by Steven Craig Hickman
In Nabokov’s short story “Signs and Symbols” a suicidal son “imagines that everything happening around him is a veiled reference to his personality and existence. …Everything is a cipher and of everything he is the theme”. Of course this is closer to R.D. Laing’s sense of the delusional references of a paranoiac: ‘in typical paranoid ideas of reference, the person feels that the murmurings and mutterings he hears as he walks past a street crowd are about him. In a bar, a burst of laughter behind his back is at some joke cracked about him’ that deeper acquaintance with the patient reveals in fact that ‘what tortures him is not so much his delusions of reference, but his harrowing suspicion that he is of no importance to anyone, that no one is referring to him at all’.
But what do we call the delusions of philosophers who reduce the thought and systems of another philosopher to one conceptual thought or ruling idea? What of fidelity and betrayal? I was thinking of this when reading Eleanor Kaufman’s new work on Deleuze, The Dark Precursor Dialectic, Structure, Being, which is an excellent read so far. In it she mentions the work of Alain Badiou, Slavoj Zizek, and Peter Hallward in relation to Deleuze. As she states it:
AS WITH MANY PROMINENT thinkers, there is a striking imperative that circulates among those who read Deleuze: a drive to fidelity, or more nearly to not betray the master’s thought, the trap that so many who write in his wake purportedly fall into. The world of Deleuze criticism is rarely immune from the dialectic of fidelity and betrayal that is arguably so far removed from Deleuze’s thought. (87)
All three of these authors seem to attack those disciples of Deleuze who have fallen into the trap of literalizing the Master’s work, instead one must betray the Master “to remain faithful to (and repeat) the ‘spirit’ of his thought” (87). Yet, as concerns Deleuze, there are those who have betrayed the master by taking one part of his work – the complicit co-authored works of Deleuze and Guattari – for the singular splendor of the Master’s truth. Kaufman cites Badiou in this regard:
“That Deleuze never did anything of an explicit nature to dissipate this [misunderstanding] is linked to that weakness rife among philosophers— in fact, none of us escape it— regarding the equivocal role of disciples. As a general rule, disciples have been won over for the wrong reasons, are faithful to a misinterpretation, overdogmatic in their exposition, and too liberal in debate. They almost always end up by betraying us…” (87-88)
And, yet, these other philosophers (Badiou The Clamor of Being, Zizek Organs without Bodies, and Hallward Out of this World) do not escape from this betrayal either; in fact, each in his own ways reduces Deleuze to a caricature of his own thought. Badiou reduces him to the “one central and repeated concept, namely the assertion of being as univocal, a problematic from which Badiou hardly strays” (88). While Zizek betrays the Master by never truly revealing Deleuze at all but instead “comes at this neither as an exegete nor an applicator but as more of a Judas figure who betrays (and loves) with a kiss” (89). For Hallward it is the reduction by fiat: “Deleuze presumes that being is creativity. Creativity is what there is and it creates all that can be” (1). 2
One of the key elements that brings these three explicators of Deleuze together is in their sense of his use of the term “excess”. Speaking only of Badiou and Zizek, Kaufmann tells us:
While it is Žižek’s and Badiou’s great insight to locate an excess in Deleuze’s formulation of univocity, such that what appears to be one thing (i.e., becoming or the One itself) is actually secretly doubled, I would call this more specifically a question of the difference between the one and the two. To be sure, the two for Deleuze marks a kind of blasphemous excess of the One, but this is not the excess of the multiple, of the outside, of the transgressive à la Bataille. If it is to be called an excess, it is rather an internal excess, an excess of structure that is nearly invisible. It is not simply more than one, as excess would imply, but precisely the upsurge of the two where one thinks there is only one.(93)
All of this centers on Deleuze as a philosopher of immanence, in which excess is the, as Hallward would have it, creative difference, a “dynamic activity or process, rather than an entity or state” (Hallward 1). As Hallward says: “what is primary is always the creating rather than the created: a writing rather than the written, an expressing rather than the expressed, a conceiving rather than the conceived” (1). And I would add that for Deleuze is was the problems rather than the solutions that were the hallmark of his creative activity, the problematique of philosophy itself that spurred his creative movements and guided his investigations through book after book in search of neither solutions nor closure, but the never resting activity of that pure excess of being that cannot be locked down by conceptual strategies of any persuasion.
Yet, if we take this sense of betrayal one step further, then who did Deleuze himself betray? Was it not Kant himself? In his early work we can see Deleuze’s centering on Kant’s third critique in which judgment and aesthetics become central. But how is Deleuze betraying Kant? Is he not seeking a way out of the transcendental idealism? Is not his move toward a transcendental empiricism a betrayal of the Master? Listen to Deleuze in Difference and Repetition:
Empiricism becomes truly transcendental, and aesthetics an apoditic discipline, only when we apprehend directly in the sensible that which can only be sensed, the very being of the sensible: difference, potential difference and difference in intensity as the reason behind qualitative diversity … The intense world of differences, in which we find the reason behind qualities and the being of the sensible, is precisely the object of a superior empiricism (56-57). 3
What makes it transcendental is that against Kant it is not seeking the a priori conditions of thought centered on the finitude of humans, but is instead based on the a priori conditions for the genesis of all things. It is also not an idealism of the Berkleyan stripe, Deleuze does not locate sensation inside the mind only, instead for him sensation is everywhere. “Everything senses everything else constantly as intensive difference is reciprocally determined and the things in the world are thereby iteratively reproduced from moment to moment”.4
Is this not very close to Whitehead’s conception of a transcendental empirical idealism? Zizek made this comment on Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism and its conception of genesis, saying,
When, in The Logic of Sense, Deleuze deploys the two geneses, transcendental and real, does he not thereby follow in the steps of Fichte and Schelling? Fichte’s starting point is that one can practice philosophy in two basic ways, idealist and Spinozean: one either starts from objective reality and tries to develop from it the genesis of free subjectivity, or one starts from the pure spontaneity of the absolute Subject and tries to develop the entirety of reality as the result of the Subject’s self-positing. (Organs without Bodies: online here)
Badiou on the other hand claims that Deleuze’s metaphysics only apparently embraces plurality and diversity, remaining at bottom relentlessly monist. Badiou further argues that, in practical matters, Deleuze’s monism entails an ascetic, aristocratic fatalism akin to ancient Stoicism.5
Hallward sees Deleuze as a vitalist, but of a particular type, as using Deleuze and Guattari description of “a force that is but does not act, and which is therefore a pure internal Feeling” (OW 163). He goes on to say:
“…they chose Leibnizian being over Kantian act, precisely because it disables action in favour of contemplation. It suspends any relation between living and the lived, between a knowing and the known, between a creating and the created. They embrace it because what feeling ‘preserves is always in a state of detachment in relation to action and even to movement, and appears as a pure contemplation without knowledge'” (OW 163-164).
So for Hallward this Vita Contemplativia leads Deleuze onto a “virtual plane that leads forever out of our actual world” (OW 164).
Something still bothers me in Badiou, Zizek, and Hallward and their readings of Deleuze as Idealist, something I as yet cannot put my finger on, and has lead me to a course of action to reread all of Deleuze’s works to ponder just what it is that Deleuze ultimately was seeking in his confrontation with ‘immanence’. That may be a while, so for now I will let this stand as a temptation and a challenge.
1. Kaufman, Eleanor (2012-08-13). Deleuze, The Dark Precursor: Dialectic, Structure, Being (Rethinking Theory) (p. 87). Johns Hopkins University Press. Kindle Edition.
2. Peter Hallward. Out of this World (Verso 2006).
3. Gilles Deleuze. Difference and Repetition. (Columbia University Press 1994)
4. Jeremy Dunham, Iain Hamilton Gran, Sean Watson. Idealism The History of a Philosophy. (2011)
5. Badiou, Alain (2000). Deleuze: the clamor of being. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota
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