Monthly Archives: June 2010

Taking things for granted

Much of the humor of the Louis CK clip below derives from the fact that he is right: we take things for granted. We take things for granted not because (or not primarily because) they are always there, a permanent, stable presence we can rely on. We take them for granted because of their impermanence, their fleeting presence that is largely disconnected from other things. In our consumer society where increasingly the production and reproduction (i.e., planned obsolescence) of things presupposes their replacement, we become in turn increasingly focused on the thing’s immediacy. Unlike the Buddhist (or Spinozist) detachment from things, and in particular the ego, which is inseparable from an appreciation of the connection and significance of all things, we have largely become anti-Buddhist (anti-Spinozist) in that we have become detached from the connection and significance of all things only to become all the more attached to the immediacy of the things before us. Louis CK drives this point home:

BP, the Real, and Aristotle

Taking advantage of some time off – even if in an airport – I read Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism. This small little book – really a long essay at 81 pages – is an excellent example of a text that actualizes Zero Books’ goal of publishing books that are ‘intellectual without being academic, popular without being populist.’ A strong case is made for this agenda in the main body of the text. Fisher is also able to merge many of the arguments of Deleuze and Guattari and Žižek in a way that is delightfully accessible. This is indeed a book worth reading. There was one paragraph, however, that got me thinking about the current oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In the context of praising Žižek for giving Lacan’s Real-reality distinction much of the contemporary currency it has garnered, Fisher argues that

For Lacan, the Real is what any ‘reality’ must suppress; indeed, reality constitutes itself through just this repression. The Real is an unrepresentable X, a traumatic void that can only be glimpsed in the fractures and inconsistencies in the field of apparent reality. So one strategy against capitalist realism could involve invoking the Real(s) underlying the reality that capitalism presents to us…Environmental catastrophe is one such Real. (p. 18).

As a resident of south Louisiana one might think that if anyone would be getting a good hard glimpse of the Real that is ‘suppressed’ by capitalist realism, Louisianians would be the ones. But that is not the case at all. All one hears on television news and talk radio, from Governor Jindal on down to the very fishermen and oil workers whose lives are impacted, is that the six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling is a huge mistake and ought to be abandoned. Even if the moratorium was a knee-jerk reaction to the spill and other, more efficient solutions are possible without shutting down the drilling industry and the economic livelihoods of those connected to this industry, the priority is clearly economic rather than environmental. I suspect a reason why the oil spill has not led to a glimpse of the Real is that the Real is not ‘an unrepresentable X, a traumatic void’ that is suppressed in order to maintain the naturalness and unquestioned realism of capitalism. The very distinction between the Real and reality smacks to me of what Davidson refers to as the third dogma of empiricism. Despite the fact that Quine, in his famous “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” essay, broke with one of the cherished cornerstones of the Kantian and post-Kantian tradition – the analytic-synthetic distinction – Quine nonetheless continued with another unquestioned dualism—namely, the conceptual scheme and content dualism. In order to make sense of the notion that there are incommensurable worldviews or conceptual schemes, Quine and others rely on the assumption that there is a content independent of all conceptual schemes (for Quine these are sensory firings) and our resulting knowledge and worldview is a result of this content somehow coming to be processed by the scheme. In the same way, if reality depends on a Real that needs to be suppressed, then it would seem the Real is autonomous of the acts of suppression that are inseparable from and constitute contingent, historical realities. There’s a similar criticism of Žižek in Butler. Žižek, Butler argues, sees all social formations as following upon the same necessary constitution of an outside, or as being ‘reduced to a “lack” with no historicity, the consequence of a transhistorical “law”.’ (from her essay “arguing with the Real”). In other words, there is the constitutive outside, the Real, that is independent of the historical formations and realities that are ‘real-ized’ and constituted when the Real is suppressed.

How do we explain the reaction (or better, non-reaction) of people in south Louisiana to an environmental catastrophe if not for the fact that there is serious denial and suppression of the Real going on? Fisher gives us two suggestions in his book. The first, which one also finds in Aristotle, is that ‘the fantasy structure on which capitalist realism depends [is] a presupposition that resources are infinite, that the earth itself is merely a husk which capital can at a certain point slough off like a used skin, and that any problem can be solved by the market.’ The second suggestion follows from Spinoza: ‘I believe that it is Spinoza who offers the best resources for thinking through what a ‘paternalism without the father’ might look like.’ I couldn’t agree more with the second suggestion. It is with Spinoza that we can think through politics without the third dogma, without correlationism; or, with Spinoza we have the possibility of political realism (à la speculative realism). I’ll deal with the first suggestion and save the second for another day. In his Politics Aristotle distinguishes between ‘a certain natural kind of property-getting’ that is limited to the needs of a self-sufficient household or state and an unnatural ‘“acquisition of goods [Chrēmatistikē]” where there is ‘no limit to wealth or property.’ These two modes are frequently confused and there is a very important reason for this. First, the confusion results when there is a failure to distinguish the property itself from the fact that ‘Every piece of property has a double use.’ To use Aristotle’s example, a shoe may be used either to put on your foot or to offer in exchange.’ In itself offering the shoe in exchange is not unnatural, for the ‘exchange [of] one class of useful goods for another … is not contrary to nature and is not a form of money-making [Chrēmatistike] and it keeps to its original purpose: to re-establish nature’s own equilibrium of self-sufficiency.’ (emphasis mine). On my reading of Aristotle on this point, and developing a political theory I think can be teased out of Latour, exchanges are acceptable and natural if they enhance the systematic connection and networks of humans and nonhumans. This is a form of universal, as Latour admits in We Have Never Been Modern, but one that is a consequence of an expanding network of humans and nonhumans that establish a degree of systematic equilibrium. Social and cultural formations are thus to be understood as dynamic systems of humans and nonhumans at the edge of chaos, and the chaos is not a Real distinct from these formations but rather is the excess that each formation presupposes and which are taken up by other dynamic systems (think of Whitehead here). There is thus no pure chaos, but only chaosmos. On the other hand, there is money-making, and for Aristotle when it is money itself rather than the goods necessary for ‘nature’s own equilibrium and self-sufficiency,’ then ‘there is no limit to the amount of riches to be received from this mode of acquiring goods, and as a result it becomes an unnatural and unsustainable mode of acquisition. Capitalism is thus unsustainable by its very nature, and yet we continue to call for it – we want the moratorium to end so the drilling can continue, so the economy can move along, and since we cannot do without the petroleum which is part of so much of what I buy, including the laptop I write this on. Aristotle gives a very good reason for why we want and clamor for the relentless pursuit of capitalism, even if we recognize its unsustainability: the reason, Aristotle claims, is that while many ‘are eager for life but not for the good life; so, desire for life being unlimited, they desire also an unlimited amount of what enables it to go on.’ By confusing our unlimited desire for life with the goods necessary for the ‘good life,’ we are led to believe we need an unlimited amount of goods or wealth. The presupposition upon which capitalist realism depends – namely, that ‘resources are infinite’ – is not the result of an ironical, cynical attitude brought about by suppressing the traumatic Real, but rather it is the very unlimited desire for life that has been abstracted from the dynamic equilibrium system of humans and nonhumans, from the ‘good life’ as Aristotle understands it. It is the incommensurability of human and nonhuman, the pervasive belief that there are mute, ahistorical facts and speaking historical humans, humans who speak on behalf of the facts, that more than anything has fostered the continuing attitude that natural resources are in the end not connected to our human lives. Yet this contemporary attitude, the neoliberal worldview, is its own dynamic system of humans and nonhumans, but it’s a system that is almost unthinkable today, or at least unthinkable as a system of humans and nonhumans, politics and nature, and it is unthinkable not because it is an unrepresentable X, but because we have been told in so many ways and in so many different contexts that facts are facts and that’s that. It is precisely thinking what has been largely unthinkable that is so desperately needed now, and perhaps the economic crisis of 2008 (and its continuing aftermath) will serve to hasten such thinking. And Fisher is certainly right: we can turn to Spinoza as a source for developing, thinking, and engaging a political realism.

Third Dogma and SR

In a recent online debate, Harman defended SR against the charge that it is nothing new, that you can search far and wide for a 20th century philosopher who didn’t believe that there are objects that exist autonomously of whatever conscious access we may have of them. In addition to listing Husserl, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty as each failing, in their own way, to be realist with regard to objects, he cites Whitehead as one who clearly is a realist. Agreed. But are there any other clear precursors, any speculative realists before the name? I would list Donald Davidson. In his “On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme,” Davidson criticizes Quine and a host of others for continuing to adhere to the dualism of a conceptual scheme and a content that is then processed and forged by this scheme. Our access to objects for Quine, for example, is by way of sensory promptings, and thus it is a similarity of sensory promptings that is the basis for our agreeing whether we are looking at the same object or not. Davidson refers to this dualism as the third dogma of empiricism and he rejects it. What Davidson argues for instead is what he calls a ‘form of monism’ which accepts that there is nothing but objects and events, including human and nonhuman objects and events. Our understanding and knowledge of the world, therefore, is not founded upon a discourse or language, but rather language itself is founded upon interactions between humans themselves and between humans and objects. I discuss this a bit more over at the PE blog. Moreover, none of the relationships between humans and nonhumans is privileged or incommensurable to other objects and events. Understood in this way, Davidson sounds a lot like Latour, and hence a lot like a speculative realist.

Is Deleuze a Speculative Realist?

At first it might seem he is. If Bruno Latour is on the right track with respect to speculative realism, as Graham Harman and others would argue, then it might seem that Deleuze is on the right track as well for there are a number of areas where their philosophies converge in significant ways – especially concerning events, multiplicity, and their embrace of an ontological monism. I cover much of this in Deleuze’s Hume. It would also seem that Deleuze would not be a “hyper-incommensurable” postmodern philosopher as Latour discusses this in We Have Never Been Modern. Not only does Lyotard, for example, continue to embrace the incommensurability between humans and nonhumans, but will go even further and claim that ‘there is nothing human about scientific expansion,’ thus radicalizing the incommensurability (hence the ‘hyper-‘). Deleuze, by contrast, moves with ease in discussing human and nonhuman assemblages. The frequently used example of an assemblage – man-horse-stirrup – is a case and point of Deleuze (and Deleuze and Guattari’s) readiness to at the very least blur if not eliminate the incommensurability between humans and nonhumans.

Then there is Quentin Meillassoux’s critique of the correlationists. One of the central planks of the SR platform is the critique of correlationism. Kant is frequently singled out as the subtle grandmaster of correlationism (the final chapter of After Finitude sets out to undermine [and correctly so I might add] Kant’s Copernican revolution). But Meillassoux doesn’t simply have his sights set on Kantians; rather, he sees much if not all of the post-Kantian philosophical tradition as beholden to certain correlationist assumptions, or to what Harman calls a ‘philosophy of access.’ Most notably, the correlationist philosopher thinks that our only access to objects is through thought. Thus, we cannot think the thing in itself but only as given to thought, as a correlate of thought. As Meillassoux points out, however, a correlationist is not necessarily tied to a subject-object metaphysics, to a hypostasized subject and object in the manner of Descartes; rather, what is central to correlationism, at least since Kant, is ‘not a metaphysics,’ but rather ‘it invokes correlation to curb every hypostatization, every substantialization of an object of knowledge which would turn the latter into a being existing in and of itself.’ (After Finitude, p. 11). Correlationists, in short, cannot think an object as it is in itself and correlationism assures the impossibility of ever thinking an object in itself.

With Deleuze, for Meillassoux, we have a classic example of an attempt to ‘curb every hypostatization,’ and moreover we have in Deleuze and Nietzsche ‘the vitalist hypostatization of the correlation’ as an integral aspect of their critique of metaphysics (ibid. p. 37). Without addressing the fact that Deleuze never saw himself as part of the ‘critique of metaphysics’ tradition, the question remains: is Deleuze hypostatizing the correlation with his notion of life and his emphasis upon process and becoming? In other words, if there are for Deleuze no objects, if objects are merely abstractions of a flux, much like Bergson’s snapshot photographs were abstractions of duration (duree), then objects would indeed simply be correlates and abstractions of becoming. Deleuze would thus be a strong correlationist, as Meillassoux argues, or a hyper-correlationist as Latour might argue. As for Kant it is impossible to think the object in itself but only as a phenomenal correlate of thought, is Deleuze a strong correlationist who, as Meillassoux argues, that ‘it is unthinkable that the unthinkable is impossible’? (ibid. 41). If there remains something that is unthinkable, namely becoming, and if it is indeed unthinkable that this unthinkable is impossible, then Deleuze would most definitely not be a speculative realist since a central task of SR is to think objects in themselves.

But what does it mean to think an object in itself, or as Meillassoux puts the problem, an object that is anterior to givenness itself? Put simply, it is to think the absolute, to think that which is not limited by being given to a consciousness, to a historical situation, discourse, etc., but to think the absolute in itself. This absolute, however, is not to be an absolute becoming, life, or will to power, for then we would be back in correlationism. Rather, the absolute, for Meillassoux, is contingency itself, or, as he puts it: ‘The absolute is the absolute impossibility of a necessary being.’ (Ibid. 60). It might seem that Deleuze would agree on this point, but it is precisely here where Deleuze would stumble, for in absolutizing becoming he ultimately calls upon a necessary being, a contradictory, paradoxical being. Meillassoux is quite clear on this point (as he is with most of the points he makes): ‘the utterly Immutable instance against which even the omnipotence of contingency would come to grief, would be a contradictory entity. And this for the precise reason that such an entity could never become other than it is because there would be no alterity for it in which to become.’ (ibid. 69). It would already include its contradictory other and thus such an entity would be a necessary being and hence undermine contingency itself. It is for this reason that to think the absolute one must not think it as becoming, if for becoming ‘things must be this, then other than this; they are, then they are not.’ (ibid. 70). ‘The only possibility of introducing difference into being, and thereby a conceivable becoming, would be by no longer allowing oneself the right to make contradictory statements about an entity.’ (ibid. 71). In the end, it is only through mathematics that one can think the absolute as the contingent without contradiction, and philosophers of becoming such as Deleuze, Bergson, and Nietzsche continue to affirm the right to utter contradictions, much as did their intellectual progenitor Heraclitus.

Deleuze’s philosophy, however, is not to be confused with Bergson’s and Nietzsche’s, despite the influence of the latter two on Deleuze’s own thought, and for Deleuze to think difference in-itself, as he claims is the central task of his philosophy in the early pages of Difference and Repetition, is not to think or to affirm a contradictory entity. As alluded to in my earlier post on Badiou and Spinoza, Deleuze rejects the idea that there is an identifiable difference, much less an identifiable contradiction, between two entities that it is the task of philosophy to think. This is not what it means to think difference in itself according to Deleuze. At the same time, identity for Deleuze is not merely a correlate of difference. Deleuze, however, does speak of the impossibility of thought, of an unconscious that is understood to be ‘something that cannot be thought in finite thought.’ (Fold, p. 89), or he will write in Cinema 2, in reference to Artaud and Blanchot, that “what forces us to think is ‘the inpower [impouvoir] of thought’, the figure of nothingness, the inexistence of a whole which could be thought.” (C2, 162). This impossibility and unconscious that thought itself cannot think but forces thought is not a necessary being (e.g., duration, becoming, will to power, a life etc.) relative to which what can be thought would merely be correlates of this necessary being. To the contrary, and much in line with Meillassoux, that which ‘cannot be thought in finite thought’ is ‘the absolute impossibility of a necessary being’, to quote Meillassoux again. It is ‘the inexistence of a whole which could be thought,’ or as Meillassoux understands it, adopting Cantor’s definition of transfinite numbers, ‘the (quantifiable) totality of the thinkable is unthinkable.’ (AF, 104). And the unthinkable nature of the totality is key to avoiding correlationism, for it is mathematics, especially Cantorian set theory, that is able to theorize the non-totalizable, the ‘non-All’ – hence Meillassoux’s conclusion that ‘what is mathematizable cannot be reduced to a correlate of thought.’ (ibid. 117). To the extent that Deleuze too theorizes the ‘inexistence of the whole,’ what Deleuze and Guattari will also refer to as the ‘nondenumerable,’ then it would seem that we would be too hasty to exclude Deleuze from the speculative realist camp. Moreover, as was argued in the Spinoza post, the non-denumerable, the ‘inexistence of a whole’ (i.e., or the attributes as discussed there) is not separable and distinct from the denumerable (the modes) and that which is thought. There is nothing but objects and events, both human and nonhuman, and there is no incommensurability between them nor are they totalizable in a way that would return us to claiming that objects and events are correlates of a necessary being. Deleuze is not a correlationist. But is he a realist? That will have to wait for another post.

Perhaps the Mayan calendar is right…

As Niall Ferguson argues in this clip (from CNBC [I know, bublevision as Bill Fleckenstein called during the bubble years of the late 90s]), we’re headed for a major fiscal crisis, a death spiral, in two years. What is interesting, but perhaps wishful thinking on Ferguson’s part, is that he calls for a return to relationship banking as opposed to the current form of algorithm, microsecend transaction banking we have today. In case the video doesn’t embed (being new to wordpress and blogs), here’s the link to the video.

Creative Destruction or Creative Stimulus, or …?

With the ECRI index pointing lower, an index that has quite accurately correlated with previous recessions, and with budget cuts and austerity measures being enacted across Europe (most recently Britain), we may very well be headed for another recession. This doesn’t bode well for higher education, of course, and especially the humanities which has seen its relevance decline in an environment where measurable (primarily economic) benefits reign supreme. The recent controversy and outcry over the closing of the philosophy program at Middlesex is symptomatic of the current thinking among administrators. So if we are heading for a double dip things may only get worse, and with there being very little political will for ‘spending’ the austerity measures will likely make matters worse rather than better, as Krugman has argued repeatedly. So if there is a double dip recession there will likely be a resurgence as well of the heated debate between having another stimulus or allowing for, as Schumpeter argued and as much of the Austrian school seconds, the creative destruction that sweeps away the inefficiencies and weaknesses in the economy so that it can rebuild on a more solid footing.

One thing that is not likely to be debated, however, is the faith in the self-regulating market. Even Krugman is secure in this faith. As one who thought the financial crisis of 2008 might lead to an undoing of the neoliberal faith, government bailouts have if anything heightened the sense that the government is to blame and that if its spending isn’t reduced the market will be ultimately undone as a consequence of the collapse of credit (as is the fear in Europe).

It might be helpful to return to Hume. As Hume was writing his famous essay, “On the Jealousy of Trade,” Hume noted that ‘Nothing is more usual, among states which have made some advances in commerce, than to look on the progress of their neighbors with a suspicious eye.’ In short, the mercantile system was the norm. Similarly, we could equally argue that today nothing is more usual, among states and the public in general, than to have faith in the self-regulating market and to look upon government with a suspicious eye. Hume opposes the dominant view of the time and asserts, as an alternative view, that ‘the increase of riches and commerce in any one nation, instead of hurting, commonly promotes the riches and commerce of all its neighbors.’ The question, then, is what will replace the faith in self-regulating markets. The subtitle to Mark Fisher’s recent book, Capitalist Realism, asks the same question: ‘is there no alternative?’; and the title of his first chapter drives the point home: ‘it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.’ Hume had a ready alternative, and Adam Smith, in many ways Hume’s intellectual heir on economic matters, legitimized this alternative. Do we have a ready alternative? I don’t have a ready answer to this question, but it does seem that the declining value of the humanities, and philosophy in particular, within the contemporary scene only undermines our capacity to answer this question. How can there be this generation’s Hume if Hume, and the philosophy that was his passion, isn’t deemed worthy of teaching to this generation?

Badiou’s misreading of Spinoza (and hence of Deleuze by association)

In his book Deleuze: The Clamor of Being, Badiou focuses upon the theory of the virtual and directs his harshest criticisms of Deleuze at this theory. More to the point, Badiou argues that when Deleuze claims that the virtual is complete in itself and yet only part of an actual object, the indiscernible part, then Badiou believes that Deleuze stumbles because of his commitment to the univocity of One Being, or his commitment to affirming “a single and same voice for the whole thousand-voiced multiple, a single and same Ocean for all the drops, a single clamour of Being for all beings…” (DR 304). Badiou states his criticism as follows:

when the only way of saving – despite everything – the One, is by resorting to an unthinkable Two, an indiscernibility beyond remedy…one says to oneself that, most decidedly, the virtual is no better than the finality of which it is the inversion (it determines the destiny of everything, instead of being that to which everything is destined).  Let us be particularly harsh and invoke Spinoza against his major, and indeed sole, truly modern disciple: just like finality, the virtual is ignorantiae asylum. (Clamor of Being, 53).

To respond to this criticism we can return to the master himself; namely, Spinoza, and especially to a problem many commentators have had with Spinoza’s Ethics – that is, the relationship of the attributes to the modes of these attributes. Badiou himself notes this problem, recognizing that ‘Although it is on the basis of which the attributive identifications of substance exist, the intellect itself is clearly a mode of the attribute “thought”’ (Badiou, Theoretical Writings, 2004, p. 84). Stating the problem baldly, Badiou asks, ‘how is it possible to think the being of intellect, the “there is intellect,” if rational access to the thought of being or the “there is” itself depends upon the operations of the intellect?’ (ibid.) This problem has long been recognized by Spinoza scholars and has received a number of solutions. Badiou’s particular solution is quite telling.

At the basis of Badiou’s understanding of the relationship between the infinite intellect, as an infinite mode of the attribute thought, and the attribute thought itself, is the premise that the intellect is identifiably distinct from the objects that are objects or ‘ideas of’ the intellect. For Badiou, then, since ‘every idea is an “idea of,” it is correlated with an ideatum,’ it follows that ‘the attributes of God and the modes of these attributes are objects of the infinite intellect’ (ibid. 86). With these assumptions at play, Badiou is naturally led to conclude that ‘the attribute of thought is not isomorphic with any of the other attributes,’ (ibid. 88) for the very reason that it is an infinite mode of this attribute that has, as its object, the other attributes that thereby constitute the essence of substance. Add to this claim Badiou’s extension of Spinoza’s argument, in the Demonstration to 2P21 that ‘the mind is united to the body from the fact that the body is the object of the mind,’ then it again follows for Badiou that there must then be ‘instances of union that straddle the disjunction between attributes. It is this union, the radical singularity proper to the operations of the intellect, which I call coupling.’ (ibid. 87). In other words, since the infinite intellect, as an attribute of thought, is united to the objects that are its ideas – the other attributes – then it is “coupled” to these other attributes, a coupling made possible by the attribute thought that is not ‘isomorphic with any of the other attributes.’

These arguments lead Badiou to a surprising conclusion. With the notion of coupling, a notion Badiou admits is not to be found in Spinoza but is necessary to make sense of Spinoza’s (supposed) understanding of the relationship between the infinite intellect and the objects that are the distinct objects of this intellect, Badiou claims a further consequence follows: ‘As a matter of fact, infinite intellect by itself constitutes an exception to the famous Proposition 7 of Book II: “The order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connection of things”’ (ibid. 88). Because the intellect is coupled to the other attributes and to their modes, the order of the ideas in the infinite intellect is not the same as the order and connection of things for the infinite intellect is what makes possible the very actuality of attributes and things, and hence the parallelism between them.[i] Yet it is just this conclusion, that the intellect is an exception to Spinoza’s famous parallelism, that Spinoza himself would likely find unrecognizable.

The reason Badiou is led to what we believe is a mistaken conclusion concerning the relationship between the attributes and their modes is that he presupposes the identity of both the infinite intellect and the attributes and modes that are the identifiable objects of this intellect. For Deleuze, however, the best way to understand the relationship between the attributes and the infinite intellect is to argue for the primacy of the modes themselves.[ii] In other words, there is the necessity for the modification of an attribute – infinite thought – as that which perceives substance and constitutes its identifiable, actualized essence, precisely because the attribute is identifiable as such only as actualized in a mode. The attributes are thus not distinct identities or objects waiting for the infinite intellect to perceive them; rather, it is the very perception of the attributes by the infinite intellect (as infinite mode) that actualizes the identifiable essence of substance itself. Furthermore, if one understands Spinoza’s notion of substance as absolutely indeterminate, then the attributes can then be understood as the condition for determining the infinite and infinitely determinable essence of substance.[iii] This identifiable essence is made possible by the actualization of a mode of an attribute, and substance is therefore identifiable as such only when actualized within a mode – i.e. the infinite intellect. This conclusion, we argue, is not one Spinoza would find unrecognizable, unlike Badiou’s, but instead simply repeats Spinoza’s own definition of the attributes: ‘1D4: By attribute I understand what the intellect perceives of a substance, as constituting its essence.’

It is this relationship between the modes and attributes that is extended by Deleuze in his understanding of the relationship between the virtual and the actual. Just as the attributes are the conditions that allow for the possibility of determining, by way of the intellect, absolutely indeterminate substance, so too the virtual is indiscernible from the actual not as a distinct identity that is to be contrasted to the identity of the actual, but rather the virtual is the condition for identity itself. How, then, as Badiou might ask, can we know that the virtual is real, as Deleuze contends,[iv] if it is indiscernible? The reason Badiou might ask such a question, and why he finds the virtual problematic in its purported resort to an “unthinkable Two,” (Badiou 2000, 53) is because Badiou subordinates knowing to a conceptual knowing whereas Deleuze, in good Nietzschean-pragmatist fashion, subordinates knowing to the practical problems that are inseparable – indiscernible – from the actualities that are themselves the identifiable solutions to these problems.[v]

[i] Badiou is quite forthright on this role of the infinite intellect: ‘The infinite intellect provides the modal norm for the extent of modal possibility. All the things that it can intellect – “omnia quae sub intellectum infinitum cadere possunt” – are held to exist’ (ibid. p. 85).

[ii] Deleuze is quite forthright in his assertion that Spinoza, as he reads him, makes substance turn upon the modes. In correspondence with the translator of the English edition of Spinoza: Expressionism in Philosophy, Deleuze sees his original contribution to Spinoza scholarship being precisely his effort in ‘making substance turn on finite modes …’ (Deleuze 1990, 11).

[iii] H.F. Hallett has argued that Spinoza understands substance as “absolutely indeterminate,” and the reading offered here largely echoes Hallett’s position. For other, similar interpretations, see Pierre Macherey, Introduction à l’Éthique de Spinoza: La première partie la nature de choses (Macherey 1998), and for Macherey’s sympathetic reading of Deleuze, “The Encounter with Spinoza,” in Deleuze: A Critical Reader (Patton 1996), pp. 139-61; Charles Ramond, Qualité et quantité dans la philosophie de Spinoza (Ramond 1995); Lorenzo Vinciguerra, Spinoza (Vinciguerra 2001); and François Zourabichvili, Deleuze: une philosophie de l’événement (Zourabichvili 1994), and in particular Zourabichvili’s essay, “Deleuze et Spinoza,” in Spinoza Au Xxe Siècle (Bloch 1993), pp. 237-46.

[iv] That the virtual is real is one of Deleuze’s central claims and he states it on numerous occasions. See, for instance, Difference and Repetition (DR 208): ‘The virtual is opposed not to the real but to the actual. The virtual is fully real in so far as it is virtual.’

[v] A preliminary indication that supports this reading of the difference between Deleuze and Badiou can be seen in Badiou’s work itself, where, in the introduction to the Clamor of Being, Badiou claims that Deleuze did not want to have his correspondence with Badiou published for on rereading it ‘he found them too “abstract”’ (Badiou 2000, 6). It is also worth noting that the subtitle to Deleuze’s second book on Spinoza is ‘Practical Philosophy.’