The Motivation of Platonism

In his project to release the power of the false, Deleuze follows Nietzsche in identifying Platonism as the force, within Western thinking, that seeks to elevate the true at the expense of the false. 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. At the beginning of his essay “Plato and the Simulacrum,” Gilles Deleuze quotes Nietzsche’s claim that the task of future philosophy will be nothing less than the “overthrow of Platonism.”

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, the model or copy, and that which has only the semblance of truthfulness, the simulacrum. The truthful image will resemble the idea, while the simulacrum will have a semblance “ever corrupted by dissemblance.”

Thus the motive of Platonism is to ensure the triumph of the true copies and and to repress the simulacra, false images, “keeping them chained in the depths” (48).

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The Domain of Images

Gilles Deleuze, in his essay “Plato and the Simulacrum,” describes how Plato divides 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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The Aesthetic of the Singular

Gilles Deleuze, in his quest to release the simulacrum from the chains of Platonism, seeks to develops an aesthetic appropriate to it. One in which the structure of the relationship between the subject and its object escapes the sameness and repetition of conceptuality, emphasising instead the “disparity” and “difference” of the singular. 

In order to do this, what he calls the current “agonizing dualism” of aesthetics needs to be resolved. This dualism has developed in the evolution of the term, from Kant’s First Critique, The Critique of Pure Reason, to the Third, The Critique of Judgment. The former privileges cognition, conceptual understanding, while the latter privileges the affect that something has on us, i.e. how it makes us feel. In order to bring about a resolution between the two, Deleuze looks for a place where they communicate. He finds it in our a priori sense of time and space, “the inner and outer forms of intuition,” which regulate both.

In the transcendental aesthetic of the First Critique the relationship between us and our sensibility of what is before us, is theorised as an object-concept relationship. In which the matter of the object is waiting to be made into something by the active agency of the conceptual category that is imposed on it. Deleuze likens this to a “process of molding.” Here the sense of time and space are the intuitions necessary for our development of this cognitive understanding. They are the medium through which we have the object, prior to the development of conceptual understanding.

In the Third Critique, which discusses the aesthetic of the beautiful and the sublime, the thing is there in its appearance in a way that does not allow conceptual understanding to regulate it, it affects us prior to cognition. The feelings of the beautiful and the sublime are conveyed and expressed through the mediums of time and space, which establish affective relationships between objects, the object and ourselves and within the viewing subject, in the connection between the active I and the passive Self. 

We can go further and say that the affect of beauty is found to be beyond all conceptualisations, we cannot account for it conceptually, yet we demand its universal agreement. Similarly the “attribution of time and space to phenomena” (S, 11*) of the First Critique is beyond the cognitive, as it comes before it . Thus both the “Transcendental Aesthetic” of the First Critique and the “Analytic of the Beautiful” in the Third, are united in that they both  “give an account of non-cognitive, or pre-cognitive, sensible experience.” (ibid)

The outcome of this is that all acts of sensible intuition have a pre-cognitive stage, which is neither arbitrary nor conceptual. In acknowledging feelings as the basis of experience there is what Steven Shaviro calls a “creative construction,” immanent to the subject, in which experience is ordered and organised. Experience of the world, and of the artwork, is therefore understood as singular, i.e. not subject to a preordained structure. Therefore “the conditions of real experience and the structures of the work of art are reunited” (TLS, 261)

*Steven Shaviro: “The “Wrenching Duality” of Aesthetics: Kant, Deleuze, and the “Theory of the Sensible.” November 10, 2007

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