NOTES ON DELEUZE’S “LETTER TO A SEVERE CRITIC” (3): against Badiou

“Deleuze’s fundamental problem is most certainly not to liberate the multiple but to submit thinking to a renewed concept of the One…We can therefore first state that one must carefully identify a metaphysics of the One in the work of Deleuze” (Alain Badiou, DELEUZE, 11).

DELEUZE, THE CLAMOR OF BEING was published in 1997. In this book Badiou isolates what he calls a “metaphysics of the One” subtending Deleuze’s work, without referencing, and seemingly unaware of, Laruelle’s critique of the philosophies of difference, begun in 1981 in his THE PRINCIPLE OF MINORITY. As we have seen, Laruelle advances a similar critique to that elaborated by Badiou, diagnosing Deleuze’s continued adhesion to a metaphysics of the One as being the source of his failure to break with Representation.

Laruelle’s solution is to produce a new concept of the One that is not bound by Badiou’s opposition between “liberating the multiple” or “submitting to a renewed concept of the One”. He proposes to explore the consequences of  a renewed concept of the One, that would not be metaphysical, with the explicit goal of liberating the multiple. In the preface to THE PRINCIPLE OF MINORITY Laruelle declares that this is the driving intellectual and emotional force behind his concept of “the One without unity”.

This concept of multiplicities without difference is reiterated  and expounded more clearly in the next book that Laruelle published, A BIOGRAPHY OF THE ORDINARY MAN. This came out in 1985, and it is the second book in what Laruelle began to call his Philosophy II. It is a more systematic work than the PRINCIPLE OF MINORITY, and is written in the form of a “manual” containing a  series of 140 concise “theorems”, each accompanied by a more lengthy commentary. The first theorem is

There are two sources, two paths of minoritary experience and thought. Minorities as “difference”, implanted on the body of the State and of Authorities in general. And minorities which are real beneath difference: individuals as such or without qualities, “ordinary men” whose concept is no longer that of difference and who precede the State.

Deleuze’s LETTER TO A SEVERE CRITIC (1973) contains a very useful description of the impasse that a representational philosophy of difference leads to, and of the need to break with the mere representation of multiplicity in favour of a performative enunciation and enactment of free multiplicities.

Most of Badiou’s (and of Laruelle’s) critique applies not to Deleuze himself, but rather to a Deleuzian doxa, a “Deleuzist” misunderstanding of Deleuze. However, Badiou has located something important concerning the system of thought of the pre-Guattari Deleuze, even if he is unable to recognise or accept the transformation that Deleuze effectuated thanks to his encounter Guattari. At least Badiou sees that there was something that had to be transformed.

Deleuze’s fundamental problem is most certainly not to liberate the multiple but to submit thinking to a renewed concept of the One…We can therefore first state that one must carefully identify a metaphysics of the One in the work of Deleuze (Badiou, DELEUZE, 11).

One should read Deleuze’s “Letter to a Severe Critic” (1973) not only as a defence against criticism, but also as an auto-critique. Deleuze feared that his concepts were sedimenting into an academic doxa, and that they conceded too much to the domain of representation. It is important to note that after DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION and LOGIC OF SENSE Deleuze let drop the problematic of difference, to turn to a theory and practice of free multiplicities.

The point of encounter of Badiou with Deleuze came when Badiou suddenly realised that they had similar analyses of the contemporary doxa, and therefore that they could be allies in a common ideological struggle. The prefaces to LOGICS OF WORLDS and to DELEUZE THE CLAMOR OF BEING, and also the first chapter, on Opinion”, in Badiou’s SECOND MANIFESTO FOR PHILOSOPHY, are quite illuminating in that respect, especially if we keep in mind that Badiou later declares, in METAPHYSICS OF REAL HAPPINESS (2015, untranslated), that he has come to see that what he calls “truths” has much in common with what Deleuze calls “sense”.

At the end of that book, Badiou compares his concept of “truth” to Deleuze’s concept of “sense”:

Philosophy proposes a triage in the confusion of experience, from which it draws an orientation. This elevation from confusion to orientation is the philosophical operation par excellence and its specific didactics.

That supposes a concept of truth. This “truth” can very well be given another name. Thus, in a large part of Deleuze’s work, what we are here calling “truth” is called “sense” (Métaphysique du bonheur réel, 83-84).

Badiou does not use the same terminology as Deleuze, he has his own conceptual creations and terminological choices. Nor does he follow the same path, juxtaposing his process of immanentising Plato to Deleuze’s process of overturning Plato. His work, however, is in explicit dialogue with Deleuze’s thought, and has been so for over twent-five years. This is what being “post-deleuzian” means:

” What is the best way to follow the great philosophers? Is it to repeat what they said or to do what they did, that is, create concepts for problems that necessarily change?” (WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?, 28).

Badiou hit Deleuze hard with his review of THE FOLD, finding it to be the symptom of a failure of pluralism. Viewed from the perspective of pluralism THE FOLD is not a good book, embodying a return to Deleuze’s pre-Guattari style. Strategically, Badiou was adroit in choosing this book to launch his polemic with Deleuze, as it is more classical in style and more totalising in content than his collaborations with Guattari, and so constituted a weaker target.

The concept of the “fold” plays only a minor role in in Deleuze’s earlier books, and in his later collaboration with Guattari: WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? Taken as a concept, the “fold” is too synchronic, it should rather be the diachronic: “to fold”, but that would perhaps not be a good title for a book. For Badiou THE FOLD embodies all that he finds wrong with Deleuze’s philosophy: it is both too descriptive (phenomenological critique: it privileges interiority) and too unified (ontological criitique: it privileges organicity), valorising unity, presence, continuity, life.

Contrary to Badiou’s conceptual portrait, Deleuze effectuated a pluralist rupture with his own previous thought in his collaboration with Guattari, in the light of which he saw his earlier philosophy as insufficiently pluralist. According to Deleuze he had been confined up till then to saying the multiple instead of doing or making the multiple. Thus Badiou’s critique of Deleuze as still being mired in a metaphysics of the One is a watered down and distorted version of Deleuze’s own auto-critique.

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