Difference, Affirmation and Publishing

I’ve been reading through Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition[1] for the first time, and this reading has caused me to think about affirmation in relation to negation as seen by Deleuze. Much of philosophical thought considers the concept of “Difference” to be negative or oppositional and based in contradiction. Deleuze attempts to move away from a dialectical notion of difference by promoting difference as affirmative. He suggests that “[t]he negative is the image of difference, but a flattened and inverted image” (p. 51) suggesting that the view of difference as contradiction stems from a mistaken perspective. The idea of negation stems from an understanding that difference is secondary to contradiction. This is based on a metaphysics of representation which understands that ideas preceded difference. For Hegel and other philosophers of the negative, there stand ideas which exist and oppose one another. Through this opposition comes a difference of the negative, which leads to a dialectic. For Deleuze, difference is primary. Difference precedes identity. Deleuze describes the relationship of difference and negation as follows:

“Difference is an object of affirmation; that affirmation itself is multiple; that it is creation but also that it must be created, as affirming difference, as being difference in itself. It is not the negative which is the motor. Rather there are positive differential elements which determine the genesis of both the affirmation and the difference affirmed. It is precisely the fact that there is a genesis of affirmation as such which escapes us every time we leave affirmation in the undetermined, or put determination in the negative. Negation results from affirmation: this means that negation arises in the wake of affirmation or beside it, but only as the shadow of the more profound genetic element – of that power or ‘will’ which engender the affirmation and the difference in the affirmation.” (p. 55)

It is through the will that difference is affirmed. It is the will of difference which affirms movements, rather than a negation or opposition which moves. It is through this that desire becomes the basis of movement. The will desires or affirms – that desire and affirmation are difference.

I find the shift from negation to affirmation an invigorating one. Its a concept that I was drawn towards in my previous reading of Deleuze and Guattari. I find the shift towards affirmation a positive movement in the way that I (if there is such a thing) engage with the world. While I am often predisposed towards a negative or cynical positions in relation to the political and capital, it seems that an affirmative position is much more helpful and powerful than a negative one. This shift in thought can take place in a variety of areas of thought.


Recently, I’ve been thinking about affirmation and negation in relationship with electronic books and the publishing industry. It is really easy to focus negatively on current trends in publishing. These trends include the increasing use of Digital Rights Management Technology (DRM) by publishers which restrict usability and limit the library or consumers use of a product.[2] These technologies, which are also referred to as digital locks, make it so that libraries never actually own the e-books that they are purchasing, but pay a subscription fee on the material yearly. DRM effectively give more power to publishers, and less power to libraries and library users. [3] In response to this there have been movements of open publishing, but open access has led to predatory publications which prey on authors  by charging fees and keeping opaque records.[4] Predatory Publishing is exacerbated by the role of publications in promotion and tenure within the university environment. This isn’t even to mention the publishers who entice academics to publish books at exorbitant prices which are meant to profit off of library systems who are the only ones able to purchase the books.[5]

Again, with these issues at play it becomes easy to become negative and cynical when dealing with the current state of publishing. I’ve taken a reactionary and cynical view of the publishing industry myself, but I’ve also begun to think through what role affirmation could play in changing the publishing process. I think that one can start with positive elements of the publishing industry. There are independent publishers and non-profit organizations which are doing some really interesting and creative things with the publishing process. For instance, Punctum Books is a really interesting independent publisher which is both open access and print on demand. They deploy a subscription model for accessing books within the first 6 months after publication, and provide open access to titles after 6 months. In order to access a book, one downloads the books as a pdf and is able to read it however they might like. Punctum’s model of community supported publishing allows for the creation of diverse and subversive texts, and the open model allows access of these texts to anyone who is capable of downloading and reading a pdf.

A second publishing model that we might explore is the Open Humanities Press. The OHP functions as a independent volunteer initiative which attempts to explore new ways of scholarly communication. OHP is a part of “Radical Open Access” – a collective of open access organizations and communities which are “concerned with the right to access, copy, distribute, sell and (re)use artistic, literary, cultural and academic research works and other materials.” In pushing forward and affirming new ways of scholarly communication, these publishers hope to create new, more open, avenues of communication and scholarship. Similarly to Punctum, this model allows, and affirms, the publication of diverse, subversive, and critical texts. These texts are then made available to anyone who is able to download and read a pdf.

Rather than react to the negative elements of predatory publishing, open access organizations like Punctum and OHP affirm new ways of publishing which offer the potential creative, revolutionary change in the way that information is both published and accessed. It is of utmost importance that we continue to affirm creative publishing endeavours. One avenue that I wish to explore in the future is the ways that libraries can become a larger actor in this area. Libraries can strive for new, creative collectives and partnerships which allow new ways of publishing to take place which affirm open access, open scholarship, diversity and transparency. I envision libraries working in partnership with other libraries and open access publishers to develop creative models for publishing which promote these goals. By affirming access, transparency, and equity we might be able to get there.

  • Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994).

  • There are a variety of resources that discuss DRM and usability See Leo Appleton, “The Use of Electronic Books in Midwifery Education: The Student Perspective,” Health Information & Libraries Journal 21, no. 4 (December 1, 2004): 245–52, doi:10.1111/j.14711842.2004.00509. x., Kristin R. Eschenfelder, “Every Library’s Nightmare? Digital Rights Management, Use Restrictions, and Licensed Scholarly Digital Resources,” College & Research Libraries 69, no. 3 (May 1, 2008): 205–26, doi:10.5860/crl.69.3.205., Cynthia L. Gregory, “‘But I Want a Real Book’: An Investigation of Undergraduates’ Usage and Attitudes toward Electronic Books,” Reference & User Services Quarterly 47, no. 3 (April 1, 2008): 266–73.


  • Again, there are many sources which discuss the ethical nature of DRM and Libraries. See Chabriol Colebatch, “Pick Your Digital Lock Battle: Is It the Law or Licenses We Should Be Worried About?,” Feliciter 59, no. 1 (February 2013): 15–17., Katie Dunneback, “EBooks and Readers’ Advisory,” Reference & User Services Quarterly 50, no. 4 (July 1, 2011): 325–29., Sascha D. Meinrath, James W. Losey, and Victor W. Pickard, “Digital Feudalism: Enclosures and Erasures from Digital Rights Management to the Digital Divide,” CommLaw Conspectus Journal of Communications Law and Policy  19 (2011 2010): 423–80., James G. Neal, “Copyright Is Dead… Long Live Copyright,” American Libraries 33, no. 11 (December 1, 2002): 48–51., Jason Puckett, “Digital Rights Management as Information Access Barrier,” Progressive Librarian 34–35 (January 1, 2010): 11–24., Widdersheim, “ELending and Libraries.”





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