- ---- by Claire ColebrookIt might seem that Deleuze's philosophy is dominated by an affirmation of the virtual and is highly critical of a western tradition that has privileged actuality. To a certain extent this is true, and this privilege can be seen in the way philosophy has traditionally dealt with difference. First, there are deemed to be actual terms, terms that are extended in time - having continuity - and possibly also extended in space. These terms are then related to each other, so difference is something possible for an already actualised entity. Difference is between actual terms, such as the difference between consciousness and its world, or is a difference grounded upon actuality, such as something actual bearing the capacity for possible changes. This understanding of actuality is therefore tied to the concept of possibility. Possibility is something that can be predicated of, or attributed to, a being, which remains the same. Now against this understanding of actuality, Deleuze sets a different couple: actuality/potentiality. If there is something actual it is not because it takes up time, nor because time is that which links or contains the changes of actual beings; rather, actuality is unfolded from potentiality. We should see the actual not as that from which change and difference take place, but as that which has been effected from potentiality. Time is not the synthesis or continuity of actual terms, as in phenomenology where consciousness constitutes time by linking the past with the present and future. Rather, time is the potential for various lines of actuality. From any actual or unfolded term it should be possible (and, for Deleuze, desirable) to intuit the richer potentiality from which it has emerged.As an avowed empiricist Deleuze seems to be committed to the primacy of the actual: one should remain attentive to what appears, to what is, without invoking or imagining some condition outside experience. However, while it is true that Deleuze's empiricism affirms life and experience, he refuses to restrict life to the actual. In this respect he overturns a history of western metaphysics that defines the potential and virtual according to already present actualities. We should not, Deleuze insists, define what something is according to already actualised forms. So we should not, for example, establish what it is to think on the basis of what is usually, generally or actually thought. Nor should we think that the virtual is merely the possible: those things that, from the point of view of the actual world, may or may not happen. On the contrary, Deleuze's empiricism is that of the Idea, and it is the essence of the Idea to actualise itself. There is, therefore, an Idea of thinking, the potential or power to think, which is then actualised in any single thought. We can only fully understand and appreciate the actual if we intuit its virtual condition, which is also a real condition. That is, real conditions are not those which must be presupposed by the actual - such as assuming that for any thought there must be a subject who thinks - rather, real conditions are, for Deleuze, the potentials of life from which conditions such as the brain, subjectivity or mind emerge.For example, if we want to understand a text historically we need to go beyond its actual elements - not just what it says but also beyond its manifest context - to the virtual problem from which any text is actualised. For instance, we should not read John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667) as a historical document responding to the English revolution, a revolution that we might understand by reading more texts from the seventeenth century. Rather, we need to think of the potential or Idea of revolution as such: how Milton's text is a specific actualisation, fully different, of the problem of how we might be free, of how power might realise itself, of how individuals might release themselves from imposed servitude. Any actual text or event is possible only because reality has a virtual dimension, a power to express itself in always different actualities: the English revolution, the French revolution, the Russian revolution, are specific and different only because actuality is the expression of an Idea of revolution which can repeat itself infinitely.Connective§ virtual / virtuality
The Deleuze Dictionary. Revised Edition. Edited by Adrian Parr . 2015.