Deleuze Badiou Transcendence


Alain Badiou’s interpretation of Deleuze is pretty well known. The Delueze we are given to see is not to the anarcho-democratic philosopher of material multitudes in open flux. The Deleuze we are now supposed to see is an aristocratic, ascetic philosopher of the One whose thought is flexed towards death, not life. Of course, what Badiou wants is something more militant –non neutrality, judgment, grounds, “pure dispersion multiples,” absolute beginnings, and brute eruption. The unsaid difference between the two comes down to a certain kind of violence into the order of Being.

What Badiou gets right is the metaphysical character in Deleuze, how the virtual constitutes the condition and ground of the actual in Deleuze’s thought. The spiritual impulse in Deleuze reminds me of the shamanism in the work of artist Joseph Beuys, an artist interested in wolves and folds of felt and fat. Badiou confirms what I always had found in Deleuze, a thinker of the immanent who trafficked too close to transcendence for his own good.

Badiou notes that Deluze sought to affirm the rights and dignity of simulacra, but what I think he overstates is the power of the One for Delueze. Power is not a unitary “x” (as Badiou seems to think it is for Deleuze). It is much more a set of relations between forces, and what Badiou doesn’t quite grasp is the intense imbrication of the one and the multiple in this kind of thinking. What no one seems to get is the topsy-turvy principle of zoharic meta-physics, by which an impulse from below is supposed to create an impulse from above.

For me the most interesting thing about Badiou’s book is this admission, this splendid confession, “[A]ll in all, if the only way to think a political revolution, an amorous encounter, an invention of the sciences, or a creation of art as distinct infinities –having as their condition incommensurable separate events – is by sacrificing immanence…and the univocity of Being, then I would sacrifice them. If, in order to render eternal one of those rare fragments of truth that traverse here and there our bleak world…it is necessary to restrict oneself to the Mallarméan doctrine of the trace…then I would do so” (pp.91-2).

But why and what is one to make of such a curious statement? There is something of the Inquisition about arguments in critical theory about “transcendence.” After all, transcendence is just a concept or category of thought, no different than “immanence,” and I don’t see why Badiou, for his part, needs to assert “the purity” of dispersion multitudes (p.46). This too is a spiritual reflex, the invocation of these words. It’s beside the point that Badiou thinks that such a sacrifice or restriction is not necessary. Of more interest is how figures of transcendence like “pure,” “infinities” and “eternity” make their appearance here even as a possibility.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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9 Responses to Deleuze Badiou Transcendence

  1. Dean says:

    “What no one seems to get is the topsy-turvy principle of zoharic meta-physics, by which an impulse from below is supposed to create an impulse from above.”

    Can you point me to a place where this idea gets worked out? It struck me particularly and it sounds like it could be helpful in some problems I’m working through.

    • zjb says:

      any general introduction to Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah) will include the idea. it’s in Scholem’s Major Trends in Jewish Mytsicism (pp.233, 276), or just about anything written by Elliot Wolfson. It appears in a rabbinic instantiation in one of Buber’s early addresses in On Judaism (I think it’s the Myth essay, or the Religiosity one –it’s the idea that without Israel’s confirmation, God would not exist, as it were). My notes and books are a million miles away. I wish I could offer more precise specifics for what is a widespread and common idea in Jewish intellectual history. it has a lot to do with rabbinic-zoharic notions of theurgy, and also messianism.

      • Dean says:

        Thank you so much! This will be a great help, I’m sure. I appreciate the leads and can take it from here. I appreciate you taking the time to lend a hand.

  2. efmooney says:

    I like your suspicion of a simple valorization of immanence — as if the transcendence/immanence opposition were perfectly translucent, and we knew exactly what we were doing in the rejection of transcendence, and needn’t feel that the ‘immanent’ can end up as murky as the transcendent. These are abstractions overloaded with ambiguity and darkness. A simple appeal to them — like an iterative and intense appeal to ‘revolution’ — just won’t cut it, no matter how elegant a writer may otherwise seem to be.

  3. Gail says:

    The French philosophers use that word, “purity”, so much that I think it must not mean what we think it means. Is it simply from Kant (and Husserl) = reine ? Does it have the sanctimonious resonance in french (philosophy) as it has in US (culture)?

    • zjb says:

      thanks, Gail. of course i understand the technical import of the term “pure.” i just don’t understand AB’s recourse to this term, along with “eternity” and “infinity,” as cited in “Deleuze.” the fact that he doesn’t really “need” this concept makes its appearance all the more curious.

  4. Gail says:

    Yea, I am totally agreeing with you. I’ve run across this word in Malabou (student under Derrida) in the weirdest places, which, again, leads me to think I’m missing the conceptual anchoring in the french/philosophical context. Badiou, Ranciere, they all do it.

  5. Gail says:

    Oh pshaw. Besides, I’m serious here so stop it. Is the puritan overlay that we have in the US (ideologically, not personally) with “purity” shared in France? Or does “reine” or “purite” indicate something more like “singular”, or uncontestable?
    Or are you saying, through the displacement of flattery, that you think purity means what we think it means, and all these Frenchies fall into a suspect and weird and problematic yearning for unstained simplicity?

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