Series 17: Static Logical Genesis: Metaphysical Surface

The most intriguing concept in this series seems to be what Deleuze calls the metaphysical surface or the transcendental field. I want to hypothesize that the “transcendental” in this concept signifies the possibility of language. This has something to do not only with Deleuze’s insistence on a frontier of language, but also resonates strongly with his focus on what he calls folding or enveloping. I will try to illuminate the complexity behind these concepts and show how they all interpenetrate one another in order to constitute the metaphysical surface that makes language possible.

The ontological proposition deals with individuals and persons, the former being infinite analytically and the latter being finite synthetically. These two ground one another and allow for denotation (the realm of the infinite analytic) and manifestation (related to the finite synthetic nature of the person) to enter into language. Signification is defined by possibility, and takes the place of the logical proposition. Deleuze is unable to say whether signification is primary at the start because “signification presupposes . . . an entire play of denotation and manifestation both in the power to affirm premises and in the power to state conclusions” (119). Thus, signification actually presupposes the formation of a good and common sense, linked to the individual and the person respectively. The tertiary structure of the proposition is “contingent upon sense” because it is formed by ontological and logical geneses (119). There is a secondary organization of sense (good and common) that allows for Deleuze to talk about the two x’s: on the one hand we have the object without a place, that which always exceeds its boundaries, and on the other hand we have the empty square, that which serves as the empty form of identity that common sense produces. Deleuze explains that there is, beyond the tertiary order of the proposition and the secondary organization of sense, “a terrible primary order wherein the entire language becomes enfolded” (120).

This folding is where we start to deal with the surface of language, and Deleuze asks a key question before introducing the transcendental field: “How can we maintain both that sense produces even the states of affairs in which it is embodied, and that it is itself produced by these states of affairs or the actions and passions of bodies?” (124). His answer is that it resides in the depths of the pulsation of mixed bodies, “by means of its power to organize surfaces and to envelop itself within the surface” (124). This is why Deleuze will say that “The surface is neither active nor passive, it is the product of the actions and passions of mixed bodies” (124). Making an analogy with physical surfaces, Deleuze argues that there is a surface energy which, without being of the surface is attributed to surface formations. Thus with a physics of surfaces there arises a metaphysics of surfaces as well: it is this metaphysical surface which will act as the name for “the frontier established, on one hand, between bodies taken together as a whole and inside the limits which envelop them, and on the other, propositions in general” (125). This surface, then, is linked to a “sonorous continuum” which insures that speech sticks to the extra-Being of bodies in such a way to envelop them in the interiority of language—allowing for a frontier of sound (proposition) and substance (bodies).

The last thing to emphasize is that this metaphysical surface which acts as a frontier is not one that separates—and so, this is not a limit in the Hegelian sense. It’s a limit which is not one, a porous limit, a membrane as such. This membrane is actually the articulation of sense as that which happens to bodies and insists in propositions (125). It is also not a separation in the way that sense is doubled up at the surface and deployed on both sides of the frontier. It is when this frontier is abolished that sense irrupts into nonsense and bodies fall back into their depths, unable to signify or have sense. As Deleuze argues at the end of the series, as long as the surface lasts, sense will bring about individuation in bodies and signification in propositions, allowing for the true event of language to unfold.