BADIOU ON DELEUZE’S POLITICS (4): becoming has primacy over history

Badiou himself begins to wonder whether the “absence” of politics that he has observed in Deleuze’s philosophical writings is not an artefact of his mode of observation, of his paring down of Deleuze’s texts to their legitimate rational kernel. In an attempt to correct any oversights that may have crept into his analysis, he remarks that there are indeed places in his books where Deleuze calls for an analysis of capitalism:

De ce point de vue, la politique est l’analyse du capitalisme, et non pas la création de quelque chose de nouveau.

(“From this point of view, politics is the analysis of capitalism, and not the creation of something new”).

Badiou draws the conclusion that politics for Deleuze involves both theoretical analysis and practical creation. He argues that the analysis of political formations, for example capitalism, belongs to Deleuze’s universal history, whereas the creation of something new (what in his other works Badiou calls “political invention”) is politics proper. This leads him to 2 new theses:

thesis 7: there is a tension between history and becoming

thesis 8: becoming has primacy over history

On this analysis, history is merely the precondition for politics:

Si la philosophie politique est l’analyse du capitalisme, la philosophie politique fait partie de la philosophie de l’histoire. Mais la politique en tant que création n’est pas une partie de l’histoire. Il y a là une grande tension entre la précondition de la politique, d’un côté (capitalisme, distinction entre les différents types de sociétés recensés ci-dessus), et, comme en Mai 68, le devenir à l’état pur.

(“If political philosophy is the analysis of capitalism, political philosophy is part of the philosophy of history. But politics as creation is not a part of history. There is a great tension between on the one hand the precondition of politics (capitalism, the distinction between the different types of society discussed above) and on the other, as in May ’68, becoming in the pure state”).

All the difficulty in dealing with Deleuze’s system is maintaining together this tension between becoming and history and the relative primacy of becoming. Badiou has some difficulty in doing this, as can be seen elsewhere in his discussions of the virtual/actual distinction for example.

For Badiou, this primacy of becoming has a price. He formulates Deleuze’s “political maxim” as “becoming is more important than history”, and explicates “becoming” as “creating something new”. Following another line of tension, this time between the general and the specific, Badiou remarks that the very generality of the political maxim means that the “creation” referred to in the maxim is not itself a political creation:

Ainsi, la politique – la vraie politique – est la libération du désir et du devenir. Cependant, la création elle-même n’est pas la politique. La création est art (création de percepts), science (création de fonctions), philosophie (création de concepts).

(“Thus, politics – true politics – is the liberation of desire and becoming. However, creation itself is not politics. Creation is art (creation of percepts), science (creation of functions), philosophy (creation of concepts)).

This leads us to Badiou’s ninth thesis:

thesis 9: creation is political but it is not the creation of specific politics (or cast more paradoxically: the politics of creation is not the creation of a politics)

On Badiou’s reading, creation is political (in some abstract general sense of political), but it is not politics in the sense of a specific inventive practice. The problem comes, on this view, from the fact that Deleuze has two definitions of politics. The first, “create something new”, names nothing specific, it is too general, designating “the global experience of human behaviour”. The second, “the analysis of the new forms of capitalism”, is specific, but it does not describe any political action, and belongs to the theory of history.

There is something factitious about this stage of Badiou’s argument. It conflates two tensions. The duality becoming/history is confounded with the quite different one of practical creation/theoretical analysis. Badiou has no real source for this second tension as characterising Deleuze’s definition of politics. The sentence he cites is not a definition of politics, but merely a maxim for political philosophy:

la philosophie politique doit se tourner vers l’analyse du capitalisme et des moyens par lesquels il s’est développé

(“political philosophy must turn towards the analysis of capitalism and of the means by which it has developped”).

This second version of the tension dissolves, as it is trivially true that political philosophy is theoretical, and not in itself the field of political creation.

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