COMMENTS ON BADIOU’S LETTER TO DELEUZE

This is just one letter from a whole series of correspondence between the two, but Deleuze forbade the publication of his own responses, fearing the epistolary dialogue had made his thought too abstract. In DELEUZE THE CLAMOR OF BEING Badiou refers to the whole exchange as a “nonrelationship” (page 1), describing it as “a conflictual friendship that, in a certain sense, had never taken place”.

This régime of signs was theorised by Feyerabend under the name of “one-sided dialogue”, which he sees as a poor substitute for the free exchange he desired, but as superior to academic monologue. Deleuze also theorised this notion of one-sided or solitary dialogue, aptly enough in the book entitled DIALOGUES, where he emphasised that it was only in solitude that free exchange became possible, in the form of “double becoming”.

Thus we may conclude that the epistolary dialogue between Deleuze and Badiou did not have enough becoming in it, to Deleuze’s eyes. After Deleuze’sdeath Badiou continued the dialogue alone. Perhaps Deleuze was a little uptight here, unable or unwilling to exchange freely with a thinker incarnating another style. Badiou intimates that this may have been the case when he characterises the collaboration between Deleuze and Guattari as a “convergent” dialogue, and indicates that he invited Deleuze to engage with him in a “divergent” dialogue.

This letter by Badiou to Deleuze can be read in many ways. I do not read it as particularly indicative of Deleuze’s position, of his purported closeness to Heidegger and distance from Badiou, but rather against the grain. Badiou seems to be arguing that Deleuze’s ontological system is very close to Heidegger’s, only that Deleuze’s system manages to avoid repeating all the “bad” reterritorialisations that Deleuze very explicitly rejects.

Here Badiou and Deleuze are very close: there is no teleology of history. There is a “history of Being” if you will, i.e there is a history of the succession of the various understandings or hypotheses of Being, but there is no progress or decline, no progressive forgetting of Being. More generally, there is no privileged position for apprehending or comprehending Being, and the Black Forest peasant has no inherent primacy, he is rather more suspect.

Both Badiou and Deleuze attempt to “pick up” modernity, to love it and to think it, and not to condemn it as in essence nihilism. This is the possible tie in with Latour, who is trying to describe our society, “the moderns”, but cannot decide whether his account is simply descriptive, or in some unspecified sense normative. Latour claims to be doing something new that he calls “empirical metaphysics”. However, an analysis of his actual philosophical decisions reveals a partisan bias that pre-orients his “empirical” findings.

All of  these decisions and operations take place at the level of philosophical attitudes and orientations. Something more is needed if we want to give a more far-reaching critique of Heidegger’s philosophy. We need to advance a rival hypothesis of Being. There is no direct experience of Being according to Badiou, and Deleuze agrees. This is where I think Badiou is unfair, and falls short of his own requirement of a “protocol of investigation” into mere analogy, in this case of Deleuze’s hypothesis of Being and Heidegger’s.

Deleuze and Badiou have differing hypotheses of Being, but they agree that there is too much identity in Heidegger’s hypothesis. Badiou develops his ontological hypothesis of neutral multiples of multiples, to eliminate the remaining pathos in Deleuze’s philosophy of difference, and the remaining identity. In this he brings to bear a hostility to difference that is very similar to Laruelle’s. But Deleuze had already felt the same need to go beyond difference to multiplicity.

Both Badiou and Deleuze are against transcendence and mastery. If we look beneath the words, Deleuze calls transcendence and mastery “Plato” and “Descartes”, whereas Badiou calls their opposite “Plato” and “Descartes”. Conclusion: we must not be deceived by mere analogy or disanalogy of genealogy or terminology, but investigate the meaning conveyed by these terms and references in the context of the contemporary problem situation.

This is a very old article, dating from over 20 years ago. But I think that in its “protocol of investigation” there is something very useful for today. The response to Heidegger, as we are now beginning to understand his personal orientations even more than before, must be ontological as well as ethical and political. Badiou’s new ontological hypotheses are very useful for that more general response, and he manages to highlight the already existing response of a thinker such as Deleuze.

Note: here is a link to my review of Badiou’s most recent book where he comes closer than ever to Deleuze. Badiou is at his best on Deleuze, and closest to him, when he isn’t even discussing him explicitly, as in the Heidegger seminar and in “Métaphysique du bonheur réel”.

In the letter Badiou comments on Deleuze’s use of the metaphor of Christ:

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.

It is noteworthy that there is a rare but persistent reference to Christ throughout Deleuze’s work. One of his earliest publications (1946) was “From Christ to the Bourgeoisie“. In a late text (1989) Deleuze calls Bartleby the “new Christ”, and in their last book together, WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? (1991), Deleuze and Guattari call Spinoza “the Christ of the philosophers”. So Badiou is right to try to find a philosophical sense to Deleuze’s recourse to the figure of Christ.

In the letter Badiou ties this usage of Christ as conceptual persona to a universalisation of Heidegger’s concept of the Open, just as in DELEUZE, THE CLAMOR OF BEING” he ties it to a universalisation of Bergson’s concept of the Open. To complete Badiou’s discussion one would have to add the notion of incarnation, as actualisation of this universal. Yet his analysis is correct in tying Deleuze’s subjacent conceptual figuration of Christ to a “general logic of fluxes” and to the dimensions of universality, liberty, and the Open.

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2 Responses to COMMENTS ON BADIOU’S LETTER TO DELEUZE

  1. Pingback: A letter from Badiou to Deleuze on Heidegger (July 1994) | Senselogi©

  2. Pingback: DIVERGENT FIDELITY: Badiou’s non-relation with Deleuze | AGENT SWARM

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