Pluralism as a philosophy suggests new ways of of thought and of practice putting more emphasis on diversity and exchange, on interaction and transversality, than is customary for our dominant modes, which remain disappointingly monist. The aim is to favorise freer and more creative approaches by liberating us from relations of domination and authority. However, paradoxically enough, our contemporary pluralists seem to produce convergent or complementary analyses, but in practice remain quite solitary and compartmentalised. The question that we can ask is how to pass from a thought of plurality to a pluralist practice? how can we pluralise the pluralists?
In a thoughtful article, entitled “How can we speak about contemporary philosophers”, that the French philosopher Jean-Clet Martin published on his blog Strass de la Philosophie he meditates on the lack of properly philosophical, and not just journalistic, lists of contemporary philosophers. He sees in this state of affairs not simply the external sign of the fact that a philosopher busy creating his work has little time to or interest in reading his contemporaries but also and more essentially a sign of the untimeliness of philosophical work, whose inspirations are constituted of singular encounters that are refractory to the aim of objectivity and of generality inherent in the notion of such a list. For Martin this lack in a philosopher of a conceptual cartography including other contemporary philosophers as positive factors, and thus the absence of any real discussion and exchange, is not just a contingent matter, but is somehow a necessary condition of the act of intellectual creation
One reason that I find this observation, which I take to be globally true, so disappointing is that it seems to be the case even for pluralist thinkers, who seem for the most part to ignore each other. As I have recounted elsewhere on this blog, I became a pluralist in 1972 when I read the first version of Paul Feyerabend’s AGAINST METHOD, which was initially published as an essay, and was expanded into a book several years later. As my philosophy department (at Sydney University) was dominated by Althusserians and Lacanians my years of study and teaching as a pluralist philosopher were quite lonely. When I discovered some translations of Deleuze, Lyotard, and Serres, I taught myself French to read their books, and later, in 1980,I came to France to attend the seminars of these three thinkers. The richness and the la beauty of their thought dazzled and inspired me, and I have never regretted my choice to take on French nationality and to establish my life here.
However, I was disappointed to see that there was a gap between a rhetoric valorising multiplicity, transversality, going beyond binary oppositions and summary demarcations on the one hand, and on the other the persistence of practices of submission and of exclusion, of schools of thought and of consensual coteries. One had to be a Derridean or a Foucauldian or a Deleuzian etc, in the practice of that very exclusive disjonction that had been refuted by the theory. I was astonished to see, not as in Australia the pure and simple rejection of pluralism, but the practive of what I have called a monist pluralism, of which today Alain Badiou is a brilliant example. What was described and prescribed in theory was far from being applied in practice.
Deleuze seems to constitute a partial exception to this rule. He regularly cited Michel Serres in his courses, and he consecrated two years of his seminar and a book to the work of Michel Foucault, who he mentioned in many of his other courses and books. He cited very favorably Lyotard’s DISCOURS, FIGURE, but to my knowledge made no allusion to his subsequent texts. He also cited François Châtelet and devoted a little book to him. Thus, Deleuze was able to make coincide locally the practice of lists and an openness to singular encounters.
An amusing anecdote illustrating the lack of communication between philosophers comes to mind, dating from the period when I attended Deleuze’s seminar on the cinema on Tuesdays and on Saturdays Serres’ class on multiplicities (which gave rise to the books ROME and GENÈSE). On Saturday I would hear an interpretation of the dispute between Bergson and Einstein favorable to Einstein’s position from the point of view of a theory of time (this in Serres class on multiplicities), on Tuesday I would hear a discordant interpretation justifying Bergson’s position (in Deleuze’s class on time and cinema) in the name of the theory of…multiplicities. This difference of interpretation and of evaluation was already amply treated in the previous published work of the two philosophers, without any explicit attempt by one to respond to the arguments of the other.
A second anecdote, less amusing for me at the time: I was discussing the relation between “spiritual” practices and traditions and contemporary pluralist philosophy with Lyotard. I spoke of the relation between Buddhism and the Homeric cosmology described by Feyerabend (which he found to have important features in common with Ernst Mach’s general methodology). Lyotard found the comparison valid and interesting from the point of view of the relativisation of the unitary ego and of the dissolution of the foundations of knowledge and legitimation that we were going through both in philosophy and in society as a whole. Lyotard declared “J’adore Feyerabend”, and he added that in fact everything that he was saying at that time about the Hassidim (for example in JUST GAMING) went in the same direction, and that “the Hassidim are perhaps the Buddhists of the Occident”. Unfortunately I then tried to make a parallel with Deleuze’s notion of the body without organs and Lyotard totally rejected the concept, declaring that it was “metaphysical”, and that Deleuze gave “too much importance to the signified”. Lyotard’s pluralistic openness did not extend to Deleuze’s pluralism.
Nonetheless, it is Lyotard who a couple of years later, in a text published in TOMBEAU DE L’INTELLECTUEL, gave a very admiring list grouping together Deleuze, Foucault, Levinas, Derrida, Serres and himself as thinkers of incommensurability and thus of pluralism. This was to combat the primacy given to consensus in the communicational philosophy influenced by Habermas. This pressure towards consensus, and so towards monism, as norm of thought continues today. In France I find that there are thinkers who permit us to struggle against this monist pressure: François Laruelle, Bernard Stiegler, and Bruno Latour. This is my short list, to which I would add Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Kelly’s ALL THINGS SHINING and William Connolly’s work on pluralism (especially A WORLD OF BECOMING) and I would like to get these pluralists to take note of and to “interact” with each other. No doubt the thinkers on this list belong to my own personal intellectual cartography of singular encounters, but I think that they have a more general scope and potential impact.