When I first heard Brian Eno’s album Another Green World I found the rhythms and musical textures so odd and disconcerting that I felt like jumping from my friend’s car. In time, however, this became one of my favorite albums, one I would listen to again and again, and I soon came to recognize why many consider Eno to be a musical genius. What happened here? Now you could say I became familiar with Eno’s music and that I began to see an inner logic, a musical sense, that first escaped my notice. But to get to this point required repeated listenings. What did I become familiar with? And what were the disconcerting layers that needed to be worked through to reveal the inner logic and sense? Hume’s answer to this question is that with repeated experience I became increasingly sensitive to differences and patterns that were initially experienced as a muddled, confused mess. With a developed and refined ‘delicacy’ of taste and imagination, Hume argues that one’s taste can be affected by subtle differences that are missed by others for whom what is present is ‘all mixed up with other such qualities, so that one can’t pick out all the particular flavours from the jumble in which they are presented.’ There are thus qualities in the work of art, according to Hume, that prompts pleasant feelings, feelings that may, on many occasions, only be accessible to one with finely tuned perceptual capacities – in short, to one that has the power to be affected by this music, a power others may lack.
Shifting gears here, I must admit that I had a reaction upon first attempting to read DG’s Anti-Oedipus that closely resembled my experience of first hearing Eno. Just take the first several lines of Anti-Oedipus:
It is at work everywhere, functioning smoothly at times, at other times in fits and starts. It breathes, it heats, it eats. It shits and fucks. What a mistake to have ever said the id. Everywhere it is machines—real ones, not figurative ones: machines driving other machines, machines being driven by other machines, with all the necessary couplings and connections. An organ-machine is plugged into an energy-source-machine: the one produces a flow that the other interrupts. The breast is a machine that produces milk, and the mouth a machine coupled to it. The mouth of the anorexic wavers between several functions: its possessor is uncertain as to whether it is an eating-machine, an anal machine, a talking-machine, or a breathing-machine (asthma attacks). Hence we are all handymen: each with his little machines.
Now I can easily imagine one throwing up their hands in the face of a passage such as this and considering it not worth the effort to determine whether or not there is an inner logic, or whether a delicacy of philosophical taste, for example (and DG actually use the term higher “taste” in What is Philosophy?), might lead one to discern an inner sense that leaves others, without such powers of discernment, left confronting, as Hume put it, a ‘muddled, confused mess.’ Most, perhaps, will not find this convincing. For many this may have things backward. We should begin, as Descartes might say, with our Archimedean point, our first principles that are clearly and distinctly perceived, and then build from there a system that becomes increasingly complex. For Deleuze it is the inverse that is the case. What are primary are not the clear and distinct ideas from which we might then found our philosophic and scientific systems, but rather the confused ideas. Drawing from Leibniz, Deleuze argues in Difference and Repetition that the ‘clear would be in itself confused and the distinct in itself obscure’, thus contrasting a Lebnizian confused and obscure to the Cartesian clear and distinct. Deleuze has in mind here Leibniz’s famous passage on the murmuring of the sea. As Deleuze puts it:
Either we say that the apperception of the whole noise is clear but confused (not distinct) because the component little perceptions are themselves not clear but obscure; or we say that the little perceptions are themselves distinct and obscure (not clear): distinct because they grasp differential relations and singularities; obscure because they are not yet ‘distinguished’, not yet differenciated. These singularities then condense to determine a threshold of consciousness in relation to our bodies, a threshold of differenciation on the basis of which the little perceptions are actualized, but actualized in an apperception which in turn is only clear and confused; clear because it is distinguished or differenciated, and confused because it is clear.
In other words, an idea as the integration and fusion – con-fusion – of singularities, or the component little perceptions, is clear only on the condition of this confusion; and similarly an idea is distinct only on the condition that the component little perceptions are obscured and filtered from the scene (I discuss this at greater length in an earlier post). We do not begin with the clear and distinct but with the problematic, or with a Humean hyper-real, and the clear and distinct, as Deleuze makes clear in his lectures on Leibniz, is in itself nothing other than an expression of what our body can do. Since all individual monads, according to Leibniz, express the totality of the world, the question becomes one of how to differentiate one individual from another. Leibniz’s answer is that each individual is differentiated by their particular point of view. As Deleuze summarizes Leibniz’s position,
All individuals express the totality of the world obscurely and confusedly. So what distinguishes a point of view from another point of view? …there is a small portion of the world that I express clearly and distinctly, and each subject, each individual has his/her own portion, but in what sense? In this very precise sense that this portion of the world that I express clearly and distinctly, all other subjects express it as well, but confusedly and obscurely.
Deleuze then adds that ‘even the pure vermin has its little world: it does not express much clearly and distinctly, but it has its little portion.’ As Jakob von Uexküll states this, each living individual has its environment, including the tick, whose clear and distinct portion consists of butyric acid, tactile stimulus and warmth stimulus. As Uexküll puts it, ‘From the enormous world surrounding the tick, three stimuli glow like signal lights in the darkness and serve as directional signs that lead the tick surely to its target.’ A clear and distinct perception is thus inseparable from the obscure and confused, or the problematic.
To clarify this point we can turn to Quine, a philospher well-known for the clarity of his writing. In Quine’s indeterminacy of translation argument he argues, in a tradition that dates to Hume’s recognition of underdetermination, that we never have enough evidence to justify one analytic hypothesis to the exclusion of others. In matching our hypotheses for translating sentences to observed behaviors, stimuli, etc., two incompatible translations may result from two distinct hypotheses that each perfectly account for the available evidence. Therefore, no matter how clear and distinct our translation may be, the meaning of a given utterance is confused and obscured by other equally viable translations, resulting in incompatible meanings.
This is not to say that clarity is impossible, a chimera philosophers would be best to move beyond. A common reaction to philosophers such as Deleuze, Derrida, and Heidegger (recall Carnap’s famous critique of Heidegger), is that they do indeed reject clarity. It’s as if their unclear prose and conceptual formations are supposed to mirror the complexities and ambiguities of what is being discussed and thought. But it would be a mistake to make this assumption. Quine is indeed a perfect example of clarity, and analytic philosophy certainly prides itself in its ability to maintain clarity as one of its fundamental stylistic standards, but clarity is no less important for “continental” philosophers. If there is a difference between analytic and continental philosophy on this score (and I’m not sure the difference is that great) then it is that for Deleuze, et. al. the working assumption is that clarity is not where we begin but what we achieve (this is even true in the case of Descartes), what we achieve in the face of the problematic and the confused and obscure from which we forge a thought that makes sense. A profound philosophical thought should be like listening to Another Green World for the first time.
For those who might be interested, here is the first track of Another Green World. It sounds so pedestrian to my ears now: