Excessive Love: Exploring Immanence as the Conceptual Condition for Reading Hadwijch of Brabant – The Trajectory of Univocity to Immanence

I. Introduction
II.  Univocity in the Medieval Period

III. The Trajectory of Univocity to Immanence

Thomas Aquinas attempts to mediate the relation between Creator and creature through the process of analogy. Analogy maintains the absolute distinction between Creator and creature through the notion of proportional difference. This is a ‘middle-road’ between the impasse of agnostic equivocity and the endless relation of univocity. While this becomes the dominant mode of theological orthodoxy it does not go unchallenged. Duns Scotus draws attention to the unending nature of trying to ‘relate’ seemingly disparate terms. In contrast to the method of analogy, Scotus “argues that univocity ‘never stops’ and that the real philosophical challenge is in accounting for the persistence of univocity, despite the most radical assertions of differentiation.”[1] The typical criticism of univocity is that if all is of the same substance and there is no end to relating then there is no formal way of acknowledging difference at all. In response to this criticism Scotus argues that when analogy mediates A (God) and B (Nature) via X then X becomes the higher principle by which both are subordinate. This way of relating never comes to a clear end which is not in some way arbitrary. While Scotus “always stops short of a full-fledged pantheism or a fully immanent materialism” he does finally “take up the position of univocity as the only viable philosophical position if the relations between Creator and creature, Life and living, are to be thought at all.”[2]

The work of Gilles Deleuze enters decisively into this trajectory where he states in Difference and Repetition,“There has only ever been one ontological position: Being is univocal. There has only ever been one ontology, that of Duns Scotus, which gave being a single voice.”[3] Deleuze does not simply receive Scotus’s ontology but passes it through his own repetition which includes significant engagement with Baruch Spinoza. With Spinoza, decisive attention is given to relation itself (as opposed to objects trying to be related). Clearly departing from the analogical model which has its basis in Aristotle and is expressed clearly in Aquinas, Spinoza rejects a notion of essential difference, which is distributed by One (God) and received in part by Many (Nature), and emphasizes the existence of difference itself drawing attention to “difference as a degree of power.”[4] Analogy used relations to think the difference between objects while the relation itself remained unthought. Spinoza attempts to think the relation itself.

For Spinoza being, or what is real, is the process of variation or differentiating itself; the variation of a single substance. We can speak of difference through attributes (thought/mind and body/extension) but “attributes are less mediators or vehicles of divine causality, and more like the very viscosity of relation itself.”[5] Analogy demands a transcendent One because there is a unity of these attributes in God before there is the dispersal of these attributes in part. “In other words, what makes individuals separate from God is that God possesses these forms in an essential, unified manner; God transcends individuals because unity transcends difference. Deleuze, on the other hand, makes formal distinction (distinction between attributes) essential to substance (or God), which means difference becomes intrinsic to God, or substance, itself.”[6]

This focus on relation and difference clarifies Spinoza’s famous ontological statement regarding the univocity of being as “God, or Nature”. This phrase is not meant to position one term as the reference for the other (by God we really mean Nature or vice versa).[7] The significance of the phrase is the way in which it keeps the relay of mediation and relationality open, knowing that we must name (speak of Life or God) but that naming remains insufficient, even inappropriate, to reality (the endless differences in Nature). Taken up in the work of Deleuze, the univocity of Scotus and the indeterminacy of Spinoza are heightened in a push towards ‘pure immanence’.

This brief introduction to univocity as it is developed into the concept of immanence demonstrates the relevance of the question of mediation and relationality in the medieval period and how univocity remained a marginal position within the more dominant model of analogy. The following section will more clearly unpack elements of Delueze’s concept of immanence (and as such his critique of transcendence) particularly as it relates to reading Hadewijch.


[1] Thacker, After Life, 114.

[2] Thacker, After Life, 114, 119.

[3] Cited in Thacker, After Life, 136.

[4] Daniel W. Smith, “The Doctrine of Univocity,” 178.

[5] Thacker, After Life, 138.

[6] Barber, Deleuze, 42.

[7] Barber, On Diaspora, 25.



4 thoughts on “Excessive Love: Exploring Immanence as the Conceptual Condition for Reading Hadwijch of Brabant – The Trajectory of Univocity to Immanence

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