Philosophy and Literature: How to Read (A Review)

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Review by Curtis Cole

Alain Badiou and Gilles Deleuze stand among as the contemporary world’s most influential philosophers. Each have contributed dynamic new understandings of how to view the world and life itself through original ontological interpretations; while both thinkers once stood in stark opposition to one another—Badiou went as far as to denounce Deleuze’s philosophy as ‘fascist’—both share a kindred spirit: as Jean-Jacques Lecercle illustrates, both minds are bent on maintaining a dichotomy between literature and philosophy.

Lecercle’s effort in his short but dense book Badiou and Deleuze Read Literature is to give a comparative analysis of each philosopher; moreover, however, his effort is to do more than simply describe the differences but chart out how and why each thinker has based their hermeneutic outlook. Lecercle thus constructs his idea of a ‘disjunctive synthesis’ within the context of a ‘strong reading’ in order to demonstrate how Badiou and Deleuze are theoretically joined together and how from that union’s moments of divergence, each built their respective philosophies.

Because of the dense nature of Lecercle’s book, it is too much to be able to give an outline of even a fraction of the material. But it is of vital concern that readers at least understand the basics of this ‘disjunctive synthesis’ and the ‘strong reading.’

At its most base, a disjunctive synthesis is a Deleuzian concept. Lecercle writes of it as having “a strong paradoxical flavor, as it seeks to connect and separate at the same time, to keep together what must ultimately remain apart” (17). Indeed, it is a “logical operation” demonstrative of absolute difference instead of “the traditional philosophy of identity and representation” (19).  So the reader should see how it relates to Lecercle’s project in connecting two divergent thinkers within a literary matrix: he uses it, in other words, as a dialectical reformulation of post-Structuralist theory which seeks to decipher the road of intellectual intensification between Badiou and Deleuze.

But, of course, there is more, and this concept, however brilliantly utilized by Lecercle, is of little value unless directed by an overarching intellectual movement. This is where the notion of a ‘strong reading’ arrives. Lecercle outlines six characteristics of a strong reading, they are: (a) it goes against convention; (b) this fight against convention is aimed at the extraction of a problem; (c) once a problem has been extracted, the ‘construction which grasps it’ must be created—the central idea, in other words; (d) persistence is vital to a strong reading as unless one continuously returns to the problem, the reading lacks the staying power needed to problematize the text and legitimate the seemingly counter-intuitive reading; (e) that the sum total of the previous points amounts to not an interpretation, but an intervention—the uncovering of a truth rather than an formative opinion; (f) and finally, the last characteristic of a strong reading is that it provokes readers and summons a ‘counter-reading’ which initiates a new string of argumentation and research (68-70). For a textual engagement to qualify as a strong reading, it must have all of these six traits.

This outlook is all well and good, but the question still remains—is this idea of a strong reading guided by a disjunctive synthesis a proactive theory? Yes, it is very proactive. Lecercle’s engagement with Deleuzian and Badiouan outlooks is nothing short of astonishing. The reason for this book’s existence is because of an inflammatory book where, much to the dismay of Deleuzian loyalists, he seemingly savaged Deleuze’s thought. What Lecercle does in his effort is to provide context for Badiou’s form of reading Deleuze before embarking upon the theoretical journey meant to illustrate what would happen if a ‘strong reading’ where incorporated into Badiou and Deleuze proper; this is done via recourse to examining each thinker’s previous engagements with literary traditions—French poetry for Badiou, and Anglo-American literature for Deleuze. Through each chapter Lecercle interrogates the nuances of each of his subject’s reading philosophies and their logical conclusion.

In the end, Lecercle provides an experience not to be missed by anyone with an interest in literary criticism of a philosophic variety. Not only does his undertaking provide the basis for a thrilling intellectual engagement with two of history’s greatest philosophers, but it provides a simple introduction to each thinker’s thought. Anyone who enjoys critical theory, philosophy, literary theory, or just a strident academic work which broaches new horizons, should pick up a copy of this indispensable book.

Badiou and Deleuze Read Literature

Jean-Jacques Lecercle

213 pages. Published by Eidenburgh U.P. $30.50 (Hardcover), $20.46 (Paperback)[1]. 2010.

 

[1] Prices were taken from Amazon.com and were accurate at the time of writing.

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