A discussion watched from afar on Twitter that I can’t shake thinking about.

Dr Greg charges Deleuze with a barbed, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, contraneity:

Incredibly brave of Deleuze to reject the totalising system of dialectics in favour of a new, liberatory logic of… uhh, shmialectics

Originally tweeted by dr greg is historicising ✍️💫 (@thewastedworld) on April 24, 2023.

A situated monad (notably named) adds:

See also: Beauvoir with ‘ambiguity’, Derrida with ‘[différance]’, etc.

Much mid-century French theory was an exercise in trying to do dialectical analyses without saying ‘dialectics’ or treating it as something they were opposed to while doing it.

Originally tweeted by 👻Ghostly Phenomenology👻 (@situatedmonad) on April 24, 2023.

There is a misreading here, I think, or an assertion of arbitrariness that misses the point at hand. Much mid-century French theory did indeed renounce old ways of doing things, whilst seemingly continuing anyway. But I don’t think the act is wholly unnecessary. Dialectics/shmialectics reduces dialectics itself to semantics, or Hegel’s dialectic to the One True Dialectic at least. I’d argue it thus fails any dialectical project, including Hegel’s own.

Their time is not ours. Picking and choosing, as we are so able, after the so-called “end of history”, the fashion-flux of thought leads many philosophers to fall from favour as soon as the scent of (a no doubt academic) orthodoxy is apprehended. A Hegelian orthodoxy was rebelled against, for sure, perhaps all too readily, but I’m sure none would claim Hegel to be utterly defeated. (The same can be said of a present tendency to be all too Deleuzian, as he is captured by the liberal arts, but persists in his relevance anyway.)

The intention, it seems to me, is one of reactivating a movement. How better to keep dialectics alive and well than by calling it by another name; naming it otherwise for present conditions? A superficial newness, perhaps, but one that reactivates thought. We might (generously) suggest, then, that when we arrive at the many names for a dialectics, we can go one way or another: betraying difference itself; or reasserting a sense of difference and, even more importantly, desire outside of a dominant “image of thought”.

Deleuze’s thesis in Difference & Repetition is apt here. He hardly disagrees with a Hegelian sense of difference, but rather wonders what difference is “in itself”. What is this difference unnamed? An impossible task for the philosopher, who writes and names things, arrests them. But it seems worthwhile, for Deleuze at least — and others, I’d argue — to retain a sense of this thing desired and reached for, never satisfactorily attained. It is this libidinal reaching, this “erotic” want, that philosophy is built on.

But rather than lazily adhering to the production of “footnotes to Plato”, difference can be produced in the perversion of the concept itself, beckoning a different difference, and Deleuze’s entire philosophical project is made up of such a move, producing “bastardized” studies of the history of philosophy.

As he writes in the English preface to Difference & Repetition:

The history of philosophy is the reproduction of philosophy itself. In the history of philosophy, a commentary should act as a veritable double and bear the maximal modification appropriate to a double. (One imagines a philosophically bearded Hegel, a philosophically clean-shaven Marx, in the same way as a moustached Mona Lisa.)

The bracketed analogy is wonderous, I think. A clear reference to Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q., the addition made — what Derrida might call a supplément — is the insertion of what is missing, and in writing something is always missing. Dialectics, like any philosophical conception of difference, is only ever a reaching for something otherwise elusive. Not understanding dialectics as a “synthesis”, we instead understand a third position as an aberrant modifier that does not settle but moves continuously.

In thinking such a process — a process of triangulation, as Anne Carson calls it; a trigonometry, where one point of the triangle is only inferred by the movement of thought — we must necessarily wrestle with the paradox inherent to a written culture, since words inevitably arrest something that may not stay so still in actuality.

This is not to say, through a borrowed anti-Hegelianism, that Hegel alone fails to capture this third, and so we must start again without him. We all fail. But it is arguably this very failure that was obscured by a (prior) Hegelian orthodoxy, and so all the more reason to keep reaching for it, to approach the triangle from another angle, turn it over and on its head, perceive the knot differently, depending on the space and time in which we dwell. Writing arrests time, after all, and so to stop with Hegel, to rest on a repetition of his sense of difference and proclaim it the same as any other, is to fail dialectics itself. It is to clip the wings of Hegel’s own owl of Minerva.

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