Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Thought as Modern Art or the Ethics of Perversion

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Thought as Modern Art or the Ethics of Perversion

Article excerpt

Van Gogh's is the eye of a great genius, but seeing the way in which he dissects me from the deep end of the canvas out of which he has sprung, it is no longer the genius of a painter that I now feel throbbing in him, but the genius of a certain philosopher whom I have never met in life.

No, Socrates did not have this eye; perhaps only the unfortunate Nietzsche, before him, had such a gaze that undresses the soul, that delivers the body from the soul, that bares the body of man, out of the subterfuges of the mind.

Antonin Artaud,

Van Gogh, le suicidé de la société.1

Alain Badiou's penetrating critique of Gilles Deleuze's philosophy concludes that the latter's lifelong project of the Reversal of Platonism fails to produce aline of flight out of the sterile paradoxes that define modernity. On the one hand, Badiou suggests, Deleuze's anti-Platonism is simply inscribed in and continuous with the post-Nietzschean tradition that, in Badiou's view, characterizes twentieth century European thought. For Badiou, insofar as it defines itself against the Platonic transcendence of the Idea in relation to the thing and calls for a return to immanence, this tradition does not escape the Socratic/pre-Socratic opposition. Psychoanalysis has taught us that to define oneself in opposition to the Master is really no different than to sacrifice oneself to him, as the negation still betrays a process of identification in relation to him. In the end, then, Deleuze's call for pure immanence would simply rejoin the point where the Platonic dialectic leads us, namely, the point where the thought of the thing and the intuition of the Idea are inseparable.2 Moreover, Badiou argues, insofar as Deleuze's differential ontology is rooted in a renewed conception of Heidegger's ontological difference, it betrays an appeal to the transcendence of "the whole," "the One" (L'Un-toui) to guarantee the ultimate systematicity of "Transcendental Empiricism." According to Badiou, then, Deleuze's call for a return to immanence is no more than a turning of Platonism on its head, a simple "reversal" which fails to effectively break free from the Master. Alternatively, Badiou finds in Fernando Pessoa's literature the true way out of this cul-de-sac de la pensée, this dead end of thought. He writes:

Pessoa's modernity lies in revoking into question the pertinence of the Platonism/anti-Platonism opposition: the task of the thought-poem is neither allegiance to Platonism, nor its reversal (renversement).

And this is what we, philosophers, have not yet fully understood. Hence we do not yet think on Pessoa's level. Which would mean: to admit to the coextensiveness of the sensible and the Idea, but not to concede anything to the transcendence of the One. To think that there are only multiple singularities, but not to draw out from this anything that resembles empiricism.3

Those italicized "buts" are clearly intended as an implicit attack on Deleuze. Ultimately, it appears that what Badiou seeks for a true philosophy of modernity is : 1) a certain kind of monism rid of any dependence on transcendence; and connectedly 2) an immanent account of pre-individual difference or multiplicity liberated once and for all from all liability to phenomenological recuperation.4 Moreover, Badiou believes that within modernity, it is modern literature that creates the possibility for departing from modernity's aporetic structure of thought, thereby showing the way for philosophy. I will argue that Badiou is right in situating his hopes for a future of thought in art. But I will strive to show that his criticism of Deleuze reflects a profound misunderstanding of Deleuze's project, based in Badiou' s failure to see its radical novelty. For ultimately, I want to suggest that to understand Deleuze's "transcendental empiricism" (perhaps the only thought which truly effects the overthrowing, and not simply the reversal of Platonism), we must read Deleuze as a modern artist. …

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