Baulch, "Repetition, Representation and Revolution: Deleuze and Blake's America"

Romanticism and the New Deleuze

Repetition, Representation and Revolution: Deleuze and Blake's America

David Baulch, University of West Florida

audio version (in MP3 format)


  1. Tracing the implications of the French Revolution is one of the key intellectual tasks that the study of British Romanticism has assigned itself. In general terms, the French Revolution and Britain's ensuing, protracted wars with France stand as something like a master narrative for our contemporary considerations of British literature from this period.  The advent of the French Revolution has become all but synonymous with initial hopes for the dawn of a new era that mark the youthful political enthusiasms of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge; and the subsequent disaffection these writers felt with the course of the revolution's failures—their "apostasy," as William Hazlitt would have it—largely constitute the narrative telos of Romanticism's so-called first generation. While Romanticism's canonical second generation, in the figures of Hazlitt, Lord Byron, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, might recover the political idealism of its first generation, the radical hopes for a new political era in Europe promised by the French Revolution seem irrecoverably lost to history.  Hence in this master narrative of British Romanticism, revolution is central precisely because of the two deeply conflicted meanings embedded in the term.  Even as revolution holds out the possibility of a radically new political order, it delivers only some renewed version of a familiar, repressive state structure.

  2. The historical problem of revolution and its representations reflects the term's divided etymological origins. As Raymond Williams has so ably shown us, "revolution" indicates both a repetition, the path a planetary body follows until it returns to its original point, and a difference, a sweeping change of order and social meaning (Keywords 270-74).  It is worth considering the extent to which the two etymological sides of "revolution" as a term suggest an uncanny truth about the idea of revolution in the Romantic period. If revolution is alternately the promise of a departure from the past in the emergence of something different, and a return to, or a repetition of, the oppressive political forms of order it sought to oppose, it raises the inescapable question of what it is about revolution that ultimately prevents it from establishing an effective break from the forms of political subjection it aims itself against.  The emphasis of much current scholarship on the Romantic period approaches the problem of revolution in terms of the historical/material contingencies that provide the context for the production of literary texts and their representations of revolution. By contrast, this paper suggests an approach to revolution as a philosophical problem that can be addressed in terms of Gilles Deleuze's interlocking notions of difference and repetition, insofar as they inform the possibility of a Deleuzean "Idea" of revolution.  Thus the task of this paper is to explicate the fundamental way in which Gilles Deleuze's Difference & Repetition offers a means of interrogating and intensifying the problem of revolution, even as this approach demands that we rethink the very idea of revolution and the way we pursue a scholarly approach to it premised on representation. In the second part of this essay, I will focus specifically on the ways in which revolution as a Deleuzean Idea productively informs a reading of William Blake's America, A Prophecy.

  3. While the study of British Romantic texts tend to approach revolution in terms of its representations, in Difference & Repetition Deleuze offers a radical critique of the seemingly unassailable connection between the idea and its representation; to do so Deleuze makes a distinction between the "idea" and the "Idea."  Contrary to traditional western notions of the "idea," Deleuze's "Idea" is not bound to the representation of an object or a concept, nor is it the property of individual consciousness. In Difference & Repetition, Deleuze says that "the Idea is not yet the concept of an object which submits the world to the requirements of representation, but rather a brute presence which can be invoked in the world only in the function of that which is not 'representable' in things" (59).  The Idea is not a psychoanalytic phantasm of individual consciousness. Rather the Idea is a complex "system of multiple, non-localisable connections between differential elements which is incarnated on real relations and actual terms" (183).  As opposed to an idea, a concept of an object or a system in an individual's consciousness, the "brute presence" of Deleuzean Ideas are where the tendencies, intensities, and contingencies of the "virtual" have an impact on the "actual" world. The Idea is a momentary assemblage of virtual relations that produces a sensation from the point of view of the actual.  As such, the Idea of revolution is not an idea, object, or rational intention that can be given a definite, recognizable representation. 

  4. Perhaps the greatest impediment to understanding the Idea in materialist terms is its position with regard to what Deleuze calls the "actual" and the "virtual."  These terms are central to the expression of Deleuze's critique of the western philosophical tradition insofar as the actual has come to be the equivalent of reality in materialist terms. Deleuze characterizes reality as the interaction of the virtual and the actual.  Distinctly different from a possibility (in which case the virtual would be subject to a prior representation in the actual), the virtual is never actualized, but, as Constantin Boundas puts it, "the virtual nonetheless has the capacity to bring about actualisation" (297).  With specific reference to Difference & Repetition, Boundas state, "Deleuze has characterisied the virtual . . . as Ideas/structures and the realm of problem . . . whereby the diverse actualisations of the virtual are understood as solutions" (297). Deleuze associates the Idea with a kind of "solution" without a concept or representation in the actual. As a Deleuzean Idea, revolution would be a solution that does not propose a particular course of political action.[1] Directly addressing revolution's split etymological identity as both change and return, the Idea of revolution is a paradigmatic instance of what Deleuze means by the terms "difference" and "repetition."

  5. As interlocking terms, "difference" and "repetition" define the fundamental dynamic of what Deleuze discusses as the "Idea." Difference in itself is not difference from something else. Difference, in Deleuze's sense of the term, is not tied to representation, thus it does not involve a comparison to another thing or concept.  Deleuze insists that "[d]ifference is not and cannot be thought in itself, so long as it is subject to the requirements of representation" (262). Cliff Stangol identifies Deleuzean difference as the means by which Deleuze's philosophy mounts a challenge to "the primacy accorded identity and representation in western rationality" (72).  As a challenge to dominant philosophical constructions of identity, Deleuze, in Difference & Repetition, devotes considerable space to a critique of the Kantian Cogito.  Taking Kant's "I" of transcendental apperception as dependent upon its own representation to itself as the image of thought, Deleuze claims:

    The 'I think' is the most general principle of representation—in other words, the source of these elements and of the unity of all these faculties: I conceive, I judge, I imagine, I remember and I perceive . . . they form quadripartite fetters under which only that which is identical, similar, analogous or opposed can be considered different: difference becomes an object of representation always in relation to a conceived identity, a judged analogy, an imagined opposition or a perceived similitude. (138)

    Deleuze's objection is that identity is always tied to a representation that is only meaningful by way of a comparison to something else.  For Kant, the "I" as an object of thought depends upon the a priori existence of the "I" as thinking subject. Taking the "I" of transcendental apperception as his starting point, Kant derives the four principles of pure understanding that Deleuze enumerates above.  For Deleuze, Kant's reasoning falls short of "the conditions of a true critique and a true creation" (139). To achieve Deleuzean difference, identity must be dissolved in "the destruction of an image of thought which presupposes itself and the genesis of the act of thinking in thought itself" (139).  Rather than finding identity predicated in a thought-object, Deleuze offers difference as premised on "a fundamental encounter" (139).  Deleuze's critique of identity is really only a special case of the general problem that representation presents for pure difference. Tied to representation, difference is always limited to its difference from something else—a prior representation.  For Deleuze, pure difference, or difference-in-itself, allows for the possibility of an ontological taking place of the singular and the unique. Experienced as an ontological taking place, such an encounter is not structured by reference to a concept and, as such, is not assimilable to a prior representation.

  6. In the same way that Deleuzean difference is not a difference from something else, repetition is not the recurrence of the same for Deleuze, but rather the recurrence of pure difference. Repetition is the site of possibility for the emergence of pure difference without positing an originary point.  To free repetition from mimesis is to allow it, as Adrian Parr puts it, "the possibility of reinvention, that is to say repetition dissolves identities as it changes them, giving rise to something unrecognisable and productive" (224).  Because Deleuzean Ideas are repetitions of the expression of pure differences in the virtual, the Idea is the transcendental condition for thought as such.  The Deleuzean Idea of revolution is not so much the emergence of a political alternative, as it is the effect of the virtual upon the actual as a sensation, rather than a representation.  The Idea of revolution is the condition for change in the actual/political world that is not tied to the past and its representations. 

  7. Given their difficulty, why do these remarkably intangible Deleuzean terms matter for the study of British Romanticism and revolution?  Regarding revolution as a Deleuzean Idea allows criticism to look at the way a literary text treats thought outside of its representation in a concept. If revolution and its representations are particular solutions that attempt to resolve the problems they address, then revolution, as an idea, demands that we think it as a particular representation of a concept in the actual. By contrast, to think of revolution in terms of a Deleuzean Idea is to think revolution as the transcendental condition for the evolution of actual things.  Revolution is thus not the solution to a problem, but the fundamental problematic of thought itself.  In order to explore the potential of this admittedly difficult proposition, this paper turns to William Blake's America, A Prophecy. Blake's America, A Prophecy sets out the American Revolution as the site of the experience of a revolutionary energy that will inspire the subsequent revolution in France.  In this sense, the poem may be said to suggest that events in America constitute a kind of "prophecy" for France's future. Read this way, Blake is not much of a prophet.  My task in the next section of this paper is to explore the extent to which Blake's notion of the American Revolution as a kind of prophecy can be said to be bound up with the emergence of something very much like Deleuze's sense of difference.  In this way, Blake's prophecy is anything but a prediction of the future of the French Revolution based on an historical account of the recent past of the American Revolution. 


  8. It is tempting, and perhaps necessary, to think the impossible for a Deleuzean reading of revolution as an Idea in America: to think, that is, of Blake writing America in 1793 as a Deleuzean conversation with Karl Marx's 1852 The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.  Marx's theory of historical repetition is instructive in its observation that "just when [the revolutionaries] seem engaged in revolutionizing themselves and things, in creating something entirely new, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service" (595).  Indeed, in 1793, when the tensions over the French Revolution in England were perhaps at their height, Blake writes America, a text which apparently ends by confirming the conjure trick Marx identified as intrinsic to revolution. Blake's narrator proclaims, "France reciev'd the Demons light," which is to say that the spirit or demon of the French Revolution is that of the American Revolution (16: 15, E 57).  History, according to Marx's model, repeats itself here as the positive transformative process that Marx calls "tragic." 

  9. If we can read America this way, then the French Revolution would become a repetition of the American Revolution.  Historically, this is not the case.  As Nicholas Williams insists, we must read America in the light of its own "historical disconformation" (116). For Williams, we must read knowing that Blake's America was "written in the knowledge that America's revolution has not spread . . . to all other nations of the world" (117).  Perhaps even trying to read the French Revolution as a repetition of the American Revolution in Blake's poem is rushing past the all too obvious, for it is precisely upon the question of representation that readings of this poem founder. As Saree Makdisi observes, "[e]very step that one takes toward pinning down some specific concrete reference to the historical realities or events of the American War of Independence seems ironically to make the prophecy that much more difficult to interpret" (31-2). Blake's America resists critical attempts to stabilize it as a field of representation.  To take a Deleuzean path, then, is to read America as a rejection of the actual, of material history, and individual consciousness as the only valid description of the reality of revolution, opting instead to explore reality as influenced by the production of sensations occasioned by the Idea of revolution as an indefinite, destabilizing, transformative repetition in the production of pure differences. To make this argument, I want to shift the emphasis in a reading of America from determining specific ways in which the poem's presentation of the American Revolution offers a historical precedent or model for the French Revolution, to the focus on the way in which America's presentation of revolution can be understood as a Deleuzean Idea of Revolution that—apart from, or in direct contrast to the historical reality of the American Revolution—explores the condition of thought necessary for the Idea of Revolution. In this way, America's revolution is not a plan of action or an outcome prophetic of France's future, but rather a presentation of the conditions under which difference emerges in repetition. 

  10. Deleuze argues that Marx's theory of revolution as an instance of cyclic repetition "does not seem to have been sufficiently understood by historians: Historical repetition is neither a matter of analogy nor a concept produced by the reflection of historians, but above all a condition of historical action itself" (91).  When Marx sets out his theory of historical repetition, wherein history repeats itself "the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce" (594), his point was that the tragic metamorphosis of the French Revolution of 1789 had actually created the conditions for its own farcical reprisal in 1848 in the person of Louis Bonapart, "a grotesque mediocrity" whom, Marx asserted, "play[ed] the hero's part" (594).  For Deleuze, "[c]omic repetition works by means of some defect in the mode of the past . . . . The hero necessarily confronts this repetition so long as 'the act is too big for him'" (92).  Deleuze insists "that these two moments are not independent, existing as they do only for a third moment beyond the comic and the tragic: the production of something new entails a dramatic repetition which excludes even the hero" (92). This third repetition is Deleuze's notion of eternal return—it is that which only returns as difference and it is this sense of difference that is the transcendental condition of historical action.[2]. To facilitate an exploration of America in terms of these three repetitions, I want to read it, with Detlef Dörrbecker, as a poem composed of three parts: a "Preludium," a conversation between Orc and Albion's Angel, and "a mythical version of the events of the American war for independence" (27).  Rather than seeing these parts of the poem as elements in a linear narrative, I am reading them as three instances of repetition that explore what is at stake in revolution with regard to its representations.

  11. The "Preludium" of America is tragic in the sense that it introduces the infinite transformative Idea of revolution, the sensations of virtual intensities in the actual, only to witness its loss. Initially, as an indefinite, virtual intensity, an Idea of revolution, Orc receives no clearly defined representation in the first twenty-five lines.  While complaining that he is imprisoned in "caverns," Orc can be thought of as a kind of virtual capacity for revolutionary intensity that only expresses itself in the mobile contingency Deleuze calls "an assemblage."  Held in "tenfold chains" Orc claims:

                                                               my spirit soars;
    Sometimes an eagle screaming in the sky, sometimes a lion,
    Stalking upon the mountains, & sometimes a whale I lash
    The raging fathomless abyss, anon a serpent folding
    Around the pillars of Urthona
                                                        (1: 12-16, E 51)

    Here, Orc is not a thing, not a definite being but an indefinite becoming that emerges in the interchange of virtual intensities and the actual. This sensation repeats itself as instances of difference, a perpetual "sometimes" multiplicity of otherness.

  12. The moment which is most troubling to those who wish to read America as a celebration of the American Revolution is Orc's sudden existence as an actual, empirical subject, a definite individual who takes particular actions, the consistency of whose being is determined in its relation to a definite field of representations.  Orc takes on direct agency in the poem in his rape of the "shadowy daughter of Urthona," whom he sees as his oppressor.  Only in this rape is Orc presented as a clearly defined representation rather than a formless intensity.  The "shadowy daughter" states, "I know thee," and to "know" is to recognize one thing as an identity that is guaranteed by its determination in a prior representation: "Thou art the image of God" (2:7 & 8, E 52). Here, as Deleuze says, "Representation has only a single centre, a unique and receding perspective" (55).  Characterized by her rapist as "fall'n to give me life," Orc is a representation whose content is determined by his victim's reference back to a Christian narrative (2:9, E 52). The shadowy daughter is likewise determined by the terrors to which Orc exposes her and her pathological dependence upon him.  As Deleuze observes "Representation fails to capture the affirmed world of difference . . . . It mediates everything, but mobilizes and moves nothing" (55-6). The shadowy daughter expresses this condition in the last line of the preludium as "eternal death," the sterility of representation in its inevitable recourse to historically prior moments.  Like Marx's assessment of the first French Revolution, Orc's revolution is immediately ossified by its own content.  The assemblages effected by Orc as an intensity are converted into a series of specific geopolitical determinations, "a serpent in Canada . . . / In Mexico an Eagle, and a Lion in Peru; / . . . a Whale in the South-sea" (2:12-14, E 52).

  13. If the "Preludium" conveys repetition as a tragedy, plates 3-10, the section of America identified by Dörrbecker as the conversation between Orc and Albion's Angel, convey it as "comic." Here, Washington, the hero of the American War of Independence, faces an act that is too big for him. The fears Washington expresses seem justified by the dragon-formed appearance of "Albions wrathful Prince" (3:14, E 52).  Indeed, Washington does not meet his antagonist. Rather, Orc emerges from the Atlantic to announce what sounds more like the dawning of the millennial age than provincial concerns about taxation without representation.  While Washington sinks into static insignificance, the verbal battle between Orc and Albion's Angel is centered on the question of what exactly it is that Orc represents as a revolutionary force.  Here, the idea of revolution is revealed as a product of a representation always tied to the past. Orc claims to represent revolution as the fulfillment of eschatological history, while Albion's Angel sees Orc's revolution as a representation that repeats the moment of his own historical origin. Either way, Orc as a revolutionary has no capacity to break free of the past.  

  14. While in the "Preludium" Orc becomes a representation that receives its determination in relation to a Christian narrative, in this section of the prophecy proper Orc sees himself as the agent of that history in its final and presumably transformative end.  As such, Orc represents revolution as apocalypse and millennium, proclaiming: "The grave is burst" (6: 2, E 53) and "The times are ended" (8:2, E 54).  Such claims in the name of revolution designate it as the idea of an end in humanity's final determination in God's being. For Orc, the American Revolution is, by analogy, the representation of the eschatological end of time. In repeating a historically prior representation, Orc's revolution is incapable of producing difference in itself.

  15. In an ironic contrast, Albion's Angel recognizes Orc as a representation that repeats his own historical, revolutionary origin.  Upon seeing the firey Orc emerge from the Atlantic, Albion's Angel recognizes him as both "Mars" and "Orc."  He reflects on the past and says, "Then Mars thou wast our centre" (5:4, E 53). Troping a Marxist view of history as the history of revolutionary action in celestial form, Orc is recognized as the astrological ruling body that governed the planetary and political revolutions that constitute the very content of Albion's Angel as a representation.  In response to Orc's claim that "The times are ended" (8:2, E 54), Albion's Angel responds that "the times are return'd upon thee" (9:19, E 54).  Orc is a "rebel form . . . / . . . self-renew'd" (9:14-15, E 54), and a "Devourer of thy parent" (9:20, E 54). Albion's Angel thus sees himself confronted by a repetition of his own historical origin, rather than an end of history.  Thus the conflict between Orc and Albion's Angel is primarily over what determines revolution's content.  Interestingly, America never definitively resolves the question of what the American Revolution represents. Orc represents revolutionary action, whatever its content, in the actual, but America suggests that there is a resistant virtual dimension that impinges upon the actual, that an irresolvable problematic of revolution as Deleuzean Idea is a necessary condition for a future beyond the historical repetitions of eternal death. 

  16. While the question of the second section might be summarized as "What does revolution represent?", the question of the third section of the poem, plates 10-16, might be summarized as, "How can the presentation of revolution avoid being tied to prior representations?" Perhaps the decisive moment in America is a passage where almost any sense of the imagery ceases to represent definite concepts, offering instead a presentation of the intensity of a Deleuzean sensation, a "brute presence" that is neither subject nor object in a material sense. On plate ten, Albion's Angel commands his thirteen colonial governors to take action, but they refuse:

    Silent the Colonies remain and refuse the loud alarm.

    On those vast shady hills between America & Albions shore;
    Now barr'd out by the Atlantic sea: call'd Atlantean hills:
    Because from their bright summits you may pass to the Golden world
    An ancient palace, archetype of mighty Emperies,
    Rears its immortal pinnacles, built in the forest of God
    By Aristron the king of beauty for his stolen bride,

    Here on their magic seats the thirteen Angels sat perturb'd
    For clouds from the Atlantic hover o'er the solemn roof.
                                                                       (10:4-12, E 55)

    This passage is infamous in America's critical history because it refuses to clarify either its relationship to the poem or its allegory of the American Revolution.  For the purposes of this paper, I want to read this passage as suggesting that revolutionary action demands the transcendence of history and its representations in the expression of pure difference. Clearly, Blake's poem continues—through its use of words and images—to present images, but it is difficult to say what these images represent.  Nevertheless, the Atlantis passage on plate ten is interesting because it marks the poem's break from any possible historical allegory. Yes, Blake's poem operates through the production of images, but these are images which destabilize the representations necessary for the poem's historical allegory.

  17. The passage to "the Golden world" and its "magic seats" allows the thirteen angels to dissolve their identities, and thus it permits a freedom from the determinations of representation.  This strange passage allows the poem, as Dörrbecker puts it, to "transcend the level of historical narrative" (37). The thirteen are described as rending "off their robes to the hungry wind" and throwing down the emblems of their power (12:3, E 55).  This removal of their "robes" is, of course, their rejection of their roles as surrogates for Albion's Angel in the American colonies, but it is more than that; it is their abandonment of identity altogether in the becoming-fire of revolutionary intensity.  They escape logical determination, now both "naked & flaming are their lineaments seen / In the deep gloom, by Washington & Paine & Warren" (12: 6-7, E 55).  The named heroes are stationary observers in the face of this revolutionary intensity. 

  18. In rejecting the marks of their political and human determinations to become common expressions of an intensity, the thirteen foment revolutionary change within the poem.  Following their example, the citizens of the colonies all set aside their identities, occupations, and geographical locations to become a "fierce rushing of th' inhabitants together" (14:12, E 56). What is crucial here is that revolutionary change is not so much a political opposition as it is a dissolution of individuality.  As Makdisi observes of this passage of America, "the individuals are absorbed into the crowd that they constitute, not simply losing but altogether detonating their prior individuality" (39).  In "detonating" their individuality in a moment of becoming-revolution, America expresses revolution as sensation and movement: "all rush together in the night in wrath and raging fire / The red fires rag'd!" (14: 19-20, E 56). "[W]rath and raging fire" are the sensations produced by this rushing "all," no longer a group of autonomous individuals, but an expression of revolutionary intensity that transcends clear determinations of subject and object.  The lines between affect and object blur: mass sensations consume the individual, movement has only velocity and intensity. 

  19. Blake's America thus suggests Deleuze's notion of a third repetition beyond Marx's two, wherein the Idea of revolution destabilizes representation. In this third repetition, this third way of thinking revolution in the poem, pure differences in the virtual have an effect on the actual, as the sensations generated by intensities. Thus the Deleuzean achievement of America's treatment of revolution suggests that the connections between the actual and the virtual are the condition of historical action.  But what does a Deleuzean Idea of revolution allow us to envision as a future?  It is impossible to say. Revolution without representation is a commitment to a future without a guarantee of comprehensible meaning or morality, and it is for this reason that Deleuze characterizes the third repetition as "a throw of the dice" or a kind of "creative destruction." 

  20. Still, the question remains as to what it accomplishes to say that America can be read as a negotiation of the Deleuzean distinction between the idea of revolution and the Idea of revolution. Reading Blake's poem in Deleuzean terms suggests what I think is a legitimately Blakean alternative to seeing the poem as either referring exclusively to the material word, or wholly to the idiosyncratic mental world of Blake's vision. The former cannot limit itself to elaborate allegorizations of the actual material-political world as reality, and the latter cannot simply advocate the transcendence of reality to constitute a different world through imaginative vision. The Deleuzean lesson for a reading of Blake's America is its constant reminder of the instability of the subject as fiction of representation, a fiction whose meaning is only guaranteed by its external determinations—its difference from something. The Deleuzean point of revolution in America is that it must be thought outside of its representations to produce the conditions for real historical difference.  In this way, I am proposing a third way to think the term "revolution," in keeping with the way Deleuze defines difference and repetition, as the cornerstone of his critique of representation. In reading Blake's America in Deleuzean terms, I will not suggest that Blake's text goes beyond representation in an absolute sense, but rather that it is possible to understand Blake's text as presenting us with revolution as a dissolution of identity that depends upon a reference to something else. The sense of "revolution" I'm invoking here is thus not the outcome of a political conflict, wherein one form of government gives way to another. What my reading of the poem intends to produce is a sense of the way in which the notorious difficulty of Blake's references is more than a cryptic problem to decode and render as something that we recognize, but, instead, a step into what Deleuze calls "an unrecognized and unrecognisable terra incognita" (136).  Thus rather than trying to save Blake's text from charges of obscurity by making his text represent something we all understand, the challenge I offer here is to think the kind of destabilization of reference that Blake's text produces as a fundamental philosophical premise upon which meaningful change becomes possible.


1 Instead of a concrete plan of action seeing a particular result, the Idea is a momentary contingency of virtual relations that produces a sensation from the point of view of the actual.  As such Deleuze associates Ideas with a kind of "solution" without a concept or representation in the actual. Deleuze explains that Ideas

precipitate all the circumstances, points of fusion, congelation or condensation in a sublime occasion, Kairos, which makes the solution explode like something abrupt, brutal and revolutionary. . . . It is as though every Idea has two faces, which are like love and anger: love in search of the fragments, the progressive determination and linking of the ideal adjoint fields; anger in the condensation of singularities which, by dint of ideal events, defines the concentration of a "revolutionary situation" and causes the Idea to explode into the actual. (190)

Ideas are thus a solution without a concept and a happening without precedent, but it is for this very reason that Ideas are the necessary engine, as it were, for the emergence of a radical revolutionary difference in the world. This is not to say that such a revolutionary happening would realize any sort of utopian hopes; all Ideas affirm is difference. While the critical utility of Deleuzean Ideas for a piece of literary analysis is admittedly tough to grasp, my hope for this paper is neither to offer an exhaustive definition of Deleuzean Ideas, nor to say that what Blake does in America is necessarily an expression of authorial intention that prefigures Deleuze's thought, but rather this paper simply suggests that the Deleuzean Idea offers one way that revolution, as it is presented in America, may be conceived outside of historical allegory.


2 For my reading of revolution in Blake's America, Deleuze's eternal return offers a way to see the dissolution of the subject in what I identify as America's third repetition as the event which marks the effect of the virtual upon the actual. My paper is not directly concerned with Deleuze's reading of Nietzsche, but rather the way in which Deleuze also sees in Marx's The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonapart two senses of revolution that imply a third revolution, that is the eternal return. In this sense, Blake's America does not go beyond representation, but rather it shows us what the virtual/real Idea of revolution produces as an event in the actual/real of historical action.

In Difference & Repetition in particular, Deleuze's sense of the term repetition is a product of his reading of Friedrich Nietzsche's eternal return in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Deleuze employs eternal return as the term to encompass what difference and repetition can produce as an effect in the actual/real. Rather than seeing Nietzsche's eternal return as an infinite repetition of the past, Deleuze finds "Nietzsche's proposition as the fundamental axiom of a philosophy of forces in which active force separates itself from and supplants reactive force and ultimately locates itself as the motor principle of becoming" (Spinks 83). Through his reading of Nietzsche, Deleuze casts the first repetition as a critique of representation, the second as a critique of identity. The third, implied, repetition of the eternal return in Thus Spoke Zarathustra coincides with Deleuze's sense of difference and repetition. By seeing the eternal return only in its third repetition, Difference & Repetition asserts a third that is beyond its two actual appearances in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. In the first version of eternal return (III "Of the Vision and the Riddle"), the Dwarf characterizes Zarathustra as "'Condemned by yourself and to your own stone-throwing; o Zarathustra, far indeed have you thrown your stone, but it will fall back on you" (251). This first version of return is the return of the past as a repetition of the same. Here, all eternity is simply a circular repetition of what has been—repetition is inextricably tied to its prior representation.  Zarathustra resists this. In the second version of eternal return (III "The Convalescent"), Zarathustra's animals claim to know what Zarathustra is "and must become: behold, you are the teacher of the eternal recurrence, that is now your destiny!" (252). In this instance, the eternal return is attached to the repetition of Zarathustra's identity as the recurrence of the same. Zarathustra's becoming "the teacher of the eternal recurrence . . . [is simultaneously his] destiny!" (252). Here, the eternal return is a straight line that leads to the realization of an identity that was always guaranteed as "destiny." As Deleuze observes "Zarathustra, feigning sleep, no longer listens to them, for he knows that eternal return is something different again, and that it does not cause the same and the similar to return" (298). If the eternal return, as a third repetition, eschews the recurrence of both identity and representation, what is its content? Deleuze answers:

We have tried to show that it is a question of simulacra, and simulacra alone. The power of simulacra is such that they essentially implicate at once the object = x in the unconscious, the word = x in language, and the action = x in history. Simulacra are those systems in which different relates to different by means of difference itself. What is essential is that we find in these systems no prior identity, no internal resemblance.  It is all a matter of difference in the series, and of differences of differences in the communication between series. (299)

This is not to say that the eternal return in its third repetition is simply the production of the simulacra, but that "simulacra" best captures the way the active force of difference that decenters identity in favor of a perpetual becoming—an ontology without origin—in the philosophical construction of the actual/real that Difference and Repetition strives to articulate.

Works Cited

Blake, William. America, A Prophecy. The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake. Ed. David V. Erdman. New York: Doubleday, 1988.

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