Asked Graham Harman three days ago (which (as has already been noted) is light years for the frequency with which he posts): ‘What are some of the great “atypical” works in the history of philosophy that do not resemble other works by that thinker?’

I would nominate Badiou and Derrida, for their writing on Deleuze. The tone Badiou chooses to adopt in his Deleuze book ranges from respectful, to discourteous, to shockingly, gracelessly coarse, to peremptory, to imperiously high-handed.. yes well..

A brilliant (as far as I can tell) book, but shot through with the traces of a personal vendetta that Badiou felt the need to let drag on after Deleuze’s death, drawing on five years of correspondence that Deleuze did not want to see published (not that any of it is, but one is left wondering if Deleuze would have appreciated the use of his letters in this way). (Parenthetically, I do realize that Deleuze himself had a hand at throwing insults around. But I always read those as much more directly connected to his use of subsversive humour).

Anyway, this personal, snide tone that runs through Clameur de l’Etre is what makes it stand out for me as uncharacteristic of his writing as a whole, which is usually mathematically clear, refreshingly lucid, sometimes too dry, with moments of beauty,

(some random examples of the last:

‘A human is that being which prefers to represent itself within finitude, whose sign is death, rather than knowing itself to be entirely traversed and encircled by the omnipresence of infinity.’, Being and Event, trans., p. 149

and most of his Fifteen theses on art, especially: 12. Non-imperial art must be as rigorous as a mathematical demonstration, as surprising as an ambush in the night, and as elevated as a star. )

‘I’ll have to wander all alone’, Derrida’s short obituary written (as they tend to be) just after Deleuze’s death, is worlds away from what was his usual, infamously convoluted style. It is really very moving and written in sensitive, and clear language (although I did always find the title strangely self-centered..).

‘There is too much to say, yes, about the time I was given, along with so many others of my ‘generation’, to share with Deleuze; about the good fortune I had of thinking thanks to him, by thinking of him.I will continue to begin again to read Gilles Deleuze in order to learn, and I’ll have to wander all alone in this long conversation that we were supposed to have together… And I would have tried to tell him why his thought has never left me, for nearly forty years. How could it do so from now on?’

2 thoughts on “

  1. Nice post, Jeroen – and good to see you blog! In La Clameur de l’être I didn’t so much read a vendetta or snide tone, as something more like a failed love. It’s obvious that Badiou desperately needed something like Deleuze’s approval, that they did manage to have something like a relationship at some point, and that Badiou felt betrayed by Deleuze’s disowning of the correspondence.

    And the philosophical disagreements that Badiou spells out seem to me not so much to be framed as an argumented rejection of Deleuze, but as a difference in taste:

    “Comme aurait dit Deleuze, pour aussitôt, tout comme moi, reprendre le fil des arguments et de la volonté de séduire, de rallier: c’est une question de goût.”

    Which means Badiou’s difference with Deleuze is on an axiomatic level. And that may well be what makes the book so unusual for Badiou. Most of his books do not clearly show where his philosophical assumptions could be vulnerable. Instead, you get this impregnable stronghold, this extraordinarily though edifice of reasoning. Here, more than in Being and Event, you are shown the contingencies of its foundation.

    Badiou makes clear he can’t defeat Deleuze. He probably doesn’t even want to. He needs him too much.

  2. Cheers Samuel – I am aware of the naiveté of calling someone ‘mean’, and that Badiou uses words like ‘promise’ (from post below) in a technical way. It’s just that I’m continually weary of the hot-tempered tone that so often prevails in academic circles.
    To be honest, going through Clameur de l’Etre again a bit more thoroughly, I do find Badiou’s tone milder than I had remembered. Let me put it this way then: in Badiou’s Deleuzian reading of Deleuze it is sometimes unclear to me when B. uses language legitimately to turn concepts around on D., or when B. might be using language in a mean, or pejorative way. Anyway, it’s their fight, so I’ll shut up now and let them go on having it.

    To restate my point in a broader way though: personal interest sometimes clouds academic judgement. Example; I remember a particular Professor of Sanskrt who made himself very unpopular by writing a soundly researched book in which he argued (if I recall correctly) that Sanskrt had probably had a significant influence on the development of early Tamil. The book infuriated some Tamil linguists, who interpreted the whole thing as some kind of attempt to dethrone Tamil from its supposedly insular high ground.

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