Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Deleuze's Metaphysics and the Reality of the Virtual

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Deleuze's Metaphysics and the Reality of the Virtual

Article excerpt

Alain Badiou, in his provocative, while often misguided, Deleuze: The Clamour of Being, suggestively states that both he and Deleuze are classical thinkers. A classical thinker, according to Badiou, refuses to submit to Kant's critical injunctions that limit metaphysical speculation to the field of possible experience. Despite diverging from Badiou's interpretation of Deleuze in many respects, I nonetheless affirm Badiou's conviction that Deleuze's philosophy opposes the identification of the "end of metaphysics" with the discovery of the transcendental-"the active indifference, concerning the omnipresent theme of 'the end of philosophy.""1 This essay is an attempt to subtract Deleuze from this injunction that has saturated phenomenology's post-Kantian resonances from Husserl to Derrida.

This rather onerous task hinges on Deleuze's concept of the virtual that appears to be burdened with a near impossible task. The virtual is not given in experience, but is that by which experience is given. This being "of the sensible can neither be "deduced" nor "described," but only constructed. We can speak of the virtual in much the same way that Deleuze's speaks of expression in Spinoza: "the idea of the virtual is neither defined nor deduced by Deleuze, nor could it be."2 And Pierre Macherey's account for why this is the case for expression equally holds for the virtual: "As middle, centre and element, expression {the virtual} is not 'a' concept, that is, a single concept, representative of a determinate content. Rather, expression {the virtual} is the dynamic movement of conceptualization, which must be found everywhere in its explicit concepts: it is what Spinoza {Deleuze} thinks, what causes Spinoza {Deleuze} to think, and also what allows us ourselves to think in Spinoza {Deleuze}."31 think this is what is at stake in Deleuze and Guattari's polemical statement in What is Philosophy? that "the death of metaphysics or the overcoming of philosophy has never been a problem for us: it is just tiresome, idle chatter."4 Perhaps the most axiomatic of claims that Deleuze makes about his philosophy is the following statement in Negotiations: "What for me takes the place of reflection is constructivism. And what takes the place of communication is a kind of expressionism" (Neg 147). The transcendental field, the virtual, is immanent to its expressions, and thus cannot be conceived through a reflection upon the expressed. Put differently, the condition cannot be obtained through any sort of regressive gesture that begins with the conditioned. Reflecting upon the expressed or the conditioned will always configure expression or the condition in the image of the expressed or conditioned, the transcendental in the image of the empirical. The source of confusion for all the postulates of the dogmatic image of thought, according to Deleuze, lies in "elevating a simple empirical figure to the status of a transcendental, at the risk of allowing the real structures of the transcendental to fall into the empirical."5 The transcendental or the virtual field remains a ground of the grounded only insofar as the process of grounding metamorphoses the grounded: "To ground is to metamorphose [Fonder, c'est métamorphoser]" (DR 200/154). The construction of the virtual must be a condition of real experience, not simply possible experience.

Constructivism opposes the "end of metaphysics" through opposing the figure of the impossible. If we can identify the genealogy of the "end of metaphysics" as a value with Kant, this is because Kantian reason establishes itself through a new figure of "impossibility." With Kant, the impossible is neither a logical impossibility, i.e., contradiction, nor an incompossibility or vice-diction, the Leibnizian concept that names what is possible but not compossible with the given series of predicates included in the concept. Kant's foundational distinction between the transcendental and the empirical implies a restriction of speculation (speculative reason) to the field of possible experience and this distinction effects an immense devaluation of metaphysical speculation. …

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