BADIOU’S BECOMING-DELEUZE: a personal observation

1) OPPOSITION, RESISTANCE

I neither forget nor excuse any of Badiou’s “militant” mafia tactics in disrupting Deleuze’s seminar and setting himself up as judge in a caricature of a tribunal of the people.

My current attitude towards Badiou has evolved over a 36 year period. I first read his diatribe against Deleuze and Guattari, “The Flux and the Party”, in 1980, and I was incensed. It took me 8 years to see things more coolly.

2) MISMATCH, PHASE LAG

I read BEING AND EVENT when it came out in French in 1988, and I was very impressed, even if I did not agree with much of it. I felt that it was a monument to a failed chance at dialogue, as it had far more relevance to Deleuze’s DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION and LOGIC OF SENSE published nearly 20 years earlier. Similarly, LOGICS OF WORLDS (2006) is a more satisfying work, which seems to be in dialogue with A THOUSAND PLATEAUS (1980).

Recently I have been reading Badiou’s seminars as soon as they are published in French. I think Badiou’s Heidegger seminar (1986-1987) is brilliant. He engages the discussion with Heidegger’s philosophy as an equal, and his alternative ontological hypothesis allows him to re-integrate Heidegger’s discourse, hardly the most dialogical, inside an argumentative field.

3) BLOCKAGES AND FAILED DIALOGUE

I was living in Paris then, and I now regret that I was “blocked” against Badiou, and I wish I had attended that seminar and the preceding ones, as I stayed in Paris from 1980 to 1987. I attended Deleuze’s seminars, but noone told me about Badiou’s.This is a lost opportunity arising in part from the division of philsophy into rival teams of followers.

Everyone has the right to evolve, and it would be un-Deleuzian to “freeze” someone, even Badiou, into a static stereotype and then to judge them. Yes, Badiou was “blocked” against Deleuze, and is responsible for serious misreadings and mistakes about Deleuze’s ideas.

4) EVOLUTION NOT JUDGEMENT

However, I have been following Badiou’s seminars on THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS for the last few years via the videos, lecture notes and summaries that are being published, and I find that he is still evolving, and becoming more interesting. His writings show an increasing rapprochement with Deleuze.

Similarly, I have been reading and thinking about Deleuze for 38 years now, and the time for hagiography, uncritical adulation or one-sided partisan devotion is long past. I have no status, money or career interests in a Deleuze franchise. My own vision has evolved, and Badiou’s writings, despite his mistakes, have contributed to that evolution.

5) BEING DELEUZIAN, BECOMING (NON-)DELEUZIAN

My own “Deleuzism”, apart from continuing to live in France after having come here to attend Deleuze’s seminars, manifests itself philosophically in my involvement with the work and ideas of Michel Serres, François Laruelle, Bernard Stiegler and Bruno Latour, not to mention my continuing interest in Badiou’s latest developments.

Practically, it is present in the language I speak and think in (French, most of the time), in my conjugal life (I met my wife in Paris, while I was trying to learn French to understand Deleuze’s books and seminars), in my body (I took up tai chi to understand Deleuze more concretely), etc. Everyone has their own story to tell.

I am certainly not a Deleuze “scholar”. Although I am not hostile and I think that Deleuze scholarship is interesting and useful, my own understanding of Deleuze, such as it is, has not in the slightest way been indebted to that particular academic milieu nor to its productions.

6) FROM CONVERGENCE TO DIVERGENCE

It may be the case that the more a philosopher is successful the more he or she seeks convergent dialogues. I do not know, but it would be a shame if that were true. But in the case of a philosopher that we love, and that functions as an educator for us, a large degree of convergence may be a good heuristic phase to go through. However, it is good to have one’s own individuation, to bifurcate off and diverge from what was once individuating but that with time becomes a new alienation.

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THE DELEUZE/BADIOU CORRESPONDENCE

Badiou published only one letter (translated here) from that correspondence. Deleuze was very exacting, perhaps even tyrannical with his texts, refusing interviews, repeating some formulations of key concepts almost word for word for decades. It is regrettable regret that he forbade publication of the letters. The only effect that this has had is that probably they have circulated privately, and that an élite few have had access to the correspondence.

Badiou published one of his own letters, and doesn’t quote Deleuze in it. So he respected Deleuze’s wishes rather well,  beyond what Deleuze had a right to demand. Deleuze was willing to engage a dialogue with Badiou, but unwilling to follow through to the end. It is very difficult to evaluate this gesture of ending the dialogue. However, we must also say that the same applies to his opening the dialogue with Badiou in the first place.

According to Lyotard recent French philosophy has had in common an acute awareness of, and sensibility to, the incommensurabilities that traverse and fissure the plural reality that underlies our illusions of unity and of homogeneity. Lyotard specifically includes Deleuze in this configuration of thinkers, declaring that Deleuze by way of  his reflection on “the effect of sense by nomadic encounter…put the accent on incommensurabilities” (from “Appendice svelte à la question postmoderne” in TOMBEAU DE L’INTELLECTUEL, page 85, my translation).

Yet Deleuze himself has always practiced what Badiou calls “convergent” dialogue. He required a form of friendship that was quite selective. This insistence on (perceptual, affective, and conceptual) convergence and friendship valorises consensus and introduces a form of meta-commensurability in an enunciation that talks of, and nourishes itself from, incommensurabilities. With Badiou the dialogue was “divergent”, and thus closer to real life for most people. We cannot all insist aristocratically on a high degree of convergence with our dialogical partners, and the divergent dialogue is the more democratic.

On this point Badiou was doing his job, that of proposing to go even further in the practice of incommensurabilities, and of detecting unitarian prejudices continuing even within the practice of one of the most consummate ontological pluralists. These unitarian prejudices, and the pragmatic contradiction between the convergent style and the divergent message, have neutralisedsed Deleuze’s followers, often condemning them to a sterile repetition of his formulations rather than a real fundamental critical discussion.

Given that Deleuze himself did not accept dialogic reformulation of his ideas in radically different terms the result has been the propagation of a dithyrambic evocation of concepts under the guise of what one may call a “Deleuzian doggerel”.

On the ethical point of whether Badiou “should” have published his letter to Deleuze, it is difficult to avoid a sense of hagiographic distortion here, in which “saint” Deleuze is seen to be betrayed by the “demonic” Badiou. In fact, Deleuze quoted quite freely from Kafka’s posthumously published writings despite Kafka having ordered that they be burned. There is a double standard here.

Finally, I think that Deleuze was perhaps badly advised by his entourage, and that the non-publication of his correspondence with Badiou is a loss for philosophy.

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NICE THE DAY AFTER

We are all OK, family and friends. Usually we go and watch the fireworks every year on Bastille Day, at less than ten minutes walk from our home. Exceptionally, last night we decided to stay home, a lucky decision as it turned out. It is a terrible thing that has happened, and we are all very shocked.

Nice 1

The evening after the terrorist attack. All is calm. I am walking from my home to meet up with my wife, who works on the Promenade des Anglais, after work.

Nice 2

Summer as usual, only with a lot less people and fewer cars. There is also a lot less noise than usual, no loud sounds, no crying out, no noise of traffic. Less pollution too.

Nice 3

Then I arrive at a blockade. There is a barrier and lots of press trucks and police. To meet up with my wife I must go behind the Promenade des Anglais, into the street that runs parallel with it, the rue de France.

We walk home, quietly discussing what we have learned during the day, warmed by the various signs of solidarity received from friends and family, and also from people we only half-know on facebook etc. We were close to tears all during the day, thinking of those who were not lucky, who were wounded or killed for no good reason. They just went with friends or family to watch the fireworks, and to be together.

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OOO AND THE ASSASSINATION OF PHILOSOPHY: A Deleuzian Analysis

Much of what Deleuze and Guattari say in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? about the many threats to philosophy can be applied to schools and movements that came after their demise. An interesting supplement to their discussion of these threats is provided by Deleuze in his ABC PRIMER, where he talks about the Wittgensteinians. One has only to  replace “linguistic analysis” with “OOO” to bring out the contemporary relevance:

 For me, it’s a philosophical catastrophe. lt’s the very example of a “school”, it’s a regression of all philosophy, a massive regression. The OOO matter is quite sad. They imposed a system of terror in which, under the pretext of doing something new, it’s poverty instituted in all grandeur… There no word to describe this danger, but this danger is one that recurs, it’s not the first time that it has happened. lt’s serious, especially since the OOOxians are mean and destructive. So if they win, there could be an assassination of philosophy. They are assassins of philosophy.

It is important to realise that Graham Harman’s object-oriented philosophy does not just articulate his own personal point of view, but rather expresses something essential in the contemporary philosophical context. For those who are wary of this thought, or those who just reject it outright, I do not think it is enough to say that its recent success, the fact that it has been adopted with enthusiasm in a diversity of venues, can be explained simply in terms of lack.

There are those that claim that OOO is hailed as a mighty leap forward merely because it holds a flattering mirror up to certain discontented intellectual minorities, those in search of philosophical aura and validation for their practices: a motley crew of disgruntled or disabused militants of French Theory, conceptually inexperienced artists, philosophically uncultivated novelists, and ambitious computocrats. It succeeds by reassuring them that they have always been philosophising, even when they didn’t yet know it.

This analysis no doubt relevant, but the phenomenon goes deeper than that. Harman’s OOO expounds in perhaps its purest form an image of thought that is a transcendental condition for philosophical thinking in the contemporary context, whether we adopt or reject his system of the world. His promotion of the existence of a transcendental field of withdrawn indifferent objects captures an intuition that we all may become aware of in moments of fatigue or intellectual disorientation, the often implicit but ever necessary background of ontological stupidity that shadows all our thoughts.

The key to understanding OOO’s master stroke is in a fragment from Deleuze and Guattari’s WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?:

Thinking provokes general indifference. It is a dangerous exercise nevertheless. Indeed, it is only when the dangers become obvious that indifference ceases, but they often remain hidden and barely perceptible inherent in the enterprise (page 41).

 

The OOO image of thought integrates this “indifference” into thinking itself, as one of its transcendental conditions (methodological moment) and proceeds to ontologise it as the very nature of the real (ontological moment). This is the origin of what Graham Harman calls “naiveté” at the beginning of THE QUADRUPLE OBJECT, a naiveté that just happens to agree with Harman’s vision (as against that of Wittgenstein or Whitehead or Latour) on the rather technical question of the composition of the world: for OOO the world divides into objects – and not into facts (Wittgenstein) or events (Whitehead) or into actors (Latour). Such naiveté belongs in fact to a highly constructed conceptual persona, rather than to a return to a pre-theoretical doxa obtained from supposedly goggling and gawking at the world.

However, this indifference to thought is interior to thought itself, as the impervious wall of stupid indifferent objects that blocks our path to the horizon. Deleuze and Guattari tell us repeatedly that we cannot begin to trace a “plane of immanence” without at the same time recreating a plane of transcendence and illusion. This is the danger inherent to his own thought of the indifferent multiple that led Badiou to edify his doctrine of the event in order to escape from that indifference. Harman himself does not waver, does not try to palliate his ontology, but openly declares its nihilistic condition: there is no event, time is unreal.

Deleuze and Guattari emphasise that “Transcendence enters as soon as movement of the infinite is stopped” (WIP?, 47). This is the key point where Harman parts company with some of his disciples. Harman affirms not only that the world divides into objects, but also that objects “withdraw” from relations, in the strongest sense of that term. To establish the transcendental field as transcendent abstraction one must affirm complete (or strong) withdrawal, in reciprocal correlation with the absence of temporal relations. In Deleuze and Guattari’s words: “all that is necessary is for movement to be stopped” (47).

The corollary of this analysis is that to get rid of transcendence as far as possible, all that is necessary is to enter into the real movements that continue to exist, despite the blockade of indifference.

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ZIZEK ON DELEUZE’S LETTER: against identitarianism

Gilles Deleuze’s “Letter To A Severe Critic” is one of his richest and most beautiful texts. It can be seen as a theoretical and practical treatise on alterity, so it is only fitting that Zizek misreads it, and Deleuze’s work generally, as avoiding any encounter with Hegel, who he (Zizek) claims represents “absolute Alterity”. Of course, Deleuze’s constant complaint about Hegel is that he gesticulates in the direction of alterity but that he misses it entirely.

Deleuze condenses his critique of Hegel, or rather of “Hegelianism”, into the rejection of the Hegelian “triads and negativity”. However, this critique is more subtle than Zizek is prepared to admit, or even recognize, as, contrary to a popular opinion, Deleuze’s work is full of “triads and negativity”, but in a sense that Zizek is not equipped to perceive or understand.

“But, above all, my way of coping at that time was, I am inclined to believe, to conceive of the history of philosophy as a sort of buggery or, which amounts to the same thing, a sort of immaculate conception. I imagined myself as arriving in the back of an author and giving him a child, which would be his and which nevertheless would be monstruous. That it really be his is very important, because the author had to really say everything that I made him say. But it was also necessary that the child be monstruous, because it was necessary to go through all sorts of decenterings, slippages, breakages [“cassements“: breakages, the slang meaning of burglary, breaking and entering, is also relevant], secret emissions that gave me a lot of pleasure” (my translation).

In his book on Deleuze’s philosophy, ORGANS WITHOUT BODIES, Zizek quotes from the published English translation of the letter, which reads:

“I suppose the main way I coped with it at the time was to see the history of philosophy as a sort of buggery or (it comes to the same thing) immaculate conception. I saw myself as taking an author from behind and giving him a child that would be his own offspring, yet monstrous. It was really important for it to be his own child, because the author had to actually say all I had him saying. But the child was bound to be monstrous too, because it resulted from all sorts of shifting, slipping, dislocations, and hidden emissions that I really enjoyed” (Deleuze, NEGOTIATIONS, page 6).

Zizek’s analysis reflects the conceptual defects of this translation, as he ignores all the attenuating, the modalising, the de-realising operations that go on in this excerpt: the subjunctives, the conditionals, the impersonal obligations, the uncertain “I am inclined to believe” (je crois bien) instead of the more certain “I believe” (je crois), the fact that Deleuze does not say “buggery”, but “a sort of buggery” that requires a definition and explication that he then proceeds to give. All the uncertainty is left out.

The movement is left out: where the text says arriver dans le dos d’un auteurarriving in the back of an author, Zizek retains the erroneous translation “taking the author from behind”. We know that for Deleuze everything important happens behind the thinker’s back: “The movement is always made behind the thinker’s back”. The imagination is left out: the text says “Je m’imaginais arriver dans le dos d’un auteur” (literally: I imagined myself arriving in the back of an author”, Zizek retains “I saw myself as taking an author from behind”. Decentering (the text talks of “décentrements“) is left out, Zizek retains the more anodyne “shifting”.

Yet uncertainty, movement, modalisation, de-realisation, imagination and decentering are important in the rest of the text – they are in fact basic operations of alterity, and contain far more negativity than Hegel’s triadic and sublimating operations, which remain at the level of formal negativity. Deleuze’s negativity, which can be seen in the abundance of negative prefixes (de-, as in decoding, a-, as in asignifying, in-, as in informal, non-, as in non-formed), is radically deterritorialising, whereas Zizek tries to return and reduce Deleuze to familiar territory.

In his “Letter To A Severe Critic” Deleuze explains how he imagined his incursions into the history of philosophy as a “sort of buggery”, arriving from behind and giving a thinker a baby in his own likeness yet monstruous. A deterritorialised baby in sum. The baby, which is in fact the philosopher himself, is a paradoxical unity of likeness and monstruosity, a union of opposites. The fixed identity of the philosopher must be subtracted, leaving the pure alterity that subtends this identity.

Deleuze adds that this “sort of buggery” (i.e. arriving in the back of the thinker and engendering a noetic baby, a monstruous similitude of the thinker’s system) was also imagined by him to be a “sort of immaculate conception”. In commenting this text, Zizek, despite his religious turn, makes the common mistake of confounding the Immaculate conception with the Virgin Birth and proceeds to understand the link between buggery and immaculate conception in a simplistic way: the buggered philosopher gives birth virginally to his deformed yet similtudinous baby. But being buggered does not leave you a virgin nor does it make you pregnant, something which Zizek no doubt knows, but here conveniently forgets.

A more fecund approach would be to take Deleuze at his word. The immaculate conception is in no way virginal. Mary, the Mother of God, was conceived in the normal way (i.e. via the heterosexual genital intercourse of her mother and father) but without Original Sin. “Buggery” is no essential part of the process, anything goes in terms of method as long as the result is conception without identity.

Zizek’s elucubrations concern his own fantasies of what Deleuze actually said, and are undermined by reading Deleuze’s words. “Arriving in the back” means approaching the thinker from outside the categories of reflection, that stop the movement and enforce identity. The Original Sin is a thought based on identity, and so based on merely representing difference, alterity, movement, becoming, multiplicity, rather than implementing and performing them. The Original Sin is Identity, and The Immaculate Conception is the subtraction of that identity and the engendering of thought in and as pure alterity.

Further, the Immaculate Conception embodies a strange temporality in which Mary is pre-redeemed by the future coming of the saviour. This fusion of the anticipatory and of the retrospective is an apposite description of Deleuze’s experiments in alterity that were begun in his treatment of the history of philosophy (and then extended in his encounters with Nietzsche and later Guattari). What Deleuze reveals is both already there (“the author had to really say everything that I made him say”) and yet a new birth because re-thought and re-imagined in terms of a new Image of Thought (“it was necessary to traverse all sorts of decenterings, slippage, breakage, and secret emissions”).

Zizek’s method in his commentary on Deleuze’s letter is the exact opposite: wherever there is a heterogeneous assemblage of elements he “retains” the identitarian structures. I put the quotation marks around “retains” because in practice Zizek often has to invent these structures and forcibly impose them on the text, before retaining them as the key.

Deleuze makes only passing reference to Hegel and Hegelianism, and dismisses his triads and negativity as coarse and clumsy representations of real movement and becoming. Zizek has to inflate this into a total repression of Hegel (“the absolute exception”) to then “discover” the Oedipal drama in Deleuze’s philosophical practice, losing the text and henceforth only dealing with his own misconceptions.

In these remarks Zizek occupies the same discursive position as Michel Cressole, his critique of Deleuze is regressively identitarian. Zizek does not perceive the alterity or estrangement present in Deleuze’s text and method, and imposes identity as forcefully as he can whenever he encounters it. The greater the dose of alterity, the more vehement is his reaction. Deleuze’s conclusion applies to Zizek as well: “You are doing everything in your power to make me become what you criticise me for having become”.

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WORLD WAR F: pluralism, OOO, and the narcissism of the (sub-)footnote

The theme of my blog is pluralism and individuation in a world of becoming. Recently I have spelled that out in terms of a metaphysical research programme whose heuristic core is an immanent, pluralist, processual (diachronic), apophatic, democratic ontology.

A foonote to that research has been the critical discussion of various research programmes that do not satisfy this set of criteria, in particular Graham Harman’s OOP, which proposes a transcendent, monist, static (synchronic), cataphatic, élitist ontology.

I have occasionally added, as a footnote to that footnote, a critical analysis of the “official” or acknowledged critics of OOP. Some of these sub-footnotes seem to want me to share their exaggerated sense of their own importance, and to punish me for not so doing. In doing so they employ the same tactics as those they affect to criticise. I will just have to live with that.

 

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LARUELLE’S MONIST STRUCTURALISM: exclusivity vs dialogue

Patrick Jennings at The Non-Buddhist blog has some interesting reflections on the danger of giving a structuralist reading of standard philosophy as caught in a universal structure that Laruelle calls the “philosophical decision”. This meta-decision about the decision has a certain number of dubious consequences

1) the exclusivity hypothesis: Laruelle’s meta-decision places himself alone outside the philosophical decision and its universal structure, and all other philosophers inside it:

Decision and exclusivity seem to go hand in hand. If decision applies to all philosophers without exception than Laruelle is in the unique position of being the only non-decisional philosopher. If this is not so than the universality of decision is questionable”.

2) the uniqueness hypothesis: there is only one way out of the universal structure. This exit was discovered by Laruelle, and only those who follow his example can hope to free themselves from its confines. There is no other way:

“To accept the idea of the universality of decision is to say that all  who continue in a philosophical vein are, in fact, either followers of Laruelle or caught in decision. This is an unnecessarily rigid idea of decision and one that even Laruelle can’t sustain”.

3) synchronic stasis and binary bind: this universal decisional structure is stable through history, it does not evolve or mutate, it undegoes no fundamental transformation. It is an all-or-none affair, knowing no degrees or gradations:

“Decision is, on this reading, a black and white issue. There are no degrees of decision, no evolution of decisional thinking and no room for  further analysis.  Everyone who comes after Laruelle  must embrace the non-philosophical dispensation or be damned. Worse, this bind is retroactive— we must  read all philosophers from Plato on in the light of Laruelles discovery, or be damned by association”.

4) deadlocked dialogue: given that there is only one creator of non-philosophy and only one way to do it, all other contemporary thinkers are consigned to the universal structure, and all dialogue or mutual influence becomes not only redundant but impossible.

“Generally, a strong critical current in contemporary philosophical thinking acts to dilute the force of decisional thinking and absolutism. ( Deleuze, Badiou, Zizek, Agamben, Laruelle, etc) It would be  absurd to limit non-philosophical thinking to Laruelle, taking into account the work of the above philosophers. The fact that Laruelle does so is one of the tensions internal to his work”.

I have only commented on the first half, but the whole article merits attention.

 

 

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