Deleuze’s Anti-Platonism

In the same moment that Greece gave birth to democracy (demos) it also gave birth to its greatest enemy, Plato. Plato reduced the fragmented authority of tradition to the syllabus of the Laws and Republic. Out of Plato came the new authority of Philosophy itself: its distinctions and judgments, of a supposed superior authority as one of its greatest inventions, and of its greatest triumph: the concept of  ‘transcendence’, the Idea, the metaphysics of representation, imitation, and participation.

The real world of the Idea as opposed to the apparent world of simulacra became both the tool and means for the dialectic: the art of hierarchical theory and exclusionary practices, as well as an elitism in philosophical theory and practice, aesthetics and political rule.  As Miguel de Beistegui remarks:

Platonism is a response and a solution to a problem brought about by the birth of Athenian democracy, in which, in the words of a commentator, “anyone could lay claim to anything, and could carry the day by the force of rhetoric.” Such is the reason why Platonism seeks to nip this anarchy and rebellion in the bud, by hunting down, as Plato says, simulacra and rogue images of all kinds (57).1

Plato’s creation of an eternal realm, a realm of Ideas as against the mere shadow world of appearances is at the heart of this two-thousand year old philosophical dispute. Plato made a distinction internal to the world of appearances between icons and phantasms, images and simulacra (56). The whole Art of the Dialectic could be said to be the ultimate tool invented by Plato to judge and make distinctions between the differences of these two types of images, one not so much of degrees as of kinds (57). Against Plato and his theoretical framework of ‘transcendence’ with its dialectical interplay of true and false worlds came the tradition of materialism in one form or another down the ages. Some say that it was Nietzsche that first made anti-Platonism explicit, marshaling an array of arguments against ‘transcendence’ in all its forms, and replacing it with the conceptual notion of ‘immanence’. Yet, Spinoza, is the main progenitor of this notion, in his battle for an ethics devoid of the Other’s dark hand he gave us the inner immanent power of things.

As Deleuze so eloquently put it: “The poisoned gift of Platonism is to have introduced transcendence into philosophy, to have given transcendence a plausible philosophical meaning” (58). No wonder those, such as Badiou and Zizek – who have returned to Hegel, Plato and the Pythagorean tradition of mathematics over reality, of materialist idealisms over immanence, despise such thoughts and have opposed Deleuze and his thought for the most part. Deleuze and those other materialist pioneers subvert this whole Platonic tradition, offering other more democratic appeals that even tempt us toward the non-philosophical traditions (“Oh, heaven forbid that we would displace the authority of Philosophy!” – one hears the chorus shout).

The Anti-Platonic tradition, of which Deleuze is the most vocal and recent prognosticator, argues that ‘transcendence’ should have no place in philosophy, that if the truth be told this invention of Plato’s is nothing more nor less than the emergence in philosophy of the religious, moral, and political distribution of power (58). Against such fictions Deleuze offers us the notion of ‘immanence’ which is to return to Greece and the origins of Democracy, to see in this notion the emergence of that political ‘event’ with all its repercussions and unresolved conflicts in which what was central was the distinct possibility unrealized in that age of a society of equals, and of philosophy as a society of friends (58).

With Plato came the ultimate political weapon and moral tool: the Idea, the greatest invention of any philosopher before or since Plato, one that gave us the true figure of philosophy – the Concept. It is against this concept that any new materialist philosophy will have to pose a greater Concept, one that overrules the Real and Apparent worlds with something that exposes such distinctions as themselves both fictions and unreal judgments of a philosophy based on the illusion of ‘transcendence’. We can no longer play by the old rules, fall into the trap of using Plato’s framework to argue against Plato. No, we must now wipe this old elitist hierarchy from the face of philosophy. We must begin again, make new distinctions, wipe Plato’s very name from the history of philosophy. One cannot argue with Plato on his own terms, he will always win because that is the art of the dialectic – its beauty and its evil.

To argue against the Idea is as absurd as arguing against God, one will always lose this argument for the simple reason that the rules of the game, the very conceptual framework within which one would argue is itself the problem one is trying to find a solution too. To argue in favor of the simulacra as Deleuze did is in itself to admit defeat from the beginning. It cannot be done. To use the very tools of the enemy is to already allow the enemy within the gate. The logic of this whole apparatus lays waste any arguments against it. Is this why Heidegger tried to return to the pre-Socratics? Heidegger’s  returned to metaphysics but fell into mysticism in the end… that is not the way we want to go. Yet, from both Heidegger and Deleuze we can learn what not to do, what paths we should not follow…

Yet, is there another way to overcome Plato? Deleuze was on the right track… One thinks of Kafka and the burrowing mole. One must not pretend that Plato does not exist, nor can one overleap Plato and return to the pre-Socratics (Heidegger), instead one must like a double-agent, a spy, a mole enter into enemy territory, learn its language inside and out, know each of its strengths and its flaws, get to know those who admire its ways, make friends with those who know its strengths and weaknesses. One will enter the skin of the enemy, appear within its guise, know its mind and take on the truth of its message, and then in the moment of one’s deepest acceptance one learns the dark art of betrayal. Yes, one takes the tools of the enemy back to the homeland of one’s own conceptual world of the simulacra, and applies reverse engineering: methodologies and practices of the simulacrum. It was for such a reversal within the heart of Plato’s own system that Deleuze infiltrated the theory and practice of Platonism immanently from within thereby overturning two-thousand years of the old hierarchies of the Idea and idealism from Parmenides to now. That he was in the midst of formulating these new conceptual relations is admitted, that he did not live to complete his task is sadness for all concerned; yet, he gave us the lead, the path to follow, a framework and a program to instigate such a new philosophy. For this we must all be grateful.

Democritus was never mentioned by Plato, and the Sophists were his declared rivals and enemies. So it is to his enemies that any new materialism must turn for answers and models; for if we are to become like moles burrowing into the host we must take with us all the subtle tools of the simulacra with us. To overcome Plato one must become Plato with a vengeance; the simulacra of Platonism rules from within its Master’s dispersed fragments. Some would argue that this is nothing more than a completed Platonism rather than its reversal or overturning. Or, even a revised Platonism I which the radical simulacrum are finally emancipated from the domination of those tyrannical Ideas, emancipated and dispersed through the immanent world where they thrive in all their living vibrancy.

Nature is Harlequin’s cloak…

– Gilles Deleuze, Lucretius and the Simulacrum

Lucretius

“With Epicurus and Lucretius the real noble acts of philosophical pluralism begin” (LS 267).1 For Deleuze Epicurus and his epigone were the progenitors of a disturbance within Platonic sleep, they offered an Order of things that was ruled by the immanence of power whose principle was diversity; yet, this was a diversity opposed to the One, Being, and the Whole. As Deleuze remarked: “These concepts are the obsessions of the mind, speculative forms of belief in the fatum, and the theological forms of a false philosophy” (LS 267). At the heart of this tradition of pluralism and diversity is a philosophy of Naturalism:

The speculative object and the practical object of philosophy as Naturalism, science and pleasure, coincide on this point: it is always a matter of denouncing the illusion, the false infinite, the infinity of religion and all of the myths in which it is expressed. To the question “what is the use of philosophy” the answer must be: who else would have an interest in holding forth the image of a free man, and in denouncing all of the forces which need myth and troubled souls in order to establish their power? … One of the most profound constants of Naturalism is to denounce everything that is sadness, everything that is the cause of sadness, and everything that needs sadness to exercise its power. From Lucretius to Nietzsche, the same end is pursued and attained (LS 278-79)

That Lucretius just like Plato had a theory of images, would appear to some to commend him as in the tradition of Platonism rather than as its dire enemy. Yet, if one looks closely one realizes that for Lucretius there was no dichotomy of real as opposed to apparent world, no opposition between image and phantasm or simulacrum; and, in fact, these images as simulacra in Lucretius philosophy was not opposed to the real or Idea. There is no sense of the Idea in Lucretius’s system at all. Instead of the distinction between a real or apparent world of Idea and image or simulacrum there was only the opposition between images and illusions (D 64). Instead of a Platonism and transcendent structure based on a vertical alignment of hierarchical oppositions of Idea to copy, image to simulacrum, etc. in Lucretius we have instead an immanent structure of relations of depth to surface. Instead of apprehending Ideas through Intellection in Platonism in Lucretius we apprehend a material core through the senses. The physical world instead of mirroring or imitating some eternal world of Ideas emerges from the productive combinations of immanent powers of composition not emanations of some eidetic core of Being.

How are we to prevent illusion, if not by means of the rigorous distinction of the true infinite and the correct appreciation of times nested one within the other, and of the passages to the limit which they imply? Such is the meaning of Naturalism. (LS 277-278)

Lucretius formulates three types of images that can lead one toward illusions. Each of these types is in fact differing and divergent apprehensions of things as moments of time: rapid, thin, and fleeting; as well as the corollary illusions – religious, dreamlike, and erotic. These three types or simulacra or phantasms, and the illusions to which they tend, are all part and partial of the mind’s own need to project infinity (non-temporal)  into something finite (temporal), and the inability of relating these depth to surface images to sensible perceptions. As one commentator suggests:

Lucretius’ materialism is a systematic effort to dissolve all illusions – religious, dreamlike, and erotic – and denounce all uses of the bad infinite. In the end, everything comes down to this distinction, which is also the basic principle of selection, between infinite and finite, as well as the true infinite and the bad finite. As Deleuze puts it: “simulacra produce the mirage of a false infinite in the images which they form; they give birth to the double illusion of an infinite capacity for pleasure and an infinite possibility of torment” (LS 277). (D 66-67)

It was Lucretius who formulated the basic lineaments of a Naturalism that is still with us. “Naturalism as the philosophy of affirmation; pluralism linked with multiple affirmations; sensualism connected with the joy of the diverse; and the practical critique of all mystifications” (LS 279).

Aion is the ideal player of the game; it is an infused and ramified chance.

– Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense

Stoicism

What if the Platonic invention of the Idea as primary and permanent, as situated outside of time and space in some eternal realm, were not only wrong headed but the cause of all our problems to begin with? What if these supposed eternal Ideas were non-existent, were in fact not pre-existent facts but were produced instead as surface effects of physical bodies as incorporeal entities or ‘events’? The notion here is that there is no eternal realm of Ideas at all, that against Plato’s enforcement of the Idea as pre-existent to the image out of which the sensible world as a whole emerges, through imitation, there is only bodies fully deployed and in process; and, from these bodies interactions and surface effects ‘events’ arise: events being the post-effect of these surface tensions and interactions. The incorporeals do not precede physical interactions, and in fact exceed their surface tensions. In this way the incorporeal is not tied to some ground of Being, to some Idea that precedes it: it is nothing more than the “impassive, sterile and inefficacious”  effect that takes place at the surface of bodies (substance and accidents, image and simulacra), without resembling them (LS 7).1

This is the essential truth of Stoicism that Deleuze revives. Instead of the Platonic distinction between images and simulacra, or Ideas and phantasms the Stoics offered the distinction between bodies and the effects produced by those bodies – effects that are themselves incorporeal entities (D 67). And, ultimately this was to become for Deleuze the key to a temporal distinction, the distinction between two modalities of time (D 67).2

The Stoics discovered surface effects. Simulacra cease to be subterranean rebels and make the most of their effects (that is, what might be called “phantasms,” independently of the Stoic terminology). …  To reverse Platonism is first and foremost to remove essences and to substitute events [incorporeals] in their place as throws [jets] of singularities.” (LS 7-8)

At this point we return to the Stoics sense of time, of the two distinct temporalities of depths (“Chronos”) and surfaces (“Aion”), as opposed to the ancients idea of time as past, present, and future of one temporal dimension. In this sense Chronos is the modality of time as “the always limited present, which measures the action of bodies as causes and the state of their mistures in depth; as well as, Aion, as “the essentially unlimited past of future, which gather incorporeal events, at the surface, as effects” (LS 61). The two regimes of time or intertwined yet distinct, chronological time is successive, which defines being as existence; but aionological time, or becoming, is a traversal of chronological time, and defines being as “insistence,” or “subsistence” (D 70). The Stoics in fact agreed with Aristotle in concluding that the present was a limit or measure of time, that in fact the present was incorporeal and did not exist, was not actual.

It is this infinite recyclable sense of the present as cut off from the actual, and yet tied to the greater continuum of Time as animated eternal return of the Same, which explains what Deleuze meant when he remarked that “it will be said that only the past and future subsist, that they subdivide each present, ad infinitum, however small it may be, stretching out over heir empty line” (LS 61).  This is the time of Aion, spread out from the present in both directions, past and future:

Through its unlimited subdivisions in both directions at once, each event runs along the entire Aion and becomes coextensive to its straight line in both directions. Do we then sense in the approach of an eternal return no longer having anything to do with the cycle, or the entrance of a labyrinth (LS 64).

Instead of the infinity of the recurring present we have the infinite Aion, the line upon which are spread the singularities not of states of affairs but of an infinite sea of singular events. As our commentator attests, this is the disturbing strangeness of a “labyrinthine, uncanny and threatening, far more difficult to accept, and more difficult still to affirm” infinity without bounds, open and extended in two directions at once (D 72). It is out of the merger of the Stoic conception of time and Nietzsche’s conception of recurrence that Deleuze would forge his own inviolable sense of time as the object of a transmutation, a new kind of affirmative selective process, test, and distinction opposed to the Platonic image of thought.

At some point in the future I want to deal specifically with Deleuze’s theory of time as it emerged across his entire oeuvre, but this is only enough to explain its beginnings in the Stoic thought of the ancients. Analysis always seems to reduce complexities to a series of notations, and especially blog posts that are neither fully explicated nor meant to be. I use these posts to navigate current work and bring back to remembrance threads for future adventures.

Difference and Repetition

So where does this leave us? Deleuze’s attempt to overturn Platonism has brought in Lucretius and the Stoics. From Lucretius we gain the tradition of Naturalism, while from the Stoics we gain the insights of a tradition of incorporeality and time. Out of Lucretius Deleuze gained a philosophy of becoming and process, while the Stoics gave him a “sensualism connected with the joy of the diverse,” and a significant “critique of mystification” (LS 279). Against the Platonic philosophy of an erotic sadness, of illusions spawned by the invention of a transcendent image of thought and the power of Judgement Deleuze offered in Difference and Repetition a systematique  philosophy of the Simulacra: a “nomadic and fluid system of differences freed from the grip of Ideas and the logic of identity” (D 73).

Yet, the question arises: How are beings organized? How is being distributed among beings? Do we go with Plato and his followers? Do we accept their theories of distribution of being through imitation, participation, and or even analogy; that is, ideally and categorically, in what amounts to a movement from diversity, multiplicity, and difference, to increasing decrees of unity and identity, and culminating in the Good and God? (D 73) Or is univocity the key? Is being distributed univocally through random algorithms and the endless route of an event, the dance of an eternal return of difference? Most of all is philosophy forever doomed to an orientation towards the identity of the substantive object, or is the processual world of becoming within a system of differential multiplicities the key?

In Plato and Aristotle difference is seen through the key of a previous similarity or identity. But for Deleuze this is no longer viable, instead we should see difference as the “product of a deep disparity” (LS 261). Following we Deleuze we overcome Platonism by not only reversing the terms but by replacing the metaphysics of representation with a metaphysics of production. As Beistegui suggests, the “world does not unfold through imitation and reproduction, but through a rigorous dynamic of production” (D 73). Disparity becomes the key in this scenario, it becomes the origin of production not identity; in fact, through disparity we understand that it is a result of disparities between elements and series (to use mathematical terminology), and at every level of being (physical, biological, psychological, aesthetic, social and political, etc.), that the world is shaped and events take place (D 74).

Phenomenon emerge not as copies of some eternal Idea, but as part of the process of differences and differentials – of potential, energy, pressure, level, temperature, tension, or as Deleuze specifies, intensities (DR 117).3  Plato offers a world of copies and representations, Deleuze offers a world of simulacra and the world as phantasm (LS 261-62, DR 126). Instead of essence being manifested as the bedrock of phenomenon, we get the productive world of becomings: as world of expression through products that communicate with each other through heterogeneous and disparate series (D 74). Instead of essence and appearance, model and copy we get a world in which “crowned anarchies are substituted for the hierarchies of representation; nomadic distributions for the sedentary distributions and representations” (DR 278). Instead of the need for a Platonic judgment between appearances, we gain – with Deleuze, an affirmation of appearances and celebrate them as the “condensation of coexistences and a simultaneity of events” (LS 262).

Against Plato with his metaphysics of representation, that enforces the rule of imitation, resemblance, and participation, and the dark and systematic exclusion of simulacra, Deleuze offers us the metaphysics of difference and simulacra, of repetition and productivity as the only reality, and castigating Plato’s world of Ideas as itself the illusionary world. It all comes down to two very different conceptions of difference and repetition. For Plato there is the repetition of copies and models, of identity repeated ad infinitum.  For Deleuze what returns is not the Idea in the copy, but the simulacra of difference itself, the eternal return not of the Same but of difference ad infinitum. It is the production of difference itself, as always differently, as difference.

For Deleuze difference was a part of an evolutionary productive process, difference returned not as a self-identical entity, but a the process of differentiation. As a principle of selection, difference affirms a world of becoming and change over the illusion of being and identity, as well as the desire for a world of creativity of the new and different over the Platonic world of imitation of the Same and identical. Deleuze’s world is one of choice and ethics, of experimentation and becoming, intensities, desire, and energy. This is the world of immanence against transcendence, of escape and the erotics of multiplicity.

Deleuze’s thought came down to overcoming Plato’s framework of representation, by producing a new way of thinking the image as immanence not transcendence. As Beistegui remarks in his essay this is an image of thought, life, and art that sets in motion a world that is torn apart, that disperses the self-same identities of a harmonious and static world of representations and gives us a world of conflict and pathos, which “draws thought out of its dogmatic sleep, laziness, stupor, and stupidity, and opens the way to what, in his later thought, Deleuze calls the body without organs, or the life of pure immanence” (D 78). This is a world not of peace and contemplation, but of creativity, spontaneity, and the agonistic pathos of desire and becomings, of an ethos of trust and communication.

———————————–

1. LS Gilles Deleuze. The Logic of Sense. trans. Mark Lester with Charles Stivale. ed. Constantine V. Boundas (Columbia University Press, 1990)
2. D The Cambridge Companion to Deleuze. Editors Daniel W. Smith and Henry Somers-Hall (Cambridge University Press, 2012)
3. DR Difference and Repetition. Gilles Deleuze. (Columbia University Press (April 15, 1995))

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