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.