It is a difficult task, for the philosopher, to pull names away from a usage that prostitutes them. Already Plato had to take all possible pains to hold his ground with the word justice, against the sophist’s quibbling and devious usage.
– Alain Badiou, Ethics
Against its misappropriation of an ethics deemed a smug nihilism, a conservative order that has proclaimed its own universal ethical dementia through economic enforcement and unbridled conquest of financial resources, Badiou martials the plaintiff case of a an impossible possible: an ethics of truths by which “every loving encounter, every scientific re-foundation, every artistic invention and every sequence of emancipatory politics” tears itself away from such nihilistic smugness.(39)1
Badiou tells us that only a particular kind of animal, the human animal, has – so far as we know, entered into that composition that composes a subject that enables the “passing of a truth along its path”(40). “This is when the human animal is convoked to be the immortal that he was not” (40). But what does Badiou mean by immortal? Badiou explicates:
An immortal: this is what the worst situations that can be inflicted upon Man show him to be, in so far as he distinguishes himself within the varied and rapacious flux of life. … So if the ‘rights of man’ exist, they are surely not rights of life against death, or rights of survival against misery. They are the rights of the Immortal, affirmed in their own right, or the rights of the Infinite, exercised over the contingency of suffering and death. The fact that in the end we all die, that only dust remains, in no way alters Man’s identity as immortal at the instant in which he affirms himself as someone who runs counter to the temptation of wanting-to-be-an-animal to which circumstances may expose him. (12)
In Nabokov’s short story “Signs and Symbols” a suicidal son “imagines that everything happening around him is a veiled reference to his personality and existence. …Everything is a cipher and of everything he is the theme”. Of course this is closer to R.D. Laing’s sense of the delusional references of a paranoiac: ‘in typical paranoid ideas of reference, the person feels that the murmurings and mutterings he hears as he walks past a street crowd are about him. In a bar, a burst of laughter behind his back is at some joke cracked about him’ that deeper acquaintance with the patient reveals in fact that ‘what tortures him is not so much his delusions of reference, but his harrowing suspicion that he is of no importance to anyone, that no one is referring to him at all’.
But what do we call the delusions of philosophers who reduce the thought and systems of another philosopher to one conceptual thought or ruling idea? What of fidelity and betrayal? I was thinking of this when reading Eleanor Kaufman’s new work on Deleuze, The Dark Precursor Dialectic, Structure, Being, which is an excellent read so far. In it she mentions the work of Alain Badiou, Slavoj Zizek, and Peter Hallward in relation to Deleuze. As she states it:
AS WITH MANY PROMINENT thinkers, there is a striking imperative that circulates among those who read Deleuze: a drive to fidelity, or more nearly to not betray the master’s thought, the trap that so many who write in his wake purportedly fall into. The world of Deleuze criticism is rarely immune from the dialectic of fidelity and betrayal that is arguably so far removed from Deleuze’s thought. (87)
All three of these authors seem to attack those disciples of Deleuze who have fallen into the trap of literalizing the Master’s work, instead one must betray the Master “to remain faithful to (and repeat) the ‘spirit’ of his thought” (87). Yet, as concerns Deleuze, there are those who have betrayed the master by taking one part of his work – the complicit co-authored works of Deleuze and Guattari – for the singular splendor of the Master’s truth. Kaufman cites Badiou in this regard:
“That Deleuze never did anything of an explicit nature to dissipate this [misunderstanding] is linked to that weakness rife among philosophers— in fact, none of us escape it— regarding the equivocal role of disciples. As a general rule, disciples have been won over for the wrong reasons, are faithful to a misinterpretation, overdogmatic in their exposition, and too liberal in debate. They almost always end up by betraying us…” (87-88)