The plane of immanence is a concept put forth in the writings of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. It was originally put forth in a book written with his collaborator, Félix Guattari, called What is Philosophy? written in 1994, and is further explained in his final article written just before his death called Immanence: A life...." In order to best understand it, it is important to understand the nature of the concept of immanence. "Immanence" as a concept in philosophy is derived from the Latin "in manere" which means "to remain within" and is considered to mean that the divine is present within all things, or that the universe is a self-contained system. Immanence is often held in contrast to transcendence, which indicates a form of a divinity that is removed, above, or beyond all things. Concepts involving immanence posit that there are no external causes to anything that happens in the universe; all life and all causes of life are contained within itself.
Although a trancendent which falls outside the plane of immanence can always be invoked or even attributed to it, it remains the case that all transcendence is constitued uniquely in the immanent current of consciousness particular to this plane. Transcendence is always a product of immanence.
A life contains only virtuals. It is made of virtualities, events, singularities. What we call virtual is not something that lacks reality, but something that enters into a process of actualization by following the plane that gives it its own reality. The immanent event actualizes itself in a state of things and in a lived state which bring the event about. The plane of immanence itself is actualized in an Object and Subject to which it attributes itself. But, however hard it might be to separate them from their actualization, the plane of immanence is itself virtual, just as the events which people it are vitualities. The events or singularities give all their virtuality to the plane, just as the plane of immanence gives a full reality to the virtual events.1
The plane of immanence is perhaps best thought of as a conceptual horizon that does not exist relative to an observer, but as an absolute framework that maintains a fluidity and an elasticity as it holds concepts within it as concrete events. It is formless, and without volume, but remains fractal.
The plane is like a desert that concepts populate without dividing up. The only regions of the plane are the concepts themselves, but the plane is all that holds them together.2
On the plane of immanence, movement among concepts can only be defined in relative terms, as movement toward any one thing is impossible without eventually turning back onto itself. There will always be a turning toward or away, which can be thought of as a continuous, ongoing exchange happening between a thought process and its object. This duality of movement exists between thought and being, such that they are always caught into one another. In this way, every movement of thought or being will cause movement in the whole plane by turning back on the other.
Deleuze seeks to avoid making these distinctions only nominal; understanding the plane of immanence means making the important distinction between the plane and the concept. Movements on the plane are to be understood to be parts of a larger whole; concepts exist as fragmentary sections or positions within that movement.
- Prephilosophical : The plane of immanence, here, does not mean 'existing before philosophy,' rather, prephilosophical means that the plane does not exist outside of philosophy, and philosophy assumes its existence.
- Trancendental Forms : The plane has no structure imposed on it from outside itself, and it does not have a genesis. There are no forms that are empty to be filled with content or specific representations of incarnations of itself. Concepts that lie within the plane exist to interact with other concepts, understandings, and images.
- Constructivism : Being the foundation upon which the interaction of concepts is possible, and where the constant interweaving of thought and being occur, the plane of immanence can be viewed not as a series of concepts in themselves, but as arising out of their interactions with one another.
- The Nature of the Plane : Throughout Deleuze's writing on the plane of immanence, he defines it as a diagram, a horizon, and also as a ground. It is a medium for the interaction of concepts and ideas, and it is an infinite, formless and fractal field.
The plane of immanence is an intuitive field upon which infinite movements are fixed by the positions of the finite movements of concepts within it. Deleuze's work with this concept and his larger body of work in general continue to have a tremendous effect on the academic community, which is interesting in itself; Deleuze was often critical of the effect historical philosophers had on modern thought.
1Immanence: A life... pp 5-6
2What Is Philosophy, p 36
Gilles Deleuze. Immanence: A life... Theory, Culture & Society. 1997; 14; 3.
Gilles Deleuze. Pure Immanence: Essays on a Life. Zone Books. 2001.
Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari. What is Philosophy? Columbia University Press. 1994.
Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus University of Minnesota Press. 1987