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Multiplicity

The concept of voice has long been associated with poetry. We all hear voices, on the radio, in the newspaper, in memory. As Whitman says, “I contain multitudes.” As Satan says, “My name is legion.” Various voices speak in my poems. I code shift. I am many things: a white person, a working class person with roots in the South, a woman, an academic of sorts, a 60’s person who still likes rock and roll, someone who was raised on the Bible, a skeptic, etc. My voices manifest their own social unrest. In the last decade or so, academics
have been raising the question of who speaks in literary works, who speaks and for whom. There is a contemporary poetry which enacts these same questions, a poetics of the cross-roads.

Armantrout, R. CHESHIRE POETICS


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I use the term multiplicity to stand in for the concept of something’s requisite plurality.  It is representative of the fact that some ideas/object should not be considered as singular discrete thoughts/objects, but must be intellectually approached as containing many perspectives and histories.

Gilles Deleuze is often cited as “popularizing” the word though Henri Bergson uses the term (Multiplicités) as early as 1898 in his book, Matter and Memory (Matière et Mémoire). To complicate things further, in Deleuze’s Foucault (1986) he comments that it was the math and physics of Bernhard Riemann that led to the notion of ‘multiplicity.’ Later philosophical importance was granted when it appeared in in Bergson’s 1899 “Essay on the Immediate Given of Awareness” and Husserl’s 1929 text, Formal and Transcendental Logic (Formale und transzendentale Logik).

As we can see, the philisophical idea of multiplicity (or manifoldness) is a tough one to pin down.  Another good way to start seems to be etymologically with the root of multiply:

multiply (v.)
c.1150, “to cause to become many,” from O.Fr. multiplier, from L. multiplicare “to increase,” from multiplex (gen. multiplicis) “having many folds, many times as great in number,” from multi- “many” + base of plicare “to fold” see ply (v.).

ply (v.)
“work with, use,” c.1300, shortened form of applien “join to, apply,” from O.Fr. aplier, from L. applicare “to attach, apply,” from op- “on” + plicare “to lay, fold, twist,” from PIE base *plek- “to plait, twist” (cf. Gk. plekein “to plait,” L. plectere “to plait, braid, intertwine,” O.C.S. plesti “to braid, plait, twist,” Goth. flahta “braid”). Sense of “travel regularly” is first 1803.

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When the “One” becomes invisible again, this is really not about the loss of monism, but of dualism. The disappearance of dualism is really a condition for the liberation of multitude. Gilles Deleuzeuse has the formula that as soon as dualism vanishes “monism is pluralism.” The same strategy, I think, appears in Loomer’s theopoetic language when he says that “God is the world” or the “network” of interrelatedness itself. This is not flat pantheism, but liberation of manifoldness. Some would call this position “panentheism;” but I am reluctant to do so because the word “pan-en-theism” names a “unity in which all is one.” This language that focuses on “unity” again, tends to be at least in danger of harboring again the dualism it was supposed to extradite. To the extent that “unity” becomes visible, dualism has the inclination to get hold again of the theopoetic resistance. We might rather call it “trans-pantheism”- the disappearance of the visibility of the “One.”

For Whitehead, however, this “Revolt against Dualism” must be counter-balanced with a certain “defense of dualism” in the sense that there is no final exclusion of any concept: If the evanescence of dualistic God-language affirms at the same time that the “universe is many” and that the “Universe is one,” we have to be aware of the remaining “dualism in this contrast between unity and multiplicity.” Whitehead, therefore, included “all these kindred dualisms within each occasion of actuality”  – that is, in the infinite manifoldness of
becoming itself. What else does this mean than that the evanescence of dualism must not leave us with a new, static dualism between monism and pluralism, but that dualisms must disappear as a process of transcending unity; not as a process of “unification” – towards unity – but of “trans-unification” – toward multiplicity.

Faber, R. (2006). Process Theology as Theopoetics.
Lecture at Kresge Chapel, Claremont School of Theology, February 7, 2006