Interest

Following are some excerpts from the conclusion to Jason Read’s review of Peter Hallward’s book on Deleuze, which I haven’t read. According to Verso, “Hallward argues that the problems of conflict and solidarity are effectively dismissed in Deleuze’s work&#8212as is the possibility of any political transformation. This powerful and thorough critique shows once and for all that the Deleuzian century is over. If we want to change the future we need to look elsewhere.” Obviously I disagree with this&#8212for many reasons, a few of which Read touches on below, that I won’t bore you with now&#8212but what strikes me about this review, and makes me laugh, is the fun Read has at Badiou’s expense. Read confounds claims about Deleuze’s apolitical, merely contemplative philosophy by counterposing him to Badiou, that paragon of the politically engaged radical philosopher operating in the Marxist tradition, and finds the latter to be, well, insufficiently Marxist: Whereas Badiou relies on extremely reified conceptions of interest and truth, Deleuze devises concepts of interest and desire that are firmly situated within specific social and historical formations.

More fundamentally, and aside from the fun of spectacular radical-philosopher gladiator matches, Read hints at the very different ideas of the political operating here. One group–which would seem to include Hallward and does include Badiou and Verso’s copywriter–views politics as a matter of conflict and opposition, solidarity and transformation; in other words, politics already exists, and philosophy’s duty is to meet politics on its ground, to arrive at politics, and to engage with it, but always within its confines and as a reaction to it. The other idea sees that philosophy is already shaped in part by politics&#8212philosophy does not arrive at politics from the outside&#8212but that politics is also continually created, constantly (re)produced; philosophy, broadly speaking, when undertaken correctly, can create new politics and new ways of leaving it behind…. Come to think of it, this all sounds very much like the Eleventh Thesis on Feurbach.

Anyway, here’s the excerpt. (Sorry for the many typos and errors. Apparently the review never saw a copy editor.)

Interest is an important term in Hallward’s criticism. It underlies his emphasis on a Bergsonian anthropology, or natural history, in defining Deleuze’s critique of everyday consciousness and subjectivity. Interest is what individuates us into subjects, and it is interest that carves up the world into discrete objects and experiences. ‘The domain of the actual is thus subordinated to the requirements of interest and to the actions required for the pursuit of interest’ (p.31). Not incidentally interest is also central problem of Badiou’s political philosophy of the subject. For Badiou ‘interest’ is fundamentally animalistic, the struggle for survival is what we have in common with all living things.8 It is against this animalistic struggle that the subject is constituted as a subject of truth, a truth whether it is amorous, artistic, or political, is by definition something disinterested, or not in our interest. It is something that we risk our life and existence for. Moreover, Badiou argues that it is in the name of ‘interest’ that every political process is interrupted and diverted, the subject of truth is reduced to a subject of interest and politics becomes nothing more than the struggle of interests and opinions.9 Deleuze and Guattari also argue that interest defines a limited and truncated aspect of human existence. However, for Deleuze and Guattari, interest is not the residue of a purely animalistic existence, rather it is the product of a particular social formation.

[..]

Interest is always oriented towards the goals and desires of a particular society, in our society towards the demands for money and consumer goods while in a feudal society it would be oriented towards prestige and honor, it is for this reason that Deleuze and Guattari argue that interest can never be revolutionary. In contrast to this desire is by definition revolutionary, it is the virtual creative power that exceeds any social formation. Both Badiou and Deleuze and Guattari have articulated a politics that is against interest, a redemption from interest. They differ not only in terms of what they oppose to interest, for Badiou it is truth and for Deleuze and Guattari (at least for their writing of the early ’70s) it is desire, but also in how they understand interest. For Badiou it is a fundamentally animalistic aspect of existence, while for Deleuze and Guattari it is the product of a particular social formation. For Badiou interest is an anthropological problem, having to do with the struggle between the human animal and the immortal truths that we are capable of, while for Deleuze and Guattari it is a problem of the socio-political order. It is the conflict between the particular form of subjectivity a social formation requires and the virtual powers that exceed any social formation.

To return to Hallward’s criticism of Deleuze, it is possible to say that he has imposed some of Badiou’s categories on his interpretation of Deleuze (making Deleuze a ‘bad’ Badiou), but more importantly he has overlooked the rather substantial changes within Deleuze’s thought. He has subordinated the history of Deleuze’s thought to a unity of becoming, effacing the actual changes in grasping the virtual creation. These changes relate not only to Deleuze’s collaboration with Guattari, but to his eventual politicisation. His engagement with the realities of capital and the state. This engagement modifies substantially the general problem of Deleuze’s thought. In Deleuze’s writing with Guattari, at least the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, the actual is no longer a byproduct of our limited human perception, an effect of evolutionary adaptions, but an effect of socio-political strategies of control. Thus, it is not so much that Hallward argues against the political dimensions of Deleuze’s thought, his very approach effaces it from the beginning. In order to assess the relevance of Deleuze thought for politics it will be necessary to at least acknowledge the effects politics had on Deleuze’s thought: the events of May ’68, the work with Groupe d’Information sur les Prisons, with Félix Guattari, and the debates with Foucault. Despite this criticism Hallward’s book presents substantial questions for any reader of Deleuze, or contemporary philosophy. These questions (which cannot be dealt with fully here) have to do with the relation between ontological and political commitments and ultimately with the meaning of ‘materialism’ in contemporary philosophy and politics: a question which began with Marx’s first thesis on Feuerbach and continues through contemporary debates on ‘immaterial labour’.11 Hallward’s Out of this World puts to an end the introductions to Deleuze, and begins the process of debate.

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4 thoughts on “Interest

  1. It’s interesting that this debate – which is probably more a debate about Badiou than Deleuze – has been opening up of late. This article by Jason Read, but also Eric Alliez’s book, Signature of the World. Badiou does have a particularly conventional understanding of the political, no matter (or perhaps because of) the esotericism with which he imbues it at times.

  2. I’ll have to check out Alliez’s book. I’ve been wanting to, but resisting it also. About Badiou, I’ve made my assesment of him without reading any of his books. That might be unfair–and it’s something I should correct soon–but based on his essays, I’d say his difference with standard liberal views is due to his quasi-Leninist ethical stance rather than any sort of materialist/immanent understanding of politics. Again, that might be unfair, but I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels that way.

  3. Excellent post Eric. I’m not sure what the stakes are to the D/G vs B debate, but I think one avenue that might enrich discussion would be looking at the organizational/movement activities of B and D/G. If I had some French I’d be more able to contribute to that. Merde. I’m generally suspicious of books that say “X will mislead the movement!” especially if it’s an argument about the surreptitious contents of ideas. I think those books are more likely to be about tenure and market share than about movements and organizations (though movements and organization have their own tenure and market share dynamics much of the time too). Just so it’s clear, that’s meant to be about Hallward and not all about Jason Read.

    Re: your second paragraph, maybe I’m just a waffler, but I want to split the difference and say that you’ve articulated two modes by which philosophy and politics can and do relate. Perhaps Badiou’s the flag of the former and Deleuze of the latter? I’m out to lunch as to whether I prefer one or the other mode, or if such a preference is necessary or desirable. (I’m quite sure I don’t have much interest in ontology, which means chunks of each don’t compel me.) What do you think, must one choose?

    On Badiou’s quasi-Leninism, I find his invocations of Lenin and Mao quite offputting, but he is pretty clear nowadays that he is not onboard with any kind of project of seizing the state or of any parliamentary activity whatsoever, as is L’Organisation Politique from what I can make out. I wish he (and Negri) would clarify his understanding of the vanguardist and state capitalist elements of the Marxist theoretical and political tradition, not only in the present but in their assessments of prior events and thoughts in their times of origin.

  4. I don’t think it’s necessary to choose, because that seems like a declaration of loyalties to me, not to mention an expression of fealty to one philosophical master. Plus I like to keep my options open; the only way to keep choices available is not to choose. That’s one of the few things Geddy Lee was wrong about. But of these two “sides,” I certainly have more sympathy with one than the other, mostly I think because the one ties itself to a limit while the other leaves room for creation and escape.

    I didn’t know specifically that Badiou had disavowed statist/parliamentary politics, but that seems to follow from what he writes. Which only makes it weirder that he would insist on politics being negotiations of truth and justice, concepts that, no matter how kinkily reconstructed, rely on state or state-like ideas and/or mechanisms of enforcement.

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