In his 1969 essay “Plato and the Simulacrum” Gilles Deleuze responds to Nietzsche’s call for philosophy of the future to overthrow Platonism, which can be characterised as the theory of Ideas. Platonism understands that the essence of a thing resides in its Idea, its essential nature, which exists beyond the physical. Things that we see are, in varying degrees, images or copies of their otherworldly original.
Yet, rather than subverting this Platonic “world of essence and appearance,” Deleuze maintains that Nietzsche’s call is aimed at tracking down its motivation. This, he finds, is in its “will to select, to sort out,” by distinguishing between the “thing itself” and its images. In this sense the theory of Ideas is a process of division, through which the claim of images to truthfulness are ranked in order, from the true copy to the false image, the simulacrum
The Platonic Idea enables a judgement of the degree to which an image possesses the quality of the original. Distinguishing between the rightful claimant to truthfulness, that is the model or copy, and that which has only the semblance of truthfulness, the simulacrum. The truthful image will resemble the idea, while the false image, the simulacrum, will have a semblance “ever corrupted by dissemblance.”
Thus the motivation of Platonism is to ensure the triumph of the true copies and and to repress the simulacra, “keeping them chained in the depths” (48). Plato achieves this by dividing the “domain of images” into two. On the one hand there are iconic copies, which are the true likenesses of the original, and then there are phantasmic simulacra, which have a relationship of semblance to the original. The icons are endowed with resemblance, this is not a correspondence between two external things, but between a thing and an idea. “A copy truly resembles something only to the extent that it resembles the Idea of the thing.” The copy to be recognised as such will be seen as being endowed with the quality of the original. In short, it is the superior identity of the Idea that grounds the claims of the copies, grounding them on an internal or derived resemblance.
The claim of the simulacrum is “made from below without passing through the Idea.” Thus it is an image of the original, but without resemblance, it is without the quality of the original. It is there as an aesthetic image, i.e. it is perceived and as such gives an effect of the original. It is constructed not on resemblance but on “disparity” and “difference.” The simulacral image avoids “the equivalent, the limit, the Same, or the Like.” Making the simulacrum appear like what it is an image of, represses it, confines it “within a cave in the bottom of the ocean.”
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