"Cease to Exist in Order to Be": Worstward Ho between Badiou and Deleuze

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Most of the secondary literature on the dialogue between Alain Badiou and Gilles Deleuze turns on whether or not Badiou misrepresents Deleuze's insistence on the univocity of Being, often concluding that, in fact, he does. (1) What is often overlooked in this discussion, however, is the closely related disagreement, explicitly addressed by Badiou in Handbook of Inaesthetics, between the singular and immanent status of the work of art (Badiou) and its relegation, paradoxically, to the in-finite and sensible plane of composition where the artwork engenders a creative process of self-exhaustion (Deleuze). In Badiou's estimation, that Deleuze wishes to conceive of the work of art as a finite and sensible realization of this process signals a nostalgic devotion to the Romantic hypostatization of the infinite-cum-finite condition of poetic creation. Because of his complicity with the so-called linguistic turn and the preservation of the suturing of philosophy to poetry, Badiou situates Deleuze on the side of the anti-philosophers, together with Lacoue-Labarthe, Nancy, Blanchot, and Derrida. For his part, Badiou claims that no work of art exhibits a direct line of sight into the infinitude from which truths appear, since no work of art, taken in isolation, constitutes a truth procedure: "A truth is an artistic procedure initiated by an event. This procedure is composed of nothing but works. But it does not manifest itself (as infinity) in any of them. The work is thus the local instance or the differential point of a truth" (12). Deleuze, on the other hand, invests the truth-value of literature, and indeed of art in general, in what could be called its constitutive finitude, which for him enables the individual work of art to generate the creative conditions for an insight into the vital in-finitude of what he further conceives as the univocal being of difference. Apropos this aesthetic divide, we find Badiou concluding that Deleuze valorizes the individual work of art in such a way that its participation in the production of truths is left unacceptably wanting of the kind of philosophical accompaniment that all truths require. If it is the case, Badiou contends, that particular artworks can function as finite condensations of the infinite, then there is no need for philosophical or subjective fidelity to their truth--their truth-value is already, in a sense, there. This is a problem.

Badiou's worries here are understandable, since in What Is Philosophy? Deleuze (and Guattari) write that "the work of art is a being of sensation and nothing else: it exists in itself" (164). If we take the reference to a "being of sensation" as the Idea peculiar to art, as the creative force that permeates all actual sensations or perceptions of art, then Deleuze does indeed commit his thinking to the rare existence of artworks that approach, through techniques of self-exhaustion, pure creation as such--in the "time-image," the "any-space-whatever," the "Problem," and so on. However, to insist on art's immanent in-finitude in such terms would seem to presuppose that the relation between art and the truth of creative becoming that it self-inscribes must be dependent, in some way, upon philosophical conceptualization, as though artworks exist only to manifest their truths to philosophical or conceptual retrieval. For Deleuze, it should be noted, the thought peculiar to philosophy occurs on an altogether different plane of experience than the experience of art, thereby obliging us to think the thought of art in a far more pronounced mode of immanence than we find in Badiou. This does not mean that art does not intersect with philosophy to occasion an overlap of their respective modes of thought, but more importantly that the kind of thought exhibited on the artistic plane should not be subordinated to the implementation of conceptual thought on the philosophical plane: "Thinking is thought through concepts, or functions, or sensations and no one of these thoughts is better than another, or more fully, completely, or synthetically 'thought'" (198). …