What surveys itself? Ruyerian Neofinalism and Deleuzo-Guattarian immanentism

1 The concept of absolute survey (or self-survey) constitutes the main element that Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari borrow from the philosophy of Raymond Ruyer. In their final joint book, What Is Philosophy?, it is used to define the very nature of what philosophy is, i.e. the nature of what it creates: concepts, understood as domains of survey. For Ruyer as well as for Deleuze and Guattari, “domain of survey” or “absolute survey” fundamentally refers to a specific mode of linkage between elements, i.e. a certain kind of multiplicity that is irreducibly distinct from other kinds. Why, however, do their respective systems involve distinguishing between irreducible kinds of multiplicity? And how can we understand that one of these multiplicities is characterized by the fact, clarified by Ruyer, that its elements are not only “surveyed” but are so by nothing other than themselves?

2 The first concern of our contribution is to show that the same problem determines Ruyer’s creation of the concept of survey and its use, i.e., its partial recreation, by Deleuze and Guattari. This problem may be defined as the search for what Ruyer calls a “line of continuity” or a “metaphysical transversal,” [1] which corresponds to a new division of reality overturning the established divisions (the simultaneous identification of a transversal continuity with several apparent discontinuities or, on the contrary, the discovery of a discontinuity hidden beneath an apparent continuum). In a brief and brilliant exercise in recapitulative self-analysis, Ruyer does point out that his fundamental method has always consisted in identifying isomorphisms between distinct domains. [2] But after the publication of A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze defined his work with Guattari in a similar way, as the search for connections between a priori heterogeneous domains: “We have an idea that seems to function in one domain, but we are searching for other, very different domains that could build upon the first, vary its conditions, by means of a turning point.” [3]

3 It then remains to determine the number, the exact nature, and the criterion of distinction of these lines of continuity or kinds of multiplicities. If absolute survey is a specific mode of connection between elements, what other mode(s) of connection are there in the work of these authors, and how does absolute survey differ from them? The second concern of our contribution is to show that the transversal traced by the concept of survey as well as the transversal(s) from which it differs are noticeably not the same in What Is Philosophy? as they are in Ruyer’s work. The duality between molecular multiplicity and molar multiplicity that underlies the physico-bio-social ontology of Anti-Oedipus borrows and reworks the bipartition proposed in Ruyer’s Eléments de psycho-biologie (Elements of Psychobiology) between domains of survey and domains of step-by-step causality. Domains of survey make up the “main series” that characterizes both quantum, molecular reality and biological reality insofar as “true forms” – considered in themselves, including the interactions that they subordinate to themselves but no others – subsist within them. Domains of step-by-step causality constitute the secondary series, derived from the first, which only characterizes the spatiotemporal interactions between true forms or their components, i.e. the “aggregate phenomena” that, similarly, go from particles to human societies. But in the work of Deleuze and Guattari, three lines of continuity – irreducible to each other – ultimately emerge from this duality. These lines will structure the cosmo-bio-cerebral ontology of What Is Philosophy?, where the issue for the authors is not only to distinguish three disciplines but indeed three distinct geneses of Nature from chaos – to be called, respectively, “cosmogenesis,” “biogenesis,” and “heterogenesis.” Science, art and philosophy are merely the cerebral manifestation of these three, in other words the manifest causative form. But within this framework, absolute survey will not account at all for biogenesis, for the genesis of life itself (which art merely extends) but only for heterogenesis, i.e. the genesis of concepts (and the planes of immanence they construct).

4 How can we explain this twofold disparity in the use of the same concept intended to address the same problem (tracing a physico-bio-socio-cerebral transversal)? The third and final concern of our contribution is to show that Deleuze and Guattari do not content themselves with borrowing the concept of survey from Ruyer. They highlight two inseparable components within it. On the one hand, survey invokes an irreducible multiplicity that does not involve any unity outside of itself. On the other, and correlatively, a domain of survey acquires an intrinsic consistency that is not the actualization of any surveying agent or surveyed value beyond the survey itself, but only the selection of a virtual reality that is inconsistent in itself (chaos). These two components of survey explain why Deleuze and Guattari arrive at a comprehensive immanentism (asserting the absoluteness of immanence) that is radically different from Ruyer’s neofinalism (leading to an ultimately theological unification).

That which is surveyed does not belong to that which surveys but becomes one with it

5 Ruyer initially created the concept of absolute survey in La Conscience et le cerveau (The Consciousness and the Brain) in order to account for the specificities of the perceptual field. One question underlies any exploration of perception, constituting in Ruyer’s view a veritable fount of illusions: who perceives what is perceived? The various answers that came to him from tradition (the soul, the spirit, the subject, etc.) are just so many forms caught up in what Ruyer calls the illusion of the “internal eye,” the illusion that a “super-retina” is needed to perceive the image that our retinas and our visual cortex receive at every moment. Ruyer rejects the question itself: splitting the perceptual field into a perceiving subject and a perceived object obscures the nature of perception instead of clarifying it. The factor that obliges us to consider perception as a field and underscores its specificity is that the field perceives itself as such: the perceived is in itself immediately co-present to itself. In order to examine this fundamental fact, Ruyer invents a series of equivalent concepts: “true form,” “absolute survey” or “indivisible domain of linkages.” A twofold confusion prevents us from considering the state of survey of the perceptual field – i.e. its immediate co-presence to itself – in its own right. In the first place, we spontaneously tend to comprehend its constitution along the model of the geometric laws of optics, in other words perspective, whereas these laws only operate prior to the retinal image and its cortical processing. These laws give rise to the illusion that the projection of rays of light on the retinal surface must itself be projected again in order to be perceived. In reality geometric projection only takes place once, from the light source to the retinas; from then on each point of the retinal surfaces only undergoes a homeomorphic, “retinotopical” transformation within the cortical areas involved in vision, where each of these surfaces or maps are thus “intuited without a third dimension.” [4] In the second place, there is another illusion heightening the first: we spontaneously tend to comprehend the perceptual field along the model of the tactile field (and more generally the motor field), whereas actually this field only participates after the cortical areas involved in vision and is used to analyze them, to differentiate their content.

6 Two consequences follow from this inevitable confusion between the two fields. First, we forget that in no way can we turn around our sensations in the same manner as we turn around sensed objects. [5] Unless we close our eyes (and be or become sightless), we thus remain entirely immersed in our perception at every moment. The sensations that fill this field at every moment can never disappear – although we may lose sight of any given object we see. [6] Because of this fundamental fact, it emerges that perception, unlike perceived or touched objects, is unbounded, limitless. [7] Second, this confusion between visual and tactile fields explains our reticence to equate subjectivity with all that we see. As the two fields only partially overlap, we are naturally inclined, as Bergson already pointed out, to situate our “I” within the tactile rather than the perceptual field. We can only touch that which puts up resistance in some form or another, thereby defining an objective exteriority with regard to our sense of touch. But what we perceive is illusorily analyzed according to the same model, as striking our retina and therefore being external – with the exception of the surface of our body that we also sense from within. As a result, for Bergson, these are merely “the needs of action that have led us to [give] tactile perception a privileged rank, and [restrict] our real presence to this very limited part of space where our tactile influence is exercised.” Conversely, dispelling the practical illusion of exteriority allows us to recognize that “we are in a real sense in each point that our perception covers,” [8] that we merge with the totality of our perceptual field. Far from representing an external world for the inner one or, on the contrary projecting that external world from within, this field therefore constitutes an absolute exteriority that only includes relative effects of interiority (Bergson), i.e. an absolute interiority that only includes relative effects of exteriority (Ruyer). [9]

7 In this way, any domain of survey is split within itself, the surveying identifying with the surveyed, in such a way that the self – which is the source of all subjectivity – comes into being through survey, and therefore self-survey, rather than the other way around. “Subjectivity, contrary to its etymology, is subjectless: it is merely a trait of any absolute form in the sense that it expresses the non-localized nature of the field of sensation. It is in the nature of any form to seem to ‘survey’ itself.” [10] However, the exact purpose of the notion of survey itself remains to be determined more precisely, on the basis of the same example. Why do the elements of the perceptual field not only intuit themselves, but also survey themselves? Here is where the problem of linkage comes in, the problem of the mode of connection between elements of such a domain. Ruyer poses this problem quite clearly by precisely placing the issues surrounding the concept of survey within the context of the two revolutions in physics that arose at the same time: relativity and quantum physics.

8 The only connection that is typically considered between elements is the causal one, which Ruyer calls “step-by-step causality.” Contrary to what it suggests, [11] the expression is even more valid for time than for space. That is one of the lessons of Einsteinian relativity. No causal action takes place immediately: everything, by necessity, operates within time. In other words, nothing is conveyed faster than light, which plays the role of a structural limit speed. The principle of causality thus translates the very structure of the space-time of relativity (both special and general) that mathematically constitutes a partially ordered set: the elements of space-time (commonly referred to as events) are connected or not depending on whether they are connected by lightlike vectors (on the surface of the past and future cones of every event, i.e. everything with which it has been and may be causally associated), timelike vectors (located within the cones) or spacelike vectors (located outside the cones, therefore defining an “absolute elsewhere” where the connection between elements, in particular their presumed simultaneity, always becomes relative to a given system of reference, unlike other connections). In fact, the revolution of relativity removes any anodyne characteristic from the idea that distinct elements or spatiotemporal events can simply be co-present, i.e. simultaneously present: theoretically, this co-presence or simultaneity not only becomes relative but even impossible, as any event is, in principle, strictly localized, only interacting in real terms with the events coming from its past cone or with the events that are present in its future cone. How, therefore, can we assert within a relativistic frame of reference that domains of survey exist between distinct elements that are all immediately co-present to each other? Within such a frame of reference, isn’t the perceptual field produced only by the past light cone? In truth, whenever the photons in the field arrive and wherever they come from (several billion light-years away in the case of some stars), all those that are co-present at the moment they strike the retina stimulate the visual cortex almost simultaneously, with the result that the perceptual field seems to recreate, at every moment, a plane or rather a bloc of absolute simultaneity, with no limit speed:


It has been said that the core of the theory of (special) relativity amounts to the realization that one cannot be in two locations at once. In this sense, the absolute subjective expanse escapes the jurisdiction of the theory of relativity. “I” am simultaneously in all the locations of my visual field. There is no step- by-step propagation, no limit speed, for such a domain. If I look at two clocks in a single glimpse, they will be one, despite their difference. There is no “absolute elsewhere” in a subjective domain, because there is no absolute alterity between details. [There is no] variable distance [appearing] in the ordered figure of sensation [that is] a true distance [requiring] physical means and energy to be overcome. [12]

10 Survey, therefore, refers to a principle of absolute co-presence, structuring a part of reality that effectively eludes the principle of causality or locality. Starting with Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari thus use the concept of “nonlocalizable linkages” [13] to account for this specific mode of connection between elements.

11 But Ruyer does not content himself with discussing an alternative mode of connection to the causal mode: he intends to establish survey as the model and foundation for any possible linkage between elements:


The primary type of every bond is “absolute survey,” that is, being-together as immediate form. The glue can glue, and steel or diamond can be solid, only through the microscopic action of domains of absolute survey. We invert things when we explain the unity of an equipotential domain through bonds or fields borrowed from the order of a macroscopic physics, which has only retained the step-by-step action from the phenomenon and not the elementary bonds that can make the “step-by-step” binding and the glue adhesive. [14]

13 Eléments de psycho-biologie did in fact claim that:


[t]o understand linkage, one must arrive at this schema: elementary observables abcd are unified in a “whole.” Now if a or b remains isolated in itself as a physical reality in the classical sense of the word, how can a and b unify themselves? By way of intermediary links a, b, g? But we could then reiterate the same reasoning with regard to the solidarity of a and b, of b and g and so on. Therefore, there must be immediate solidarity, “being-together,” “absolute survey,” of the set abcd, or at least of ab, bc, and cd, i.e., “aseity” of the form. [15]

15 What does contemporary physics itself tell us about this problem of linkage, at the most microscopic level known, governed by quantum mechanics? How do the constituent elementary particles of matter hold themselves together? Among the four fundamental forces described by physics (strong force, weak force, electromagnetism, gravity), only the first – which ensures the constitution of nucleons (neutrons and protons) but also their cohesion in order to form atomic nuclei – offers a scientific glimpse of the philosophical concept of the domain of survey. The strong force (between quarks) is the only one that increases with distance until it reaches an infinite value (and inversely a value of zero when the quarks are infinitely close), with the result that nothing can break the bond between quarks that consequently remain confined within a constitutive space of the nucleon (or more generally the hadron) and its components, i.e. all stable matter.

16 This confinement is comparable to a domain of survey – except that such a linkage remains localizable as it is still a (proportional, not an inverse) function of distance. While the strong force in particular thus makes the non-separability of linkages between elements visible – what Ruyer quite rightly calls an “indivisible domain of linkages” – quantum formalism as a whole requires the violation of the principle of locality, by discovering and describing the “nonlocalizable linkages” that underlie any manifestation of matter or phenomena, or any spatiotemporal event. This may serve as a description of what is known as quantum entanglement between particles, which does not presuppose any spatiotemporal exchange of information.

17 In Ruyer’s work, self-survey therefore allows for the consideration of both the apparent tension established between two distinct poles and their profound identification: a surveyed pole, having an irreducible multiplicity (the elements); and a surveying pole that is the auto-unification of that multiplicity (the linkages between elements). Neofinalism directly analyzes that bipolarity of survey by describing it as both the opposition between being and having and their identity:


As a unity in the multiplicity, an absolute domain or a true form realizes the otherwise inconceivable synthesis of being and having. Is the system ab a and b, or does it have a and b as parts? Does the surveying unity have the details it surveys, or, because the survey is purely metaphorical, is it the very totality of the surveyed details? […] To have a visual sensation is simultaneously to be. The sensory cells’ individual activity is not lost in an ensuing global and massive unity, because the details of my sensation depend on this individuality and remain distinct in the surveying unity of the absolute surface. “I” possess this sensory activity, and my possession totally transcends the possession of an object through an external relation. I participate in it, I am modified by it, while remaining distinct as a metaphorically surveying unity. [16]

19 Here, Ruyer carries out a nearly imperceptible theoretical shift whose consequences prove to be decisive. In referring to a “surveying unity,” he tends to immobilize one of the two poles of survey by establishing it as a “distinct,” “possessing” instance. In this way, he ultimately defines the domain of survey as a “unitary domain,” confirming this privilege gradually given to the unification carried out by this mode of connection. Borrowing Ruyer’s perspective, while in a way being more faithful to it than Ruyer himself, Deleuze and Guattari never neglect the irreducible nature of multiplicity, even connected in this way: that which surveys is actually nothing but multiplicity itself and does not presuppose, even in a metaphorical sense, any distinct surveying unity.

That which surveys itself does not constitute a unitary domain but an irreducible multiplicity

20 In its final chapter, Anti-Oedipus introduces the distinction between two kinds of multiplicities, some described as “molar,” others as “molecular.” This distinction draws on Ruyer’s work in two ways: on the one hand, Ruyer himself uses these two terms; [17] on the other, Deleuze and Guattari explicitly cite one of his texts, which recounts the “bifurcation” between two parallel lines of continuity that, from atomic components to living organisms and even human societies, will constitute either veritable “domains of survey,” or mere “aggregate phenomena,” depending on whether the elements under consideration (nucleon, atom, molecule, cell, etc.) dominate a collectivity formed by their unity, i.e. by their individuality seen as a self-sustaining and formative form, or whether on the contrary they remain subordinate to collective, statistical phenomena:


Classical physics is only concerned with [aggregate] phenomena. Microphysics, on the contrary, leads naturally into biology. If one begins with the individual phenomena of the atom, one can, in effect, move in two directions. Their statistical accumulation leads to the laws of ordinary physics. But while individual phenomena are complicated by “systematic” interactions, they maintain their individuality. Even though from the heart of the molecule to the macromolecule and the virus and then to the unicellular organism everything is subordinated to [aggregate] phenomena, however large they become, they remain in this sense “microscopic.” [18]

22 As a result, in Anti-Oedipus aggregate phenomena will explicitly correspond to molar aggregates, whereas domains of survey are implicitly rechristened molecular multiplicities. By determining a “molecular direction” of producing things (distinct from the “molar direction”), Deleuze and Guattari, following Ruyer’s example, draw a line of continuity that, while it may not go from matter to the living, at least goes from the living to the social field, as a direct translation of the “desiring production” that produces nothing but “the Real in and of itself.” [19]

23 However, the identification between domains of survey and molecular multiplicities is far from exact: indeed, it demonstrates the already striking divergence of views between the authors. Where Ruyer characterizes a domain of survey by its intrinsic individuality, Deleuze and Guattari refuse any identification between the molecular and the individual: “it would be a mistake to contrast these two dimensions [molar and molecular] in terms of the collective and the individual.” It is “more a matter of the difference between two kinds of collections or populations: the large aggregates and the micromultiplicities. In both cases the investment is collective, it is an investment of a collective field; even a lone particle has an associated wave as a flow that defines the coexisting space of its presences” (i.e. the superposition of states of the variable position). In fact, a multiplicity remains molecular as long as “singularities, their interactions and connections at a distance or between different orders” [20] predominate within it. A multiplicity becomes molar when, on the contrary, individuation predominates, where individuation is understood as a form of unification and therefore as an integral part of the statistical conditions that transform the molecular into the molar. The homogeneous – and therefore unifiable, totalizable and individualizable – character of the cases or components of a phenomenon subject it to the calculation of probabilities and to statistical laws (Gaussian distributions etc.) more than the multiplicity of these cases or components does. The two authors thus use the adjective “machinic” to describe an approach to the living that is properly molecular, founded on pre-individual singularities and not on molar individuations or unifications as with any mechanistic or finalist approach. Where The Genesis of Living Forms criticized mechanism in the name of a neofinalism asserting the vertical or thematic unity of the living, refusing to reduce its formation to its function, Anti-Oedipus effectively criticizes both mechanism and finalism in the name of a generalized “machinism” refusing to reduce the living to its apparent unity, the “structural unity” of the machine or the “specific and personal unity” of the organism:


[T]he real difference is not between the living and the machine, vitalism and mechanism, but between two states of the machine that are two states of the living as well. The machine taken in its structural unity, the living taken in its specific and even personal unity, are mass phenomena or molar aggregates; for this reason each points to the extrinsic existence of the other. And even if they are differentiated and mutually opposed, it is merely as two paths in the same statistical direction. But in the other more profound or intrinsic direction of multiplicities there is interpenetration, direct communication between the molecular phenomena and the singularities of the living, that is to say, between the small machines scattered in every machine, and the small formations dispersed in every organism: a domain of nondifference between the microphysical and the biological, there being as many living beings in the machine as there are machines in the living. [21]

25 If desiring production is defined as “pure multiplicity, that is to say, an affirmation that is irreducible to any sort of unity,” [22] and if desiring machines are in fact lacking in any global unity (whether individual or structural), they nonetheless play the same role as domains of survey in Ruyer’s work, that of being “units of production,” basic units for the production of the real. Even a minimal pole of auto-unification is required, insofar as without one, no multiplicity may, paradoxically, appear as irreducible in itself. Indeed, how can one multiplicity be distinguished from another without some form of unity that is inherent to each of them? Without some criterion of distinction, how can they avoid fusing into a single multiplicity – which could be called a “body without organs” or a “plane of consistency” – that would in principle embrace or absorb them all, denying them any intrinsic consistency? This is precisely the problem that Ruyer’s concept of the “unitary domain” addresses and that Leibniz’s concept of the “monad” addressed before him. Everything happens as though Deleuze and Guattari had revisited this question without presupposing any other existence but that of multiplicities (“parts in common,” as Leibniz puts them), without establishing other distinctions in kind but those between pure multiplicities and derived multiplicities or “pseudomultiplicities.” In distinguishing rhizomatic multiplicities from arborescent multiplicities that generalize the distinction between the molecular and the molar, A Thousand Plateaus attempts to highlight this criterion that promises to ensure both the extrinsic distinction and the intrinsic consistency of the “true” multiplicities as such, i.e. their irreducibility to the plane or to any unity. Such a criterion must make it possible to show that plane and unity result from these multiplicities rather than the reverse. On the one hand, the plane of consistency is nothing other than the connection or “the outside of all multiplicities”; on the other, any unity or unification, far from being the source of or basis for a multiplicity, only ever appears as “subtracted from it” (n – 1 instead of n × 1). “Introduction: Rhizome” thus sets out some of these criteria, including the “principle of asignifying rupture”: any multiplicity whose elements or linkages can be partially destroyed or broken from the outside, without changing its nature, will be described as rhizomatic. So a rhizome’s nature is not defined by its elements or even its linkages, but only by its degree of possible variation, within which it becomes a (molar, arborescent) pseudomultiplicity and beyond which it loses its intrinsic consistency so as to merge with others and ultimately with the plane of consistency.

26 However, despite all of these conceptual refinements, the two authors still come up against the problem that already underlay Ruyer’s work: this hypothetical intrinsic consistency of true multiplicities making it possible to distinguish between them still tells us nothing about an extrinsic consistency making it possible to distinguish the irreducible kinds of multiplicity. Ruyerian aggregate phenomena or Deleuzo-Guattarian unifiable multiplicities are never anything but effects derived from the first kind (domains of survey or pure multiplicities): in other words, the second kind (or line of continuity) appears only as a secondary form of the first, therefore remaining reducible to it in principle. [23] In order to resolve this problem of unification at a higher level, Deleuze and Guattari perform one last conceptual transformation in What Is Philosophy? by demonstrating the necessity to distinguish not two but three modes of linkage, i.e. three kinds of multiplicity where one kind cannot be potentially reduced to another (and where the concept of self-survey only translates one of these kinds).

That which surveys itself does not result from a divine finality but from natural selection

27 In fact, What Is Philosophy? explicitly puts self-survey back in the forefront of Deleuze and Guattari’s approach, using it to define what creates philosophy and therefore what it fundamentally is: “The concept is defined by the inseparability of a finite number of heterogeneous components traversed by a point of absolute survey at infinite speed. Concepts are ‘absolute surfaces or volumes,’ forms whose only object is the inseparability of distinct variations. The ‘survey’ is the state of the concept or its specific infinity […].” [24] As a result, not only do the two authors draw on all of the synonymous terms created by Ruyer to describe the first line of continuity, but also, the two components of the notion of survey that Deleuze and Guattari examined previously are scrupulously respected, i.e. that which surveys is not different from that which is surveyed and still constitutes a multiplicity. Firstly, the irreducibility of that which surveys itself to any form of unity is expressed here by the fact that a concept always comprises a multiplicity of components (which are themselves concepts with components and so on ad infinitum). Creating a concept thus amounts to fusing a multiplicity of conceptual elements together, elements that are understood as just so many dimensions; it means creating a point of unification or of survey at infinite speed between these elements that does not presuppose any additional dimension. Secondly, the lack of differentiation between that which surveys and that which is surveyed is expressed here by two decisive elements in Deleuze and Guattari’s conception of the concept. On the one hand, that which is surveyed can only be conceptual in nature: in other words, the concept does not have a supposedly external reality that it references, a set of objects that it unifies before or after the fact or a set of variables for which it is the function (a logical conception or an initial illusion concerning the nature of the concept). Actually, “reality,” “exteriority,” “object,” “variable,” etc., are themselves never anything but composite or composable concepts. On the other hand, that which surveys can only be conceptual in nature as well: in other words, the concept does not have a supposedly internal reality from which it derives, a transcendental subject that unifies it or an empirical experience or constitutive sensation that it expresses (a phenomenological conception or a second illusion concerning the nature of the concept). In reality, “what is truly created […] thereby enjoys a self-positing of itself […] by which it is recognized.” [25] The result is that the concept, instead of presupposing a creative subject, a preliminary surveying agency, “becomes object as created, as event or creation itself” at the same time as “the brain becomes subject.” This is because the brain itself is effectively a rhizome or a domain of survey in principle, i.e. “an absolute consistent form that surveys itself independently of any supplementary dimension.” [26]

28 From this angle, What Is Philosophy? not only addresses the problems of the intrinsic consistency of pure multiplicities but also their extrinsic consistency. The brain can become a domain of survey in the sense that it creates concepts (irreducible multiplicities). It can then use those concepts to build planes of immanence: multiplicities of equally irreducible multiplicities, as they cannot be unified by a concept – except in an illusory fashion. But although it may do so, the brain cannot be reduced to either state (actually one state seen in two ways), since it may also become the subject of other planes built on the basis of two other kinds of multiplicity that can be created – the three kinds thus remaining irreducible to each other, being distinct in nature. In contrast to concepts, Deleuze and Guattari will refer to these multiplicities as functions (constitutive multiplicities of planes of reference) and sensations (constitutive multiplicities of planes of composition). But these three kinds are not only objects of thought in What Is Philosophy?, or cerebral creations: their status is not epistemological without being first and foremost ontological. They are just as much modes of thought as ways of being – the three of them exhaust the possible manifestations of thought and the constitutive forms of Nature. They constitute the three aspects of Nature-thought and thus play the exact same role as lines of continuity in Ruyer’s work, being transversal to the constituted domains, to the commonly accepted divisions of reality such as the tripartition between matter, life and thought. On this common ground, we may then establish two major differences between Ruyer’s use of the concept of survey and the use of the same concept by Deleuze and Guattari. On the one hand, the two authors only associate self-survey with the creation of concepts, not with the creation of the living itself, which requires them to call upon a second line of continuity. On the other hand, self-survey is the result of a process that is no longer one of actualization but of selecting something outside of the domain of survey itself, an Outside that is neither unifiable nor unifying that consequently only takes on the aspect of chaos – and no longer that of God in any way.

29 It remains for us to examine these two points in detail. Firstly, why do Deleuze and Guattari, unlike Ruyer, ultimately refuse to place self-survey at the heart of the living? [27] Why is biogenesis, in their view, the result of another line of continuity? The conclusion of What Is Philosophy? could leave the impression that they fully subscribe to Ruyer’s conception of life. On the one hand, they adopt his critique of a “nervous system of the Earth,” defended by Schelling, Fechner or Conan Doyle, which leads to speaking “of the earth as though speaking of a living being,” by preferring to liken the multiplicity of constitutive forces of the biosphere to so many “micro-brains” or a “sum of beings […] without any prevailing unity.” [28] On the other hand, they align their thinking with one of the two interpretations of vitalism, which sees life as “a force that is but does not act – that is therefore a pure internal Awareness (from Leibniz to Ruyer).” [29] And yet for them the force as “pure internal Awareness” is less grounded in a capacity for self-survey than in a capacity for conservation or a force of contraction. This contraction, the source of sensations created by art but, before that, felt by the living being and underlying its very existence (biogenesis), differs as much from interaction – the source of functions created by science but, before that, producing the infinite universe and all the states of finite things (cosmogenesis) – as it does from self-survey, the source of concepts created by philosophy but, before that, founding anything new, any event creating an unprecedented difference within things (heterogenesis). Whereas the self-survey of concepts thus preserves chaos’s infinite speed of variation, the interaction of functions limits it and the contraction of sensations slows it down. The two authors see this slowing down at work in the brain-subject that is no longer seen as an absolute form (a “superject”) or as a relative state of things (an “eject”) but as a force in a state of detachment or withdrawal (an “inject”): “the contraction that preserves is always in a state of detachment in relation to action or even to movement and appears as a pure contemplation without knowledge.” Consequently, “[i]f we consider the nervous connections of excitation-reaction and the integrations of perception-action, we need not ask at what stage on the path or at what level sensation appears, for it is presupposed and withdrawn. The withdrawal is not the opposite but a correlate of the survey”; similarly, contraction “is not an action but a pure passion, a contemplation that preserves the before in the after.” [30] Here, a kind of multiplicity is explicitly distinguished from Ruyerian survey and implicitly compared to Bergsonian duration, a kind that initiates a new conception of biogenesis: life is not that which surveys itself but above all that which preserves itself, creating a self by and within that very preservation. This preservation manifests itself in a twofold logic of differential capturing and delayed appropriation of the physico-chemical forces, and of exponential reproduction and constant renewal of its own productions. It is a logic of having and not of being, a persistent more than a consistent or subsistent becoming of things. Where Ruyer sees survey as the only way to be and to have, as well as one of the two ways of acting (alongside step-by-step causality), everything happens as though Deleuze and Guattari set out to distinguish these three basic verbs – to be, to have, to act – by assigning each of them one single kind of multiplicity or mode of connection: Nature presents itself in the form of acting without being or having (the universe and science as products and producers of functions or domains of limitation), in that of having without acting or being (life and art as products and producers of sensations or domains of conservation), or in that of being without having or acting (the brain and philosophy as products and producers of concepts or domains of survey).

30 Secondly, why do they tend to conceive of the mode of connection by self-survey not as the result of a process of actualization or finalized realization, but as a sieve, as endless selection, by refusing ultimately to liken it to a domain of activity? For them, creating a concept amounts to subtracting consistency from chaos, to giving consistency to the chaotic virtual understood as inconsistency itself. Creating is not bringing something out of nothing and adding something more: it is always subtracting a little less from everything that is too much (too rapid, too dense, too variable – in short, too chaotic) so that something other than chaos is ultimately produced, i.e. so that it subsists, persists or consists as such. All creation is therefore a subtraction, a sieve of chaos, a selection retaining what it can: in other words, a domain of limitation, conservation or survey. Deleuze and Guattari’s metaphysics is fundamentally supported and structured by this selective model that comprises three terms: a selectable source, a selected result and a selective sieve. This model combines and generalizes the contributions of two lineages, two revolutions in both scientific and philosophical thought: Darwin’s and Bergson’s.

31 Essentially, what Deleuze and Guattari retain from the Darwinian revolution is not only, as they explicitly assert, the consideration of multiplicities, i.e. of the comprehensively irreducible nature of populations. [31] They also focus on the process of natural selection (whereby Darwin explains the production of an invariant selected on the basis of a selectable variation), which they implicitly tend to apply to reality as a whole, in particular through the idea of stratification. From this perspective, any constituted domain and any constituent component of the real (whether physical, biological, social, cerebral, etc.) appear as the result of a selection or stratification of that which is unstratified (plane of consistency or body without organs). However, over the period of their collaboration, this generalized selectionism (whose pretensions Ruyer, on the contrary, strove to reduce in order to account for the evolution of life [32]) will distinguish itself from the Darwinian model in one specific area: where natural selection carries out a purely passive sorting (merely expressing the de facto disappearance of any lineage that proved itself incapable of reproduction to the present day), generalized selection also brings an active sieve into play, with the result that what is selected is also, in the final analysis, created.

32 What Deleuze and Guattari retain from the Bergsonian revolution is precisely the idea that things are generated through subtraction, and not through emergence. The first chapter of Matter and Memory thus develops a subtractive model of this kind in order to analyze the genesis of perception: since any body only perceives the things it may act upon, any perception is therefore in itself a selection of images. Although, as we have seen, pure Bergsonian exteriority (matter-image-movement) and pure Ruyerian interiority (domains of survey) are the two sides to one perspective, a major difference between the two nevertheless remains. In Bergson’s work, this exteriority without interiority simultaneously appears as being merely selected, i.e. subtracted (by the body) from a deeper exteriority, “an outside more distant than any external world.” [33] Any perceptual field (indeed, any consciousness) is therefore only an impoverishment of a world that is in itself vaster and more elaborate than that field, that exteriority without interiority. By means of this subtractive model, Bergson establishes a pure plane of immanence that corresponds both to the plane of immanence created by Spinoza’s Ethics and to the one that the ethologist Jakob von Uexküll recreated, along entirely different lines, which conceives of every animal world (Umwelt) as a rarefaction of Nature. [34]

33 Whereas domains of survey or conceptual creations appear in Deleuze and Guattari’s writings as irreducibly multiple samples of chaos – an inexhaustible source – Ruyer still conceives of them as unitary domains of finalized activity: basically, a domain of survey is characterized as the actualization by an Agent of an Ideal. As a result, in place of the triptych inherent to the selective model, Ruyer’s finalist model always draws on a self-actualizing agent, an actualizable value and a domain of actualization. But in so doing, doesn’t this model reintroduce external instances to the domain of actualization that the notion of self-survey, through the identification between the surveyed and the surveying, strove to eliminate? Neofinalism emphasizes the compatibility between the two perspectives:


We should vehemently deny the existence of a geometric dimension that provides a point of observation external to the sensory field. But we should affirm no less vehemently the existence of a sort of “metaphysical” transversal to the entire field, whose two “extremities” are the “I” (or the x of organic individuality), on one hand, and the guiding Idea of organization, on the other. For the primary consciousness (e.g., the protozoan’s), the guiding Ideal is the organic type.
For the secondary consciousness of an animal with a nervous system and sensory organs, the guiding Ideal is both the organic type and an Umwelt intimately connected to this type, according to which the bee, for instance, only sees in the external forms captured by its sensory organs the flowers as reserves of nourishment, the hive as refuge, and so on, and searches for and maintains them in this state. For the human secondary consciousness, the guiding Ideal is the world of essences and values, detached from the human organic type. But in these three cases, consciousness is not an inert domain that is simply unified by the absolute survey; consciousness is organizing. [35]

35 The consequence of such a triptych is to open upon a superior, vertical dimension, which seeks to give rise to the Agents as well as the Ideals by showing that they ultimately identify with each other. This identification and ultimate unification, which transcend every domain of survey while manifesting themselves exclusively through and within those domains, is what Ruyer simply calls God: “[R]egardless of which mode is chosen as more fundamental than the others, God is always conceived on the model of a unitary- domain Agent.” [36] Deleuze and Guattari’s borrowing of the concept of survey is therefore supported by the same method as Ruyer’s – the identification of lines of continuity passing from the cosmos to the brain by way of the social field – but it leads to radically different conclusions in either case. In the case of the two authors, those conclusions tend to assert the absolute duty of immanence, and put it into practice (obeying the twofold axiom according to which everything that is, is created, and what is created is always less than but not different from that upon which it is based). In the case of their predecessor, those conclusions tend on the contrary to assert and recognize the rights of transcendence (obeying the twofold axiom according to which everything that is, is finalized, and what is finalized always finds its source as well as its culmination in an instance that is itself final). But the concept of survey is precisely where these two initially convergent perspectives diverge. This divergence comprises three aspects. Firstly, that which surveys itself defines, on the one hand, an auto-unification or individuation, i.e. a unitary domain; on the other, a mode of connection without unification, i.e. an irreducible multiplicity. Secondly, that which surveys itself defines, on the one hand, a domain that is simultaneously one of being, of possessing and of acting; on the other, a domain of being without possessing or acting. Thirdly, that which surveys itself defines, on the one hand, a domain in which an Agent expresses itself and an Ideal actualizes itself, where the Agent and the Ideal are external to every domain and ultimately merge into one (God); on the other, a domain of selection. This domain of selection depends on both a given selective instance (conceptual creation or finite variation at infinite speed) and an inexhaustible, selectable source (chaos or infinite variation at infinite speed) that owe their respective existences to the precise fact that they can never merge into one.

figure im1
figure im2


  • [1]
    Raymond Ruyer, Éléments de psycho-biologie (Paris: PUF, 1946), 1-20, and Néo-finalisme [1952] (Paris: PUF, 2012), 166-167 [Neofinalism, trans. Alyosha Edlebi (Minneapolis / London: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), 155-156].
  • [2]
    The "fundamental and essentially scientific method" that Ruyer said he had "always applied, while merely trying to generalize it […] consists in searching for isomorphisms. It has never failed to prove itself in all sciences, in mathematics – where the Bourbaki group applies it systematically – as in physics or biology. The golden rule is this: when two carefully observed and described orders of phenomena share a common appearance, one must try to see if they do not share a common nature, without letting oneself be intimidated by the currently accepted classifications or a priori hierarchies." "Raymond Ruyer par lui-même" ["Raymond Ruyer in His Own Words"] [1963], republished in Les Études philosophiques 80 (2007): 12.
  • [3]
    Quoted in Robert Maggiori, La Philosophie au jour le jour (Paris: Flammarion, 1994), 376.
  • [4]
    Ruyer, La Conscience et le corps (Paris: Félix Alcan, 1937), 58.
  • [5]
    "’I’ (my organism) can turn around the table to obtain different sensations, but’I’ cannot turn around my sensation once I obtain it." Ruyer, Néo-finalisme, 111 [Neofinalism, 92].
  • [6]
    "The so-called conscious forms, since they are real forms,’see’ themselves and never lose sight of themselves, in whatever corner of the sensory field they are located." Ruyer, La Conscience et le corps, 99.
  • [7]
    On this limitless perception, see Ruyer, Paradoxes de la conscience et limites de l’automatisme (Paris: Albin Michel, 1966), 15-17. By immersing us for the first time in a perception of this kind, virtual reality headsets thus contribute to a major revolution that is incomparable with images that remain bounded, whether they have two or three dimensions.
  • [8]
    Henri Bergson, quoted in a text by Gaston Lechalas republished in the new edition of Matière et mémoire (Paris: PUF, 2007), 461-462 ["Letter to G. Lechalas," trans. Melissa McMahon, Key Writings (New York / London: Continuum, 2002), 354].
  • [9]
    The perspectives of Ruyer and Bergson are thus exact mirror images of each other, two sides to a single revolution of thought, marking the irreversible exit from what Foucault, in The Order of Things [1966] (London / New York: Routledge, 2005) called "the age of representation" so as to enter the age of the image, of the reproducible real. The image is a representation that represents nothing outside of itself, no object or represented material ("[I]t is a mistake to reduce matter to the perception which we have of it, a mistake also to make of it a thing able to produce in us perceptions, but in itself of another nature than they. Matter, in our view, is an aggregate of’images.’" Bergson, Matière et mémoire, 1 [Matter and Memory, 9]). The image is a representation that is represented by nothing outside of itself, no subject or representing point of view ("The reality of conscious subjectivity is not reflected on the cortical surface as if on a mirror, outside of itself, from which it would be independent for its subsistence: it is that surface." Ruyer, La Conscience et le corps, 106).
  • [10]
    Ruyer, La Conscience et le corps, 64.
  • [11]
    The French expression used by Ruyer, "causalité de proche en proche," could be translated as "causality from neighbor to neighbor." [translator’s note]
  • [12]
    Ruyer, Néo-finalisme, 112 [Neofinalism, 94]. This analysis, demonstrating the lack of limit speed, plays a decisive role in the approach of Deleuze and Guattari, who use it to construct their notion of infinite speed, which they conceive as being as much variation (defining what they call chaos) as survey (defining the concept). On this subject, we refer readers to the two volumes of our study Deleuze & Guattari à vitesse infinie (Paris: Ohendorff & Desseins, 2009 and 2016). [Jérôme Rosanvallon co-wrote the two volumes with Benoît Preteseille – translator’s note]
  • [13]
    The expression "liaison (non) localisable" is translated several different ways in the English versions of Deleuze’s books (with or without Guattari): "(non)localizable connection," "…linkage," "…bond," "…liaison," "…intercommunication," or "…relation." [translator’s note]
  • [14]
    Ruyer, Néo-finalisme, 126 [Neofinalism, 107].
  • [15]
    Ruyer, Éléments de psycho-biologie, 17-18.
  • [16]
    Ruyer, Néo-finalisme, 127-130 [Neofinalism, 107,110].
  • [17]
    Ruyer, Néo-finalisme, 213 [Neofinalism, 197]. He borrows them from the psychologist Edward Chace Tolman who thus distinguishes the behaviorism of Watson (seen as "molecular") from his own (seen as "molar" or organicist). See Tolman, Purposive Behavior in Animais and Men (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1949).
  • [18]
    Ruyer, La Genèse des formes vivantes (Paris: Flammarion, 1958), 54 [The Genesis of Living Forms, trans. Jon Roffe and Nicholas B. de Weydenthal (London / New York: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2020), 32]
  • [19]
    Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, L’Anti-Œdipe (Paris: Minuit, 1972), 34 [Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 27].
  • [20]
    L’Anti-Œdipe, 332-333 [Anti-Oedipus, 280]. In Deleuze’s Logique du sens (Paris: Minuit, 1969), 122-132 [The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), 100-108], the series "Singularities," under the influence of Simondon and – already – of Ruyer (because it concerns an "auto-unification" of the field "surveyed" by the singularities themselves), identifies a "pre-individual" field on the basis of which any individuation is formed, such as the "world [teeming] with anonymous and nomadic […] singularities." [The translator of The Logic of Sense renders the verb "survey" ("survole") as "hover over" – translator’s note]
  • [21]
    Deleuze and Guattari, L’Anti-Œdipe, 339-340 [Anti-Oedipus, 285-286].
  • [22]
    Deleuze and Guattari, L’Anti-Œdipe, 50 [Anti-Oedipus, 42].
  • [23]
    Hence Ruyer’s idea of a "reciprocal illusion of incarnation": having an objectifiable body, outside of the domain of survey that should constitute our only mode of being, is merely the effect of our interaction with other domains. See Ruyer, Néo-finalisme, 91-105 [Neofinalism, 86-99].
  • [24]
    Deleuze and Guattari, Qu’est-ce que la philosophie? (Paris: Minuit, 1991), 26 [What Is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 21].
  • [25]
    Deleuze and Guattari, Qu’est-ce que la philosophie?, 16 [What Is Philosophy?, 11].
  • [26]
    Deleuze and Guattari, Qu’est-ce que la philosophie?, 198-199 [What Is Philosophy?, 211-212].
  • [27]
    From La Conscience et le corps to The Genesis of Living Forms, the notion of self-survey stretches from the perceptual field to the external circuits of technical and/or instinctive action, then to the ontogenesis or embryogenesis of the organism, and finally to the reproductive cycles as a whole and their varying manifestations, i.e. to phylogenesis or the formation of species – ontogenesis and phylogenesis being thus subordinate to a fundamentally morphogenetic logic.
  • [28]
    Deleuze and Guattari, Qu’est-ce que la philosophie?, 200 [What Is Philosophy?, 213], and Ruyer, Éléments de psycho-biologie, 20.
  • [29]
    As opposed to the other interpretation that conceives of life as "an Idea that acts, but is not – that acts therefore only from the point of view of an external cerebral knowledge (from Kant to Claude Bernard)." Deleuze and Guattari, Qu’est-ce que la philosophie?, 201 [What Is Philosophy?, 213].
  • [30]
    Deleuze and Guattari, Qu’est-ce que la philosophie?, 201, 199 [What Is Philosophy?, 213,211].
  • [31]
    "Freud was Darwinian, neo-Darwinian, when he said that in the unconscious everything was a problem of population (likewise, in the contemplation of multiplicities he saw a sign of psychosis)." Deleuze and Guattari, L’Anti-Œdipe, 333 [Anti-Oedipus, 280]. Similarly, Darwinism is presented as radically shifting the nature of the problem that was debated by the fixist taxonomists of the time, by transforming "types of forms" into "populations" and "degrees of development" into "speeds" or "rates," in Deleuze and Guattari, Mille Plateaux (Paris: Minuit, 1980), 63-64 [A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 47-48].
  • [32]
    See in particular "Les postulats du sélectionnisme," Revue philosophique de la France et de l’Étranger 146 (1956): 318-353, where Ruyer aims to show that the finalism or the thematism of domains of survey is an essential complement to selectionism, natural selection making it possible to retain the acquired forms, but never to create them.
  • [33]
    Deleuze and Guattari, Qu’est-ce que la philosophie?, 59 [What Is Philosophy?, 59].
  • [34]
    See Jakob von Uexküll, A Foray Into the Worlds of Animals and Humans, trans. Joseph D. O’Neill (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), as well as the connection made between the two authors in Deleuze, Spinoza: Philosophie pratique (Paris: Minuit, 1981), 167-170 [Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, trans. Robert Hurley (San Francisco: City Lights, 1988), 124-127], and the link established between Spinoza’s plane of immanence and the first chapter of Matter and Memory in Qu’est-ce que la philosophie?, 50 [What Is Philosophy?, 48-49]. On the basis of that passage, Quentin Meillassoux reconstructs Deleuze and Guattari’s plane of immanence, precisely by highlighting this subtractive Bergsonian model: "Soustraction et contraction: A partir d’une remarque de Deleuze sur Matière et mémoire," Philosophie 96 (2007): 67-93 ["Subtraction and Contraction: Deleuze, Immanence, and Matter and Memory," trans. Robin Mackay, Collapse 3 (2007): 63-107].
  • [35]
    Ruyer, Néo-finalisme, 117-118 [Neofinalism, 99]. Here we clearly see that Ruyer’s use of von Uexküll’s conceptions is very different, finalist, and non-selective.
  • [36]
    Ruyer, Néo-finalisme, 280 [Neofinalism, 236].