BADIOU’S SEMINAR ON DELEUZE (1): The Definition of Philosophy

In the introduction to his book DELEUZE THE CLAMOUR OF BEING (1997), Badiou tells us how in 1991 he suggested to Deleuze that they undertake a collaborative investigation of their conceptual divergences in the form of a sustained correspondence. Deleuze accepted the idea:

At that time, he was terminating a decisive (convergent) collaboration with Felix Guattari, What Is Philosophy?;13 the book was to have an enormous and legitimate success. One finds here the note on me that Deleuze had announced he would write after my article on The Fold. In reply, and in order to prepare the terrain, I devoted four of my seminars at the College international de philosophie to the best-seller of Deleuze and Guattari, without understating their position (I really went into the details), but without toning down my criticisms either.

We are fortunate to have a student’s transcription of these four seminar sessions (available here in French). The general title for the seminar of that year, stretching from October 1991 to June 1992 is “Politics”. The seminar titles for the three preceding academic years were “Beckett and Mallarmé” (1988-89), “Plato: The Republic (1989-90), and “Theory of Evil and of Love (1990-91).  After “Politics” (1991-92), we have the next four years devoted to the theme of Antiphilosophy, each of which deals with one particular thinker : Nietzsche (1992-93), Wittgenstein (1993-94), Lacan (1994-95), and Saint Paul (1995-96).

The first session is an introductory lecture on the “definition of philosophy”, summing up the work of the two preceding years. Most of this is contained in “MANIFESTO FOR PHILOSOPHY” and in the first two chapters of CONDITIONS. The next four classes, from October to December 1991, are devoted to a close analysis of WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?, and the ten remaining classes (till June, 1992) concentrate on the relation between politics and philosophy.

As Badiou’s definition of philosophy can be found elsewhere I will translate only the first paragraph, intended to introduce that year’s seminar and to situate it in the context of what has gone before:

Nous poursuivons cette année les enjeux stratégiques des 2 dernières années au cours desquelles nous défendons une définition de la philosophie en tant que lieu de pensée absolument singulier, dans le but de constituer une problématique du mal, et donc une éthique de la pensée n’ayant rien de commun avec les différentes commissions d’éthique communicationnelle que nous voyons aujourd’hui statuer sur les retombées sociales des avancées de la science moderne, qui prennent au dépourvu le droit des démocraties parlementaires, bref l’éthique de la philosophie dénigre toute éthique commissionnaire.

(“This year we will pursue the strategic stakes of the last two years, during which we defended a definition of philosophy as absolutely singular place of thought, with the aim of constituting a problematic of evil, and thus an ethics of thought having nothing in common with the different commissions of communicational ethics that we see today adjudicating on the social impacts of the advances of modern science, which catch unprepared the law of parliamentary democracies. In brief, the ethics of philosophy repudiates all commissionary ethics”).

In the introduction to DELEUZE THE CLAMOR OF BEING, Badiou describes a change in his attitude to Deleuze, from considering Deleuze to be a political enemy, during the early 1970s, to seeing him as a potential ally after the publication of his pamphlet against the “new philosophers” in 1977. Previously Badiou saw Deleuze as purveying an ultra-leftist ideology, but later he began to see an inflection in Deleuze’s political thought that would culminate in his final reflections on the society of communication and control.

Badiou does not express it in these terms, but Deleuze progressively abandons what Foucault calls the “repressive hypothesis” of the nature of power, that is dominant in ANTI-OEDIPUS, and adopts a more complex vision of power as “productive”. A new political sequence is opening as we effectuate ever more completely the transition from discplinary society to control society. On Badiou’s definition, philosophy “grasps the truths of its time to expose them to the risk of eternity”. This is what he himself is trying to do, and what he sees Deleuze as attempting. Their respective projects are, to a certain degree, commensurate, and a comparison can be made to clarify what is at stake in the divergence of  concepts.

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