POSTSCRIPT TO THE PLURALISM WARS: against recent attempts at “tonal” criticism

Where should one invest one’s time and energy? Is there a Good Place where it should go: to starving Third World children or to one’s immediate family? As this is an intellectual blog, where and how should one invest one’s intellectual energy. Is positivity the only good choice, or do negativity and polemics also have an important claim on us? Is the internet unleashing on a whole new scale a democracy of thought, or is it generating and giving expression to a new ignorance and illiteracy?

There are signs of both developments in the tiny microcosm of Continental Philosophy on the blogosphere: a movement towards more sophistication and more intelligence, even towards a new form of collective intelligence. But also a move towards more posing and bullying, to more hypocrisy and bluff, in sum towards more stupidity. What has disturbed me the most in my short experience is that the ordinary sociology of academic life, at least in philosophy, is reproduced in this new medium. Status, cronies, pressure groups and propaganda have primacy over information, dialogue, and the free exchange of ideas.

Each time when a debate has caught my interest and a fundamental discussion seems to be on the point of opening, somehow something happens to block it, and it all goes awry. For example, in a recent discussion of the problems of pluralism, some people just seized the opportunity to show how much they knew about refuting this or that straw man, and so revealed how little they knew about the last 100 years of Continental Philosophy. Claims and counter-claims were reduced to their non-conceptual counterparts and then made fun of. People were summoned to come up with a short formulation of the 10 or 20 years of reading and thinking that are presupposed in the simplest seeming arguments that they presented, and were ridiculed when they refused to do it. Well it can’t be done, you can’t both say something meaningful and say the meaning of it at the same time.

I have gone out of my way to say that I don’t feel contempt for any of my intellectual adversaries as a person or thinker. True I do sometimes make fun of them, but I give my reasons, and I do not see my speech as particularly violent or vindictive. I usually specify that my explicit target is not unique nor even exceptional in the intellectual and sociological failings I analyse, but serves as a good case study because it is so explicit. I have in fact tried to open a debate for over three years now and I have been constantly ignored, and sometimes insulted, by people who do not manifest an iota of the argumentative energy I have expended. What blocks debate is not tone or even antipathy, but rather refusing to acknowledge that an argument is being conducted and that it should receive some sort of adequate answer.

I think that we must admit with Deleuze that antipathy is just as essential to assembling our life and our thought as sympathy, and needs to be expressed if it can help us to break through some wall or to get out of some black hole that is impeding our progress along our process of individuation. Deleuze talks about hating whatever intoxicates or imprisons life and ties it to a perception of multiplicities.

Deleuze’s phenomenology of antipathy and its affects allows for a distinction between exclusive antipath founded on identities (the identity of the person who rejects just as much as the identity of the rejected person), and an inclusive rejection, where I reject not a person but acts, thoughts, styles that I judge to embody baseness or laziness or stupidity, or some other form of disindividuation. Just as I see the other person as a multiplicity containing other aspects than those I reject I can see myself as a multiplicity containing base, lazy, and stupid, aspects that I must work on.

Deleuze talks about “creating human relations” inside a multiplicity and the need to de-fuse the negative affects that haunt any interaction. He specifically names the affect of pretentiouness as the number one enemy, as it presupposes a transcendence. The negaitve affects of aggression and also of depression (feeling inferior, feeling it will never work out well, etc) are the next obstacles – corresponding to “demolition”.

Politeness and its affects come next, and are the beginning of an exit from demolition. In Deleuze’s terms this means establishing the right sort of distance, not too close nor too far, to avoid both judgement and projection, states of fusion that Jung called “primitive participation”, and that are all too common on the blogosphere.

Lastly there is what Deleuze calls the affect of benevolence, but respect will do just as well. It implies not imposing your own model of interaction or production (including your model of subjectivity) on the other, but being open to new developments in whatever form crops up as appropriate.

I often think of these Deleuzian indicators in relation to blogging and welcome any help or advice in living up to them.

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3 Responses to POSTSCRIPT TO THE PLURALISM WARS: against recent attempts at “tonal” criticism

  1. Nice post! could you please tell me which of Deleuze tesxts lists those affects you are mentioning? thank you very much


  2. terenceblake says:

    They are listed in PERICLES AND VERDI, here.


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