BADIOU AND THE PRINCIPLE OF CHARITY: notes of a post-deleuzian

Badiou has always lagged behind Deleuze, and in an important sense he still hasn’t caught up fully with DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION and LOGIC OF SENSE. Part of the reason is the twelve year difference of age: Deleuze was born on January 18 1925, and Badiou on January 17 1937. Another reason is perhaps tied to Badiou’s maoist militancy, reductionist and time-consuming.

But I find Badiou is improving, and slowly becoming more Deleuzian. The article on the subject of Deleuze’s politics”Existe-t-il quelque chose comme une politique deleuzienne?” (“Does something like a Deleuzian politics exist?”) is one of Badiou’s better pieces on his differences with Deleuze, even if, as I show, it is erroneous and wrong-headed.

So I would not reduce Badiou to his nostalgic maoist phantasm. I wish to give a charitable reading of Badiou’s evolution as on the way to immanence, becoming-immanent. This line of development is clearly present in his texts over the last two decades, and is becoming more important, despite the contrary movement of transcendance.

Badiou took a different option than Deleuze to resolve the problem of the dominance within philosophy of the Platonic transcendent image of thought. Deleuze chose the path of overturning Platonism to attain immanence. Badiou chose a slower and longer path: to immanentise Plato.

There is now a flourishing Deleuze industry of academic commentary, but I think that in the long run this is an entropic tendency, serving more to void Deleuze’s philosophy of any contemporary pertinence, diminshing its existential and conceptual content. By providing a philosophy on as vast a scale as that of Deleuze, Badiou is giving Deleuze’s thought more content, by the very contrast he installs, than much of the academic commentary is able to achieve.

The method of comprehension and application in philosophy is not to begin with a theory in isolation that is in a second step illuminated in terms of its external historical context and of its internal systematicity. A theory, whether scientific or philosophic, gains in content when it is considered in terms of a set of rival and alternative theories. This set changes with time, and so in an important sense the meaning of a theory changes with time too.

One of Badiou’s talents is to take a philosophy that does not admit of discussion, such as Heidegger’s, and, by juxtaposing an alternative of equivalent scope and detail, to make its theses open to non-reductive critical analysis and to argumentative investigation. Badiou’s recently published seminar on Heidegger is an impressive achievement in that regard, even if his book on Deleuze is only partially successful.

We must not forget that Deleuze undertook a three year correspondence with Badiou, before putting a stop to the process. Badiou’s DELEUZE presents us with only one half of that discussion. Deleuze was of two minds concerning this divergent investigation, finding it worth pursuing and yet ultimately alienating. Badiou’s talent for transforming a system of thought that is proferred nonargumentatively into a participant amongst others situated in an argumentative field comes with a price: that of increased abstraction.

Deleuze was willing to engage in the process, but was dissatisfied with the result, and so not only stopped the exchange but forbade its publication, thus depriving us of any access to the process. All that has been published of the exchange, aside from Badiou’s book on Deleuze, is one letter addressed by Badiou to Deleuze. This is quite regrettable, and has impoverished the discussion, leaving us with an impression of the juxtaposition of two isolated, non-interacting systems. However, I think that Badiou received an impulsion from that exchange and confrontation that is still active in his work-in-progress today.

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