A letter from Alain Badiou to Gilles Deleuze, first published in Libération, 07-11-95. Translation by Terence Blake.
I would like to resume, today, the parallel between you and Heidegger that I was sketching in my last letter.
1) A crucial difference seems to count against the comparison. In your work there is no “historial” set up, of the type “history of the forgetting of being”, “decline”, etc. As you say, you are certainly not tormented by the “end” of philosophy. You pick up the energy of your epoch, as must be done for each epoch. You love and think the cinema, the American novel, singular popular movements, Bacon’s paintings…The peasant from the Black Forest does not impress you. You are a man of the imperial metropolis, a man of the bestial power of capitalism, a man of invisible subtractions, also, and of the finest of contemporary capillarities.
2) Being for you is not at at all a “question”, and moreover you do not in any way consecrate philosophy to “questioning”, any more than to “debates”, that French parliamentary form of German “questioning”.
3) Your personal philosophical genealogy (the Stoics, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, a certain Kant, Nietzsche, Bergson…) is very different from Heidegger’s (the Pre-Socratics, Aristotle, a different Leibniz, Schelling, a different Nietzsche, Husserl…).
4) Nevertheless three points strike me as the distant indication of a resonance.
The hostility to Plato. And, in a certain sense, for the same reason as for Heidegger: Plato is the establishment of a régime of Transcendence.
The hostility to Descartes. There too, a common motif, in almost opposite languages, can be devined: Descartes is the establishment of a régime of mastery subordinated to the Subjet.
The conviction that Nietzsche is an essential “turning point”. You argue very finely against Heidegger’s interpretation of Nietzsche. But at stake, for you as much as for him, is a decisive question: how to give meaning to affirmation? And this donation of meaning to affirmation (this “meaning of active force”) is tied to the critique of Plato. Because Plato extenuates active (or immanent) force in the (transcendent) separation of the Idea.
5) What distances you from Plato is the conviction that the access to the real must be thought as immanent (or creative) trial, and not as inscription, or matheme. What distances you from Descartes is the conviction that this immanent trial does not have its criterion in the clarified chain of reasons, but in a descriptive finesse, of which Art is the veritable paradigm. What ties you to Nietzsche is the conviction that the Multiple must be thought as duplicity of Life (active and reactive forces), and not as inertia, or simple extension.
6) The decisive point seems to me to be your conception of Being as pure virtuality. This is not at all Heidegger’s vocabulary. Nevertheless, his “latence” and your Chaos are co-thinkable. They are co-thinkable as ultimate reserve, of which there exists no direct experience, and of which the thought is simultaneously exposing and sheltering.
There is in Heidegger a pathetic version of the trial of thought: the “height of distress”, etc. You avoid this sort of jargon. But you too come to think of thought as the “traversal”, that is at once demanding, proximate, and sheltered, of the infinite virtual. That Being is pure virtuality entails that thoughtful creation is always like a fragmentary witnessing in view of a voyage on the edge of chaos.
This is why the figure of Christ can serve you as a metaphor, as much for Spinoza as for Bartleby the scrivener. Just as it is constantly sub-jacent to the way in which Heidegger describes the “nostos”, or the endurance of Hölderlin. It’s that your general logic of fluxes is like a version without pathos of what Heidegger describes as the liberty of the Open.
Finally, the decision to think Being, not as simple unfolding, neutral, entirely actual, with no depth, but as virtuality constantly traversed by actualisations; the fact that these actualisations are like the populating of a cut (cut of the plane of immanence for you, cut of beings for Heidegger); all that entails a logic of reserved power, that I think is common, in this century, to Heidegger and to you.
My question would thus be the following: what in your view essentially distinguishes your relation virtual/ actualisations from Heidegger’s relation of Being and beings?
We are here (as when you seek to situate me as a Neo-Kantian) in a protocol of investigation of your own creation of concepts, and not in what is your most intimate enemy: Analogy.