Gilles Deleuze is well-known for his philosophy of difference, which attempts to move past Platonism and identity (among other things) and think in terms of difference and the pure multiple. In 1997, Alain Badiou published his study Deleuze: The Clamor of Being, which sought to undertake a controversial re-interpretation of Deleuzian thought. In the study, Badiou asserts that the Deleuzian project of multiplicity is radically singular at the core. Deleuzism is also indicted as "aristocratic" and "ascetic," in contrast to its renown as espousing the vitalist "heterogeneous multiplicity of desire." Jon Roffe's book, Badiou's Deleuze (Acumen; 2012), solely seeks to question Clamor of Being's account in a comprehensive as well as rigorous manner.
The book follows, and traces relatively linearly, the arguments presented in Badiou's study. At the heart of the controversy is the notion that Deleuzian metaphysics is, fundamentally, a metaphysics of the singular, rather than pure multiplicity. And it is this notion -- too complex to be addressed in a single chapter -- that Roffe wishes to severely undermine and unravel as the book progresses. The chapters are as follows: 1) The history of a disjunctive synthesis 2) Is Deleuze a philosopher of the One? 3) Method 4) The virtual 5) Truth and time 6) The event in Deleuze 7) Thought and the subject 8) A singular palimpsest.
Badiou's infamous study begins by speaking about hierarchized multiplicity -- the One-All. For him, Deleuze's ontology of the multiple is irredeemably permeated by this formula. Here, consultation with Spinoza, Deleuze's favorite philosopher, may be helpful. For Spinoza, the multiple of beings are expressed by reference to the One of the Substance, said to possess an infinity of attributes, the many, or all are said to be modalities of the one. In turn, Badiou would like to propose that Deleuze preserves this emanative unity with reference to the doctrine of univocity where (contra the Aristotelian account of category.) multiple beings affirm themselves in the same way -- "a singular voice" -- despite being radically different.
The way that Roffe responds to claims like this is by way of initiating a "procedure of testing" (p. 6) Badiou's hypotheses with Deleuze's textual corpus. This means that if you read this book, you had better be seriously knowledgeable about Deleuze and the interpretation of his philosophy by Alain Badiou. The reference and scale of this work is awe-inspiring, attempting to attack Badiou's reading on points bogged down in jargon and theoretical abstraction. What makes this substantially more complicated is the well-known writing style of Deleuze himself. Gilles Deleuze believed that philosophy should never try to present itself linearly, but should be a production-site of the concept. So we are dealing with loaded terms that change meaning through different books. Hence, a major critique of Badiou is for Deleuze's "organicist" thinking in parallel to his own axiomatically formalized set-theoretic ontology.
Roffe engages the "emanative schema" of the One-All (or, One-Many) in the second chapter by attempting to introduce an "in fine dissonance" (p. 9) which he will expand upon throughout the work. In effect, he would posit that Badiou applies an "initial axiom, a filter or lens" (p. 5) to the pluralistic philosophy of Deleuze. That is, he reads what he wants to read in Deleuze's philosophy which supports his doctrine of a monism inherent within it. And it is upon this trajectory of One-All that the argumentation of Badiou's Deleuze unfolds.
The real point of contention here comes down to the virtual-actual dichotomy. Badiou refers to them as an "unthinkable Two." He claims that the virtual in Deleuze, despite being referred to as a ground-without-ground (fond sans fond) functions as a ground. In line with a singular metaphysics, the virtual-actual, in Badiou's reading, serves as an artificial "prop" to keep Deleuze's ontology from collapsing into unity. For Badiou himself, the solution is simple: not only does the virtual not exist, but the One itself is also non-existent; the void is the backdrop of multiplicity. The author effectively deals with this claim by explicating the concept of the virtual as actualized, but not a ground for the actual. It is beyond the scope of this review to sum up his line of argumentation here further, but suffice it to say, Roffe brilliantly, lucidly relates it to Deleuze's interpretations of Kant, Maimon, and differential calculus. Moments as this made me appreciate the book beyond a formalized attempt to reject the Badiouan critique. That is to say, when the book revealed things stressed and important within Deleuze's oeuvre -- such as a number of quotes from Difference and Repetition -- but which were said to be frequently glossed over. Doubtless, many readers who believed they knew the real Deleuze, will experience the same moments of enlightenment. In this regard, it could serve as valuable elucidatory tool to those attempting to concretely cement their knowledge of the more technical aspects of Deleuze's philosophy of difference.
The thesis traces and expands upon lines of arguments developed in prior chapters, as well as engages the various hypotheses proposed by Badiou on each point of a key contention. It continues on into an investigation of split time as a symptom of unity, and then on into the event in Deleuze, and finally, to thought and the subject. As was alluded to previously, the book aims to "unfold" the principle of a hierarchized multiplicity gradually rather than attacking it in one go. So it is rather difficult to be summative here, but I hope that I have given adequate information to understand the themes driving the inquiry of the text.
In the beginning of Badiou's Deleuze, we are led to believe that the book seeks to be absolutely objective and unbiased. However, one cannot escape the feeling that certain passages sometimes have a dogmatic tint. For example, page 79, 2nd paragraph -- Roffe says something which essentially amounts to implying that Badiou is ignorant. Moreover, the idea that a thinker like Badiou misread and misinterpreted virtually every major point about Deleuze in Clamor of Being is difficult to accept, even if one does not have immediate counters to Roffe's line of argumentation at hand. I am trying to be fair myself, but the last chapter presents a sort of odd, sentimental overture out of tone with the rest of the book, as if Roffe had been a footsoldier in the war for Deleuzian metaphysics.
I should take the time now to point out to prospective readers that, despite occupying half the title, Badiou and his own set-theoretic ontology is (disappointingly) not discussed to any great length whatsoever in Badiou's Deleuze. The focus is singularly devoted to his interpretation of Deleuzian metaphysics and ontology as it is found in Deleuze: The Clamor of Being, as well as minor related texts such as "Of Life as a Name of Being: Deleuze's Vitalist Ontology."
In all, I recommend this book to anyone highly interested in postmodern philosophy and the work of Gilles Deleuze. It is an excellent work in the scholarship of archaeological hermeneutics. If nothing else, the novelty of Badiou's Deleuze proves as stimulating as Clamor of Being itself.
© 2013 Rijad Custovic
Rijad Custovic, Emmanuel College