deleuze’s image of the fold. After all, my planned walk in Treaty Four territory may put me both inside and outside the subject position of settler, and that slippage or complexity or potential denial of my own colonialist position (although anyone who, as I do, understands that he or she lives on unceded or unsurrendered Indigenous Territory must therefore also understand his or her participation in colonialism) has some people in my faculty asking questions about cultural appropriation. However, despite St. Pierre’s attempts at explaining what Deleuze means by “the fold,” I still don’t understand exactly why she finds that idea so powerful. The scholarly thing to do, therefore, is to turn to the primary source, to Deleuze’s writing itself: first, his book on Leibniz, entitled The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, and second, his book on Foucault, since St. Pierre suggests that’s where Deleuze got this idea from in the first place (178). I will also have to read Alain Badiou’s 1994 essay, “Gilles Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque,” because I don’t know anything about Leibniz, calculus, or the other topics that Deleuze’s translator, Tom Conley, says Deleuze’s readers are expected to be familiar with (Deleuze, “The Fold” xi). In such situations, a bluffer’s guide (and I’m assuming, perhaps wrongly, that Badiou’s essay is one of those) is often necessary for readers who cannot spend months or years engaged in a study of the references made by an author in a difficult text. In any case, my attempt at reading Deleuze’s The Fold will be the subject of my next post.

Works Cited

Deleuze, Gilles. 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.