Deleuze, Philosophy, Plato

Overthrowing Platonism: a fundamental lack of Ideas (1)

If there’s one thing Platonism does not ‘have’, it must be astonishment. Astonishment, that is, speed, the beauty of uncertainty, decay; existence. Given the two creeds of Plato – the totality of the world is mere reflection/imitation, and philosophy’s task is to turn away from these multiplicities, images, concrete things towards the permanent, fixed realm of semi-divine knowledge – it comes as no surprise that the Statesman is (s)he who has knowledge of the unchangeable and is able to regulate society by the grace of having insight in the permanent character of the values that ground (Greek) society…. Justness = Justice, honest = Honesty. The philosopher is he who knows the model of reality; the good statesman is he who knows the model, the Idea of state. Platonism thus, in a sense, equals not only an (ancient) and radical vertical hierarchy but, at the same time, a disinterestedness in the multiplicity of being. Its ontology is – and here we’re back at the present –  one of intrinsic relations. Platonic objects do not have extrinsic relations (whether with each other nor with ‘the mind’) but intrinsic relations to the model or ground (Deleuze, ‘Plato and the Simulacrum, p. 50).

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Deleuze calls Platonism a ‘poisoned gift’. This gift is poisonous since it directs attention away from itself; one can’t fight Platonism without fighting the meaning of reality. Nevertheless, this is precisely what Deleuze tries to do when he sets himself the task of ‘overthrowing Platonism’. Overthrowing does not mean mirroring or reversing, since one undoubtedly will get caught up in one side of the dualism. The reverse of Platonism does not mean accepting the unimportance of the (seemingly) endless amount of concrete things. The poison of Plato resides in his goal of  ‘inventing a transcendence that can be exercised and situated within the field of immanence itself.’ (Deleuze, Plato, the Greeks, p. 137) The intrinsic relation between the concrete thing and its idea makes it impossible to simply reverse Platonism. As Deleuze remarks, ‘every reaction against Platonism is a restoration of immanence in its full extension and its purity, which forbids the return of any transcendence.’ (idem)

We could (suspending Deleuze’s immanence for a moment) try to find such a ‘reaction against’ by conceptualizing contemporary (practical) political or social ontology. In his ‘Republic’, Plato makes a striking comparison between the undesirability of granting a (physically) blind man a task of surveillance and the undesirability to be governed by a (intellectually) blind statesman, that is, one who is not able to direct its intellect towards the permanent and eternal truth. As Plato states (my translation from Dutch): ‘one does not differ from a blind man when one lacks any insight in the permanent being of things, when one does not have a clear image in one’s psyche on which one can rely, when one is not able to directs one’s sight towards the truth.’ (Plato, Republic) Is our present day not, as Latour ones remarked, characterized by a political and social situation in which ‘the blind are leading the blind’. Complexity, uncertainty, heterogeneity, perfor-mativity; politics has more and more moved towards ‘the middle’. The middle between objects and subjects, problem and solution, oversight and hindsight. What is the Idea of climate change, of the BP oil leak, of nanotechnology? This is not – at least not entirely – intended as a witty remark. It is, nevertheless, interesting to think about the relation between a superior character and political decision making with regard to climate change; the meaning of permanent knowledge about unforeseen and radically uncertain things. Overthrowing Platonism means directing attention to the contemporary tasks and problems of our political and social world. As Deleuze states: ‘It is in no way a question of different points of view on a single story understood as the same [..] It is, on the contrary, a matter of different and divergent narratives, as though to each point of view there corresponded an absolutely distinct landscape.’ (Deleuze, ‘Plato and the Simulacrum, p. 51) Our world is a world of chaos; uncertainty is the Idea. Being an immanent politician is about affirming this chaos, these heterogeneous series ad infinitum: philosophy should do the same.


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