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1. What is Difference?

Yi-Jinkyung, Professor(Seoul National University of Technology)

 

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Difference is, in a word, non-sameness, that is, the opposite of sameness and the counterterm of identity. Difference is thus considered the reverse side of identity. The same, of course, goes for identity. Those two are words born twins. Thus, it is said there’s neither identity without difference nor difference without identity. As the words say, that seems really to be the case.

However, is that really so? “There are no two identical leaves in the world,” said Pliny the Roman. Don’t you think so? How could there be two identical leaves? There must be differences either it’s the color or the shape. Similarly we can say “there are no two identical persons in the world.” Even twins are not identical either. And how about me? They may say I today am the same person that I was years ago, but never the same. You would probably burst into laughter when you just come across your old photo on your identification card. ‘Is it really me?“ Not identical biologically either. It’s said that nearly all the cells of the human body are replaced with new ones in 6 months or so. If that is the case, it is hard to say I today am identical to myself yesterday, let alone a year or a decade ago. The same goes for me at this moment and a few minutes ago.

In this regard, doesn’t it sound like nothing but differences exist in the world? Yes. Only differences exist in the world. Now, what about identity? Where’s identity? Seems to be somewhere next to difference... One of the two primary meanings of the word identity would be the sameness of the state of a thing, and the other the individual identity. We’ve just mentioned the identification card. It proves I’m the same person as the person on the card by means of showing the identity between me and the photo on the card. Strictly speaking indeed, even though I today am different from yesterday, let alone a year ago, people say the two are ‘the same’ me. Otherwise, they can neither call my name nor hold me accountable for my mistakes. In order for this to be possible, we have to erase all the differences that have occurred in the meantime.

Though there exist only differences, identities can be made when we erase all the differences except a few similarities we need. It’s the same with tree leaves. Though the hundred leaves of that tree are all different, all of them can be called ginkgo leaf identically when all the differences are erased leaving only the required characteristics. We find repetitions when we grasp the similarities. We predict similarity through repetition. As the sun rose this morning as it did yesterday, we can predict the sun would rise again tomorrow. When we discover hard-to-find repetitions, we are amazed and rejoiced that we have found orders. That star over there today, it was there on the same spot last year too! We come to find the cosmos in the chaos.

However, differences are hidden in all the repetitions. The sun rises every day, but does differently. The rainy season comes every year, but not in the same manner. The identity of “morning” or “winter” is born when differences are erased from such repetitions. All the repetitions are different repetitions, that is, repetitions of differences. However, identity comes to be born when we make ‘repetitions without differences’ by eliminating differences from repetitions. Therefore identity is indeed a false image: a false image created artificially by erasing differences(Deleuze, Difference and repetition(DR), preface,ⅹⅸ). The same goes for the cosmos and the order.

Identity is shared because it is required for speaking and behaving. This shared Identity has realistic power but exercises its power conversely to erase differences. It may be because we do not want to destroy the order we found with efforts or because we feel discomfort with something different from what I know. Let’s take an example. All human beings have differences. However, the identity of ‘female’ or ‘male’ is made through certain commonalities, and with this concept we classify the different people as persons belonging to one of the two: either a male or a female. Based on this way of classification, if a person categorized as a male frequently shows tears over ‘trifles,’ he is more likely to be ridiculed; ‘men aren’t supposed to cry!‘ So, after promising himself not to cry and shouting ’no crying’ for ages, his unique sensitivity turns to ordinary ‘male’ sensitivity that can’t cry over ‘trivial matters’ anymore. “The feeling of love arising from the attraction between the opposite sex, how on earth a man falls in love with a man!” For that reason, Alan Turing underwent chemical castration and committed suicide due to feeling mortified and humiliated. Even in case of two women in loving relation, we re-identify them by the concept of fem and butch, another concept of female and male. When a woman falls in love with a woman, she may love her because of her femininity rather than her masculinity, or because of her childlike naivety, or maybe because of her animal wildness or botanic magnanimity. Why then should she be either fem or butch? The same is true of ethnic identity, student identity and parental identity. ‘Normality’ is the notion in which the power of identity operates to erase differences.

However, the thought of identity shouldn’t be viewed as too idiotic. This thought also knows it’s important to distinguish differences. For it’s important to understand; both Korean and Japanese are all humans, but different, both humans and dogs are all animals, but different, both dogs and cats are all companion animals, but different(DR 32). This kind of difference is called ‘specific difference,’ meaning the difference between species, which gave birth to the elaborate taxonomical difference of ‘species, genus, family, order, class, phylum and kingdom,’ The notion that ‘a human being is a thinking animal’ and ‘a homosexual is a person who loves a same-sex partner’ are all based on specific difference. However, this indeed deals with the ‘specific’ difference of human and homosexuality within the higher identity of ‘animal and ’human’ respectively, grasping difference within identity. Above that, there stands another identity by which human becomes a kind of animal and animal becomes a kind of living thing.

Opposition is sometimes used instead of specific difference when dealing with difference(DR 44); the opposition of female and male, life and machine, and enemy and friend. It is said that opposition is a way of widening the differences as much as possible, while specific difference is that of dividing and tying similarities. However, opposition also confines differences in identities. The moment the opposition of females and males steps up, innumerable differences in ‘females’ are erased. Likewise, when the opposition of enemy and friend stepping up, everyone will end up becoming one of the two.

In short, the thought of identity also ‘recognizes’ and conceptualizes difference, but difference is treated as the supplement and subordinate of identity. All the differences we know are these kinds, The reason for confining difference in identity with the difference-erasing power is that difference alone can’t avoid insane disorders and out-of-hand ‘diverse’.

The most common and silly misunderstanding about the philosophy of difference is to regard it as a philosophy that argues “there exists only difference” or a philosophy that praises only difference. No need for the philosophy of difference if just for that purpose. That proposition alone is just enough. The philosophy of difference is an enterprise to liberate difference from the state of the subordinate of identity. “There exists only difference” is far from enough to do that, ‘Praising difference’ is also nothing more than self-sufficiency. For the philosophy of difference, difference should be thought differently from the thought of identity. And there it should be situated at a different position from the concept of difference in the thought of identity. To do this, the first thing to do is to pay attention to ‘the difference that makes’ rather than ‘the difference made.(DR 28)’

When we see difference as the difference between the properties of objects or states such as the difference between male and female, the difference between life and machine, etc, we just see the difference that already exists, the difference made. When we distinguish identity and difference through comparison, we see the difference as an epistemological difference made by comparison. In this case, the difference between A and B is what is in A but not in B, that is, ‘difference as minus’ expressed as ‘A-B’. The same goes for opposition.

What the philosophy of difference pays attention to is, on the other hand, ‘the difference that makes’, ‘the difference that makes something become different.’ It’s ‘the difference that makes difference.’ It’s the difference as a generative force, power of becoming, and an ontological difference before comparison. There are differences that make even twins different, differences that make the same person very different. If the difference of the condition for the Embryonic Development is the smallest of those differences, then the critical person who approaches someone will be the largest. Countless differences exist between the two differences. A microphone that makes my voice different by amplifying, books that makes my thinking different... It‘s the event which ’connects’ me with the microphone or the book that makes difference in all of these things. The encounter with someone from outside, connecting with something else. The encounter of A and B which can be expressed as ‘A+B’, or the connection marked as a plus, it is precisely ‘the difference that makes,’ that is, the difference that makes difference.

The philosophy of difference pays attention to the difference as a ‘power that makes’ even when it sees the difference made. Therefore, the philosophy of difference should be said as the way of ‘seeing the world through difference’ rather than ‘seeing the difference in the world.’ It seeks to see everything as something made and changed by difference. This is why Deleuze turns to the mathematics of differential and tries to see the smallest difference at the moment of change(DR 170). The smallest difference that lies under the ground of every change and becoming is precisely the differential difference. To see the differential difference is to see change even in what appears to be stationary, to see the changing power in the state that appears to be the same. The differential coefficient is defined as the gradient of a line ‘connecting’ two neighboring points with infinitely small distance. A difference as a plus, do you remember? The neighboring relation in the differential scale connected by this is precisely the differential relation, which Deleuze developed into a concept for thinking about change and becoming. It is the difference that makes both identity and change. The philosophy of difference emphasizes that the power of becoming in all beings is difference.

The differential difference situates ‘the difference that makes’ in the fundamental place of thinking about becoming. Thereby difference becomes the most ‘universal’ idea(DR 173). On the other hand, there’s a difference that makes even the most concrete condition or an individual different. That is ‘intensity’, another essential concept to which the philosophy of difference pays attention(DR 229). The small difference in the conditions for the Embryonic Development that makes twins different is intensity. It’s easy to understand when you think of the intensity of the stimulus given to the surface of fertilized eggs. Every encounter has intensity. However, if intensity changes, that alone makes the encounter very different. When the intensity of likability exceeds a certain threshold, the affect remains even after breaking up. That is the case with love. The touch of encouragement sometimes taps on the shoulder. However, if the intensity goes beyond bounds, it’s hard to figure out whether it’s encouraging or hitting. Intensity is the power that exceeds the identical from within. It’s the power that changes what was thought as the same into something very different. This is also ‘the difference that makes.’

I mentioned the philosophy of difference seeks to liberate the difference from the power of identity. The concept of the differential difference liberates differences by shifting them to a more fundamental position than identity. Intensity breaks down identity and deviates the identical from itself by making a way of exceeding identity from within. Change in intensity stealthily changes yellow into orange or green. Rather it pushes it to the state where we can’t tell whether it is orange or yellow, yellow or green. If the intensity of love goes too far like Heathcliff in "Wuthering Heights," it becomes "crazy love," which we can hardly call love. The intensity of the stimulus given to fertilized egg surface also sometimes creates a kind of 'monster' in the fertilized eggs.

The difference that exceeds the power of identity is precisely the intensity. This is why intensity is important in the philosophy of difference. Is the philosophy of difference the philosophy of ‘monster’? That's right, it's the philosophy of the monster. To change something familiar and conventional into a monster, to change the world into something else with that monstrous power, that's what the philosophy of difference tries to do. Is it a scary thought? That's right. Those who don't know the philosophy of difference is scary, those who laugh it off as just the endless singing of difference, they know nothing about the philosophy of difference.

 

translated by Jung Ki Lee

 

 

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