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  5. virtuality and actuality

   Yi-Jinkyung, Professor

Seoul National University of Technology


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For Deleuze, virtuality is the ability that is not yet actualized. Van Gogh, for example, started painting in his mid-thirties. He hadn’t thought about drawing and hadn’t even thought he might have that ability before. Is it just Van Gogh? You don’t know whether you have such an ability or not until you start it either it’s painting or music. Once you start, you may be amazed at your ability : ‘Wow, I didn’t know I have this ability.‘ But it is evident you have had the virtual ability even before then. The actual unfolding process of this virtual ability is referred to as ’actualization.‘ The concept of actuality is paired with that of virtuality.

Even though virtuality is about abilities, it doesn’t necessarily mean a desirable ability. The novel <Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde> was written through the imagination of a violent and demonic character Hyde hiding in the body of a good gentleman Jekyll. This also is an embodiment of certain virtuality unknown as a character in the novel. Another example would be a dovelike person changing into a warrior-like appearance all of a sudden.

Even before its actualization, virtuality exists in reality. You just don’t know there it is. Conversely, the actual activity is inscribed into the virtuality to change it. The activity of using a brush or a pen can build new sensory ability related to the hand or body. Virtuality is not just innate.

Virtuality is quality or ability that is not yet actualized but will be actualized when the required condition is met. Deleuze emphasizes that virtuality, unlike possibility, is part of reality. Virtuality is an ability existent even though invisible to the eye, whereas possibility is nothing other than the product of imagination or representation even when it seems to be visible. Possibility means everything that can’t be said to be impossible. For example, to say that singer Tom Waits will become a painter and to say that he will become a president may seem similar, but very different in fact. He is neither a painter nor a president now. Because he is an artist with a very sensitive sense of sound, he may be fully able to express such sensibility in colors and shapes, though his talent is not identified. You never know if he’ll become a famous painter(this is merely a possibility).

Of course, no one can say he can’t become a president since the presidential position is open to anyone under the democratic system. However, it doesn’t seem likely for him to be a president. He’s neither good at lying nor adept at making promises he can’t keep. Besides, he has not a pleasing face either. For such a person to be president, a very special thing or variable unimaginable should be involved, like the conspiracy of KGB to dominate the USA, the intervention of an alien who is in love with Tom Waits’s voice, or the miracle that all Americans get madly captivated by his song. In this case, his becoming president is not attributed to his virtual ability but the very special thing newly intervened. In short, There are reality and possibility, and in reality exist virtuality and actuality.

The invisible and unexpected virtuality is not the only one. Chicken egg, for example, is never the same as a chicken body, but contains the virtuality to be actualized into a chicken. All embryos are different from adults, but have adults in them as the virtualities. In this case, virtuality is not an unforeseen ability or attribute, but means ability or attribute that is widely expected to be actualized. Because hatched out of a chicken egg is nothing but a chick, it even has an unavoidable necessity. What matters about the ‘virtuality’ is not whether it’s unexpected or predictable, but the fact that it is determined to be actualized when conditions are met.

Therefore, the concept of virtuality can be said to have the future open to two disparate directions. One is the future unfolding in an unanticipated direction, and the other the future that is predictable and even unavoidable. A chicken egg has both the future of becoming a fried egg or a tool of offensive action and that of becoming a chick. This is the difficult but attractive part when conceptualizing the term virtuality philosophically.

Aristotle too distinguished the virtuality that is determined to be unfolded necessarily from the one that is not though he didn’t think of the unexpected future. A chicken egg, for example, can’t help but, willing or not, become a chick if incubated, whereas an architect can choose not to construct a house if unwilling to build it. Aristotle calls the latter ‘human’ virtuality. Going a step further from this, Agamben says true virtuality even includes the ‘ability not to do.’ It seems to be a ‘human, all too human’ way of thinking. A Human embryo too has no choice but to become a human baby when implanted in the womb. It is far from the ‘human’ virtuality if you think about it carefully. Likewise, a chimpanzee and a mouse also evidently have the ‘ability not to do’ in that they refuse mating if they are unwilling and try to escape from the cage or laboratory.

Deleuze emphasizes that virtuality contains both indetermination and determination to address two very disparate futures of virtuality. Nucleic Acids that constitute genes, for example, have definte determinations such as adenine(A), guanine(G), thymine(T), cytosine(C), etc. depending on the chemical composition or combination form. Furthermore, their operation methods are specifically determined in that adenine combines only with thymine, and guanine only with cytosine(uracil(U)). This forms the basis of the genetic mechanism. However, nucleic acid alone doesn’t have any genetic quality. It has indetermination as well as determination at the same time. Depending on the neighboring relationship with other nucleic acids, each nucleic acid becomes a different gene. It has countless determinabilities that vary according to the neighboring relation. Indetermination means that determinabilities are too many for having one. Though it has the future according to the determination, it is open to numberless futures that vary depending on the conditions. The same is true of genes and organisms. An identical person varies according to the neighboring relationships; a kind father at home, a torturing policeman at work, and sometimes calculating investor.

The neighboring relationships of the nucleic acids determine the genes, and those of the genes determine the specific characters of the adults. Deleuze refers to this neighboring relation as ‘differential relation.’ He calls the arrangements of nucleic acid and gene with neighboring relations ‘differentiation.’ On the other hand, the unfolding of differential virtuality is called differenciation. Differenciation is the unfolding and actualization of the differentiated, whereas differentiation expresses the virtuality of the individual to be differenciated. The differential virtuality and the differenciated actuality themselves are symmetrical with each other, just as differential and integral are symmetrical with each other. The genotype can be foreseen by the gene, and the gene can be guessed by the genetic character. This means that the actuality can hardly avoid the fate of determinacy of the unfolding of the folded virtuality when limited to the differenciation of the differential virtuality.

However, the real actualization process exceeds the differenciation process of the unfolding of the folded. The way genes form proteins varies depending on the conditions such as cytoplasm, and the pattern in which the embryos grow and develop changes according to the environment including amniotic fluid and nutritive conditions. When a special stimulation is applied to the surface of the embryo of newt which is a kind of salamander. a newt with two heads is born. The hunger the embryo experiences in the womb leads to an obese body by activating a particular gene the function of which is to maximize nutrient absorption but which is ordinarily turned off. The environment or condition is folded into the body of the individual during the process of development. Therefore, embryos with the same gene, like twins, go on different paths of individuation. Sometimes ‘monsterlike’ individuals are also born. There comes an unexpected future. The developmental process of an individual, on the one hand, is the differenciation process through which the gene-determined virtuality is unfolded, on the other hand, it is the process of the arrival of an unanticipated future that doesn’t exist in the gene.

All actualizations are individuations, but individuation always exceeds differenciation. Deleuze refers to this as ‘transcendental principle.’ Differentiation and individuation are asymmetrical, whereas differentiation and differenciation are symmetrical. This is because a salamander with two heads can’t be foreseen by its gene, and its corresponding gene can’t be guessed by the two heads. And that’s because the external condition or the intensive difference is intervened during the process of differenciation. The intensive synthesis according to the external condition gets the asymmetry involved in between the virtuality and the actuality. It matters very much what kind of outside it encounters.

In many articles on Difference and Repetition, differenciation and individuation are often equated. But Deleuze distinguishes between the differenciation through which the differentiated is unfolded and the individuation in which the differentiated is unfolded in conjunction with the external condition folded in by the intensive synthesis. There are two different ways of actualization; differenciation and individuation. That’s because Difference and Repetition has chapter 4 which deals with differentiation and differenciation followed by chapter 5 for ‘intensive synthesis’ separately. Just as virtuality and possibility should be distinguished, so should differenciation and individuation too. Deleuze warns that failure to distinguish these two will endanger the philosophy of difference entirely.

With the concepts of differenciation and individuation, you see that even the virtuality with a complete determination can be unfolded in two different ways. ‘Human virtuality’ boasts the ‘ability not to do,’ but the comparison between what is unfolded and what is not doesn’t make a big difference. If the way of avoiding the fate to be unfolded is nothing but an act of refusing to be unfolded, it is not emancipation from the ‘divine judgment’ of the predetermined fate. It remains confined in that judgement being folded. The crucial branchpoint is the point at which the unfolding of the folded as determined and the unfolding of the folded in an unexpected way are branched. Oskar in <The Tin Drum> refuses to grow. If that was all about the story, the story would end as a prosaic one. What else could come out of that except the story of the parents worrying about their child who stops growing? What’s important here is to live in a different way than the older grown-ups by stopping becoming an adult. When becoming aware of it, to stop growing itself doesn’t mean that much. For this reason, Oskar decided to grow again.

However, the force of the concept of virtuality, the different future against fate is seen more apparently when following the path of virtualization, not that of actualization. Actualization is not an imaginary concoction that returns the body back to the state of the fertilized egg by ‘biologically’ reversing it, but a realistic production that makes a different body by combining the current body with the different outside or transforming it intensively. The feet that are already differenciated as part of the body can’t be reversed to the fertilized egg. However, if the outside that the feet connect to is changed from the ground to tree branches or stones, the feet become something other than feet. Getting out of the ‘divine judgment’ that makes the feet destined to support the body and run on the ground, They become a ‘machine’ that climbs trees or uses instruments. A Kung fu martial artist transforms his hand into a sword or a club by changing its intensity. The non-actualized virtuality of the feet or hands renders it possible. It is to go back to the virtuality from the current actuality and make a different actuality. If Tom Waits seeks to make the sound a figure by using his hand instead of the throat and a canvas instead of a microphone, it means he's following the line of virtualization. At the extremity of such virtualization is the 'body without organ,' which means the body before the differenciation of the organs. Transforming the body into a different machine, deviating from the predetermined fate of the organ of the organism, is all about passing through the maximum virtuality called the body without organ. It is to register different forces and desires on the surface and actualize the body into a different one.




translated by Jung Ki Lee