On the Fold: Deleuze, Nietzsche, and the Seduction of Metaphor

We are all folds in an origami universe. 

I remember first reading Deleuze's The Fold and being, well, confused. Here's how it opens:
The Baroque refers not to an essence but rather to an operative function, to a trait. It endlessly produces folds. It does not invent things: there are all kinds of folds coming from the East, Greek, Roman, Romanesque, Gothic, Classical folds.... What the heck is he talking about? What the heck is a fold and how are there so many of them? What's going on here?

Now, this is one of Deleuze's modes of operation: he begins his books mid-conversation, mid-stride. Introductions to books have a way of situating the reader in order to proffer a certain purview: this is the lay of the land, this is what's coming, this is the territory you're entering. But Deleuze doesn't do that. He doesn't set up his ideas. He doesn't provide a frame precisely because there is no outside, no place to stand to get that view. We're always standing somewhere, negotiating something. There is no outside. There are only folds which mark this territory from that territory, inside from outside, here from there. Deleuze begins in the middle because that's where we always are.

Metaphors have a way of seducing us. They literally architect our thinking. For instance, think about the metaphor of inside/outside as it's used to discuss people. Of course, we don't think of it as a metaphor; we think of it as the way things are: there's an inside that can't be seen and an outside that is transient. But all knowledge is a metaphor, a use of words that organize how we think about something, distributing facts, concepts, feelings into some kind of structure, often hierarchical.

In his great essay, "On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense," Nietzsche claims we look at something and, based on our prejudices and inclinations, declare that thing to be such and such. The example I like to use is "moon." English speakers looked up at that oft glowing rock and noticed it waxes and wanes; it moves according to a cycle, hence "moon." The French, however, looked up and saw light (which is funny seeing that the moon is sometimes black): la lune. These are metaphors acting as knowledge. Poetry, Nietzsche argues, precedes truth. In fact, truth is just the name for a metaphor that we've forgotten is a metaphor.

Back to how we think about ourselves. There's what's inside me — not my guts as much as my feelings and thoughts. And then there's what's outside — my appearance, my face, my words. But inside and outside is a metaphor that offers an architecture of my self. There are no doubt other figures. At one point, talking about Socrates, Nietzsche writes, "We know, we can still see for ourselves, how ugly he was. But ugliness, in itself an objection, is among the Greeks almost a refutation." What shocks us about this is it seems to break the logic — the architecture, which is to say, the metaphor — of the self. Nietzsche does not adhere to the figure of inside/outside. In one fell swoop, he rearchitects the very space of selfhood: there's no strict line separating the inside from outside. It's continuous, as if all one crumpled piece of paper. This is Nietzsche's great move, as is the great move all thinkers: they use different metaphors and so recast, reshape, how we think and experience the world.

All thinking is organized by these metaphors. Indeed, to think is to scramble metaphors, to use this one there and that one here. All of language is metaphoric, Nietzsche claims. There is no literal language and then metaphoric language. The thinker — as distinct from the follower — rearranges metaphors, redistributes concepts and affects and facts. The follower regurgitates the metaphors he already knows, assuming them to be truth‚ when all truth is is the regurgitation of the same metaphors by a lot of people.

The fold is a way of organizing thinking without binaries, absolutes, or hierarchies. It's not one or the other; there's no inside or outside; there are no limits to rupture. It's all just a relative position ripe with shadows, obscurities, edges but that all give way once you round the corner, make it over the crease (or not, as the case may be). Socrates ugly face and nihilistic philosophy are part of the same origami structure.

The fold is a flexible figure that allows for distinctions while maintaining continuity. I think about language and the relationship between the constative — description — and performative, or the action done in the very saying itself.  Both are active in every utterance, every saying and writing. But they are not the same thing, even if they happen in the same breath. They are at once separated and connected via a fold in the material of language.

Think about what we call self-awareness. This is one of the great seductive metaphors of our new age (in every sense). We need to be self-aware, we believe, not muddled in the mix of things, befuddled by the fray. But with it comes a certain sanctimony and self-assuredness: Before I did not know; now I do — as if that now were not part of the fray, as well! All self-awareness is relative to another state and will itself become the new fray for a new self-awareness. You'll never know yourself once and for all. The metaphor of inside-outside promises a breakthrough, a release. But the fold says, Hold on a minute there, buddy. This is just a relative position within an endlessly pleated surface of life. 

Binaries such as inside/outside and surface/depth operate with an either/or logic: it's one or the other. The fold, however, allows for the operation of and: it's both this and that. There's a distinction between what I feel and what I say, sure. But they are intimately bound up and rarely opposed. They are different planes of a common event: the event of me.

I am a series of folds within an origami universe. Of course, this is not to say that there aren't tears in the surface of things. But there is no nothing nor is there an outside. The universe is a plenum, full of itself. A tear is a kind of fold, too.

There are no doubt all kinds of folds, different ways of distributing components, of folding them together into a this.  This is what's so great about the fold as an architecture of thought: it has infinite variations. Have you ever seen an origami exhibit? The variety of possibility is mind boggling.

The fold overcomes binaries including the binary between binaries and not binaries. Which is to say, the fold doesn't just replace either/or with and. It supersedes the distinction by offering either/or and/or and. It all depends on the mode of the fold.

The fold is the figure of a multicentered world, a world of intersecting planes, of flourishing possibilities and synchronicity. Things rarely move in a line; linear time is one possibility rather than the norm. We all live through this as we cycle through moods and behaviors. We don't just stream along in a straight line. We move backwards, forwards, sideways, flipping over at strange angles through four dimensional space. I live through adolescent and even infant moments in my forties. At other times, I'm already dead. We live as pleats within pleats. Or so I like to think.


αληθεια said...

if everything of this world is temporal, that is, if nothing is absolute, not even my claim which says that nothing is certain, then what is this Eternal that Kierkegaard talks about in his works. The only thing I can make out of this Eternal is that it ought to "will one thing," which is the Good (note that it's with a capital G, just like Plato's Ideas.) In his Purity of the Heart is to Will One Thing, Kierkegaard writes, "Only the Eternal is always appropriate and always present, is always true. Only the eternal applies to each human being, whatever his age maybe. The changeable exists, and when it's time has passed it is changed. Therefore any statement about it is subject to change…[But] the eternal will not have its time, but will fashion time to its own desire, and then give consent that the temporal should also be given its time"(35-37) What I can't figure out is that if I am in the temporal then what's this Eternal that Kierkegaard claims is in me - my vocation, my calling? Maybe it's the Goodness which is also based in the 'bound infinity' which changes in relation to the changing circumstances around me. Or perhaps the Eternal is the place where one goes after death - a place I can't know until my death.

Matthew said...

Thanks for your post, Daniel. I've been continually diving into Deleuze and I keep coming up with crazy, alien-like gems of thought. I remember, maybe in the A-Z interview online with a French woman, that Deleuze said that he received a letter from an Origami instructor and thought this to be one of the most insightful readers of him. Now I understand why.

Daniel Coffeen said...

@Matthew: Thank you. That is the great pleasure of Deleuze, especially with Guattari: they spin out so many alien nuggets that just keep on giving.

@αληθεια: Kierkegaard is weird, perfectly so. And he wouldn't say everything is temporal. I believe he believes there is an infinity that is not temporal whereas the infinity of D&G IS temporal — an infinite becoming as in a differential equation. When I think about Kierkegaard's eternal, I think about that feeling I get sometimes when I reckon space, the ocean, desert, love: a resounding sensation that seems to have always have been reverberating but only sometimes in me.

In Difference & Repetition, Deleuze distinguishes between Nietzschean repetition and Kierkegaardian repetition. Nietzsche dances; Kierkegaard leaps. He leaps because there is always this gap, these leaps of faith, between temporality and eternity, finitude and infinity. That is not the case for Nietzsche or Deleuze, for that matter. There is no outside for them. Kierkegaard does have an outside. What makes SK and his knight of faith so strange is that the goal is not to achieve this outside but to walk both inside and outside with every step.