BADIOU ON DELEUZE’S POLITICS (1): politics is “absent”

In a very interesting talk entitled “Existe-t-il quelque chose comme une politique deleuzienne?” (“Does something like a Deleuzian politics exist?”) on the subject of Deleuze and politics, Badiou tells us that Deleuze never isolated politics as as a separate domain on a par with art and science:

Deleuze n’isole jamais la politique comme quelque chose qui devrait être pensé per se, pour soi, comme une pensée spécifique.

(“Deleuze never isolates politics as something that should be thought per se, for itself, as a specific thought”).

In his argument he refers to the systematic exposition of their vision of philosophy that Deleuze and Guattari proposed in their last work together:

Dans Qu’est-ce que la philosophie ?, Deleuze et Guattari dénombrent, comme on sait, trois types de pensée : science, art et philosophie. La science pense les fonctions, l’art pense les « percepts » et les affects, la philosophie est création de concepts.

(“In WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? Deleuze and Guattari consider, as is well-known, three types of thought: science, art, and philosophy. Science thinks functions, art thinks “percepts” and affects, philosophy is a creation of concepts”).

By leaving politics unspecified conceptually, by proposing no concept of politics on a par with their concept of art, of science, and of philosophy, Deleuze is guilty of a repression of politics as a specific thought, and falls prey to a “return of the repressed” in which politics, not given a specific site and explicit thematisation, invests the whole philosophical field as a pervasive but vague presence.

Badiou’s first thesis on Deleuze’s politics is the observation of its absence:

thesis 1: politics is not a separate object of thought for Deleuze.

Badiou’s explanation has both an objective and a subjective component. Objectively, the absence of politics is a  structural feature of Deleuze’s system. There is supposedly no place in the system for a thought of the specificity of politics. Commenting the list of the three “types of thought” that he extracts from WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?, Badiou remarks:

il n’y a pas place, dans cette classification, pour la politique

(“there is no room in this classification for politics”).

Subjectively, Badiou claims that Deleuze is not a political thinker, that he is not concerned by politics:

On ne peut pas vraiment dire que Deleuze était très intéressé par la politique.

(“One cannot really say that Deleuze is very interested by politics”).

Thus the observed absence of a specific thought of politics is motivated both structurally (there is “no room” in the system for politics) and subjectively (Deleuze as a thinker does not take much interest in politics).

Supposedly this rather unsatisfying structural absence of politics can only be corrected by importing what is lacking from an exterior source. This is the role of Guattari, in Badiou’s analysis:

Sans doute, dans un grand nombre de textes écrits avec Guattari, on peut trouver des « conceptions politiques ». Mais lorsque Deleuze écrit seul, il ne dit jamais que sa création philosophique se fait sous conditions de la politique.

(“No doubt, in a large number of texts written with Guattari one can find some “political conceptions”. But when Deleuze writes alone he never says that his philosophical creation takes place under the condition of politics”).

As an outside interest grafted onto Deleuze’s systematic thought, politics does not (one is tempted to say cannot) attain the level of the concept, but only that of “conceptions” that are not fully integrated into the system. “Conceptions” belong to the realm of doxa, of more or less enlightened opinions forming part of a general worldview, passively received from the outside rather than internally required and actively created.

To support this thesis of the double absence of politics (subjective absence of interest and objective absence of place) Badiou cites the collection of Deleuze’s letters and interviews on various subjects over an extended period, POURPARLERS (English: NEGOTIATIONS).

Deleuze écrit, par exemple, dans Pourparlers : « Ce qui m’intéresse, ce sont les relations entre les arts, la science et la philosophie. » Mais Deleuze n’a jamais écrit que ce qui l’intéressait, c’était les relations entre politique et philosophie.

(“Deleuze writes, for example, in NEGOTIATIONS: “what interests me are the relations between the arts, science, and philosophy”. But Deleuze has never written that what interested him was the relations between politics and philosophy”).

Of course Badiou has noticed that Deleuze does actually talk about politics, but he will argue that this is in a displaced acception that cannot hide the structural lack. For Badiou there is no necessity, in terms of Deleuze’s system, to talk about politics. The discussions of political themes that can be found in Deleuze’s writings are not informed by the creation of concepts necessary to the internal coherence and completeness of the system, but by a set of contingent “conceptions” crammed together into a loosely structured but ultimately incoherent worldview:

thesis 2: the thought of politics in Deleuze is not creation by concepts but recognition by conceptions

Before going further with Badiou’s discussion, it is interesting to note that Badiou bases his argument here on a superficial analysis of the table of contents of a very complex book, WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?, and on a “symptomatic” absence observed by Badiou in an isolated declaration of his “interests” by Deleuze, taken from a book that is not devoted to a systematic statement of his philosophy, but is composed of a heterogeneous collection of interviews and a small number of letters.

At this level of analysis, a different impression is conveyed by  a cursory lok at the book DIALOGUES (1977), written not with Guattari, but with Claire Parnet. The book contains four chapter each of which discusses what Badiou will later (in BEING AND EVENT, 1988) call the four “conditions” of philosophy: science, literature, psychoanalysis, and politics. In the preface written for the Englisg language edition of the book, Deleuze (writing alone) tells us:

This book is made up of such a collection of musings on the formations of the unconscious, on literary, scientific and political formations.

So it would seem that even at this level politics is not as absent as Badiou would have us believe, including politics in the narrow acception of a specific domain of thought.

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