Badiou’s Jurisprudence II: ‘We Have Become Simulacra’

by | 23 Jan 2014

Deleuze Jurisorudence

If freedom, as Deleuze claims, is to engage in jurisprudence, do we not encounter a paradox in the alliance between Alain Badiou and Jacques Vergès? A paradox that strikes at the heart of the colonial and juridical situation of a colonized people? If Vergès institutes a rupture within juridical reason rendering the judgment of an Algerian National Liberation fighter impossible, is it not the case that this is possible because the subject on trial cannot be represented on the terms of the trial itself; that Djamila Bouhired in no way ‘resembles’ anything but a terrorist and traitor? Thus, the Badiouean Event, which is Vergès’ defense, already relies on another conception of the simulacrum articulated by one of Badiou’s main rivals: Gilles Deleuze. Deleuze’s understanding of the simulacrum comes from his reading of Plato’s method of (what Deleuze calls) selection and division among the rivals and claimants of an Idea. As Deleuze writes

to distinguish essence from appearance, intelligible from sensible, Idea from image, original from copy, and model from simulacrum…The distinction wavers between two sorts of images. Copies are secondary possessors. They are well-founded pretenders, guaranteed by resemblance; simulacra are like false pretenders, built upon a dissimilarity, implying an essential perversion or a deviation. It is in this sense that Plato divides in two the domain of images-idols: on one hand there are copies-icons, on the other there are simulacra-phantasms. We are now in a better position to define the totality of the Platonic motivation: it has to do with selecting among the pretenders, distinguishing good and bad copies, or, rather, copies (always well-founded) and simulacra (always engulfed in dissimilarity)…The great manifest duality of Idea and image is present only in this goal: to assure the latent distinction between two sorts of images and to give a concrete criterion. For if copies or icons are good images and are well-founded, it is because they are endowed with resemblance. But resemblance should not be understood as an external relation. It goes less from one thing to another than from one thing to an Idea, since it is the Idea which comprehends the relations and proportions constitutive of the internal essence (Deleuze, 1990).

What Deleuze finds at work in Plato’s distinction between good and bad copies, or icons and simulacra, is the consolidation of power on the side of transcendence, of the Idea, and of the Same and the Similar. If the simulacra is fundamentally distinct from the copy, it is not simply because the simulacra falsifies, to all our senses, what it would mean to be a politician, a lover, or a philosopher. The simulacrum is distinct from the copy, which resembles the Idea, insofar as the simulacrum is “an image without resemblance” (Deleuze, 1990). What is at stake in the simulacra is a transgression of the Idea and the possibility of the resemblance of the Idea itself. Thus, if the copy is that which is like an Idea, if a copy can be said of someone who resembles an Idea, the simulacra is that which cannot resemble an Idea: it is that which is like no other. This would be the difference between good and bad copies, between the philosopher and the sophist.

Moreover, we must remind ourselves that Badiou’s understanding of the classical Event which institutes a fundamental change in the world must be understood ontologically. As we already saw, the example of God proves the point that between God’s existence and non-existence, there is no third possibility. However, as if in anticipation of Badiou himself, Deleuze can be said to reply with the following: “God made man in his image and resemblance. Through sin, however, man lost the resemblance while maintaining the image. We have become simulacra. We have forsaken moral existence in order to enter into aesthetic existence” (Deleuze, 1990, my emphasis). That is to say, while the copy resembles the original and takes the original as its model; the simulacra disturbs and perverts this relation to the point of dissimilitude. Daniel W. Smith, on this point, puts it best:

If simulacra later became the object of demonology in Christian thought, it is because the simulacrum is not the “opposite” of the icon, the demonic is not the opposite of the divine, Satan is not the Other, the pole farthest from God, the absolute antithesis, but something much more bewildering and vertiginous: the Same, the perfect double, the exact semblance, the doppelganger, the angel of light whose deception is so complete that it is impossible to tell the imposter (Satan, Lucifer) apart from the “reality” (God, Christ), just as Plato reaches the point where Socrates and the Sophist are rendered indiscernible. This is the point where we can no longer speak of “deception” or even “simulation,” but rather the positive and affirmative “power of the false” (pseudos). The Temptation and the Inquisition are not episodes in the great antagonism of Good versus Evil, but variants on the complex insinuation of the Same. How does one distinguish a revelation of God from a deception of the devil, or a deception sent by God to tempt men of little faith from a revelation sent by the devil to simulate God’s test (God so closely resembling Satan who imitates God so well…)? (Smith, 2012).

And herein lies the paradox of the Badiou-Vergès alliance: while we can say that Vergès’ rupture defense intervenes at the level of the rules which govern the world of law and the trial; we must also say that Vergès’ form of argumentation is the performance of the simulacrum itself since, “by raising to the surface, the simulacrum makes the Same and the Similar, the model and the copy, fall under the power of the false (phantasm). It renders the order of participation… impossible” (Deleuze, 1990). That is to say that the ‘rupture defense,’ “far from being a new foundation, it engulfs all foundations, it assures a universal breakdown (effondrement), but as a joyful and positive event, as an un-folding (effondement)” (Deleuze, 1990).

Thus, Badiou’s claim that paraconsistent events — the events where change is most indiscernible and undecidable — constitute the very powers of the false is correct despite his belief in their ineffectiveness. On Deleuze’s account, it is precisely the powers of the false, the simulacra, that constitutes the first intervention in the process of selection in Plato, and the process of judgment in law. And is this not what is signified by the legal practice of Vergès who both uses and contests the axioms of the French legal system? The lawyer who is a claimant to the Idea of a lawyer, but who, upon entering the courtroom, displaces all facts and arguments of the trial in the name of raising the question of the legitimacy of judgment to the judges who remain complicit in the history of colonial violence? Therefore, we must include Badiou with Plato when Deleuze writes, “In the reversal of Platonism… there is no longer any possible selection,” since

the false pretender cannot be called false in relation to a presupposed model of truth, no more than simulation can be called an appearance or an illusion. Simulation is the phantasm itself, that is, the effect of the functioning of the simulacrum as machinery — a Dionysian machine (Deleuze, 1990).

In the last instance Badiou and Vergès could not be more opposed. While each argue in the name of the Event, in the name of a rupture within the order of things, Badiou remains a Platonist while Vergès has proved to be a Sophist, the Simulacra par excellence.

Jose Rosales is a doc­toral stu­dent in philo­sophy at SUNY, Stony Brook.

1 Comment

  1. hello, tnx. a technical note: Plato, according to the text, being a Socratic and a Sophist, I can only see q.e.d. of the txt (no true practical differentation.. within a non-differentation..?) in the last sentence: ‘Badiou re­mains a Platonist (also a Sophist, mvh) while Vergès has proved to be a Sophist, the Simulacra par ex­cel­lence.’


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