from the Fold, Leibniz and the Baroque, translated by Tom Conley, the University of Minnesota Press, 1992.
Whitehead is the successor, or diadoche, as the Platonic philosophers used to say, of the school's leader. The school is somewhat like a secret society. With Whitehead's name there comes for the third time an echo of the question, What is an event? He takes up the radical critique of the attributive scheme, the great play of principles, the multiplications of categories, the conciliation of the universal and the individual example, and the transformation of the concept into a subject: an entire hubris. He stands provisionally as the last great Anglo-American philosopher before Wittgenstein's disciples spread their misty confusion, sufficiency, and terror. An event does not just mean that "a man has been run over." The Great Pyramid is an event, and its duration for a period of one hour, thirty minutes, five minutes . . . . a passage of Nature, of God, or a view of God. What are the conditions that make an event possible? Events are produced in a chaos, in a chaotic multiplicity, but only under the condition that a sort of screen intervenes.
Chaos does not exist; it is an abstraction because it is inseparable from a screen that makes something - something rather than nothing - emerge from it. Chaos would be a pure Many, a purely disjunctive diversity, while the something is a One, not a pregiven unity, but instead the indefinite article that designates a certain singularity. How can the Many become the One? A great screen has to be placed in between them. Like a formless elastic membrane, an electromagnetic field, or the receptacle of the Timaeus, the screen makes something issue from chaos, and even if this something differs only slightly. In this way Leibniz had long been able to ascribe several approximations to chaos. According to a cosmological approximation, chaos would be the sum of all possibles, that is, all individual essences insofar as each tends to existence on its own account; but the screen only allows compossibles -and only the best combination of compossibles -to be sifted through.
Following a physical approximation, chaos would amount to depthless shadows, but the screen disengages its dark backdrop, the "fuscum subnigrum" that, however little it differs from black, nonetheless contains all colors: the screen is like the infinitely refined machine that is the basis of Nature. From a psychic point of view, chaos would be a universal giddiness, the sum of all possible perceptions being infinitesimal or infinitely minute; but the screen would extract differentials that could be integrated in ordered perceptions. If chaos does not exist, it is because it is merely the bottom side of the great screen, and because the latter composes infinite series of wholes and parts, which appear chaotic to us (as aleatory developments) only because we are incapable of following them, or because of the insufficiency of our own screens.' Even the cavern is not a chaos, but a series whose elements remain caverns filled with an increasingly rarefied matter, each of which is extended over the following ones.
That is clearly the first component or condition of both Whitehead's and Leibniz's definition of the event: extension. Extension exists when one element is stretched over the following ones, such that it is a whole and the following elements are its parts. Such a connection of whole-parts forms an infinite series that contains neither a final term nor a limit (the limits of our senses being excepted). The event is a vibration with an infinity of harmonics or submultiples, such as an audible wave, a luminous wave, or even an increasingly smaller part of space over the course of an increasingly shorter duration. For space and time are not limits but abstract coordinates of all series, that are themselves in extension: the minute, the second, the tenth of a second. . . . Then we can consider a second component of the event: extensive series have intrinsic properties (for example, height, intensity, timbre of a sound, a tint, a value, a saturation of color), which enter on their own account in new infinite series, now converging toward limits, with the relation among limits establishing a conjunction. Matter, or what fills space and time, offers characters that always determine its texture as a function of different materials that are part of it. No longer are these extensions but, as we have seen, intensions, intensities, or degrees. It is something rather than nothing, but also this rather than that: no longer the indefinite article, but the demonstrative pronoun. How remarkable that Whitehead's analysis, based on mathematics and physics, appears to be completely independent of Leibniz's work even though it coincides with it!
Then comes the third component, which is the individual. There the confrontation with Leibniz is the most direct. For Whitehead the individual is creativity, the formation of a New. No longer is it the indefinite or the demonstrative mood, but a personal mood. If we call an element everything that has parts and is a part, but also what has intrinsic features, we say that the individual is a "concrescence" of elements. This is something other than a connection or a conjunction. It is, rather, a prehension: an element is the given, the "datum" of another element that prehends it. Prehension is individual unity. Everything prehends its antecedents and its concomitants and, by degrees, prehends a world. The eye is a prehension of light. Living beings prehend water, soil, carbon, and salts. At a given moment the pyramid prehends Napoleon's soldiers (forty centuries are contemplating us), and inversely. We can say that "echoes, reflections, traces, prismatic deformations, perspective, thresholds, folds" are prehensions that somehow anticipate psychic life. The vector of prehension moves from the world to the subject, from the prehended datum to the prehending one (a "superject"); thus the data of a prehension are public elements, while the subject is the intimate or private element that expresses immediacy, individuality, and novelty. But the prehended, the datum, is itself a preexisting or coexisting prehension, such that all prehension is a prehension of prehension, and the event thus a "nexus of prehensions." Each new prehension becomes a datum. It becomes public, but for other prehensions that objectify it; the event is inseparably the objectification of one prehension and the subjectification of another; it is at once public and private, potential and real, participating in the becoming of another event and the subject of its own becoming.
Beyond the prehending and the prehended, prehension offers three other characteristics. First, the subjective form is the way by which the datum is expressed in the subject, or by which the subject actively prehends the datum (emotion, evaluation, project, conscience . . . ). It is the form in which the datum is folded in the subject, a "feeling" or manner, at least when prehension is positive. For there are negative prehensions that exist as long as the subject excludes certain data from its concrescence, and is thus only filled by the subjective form of this exclusion. Second, the subjective aim assures the passage from one datum to another in a prehension, or from one prehension to another in a becoming, and places the past in a present portending the future. Finally, satisfaction as a final phase, as self-enjoyment, marks the way by which the subject is filled with itself and attains a richer and richer private life, when prehension is filled with its own data. This is a biblical - and, too, a neo-Platonic - notion that English empiricism carried to its highest degree (notably with Samuel Butler). The plant sings of the glory of God, and while being filled all the more with itself it contemplates and intensely contracts the elements whence it proceeds. It feels in this prehension the self-enjoyment of its own becoming.
These traits of prehension also belong to Leibniz's monad. And, initially, perception is the datum of the prehending subject, not in the sense that the latter would undergo a passive effect, but, on the contrary, to the degree it fulfills a potential or objectives it by virtue of its spontaneity: thus perception is the active expression of the monad, as a function of its own point of view. But the monad has several forms of active expression that make up its ways or manners, according to the ways in which its perceptions are sensitive, active, or conceptual. In this sense appetite designates the movement from one perception to another as being constitutive of a becoming. Finally, this becoming is not completed without the sum of perceptions tending to be integrated in a great pleasure, a Satisfaction with which the monad fills itself when it expresses the world, a musical Joy of contracting its vibrations, of calculating them without knowing their harmonics or of drawing force enough to go further and further ahead in order to produce something new. For with Leibniz the question surges forth in philosophy that will continue to haunt Whitehead and Bergson: not how to attain eternity, but in what conditions does the objective world allow for a subjective production of novelty, that is, of creation? The best of all worlds had no other meaning: it was neither the least abominable nor the least ugly, but the one whose All granted a production of novelty, a liberation of true quanta of "private" subjectivity, even at the cost of the removal of the damned. The best of all worlds is not the one that reproduces the eternal, but the one in which new creations are produced, the one endowed with a capacity for innovation or creativity: a teleological conversion of philosophy.
There are no fewer eternal Objects. It is even the fourth and last component of Whitehead's definition of the event: extensions, intensities, individuals or prehensions, and, finally, eternal objects or "ingressions." Extensions effectively are forever moving, gaining and losing parts carried away in movement; things are endlessly being altered; even prehensions are ceaselessly entering and leaving variable components. Events are fluvia. From then on what allows us to ask, "Is it the same flow, the same thing or the same occasion? It's the Great Pyramid . . ." The Great Pyramid signifies two things: a passage of Nature or a flux constantly gaining and losing molecules, but also an eternal object that remains the same over the succession of moments. While prehensions are always current forms (a prehension is a potential only in respect to another current prehension), eternal objects are pure Possibilities that are realized in fluvia, but also pure Virtualities that are actualized in prehensions. That is why a prehension does not grasp other prehensions without apprehending eternal objects (properly, conceptual feeling). Eternal objects produce ingression in the event. Sometimes these can be Qualities, such as a color or a sounds that qualifies a combination of prehensions; sometimes Figures, like the pyramid, that determine an extension; sometimes they are Things, like gold or marble, that cut through a matter. Their eternity is not opposed to creativity. Inseparable from the process of actualization or realization into which they enter, they gain permanence only in the limits of the flux that creates them, or of the prehensions that actualize them. An eternal object can thus cease becoming incarnate, just as new things - a new shade of color, or a new figure -can finally find their conditions.
With Leibniz the situation hardly differs. For if monads or simple substances are always current forms, they not only arch back to virtualities that they actualize in themselves, as innate ideas demonstrate, but yet again to possibilities that are realized in composite substances (thus perceived qualities), or in aggregate materials (things), or in extended phenomena (figures). Everything flows down below, "in a perpetual flux, with bits and pieces continually entering and exiting." From that moment permanency is not reduced to monads that actualize the virtual, but is extended to the possibilities that they seize in their acts of reflection, and that are born in the extended composite materials. Reflexive objects are correlative to reasonable monads, just as in Whitehead, where eternal objects are correlative to thinking prehensions. Figures, things, and qualities are schema of permanence that are reflected or actualized in monads, but that are realized in flux; even composite substances, as we shall observe, need an ultimate quality that marks every one of them.
A concert is being performed tonight. It is the event. Vibrations of sound disperse, periodic movements go through space with their harmonies or submultiples. The sounds have inner qualities of height, intensity, and timbre. The sources of the sounds, instrumental or vocal, are not content only to send the sounds out: each one perceives its own, and perceives the others while perceiving its own. These are active perceptions that are expressed among each other, or else prehensions that are prehending one another: "First the solitary piano grieved, like a bird abandoned by its mate; the violin heard its wail and responded to it like a neighboring tree. It was like the beginning of the world. . . ."
The origins of the sounds are monads or prehensions that are filled with joy in themselves, with an intense satisfaction, as they fill up with their perceptions and move from one perception to another. And the notes of the scale are eternal objects, pure Virtualities that are actualized in the origins, but also pure Possibilities that are attained in vibrations or flux. "As if the instrumentalists played the little phrase far less than they were performing the rites it required in order to appear . . ." But then, in the midst of this totality, Leibniz adds the conditions of a Baroque concert. If we suppose that the concert is divided into two sources of sound, we are positing that each hears only its own perceptions but is harmonized with those of the other even better than if it had perceived them, because of the vertical rules of harmony that happen to be enveloped in their respective spontaneity. These are the harmonies that replace horizontal connections.
There is a great difference that depends on Leibniz's Baroque condition. For Whitehead it involves prehensions being directly connected to each other, either because they draw on others for data and form a world with them, or because they exclude others (negative prehensions), but always in the same universe in process. For Leibniz, to the contrary, monads exclude only universes that are incompossible with their world, and all those that exist express the same world without exclusion. As this world does not exist outside of the monads that express it, the latter are not in contact and have no horizontal relations among them, no intraworldly connections, but only an indirect harmonic contact to the extent they share the same expression: they "express one another" without harnessing each other. We might say that in the two instances monadic or prehensive units have neither doors nor windows. But for Leibniz, it is because the monads being-for the world is submitted to a condition of closure, all compossible monads including a single and same world. Now for Whitehead, to the contrary, a condition of opening causes all prehension to be already the prehension of another prehension, either to control it or to exclude it. Prehension is naturally open, open onto the world, without having to pass through a window. A difference of this kind must surely have a reason.
For Leibniz, as we have seen, bifurcations and divergences of series are genuine borders between incompossible worlds, such that the monads that exist wholly include the compossible world that moves into existence. For Whitehead (and for many modem philosophers), on the contrary, bifurcations, divergences, incompossibilities, and discord belong to the same motley world that can no longer be included in expressive units, but only made or undone according to prehensive units and variable configurations or changing captures. In a same chaotic world divergent series are endlessly tracing bifurcating paths. It is a "chaosmos" of the type found in Joyce, but also in Maurice Leblanc, Borges, or Gombrowicz. Even God desists from being a Being who compares worlds and chooses the richest compossible. He becomes Process, a process that at once affirms incompossibilities and passes through them. The play of the world has changed in a unique way, because now it has become the play that diverges. Beings are pushed apart, kept open through divergent series and incompossible totalities that pull them outside, instead of being closed upon the compossible and convergent world that they express from within. Modem mathematics has been able to develop a fibered conception according to which "monads" test the paths in the universe and enter in syntheses associated with each path. It is a world of captures instead of closures.
We can better understand in what way the Baroque is a transition. Classical reason toppled under the force of divergences, incompossibilities, discords, dissonances. But the Baroque represents the ultimate attempt to reconstitute a classical reason by dividing divergences into as many worlds as possible, and by making from incompossibilities as many possible borders between worlds. Discords that spring up in a same world can be violent. They are resolved in accords because the only irreducible dissonances are between different worlds. In short, the Baroque universe witnesses the blurring of its melodic lines, but what it appears to lose it also regains in and through harmony. Confronted by the power of dissonance, it discovers a florescence of extraordinary accords, at a distance, that are resolved in a chosen world, even at the cost of damnation.
This reconstitution could only be temporary. With the neo-Baroque, with its unfurling of divergent series in the same world, comes the irruption of incompossibilities on the same stage, where Sextus will rape and not rape Lucretia, where Caesar crosses and does not cross the Rubicon, where Fang kills, is killed, and neither kills nor is killed. In its turn harmony goes through a crisis that leads to a broadened chromatic scale, to an emancipation of dissonance or of unresolved accords, accords not brought back to a tonality. The musical model is the most apt to make clear the rise of harmony in the Baroque, and then the dissipation of tonality in the neo-Baroque: from harmonic closure to an opening onto a polytonality or, as Boulez will say, a "polyphony of polyphonies."
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