Brassier and the Idealization of Immanence
I recently read Ray Brassier’s doctoral work Alien Theory. Although unnecessarily obscure and dense at crucial points, Brassier offers several very interesting points, especially on the connection between Deleuze and Laruelle. One idea I am particularly interested in is the supposed ‘ideality’ of the plane of immanence in Deleuze, previously discussed here and here. Contrasting it to the phenomenological positing of the transcendental field, Brassier writes:
What is idealizing about the Deleuzoguattarian reduction is that the plane is instituted not according to the form of absolute consciousness as ‘self-giving’, but rather through the philosophical Concept as ‘self-positing’ or as a relative-absolute which pre-supposes the plane in and through its own self-supposing or self-positing…. The plane has to be philosophically constructed; yet it is also that which constructs itself through philosophy…. (2001, p.63)
Brassier’s Hegelian formulation is far from being accidental. What is it stake is precisely the “hyletic continuum” that lies at the center of Deleuze’s project. Namely, in his ‘Spinozist’ ontology the separation between an ontological and an epistemological concept of a plane is strictly untenable. In order not to fall into the abyss of correlationism, Deleuze has to insist on the absolute continuity between Being and Thought (a project which he rounds off in WIP). And, it is precisely this continuity that forbids the double use of the plane. “The plane has to be philosophically constructed; yet it is also that which constructs itself through philosophy”. In other words, the philosophical positing of the plane as ‘pre-supposed’ is both an epistemological and an ontological act, since what is at stake is not knowledge, but thought. The “image of thought” specifies the conditions of the emergence of thought, which delineates simultaneously the actualization of a reflective composite and the slicing of chaos that makes philosophy possible.
As Brassier shrewdly observes, this reduction, by bypassing the postulation of a transcendental subject, isolates a “transcendental residue” at the very point of “indiscernibility between the supposition and pre-supposition” (p.64). That is, the absolute ground of thought is the pure synthesis of the plane, the condition sine qua non of philosophical thinking. In other words, thought is only made possible by the production of an ‘outside’ which is not merely an epistemic ground, but delineates the necessary condition of thought’s ontological emergence. Thought thinks itself only via the pure synthesis of the plane. And, it is precisely here that the ‘idealizing’ gesture is to be located. If the plane is the absolute exteriority of thought, which nevertheless is philosophically posed and pre-supposed, then its immediacy is displaced by an always present conceptual mediation, i.e. by a pre-existing ‘sublation’. On this reading, Deleuze’s position is remarkably similar to Hegel’s “positing of the pre-supposition”. The plane, understood as a pure horizontal slicing of the chaos is self-synthesizing, but at a price: “it lays itself out through the positing of the philosophical Concept” (p.64). The abolition of the transcendent crutch is always accompanied by an idealistic residue – the mediation of the plane’s self-positing through Thought.
Conclusively: a) even if LE PLAN is an unrepresentable totality, that unrepresentability is, always and by definition, posited through Thought, i.e. via the activity of the philosopher. And, b) the ontological-epistemological distinction in the concept of the plane is untenable, since it misses the core of Deleuze’s project: the hyletic continuum and the self-supposition of the plane. What is at stake, again, is not knowledge, but thought – the image of its emergence and its annexation to the flux of Becoming. The non-organic life….
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