Excessive Love: Exploring Immanence as the Conceptual Condition for Reading Hadwijch of Brabant – The Conceptual Paradigm of Immanence in Deleuze

I. Introduction
II.  Univocity in the Medieval Period
III. The Trajectory of Univocity to Immanence

IV. The Conceptual Paradigm of Immanence in Deleuze

Basically put, a paradigm of immanence is one in which the cause of being and the ef­fects of being belong to the same plane. There is no transcendent point of reference, for each being is co-constitutive of every other being. [O]ne consequence of immanence . . . is that it becomes impossible to name being as such, even as the multitude of names given to beings (and to being in itself) point to the inescapability of signification. What I propose, then, is that immanence puts in play a reciprocal relay be­tween namelessness and excessive signification. . . . An immanent relation is one in which neither term can be made utterly prior to the other; immanently related terms are mutually constitutive.[1]

It is often understood that critiquing transcendence has meant critiquing God; that God and transcendence are interchangeable. The critique of transcendence has tracked so closely with the Christian religion that the work of immanence has often been equated with secularism and the rejection of God. Challenging this notion Daniel Colucciello Barber, working first with Spinoza and then unpacking Deleuze, maintains that the critique put forward by immanence is not that of naming God but of accepting transcendence as the stabilizing or authorizing of this naming.[2]

Immanence accepts the relationship of cause and effect but refuses to place this distinction within the register of transcendence, that is, immanence is a two-way street.[3] This immediately places immanence in a questionable position with respect to dominant models of medieval theology. Speaking of relations as ‘two-way’, immanence requires an account of mutual affection. There is no priority of place here, “the cause is not prior to its effects, for its essence is affected by what it effects; the cause is constituted by its effects.”[4] A cause does not remain unaffected by the effects it creates. It is easy to see how this formulation challenges Christian orthodoxy and the belief in an impassible God distinct from (even if connected to) creation. With immanence there is one substance, one plane of relations. This relates to Spinoza’s reference to “God, or Nature.” Rather than deciding on how these terms relate with the subsequent collapsing of one term below the other what is important in that statement is the manner in which it opens up (or keeps open) the differential relay between namelessness and naming. As mentioned earlier, it is tempting to reduce one term as subordinate to the other (God really means Nature; or vice versa). However, this would transgress the formulation and deny both the relation and the non-identity of the terms; it would introduce transcendence.

The nameless reality of immanence emerges then as excess naming and “the only way of thinking this excess is to perform it.”[5] This account of mutually affected and excessive production distinguishes immanent process most clearly from the notion of divine revelation based on a closed canon and also troubles the notion of analogy as a form of mediation because at some point a transcendent authority stops or closes the relay of relations; a prior unity is posited as necessary and therefore remains unaffected. The excess comes not because of the plenitude of the One but of the infinite relay which resists collapsing God, or Nature.

For the purposes of this paper it is helpful to note that immanence also differs from the logic of most negative theology. While negative theology orients discourse around the namelessness of God “it is equally the case that negative theology addresses this difficulty by signifying that the object of signification is unsignifiable. Immanence, however, cannot permit this strategy, for such a strategy (i.e. negative theology) makes the unsignifiable into something that transcends signification.”[6] Naming is not improper because it falls short of some transcendent unnameable reality but because it emerges from the excess of namelessness and according to Barber “the key is to enable this relay.”[7]

Identifying relations of transcendence and immanence are not always as clear as they might seem. For the purpose of furnishing greater conceptual clarity I will briefly summarize what Barber calls ‘rival paradigms’ of immanence that collapse the relay between ‘God, or Nature’.[8]

  • Philosophical Delimitation (PD) – In this model God is clearly collapsed into ‘Nature’ where Reason (Kant) or Being (Heidegger) set the parameters for thought.
  • Theological Particularism (TP) – In this model the particularity of naming God in theological discourse is what orients thought to Nature. Here theology (the naming of God) is auto-referential, positioning itself, as in the case of Karl Barth. Nature then, is positioned by God.
  • Theological Ontology (TO) – This model continues to privilege theological discourse but holds that it can be expanded beyond its particularity in its ability to offer a universal horizon (sort of an inverse of PD). Barber considers this the dominant model within early and medieval Christian theology where the particularity of Christianity represents the universality of truth. This model is represented by the method of theological analogy in Thomas Aquinas which allows theology (God) and ontology (Nature) to be convertible.
  • Philosophical Excess (PE) – This model is close to PD in its general aversion to theological discourse but in contrast to PD this model thinks it almost impossible to avoid theological discourse. PE understands thought to be contaminated by theology and so must attend to it in order to think through it. This can be seen in the ‘turn’ to religion in Continental thought in such figures as Derrida, Zizek, and Agamben. God and Nature represent an problematic relationship.

The first three models of thought are united in their interest or confidence in being able to resolve the tension between theology (God) and philosophy (Nature). PE does not posit a resolution and in this respect is in keeping with immanence. Where PE falls short (according to Barber) is its inability to begin to think through the problematic relationship between theology and philosophy and what that says about the conditions of thought. “Immanence makes its agreement with PE into an occasion for going beyond PE, and it does this by thinking the differential tension of philosophical, or ontological, register (namelessness) and a theological register (signification) as mutually constitutive, or as relays of one another.”[9] As will be demonstrated, it is the holding open of the relay between naming and namelessness that resonates deeply with Hadewijch in a way that the rival paradigms of immanence do not.

To summarize, most expressions of philosophy and theology work within the framework of transcendence. Most basically, this involves a commitment or appeal to a prior unity which is able to identify and stabilize (at least in part) the naming and experience of difference. This is not the case for immanence. With immanence, emerging out of an understanding of univocity, difference (or a differential relation) is the only way of being able to think reality. Rather than a closure of the relay between God/Naming, or Nature/Namelessness immanence facilitates the relay which points to the excessive and productive expression of reality.

This introduction to immanence is sufficient to outline an conceptual framework by which to read Hadewijch. A principle problem for thought from classical Greek, through medieval and into modern times has been articulating the relation between Principle-of-Life / One / Creator / God / Being and life / many / creature / nature / being. The dominant paradigm has held belief in a transcendent presence (or prior unity) that stabilizes and is able to close off the relay between these two realities (or at least allow one pole to remain unaffected). This transcendence can come in a varieties of forms. It can come in the straightforward ascription of authority to a divine scripture; the belief of the One who is unaffected but emanates knowledge; the belief of divinely formed reason which can secure appropriate analogies of mediation; or the otherworldly void of negative theology.

Key to the trajectory of univocity and immanence outlined here is drawing attention to the problematic nature of trying to foreground a stable relation between God and Nature. Indeed, the trajectory, as it culminates in Deleuze, is to actively problematize this model to keep the relay open. A conceptual paradigm of immanence is invaluable to mystical texts as they provide an important contrast to accusations of incoherence or meaninglessness. Furthermore, this paradigm offers conceptual weight to accounts that lodge mystical expressions fully in the realm of experience or performance. Experience and performance are important, however, they are not the only way of speaking about this sort of expression but are indicators for how the common condition and necessity of namelessness (Nature) and signification (God) functions. The only way of thinking this excess is to perform it.[10] The excessive expressions of immanence begin to create space for a fruitful engagement with Hadewijch.


[1] Barber, On Diaspora, xi, 1.

[2] This is consistent throughout Barber’s work on immanence but for a helpful introduction see Barber, Deleuze and the Naming of God, 4-9. See also Daniel W. Smith, “The Doctrine of Univocity: Deleuze’s Ontology of Immanence,” 167-183.

[3] What follows can be considered a summary of Barber, On Diaspora, 1-10.

[4] Barber, On Diaspora., 2.

[5] Barber, On Diaspora, 8.

[6] Barber, On Diaspora, 2, emphasis mine.

[7] Barber, On Diaspora, 10.

[8] The following is a summary of Barber, On Diaspora, 11-20.

[9] Barber, On Diaspora, 20.

[10] On Diaspora, 8. I should also note that in an article dealing with Ruusbroec and Eckhart, Eugene Thacker has already made a gesture towards this type of thinking when he articulates the difference between metaphysical and mytiscal correlation. Metaphysical correlation (between subject and object) already accepts a certain ‘given’ within the real as such “is always after a response that is has already posited before it begins the task of thinking. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy, a self-congratulatory gesture. It has caught its prey before the hunt as begun. By contrast, mystical correlation can receive a response, precisely because it is after that which is simply without-thought (or non-thought). . . . [I]t is always oriented towards something that is understood to be in excess of thought.” Thacker, “Wayless Abyss,” 94.


3 comments on “Excessive Love: Exploring Immanence as the Conceptual Condition for Reading Hadwijch of Brabant – The Conceptual Paradigm of Immanence in Deleuze

  1. […] From my understanding, there’s one post still to arrive, but Parts One, Two, Three, and Four are already […]

  2. […] I. Introduction II.  Univocity in the Medieval Period III. The Trajectory of Univocity to Immanence IV. The Conceptual Paradigm of Immanence in Deleuze […]

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