The Eclipse of Politics (4 of 4): Theory in Bits and Pieces

The eclipse of strategic reason should logically be paired with the return in full force of speculative philosophy, reinvested with a protruding mission—or one of surveillance— to police “any instance of abuse of power on the part of political rationality.” Contrary to its heralded decline, this resurrection conferred on the resuscitated philosophy a “very promising life expectancy.” (Dits & écrits, 954) This strategic abdication implied in fact the renouncement of a theory, no longer a science or an art (in the sense of empirical know-how), but simply an expression of antagonistic forces in motion. It is then not surprising to find in Deleuze a return to philosophy: “I think of philosophy as a system.” (Deux regimes, 339) In response to political disillusion, philosophy was thus recharging its batteries from the feeling of shame resulting from the compromises that we would have been forced to make with a given era. This feeling was “one of the most powerful themes of philosophy.” (Qu’est-ce-que la philo, 103)

Is this a philosophy reactivated by morality, as if it were all about the expiation of Heidegger’s philosophical crime? “The Heidegger scandal came along to complicate things,” wrote Deleuze and Guattari, “it took the re-territorialization of a great philosopher in Nazism for the strangest commentaries to converge, either to call his philosophy into question or to absolve him in the name of arguments that are so complicated and so twisted that they are always bound to leave the reader pensive. It is not always easy to be Heideggerian. It could have been more understandable if a great painter, a great musician had degraded himself in such a disgraceful manner, but they didn’t. It had to be a philosopher as if shame had to enter into philosophy itself. He wanted to join the Greek via the German at the worst moment of their history. There is nothing worse than finding a German when one expects to see a Greek, says Nietzsche. How wouldn’t Heideggerian concepts be defiled by an abject reterritorialization, unless all concepts entail this grey zone of indiscernibility where struggles are confounded for a while on the ground and where thought’s tired eye takes one for the other, mistaking not only the Greek for the German but the Fascist for a creator of life and freedom.” (Qu’est-ce-que la philo, 104) Is this philosophy ransomed by shame? Strange invocations are those of shame and abjection in order to designate a catastrophe that is through and through historical and political

Undoubtedly, the Enlightenments came out of this catastrophe wounded and darkened but not entirely put out. And it was not for that matter a question, for instance, for Foucault of appraising the trial of rationality, but rather to think its compatibility with violence and to identify the contours of a contingent history opposed to the great theodicy of Reason. The return to Kant could then take place only on the ashes of Marx or at least on that of vulgar Marxisms. “At the moment Marxism is in an indisputable crisis,” the crisis “of the Western concept which is that of the revolution, Man and society.” (Dits & écrits, 623) A crisis then of some Marxism stripped of its pretentions to critical universality and brought back, according to Foucault, to its Western cultural groundings.

Once welcomed as a (desperate) regenerating effort of a distorted Marxism, the Athusserian enterprise turned out to be in effect a dead-end or more like the last jolt of an ineluctable agony. Althusser’s disapproving description of Stalinism as a simple “deviation” sealed off the possibility of any return towards a “Marxism-vérité.” If academic Althusserianism represented an ultimate attempt to “make Marx academically-friendly,” Marxism itself was not less responsible in Foucault’s eyes of an irremediable impoverishment of political imagination. “Such is our starting point.” (Dits & écrits, 529) The critical theory of Marx would have definitely signaled the abortion rather than the birth of a strategic thinking strangled by the straitjacket of Hegelian dialectic and the influence of historical necessity on political contingency. It is thus in those logical terms that Foucault objected to the term dialectic, which would compel us to subscribe to the closed schema of the thesis and the synthesis. “A reciprocal relation is not dialectical, mutual antagonistic relations are not logical contradictions, but real oppositions without a reconciliatory synthesis.” (Dits & écrits, 471) What took place in Marx’s oeuvre, says Foucault, is “in a way a game between the formation of a prophecy and the definition of a target.” A game understood as distancing, a badly adjusted fitting, a missed encounter between a discourse of struggle and a historical consciousness. The strategic expectation has perhaps been damaged in the in-between of these two seemingly contradictory discourses: that of historical necessity and that of the contingency of struggles.

Although it is aimed at certain discourses pronounced in the name of Marx by orthodox Marxists (of the party or the State), this was a critique that had strong resonances. It revealed the mortifying split between “objective conditions” meant to guarantee an ineluctable historic happy ending and the recurrent failure of the “subjective factor.” A schism between a reiterated trust in the laws of history despite the denials, the successive failures, and the voluntarism of a Maoist subject called upon to draw the new man on a blank sheet.

In Foucault, this admission of bankruptcy led to a reversal of the problematic altogether. It is no longer a case of interrogating the Gulag starting from Marx or Lenin’s texts, but one of interrogating their discourses from the point of view of the reality of the Gulag. Perhaps, a healthy variant of the “anger of facts”! But only on condition of going over the iteration in both directions, without doing so the (one way) interrogation would lead to a suspicious promiscuous engagement with the cursory anti-totalitarianism of the new philosophers, a neo-mystical exorcism of absolute Evil.

It’s astonishing that a careful reader like Foucault could have written: “that Marxism offered itself as a science, as some sort of a tribunal of reason promising to distinguish science from ideology,” and representing as such “a general criterion of rationality in every form of knowledge.” Undoubtedly, was he here paying his tribute of ignorance to the dominant Marxology of the age and to the hijacking of the critique of political economy by the unreasonableness of the Party and the State? In any way, Marx’s theory was here confused with the heavy Stalinian (and socio-democratic) positivism. This tribute paid in passing to the “formidable work” of the Trotskyists was indeed the least one could expect from an author who could not ignore contemporaries of the caliber of Rousset, Naville, Sebag. Castoriadis, Lyotard or Guattari. (Dits & écrits, 408) Foucault did not however remain confined to an unbearable identification of Stalinism and Marxism.

He certainly at times nuanced such a coarse mixture: “what I would like to see most, is not the purification of Marxism from forgery followed by the restitution of a true Marx, but without fail, I’d like to see the unburdening and the liberation of Marx with respect to the confining dogma of the party which has brandished Marxism for such a long time.” (Dits & ecrits, 1276) Better adjusted, this formulation aimed specifically at “the hagiographic exaltation of Marxist political economy given the historic fate of Marxism to be a political ideology born in the 19th century.” What was gestating in 68, explains Foucault, has not yet found a proper theoretic expression or an adequate vocabulary to think its own share of novelty. In order to get there, petrified categories had to be broken down and “forms of reflection that elude Marxist dogma” had to be invented without necessarily giving in to a New Age irrationalism that is always lying in wait. The question then becomes one of a projection from Marx beyond Marx and not one of regression on this side towards Kantian moralism or liberal political philosophies.1

Paying tribute to Deleuze and Foucault, to their “resistance to the present,” to their “anger against the times,” to their “refusal to change sides,” Isabelle Garo underscored the ambiguity of their relation to Marx. While refusing to repudiate Marx (Deleuze announced the unfinished project to write about the “great Karl”), they have never really settled their theoretical score with him and in a sense they have remained in his debt. Enumerating three differences—the question of needs, that of ideology, and that of development—which separate them from Marx, and from Guattari and himself, Deleuze concluded that their problem has never been a return to Marx, but rather one of forgetting him while acknowledging that in this forgetfulness “little fragments keep floating.” At the same time, they also wrote: “I think that Guattari and I, we remained Marxists.” (Pourparlers, Paris, Minuit 1990, p. 7 and 232)

To believe is also to doubt, concluded Isabelle Garo. And to “remain” for a thinker of the becoming is a painful duty. In order to “remain Marxist,” one would have had to be, in some way Marxist to begin with. At least, in Deleuze’s case it is not as easy as all that. The continuity or faithfulness required by the fact of “remaining” seemed then, in this particular case, rather like a respectable challenge by the time’s intellectual fashion standards and with regard to the time’s ingratitude and disavowals. This against-Marx, this despite-all-Marx, seems however like an imaginary Marx, or even like a Marx without Marx. For Deleuze and Foucault, the result of this ambivalence is like the pulling down of politics over political philosophy and the reduction of Marx’s name to “a reference henceforth philosophical, inevitably philosophical, which authorizes the repatriation only on theoretical terrains the virtues of critique as much as its arms.” (Isabelle Garo, 111) It is also for this reason that the revolution in Deleuze remains “a concept which displaces the question of politics onto the terrain of metaphysics while it carries on playing its most concrete resonances.”

Works Cited

Deleuze Gilles et Felix Guattari. Mille Plateaux. Paris: Minuit, 1980
Deleuze Gilles et Felix Guattari. Qu’est-ce-que la philosophie? Paris: Minuit, 1991
Deleuze, Gilles. Dialogues. Paris: Flammarion, 1996.
Deleuze, Gilles. Deux régimes de fous. Paris: Minuit, 2005.
Felix Guattari. Micropolitiques. Paris: Les Empecheurs de penser en rond, 2007.
Foucault, Michel. Dits et écrits, Vol. II. Paris: Gallimard, 2001.
Garo, Isabelle. “Marx, Deleuze et la Revolution” in Contretemps, N. 17, September 2006

Show 1 footnote

  1. See Jacques Derrida in Spectres of Marx (Paris, Galilee, 1993) and Marx en Jeu, Paris Descartes & Cie, 1997. Daniel Bensaid, Marx L’intempestif, Le Sourir du spectre, Paris, Michalon, 2000; Les Hieroglyphes de la modernite, Paris, Textuel, 2001.
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  1 comment for “The Eclipse of Politics (4 of 4): Theory in Bits and Pieces

  1. Donal Buckley
    19 August 2011 at 7:16 pm

    Are hoodies a response to big brother spying on citizen’s movements?
    Freedom from police interference and intrusion into one’s existence used to be a right for all.

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