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Zizek, Slavoj - Demanding Deleuze

Zizek, Slavoj - Demanding Deleuze

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Published by: Yiannis Isidorou on Oct 10, 2010
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Radical Philosophy 126 (July/August 2004) 
Demanding Deleuze
Keith Ansell Pearson
The Shortest Shadow
The Puppet and the Dwarf 
 are the first two books in a new series edited by SlavojŽižek entitled ʻShort Circuitsʼ.
In his seriesʼ forewordŽižek proposes that the shock of short-circuiting pro-vides one of the best metaphors for a critical reading.His proposal is that we can take a major classic text,an author or a notion and read it in a short-circuitingway through the lens of a ʻminorʼ author, text orconceptual apparatus. He intends the ʻminorʼ to beheard in Deleuzeʼs sense as that which is not of lesserquality but marginalized or disavowed by the dominantideology. The minor approach will provide shocks tothought by shattering and undermining our commonperceptions, as Deleuze and Guattari did with theirtext on Kafka, or, as Žižek notes, Marx did with hisshort-circuiting of philosophical speculation throughthe lens of political economy, and as Nietzsche andFreud did with morality (short-circuiting our highestvalues through the lens of an unconscious libidinaleconomy).Žižek maintains that the result of this procedureis not a simple desublimation (reducing the higher tothe lower), but rather a ʻdecentringʼ of the text subjectto interpretation, bringing to light presuppositions andconsequences it disavows. This is not a hermeneutics of suspicion in any straightforwardly phenomenologicalsense, but rather something much more severe andcruel, on the one hand, and something much moredoctrinal and dogmatic on the other. Žižek states,somewhat in the manner of a categorical imperativeof thought, that the underlying premiss of his newseries is that Lacanian psychoanalysis is a ʻprivilegedinstrumentʼ with regard to this approach and task. Onemight object that a key issue has been extracted fromthe equation and placed outside the forces of critique,that of the status of Lacanian psychoanalysis. However,this would be to prejudge the most important issue,namely whether its conceptual apparatus is capable of producing a set of new minor readings that make acutedemands on us and pose new challenges to us.Zupančičʼs text on Nietzsche provides us with a testcase. It sets itself the task of opening up afresh thehorizons of Nietzscheʼs thinking in an effort to breathesome new life into an alleged modern master of suspi-cion. The model for reading Nietzsche in minor termsalready exists in Deleuzeʼs
 Nietzsche and Philosophy
 of 1962, which is the only truly revolutionary readingof Nietzsche to date, and whose title indicates thatDeleuzeʼs Nietzschean battle cry is not simply contraphilosophy but at the heart of it. In a number of respectsZupančič offers a genuinely thought-provoking bookon Nietzsche. It does, indeed, short-circuit, presentinga Nietzsche that in key aspects is unrecognizable, andin a manner that is instructive and novel. It does thislargely by taking core Nietzschean ideas and problems – such as the death of God and nihilism – and demon-strating how we have yet to think adequately throughthem and assimilate them.Zupančič detects in the academy a widespreadsuppression of the shocking Nietzsche – that is, theNietzsche who jolts thought. His jolts are either sweptunder the carpet or treated as exotic objects. One isnot simply referring to his unpalatable remarks onrace and women; the issue extends much further anddeeper than this. In the case of Nietzsche – but of course not only in his case – it is as if philosophy hasbecome a corpse; it no longer lives or seeks to showsigns of life, it lacks what Nietzsche himself wouldcall the passion of a great faith and the capacity forspiritual perception. (Philosophy as it was practised inthe 1880s, as the ʻtheory of knowledgeʼ, evoked onlypity in him, from which we can infer that he smelledthe end was nigh.) Zupančič, whose previous book wasa thought-provoking and demanding text on Kant andethics, is able to marshall all the dark and disturbingconceptual weaponry of Lacanian psychoanalysis torevitalize Nietzsche and give his concerns an urgencyand a demand that they have lost.The problem with the text is twofold: it does notsufficiently allow Nietzscheʼs voice to speak with the
Alenka Zupančič,
The Shortest Shadow: Nietzscheʼs Philosophy of the Two
, MIT Press, Cambridge MA and London, 2003.193 pp., £10.95 pb., 0 262 74026 5.Slavoj Žižek,
The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity
, MIT Press, Cambridge MA and London, 2003.188 pp., £10.95 pb., 0 262 74025 7.
Lacanian one, but allows one to override the other inalmost every instance; and it fails to sustain its readingof Nietzsche, letting it dissipate at key moments. Theresult of the latter is that one does not get a totalrevelation of Nietzscheʼs revolution but only glimpsesof it. The problem with the former is that Nietzscheʼsown philosophical legislation is never allowed to chal-lenge the Lacanian ʻtruthsʼ the author wishes us to livewith and think by.
Where is Deleuze?
The target of Zupančičʼs attack is our lamentable andmiserable postmodern condition in which ʻnothingcan shock us any longerʼ. She proposes we resist thetendency to reduce Nietzscheʼs jolts to thought to thelevel of opinions. She does not deny that Nietzscheis an ironic writer, or that he often deploys irony;but she detects another style in his writing, one thatis much more disarming than the postmodern ironicNietzsche and that is a crucial part of what makes himan ʻeventʼ in modernity, namely his deployment of the
style. The reference is, of course, to Schillerʼsdistinction between the naive and the sentimental,one which Nietzsche himself made use of in his firstpublished text,
The Birth of Tragedy
. Zupančič arguesthat the naive style informs Nietzscheʼs philosoph-ical project as a whole, giving it its manifesto-likecharacter, its futurist tonality, its critical power, andits eventful character. It is a Nietzsche that the overlysophisticated ʻpostmodernʼ appropriation of him hasallowed to disappear, with the result that a crucial partof the ʻbasic textʼ of Nietzsche has got buried under theweight of secondary meanings and interpretations. Thedecision to construct Nietzsche in this way informsZupančičʼs admirable attempt to read the moment of his philosophy through the category of the event. Herproposal, in short, is that we should read Nietzscheʼsprojections of his world-historic destiny not in terms of postmodern irony but in terms of naive seriousness.To advance this construction of Nietzsche shebegins by contesting Badiouʼs reading of Nietzsche asan anti-philosopher, which she does in a highly instruc-tive and fertile way. She utilizes Badiouʼs conception of the event and reads Nietzsche as seeking to constitutehimself as an event in this specific sense: ʻthe capac-ity of a given practice to produce its own objectʼ.(When Badiou defines Nietzsche as anti-philosopherwe need to appreciate that he is engaged, in part, in arepetition: this was exactly Merleau-Pontyʼs appraisalof Nietzsche.) One might suppose that there is nothingnew in this claim. Does not Nietzsche himself tell usthat he is an event that will divide humanity into two,into those who come before him and those who willcome after him? Have not several great thinkers readhim, critically and clinically, as an event? Heideggerand Klossowski to mention but two. Zupančičʼsapproach is distinctive on account of the attention itgives to the significance of the ʻmiddayʼ in Nietzsche,the great noontide, which is also the stillest hour. Shecontends that this is Nietzscheʼs ʻtime of the eventʼ, themoment when one becomes two – that is, the momentof a fundamental break or split. She is very good onthe meaning of the ʻstillnessʼ at play in Nietzscheʼsevent and she impressively subverts Badiouʼs claimthat a declaration of the new that lacks the Real (itsobject) is one that becomes caught up in the impos-sibility of making the distinction between its actualpresence and its projected announcement. She asksin response, could we not say that this impossibilityis the very presence of the Real and a true indicationof it at work?The relation is not
the Real but ʻofʼ the Real.Moreover, do we not encounter the end of all things,as Zupančič suggests, when the reality principle getsconceived as the only and ultimate Real? Is this notour problem now? Of course, one could reply to thisdefence of Nietzsche, that this leaves an importantissue untouched, namely, to use a Deleuzean term,how one is to
an event. For Deleuze it isthe test of the eternal return – a revolutionary doctrinein Deleuzeʼs hands – that allows this authenticationto take place. Zupančič is also very good in tryingto do demanding things with many core aspects of Nietzsche, including the death of God and nihilism,perspectivism, the ascetic ideal, and the attempt tothink ʻbeyond good and evilʼ. As she rightly pointsout, we should reflect in a demanding and precisemanner on the nature of this ʻbeyondʼ. She proposeswe conceive this not as denoting a realm, but ratheras having the structure of an edge, and she contendsthe event that is Nietzsche is precisely this edge.Later in the book the ʻbeyondʼ is said to be neither asynthesis of a pair (good and evil) nor a third term thattranscends them, but rather an ʻin the middleʼ, whichwe can understand, she says in Deleuzean terms as theneutrality of life or being in its divergent logic. Life isa creative neutrality and it in this sense that Nietzscheʼsʻbeyondʼ places itself in the ʻmiddleʼ.This is ingenious and deeply thought-provoking;one only wishes it was coupled with what Nietzscheactually posits himself of beyond good and evil. Theconjoining of the two would make for a better instruc-tion than the one we get where we largely have to takeZupančičʼs inventive reading on trust. In Nietzsche
the ʻbeyondʼ is the essential place to position oneself ʻoutsideʼ morality (outside the ex-position of the moral-ity of metaphysics and the metaphysics of morality).This explains his attempt to change the sense of theʻbeyondʼ, away from metaphysics and humanism andin the direction of a new way of thinking and feeling(sometimes he speaks of it as a ʻbeneathʼ). On othertopics central to an encounter with Nietzsche, theauthor is less original and thought-provoking, andindeed at times, admittedly rare, banal: for example,the material on forgetting, which is done much moreprofoundly in Deleuze and in the context of a treatmentof the becoming-active of forces, which is Deleuzeʼsearliest encounter with Freud and psychoanalysis anda signal of what is to come in much more aggressiveand extreme terms in
.For Zupančič the exact formula of Nietzscheʼs con-stitution or declaration is not ʻI am the eventʼ, nor ʻIwill break the world in twoʼ, nor ʻI am dynamiteʼ;rather, it is ʻI am twoʼ. When, in
 Ecce Homo
, Nietzschebecomes the ʻoneʼ that he is, this is not a moment of unification but of a pure split. We can see this, shesays, in the way Nietzsche forges the division betweendecadence or negation and the principle of the newbeginning or absolute affirmation. It is not simplythat Nietzsche offers himself as ʻDionysus versus theCrucifiedʼ, but rather that Dionysus is this very splitbetween the two. But she wants to claim more thanthis. Dionysus does not come after the Crucified assomething completely different, which would makeof him the beginning of a new era. Rather, Dionysusis the beginning
as midday
– that is, as the momentwhen the one is doubled into the two. It is this momentof splitting, of the one becoming two, that constituteswhat is new, and this is the moment of the ʻshortestshadowʼ.The argument is an intricate one, but one worthchewing over. One might conceive it in terms of a pureor absolute becoming. The becoming is absolute notbecause completion takes place, whether dialecticallyor speculatively; rather, there is the repetition of thenew beginning again (and again) and this repetition isthe repetition of an absolute difference, of a new event(for example, the collision and catastrophe of ʻDiony-sus versus the Crucifiedʼ). It is, as Deleuze understoodwell, the repetition of difference and the new withoutthe need for negation or the labour of the negative. Itis not that there is no role for negation, but rather thatthe negative and reactive get subjected to a superiorforce or power (affirmation) that would expel themand ensure they do not return. It is for this reason thatthere is no
of the negative. One might say thatit is the event – revolution, for example – which is theʻtruthʼ of itself, in which being gets becoming
or impressed on it. This was how Nietzsche himself put it, and it was a decisive move for Deleuze, and, itmay be noted, for Deleuze positioning himself contraHeidegger on the question of Nietzsche. It is clearwhen Zupančič discusses Nietzsche on truth that herconception of truth, like her conception of the eventin Nietzsche, has been heavily inspired by Deleuze.The full extent of this inspiration is, however, as Žižekwould say, ʻdisavowedʼ. Indeed, in her text Zupančičdraws repeatedly on the insights Deleuze developed inhis book on Nietzsche. However, she never stages anencounter or a confrontation (or whatever it is that onemight desire) with Deleuzeʼs book. A ʻminorʼ momentin philosophy, which is also to speak of an event inphilosophy, has been disavowed. This is importantbecause ultimately we do not have in this book a newNietzsche; we have a revolutionary Nietzsche borrowedfrom and inspired by Deleuze that will not speak thename of Deleuze
as an event 
. In an act of Lacanianappropriation, the text disavows the very book thatmakes its own reading possible. Was it not Deleuzewho sought to teach us that in Nietzsche propositions,such as the death of God, are not speculative but dra-matic ones – that is, revolutionary ones that give riseto the forces that then become capable of effectuatinga rupture or break (the event)?Zupančič concludes her book with a long adden-dum on the comedy of love, which leaves Nietzschecompletely out of the picture. This is distinctively oddgiven that he is a fecund writer on love – especiallyon the
of the love of knowledge and the loveof life. There is also the important usage of courtlylove in his conception of a gay science and so on.The author attempts at the start of it to justify whatshe is doing, and confesses that it is based on a paperthat was given on an occasion that had nothing todo with Nietzsche. What is missing from this book,which could, and should, have constituted its ending,is an encounter with a demand that it does not care to

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