The Concept of Becoming in Deleuze’s Philosophy: Exploring Sensations, Consciousness, and Reflection

The word ‘werden’ i.e. become is somewhat distorted in German: “Das wird doch nix!”, or “That will be alright…”. There is something causal in the German ‘werden’, a process of development. In English the word ‘becoming’ is more beautiful, something comes into being. It’s more open: ‘coming into being’. In French, Deleuze speaks of ‘devenir’, meaning “something coming”, it is more active, a movement, from something away to something else. It is important to notice such small subtle differences when dealing with Deleuze thinking, because that is the school of postmodern thinking, to see in such small differences, the differences and structures something that was not visible before. So when Deleuze says in the English translation of ‘What is Philosophy’: “becoming is an extreme contiguity within a coupling of to sensations without resemblance or, on the contrary, in the distance of a light that captures both of them in a single reflection.” I had to read this sentence over and over again for many years to grasp it. Two sensations that are not similar touch, just as in the distance of a light that captures both sensations in a single reflection. That’s where you have to pause a little.

What is the difference between ‘arise’ and ‘become’, for example? Is there a ‘becoming’ in the physical world? In the world of atoms and physical forces, the law of conservation of energy applies. Matter and energy can transform, change their arrangement, E=mc2 etc… But a process of ‘becoming’ in the sense of becoming or devenir is something else. Here we are talking about sensations, sense impressions, consciousness. How do two sensations become one sense impression? How does one sense impression become another? How does consciousness change over time? How does a person change? What do I see on a screen? Who is listening when I hear? This is the world of becoming. Sensations are contingent. They unite to form a more comprehensive sensory impression. They do this not by merging, or being grouped by similarity, but in a reflection. A reflection of a distant light that unites several sensations. The image is beautiful. But the reflection is not an image, not a representation, but reflects light. In this reflection, the most diverse elements can be very close to each other, great contrasts can appear harmonious, different qualities can touch.

But where does the light come from, in the distance? And where is the reflection perceived? Who sees when he sees? The reflection of light and sound, warmth and impulse originates in vibration and creates vibration on contact. These impressions unite in consciousness, they become consciousness.

Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari. 1996. what is philosophy? Columbia University Press.

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