Issue #36 December 2020

On Virtuality: Deleuze, Bergson, Simondon

This quote taken from a late text published posthumously from a reedition of Deleuze’s Dialogues with Claire Parnet summarises, in brief, the importance of the terms ‘virtual’ and ‘actual’ in Deleuze’s work. The modern conception of a ‘virtual reality’ which simulates and replicates our visual experiences might be the first thought that comes to mind when considering how reality can be ‘virtual.’ However, in Deleuze’s work, these terms take up unique and innovative meanings. To think of a ‘fog’ of virtual images surrounding an actual object instead suggests the notion of a non-individual, or preindividual reality which is separate from, yet interacts with, what might typically be called ‘the real.’ However, to Henri Bergson the notion of the real became problematic when considering the metaphysics of time. Both Bergson and Deleuze want to move away from the subjectivist understanding of time, which gained popularity due to the increasing influence of phenomenology (Husserl during Bergson’s era, and Heidegger during Deleuze’s), towards a theory that is non-reliant on subjective interpretation. Both Bergson and Deleuze, much like Simondon, were concerned with developing a philosophy that was compatible with the science of their time, and it was this insistence that partly attributed to Bergson’s rapid decline in popularity.1placeholder However, in Bergson’s notion of the virtual Deleuze saw a novel ontological conception that would allow him to move away from phenomenology towards a metaphysical understanding of time as something contemporaneous with the experiencing subject. Deleuze would later expand this notion of the virtual to serve as the basis for his entire philosophy in Difference and Repetition. However, to truly understand this concept we must take a detour through the work of Bergson and Deleuze’s later reimagining of Bergsonsian ideas in Bergsonism.

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Creative Actualisation

Matt is a philosopher and writer from London. His main interests are the connections between philosophy, literature, technology and culture. He is based in Isidora, IC and has a burgeoning interest in the concept of cities and urbanism. He is the founder and editor of

Abbreviations and Works Cited


Bergson’s apparent loss in his debate with Einstein in 1922 being a contributing factor. See Canales (2016).


Although this distinction is adopted from Bergson, it is given much more prevalence in Deleuze’s own work, especially in regards to the importance of actualisation through difference.


Here Bersgon makes the distinction between two separate types of memory: habit memory and recollection memory. Habit memory is seen as the functional memory of the body which is situated in the sensori-motor mechanisms that allow it to operate. Habit is ingrained in our behaviour by means of practice and repetition and it is through this operation that we form a connection to the past. On the other hand, recollection memory operates “through an intellectual effort when we place ourselves directly in the past and contract elements of it to suit a present requirement” (Ansell Pearson, 2002, 172). In other words, recollection memory represents an action taken by the human subject in which we use our recollection of the past to inform our present. In Difference and Repetition Deleuze also adopts a third kind of memory which he sees as present in Proust and Freud: involuntary memory. This form of memory comes to us unexpectedly, not through voluntary recollection. “How can we save [the past] for ourselves? Proust intervenes, taking up the baton from Bergson. Moreover, it seems that the response has long been known: reminiscence. In effect, this designates a passive synthesis, an involuntary memory which differs in kind from any active synthesis” (DR, 111). However, as we have noted, pure memory exists in a different realm to that of sensations and matter.


The ideas of contraction-memory and recollection-memory are discussed in more detail by Deleuze during this chapter, but for the purposes of this essay we will skip over these for now.


We could say that Bergson’s form of memory draws parallels to the unconscious as developed by Schelling and later famously expanded on by Freud. The unconscious exists, but we can only become aware of it through its effects in actuality. It thus serves as the partial determination for our conscious and actual actions.


Deleuze shifts his language from the discussion of possibility in the first three chapters of Difference and Repetition to a focus on potentiality in the latter three. That is not to say Deleuze does not discuss possibility, but merely to infer that potentiality has a specific meaning which is exemplified in the relation to the virtual/actual distinction. In fact, the world potentiality [potentialité] is only mentioned once before Deleuze’s discussion of ‘Ideas and the Synthesis of Difference.’


Here philosophers such as Schelling would be critical of Bergson’s conception. In Schelling’s estimation, this notion of life force is self-contradictory due to his claim that a force can only be thought of in terms of its own finitude. Yet to Schelling, no force is finite unless its limited by another force. However, Bergson criticises the post-Kantian tradition for too easily falling into the trap of mechanistic thinking that he wishes to move away from: “The post-Kantian philosophy, severe as it may have been on mechanistic theories, accepts from mechanism the idea of a science that is one and the same for all kinds of reality. And it is nearer to mechanism than it imagines; for although, in the consideration of matter, of life and of thought, it replaces the successive degrees of complexity, that mechanism supposed by degrees of the realization of an Idea or by degrees of the objectification of the Will, it still speaks of degrees, and these degrees are those of a scale which Being traverses in a single direction. In short, it makes out the same articulations in nature that mechanism does. Of mechanism it retains the whole design; it merely gives it a different colouring. But it is the design itself, or at least one half of the design, that needs to be re-made” (Bergson, 1944, 362).


We should note that Deleuze’s Bergsonism was published in 1966 and Simondon’s IGPB was published in 1964. Deleuze’s review of Simondon’s work was published the same year as Bergsonism so it is likely that this similarity did not go unnoticed by Deleuze.


December 2020


On Virtuality: Deleuze, Bergson, Simondon

by Matt Bluemink

What Is A Monad? Leibniz’s Monadology

by John C. Brady

Phenomenology — Eine Übersichtliche Darstellung

by Giorgi Vachnadze

Some Notes on Berkeley and the After-life

by Raphael Chim