"Say something once, why say it again?" - Talking Heads
At this international Deleuze conference in Kaifeng, China, organized by Paul Patton, I explored the important influence of Hume in Deleuze's own efforts to develop an understanding of repetition. I'll now rework it in preparation for this big event in New Orleans.
Hume's influence is apparent from the very first sentence of the second chapter of Difference and Repetition, “Repetition for Itself,” where Deleuze begins with the Humean problematic, and with what Deleuze calls the “famous thesis” that was the result of Hume’s efforts to address this problem. As Deleuze states the thesis, “Repetition changes nothing in the object repeated, but does change something in the mind which contemplates it…”
As Deleuze sets forth the problem Hume is addressing, we are confronted with a repetitive series, AB, AB, AB, AB, and when we are next presented with A the problem is one of accounting for why we come to expect B when there is nothing in the nature of A itself that would lead us to this expectation. As Hume famously presents the problem in the Treatise (1.3.14), we come after a series of repetitions of AB to have the “idea of a cause and effect, of a necessary connexion of power, of force, of energy, and of efficacy” (T 162).
The question is why? And this is where Hume's famous thesis enters the picture.
This is indeed a serious problem for Hume, for why should repetition ever give rise to anything new? And yet it does, and that is where the thesis of the effects of repetition upon the imagination plays its key role for Hume:
The repetition of perfectly similar instances can never alone give rise to an original idea, different from what is to be found in any particular instance…Since therefore the idea of power is a new original idea, not to be found in any one instance…it follows, that the repetition alone has not that effect, but must discover or produce something new, which is the source of that idea (Treatise 163).
The repetition of AB in-itself does not produce a new original idea, but the observation of the resemblance between As does produce, Hume claims, "a new impression in the mind." (T 165) And from here we're off to the races and Hume offers his well know account of the belief in causal necessity.
Whitehead, however, is unconvinced. This is important for repetition was an equally essential concept in his thought, and for very much the same reason it is important for Deleuze - namely, it is crucial for understanding the emergence of novelty. In the case of Hume, however, Whitehead argues that
Hume’s argument has become circular. In the beginning of his Treatise, he lays down the ‘general proposition’: “That all our simple ideas in their first appearance, are derived from simple impressions,…” He proves this by an empirical survey. But the proposition itself employs—covertly, so far as language is concerned—the notion of ‘repetition,’ which itself is not an ‘impression.’ (Process and Reality, 158).
By relying covertly on an idea that is not derived from a simple impression—namely, repetition—Hume’s philosophy is ultimately inconsistent in its foundations and then the reasoning becomes circular when the appeal to custom and habit presuppose this foundation. For as Whitehead concludes, “It is difficult to understand why Hume exempts ‘habit’ from the same criticisms that applied to the notion of ‘cause.’ We have no ‘impression’ of ‘habit,’ just as we have no ‘impression’ of ‘cause.’ Cause, repetition, habit are all in the same boat.” (Process and Reality, 163).
What Whitehead fails to see in Hume, however, or at least what Deleuze sees in Hume and develops in his own philospohical way, are two repetitions (that this is a fair reading of Hume I argue for elsewhere).
What Deleuze finds in Hume is what will emerge in Deleuze's work with Guattari as "double articulation" (see especially the "Geology of Morals" chapter in A Thousand Plateaus [see here for instance] and I discuss here). In the case of Hume, the first articulation is what happens "in the mind" when the imagination “contracts cases, elements, agitations or homogenous instants and grounds these in an internal qualitative impression endowed with a certain weight [or what Hume called ‘force and vivacity’]...a force corresponding to the qualitative impression of all the contracted ABs.” (Difference and Repetition, p. 70). Deleuze will call this "passive synthesis." The second articulation is when these passive syntheses become actualized, in what Deleuze calls active synthesis, as determinate, identifiable impressions, memories, thoughts, and beliefs (such as the belief in necessity for Hume). Deleuze is quite clear that passive syntheses are not to be confused with the repeated elements of memory and understanding, but rather that memory and understanding are founded upon passive syntheses.
There is thus the repetition of passive synthesis, or the first articulation, and there is the repetition of active synthesis, or second articulation. Whitehead sees repetition in Hume as only the repetition based on determinate, already individuated elements. Deleuze reads in Hume a passive synthesis that is the condition for the possibility of individuated elements themselves. This is simply another way of describing what Deleuze calls "transcendental empiricism."
To allay concerns that Deleuze is overly committed to a subjectivist approach in his early work on Hume, an approach some claim is still present in Logic of Sense and Difference and Repetition, I would argue that the double articulation framework that gets developed in his early book on Hume and which then gets further refined in Difference and Repetition, comes into full bloom in his later writings and is explicitly employed in a clearly non-subjectivist manner in a A Thousand Plateaus, for example, when Deleuze and Guattari discuss the formation of sedimentary rock. It is here where DG's Spinozist naturalism is most vividly on display and why, for me at least, A Thousand Plateaus remains my favorite of Deleuze's works.