Living mirrors of the universe : expression and perspectivism in Benjamin and Deleuze after Leibniz

Levin, Noa Natalie (2019) Living mirrors of the universe : expression and perspectivism in Benjamin and Deleuze after Leibniz. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis argues for the significance of G.W Leibniz’s concepts of ‘expression’, ‘force’ and ‘perspective’ to the writings of Walter Benjamin and Gilles Deleuze. By triangulating the philosophical projects of Benjamin, Deleuze and Leibniz, as has not yet been done, the thesis opens up new perspectives and provides new readings of all three. Designating a structure of relations in which every simple substance or monad serves as a ‘living mirror’ of the universe, Leibniz’s concept of ‘expression’ denotes virtual inclusion or immanence. His concept of ‘force’ denotes the self-incurred drive that motivates the monad to action, while his ‘perspectivism’ defines the monads individuality through their infinite points of view on the world. Deleuze and Benjamin, I suggest, appropriate Leibniz’s concepts as part of their respective critiques of epistemology, which target Kant’s conception of experience as a hierarchic relation of representation, allowing them to redefine experience as non-hierarchal, de-centred and embodied. At the same time, for both, Leibniz’s philosophy serves to criticize historicist views of chronological time. Leibniz’s perspectivism is reformulated by Deleuze and Benjamin as part of their respective critical theories of the image, culminating in their later formulations of the ‘dialectical’ and ‘crystal’ image, respectively. The conclusion however, highlights the diverging paths formed by their returns to Leibniz. Benjamin develops a politically effective ‘historical perspectivism’ in which the discontinuity of history enables ‘true historical time’ to replace chronological time. Deleuze, on the other hand, opts for an ahistorical pure form of temporality, his ‘mannerist perspectivism’ describing a continuous, perpetually repeated ‘becoming’.

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