It’s not entirely easy to describe what non-representational thinking is, but accept the challenge and see if you follow (and comment if you don’t quite understand my way of explaining). I’ve chosen to do it here by (mainly) talking about it as a matter of desires, fantasies, sex and relationships.
What separates Gilles Deleuze (who is sometimes referred to as a post-structuralist) from structuralists is the following: Both Deleuze and the structuralists thought that the world consists of difference. Where they part ways is that structuralists thought that that difference can only be pointed out, named, with the help of language. We make difference with the help of language, and we can’t think about difference without language, was their argument. The problem with structuralism, in my view, is that it makes the language into god; ”without language we don’t get anything”.
Deleuze, on the other hand proposes the following: The world does display a marvelous array of difference(s) in itself (and that it can be perceived). Language, in turn, reduces the difference we actually can perceive, where every unique snowflake is merely lumped together as snow, and every rabbit is just a … rabbit.
But Deleuze doesn’t stop at the notion that linguistic concepts reduce matter to similar and comparable object (although they are not at all that alike, but in reality display an astounding degree of difference). He also says that it isn’t possible to claim anything about an object and separate the claim from the object. Wow. Tough. Mental brainfreeze. What Deleuze is saying, then, is that everything that happens, everything that is, everything … is difference. Every new manifestation is a difference from the former. Differently put: Every time we connect a word to an object it’s not a new way of representing the object, it’s a new, melted together object. Why? Because there is simply no non-spoken language. You could say that there is either no non-representational thinking, or only non-representational thinking.
We think with the help of emotions, memories, words, phrases, poetry, mathematic formulas, facts, fears, crawings, desires, lust. Never ever are we heading into nature and watches a coltsfoot as if we’ve never before had a relation to spring flowers or nature in general. It’s never the case that we’ve never seen anything quite like it. We have always seen something that we connect to our vision and sense of smell (or whatever sensory impression is utilised in the moment). We need, says Deleuze, to stop thinking that we can ever see things ‘as they are’, as if we weren’t human. To actually see a spring flower without the impressions that bubble up inside us would only be possible if we weren’t human.
Or take a blowjob. What would ”a blowjob ‘as it truly is’ even be? What is really the point? Objectively? To pleasure? To be in control? To allow yourself to feel like an erotic person? To let enticing or dirty feelings flood your system? Wanting to give a gift that has nothing to do with money? To, you yourself, experience the enjoyment that comes from a feeling of being a good partner (given that your notion of being a good partner comes with a certain to-do-list on which ‘blowjobs’ is one point)? Objectively: Which one of these are try? Of course the answer is that all can be true at the same time. Or none of them have to be true. Above all: There is nothing that a blowjob objectively is ”about”. It happens in tandem with thoughts in the head of both the person giving and the one receiving. All sex happens like this. In tandem with thoughts that cannot be disconnected from the sex. As a psychoanalyst I once met said: If we think about the body of the person we’re about to have sex with, as an anatomical object (instead of an object of our desire) and then go ‘yes … well … how does it look under the skin … there is blood, sinew, tendons …” we’ll then there wont be much sex or sexiness. That’s the world, says Deleuze. Because we deal with this thing called language, since we have memories and because we carry different types of longings and fears, all those things are folded into the batter of every new situation. Every new situation is non-representational of another one, a person doesn’t represent a larger group of ‘more of those kinds of people’. The world couldn’t be less alike what we teach children; ”this is a table – tables look like this” or math where ”1 is always 1 and stands in relation to other eternal objects like 2 and + and 7”.
There is something very beautiful about this way of thinking about the world. That every part of the universe is so incredibly fragile, unique and in-passing that we have to be observant and in-tune to its specificity. And the relation between two such parts is also an entirely unique relation.
For instance: You and I are two different parts of the universe. You’re not just a woman (if you are). And a woman is like a woman is. It is like (Deleuze and) Tamara Taylor’s role dr Camille Saroyan (in the TV series Bones) would say: ”women is an unacceptable generalization, doctor Hodgins”. And just like that the relation between two such parts of the universe is also unique. To therefor think that two entirely unique parts of the universe are also equal and comparable to other parts of the universe (Brad & Angelina; Barack & Michelle; or the general woman and the general man in the Cosmopolitan relationship advice column) is greatly unfortunate. To try and understand something unique and non-comparable by comparing it to something, is verging on the insane. That’s what I mean when I say that you can’t compare something to something different. But to compare something as vastly complex as the (assemblage that makes up a human ‘being’) with another such ”entity” – that is hard. At least if you think that it’s gonna be a just comparison, leading to good or result in something adequate.
This is one way in which non-representational thinking is useful; because it forces us to think in difference, rather than in likeness. It prompts us to dream of the new, the fragile, to take the specificities of our relations seriously. To be in any relation where ‘you’ are one of the two components, with the help of non-represenational thinking, is to strive for free flowing fantasy, desires, ideas, constructions, deconstructions, repetitions with difference that the world has not yet seen. Imagine if your relationship to your significant other was like that.