BADIOU AND INDIFFERENT BEING, by William Watkin, is a very useful and interesting book on Badiou’s « Platonic gesture » in ontology. It is the first volume of a projected two. The aim of this first volume is to begin re-read Badiou’s BEING AND EVENT in a way that bears in mind the modifications of perspective brought about by Badiou’s sequel volume LOGICS OF WORLDS.
As the title suggests, Watkin gives great importance to the concept of indifference. He argues that the epoch of the hegemony of the philosophy of difference in French thought came to its end between 1982 and 1988. For Watkin Badiou’s BEING AND EVENT sounds the death knell of the epoch of difference and announces an epoch of indifference.
Long-time readers of my blog will know that I agree with this diagnostic of the end of the epoch of difference, but I have often argued that this end comes about much earlier, in the period 1969-1976.
Gilles Deleuze left the philosophy of difference behind implicitly in LOGIC OF SENSE (1969). I say implicitly because there is no explicit critique of the notion, it merely fades into the background behind more important concepts such as multiplicity and intensity. Writing with Guattari, Deleuze gave full expression to this change in RHIZOME, and this expression culminates in the exposition and enactment of a philosophy of multiplicities in A THOUSAND PLATEAUS in 1980.
Badiou in his recently published (in French) seminar, TRUTH AND SUBJECT, of 1987-1988 attacks the philosophy of difference under the name of the « modern sophistics ». It should be noted that he does not criticise the sophists’ pluralism but their relativism.
Badiou is himself a pluralist, advocating a Platonism of the multiple. He distinguishes the sophistic relativism made possible by the philosophies of difference from the realism of the thought of the multiple.
What Badiou criticises in the modern sophists (or post-moderns) is their hyper-plasticity, a type of thought making the irreducibility, the infinite variability and the disparateness of language games the ultimate foundation of democratic society. Against this ideology of modern society, Badiou argues that the task is not « to take shelter in this heterogeneity » but to create a new space of thought.
However, this new space is not reducible to the single master-concept of « indifference », as Watkin claims. At the end of the first class of this seminar Badiou cites three « nodal concepts »: the multiple, the subject, the indiscernible. Multiplicity, subjectivity and indiscernibility are the knot of the post-sophistic space that Badiou articulates with his Platonism of the multiple.
Nor is Badiou unique in his valorisation of « indifference ». Deleuze is a great philosopher of indifference and indiscernibility. Nuancing Watkin’s case for the end of the epoch of difference and the opening of a new epoch, I would argue that among the three notions characterising the new conceptual sequence (multiplicity, subjectivity, indifference) the main concept linking Deleuze and Badiou is not so much indifference as pluralism.
If we wish to highlight one term, the multiple seems a better candidate than indifference to bring out the kinship between such diverse thinkers as Deleuze, Derrida, Badiou, Lyotard, Foucault, Serres, and Latour.
My hypothesis is that the « epochal » passage is from difference to multiplicity. This hypothesis also has the advantage of allowing us to see the continuity between the philosophies of difference and of pluralism, and why several thinkers were brought to pass from the first to the second at almost the same time.
For more details on this line of thought, see:
Watkin cites François Laruelle’s critique as part of the closure of the epoch of difference. However, when Laruelle published THE PHILOSOPHIES OF DIFFERENCE in 1986, he was criticising a dead paradigm, one that had been dead for 15 years. This time lag effect is a constant in Laruelle, whose work is always post-festum: