The Fold Leibniz And The Baroque Written
What is a fold? Most people will probably think about a curtain or garment crease – or those Japanese Origami paper figures – but to French philosopher Gilles Deleuze the fold is a term which best explains the Baroque and German philosopher Leibniz. Since the start of his career, Deleuze made a point of re-reading philosophers in unusual ways, which, some might say, indicates just as much about Deleuze himself than about the thinkers he took on. But his purpose was, as he stated, to «get close to the philosophers from behind and provide them with bastard children» – so there seems no reason to complain.
Crystallising. Without a doubt, Deleuze’s books on Nietzsche, Bergson and Spinoza – to mention the most central – reactivated these thinkers to a new generation. There is not a shadow of a doubt that we, through this series of re-thinking the history of philosophy, are also able to follow Deleuze’s own step by step development as philosopher: The books can be seen as a crystallising process, where different perspectives and concepts attach to Deleuze’s own style through his writing. We may also describe his way of writing, how he made canonised philosophers his own, or rather, made them part of himself, a folding process. This outer, established way of reading which these readers were stuck in as Deleuze came closer, was rewritten into an understanding not based on respect for the authorities of history or the big thinkers. Philosophising as a way of living, an escape, or as a rhizomatic labyrinth where pondering is interchangeable from life itself.
Marker processes. Deleuze picked out concepts from all the aforementioned thinkers and put his own stamp on them. A central concept in the latter part of his authorship, though it already popped up in the 1968 Difference et Repetition, was the fold. In flight with his Spinoza reflections, where the aim was to critique the division of body and mind through the concept of spinozism immanence, is Deleuze looking for how Leibniz, in his monadology, rejects dichotomies and displays outsides and insides. What is unique about Leibniz is that the most abstract extends into the most intimate and physical, thought Deleuze: These are two sides of the same story, of «matter in motion». Simply put, we could say that the fold concept highlights that there is no limitation in objects or thoughts, as both permeate each other, and in the next stage are involved in processes where they cannot be separated without losing their transformative identity. A book, for instance, is not just a literary object, but is folded into a story on books and literature, as well as the library’s history and thoughts on what it means to read and write.
What is unique about Leibniz is that the most abstract extends into the most intimate and physical, thought Deleuze.
Creation. That every occurrence and object is contextually determined, and thus uneven, means that it forms part of contexts where it can become something other than what is was to start with – vital possibilities for Deleuze. We also see this elsewhere in his authorship whereby the virtual, the infinite possibilities, define the world around us. We must not be bogged down in concepts or objects, but that which happens between these, he states. The world consists of singular events, not autonomous objects. «The actual subject is creation », as he writes with his partner Félix Guattari in their second collaborative piece A Thousand Plateau. Or to use a more concrete example from the same book, it is not the bee’s pollination of the blossom or the flower’s use of the bee as a reproductive organ which is the important, but their mutual creation. The emphasis is on the act, not the individuals that take part in the process. What happens is that the bee becomes a blossom in the cross pollination.
Inventive reader. In the Leibniz-book, this process is even more creative, as Deleuze states in the prologue, the Baroque does not point to «an essence, but rather to the operative function of a feature». The Baroque, the period when the fold most clearly unfurls (!), according to the French philosopher, is not a historical style definition, but rather a way of seeing how the world is connected as processes and concrete formations. In Baroque architecture and visual arts, we witness how a fluid zone separating outer and inner, exterior and interior, up and down, fiction and reality, is created. Deleuze proves himself a creative and at times eccentric and amusing reader of the history of art. On El Greco’s painting Baptism of Christ, he states for instance that the «ankle and the knee [extends], the knee as an inversion of the ankle, the leg as a continuous wave».
The world consists of singular events, not autonomous objects.
Today’s media landscape. This process has continued over time and is today stronger than ever, where styles and levels of reality are combined at high speed. Art forms where documentary elements are communicated through various media, whilst history is frequently cited, for instance, are complex folds. And why not social media, where participants are fictionalised in real time? We have here an absolute virtualisation of the reality and the social, whereby the fold of reality does not favour separation, but a creation. The only problem is that we are perhaps unable to see which creation, which singular event we are folded into when we chat on Messenger – something which may lead us back to rigid categories again. The separation of dichotomies is not valuable in itself, especially if we are unable to see which concepts, or transformations, will replace the displaced.
Complex book. Deleuze’s optimistic homage to creation seems at times a little forced, as the separation of the strong categories which are heavily emphasised here could lead to loss of the friction which enable the fold to position itself as an opposing or alternative way of relating to reality. If everything is afloat, if the fold folds up indefinitely, only chaos will remain. «The problem is not how to end a fold, but how to continue it, to make it carry on through the roof and beyond, » writes Deleuze. But the fact that matter and form are not divided, and that history and future utopias are always folded into the world’s material, is an important insight. «This is because the fold does not alone influence each matter, which this way become expressive substance», as he terms it. Though substance has expression, objects possess terminologies which exceed its purpose and function. The Fold is Deleuze’s most complex book – at times almost incomprehensible. It is not the most natural starting point, in other words. But, if you genuinely want to immerse yourself into Deleuze’s concept of creation – and have a lot of time at your disposal – this is the book for you.