The "Wrenching Duality" of Aesthetics: Kant, Deleuze, and the "Theory of the Sensible"
Steven Shaviro firstname.lastname@example.org November 10, 2007
Steven Shaviro email@example.com November 10, 2007
Deleuze himself famously describes his own book on Kant (1984) as his study of an "enemy" (xv). And it is true that Deleuze often seems to read Kant as a "State philosopher," one who endows philosophy with a normative, juridical role. Yet, at the same time, Deleuze also credits Kant with being the thinker of four radical "poetic formulas" (vii-xiii) which push thought to its limits, and unsettle normative rationality. It is no accident that Deleuze at several points describes his own thought as a "transcendental empiricism," with clear reference to Kant’s "transcendental idealism." Far from being the pre-Kantian or pre-critical reversion that Alain Badiou, among others, describes it as, Deleuze’s thought is very much post-Kantian, or even neo-Kantian.
All this is most fully worked out in Difference and Repetition (1994). What Deleuze calls the virtual is the there posed as the transcendental condition of all experience. Ideas in the virtual, which are always "problematic or problematizing," are Deleuze’s equivalent of "regulative ideas" in Kant (168ff.). For Kant, as Deleuze points out, "problematic Ideas are both objective and undetermined." They cannot be presented directly, or re-presented; but their very indeterminacy "is a perfectly positive, objective structure which acts as a focus or horizon within perception." The error of metaphysical dogmatism is to use these Ideas constitutively: to take their objects as determinate, transcendent entities. This is to forget that such objects "can be neither given nor known." The correlative error of skepticism is to think that, since the Ideas are indeterminate and unrepresentable, they are thereby merely subjective, and their objects merely fictive. This is to forget that "problems have an objective value," and that " ‘problematic’ does not mean only a particularly important species of subjective acts, but a dimension of objectivity as such which is occupied by these acts." Against both of these errors, Kant upholds the regulative and transcendental use of the Ideas. A regulative idea does not determine any particular solution in advance. But operating as a guideline, or as a frame of reference, the regulative idea works problematically, to establish the conditions out of which solutions, or "decisions," can emerge. In positing a process of this sort, Kant invents the notion of the transcendental realm, or of what Deleuze will call the virtual.
In his account of problematic ideas, Deleuze thus remains committed to Kant’s transcendental argument. But of course, this involves a lengthy process of reforming and correcting Kant’s own assertions. This is what accounts for the hostile tone of many of Deleuze’s explicit references to Kant. My argument is that Deleuze himself does what he credits Nietzsche with doing: he "stands [Kantian] critique on its feet, just as Marx does with the [Hegelian] dialectic" (1983, 89). In other words, Deleuze converts Kant from transcendental idealism to transcendental empiricism. This conversion excavates and reveals certain hidden potentialities in Kant’s own thought. It turns Kant away from being a thinker of juridical norms, and transforms him instead into a thinker of singularity and difference. If somebody like Habermas is the legitimate twentieth-century inheritor of Kant, then Deleuze is something like Kant’s illegitimate, monstrous offspring.
There are (at least) three ways in which Deleuze revises Kant’s account of the transcendental: with regard to the question of judgment, the question of the subject, and the question of possibility. In the first place, Kant’s basic stance is legislative and juridical: he seeks to distinguish legitimate from illegitimate uses of reason. Deleuze seeks rather (citing Artaud) "to have done with the judgment of God"; his criterion is constructivist rather than juridical, concerned with pushing forces to the limits of what they can do, rather than with evaluating their legitimacy. In his book on Kant (1984), Deleuze especially emphasizes the way that, in the Third Critique, "each [of the faculties] goes to its own limit. . . [the faculties] struggle against one another, the one pushing the other to its maximum or limit, the other reacting by pushing the first towards an inspiration which it would not have had alone. Each pushes the other to the limit, but each makes the one go beyond the limit of the other" (xi-xii). In this way, Kant’s aesthetics already shakes up his juridical presuppositions, and points the way to a process in which the problematic or regulative use of the faculties becomes productive rather than legislative. Deleuze remarks that the nineteenth-century post-Kantians "condemned the survival, in Kant, of miraculous harmonies between terms that remain external to one another" (1983, 52). But in the Third Critique, Kant already begins to solve this problem, by discovering "a fundamental discord. . . a discordant accord," no longer externally imposed, but arising from the "unregulated exercise of all the faculties" (1984, xii-xiii)... Deleuze’s Aesthetics from The Pinocchio Theory by Steven Shaviro