Deleuze for the Desperate #3


Dave Harris

This term is discussed in a couple of places in the work of Deleuze and Guattari,not only our standard source of reference – A Thousand Plateaus (ATP)   , in Plateau 10 – but also in Deleuze and Parnet (1987) Dialogues. I read this edition, not the one that came out with an added bit on the end –Dialogues II (the added bit is not relevant in this case). If anything, the account in Dialogues is a bit clearer, but unfortunately, my edition at least does not have a full index, so it is not suitable for our preferred study strategy. However, I noted down a few occurrences of the terms as I read Dialogues, and I've supplied a few page numbers where the haecceity is mentioned, in the references at the end. The examples are pretty similar to those in ATP

Maggie Harris reads some bits from Dialogues and raises some issues at the end

The term haecceity has had some appeal for a number of professions and activities – I found a site called architectural haecceities, for example, It has also gained prominence in educational circles where it is mentioned in connection with a highly successful joint writing project by Gale and Wyatt (eg Gale, Speedy and Wyatt, 2010) . They describe their relationship as a haecceity. This view is supported by Deleuze himself describing his relationship with Guattari as like a haecceity (in yet a third source, Deleuze 1995, Negotiations) .

With Guattari we merged to become ‘a non personal individuality’. These exist in nature as well and ‘we call them “haecceities”’. Language passes between the elements. Guattari and I 'don’t feel we’re persons exactly. Our individuality is rather that of events’ (141).

I am still a bit puzzled by this, because the haecceity, and the event for that matter, have quite a distinctive philosophical significance as we will see.

Dosse's (2011) account of their relationship mentions the normal things like a wide circle of Parisian intellectuals , mutual fame, and a couple of mutual acquaintances who introduced them to each other, but Deleuze himself does not discuss these social factors.

The whole example might show a bit of problem with Deleuze and Guattari generally – that they see the forces of the universe producing event or haecceities directly, as it were, with no real consideration of social factors, like the formation of a group of Parisian intellectuals with shared beliefs and so on – social factors just act to transmit universal forces with no independent effects. Sociologists would certainly not agree with that

For our purposes the haecceity is a good term to think about because it is closely linked to other important terms in Deleuze and Guattari. The event is one, suggested in the quote from Deleuze above. The singularity is another. The haecceity is also an assemblage of a particular kind. And a rhizome. It would take far too long to spell out and disentangle these much-discussed terms, but if you ever have to or want to investigate them, this discussion of the haecceity might help you get started with those terms as well.

As before, we are aiming at a good working understanding, that will help develop further work. At first, we will just have to accept that there are implications that we will not pursue right away – we can practise a bit of selection to get at the most important bits. I hope this will not cause problems – make you feel guilty or whatever.

It is especially important with the discussion in ATP that you avoid being bogged down, and it's a good technique to practice with Deleuzian stuff generally – try not to chase down all the hares that set off running in the discussions, at least unless you have lots of leisure and there is nothing immediately at stake

Let's point out a few things in ATP that are implied but which can be postponed for later research, or just lightly read over for information:

First, there is a reference to Spinoza, for example, probably an implicit reference to Deleuze's book on Spinoza. Spinoza crops up in the other topics too, like body-without -organs, and one of Deleuze's books on Spinoza is fairly readable (make sure you get the right one because the other one is unreadable – the good one is Deleuze, G. (1988) Spinoza Practical Philosophy). It is from Spinoza that Deleuze gets the odd seventeenth century idea of latitude and longitude describing the dimensions of the haecceity on the plane of consistency – that is the philosophical notion of the haecceity. At the virtual level, to cite earlier terms, we find only intensive forces and we can describe them only in non-metricated terms – first speed and slowness, rather than precise measures of velocity, referring to the different time scales in which things appear and come together. This dimension is called longitude. Secondly there is the power to affect bodies, including our own, and again we can note these effects but not really measure them too precisely. Some haecceities will have far greater effects on us, be far more important to us, than others, both actually and potentially. This is the dimension called latitude. We will discuss how these terms operate in the examples in a minute: for now, I want to help avoid a misunderstanding that stopped me for a while, because I thought that longitude and latitude were being used in the modern sense, and as a kind of metaphor or bit of poetry. Not at all – they are technical terms and they don't fit well with common-sense understandings.

Second, there is also in ATP a fairly technical discussion of the way in which we could develop a linguistics capable of expressing the characteristics of the haecceity, pp 290--292 . A suitable approach, associated with the Danish linguist Hjemslev, is discussed at some length in other whole Plateaus like 4 and 5 on linguistics and signs. We can largely skip that bit for now and leave it for later, I suggest. It was important for Deleuze and Guattari to challenge and reject the dominant model of linguistics at the time – structural linguistics, the linguistics that claimed to explain everything in terms of abstract and universal combinations of signs and signifier. I have briefly mentioned some criticisms of this rather static conception in the stuff on the rhizome. An added annoyance was that this type of linguistics had been used by a major rival in psychoanalysis – Jacques Lacan. Our heroes turned to Hjelmslev for a more congenial alternative. I've added a link to a very good short article on Hjelmslev and ATP in the list at the end if you really want to pursue this soon (Metcalf, nd).

Finally, in this context-setting bit, the term haecceity is clearly located in a chapter on 'becoming' , and it leads to a discussion of the plane of consistency in the next section, pp 292–300, which we are also recommended to read in the index. We will discuss these important terms a little bit here as well – but largely postpone them for another day.

We will briefly consider the reference to the haecceity later in ATP in the context of a discussion of science (p.408 in my edition)

Luckily, by the time we have postponed, or excused ourselves altogether from, reading these asides, we have a nice limited set of examples.

Maggie Harris

Let's discuss a few examples from Dialogues first. We actually have a definition of a haecceity here, from Deleuze, referring to himself in the third person:

Haecceitas is a term frequently used in the school of Duns Scotus, in order to designate the individuation of beings. Deleuze uses it in a more special sense: in the sense of an individuation which is not that of an object, nor of a person, but rather of an event (wind, river, day or even hour of the day). Deleuze’s thesis is that all individuation is in fact of this type. This is the thesis developed in Mille Plateaux with Felix Guattari.

This is found in a note on p 151

So some specific events or objects seem to arise from human action – a painting or a sentence in a novel – and others form objects in nature – water and weather producing the Grand Canyon, say. But the underlying process is actually something else, something else is producing these individuations, or at least the potential for them.

The discussion in Dialogues goes on to criticise the simplification of objects and events in Freudian accounts. For example, we can see sexuality and sexual desire as forming up flexible assemblages of a range of specific activities directed at our own bodies, at other people and at various objects. Freud was wrong to try to simplify and solidify this flexibility and classify it into various forms like fetishism or perversions. These terms also imply value judgements, of course because they are contrasted with 'normal' sexuality.

Structural linguistics is criticised on similar grounds. Seeing underlying structures of language producing speech reduces the options for analysis and emphasises the categories. Instead, we should start with the pragmatics of enunciation. These involve examining the way people actually use language, and the assemblages of enunciation they draw upon, which will include bits of other people's thoughts and various linguistic items.

While we are here, there is also an anti-humanist bit. So 'Charlotte Bronte' is not the name of a single self-contained uniquely gifted individual but of a haecceity. All human individuals should be understood as a collection of haeceites, not a single person but more a collection of all the accidental things that have happened to them during their lives. Concepts are haecceities as well, and they don't refer to single and simple things either. We will discuss this later, but you might have already noticed this tendency in Deleuze and Guattari to use the same name both for specific things – specific rhizomes like couch grass roots, and general mechanisms at a different level of reality. This can be baffling – but it is deliberate.

end Maggie Harris

The discussion in ATP also makes clear that the point of the haecceity arises from the need to account for the sum of elements and forces involved in any object or event, and we should not reduce these down to a few major ones in the name of science. Haecceities form up first at the virtual level from a combination of all sorts of factors and forces and then they are realized or actualized to produce specific forms. At the virtual level, forces operate in a special intensive way, and we need these odd philosophical terms like longitude and latitude to chart them, as above. All the examples are a bit bizarre, or playful, if you are a fan.

In the first one, we are told that those practising demonology knew it wasn't enough just to cast the spells correctly or to know the victim – other factors were involved in success like weather conditions – 'rain, hail, wind, polluted air' to transport the affects.

The second example is the haiku, where a number of different qualities are brought together to make a surprising or insightful thought or observation. I have found some examples online – eg from Haiku

An old silent pond...
A frog jumps into the pond,
splash! Silence again.

- Matsuo Bashō

The third example considers Charlotte Bronte again, and her recognition of the impact of weather events on human relationships, specifically on effects of the wind – and then a couple of quotes from Jane Eyre I think.

The fourth example is Lorca's poem at 5 o'clock. This is also available on the web with other work at – he is burying his friend at 5 o'clock but all sorts of other seemingly unconnected things are happening at the same time, including pageants of life and death in the bullring. I will let you read for yourselves the relevant poem Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias:

Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias

1. Cogida and death

At five in the afternoon.
It was exactly five in the afternoon.
A boy brought the white sheet
at five in the afternoon.
A frail of lime ready prepared
at five in the afternoon.
The rest was death, and death alone.

The wind carried away the cottonwool
at five in the afternoon.
And the oxide scattered crystal and nickel
at five in the afternoon.
Now the dove and the leopard wrestle
at five in the afternoon.
And a thigh with a desolated horn
at five in the afternoon.
The bass-string struck up
at five in the afternoon.
Arsenic bells and smoke
at five in the afternoon.
Groups of silence in the corners
at five in the afternoon.
And the bull alone with a high heart!
At five in the afternoon.


The fifth example is the specific combination of white light and heat cited in Lawrence – TE I assume, describing the impact of a memorable day in the Arabian desert.

Sixth example – a Norwegian omelette, or what is known in the UK as a baked Alaska where frozen ice cream or frozen yogurt is contained in a conventionally-baked sponge cake (no – that's an arctic roll: a baked Alaska is ice cream in a meringue coat).

If you read on to the next section, you will find more examples: Proust's novel describing a group of girls, combining and losing their individual characteristics in a kind of group femaleness, discussed in Deleuze's book on Proust (Deleuze 2008), Boulez's music experimenting with different rhythms and time signatures (which I know nothing about,but see the transcript on smooth space).

Humans are only a collection of haecceities again, we are told, and are more affected by circumstances than they sometimes realize. I argued this in the session on the rhizome. They are affected by a particular day or a season, a life, the climate, wind and fog, their relationships to swarms and packs, the nearest Deleuze and Guattari get to talking about social groups. There are vampires which emerge only in the moonlight, or werewolves at full moon – ie both require atmospheric and lunar conditions to transform.

Let us try to see what these examples might have in common. There seem to be two [philosophical] issues.

First, Deleuze and Guattari insist throughout that none of these operate in normal clock time – these events can be short lived or last years. So time is important, not clock time, but the effects of different speeds and slownesses, things developing at different rates being brought together. We might think of werewolves transforming in a few minutes on particular dates, but there is a much longer evolution of the species – and a long history of the moon supposedly affecting human behaviour as well. The implications are really relevant for human thinking about objects and forces. We tend to stick our own limited time frame around things and forget all the other processes that have been slowly maturing in the background. This is anthropomorphism again. But human time is not the only kind of time, and, when considering geological processes for example it is inadequate. Deleuze and Guattari refer to a classical Greek notion of time outside of human affairs – not Chronos but Aion, an intensive time with its own rhythms. Unexpected combinations of things arriving at different speeds can have great personal and political significance, unintended consequences as sociologists might say.

Secondly, we need to consider the entire assemblage at work, and its composition. The examples here involve unreferenced allusions to other arguments in ATP and elsewhere. We are told that streets as well as horses are involved, for example, and this is a reference to a much discussed case -study in Freud, concerning the legendary Little Hans. Poor old Hans developed an aversion to going outside, and this focused especially on a fear of horses. His father discussed the case with Freud. Professor Freud eventually decided on the inevitable sexual connotations, especially that horses often pulled box-like carriages, which was a symbolic way of Hans expressing anxiety that his mother would have another child. Boxes stood for wombs. Deleuze and Guattari continually argue here and especially in Anti-Oedipus (Deleuze and Guattari, 1984) that this is far too reductive and that other elements were involved in a whole assemblage, including, in this case, Hans's desire to play in the streets with the poor kids, which his parents forbade.

The example of dying rats sniffing the fresh air and reviving a bit refers to a story about a rat colony by Hugo von Hoffmansthal, which is discussed elsewhere in ATP. I haven't read it yet I am afraid.

[I have tracked it down though: von Hofmannstahl, H (2005) [1902] The Lord Chandos Letter and Other Writings. New York: NYRB. The actual letter is very brief and describes the efforts of an aesthete and  aristocrat to express his feelings and gain insight into the beauty of the world. He tries,only to discover that words can never get to grips with reality, and the point is to somehow try to access this reality directly {it is easy to see why Deleuze likes this stuff, although 'Lord Chandos' uses terms like 'empathy' which are too vague and humanist for yer Man}. The author tries to open himself to experience,and to grasp the beauty of the world even in mundane things like a watering can or the interior domestic arrangements of the poor {bless!}  Even a pack of rats being poisoned in one of his cellars can be beautiful and insightful. He imagines the scene -- all the horrors of rats struggling for life and dying painfully, but even here, a mother rat raises her head and nobly bares her teeth at fate!]

There is another animal example –the dog walking on a road, cited in a novel by V Woolf. I am not sure which one, and of course it is not referenced.

[I have had a quick check and there is a scene describing a thin dog in a road in The Waves, although no sign of the actual quote – maybe D&G were quoting someone else on Woolf? There are lots of hacceities throughout the work though – eg :

'Unreasonably, ridiculously,' said Neville, 'as we walk, time comes back. A dog does it, prancing. The machine works. Age makes hoary that gateway. Three hundred years now seem no more than a moment vanished against that dog. King William mounts his horse wearing a wig, and the court ladies sweep the turf with their embroidered panniers. I am beginning to be convinced, as we walk, that the fate of Europe is of immense importance, and, ridiculous as it still seems, that all depends upon the battle of Blenheim. Yes; I declare, as we pass through this gateway, it is the present moment; I am become a subject of King George.']

This thin dog has become a famous example – a particular dog walks on a particular road and together the combination produces some affect –it is significant and insightful for Woolf, and her readers. Deleuze and Guattari take this as a prime example, and say that in order to get all the factors in and give them equal weight, we should use phrases such as 'the-animal-stalks-at-five-o'clock'.

So overall, all the examples seem to feature a coming-together of elements of different types –an animal and a human construction, or humans and weather conditions (this is the longitudinal dimension as earlier). We might think of them as accidental collision of factors that have some emerging importance, sometimes lifelong importance, as when Proust's hero meets Albertine, who finally joins the group of girls and will be his lover, or when a particular dog on a particular road sparks off some insight for Virginia Woolf. We could say these collisions have lots of affects, stretching across a lot of latitude.

To take another often-repeated example, in other sections of ATP, and also discussed in Dialogues, horses evolved over millenia and happened to end up in our era with physical and temperamental qualities that are very useful for human beings. Human technology also developed comparatively rapidly until a real breakthrough emerged when it came together with modern horses – the metal stirrup or the man-horse-stirrup assemblage. Putting metal stirrups on powerful horses led to much more effective military uses for horses, and the whole process of the emergence of the mounted warrior into human history – like the chivalric knights.

One last point to make about them – we have described them as accidents – but Deleuze sees them differently, as always produced by combinations of forces, assemblages. Duns Scotus, mentioned in the definition, saw everything as necessarily caused by God, with no room at all for accidents. For Deleuze, the same can be said of Being: the forces operating at the virtual level cause everything, Being speaks with one voice as he puts it, the univocity of Being. We can't write off these important collisions of events as mere accidents, something inexplicable. Even the UK police force no longer refers to collisions of motor vehicles as 'accidents' , RTA. Now they are RTC, road traffic collisions and they need to be investigated before they can be termed accidents.

The last appearance of the term, in the Conclusion of ATP, on p408, reminds us of some implications, in the middle of a discussion about two models of science. One looks for laws and assumes constants or invariants. The other version does not make these assumptions and argues instead that there are no constants, that everything is in variation. Objects and events never stay still but are always changing or becoming. Equations and laws can only ever be only approximate. There are singular objects, distinct individuations, haecceities, with terms like 'object' or 'essence' used to describe them serving only as a vague working definition. It is the underlying forces that we need to study. Insisting on fixed definitions, laws and essences only stratifies reality, with clear political implications to that term, and we have to oppose that with terms that imply specificity and flow.

Haecceities are therefore real but not to be pinned down too easily, wandering or nomadic essences, continuums of intensities (intensive forces) rather than fixed locations on continuums, matters of continual variations and becomings. We get a hint of Deleuzian ethics here too when we are told that in general, the ones with the most connections are the most valuable ones. However, not all haecceities are 'good', as you might expect from this general indifference to humans – some are harmful, cancerous.

We have used the term haecceity to begin to get to grips with some important general arguments in Deleuzian philosophy and noted the connections with terms like assemblage, event, singularity. Whether these terms are interchangeable is debatable. For my money, a haecceity is one type of assemblage or event, one that produces a particularly well-individuated distinctive outcome [even a norwegian omelette?] something that seems to be distinctive, even unique. The precise links with the event and the singularity are still unclear to me and I will have to work on that a bit more.

Returning briefly to the bit at the start, where Deleuze describes his writing collaborations with Guattari as 'like a haecceity', perhaps what he means is that although these distinctive books look as if they are written by a single person, two rather different individuals came together, no doubt with a lot of other factors as well, to produce them. It was not just him. If that is so, I think it is a useful way to remind us that Guattari played a major part as well as Deleuze, although sometimes that is forgotten.

Maggie Harris

Many other questions still remain. Haecceities form up at the virtual level before being operationalised and actualised, in some cases long before humans were even around. However, all the examples seem to require some human intervention to unite the elements or to register their affects. Deleuze reminds us that there is nothing in the notion of a uniquely gifted individual, though – they are all a collection of haecceities, so the haecceity is the prior term. As before, we might be arguing that humans are really no more than conduits for forces of the universe, or perhaps that the elements that enable human activities, like fighting on horseback, were in existence long before and were just co-ordinated by humans.

Human interests are possibly smuggled in somewhere else, though. We are told to say the whole phrase 'the-animal-stalks-at-five o'clock' – but why stop there? Why not bring in everything else that is connectable – the geological formation of the landscape it stalks in, the other animals in its vicinity? We could have an endless sentence with dashes between the terms: an-animal-stalks-at-five-o'clock-past trees-with roosting bats-living in caves-in cliffs-of sandstone-laid down in the Cretaceous era-by seas which ...etc. We don't extend things like this because we decide to limit it in our own interests—this is surely what orthodox science is doing too, really, discounting variation and the rest for all practical purposes. Perhaps it is not a denial of complexity so much as a pragmatic approach to it.

ADDENDUM ( after I recorded the tape]. I found that CS Peirce also used the term haecceity, also drawing from Scotus. In a good discussion, DiLeo shows how important the term was in Peirce's own philosophy, including his 'semeiotic': that work is cited heavily by Deleuze in the books on cinema. To be very brief, what made things individual was their 'factual' existence, the way they resisted experience and our usual categories of thought and generalizations AND how they persisted in time and space. Maybe we can see these qualities in Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari above? The 'factual' qualities might explain their creative role for writers, forcing new thoughts or a new awareness of reality beyond thought?  D&G seem less keen on the persistence stuff and insist haecceities can be transitory?

ANOTHER ADDENDUM I was slow to pick this up, but surrealism rejoices in haecceities too. Surrealists were very impressed by a poem (by Lautremont) the title of which is usually rendered as
Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella -- a classic haecceity if ever there was one, with considerable latitude in the affects generated on the likes of  Dali and Bunuel.  Surrealists also liked 'found objects' and apparently random lists too, of course.


Deleuze, G. (2008) [1964] Proust and Signs. Translated by Richard Howard, London: Continuum. My notes:

Deleuze, G. (1995) Negotiations. Translated by Martin Joughin. New York: Columbia University Press. My notes:

Deleuze, G. (1988) Spinoza Practical Philosophy. Trans. Robert Hurley. San Francisco: City Lights Books. My notes:

Deleuze G and Guattari F (2004) [1987] A Thousand Plateaus, London: Continuum. My notes

Deleuze G and Guattari F (1984) Anti-Oedipus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia, London: The Athlone Press. My notes:

Deleuze, G. and Parnet, C. (1987) Dialogues, trans H Tomlinson and B Habberjam, London: The Athlone Press. My notes: Page references for discussion and definitions of the haecceityin this edition: 92–93, 95, 100-101, 119-120, 122, 130, 144, 151-2.

DiLeo, J. (1991) Peirce's Haecceitism. Transactions of the Charles S.Peirce Society. 27(1): pp79--109 9 see my notes:

Dosse, F.(2011) Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Intersecting lives. Translated by Deborah Glassman. New York: Columbia University Press.

Gale, K, Speedy, J. and Wyatt, J. (2010) Gatecrashing the Oasis. A Joint Doctoral Dissertation Play. Qualitative Inquiry. 16 (1): 21-28.

Haiku Poetry. org (nd)

Metcalf, J (nd) Hjemslev's Univocity.'s%20Univocity.htm (nd) Federico Garcia Lorca.