▶TR :: Trans-machine Express!

Everything is a machine. We are here to convey expressive thoughts traversing all those machines. Expecting their reaching to numerous unknown machines, we hope to assume the role of making them unfold outward and be folded inward by the outside.


8. expression and representation


Yi-Jinkyung, Professor

Seoul National University of Technology


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In Deleuzian philosophy, the concept of expression appears twice. Once in Expression in Philosophy: Spinoza, Difference and Repetition, and The Logic of Sense written around the same time, and once in A Thousand Plateaus that he later wrote with Guattari. Simply put, the concept of expression in the early days contrasts with the concept of representation, and, in A Thousand Plateaus, replaces the concept of ‘form’ which is often considered the mate of ‘content.’ The former is dealt with in this essay, and the latter when we cover the concept of double articulation. The concept of expression is very important in Deleuzian philosophy. However, rather than leading the thoughts at the front like his other ‘famous’ concepts, it has the status of a director that gives directions to other thoughts. In particular, The Logic of Sense is on the whole woven by this concept of expression, but this concept even gives a feeling that it is hidden. It reminds us of his style in which he hides thoughts by folding them implicitly in concise sentences rather than spreading and explicating them in showy sentences.

We’ll approach the concept of expression through an example, though this concept is delved into in Expression in Philosophy. Deleuze uses the example that Duns Scotus took. They are two names to express Venus. Venus in the eastern sky at dawn is called ‘the morning star,’ and that in the western sky early evening ‘the evening star.’ One and the same star is called by two different names. Two similar expressions are found in <The Book of Odes> of the old China. Why did they do that? Was it mistaken for two different stars because the observed times and locations were different? No. it wasn’t. They knew the two are one identical and the same star. There must have been reasons why they did so nonetheless. That might be because the affect they got when seeing it at dawn like a herald of the rising sun was different from the one they got when it looked like a sign of something being ended right after sunset. Those different affects were expressed with different names and different signs.

Which one of these names accords with the essence of Venus? It’s a stupid question. Both are in accordance with its essence. The morning star is suitable to express the beginning of a day, and the evening star, which has another meaning of ‘casting a glance at the dog bowl’ in Korean, is appropriate to express the downtime after a day’s work. The morning star expresses the force that draws eyes on light, star and wish, whereas the evening star expresses the slack to give the eye to things outside the purpose, the marginal and trifles that is a ‘dog bowl.’ The two could be expressed as ‘rising’ and ‘sinking’ respectively. Both expressions properly express what needs to be expressed.

‘The morning star,’ which also means ‘rising star’ in Korean, is often used for praising, whereas ‘the evening star’ is seldom used. Nevertheless, the expression ‘the evening star’ is neither inferior to ‘the morning star’ nor inappropriate comparing to it. Every expression has an equal value as long as it suitably expresses what should be expressed. Let’s call it ‘expressive value.’ However, it doesn’t mean all expressions are of equal value. We express how we feel when we fall in love for the first time. To say “I love you, you’re my first love!‘ and to say ”You put in a fish holding me by the neck sleeve, my heart has turned to two white trout“(Eunyoung Jin) can’t be said to have an equal value. Each expression has a different value depending on how properly it expresses what must be expressed.

This is contrasted with ‘representative value.’ Representation requires that an object be copied as accurately as possible. Therefore, the one that is most similar to the original has the best value, and the degree of representation determines superiority and inferiority. When audio manias evaluate loudspeakers, for example, the measure of evaluation is commonly how accurately they reproduce the original sound. In this case, the value of a loudspeaker is determined by its representation ability. It is graded by its representative values. However, because the measure of value is the copy of the original sound, we can’t help listening to second-class and third-class sounds, incomplete and inferior ones no matter how expensive and good the speaker is. This is an expensive misfortune for the representationist. ‘Expressionist’ sees this differently. Sound is vibration, and different musical instrument makes vibration differently. A cello vibrates by the strings being rubbed, whereas a loudspeaker quivers paper to vibrate. It has not an inferior but different expressive ability, because the mode of its acoustic expressiion is different from those of musical instruments. If so, the value of a loudspeaker should be evaluated not by how similarly it represents the original sound but by how beautiful the sound generated by the expression ability of the quivering papers is. If you have a loudspeaker that generates a truly wonderful sound, it deserves to be evaluated as having an equal value to a musical instrument even though its tone is different from the sound of a musical instrument. The expressive value is this kind of value. Representative value is transcendent because the original or the model is the measure of representation, whereas expressive value is immanent because the measure is what is intended to express or its own expressive values.

Back to the story of Venus, there are two different ‘expressions,’ namely the morning star and the evening star, for a star called Venus. Though one and the same thing, different senses are expressed with different expressions. To rephrase it with Venus as the subject, Venus ‘expresses itself’ in two different ways with these two expressions. There’s no reason for the expressions to be limited to two. There can be numerous expressions to express itself with. Besides, every expression has its own independent value as long as it is adequate for what’s to be expressed.

Bringing together ‘what expresses itself,’ ‘expression,‘ and ’the expressed’ through the expression into one, Deleuze names it the ‘triad of expression.’ The triad contrasts with the duad such as sign and meaning, signifiant and signifié. This corresponds to the duad of representation that is the original and the copy, representation and the represented. However, what matters here is not adding one more to two. Not to mention sign and the concept of ‘meaning,’ what is intended to grasp through them changes.

First, sign as ‘expression.’ According to the representative viewpoint, representative signs can’t be said to be many no matter how many they are. That’s because the meaning of signs is only one insofar as signs must represent the original. The sign representing the meaning most faithfully becomes the ‘winner.’ On the other hand, though the other signs that express that one also revolve around it, each different sign has its own independent ‘sense’ as long as what it intends to express is different. The status of winner can’t be awarded to the morning star just because it is preferred. Expressive differences are all accepted in the affirmative.

Second, sense as ‘the expressed.’ It is the original that is ‘represented’ with a representative sign. In other words, the object that the sign indicates or what it intends to say is the meaning of the sign. However, it is not a referent nor an intention that matters about a expressive sign. In case you say both the morning star and the evening star equally means Venus, you don’t know the differences between those two words, namely the ‘senses’ of them. If you say the previous two sentences about the first love have the same ‘sense’ for the reason that both show the same intention, this means you didn’t understand those sentences. The latter sentence expresses not only the intention to convey the feeling of ‘the first love’ but the astonishment of feeling something being put in the neck sleeve and the fluttering and liveliness of the heart which became trout. A different sense is expressed. The expressed changes as the expression changes.

Therefore, when it comes to expression, what matters is not ‘what’ to express but ‘how’ to express. Sense is all that is expressed differently with a different expression like this. Even though a ‘puppy’ and a ‘son of a bitch’ have the same referent, they have different senses. Even the same word has different senses according to the condition and context. A ‘wolf,’ for example, means ‘evil’ that threatens the weak when contrasted to a sheep, untamed ‘wildness’ when contrasted to a dog, ‘blackheartedness’ when paired with a woman, and lunacy or monstrousness when connected to the full moon. A ‘wolf’ as a representative sign, in any case, only reminds us of a gray animal with two pointy ears, whereas a ‘wolf’ as an expressive sign summons all these senses differently on each occasion.

Third, ‘what expresses itself.’ This doesn’t mean a referent in the concept of triadic sign. Rather, this means expressive virtuality. Venus can have other expressions besides the morning star and the evening star. A ‘wolf’ too can have different senses from the above-mentioned ones when the connecting neighbor changes. The word ‘wolf’ whose neighbor is not determined can be said to be ‘non-sense.’ Many senses, which will be summoned depending on the neighbor, are implied in it. It doesn’t mean that there's no sense, but that too many senses are folded in "what expresses itself.‘

The power of the concept of expression is more evident in the case where mixing and mutation are problematic like the human in a myth who is transformed into a werewolf, vampire, or bear rather than a wolf. The later concept of ‘becoming-animal’ is related to this.

From the viewpoint of representation, a werewolf, for example, doesn’t have its corresponding referent. In the sense of ‘false,’ it only is a fictional entity and a figment of metaphorical imagination. Representational thinking, of course, doesn’t give up the concepts of mimesis and representation here either. Along the way of the concept of mimesis, they will scan down the body dividing it. The head is similar to that of a wolf, and the body is similar to a human’s... If the wolf has a forked tongue, again they will split the head into two of which the one is wolf-like and the other snake-like. They continue to go down until the resemblane of perception reaches what is identical to the concept you know. Thereby, any fictional object will be explained as a ‘mimesis.’ Thinking this way, there’s nothing that is not a mimesis. An alien flying saucer can also be said to be a mimesis of a saucer on our table. Integrating them into one organism, you will analogize it to a kind of human calling ‘wolfish man.’ You will allot opposing predicate such as ‘be brutal’ or ‘be evil’ to that monstrous human. Deleuze says that the identity of the conecpt, the analogy of judgement, the opposition of the predicate, and the resemblane of perception are quadripartite fetters(Difference and Repetition, 262).

From the viewpoint of expression, ‘werewolf’ is a word that expresses an individual which ‘expresses itself’ with that word. It is an expression of a certain singularity caused by the unusual character of the object: being neither a human nor a wolf. An unusual force and affect transversing the boundary line between human and animal ‘is expressed’ with that word. “That’s a sound of an anima!”--Somebody said like this listening to Janis Joplin’s song. It is not a fiction but an expression of the feeling about the real sound. The listener might say it sounded like a wolf or a wildcat depending on the affect of the sound or the perception and notion of the listener. With those expressions, a certain sound that is neither human voice nor wolf sound expresses itself. Even though there is no wolf, there exists an unusual sound that is expressed with the word ‘wolf.’ It is the same with a werewolf. Even though there is no wolf, there exists something worth being called ‘werewolf.’ The mixture of human and non-human that often appears in the words and behaviors of shaman or myth is the expression of this force and affect.

A man who sings in wolf sound or a man who moves fast like a wolf is not a fiction but a real. The same goes for a werewolf. That word has a 'physical' and realistic truthfulness because it expresses the intensive distribution of the forces that run through the body. There’s a real that is neither a wolf nor a human, hidden from view by the representation of the words ‘wolf’ and ‘human.’ What is important about that word is not representing the combined image of a wolf and a human but grasping the force and affect expressed with that word. The moment you regard it as just a figment of fictional imagination, what is intended to express with it disappears.

When we say expression and the expressed are sign and sense respectively, sign is not linguistic ‘signifiant,’ and sense is not signifié. Though ‘werewolf’ is a signifiant, it is not simply a metaphor or symbol, but expresses a physical reality. To stand on the viewpoint of expression means trying to grasp the real intensive state expressed with it even in simile or metaphor. This is the reason Deleuze/Guattari say repeatedly “there’s no metaphor’ in <Anti-Oedipus>.

A sign and its sense as an expression belong to ontology more than semantics. We can understand this by the fact that Deleuze elaborated these concepts of expression through the philosophy of Spinoza. In the philosophy of Spinoza, the triad is related to the concepts such as substance, attribute, and mode. Simply put, god, namely substance ‘expresses itself’ through disparate attributes. Thought and extension, in plain terms, ‘spirituality’ and ‘materiality’ are disparate ‘expressions’ that god expresses itself with. It is through these expressions that the essence of god ‘is expressed’ in countless different ways. The same goes for the relation between attribute and mode. Attribute ‘expresses itself’ through innumerable modes. Each of the modes is a disparate ‘expression’ of attribute. It is through this expression that the modification of attribute, that is, the production of mode ‘is expressed.’ In the philosophy of Spinoza, god means nature. Therefore, it must be said that this concept of expression belongs to the ontology of nature that exists in a variety of modes. Don’t you think this has strong continuity with the position of dealing with even the sense of sign as the real?



translated by Jung Ki Lee





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