dialogues at greenwich

discussion and reports from the Volcanic Lines research group at Greenwich University

15 November 2006


On the evening of Tuesday 14th November the Volcanic Lines Reading Group tackled the introduction and first two chapters of Alain Badiou's Deleuze: The Clamour of Being. Issues that particularly engaged us, and will no doubt be further dramatised over the next three weeks, included the subject, death, mathematics, politics and monism.

The workshops begin with a ten minute presentation on the main themes of the text under discussion. This week Matt Lee presented and begun by referring to Derrida’s comments at Deleuze’s funeral. As in Badiou’s introduction to ‘The Clamour of Being’ we find the notion of a conversation that never took place but which will nevertheless be completed. Badiou describes it as ‘completing the incompletable: a conflictual friendship that, in a certain sense, had never taken place.’ (‘Clamour’ p 6) Yet the point was made that the tone of friendship and alliance rapidly disappears. The encounter seems to be staged in a very calculated way. The idea of a 'divergent and contrasting' collaboration (as Badiou describes it at page 5) offers a definition of encounter - Badiou contrasts it to the 'convergence and quasi-confusion' in Deleuze and Guattari's friendship. Do we get the internalisation of a more productive difference when Badiou encounters Deleuze?

The presentation also highlighted the figure of the automata in Deleuze which Badiou talks about at page 12. Badiou associates Deleuze’s concept of automaton with his notion of the machinic. Matt pointed out that this avoids themes of destiny and the form of time named Aion in ‘The Logic of Sense’. The Eternal Return is the moment which makes connection with these via the motto ‘amori fati.’ Tying automaton to the machinic seems then to simplify Deleuze’s thinking on the subject. Badiou is concerned to preserve the role of the subject, as militant and as constituted through fidelity to the event, and sees Deleuze as erasing the subject by subsuming it within the machinic. Matt made the point that this is too simple. Deleuze de-emphasises the subject in order to bring forward another process to replace it. This is a different move and not so straightforward as the one Badiou identifies. The subject in Deleuze finds it account in a process that it does not resemble rather than being simply erased by the figure of the automaton.

The themes of life and death in Deleuze loomed large here. If for Deleuze we learn about life through death then this adds to the subject rather than erasing it or failing to account for it. The notion of the death-limit and whether it is positive and productive was a major focus for the session. Matt also questioned Badiou’s equation of Deleuze’s monism with monotony. Spaces are closed down rather than opened, making death the ideal in Deleuze’s philosophy. In this monism, for Badiou, the repetition of different cases implies monotony.

In chapter two of ‘The Clamour of Being’ the reference’s to Wittgenstein’s ‘Tractatus’ were subjected to a highly intriguing analysis by Matt. He raised the prospect that Badiou might have opened the way to our reading him as a ‘modern Tractarian.’ In the ‘Tractatus’ a formal ontology is provided and it is closed and final, with all questions answered. Yet the explosive moment of mysticism occurs. This is the showing of what can only be said according to Wittgenstein’s formal ontology. Matt summed this up as the ramming of the subject into a closed ontology with the openness of the posited subject demanding the mysticism that occurs when everything has been said. If this is valuable for Badiou can we bring him closer to Wittgenstein despite his dislike for the linguistic turn?

Returning to the subject of death, there was discussion about whether it had any meaning for Badiou. For Deleuze it tells us about life because it introduces an impersonal life force. In ‘Difference and Repetition’ Deleuze borrows the two aspects of death described by Blanchot (p. 112-113). They are 1. the personal (concerns the I or ego) ‘which I can confront in a struggle or meet at a limit’ and the impersonal (with no relation to ‘me’) which I don’t meet in the past or present but which is ‘always coming, the source of an incessant multiple adventure in a persistent question.’

The argument was made that Deleuze’s Stoicism involves Aion and destiny at the limit and that this can overcome the sense that death isn’t productive or positive for the actual world it interrupts. Some readings of Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism argue that something is built on the basis of the limit (or in its vicinity) such that determination moves forward in response to the Ideas injected by the limit. This brings in Deleuze’s notion of a problem-solution feedback where going to the limit is productive of solutions. The feedback involves the contribution of both sides, of virtual problems and actual solutions, to the process of production.

At this point a question was raised about the value of this encounter. At what point should we say Badiou has got Deleuze wrong? If anything can come out of an encounter, no matter how different from Deleuze’s work, is this productive? Is it relevant or related to Deleuze?

The charge by Badiou that Deleuze employs mathematics metaphorically in his thought was a major topic of discussion (‘Clamour’, page 1, 10). The issue is made complex by Deleuze statement at page 220-221 of ‘Difference and Repetition’ that maths and biology function as ‘technical models’ to allow the exposition and exploration of the two halves of differences (ideal and aesthetic). Yet he associates differential calculus with ‘the universal and its appearance’ (page 171). Is the differential equation directly involved in material processes of actualisation, as a universal operation? The point was made that for Manuel Delanda abstract machines are real processes of different/ciation in Deleuze (see his ‘Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy’). We seem to lose the materiality of differential calculus and other appropriations of maths by Deleuze if it these are metaphorical. The material and physical context of the discovery of differential calculus was raised. It was a ‘method of fluxions’ for Isaac Newton. Different calculus is still used in practice a great deal. For mathematics the infinitesimal, by its vagueness, lacked the rigor to remain valid. Set theory seems to be a very different creature, having developed from attempts to found mathematics. For Badiou it provides direct ontological description. This problem will no doubt come up again.

The point was made that the three principles of Badiou’s reading of Deleuze, listed at page 17, partly rely upon mathematics being metaphorical for Deleuze. It leaves out the fields of individuation that involve universal operations like that presented in the differential equation. These material processes seem to be left out if Deleuze’s thought is (according to Badiou’s three principles) 1 ‘organised around a metaphysics of the One’ 2. proposes ‘an ethics of thought that requires dispossession and asceticism’ and 3. ‘is systematic and abstract.’ Questions were raised about Deleuze’s ethics. Is his Image of Thought (‘Difference and Repetition’ chapter 3) normative? Can you be anti-individualist without being ascetic? The problem of a potential naturalistic fallacy in Deleuze’s ethics was then raised. From descriptions of the presence of desires, how do we jump to what ‘should’ be done?

A further point about Badiou’s three principles was that Deleuze’s thought is certainly at least in part systematic and abstract. Because this is philosophy this has to have some role but needs to be balanced by other dimensions of the system. Others suggested that Badiou is being provocative in response to Deleuze’s image as an affirmer of free desiring. Do principles 2 and 3 make fun of Deleuze? A related point was raised about Badiou’s failure here to talk about his Lacanian conflict with Guattari. The recent reaction against Guattari’s influence on Deleuze scholarship was brought up. Badiou’s reading is highly selective – we had discussed its neglect of individuation and now came up against its disdain for Deleuze’s collaboration with Guattari.

The reference to critical and phenomenological interpretations of Deleuze at page 20 was discussed. This opened up the trajectories of Deleuze’s scholarship. Those finding a critical philosophy in Deleuze see the limit being reached and then being built upon, something linking him to Kant and his transcendental deductions. For others going to the limit means attaining the immediate intuition of being. Critique now only clears the ground to allow for this intuition to be attained. This links back to Badiou’s reading of automaton – this seems concur with readings that deny Deleuze’s capacity to theorize a politics because going to the limit subsumes the conditions of political action. If being is immediate we become inactive contemplators of the differentiation of difference in its divine self-sufficiency (as Peter Hallward argues in his ‘Out of this World’). It was suggested that Deleuze’s politics can seem to be tacked on, borrowed from the 1960s popular movements rather than being realised through his system. These issues seem to coalesce around the question of whether the limit is productive for the actual, whether it can be built upon.

The assertion that in Deleuze there is ‘an ontological precomprehension of Being as one’ (p. 20) was challenged. The point was made that this seems too strong - no one could recall a place where Deleuze had used the words ‘Being is one.’ It seems that for Badiou Deleuze botches the multiple and ends up with monotony or linear oneness. Univocity means that Being is said in only one sense – at page 304 of ‘Difference and Repetition’ Deleuze writes that ‘Being is said according to forms which do not break its unity of sense; it is said in a single same sense throughout all its forms.’ The interesting point was made that in translating from the same French phrase we can get both ‘being says itself’ and ‘being is said.’ Thus either ‘being distributes itself’ or ‘being is caused to be distributed.’ This complication of Deleuze’s affirmation of univocity was very intreguing.

The notion that in Deleuze the wound is something you become, you embody your wound even before it has happened, was brought up. This, it was argued, comes from Stoicism and isn’t to be confused with asceticism, bringing us instead to amori fati and the Eternal Return.

The discussion then moved to the concerns over Deleuze’s ability to ground the political. Does the space of action become subsumed by the totality of Virtual time, the differenciation of difference. Badiou’s concerns were related again to Peter Hallward’s critique of Deleuze in ‘Out of this World’ where the needs of the actual, of space and the political, are seen to be neglected by the emphasis on virtual time and creation. This issue gives much food for thought and will no doubt occupy us a great deal. If actual terms involved in political action and strategy are accounted for by Deleuze, it can be argued, they have to be built upon the limit. How does the production or life of the actual relate to a virtual production or life that it does not resemble and which ungrounds and dissolves its forms at the limit?

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At 11/16/2006 , Anonymous Matthew Tavers said...

The rigour of Tuesday's reading group is matched by the thoroughness of the commentary. I really got a lot out of Tuesday's session. We also discussed the probelm of evaluating Badiou's inconsistant multiple,and Deleuze's extensive multiplicities, when few of us have a strong mathematics background. For lesser mathematicians, a good article to read which challenges Badiou's critique of Deleuze's 'metaphorical' maths is Daniel W. Smith's 'Badiou and Deleuze on the Ontology of Mathematics' in Peter Hallward's collection, 'Think Again: Badiou and the Future of Philosophy' (continuum, 2004). A good article which expounds upon Badiou's maths is Ray Brassier's 'Badiou's Materialist Epistemology of Mathematics' (Angelaki,2005, V10/N2). Hope these might be useful, I'll bring these articles in to the next reading.

At 11/17/2006 , Blogger razorsmile said...

(razorsmile is a pseudonymn for matt lee btw) I also want to say I'm very pleased with the detail of the commentary on the discussion group and it does make clear how useful such a good set of working notes is for an ongoing discussion. In terms of the mathematics, there's a fascinating article in this current edition (Vol37#3) of the Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, called 'The differential point of view of the infinitesimal calculus in Spinoza, Leibniz and Deleuze' by Simon Duffy. It seems that there's an increasing amount of work being done at the moment to try and grapple with this 'turn to mathematics' but I think one of the important things for me is to try and establish the philosophical implications of the various mnathematical models that are being used and introduced. For example, as I was re-reading an interesting little maths primer this week by Timoth Gowers (A Fields medal winner and maths prof at Cambridge) I found him briefly discussing axiomatics and the role of Russell and Whitehads' "Principia Mathematica". The importance of this text, for Gowers, is that it establishes the axiomatic hermeneutic (my phrase not his btw) which "means that any dispute about the validity of a mathematical proof can always be resolved". Whilst that may be fascinating, it struck me that the philosophical debate is going to extend well beyond simple validity issues - or else it is nothing but a logical debate. The philosophical debate is precisely going to be interested in the wider implications - ontological, meaningful, and the like. I also take it that this is exactly what Badiou and Deleuze want to do - that is, they want to establish some sort of ontological commitments on the basis of his presentation of set theory, not just a model of axiomatics to resolve proof debates via establishing grounds for validity. It seems, then, that it is still going to be an eminently philosophical issue whether the mathematical commitments are of interest - in other words, the maths is nothing but a form of argument _for_ claims that are not mathematical and thus it is the claims that these mathematical arguments purport to establish that need to be clarified. I'm still not entirely sure what either Badiou or Deleuze want to establish (as philosophical claims) via their use of mathematics.

At 11/17/2006 , Blogger edward said...

I think that for Deleuze mathematics offers presentations of the role of difference in determination. Thus the very physical concern with movement in the relation of time with distance travelled must articulate the universal operation of difference. In this sense a mathematico-biological system of different/ciation is used to explore the two sides of difference. It allows differential relations to differenciate actual terms and to coexist and interact in the virtual, thus explicating the two sides or powers of difference. I am intrigued by Matt’s argument that maths is used to support the non-mathematical. I wonder if Deleuze sees the process of actualisation as being mathematical in itself and thus extending itself in the maths we do (like thought thinking itself when the fractured self says ‘I think’ or matter individuating itself when the fractured self says ‘I am’) or whether it is modelled by mathematics as one possible metaphor among others (which Badiou claims in ‘The Clamour of Being’).

For Badiou of course if maths is ontology the concern is with whether philosophy allows maths to be itself or uses it for philosophical ends. Brian Smith made the point at our recent colloquium (see post dated November 1st 2006 below) that Badiou adds a temporality to the set theoretical apparatus he talks about, when it itself is immediate or all at once.

Matt mentions Simon Duffy and I would recommend a book he edited called ‘Virtual Mathematics: the logic of difference’ (published by Clinamen Press, 2006).


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