In my previous post on this topic, in which Ed Berger and I basically swapped notes on Maoist dialectics in relation to Deleuze-Guattari and Badiou, I left a nod to Vince Garton.
After recently reading a book on Mao’s philosophical influences that Vince recommended at the end of last year, I imagined he might have something to say about the things we were discussing. And he did! Below is Vince’s comment in full:
Some excellent quotes from Badiou here — particularly love the one on “the contemporary theory of evil” towards the end.
I suspect that today the points of contact between Badiou and Deleuze (etc.) should be emphasised above the grand disputes. It’s notable that Badiou’s intellectual exclusivism on certain points contrasts with Mao’s own eclecticism, as sketched by Allinson. On one point in particular I would be inclined to go further than Allinson — the influence of Nietzsche. He demonstrates Nietzsche’s formative influence on Mao as one of his earliest encounters with Western philosophy, but Allinson declines the conclusion that Mao was “Nietzschean” because of his own analysis of Nietzsche. I don’t find this analysis convincing, but more importantly it’s one that is shaped by Nietzsche’s post-WWII reception in the West and so cannot have been Mao’s own perception.
We may recall that Lu Xun, one of Mao’s immediate influences, was an out-and-out Nietzschean for a time and remained in close dialogue with Nietzsche throughout his life. There is much more to be said about Nietzsche’s presence in Mao and his subterranean influence on modern China, and indeed since the 1980s various Chinese intellectuals have gestured towards him in more or less open ways.
The intellectual determinants of Maoism and modern China would need a book — or several dozen — to discuss properly, so I will leave it as flagging a useful contrast. “Badiou with Deleuze”, “Badiou with Nietzsche” might be more helpful than “Badiou contra …”, and certainly produce more useful lines of inquiry than the favoured turf wars of academics, which usually devolve into personal grudges only superficially litigated through philosophy.
Badiou’s fascinating gloss on the “one divides into two” as “the divided essence of the movement as One” comes off, to me, as more “Deleuzo-Guattarian” than D&G’s own summary dismissal of the formula in ATP. Ed’s caution on D&G’s treatment of that point seems fully warranted to me. The principle of contradiction-in-tension is essential. It’s sketched not just by Badiou and Mao, but crucially by Nietzsche and in various forms in premodern Chinese philosophy and certain undercurrents of Western theology.
What I would add, though, is that in my admittedly relatively limited readings of him Badiou’s particular interlinking of mathematics and philosophy with politics, his return to the material world, never quite comes off as convincing to me. His concrete political analyses, such as his history of the Cultural Revolution, tend to be quite superficial, to my mind. In our end-of-history universe it is (genuinely) more important than ever to think rigorously about the mechanisms and determinants of meaningful political action.
Badiou, then, could probably benefit from some correction in his own right — first from an ur-Marxian focus on the machinery of political economy in detail; secondly from a closer reading of Chinese intellectual contributions on their own terms, not just because of Mao but also because China is the most important and (in the West) least understood factor in great politics today and one of the few remaining sources of genuinely novel recombinations of philosophical analysis; and thirdly, in groping towards the determinants of political action, from those various much-maligned sources — like D&G and (!) Sorel.
As I began writing this post, Ed already responded to Vince himself too, focussing on Vince’s comments regarding Nietzche. The influence of Nietzsche here is definitely interesting, but Vince is right that Allinson’s book only deals with Nietzsche in brief. The short sub-chapter in The Philosophical Influences of Mao Zedong only focuses on Nietzsche’s striving to go beyond good and evil rather than explicitly dealing with how something like the eternal return (or whatever else) factors into his dialectical thinking. On this point, Ed writes:
Vince — your comment, especially your foregrounding of Nietzsche in Mao’s intellectual development, resonates with some stuff I was looking at yesterday after my initial response to XG. Namely, Alenka Zupančič’s book “The Shortest Shadow”. Zupančič’s focus is on Nietzsche’s comments that noon is not a moment of pure unity, but the moment that “one turns into two”. I’m wondering if this influenced Mao’s own take-up of Lenin’s momentary re-assessment of the dialectic in this manner. She foregrounds the generation of tension through this formula, and makes the important point that the Two that the One splits into simply isn’t two Ones (as D&G read Mao in ATP), but signals the emergence of difference, as the impossibility of a fixed relationship between two elements. “Dionysus the Crucified” is read through this lenses is the drawing of a dynamic relation that is unfixed between two elements, Dionysus and Christ. (Or in Williams-mode: Marxist-Leninism and Neoliberal Capitalism?)
This makes the D&G simplistic rejection of the One —> Two even more puzzling, as this is precisely the same dynamic that runs through the whole of ATP. I’m also wondering if this widens the lenses for the contact between Deleuze and Badiou happening here: Zupančič reads this as Nietzsche’s philosophy of the Event, and is the Event not both the germ and the gulf between Badiou and Deleuze?
On the other hand, I’m having difficulties thinking this in relation to the question of “metaterrorism”, unless metaterrorism is likened to Nietzschean parody, which takes affirmation and negation together and carries them beyond themselves (which fwiw seems to be how Klossowski treated “accelerate the process” itself).
I’d like to add my own two cents by trying to pick up on a few things in each comment simultaneously.
I’m glad, personally, that it’s not just me who is a little confused as to the precise nature of the disagreement between Badiou and Deleuze-Guattari here. I think Vince is right that the disagreements seem to be academic rather than explicitly political. Badiou’s animosity seems rooted in the fact that, as a student in ’68 when Deleuze was a lecturer, he was supposedly part of a student organisation that forced Deleuze to retract his Bolshevism(?). Sounds like classic student hijinks.
Either way, it seems there’s certainly some interpersonal drama that overshadows the actual philosophical disagreements. But that is also something that works both ways. Whereas Badiou had an axe to grind with Deleuze over his political activities (or apparent lack thereof) in ’68, Guattari had an axe to grind with Badiou over his uncritical Lacanianism. (Peter Barker has a funny line on this, when introducing Badiou’s 1982 Theory of the Subject: “Badiou’s reliance on Lacanian psychoanalysis was strongly at odds with the Deleuzo-Guattarian construction of a political unconscious. Unlike the anti-psychiatrist Felix Guattari, Badiou never underwent analysis with Lacan, and so crucially had no axe to grind with the institutional arrangements of Lacan’s Ecole Freudienne.”)
Beyond this, I am in total agreement with Vince’s overall point here. Something percolating alongside this discussion for me is the influence of American political and literary thought on Deleuze and Guattari at that time. One of the other books I’m drowning in at the minute as I attempt to haphazardly constructed an intellectual patchwork of influences on this topic is Max Elbaum’s Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che, which explores the influence of “Third World Marxism” on the various revolutionary Communist groups active stateside from the ’60s to the collapse of the Soviet Union. But it also asks what Lenin, Mao and Che can teach political movements today that have been defanged by what Badiou might call the “ethical” turn in modern politics.
The edition I have has a preface by Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, which bigs up the book, but does more to paint a picture of the present impasse than make any comment on how to deal with it. It is, again, superficial rather than asking perhaps the most interesting and difficult of questions: what might Lenin, Mao and Che mean to Black Lives Matter or Extinction Rebellion, et al., today, in the aftermath of the twentieth century? I think that, broadly speaking, regardless of his style of presentation, penchant for maths, etc., this is the question that Badiou brings to the fore in the 2000s. For better or for worse, he attempts to update it to mirror the other “conditions” of our moment, reading this kind of thinking through the science or mathematics of the present, and this is perhaps his biggest influence on contemporary continental theory, and perhaps in part responsible for dissolving the Continental-Analytic divide, albeit monstrously. Žižek’s most recent book really takes up this kind of project, for instance. In Sex and the Failed Absolute, which I’m yet to properly dive into, he addresses the problem mentioned last time, around zero and sexuation, and considers it through the lens of speculative realism and quantum physics. Why? Because he takes up Badiou’s Althusserian streak, through which he suggests that new philosophies are always made possible by simultaneous advances in art, politics and science — Kantian philosophy would not have be possible without Newtonian physics and the French revolution, for instance.
That’s what I find interesting, personally, and accelerationism seems to be a similar attempt at this. It feels like its kind theory of the subject, which tries to formulate a new philosophy that properly responds to capitalism’s current crises. I find a reappraisal of the early accelerationist blogosphere especially interesting on those grounds too. I wholly agree with Vince, basically. My current obsession with Badiou is fuelled less by a belief in his project — and even less by an understanding of his mathematical arguments, which I do not possess — and more by an interest in how his inclusion in the development of accelerationism asks precisely these sorts of questions. “In our end-of-history universe it is (genuinely) more important than ever to think rigorously about the mechanisms and determinants of meaningful political action.” I don’t think I could have said it any better myself. I think that’s precisely what lurks under the surface of many of those early accelerationist blogposts that frame Deleuze with Badiou, and vice versa. It’s about the production of the new, on the one hand, but also how we can produce a “philosophy of action”, as Fisher called it, to appropriately respond to the new and even help fortify the conditions of its emergence. And I don’t think anyone in the accelerationist blogosphere, whether that’s yourselves or the first cohort, takes that task flippantly at all — despite frequent accusations to the contrary.
So, if I can do the same as last time and build around this a little, I’d like to firstly affirm again Vince’s comment that it is better to emphasise Deleuze and Badiou’s points of contact than their points of disconnection. That’s actually where this interest in Badiou has emerged for me, and which seems of particular importance to the early accelerationist blogosphere. Accelerationism was, for Williams, an initial rebuke of hauntology because he contrasted the Badiouian view on change with the Deleuzo-Guattarian view. Or, rather, as Deleuze-Guattari might put it, their subtly different conceptions of “the production of the new”.
I think I wrote on this in a post recently but I can’t remember where. I’ve been working on it for a book so I’ll re-rehearse my spiel below just for the opportunity to exercise my faculties, lol, and maybe this is a further pole to prop up this Nietzschean view of the Event with too.
Sam Gillespie demonstrates in his 2008 book The Mathematics of Novelty that there was a fissure between a Badiouian understanding of the production of the new and a more Deleuzian example. He notes how, for Deleuze, “the aim of philosophy is not to rediscover the eternal or universal, but to find the conditions under which something new is produced.” Gillespie notes that Deleuze’s “principal adversary” in this regard was not Hegel but Plato; “a Platonism of eternal, unchanging forms, existing independently of a world that is continually in a state of change.” It is philosophy’s responsibility, as far as Deleuze is concerned, to uncover “the conditions under which that change occurs.” (This contrasts with Badiou’s Platonism, but he believes less in forms than Platonic “truths”, or maybe “mathematical forms” which amount to the same thing — equations that exist independently of a world that is constantly in a state of ideological change.)
The conditions under which the new is produced are, in one sense, the conditions of being itself. To jettison creativity into some outside is, in a sense, disastrously theological. Deleuze does not believe that all of life emerges from a Oneness — be that one God or the Oneness of the universe – but from a pure multiplicity. “The ‘lines of flight’ that should be familiar to even the most casual reader of Deleuze find their convergence not in a singular point,” Gillespie notes, “but in the various ‘bifurcations’ and ‘divergences’ they assume in the course of their own movement.” Be that the evolution of life itself or the movement of cultural production, the New will generate itself.
Badiou, however, does not assume “that being exists as a creative power, but rather that to think being we need nothing more than a formal assertion that nothing … exists.” Gillespie asserts that these two positions are not so different — “contemporary mathematics attests to the fact that zero” — as Badiou’s starting point — “and infinity” — or Deleuze’s notion of multiplicity — “are coextensive.” But when we consider the production of the New, the difference between these two positions becomes quite stark. We can imagine, perhaps, a generative infinity, but what is it to create ex nihilo? (Numogrammatic senses tingling.)
This tension at the heart of contemporary philosophy is arguably mirrored by tensions within cultural thought at the same time. Badiou positions himself as a militant revolutionary, believing, as Gillespie summarises, that “it is from the inconsistency of the void that something new can appear within the realm of human experience as such: ruptures or breaks within knowledge that force us to redefine our general categories and standards of determination.” Badiou’s thought emerges as a newly-rationalist punk sensibility within contemporary philosophy. This may not be explicitly contra Deleuze, but we might argue it is contra the Deleuzian orthodoxy of the neoliberal academy. In this sense, might we say that Deleuze’s conception of an infinite multiplicity begins to sour against the false meritocracy of centrist progressivism? Is a deferral to the innate creativity of being now seen as the philosophical equivalent of gradualist reformism and market vitalism?
It must be said that this flattening of philosophical and capitalist conceptions of novelty have not gone away. In fact, the two have only become more entangled. Many of those thinkers associated with “speculative realism”, whilst paying heed to Badiou’s various challenges, nonetheless found gaps in his framework. In particular, there is the question of “who is doing the counting?” Badiou’s philosophical deployment of zero and set theory from mathematics produces — as Graham Harman once wrote (in a since-deleted blogpost) — “a militant human subject” that is capable of “disrupting given states-of-situations in truth events.” The problem, however, is that it is precisely that human subject that has been occupied by a parasitic capitalism. As Ray Brassier once argued, it is not simply mathematics that makes an imperative of understanding being as a void but capitalism itself. Indeed, as Brassier notes, this is precisely the argument made by Deleuze and Guattari. He writes: “If capitalism is the name for that curiously pathological social formation in which ‘everything that is bound testifies that it is unbound in its being, that the reign of the multiple is the groundless ground of what is presented, without exception’, it is because it liquidates everything substantial through the law of universal exchangeability, simultaneously exposing and staving off the inconsistent void underlying every consistent presentation through apparatuses of ‘statist’ regularization.” Un-Brassiered, the argument here is that Badiou gives too much numerical agency to the human subject; in a way that we might say is politically contra but philosophically resonant with Land. It can be militant in its counting but it can never be more militant than capitalism itself. In trying to ontologise mathematics, Badiou is only doing capitalism’s work for it.
And yet, this is not to proclaim victory for Deleuze and Guattari either. In fact, the goal is perhaps to synthesise their positions. Deleuze and Guattari, after all, also deploy zero and mathematics in their philosophy, but they speak of zero as intensity rather than as an innately generative extensity. This position has its own problems in the present too, but maybe that’s why their conjuncture is so generative. As Fisher suggested, they help us keep an eye on the other’s blind spots.
Intriguingly, I only just found another Brassier essay on Deleuze and Badiou’s coming together this morning — notably taken from a 2000 issue of Warwick’s philosophy journal Pli; mid Ccru era — which may help attach this brief overview of the production of the new in Deleuze and Badiou to the questions regarding Nietzsche. It’s an essay in which Brassier compares Deleuze and Badiou’s thinking of the dice-throw. The whole essay is worth reading but it has a very nice conclusion, which I’ll also end on, that knits Deleuze and Badiou together in a way that might be particularly generative for this conversation:
Let’s conclude by recapitulating the basic philosophical parameters of the disagreement between Deleuze and Badiou on the question of the dicethrow. Badiou himself sums up the opposition by reinvoking Mallarme, with whom he aligns himself here against the Nietzsche-Deleuze tandem. For Nietzsche-Deleuze ‘Chance comes forth from the Infinite, which has been affirmed’; whereas for Mallarme-Badiou, ‘the Infinite issues forth from Chance, which has been denied’. What then are the philosophical consequences of this slight, yet nevertheless crucial alternation? On the one hand we have the Deleuzean dice-throw as instance of anorganic vitalism. This dice-throw affirms the whole of chance in a single throw; it is the auto-affirmation of cosmic Chance as One-All in which the affirming ‘I’ is cracked and the thrower’s identity dissolved. This is the dice-throw as vital figuration of the great cosmic animal. On the other hand, we have Badiou’s dice-throw as index of the stellar matheme. This dice-throw is an undecidable subtraction separating an irreducibly singular configuration of the alea, and dissolving the cosmic unity of Chance in a gesture that simultaneously reaccentuates the void’s untotalizable dispersion and crystallizes the Subject. This is the dicethrow as mathematical quantification of the stellar void.
So we seem to be confronted with an insuperable conflict of philosophical interest: the event as subjective destitution versus the event as subjective constitution; the event as auto-affirmation of the One-All versus the event as puncturing subtraction from the One and dissemination of the All; a manifold of actual chances coinciding in the sovereign necessity of Chance as a virtual whole versus a plurality of separate and incommensurable chances subtended by the hazard of an infinitely empty void. And the conflict effectively remains insuperable or undecidable until a decision is forced. But perhaps the ability to decide in favour of the undecidable is precisely what separates subtractive intervention from purified affirmation; in which case the quantification of the stellar void punctures the qualitative unity of the cosmic animal.
It’s at this point in the Badiou-Deleuze discourse that my own “I” is cracked and dissolved, but understanding how this is relevant to accelerationism, and how it can be regrounded upon that question of thinking “rigorously about the mechanisms and determinants of meaningful political action” is my main concern here. It might be a fool’s errand, although I think not, especially in light of the conversations we’ve all had over the last few years. This is what I find carried forwards in “unconditional accelerationism” from Williams’ initial accelerationist gesture: “a more strategic examination of precisely where … evental sites and historical situations exist within our current time: those regions which appear, from the in-situational point of view, to be marginal, and properly undecideable.“