Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

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

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

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

Article excerpt

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). It is according to the demarcation of distinct modes of thought that Deleuze's philosophy of the Idea of art's finite singularity allows that concomitantly enables the possibility to appreciate an artistic work like Samuel Beckett's Worstward Ho on a purely artistic and stylistic plane, without direct recourse to the philosophical concept (such as the Event). Whereas Badiou thinks art conceptually, it is Deleuze who more radically implements the risk of exposing his philosophy to the contingency of art's immanence.

In his most recent book on the relation between philosophy and literature, Shane Weller implicitly alludes to the similarities between how Badiou and Deleuze figure the relationship between philosophy and art. Focusing on Badiou and his persistent battle with the suturing of philosophy to the poem, Weller observes that for Badiou the destiny of philosophy resides with the concept, and not with its migration into the artistic sphere of creative immanence. Badiou's commitment to the de-suturing of philosophy from the poem, however, undergoes a reversal of dependence, leading to a uniquely philosophical appropriation of the artistic mode of thought: "As he makes clear in Handbook of Inaesthetics, this labour of conceptualization entails a rethinking of aesthetics as inaesthetics, by which he means 'a relation of philosophy to art that, maintaining that art is itself a producer of truths, makes no claim to turn art into an object for philosophy. Against aesthetic speculation, inaesthetics describes the strictly intraphilosophical effects produced by the independent existence of some works of art'" (201). Weller's presentation of Badiou's position, which is taken directly from Handbook of Inaesthetics, makes clear that for Badiou philosophy comes to occupy a position of relation that is anterior to the place of the artistic truth procedure--a relation of non-relation that would seem to be in agreement with Deleuze. In his concluding remarks to Cinema 2: The Time-Image, for instance, Deleuze writes that "the theory of cinema does not bear on the cinema, but on the concepts of the cinema, which are no less practical, effective or existent than cinema itself" (280). Despite the apparent affinity Badiou's notion of inaesthetics shares with Deleuze's cinematic thought, there is nevertheless a significant difference between their philosophical comportment to artistic experience. The difference resides in the distinction Badiou maintains between the truth procedure of an artistic configuration and the artwork that functions as its subjective and localized point of articulation. Such a distinction leads to a hierarchy of thought that culminates in philosophy, even though Badiou is insistent on the idea that philosophy does not constitute a truth procedure on its own. Deleuze still maintains a distinction between art and philosophy, except that he does not ascribe to philosophy the exclusive role of presiding over the prescription of the truth-value of art and artworks. Accordingly, and contrary to his sustained critique of philosophical sutures, the conceptual nomination of an artistic truth procedure can only occur, for Badiou, on the philosophical plane. Badiou thus re-sutures art to philosophy at the stage of articulating what he terms the generic truth procedure--the ontology of art's disruption of aesthetic familiarity--a gesture that Deleuze significantly revises by insisting more forcefully on art's immanent and differential modes of expression, and not the conceptual terrain of art's intraphilosophical effects. Cinema does not depend, in other words, on the concepts of the cinema, which are the exclusive provenance of the philosophical interest in the cinematic mode of thought.

If we follow Badiou and take truths to be the founding of a universal exception against the state of what is familiar and knowable, as Peter Hallward describes, then philosophy consists, simply and integrally enough, "of the analysis and articulation of such universalities" (Badiou 252). In other words, the determination of truth, while site-specific to the artistic realm, requires a philosophical intervention that extracts/nominates universality (universality qua exception) from a collection of particular and finite works. The realization of truth thus occurs as a process that demands philosophical accompaniment and verification. Without such an articulation of their universality, truths would simply wither away under the sterility of aesthetic familiarity. The relation Hallward describes above points to Badiou's belief that his inaesthetic thought poses "an absolutely novel philosophical proposition," namely that while the truths of art are at once immanent and singular, the form of their realization as such is conceptual and proceeds mathematically: "Philosophy is the go-between in our encounters with truths, the procuress of truth." Badiou aligns his "inaesthetics" against Deleuze, who, for Badiou, "continues to place art on the side of sensation (percept and affect), in paradoxical continuity with the Hegelian motif of art as the 'sensible form of the Idea.' Deleuze thereby disjoins art from philosophy (which is devoted to the invention of concepts alone), in line with a modality of demarcation that still leaves the destination of art as a form of thought entirely unapparent" (10).

The discrepancy between Badiou and Deleuze over how to think the specificity of art turns on how they conceptualize the artwork as fundamentally finite in its being. While the contemporary Romantics (who often figure in Badiou's work as a homogenized group of post-structuralist thinkers) succeeded in identifying truths as fragmentary condensations of the in-finite, they nevertheless envisioned the particular work of art as the only suitable space in which such fractured multiplicity might ascend into Being (hence their interest in the Fragment as such). And because Badiou sees the work of art as an exclusively finite structure, he rejects the Romantic valorization of the artwork as the only place from which truths might emerge: "I would even happily argue that the work of art is in fact the only finite thing that exists--that art creates finitude [...] Thus, if one wishes to argue that the work is a truth, by the same token, one will also have to maintain that it is the descent of the infinite-true into finitude [...] It is striking to see that this schema is still at work in Deleuze, for whom art entertains with the chaotic infinite the most faithful of relationships because it configures the chaotic within the finite." We could even characterize the distinction here between Badiou and Deleuze as the difference between a conception of artistic truth as the finite incarnation of infinite multiplicity in the body of the work of art (Deleuze, according to Badiou), and the generic proliferation of a truth procedure whose site of verification is in the future anterior point of retroactive and philosophical nomination (Badiou). Accordingly, the true destination of the individual work of art is in its philosophical identification as a subject of truth whose articulation as such can only occur as a finite point in the elaboration of an artistic configuration. As Badiou describes, "the problem that we need to deal with is that it is impossible to say of the work at one and the same time that it is a truth and that it is the event whence this truth originates" (11, emph. Badiou's). The event from which truths originate, Badiou argues throughout his work, is purely and indiscernibly the eruption of the Void of Being, the empty set of ontology from which exceptional universality originates. This can only be determined against the state of knowledge that governs the sense of artistic configurations, and not through an isolated encounter with a single work of art.

Badiou's exposition of Worstward Ho begins with a curious qualification of the analysis he provides, namely that he has chosen to work with Edith Fournier's translation of what Beckett once described as an untranslatable text. While it may very well be the case that Badiou is thereby unable to comment on the original rhythms, syntax, and overall poetics of the text, this "blind spot" of analysis is offset by the fact, Badiou claims, that here Beckett is concerned primarily with delineating conceptually a vision of being that is present, more or less, throughout his entire corpus. Thus Badiou's point of reference will be isolated to the conceptual landscape of the text, and not the poetic subtleties that otherwise dominate it in its original English: "In Worstward Ho, we have an absolutely English text, with no French variant, on the one hand, and a translation in the usual sense, on the other. Hence the obligation of finding support for our argument in the meaning rather than the letter" (90, emph. mine). Despite his unwillingness to treat the work on the poetic plane, Badiou nevertheless constructs a compelling and densely structured rendition of the ontological concerns that Beckett treats, which, not surprisingly, strikingly resemble his own. Leaving aside for the moment Beckett's maddening intransigence to any philosophical attempt at extracting any supposed "meaning" from his work, Badiou succeeds in affording us a conceptual plane on which to locate this most difficult of Beckett's texts.

Badiou locates Worstward Ho in a conceptual structure where the dominant question posed by the text is the (im)possibility of subjecting being to a modality of thought that is obliged to think only being, and that must think being primordially. This, at least, is the hypothesis of the text, namely that it is possible to think being as such, the pure "void" and "dim" of being. According to Badiou, "the philosophical construction of the question will go like this: What can be pronounced about the 'there is' qua 'there is' from the vantage point of thought, in which the imperative of saying and the modification of the shades (i.e., the circulation of visible humanity) are given simultaneously?" (94). The simultaneous inscription within the thought-structure of Worstward Ho that Badiou mentions here refers to the fact that thought must pass through existence if it is to approach being, a movement that is necessitated by the imperative "On." The difficulty is that existence poses innumerable barriers to realizing the imperative of the "On," which leads the text into a dizzying display of subtracting from language any and all extraneous semantic connotation and value. Existence in the general sense (being and existence) figures in Badiou's reading as a three-tier structure, where the appearance of phenomena are held in relief against a screen of pure presentation (which for Badiou is thought through the concepts of set theory) that is punctuated by the pre-ontological circulation of the Void. Thought poses the question of pure being by logically deducing its pre-phenomenological presence as what sustains, or simply presents, the necessarily incomplete order of existence. Worstward Ho is thus read as an attempt to escape the phenomenological world of the "there is" and catch a glimpse of the pure presentation of being, which for Badiou is the unpresentable Void. Because the Void is a presupposition of the presentation of being, any apprehension of the Void will necessarily confront a minimal set of elements that are necessary for presupposing the Void in the first place. In short, the Void will only ever be representable as an axiomatic presupposition of ontological presentation. This is also the meaning of the notation "Being, Existence, Thought" that Badiou uses as the title of this chapter, and functions for him (as well as for Beckett) as the minimal set of conditions for a question of being to be posed (97): between being and thought, there will always be "some" traces of existence precluding an unmediated access to the Void. The impossible task, then, but one to which Beckett returns again and again, is the temptation to "cease to exist in order to be" (101).

As Badiou tries to make clear, Worstward Ho consists in marking the path of a vertical descent from thought to existence to being, with the crucial caveat that the last movement, from existence to pure being, is an ontological impossibility: existence persists in thought as its inextinguishable material. Were this last movement to be realized, we would find ourselves on the obverse side of language, the place that Wittgenstein describes as the evacuation of the possibility of thought. In order to preserve our ability to commit to the indiscernibility of an Event, however, Badiou rejects the idea that thought becomes absolutely inoperative when it is confronted by an ontological excess on the phenomenological side of existence, since it is the essence of the Event to be incommunicable from within the borders of the familiar--for example, existence. In recognition that thought cannot bypass existence and descend into the depths of pure being directly, Badiou's Beckett experiments obsessively with the conceptual dimensions of a modality of thought where the irrevocable constraints of language permit only an "ill-said" of being, but again never the "no-said" of pure being. Through the form of a laboriously sustained poetics of subtraction, Beckett's Worstward Ho appeals to Badiou for its ability to enact a poetic comportment to language that stands in readiness for the abrupt appearance of an Event. "From this point onward," Badiou explains, "the fundamental law that governs the text is that the worst that language is capable of--the worsening--never lets itself be captured by the nothing. One is always in the 'same all but nothing,' but never at the point of the 'go for good,' where a capture by the nothing would take place" (102). And for Badiou, that the question of being is caught between the impossibility of a pure saying and of an absence of saying altogether is what preserves within any given situation a constant oscillation between ontological plenitude (positivism) and an absolute barrenness of being (nihilism in its more extreme form). Because the situation of being is never completed (in the case of a political totalitarianism) or emptied out (in the case of capitalo-parliamentarisms) in this way, there is the ever-present possibility that something like an Event might take place.

Moreover, it is precisely in the place, or on the word surface, of Beckett's Worstward Ho that the Void of being is invoked but never presented, that the pure presentation of being as inconsistent multiplicity is intuited but never fully conceptualized as a particular totality, or set. The (necessary) ontological failure of Worstward Ho, (2) finally, represents for Badiou the idea that what the text creates is the conditions of continuously worsening, or subtracting from, the fullness of existence in preparation of an Event: "Worsening is a labor, an inventive and arduous effectuation of the imperative of saying. Being an effort, holding to the worstward ho demands courage" (106). The limitation imposed on the text by the ontological necessity of an irrepressible existence means that if the pure presentation of being--the Void--is to occur within the boundaries of the text, it will have to depend upon the sudden appearance of an evental supplementation, something that cannot be explained from within the pre-existent terms of the text. As such, and in implicit opposition to Deleuze and the anti-philosophers, the solipsistic structure of Worstward Ho will have to be undone from the "outside" if the intrinsic Void from which all truths spring is to be illuminated. It is here that philosophy intervenes to rescue the Event from the threat of its disappearance in the inhospitable contours of textuality.

The difficulty with this proposal in the context of Beckett, however--namely, the proposal that the truths of art demand philosophical guidance for their claims on exceptional universality--has been touched on by Andrew Gibson, Jean-Jacques Lecercle, and Jacques Ranciere. To be sure, Gibson, who is ever attentive to how Beckett might be made to read Badiou, acknowledges that the charges of Badiou's reading of Beckett as overly conceptual have become somewhat of a cliche (3) in most Beckett circles. Nevertheless, "what Badiou really cannot see at all," Gibson tells us, "in Beckett as in Mallarme, is the possibility of simultaneous hesitation. I mean a spontaneous qualification, reversal, or negation within the sentence, a withdrawal from a proposition or assertion at the very moment of its being put forward. Here again, Badiou is too inclined to associate Beckettian thought, even art itself with linearity or consecutiveness" (224-25). Lecercle echoes both Gibson and Ranciere on precisely this point: "Badiou's reading method always yields the same result, whatever the poem or literary text he reads: that it finds what it wanted to find, namely the event and its naming, at the cost of 'bending' the text to its 'demonstration'" (137). The critical point being made against Badiou concerns precisely his unwavering insistence that the truth-value of art inheres in its capacity to be philosophically maintained as a subtraction from an aesthetics of what is well-said and thus well-known (hence Badiou's appreciation of the Beckettian logic of ill-saying and ill-seeing). In Badiou's reading of Beckett, in particular, we are given a rehearsal of the evental destination of art and literature, though without the kind of critical attention to the aporetic character of the text itself and without, furthermore, an encounter with the threat of interpretive indecision that Beckett's writing demands.

On the other hand, that is, if we are interested in experiencing Worstward Ho as a work of art and not as a philosophical argument, we should focus more acutely on the aporetic qualities of the text and its construction of a space where language figures as the subjective operator of its own decomposition. In short, rather than read Worstward Ho as a literary exercise in philosophy, and more particularly as an exercise in the staging of the conditions of an Event, the point is to experience the contortion of language that it singularly affects and to think, within the terms of the work, the conditions of creative possibility that it struggles to exhaust. That the text's struggle with an ethics of subtraction finds its limit-point in existence is a point that Deleuze would concede, but that he would re-configure within the terms of his own vitalist conception of virtual becomings. In a Deleuzian reading, Worstward Ho remains a response to the question of being, but it is a response to the being of its own creation rather than to an abstract subtraction from the One, such as we find in Badiou. Because Deleuze never proffered a substantive analysis of Worstward Ho (he references it variously throughout "The Exhausted"), we will have to risk doing so on his behalf.

Whether we adopt the ontology of Badiou or of Deleuze will significantly affect our experience of Worstward Ho. Accordingly, I am in agreement with Peter Hallward (whose own thinking is closer to Badiou's than to Deleuze's, incidentally), who argues that if we assume a Deleuzian ontology that is in some sense split between a preontological Virtual becoming and the structured domain of Actual being, then in relation to those works of art (like Worstward Ho) that approximate the turbulent unpredictability and intensiveness of the Virtual, we should look "for ways of conveying intensities that remain properly pre- or post-individual and asignificant. What matters then is not what such a text might mean but what it can be made to produce or accomplish" (World 108, emph. Hallward's). Meaning, Hallward suggests, belongs to the Actual world of an axiomatic ontology where what appears is accountable and demonstrable. And this seems to me to be where Badiou ultimately locates Worstward Ho, that is to say, on the side of the Actual where what is presented in the text is simply the reproduction of an ontological schematization of being. That Badiou situates the text's peculiar mode of thought both as performing a mediating function between being and existence, on the one hand, and as the purveyor of a meta-perception over the field of being in terms of the minimal condition for its interrogation, on the other, should not lead us to ignore that what he projects onto the text is a static ontological schema informed by an over-arching philosophical elaboration of the generic truth procedure. The value of the text's concluding injunction, "nohow on," is read by Badiou as a simple imperative ensuring that the "latest state" of being will not be the "last state" of being. Again, the image we are given is one of a succession of sets in the linguistic field of the text, according to which Badiou concludes that for Beckett the text is never finished, because the game of worsening proliferates alongside the multiplication of existent sets that are themselves spurred forward both by the energy of the Event and the enthusiasm for its possibility.

In Badiou's reading of Worstward Ho, then, there is only what takes place between Events, but never a taking place in the Deleuzian sense, namely the putting into play of a discordant harmony. When Beckett writes, for instance, of a "Longing that all go. Dim go. Void go. Longing go. Vain longing that vain longing go," he not only strips the terms of the desire for nothingness down to the ontological presuppositions necessary for the mere utterance of such a sentiment--the evacuation of the "dim" and the "void"--but also draws into an aporia the sense-structure of the entire block of language (109). The longing that will not dissipate, forfeit, or recede behind the veil of nothingness composes itself into an image peculiar to the syntactical alterity of Beckett's language. In their repetition, the words themselves are divested of referential value, but are paradoxically and simultaneously infused with a consistency of sense that determines their value in a purely relational economy of language. And yet, they somehow draw the reader into the desire to be free from desire, to think in pure intensities. Beckett's blocks of language thus confer upon themselves a self-sufficiency of poetic energy caught between the tension of a content-less yet rational use of the medium of language. As Deleuze argues, "what counts in the image is not its meagre content, but the energy--mad and ready to explode--that is harnessed, which is why images never last very long" (Essays 160). Similarly, in Worstward Ho, no sooner does the image arrest our rational and emotive sensibility than it disappears into the emptiness of a hyper-rationalized logical sequence. Such senselessness continuously calls upon the faculties of recognition to delineate the logical sequencing of such a series of statements, but this often becomes an exercise that is self-parodying in its futility. What persists is the forcefulness of the split-second image of content-less desire that implodes under the strained syntax of a prose that denotes (almost) nothing. Accordingly, Worstward Ho can be seen actively militating against its temporal and philosophical objectification by constantly re-configuring the ungrounded links that combine to produce its sense. What results is not a linear subtractive progression to an Event, as though holding to the "worstward ho" were a simple imperative for thought. Rather, we must somehow think through the possibility that the being of the text's own creation is already, in some sense, on display in the persistent invocation of its ungroundedness, on condition that we understand the being of the text as a process that forever re-enacts the formal conditions of the differential relation internal to language as such. What takes place might very well be a method of subtraction aimed at a time immediately preceding the appearance of an evental trace, and from this point (the point of an Event) onward the strategy of worsening recommences. This is how Badiou reads Beckett. However, the point is not to battle Badiou on the level of the text's conceptual plane, but to suggest that Worstward Ho might be read on an entirely different plane of being that corresponds more directly with the differential and to a "taking place" in the Deleuzian sense. As he remarks in "The Exhausted," "the image is precisely this: not a representation of an object but a movement in the world of the mind" (169). Such is the effect of the profound tension that Beckett's manipulation of language renders palpable. In short, the problem Beckett addresses is how to create a work of art without actually creating a work of art; how to think without thinking something.

In an interview with Pascal Bonitzer and Jean Narboni, Deleuze re-introduces the question of verticality that he addresses in Difference and Repetition, except that here he makes explicit reference to Beckett: "As Beckett says, it's better to be sitting than standing, and better to be lying down than sitting" (Negotiations 53), a formula that is adjusted slightly (though significantly) in "The Exhausted" with a preference for sitting over lying down (Essays 155). What is certain for Deleuze is that the figure who stands is too self-confident, too sure of his self, too well-situated and too stable, for breaking from the banality of artistic cliche and the common image of an upright figure of thought. Similarly for the crawler tired of existence or engrossed with the task of escaping existence altogether is the problem of perpetuating the naive metaphysical in the hope of being able to say, once and for all with the speaker of How It Is, "DIE screams I MAY DIE screams I SHALL DIE screams good" (147). Instead, Deleuze prefers the figure who is sitting down because it is the figure that is confined to sitting, a position mid-way between standing and lying, that most closely approximates a state somewhere between life and death, the in-between place of the differential. This is where present and past is indistinguishably condensed into a pure time, where the distinction between actualized and non-actualized possibilities is no longer tenable. What is relevant is the exceptional status of those moments of non-Actual existence, which are often elided by being relegated to the irrational discourse of the mad, the incomprehensibility of non-representational art, the eccentricity of the mathematician, or the horror of insomnia. The importance of this place, or this position, is that it invokes the latently productive mechanism of any and all creative processes. Life's creative dynamism is already in being, and is not dependent upon the rarity of an Event that only periodically disrupts the Actual world of consistent multiplicity.

Art is not content to reproduce the material of life and give it sensuous form. Art, for Deleuze, is an active process of counter-actualization (Deleuzian subtraction) that operates on its material--words, paint, stone, musical notes, and so on--in such a way that what is "reproduced," or what comes out on the actual side of the artistic procedure, is the essential characteristic of difference that always already supports existence. Art is associated with the vitalism of life that underwrites Actual existence, such that to be an artist is to find oneself isolated and disoriented in a Virtual state of the ever-attentive insomniac: "In the dream of insomnia, it is a question not of realizing the impossible but of exhausting the possible, either by giving it a maximal extension that allows it to be treated like a real waking day, in the manner of Kafka, or else by reducing it to a minimum that subjects it to the nothingness of a night without sleep, as in Beckett" (Essays 171). Insomnia is thus not a state of quasi-wakefulness by which one is afflicted, but a state of being that requires persistent vigilance and the courage to become de-personalized and undetermined by the passage of time: no longer a day and a night, but a night-day. Deleuze has in mind here Beckett's experiment with the exhaustion of the possible in works like Watt or Molloy, where Molloy, for instance, exhausts all the possible permutations of a process of selecting which stone to suck, which culminates in the evacuation of any preference for a particular method of selection: all are chosen simultaneously. At this point of acceding to the exhaustion of the possible, individuality is replaced by the pure singularity of a being confronted with a pure pre- or post-individual choice. What matters in the case of Molloy is not that this or that person chooses, or that this or that object is chosen, but simply that a person chooses a thing, a singular invocation of what it means to make a Virtual choice. Once this happens, Deleuze believes, we find ourselves face to face with an image, "a pure and unsullied image, one that is nothing but an image" (158). To reach this point, however, the creative mechanism must have had to pass through the Virtual plane of composition, the cut of the differential, where the Problems of art are formed. As Deleuze and Guattari argue in What Is Philosophy?, "art wants to create the finite that restores the infinite: it lays out a plane of composition that, in turn, through the action of aesthetic figures, bears monuments or composite sensations" (197). It is along the finite and sensible plane of composition that art is to be found, and by migrating onto a different plane, for instance a philosophical plane, we are no longer in the artistic realm of creation, but instead the philosophical domain of concept-creation, which is simply not sufficient for situating Beckett's prose. Badiou's aesthetically conservative reading of Worstward Ho comes down to hastily by-passing the plane of composition in favour of the philosophical construction of the concept: "Since it allows us to put together a table of contents for the entirety of Beckett's work, it is entirely apposite to treat this text as if it were, above all, a network of thought or shorthand of the question of being" (90).

For Deleuze, on the other hand, there is no greater artistic achievement than the production of an image that invokes the Virtual dimension of its creation, and it is the question of having produced just a single image in this way that haunts most aesthetic endeavours. What interests Deleuze in the concept of the image, however, is nothing like a static representation of a flower or a bird, nor an abstract representation of sorrow or happiness, but a process of creation that forever struggles to exhaust the conditions of its own constitutive inexhaustibility: "The image is not defined by the sublimity of its content but by its form, that is, by its 'internal tension,' or by the force it mobilizes to create a void or to bore holes, to loosen the grip of words, to dry up the oozing of voices, so as to free itself from memory and reason: a small, alogical, amnesiac, and almost aphasic image, sometimes standing in the void, sometimes shivering in the open. The image is not an object but a 'process'" (Essays 159). (4) That the image is nothing but a process is perhaps the key to reading Worstward Ho as an inexhaustible work of art, one that reproduces its own inexhaustibility as an assemblage of signification by virtue of its location "here" and "there" on either side of the surface of words. The tension Beckett stages concerns precisely the "here" and the "there" of language and being, such that what Badiou describes as an attempt to by-pass existence in order to affect an unmediated access between thought and being would result, according to the tenor of Deleuze's thought, in the aporetic energy that constitutes the text's source of creative propulsion. This tension is summarized in the obsessive awareness of "no ground but say ground" (Worstward 90), which suggests that the problem Beckett is confronted with is the transparency between language and the absence of any real plane of existence that would halt the limitless play of signification. The aporia is thus the (ungrounded) injunction to "say ground" with the awareness that there is "no ground." By approaching this problematic from a Badiouian perspective, what we conclude is that the very absence of ground enables the infinite variability of "saying" what does not yet possess the attribute of being. On the Deleuzian side of things, the separation between "saying ground" and the recognition of the "no ground to be said" conditions the processual unfolding of a poetics of disjunction that is not halted, however momentarily, by the ontological eruption of an Event--being just is such an interminable tension.

Worstward Ho takes the insight of the groundlessness of representation as a liberating yet terrifying precondition for its own limitless and unending possibility. Without the assurances of the plane of signification that determines language in its communicative function, Beckett is reduced to a crippled body of prose that prefigures its own mid-sentence/mid-thought collapse. In Worstward Ho, then, as Garin Dowd's own Deleuzian reading of Beckett tries to make clear, the reader is confronted with a "form of words which pierce themselves and visions confronted by their own blind-spots--in short in ill saying and ill seeing--in a work of prose directed not towards a 'somehow' (meaning ascription, retrieval of the deconstructed subject or object) but implicated in a debilitating spiral of worstwardness, both saying and seeing are exposed to their constitutive outside: ooze" (219). It is thus clear why Badiou chose to treat the conceptual framework of the text, where the syntactical hiccups and the incessant oozing of words can be held at a distance by an argument that takes as its object the inevitable failure of presenting pure being. In Badiou's reading of Worstward Ho, what matters above all else is the figural preparation for the suddenness of an Event that intervenes in the situation to re-configure the ontological plane. Once this happens, however, Badiou leaves Beckett in favour of Mallarme, implicitly alluding to Deleuze (and possibly Blanchot) when he remarks that "in this regard, I approve of [Mallarme] being a French faun, rather than an Irish insomniac" (121). With Deleuze, it is precisely the insomniac in Beckett that signals his devotion to a process of artistic creation, which is not so easily exploitable by the philosopher of Actual events. The syntax, the rhythm, the disjunction, the pun, the paratactical chasms, in short the "mere-most minimum" of signification, the repetition of the "sudden back," all point to a process of creation that resists any sort of linear progression that could neatly be ascribed to a supposed logos of the text.

The tension embodied by Worstward Ho is figured neither as a crawling nor a walking, but a kneeling that refuses to be enlisted in the interest of some sort of prefigured teleological principle (an Event): the kneeler is obstinate and attentive to its physical immobility. To be sure, the poetic posture of Worstward Ho is captured in its insistence on "Kneeling. Better kneeling. Better worse kneeling. Say now kneeling. From now kneeling. Could rise but to its knees. Sudden gone sudden back unchanged back turned head sunk dark shade on unseen knees. Still" (95). To kneel is to be in an indeterminate mid-space where the rhizomatic outgrowth of creation is condensed into an infinitely varied space of composition. Deleuze is attracted to the image of kneeling because it encapsulates the counter-intuitive proposition that "nomads are motionless, and the nomadic adventure begins when they seek to stay in the same place by escaping the codes" ("Nomadic" 260). Kneeling, in this sense, corresponds to the Deleuzian insistence on a flow of intensities immanent to being, such that the Virtual/Actual duality that Badiou criticizes must be re-conceived in terms of the reciprocally determining relationship of the differential. Deleuzian nomadism generates the actual codes or boundaries that seek to contain it, while the boundaries and codes function, in turn, to occasion the counter-actualization of their limitations by criss-crossing with an intrinsic ontological principle of nomadic becoming. A nomadism that is immobile, a kneeling that traverses the entirety of being; such is the paradoxical nature of Deleuze's thought, which is replicated on the word surface of Beckett's text. For Beckett, the vital immobility of the figure that kneels expels subjective determination in order to return to the place of language at its most terrifying and in its mode of productivity--the middle space of phonetic combination, a centre of indetermination that is not saddled by interest, need, human potentiality, or the conceptual demands of a particular philosophical desire. Beckett "places himself in the middle of the sentence and makes the sentence grow out from the middle, adding particle upon particle so as to pilot the block of a single expiring breath. Creative stuttering is what makes language grow from the middle, like grass; it is what makes language a rhizome instead of a tree, what puts language in perpetual disequilibrium" (Essays 111). We might be more accurate, then, to refer to a poetics of stuttering when characterizing Worstward Ho, rather than a poetics of subtraction, since the latter carries with it a uni-directional connotation that fails to capture the cadence of Beckett's insidious movement within language. Beckett thus manipulates language into a bloc of sensation where it overcomes, but just barely, its implosive collapse into silence. What results is no longer a communicating in language, but the imagistic communication of language as a pure bloc of sensation suspended above the void of its own unthinkable provenance--a becoming-language: "The writer uses words, but by creating a syntax that makes them pass into sensation that makes the standard language stammer, tremble, cry, or even sing" (Deleuze and Guattari 176). Deleuze's ability to draw from Beckett's laboured poetics of the stutter its sensual dimension and internal poetic energy brings him closer than Badiou to an appreciation of Beckett's prose on the plane of experience for which it was intended--the artistic.

In Handbook of Inaesthetics, Alain Badlou develops a disagreement with Gilles Deleuze over the ontology of artistic creation. By contextualizing this disagreement in Beckett's Worstward Ho, however, we see that it is Deleuze who brings us closer to a position where the difficulties peculiar to artistic thought are better theorized.


Badiou, Alain. Handbook of Inaesthetics. Trans. Alberto Toscano. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2005. Print. Beckett, Samuel. How It Is. New York: Grove P, 1964. Print.

--. Worstward Ho. Nohow On: Three Novels. New York: Grove P, 1996. Print. Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 2: The Time-Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. London: Athlone P, 1989. Print.

--. Essays Critical and Clinical. Trans. Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1997. Print.

--. Negotiations. Trans. Martin Joughin. New York: Columbia UP, 1995. Print.

--. "Nomadic Thought." Desert Islands and Other Texts. Ed. David Lapoujade. Trans. Michael Taormina. London: MIT P, 2004. 252-62. Print.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. What is Philosophy? Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell. New York: Columbia UP, 1994. Print.

Dowd, Garin. Abstract Machines: Samuel Beckett and Philosophy after Deleuze and Guattari. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007. Print.

Gibson, Andrew. Beckett and Badiou: The Pathos of Intermittency. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006. Print.

Hallward, Peter. Badiou: A Subject to Truth. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2003. Print.

--. Out of This World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation. London: Verso, 2006. Print.

Lecercle, Jean-Jacques. Badiou and Deleuze Read Literature. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2010. Print.

Ranciere, Jacques. Aesthetics and its Discontents. Trans. Steven Corcoran. Cambridge, UK: Polity P, 2009. Print.

Weller, Shane. Literature, Philosophy, Nihilism: The Uncanniest of Guests. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Print.


(1) See Todd May, "Badiou and Deleuze on the One and the Many" (Think Again: Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy. Ed. Peter Hallward. London: Continuum, 2004. 67-77. Print); Daniel Smith, "Badiou and Deleuze on the Ontology of Mathematics" (Think Again: Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy. Ed. Peter Hallward. London: Continuum, 2004. 77-94. Print); and Nathan Widder, "The Rights of Simulacra: Deleuze and the Univocity of Being" (Continental Philosophy Review 34 [2001]: 437-53. Print).

(2) As Gibson perceptively argues, "the void cannot be thought, said, or named without ceasing to be the void" (220).

(3) Though Gibson is right to point out that the charge of Badiou's hyper-conceptualization of Beckett has become somewhat of a cliche, the trivialization of this criticism risks eliding precisely why Badiou is interested in submitting Beckett to a philosophy of the Event. In the context of Badiou's distancing from Deleuze, his conceptual reading of Beckett must be taken polemically, namely in order to highlight that the horizon of the truths of artworks inheres outside their immanence, that it is not the finite work of art that directs it toward the arena of truth, but rather the infinitude that their truths are retroactively seen, by philosophy, to have embodied. Badiou is particularly interested in reclaiming Beckett's work from its politically conservative reduction at the hands of the anti-philosophers, though here he risks a similar aesthetic conservatism in too hastily departing from the textual ambiguities and compositional ironies that so heavily characterize Beckett's work.

(4) Deleuze owes a great deal to Bergson for the conception of the image--the movement-image and the time-image--developed in Cinema 1, Cinema 2, and Bergsonism as a subtractive movement within representation. See Anthony Uhlmann's Samuel Beckett and the Philosophical Image (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006. Print) for a more detailed analysis of the Deleuzian image, its (partial) origination in Bergson, and its extension into the work of Beckett.

CHRISTOPHER LANGLOIS is a Ph.D. candidate in Theory and Criticism at the University of Western Ontario, where he works on the intersections of Continental philosophy and modernist literature. His dissertation, "Beckett, Literature, and the Terror of Interpretation," intends to navigate the philosophical and interpretive challenges of Beckett's prose. His work has also appeared in The Faulkner Journal and the journal Explicator.

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