DELEUZE, ZIZEK, AND HELL: against philo-memes

All philosophers write from hell, even before they die. That’s what distinguishes them from ideologues, propagandists, careerists and profiteers.

For example, Wittgenstein often quoted approvingly Russell’s dictum “Logic is hell”. No doubt that is why he finally preferred to return to logic after the imaginary “Heaven” of Trattenbach.

Zizek is no exception. LESS THAN NOTHING means “from Hell”. Lazy people go to Zizek’s short book on Deleuze to understand their relation. If you go through the hell of LESS THAN NOTHING you come out with a different understanding.

In Hell there are no authorities. Watchwords and slogans only make its denizens laugh. Hell is the uncontrolled part of Heaven.

The French graphic novel “Salut,Deleuze”? situates Deleuze in the underworld. It is quite interesting and well-done. As with Badiou and Zizek on Deleuze, it expresses a shadow perspective on Deleuze, well before the “dark deleuze” meme was launched  (in Badiou’s terms “dark deleuze” is not a concept but a philosopheme).

Laruelle’s historiography forms part of a more general movement to re-write the history of the Continental Philosophy of the last fifty years by replacing subtle and complexly creative research programs such as Deleuze’s, Badiou’s, Latour’s, Laruelle’s and Zizek’s with simplistic stereotypes. The concepts are replaced by philo-memes (philosophemes).

I wrote that Badiou, Zizek, Latour, Stiegler are more legitimate inheritors of Deleuze than many of those who dominate the discussion of Deleuze in English. Some people objected to this because they confuse inheriting and alienating oneself in the other, but we should inherit their spirit of “become who you are” and transform not just the answers but even the problems that we inherit.

Note: I am indebted to exchanges on twitter with Jaakko Leskinen and @GrumpyDeleuze that helped me clarify my ideas.

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SALUT DELEUZE Graphic Novel (1): publisher’s summary

Translated from the publisher’s page:

“Deleuze is dead. Charon, the psychopomp, is supposed to ferry him to the other bank, where Barthes, Lacan and Foucault are waiting for him. But, even before the philosopher can be reunited with his friends, the ferry reverses course and takes him back to the beginning.

Deleuze is dead, long live Deleuze ! In the afterlife, the author of ANTI-OEDIPUS must cross the Lethe to get to the other bank. During the crossing the dead philosopher takes the oars and evokes his past life. On the far side, Barthes, Lacan and Foucault await him. But before he can even meet up with them the ferry reverses course and takes him back to the beginning. The scene plays out and repeats several times, time for the philosopher aided by Charon to understand that repetition is not repetition of the same but the «possible condition of self-metamorphosis».

Touched by the brutal end of the philosophers of the post-structuralist current (Barthes was run over by a truck when leaving the Collège de France, Deleuze committed suicide to end his suffering), Martin tom Dieck had the idea of paying homage to Deleuze in his own way. As his knowledge of philosophy was limited, the artist enlisted the aid of Jens Balzer, who took care of a large part of the scenario and the dialogues. Besides, the idea of repetition came from him. Salut Deleuze! was first published in the form of comic strips in the Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung. It is now published in its entirety by the publishing house Fréon. Far from producing a boring theoretical treatise, Dieck and Balzer have succeeded in putting philosophy into a comic book. This story in the form of a fable is the occasion for the authors to bring Deleuze back to life in a confrontation with the theories elaborated before his death. It is also an occasion for the active reader to participate in the reflexion” (my translation).

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We cannot remain fixated on one phase of the historical process or of our intellectual biography. I have been very influenced by Deleuze, but I certainly do not belong to the “Deleuze can do no wrong” school that will just paste on any ad hoc explanation that comes to mind to cover over any serious objection.

Deleuze died 22 years ago. Badiou, Zizek, Latour, Stiegler, and Laruelle are alive and writing today. They are more legitimate inheritors of Deleuze than many of those who dominate the discussion of Deleuze in English. “Legitimate” in the sense of continuators in the spirit and not just in the letter.

I have been reading Laruelle since I moved to France in 1980. I am not viewing Laruelle through the eyes of others so much as elaborating a meta-ontological perspective to get all these thinkers in virtual dialogue given that none of them seem capable of dialoguing in reality..


My analysis of Laruelle is ongoing, some of it can be found here. Laruelle published his polemical book ANTI-BADIOU although by his own admission he has not read much Badiou, and has certainly not followed the four years of seminars on the immanence of truths.

I am no dogmatic partisan of Badiou. In the past I argued quite strongly against Badiou’s system in a way that is convergent with Laruelle’s treatment, for example here.

However, my later experience with fellow-travelling Latour’s system has led me to treat all such systems as assemblies of heuristic suggestions. On this blog I am now re-reading Badiou’s seminars in that pragmatic light.


Badiou tells us that philosophy is an act, and not a substance:

“If philosophy is an act, there is no last philosophy” (Theory of Evil, Theory of Love, 49).

Laruelle’s mistake is to treat philosophy as a substance and to try to isolate its universal structure, called by him the “principle of philosophical sufficiency”.

For Badiou there is no “principle of sufficiency” of philosophy, except when its concepts are replaced by its philosophemes. Philosophy, on this view, is not sufficient, it does not produce or constitute its truths. Philosophy is conditioned, it seizes on or apprehends its truths from outside. For Badiou, philosophy is conditioned by the four truth procedures (science, art, politics, love), it is not auto-positing nor is it hermetically sealed in on itself. It opens onto the Outside.

In contrast, Laruelle talks constantly about the invariant and universal “structure” of philosophy and of the Philosophical Decision, e.g. in PRINCIPLES OF PHILOSOPHY:

“Through this structure, philosophy claims to determine itself beyond all its empirical determinations which it only calculates in order to prescribe it in an auto-position in which it is titular, an auto-comprehension or auto-legislation, auto-naming, etc.”

“Let us recall that philosophy, as undecidable decision, structure of division and repetition, contains a specular mirror moment, sometimes developed under a speculative form”

“the speculative structure of any philosophy is divided in two in each one of its dimensions”

“the general structure of the Philosophical Decision”

“the taking into account of the facticity of philosophy itself in its essential structure”

“[Non-philosophy] … delivers itself from the axioms which defined the structure of the Philosophical Decision”

“we must have first elaborated the philosophical given, under the most universal and most invariant form in which it can present itself—“Philosophical Decision”, a structure combining a Dyad and an immanent and transcendent unity in the Dyad”


Some people object that this is a misreading of Laruelle, as he does not “say” explicitly that philosophy is a substance. However, it is an implicit assumption of his structuralist method. Laruelle in effect misreads himself. He is in performative contradiction between his (pragmatic) thesis of philosophy as act and his (structuralist) thesis of the principle of sufficient philosophy.

Note: I am indebted to a discussion with Taylor Adkins for helping me clarify my ideas.

I have dealt more extensively with some typical objections to my reading of Laruelle here.

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I) 1980-1983– Théorie logique des modèles (intitulé : Logique et rationalité subjective)

(Logical Theory of Models, title: Logic and Subjective Rationality)

II) 1983-1989 – Théorie mathématique des ensembles

(Mathematical Set Theory)

1) 1983-1986 – Théorie des ensembles proprement dite (Set Theory per se)

2) 1986-1989 – Les trois orientations dans la pensée (The Three Orientations of Thought)

a) 1986-1987 – L’orientation constructiviste (The Constructivist Orientation)

b) 1987-1988 – L’orientation transcendante (The Transcendent Orientation)

c) 1988-1989 – L’orientation générique (The Generic Orientation)

III) 1989-1990 – Théorie mathématique des nombres surréels, théorie philosophique du Nombre

(Mathematical Theory of surreal numbers, Philosophical Theory of Number)

IV) 1990-1996– Théorie mathématique des catégories et des topos

(Mathematical Theory of Categories and of Topoi)

1) 1990-1993 – Théorie des catégories proprement dite (Category Theory per se)

2) 1993-1996 – Théorie des topos (Topos Theory)

a) 1993-1994 – Théorie des topos proprement dite (Topos Theory per se)

b) 1994-1995 – Les cinq concepts fondamentaux de l’onto-logie (la décision, la vie, la négation, la différence et l’infini)

(The Five Concepts of Onto-Logic: decision, life, negation, difference, infinity)

c) 1995-1996 – Topos, ou Logique de l’onto-logique (Topoi, or Logic of Onto-Logic)

V) 1996-2002 – Théorie philosophique des mondes (Philosophical Theory of Worlds)

1) 1996-1997 – Logique et onto-logie (Logic and Onto-logy)

2) 1997-1998 – Mathématiques du transcendantal (Mathematics of the Transcendental)

3) 1998-2001 – L’Être-là (Being There)

a) 1998-1999 – L’Être et l’apparaître (Being and Appearing)

b) 1999-2000 – L’Être-là 2 (Being There-2)

c) 2000-2001 – L’Être-là 3 (Being There-3)

4) 2001-2002 – Qu’est-ce qu’un objet ? (What is an object?)

Notes and/or transcriptions in French can be found online for the seminars from 1993 to 2002 (except for 2000-2001 Being There-3). There are also François Nicolas’ notes for the seminar 1987-1988 on The Transcendent Orientation.

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1983-1984 L’Un. Descartes, Platon, Kant. (The One: Descartes, Plato, Kant).

1984-1985 L’Infini. Aristote, Spinoza, Hegel. (The Infinite: Aristotle, Spinoza, Hegel).

1985, 4th trimester. L’être 1. Figure ontologique : Parménide. (Being 1. Ontological figure: Parmenides).

1986, 1st trimester. L’être 2. Figure théologique : Malebranche. (Being 2. Theological figure: Malebranche).

1986-1987 L’être 3. Figure du retrait : Heidegger. (Being 3. Figure of withdrawal: Heidegger).

1987-1988 Vérité et Sujet. (Truth and Subject).

1988-1989 Beckett et Mallarmé. (Beckett and Mallarmé).

1989-1990 Platon : La République. (Plato: The Republic).

1990-1991 Théorie du Mal, théorie de I’amour. (Theory of Evil, Theory of Love).

1991-1992 L’essence de la politique. (The essence of politics).

1992-1993 L’antiphilosophie 1. Nietzsche. (Antiphilosophy 1: Nietzsche).

1993-1994 L’antiphilosophie 2. Wittgenstein. (Antiphilosophy 2: Wittgenstein).

1994-1995 L’antiphilosophie 3. Lacan. (Antiphilosophy 3: Lacan).

1995-1996 L’antiphilosophie 4. Saint Paul. (Antiphilosophy 4: Saint Paul).

1996-1998  Théorie axiomatique du Sujet. (Axiomatic Theory of the Subject).

1998-2001 Le XXième siècle. (The 20th Century).

2001-2004 Images du temps présent : qu’est-ce que vivre ? (Images of the present time: what is it to live?

2004-2007 S’orienter dans la pensée, s’orienter dans l’existence (Orient oneself in thought, orient oneself in existence).

2007-2010 Pour aujourd’hui : Platon! (For today: Plato!).

2010-2012  Que signifie « changer le monde » ? (What does it mean to “change the world”?).

2012-2016 L’’immanence des vérités. (The immanence of truths).

Note: most of these can be found in the form of lecture notes and transcriptions here:


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BADIOU ON EVIL AND LOVE (4): Plato is not One

“Suppose a layman enters” – these are the first words of Badiou’s seminar Theory of Evil, Theory of Love (1990-1991). The opening “hypothesis” is that of a generic layperson or an unbeliever who enters an assembly of the “university of doxography”. Very quickly Badiou “radicalises” the hypothesis by supposing that “we” (i.e. himself, his audience, his readers) are this layperson.

Badiou asks what would this layman who enters the university of doxography say about the relation between philosophy and the problem of Evil in response to the religious and moral propositions on this subject.  What would he understand about the question of the essence of philosophy and its relation to evil?

This fiction of the layman’s response to the doxographic academy is a way of introducing the necessity of a non-philosophical or pre-philosophical comprehension of philosophy.

Surely, Badiou tells us, the layman will see the essential duplicity of philosophy, that form of conceptual creation that both grasps truths in their compossibility and reduces them to a thought-paralysing doctrine. This reduction of concepts to philosophemes by way of the suture of philosophy to one of its conditions is the cause of disaster in the real.

“Doxography” for Badiou is the malady of contemporary philosophy. It includes both the historiography of philosophy and its deconstruction. Both are ways of subordinating the creative grasping of truths in their compossibility (the act of philosophy) to the doctrinal circulating of philosophemes in their suture.

The case of Plato is an archetypal example of this duplicity. Badiou is far from idealising Plato despite his own will to “revoke” the anti-Platonism of the 20th Century and to make a “Platonic gesture”, to create a “Platonism of the multiple”. For Badiou philosophy is the site of an “originary duplicity”, from the innocence of truth to the disaster of its suture.

For Badiou, Plato dramatically exemplifies this constitutive duplicity of philosophy in his evolution from the defence of Socrates’ innocence in the early dialogues to his support of repressive laws against impiety and the corruption of the youth in Book X of THE LAWS.

Badiou tells us that the change is not due to the discovery of new truths, it is a reversal of “subjective position” or a transformation of Plato’s “pre-philosophical” comprehension:

“It is a pre-philosophical question, which situates the subject, which is of the order of subjective mobilisation” (28).

It is as if Plato were no longer the Socratic “layman” or the “unbeliever” but had become the expert or the believer in his own doctrine.

I think this is Badiou’s best defence of his return to Plato. Badiou does not idealise Plato, he is willing to concede that Plato propounded “criminal laws” in contradiction with his earlier ideas. He sees this type of disaster in thought, which can provide the premise for a disaster in the real, as inherent to the philosophical act. Plato’s totalitarian tendencies do not invalidate the whole of his work, but they evoke philosophy’s ever-present task to “de-suture” thought.

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BADIOU ON EVIL AND LOVE (3): philosophy as act or substance

From the beginning of Theory of Evil, Theory of Love we are faced with the question of how to orient ourselves in thought. The lecture notes available online for this seminar (which diverge slightly from the official published transcription) talk of the “doxographic orientation”). Badiou also comes back obsessively each year to the orienting theme of the “end of philosophy”, a thesis that he combats with great force. He also mentions another orientation, provided by religion, that rivals with philosophy for the definition of evil.

Taken up inside philosophy, these themes become “philosophemes”, images of thought that constitute obstacles to its process. Philosophy is a perpetual combat with its images and philosophemes.

As a philosopheme, the thesis of the end or closure of philosophy is a pseudo-orientation, a disguised form of disorientation. I do not know how Badiou characterises the present conjuncture of thought, we will have to wait for the publication of THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS (and perhaps of a third MANIFESTO FOR PHILOSOPHY) to be sure. There are many indications that the dis-orientation has progressed and that our resulting distress has deepened.

Today the situation is different, we no longer have to confront the same philosophemes, or at least not to the same degree, as we have been though a “speculative” revival. There remains one avatar of this sophisticated hostility to speculative philosophy, a fossil from a prior age depicting itself as a more radical programme of research.

François Laruelle’s “non-philosophy” has impressed certain spirits with its purported radicalisation of immanence and its pursuit of “non-standard” assemblages of thought in which philosophy is of its pretensions to self-sufficiency and hegemony. Non-philosophy began under the mask of a scientistically oriented research outside of the enclosure of “sufficient” philosophy, but it came to reveal behind that mask its roots in religionism. The majority of Anglophone Laruelleans are religionists, the rest maintain a self-serving silence on this point.

In Badiou’s terms Laruelle has progressed from philosophy sutured to the condition of science (his self-confessed “scientism”) to its suture to the pseudo-condition of religion. For Badiou religion is not in the current epoch a condition of philosophy, it does not put into operation a fifth truth procedure. Rather, religion proposes an image of truth, it is  in rivality with philosophy’s proposition of a category of truth.

Laruelle’s mistake is to treat philosophy as a substance, and to try to isolate its universal structure. Badiou tells us that philosophy is an act, and not a substance:

“If philosophy is an act, there is no last philosophy” (49).

For Badiou there is no “principle of sufficiency” of philosophy, except when it is replaced by its philosophemes. Philosophy is not sufficient, it does not produce or constitute its truths. Philosophy is conditioned, it seizes on or apprehends its truths from outside.

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