Seizing Plato’s Hunt in “Plato and the Simulacrum”

An excerpt from one of my early papers on Deleuze

In preparation for an episode on “Plato and the Simulacrum”, I decided to go through some of my old notes from school. I had forgotten that I wrote a paper specifically on Deleuze’s essay, one which highlights the role of Nietzsche as a mediator in his attack on Plato and the notion of resemblance. Despite knowing relatively little about Deleuze at the time, I think I managed to hit the important notes. Here’s an excerpt of the essay in question:

“Nietzsche is the preeminent mediator of Deleuze’s thought, and he is called upon in the essay to collaborate in an act of banditry.  But why Nietzsche? In formulating the overthrow of Platonism, Deleuze surveys a host of potential mediators who have professed a certain allegiance to the task of "abolishing the world of essences and the world of appearances". An initial priority in Deleuze's version of this endeavor is to co-opt Plato's metaphor of the hunt--and like a notorious brigand in search of uniquely skilled associates, Deleuze appraises a field of mercenaries who might be equally notorious and capable of the undertaking. Hegel and Kant are among those on the shortlist, but they do not pass muster. They are picked over for having the "drawback of being abstract", a charge which follows their failure to break with the privileging of identity they share with Deleuze's target. It is with Nietzsche that Deleuze will commandeer the hunt, snatch the reigns, and pursue a prey more elusive than the objects of Platonic heaven: the will to "select, sort out" a multiplicity of things, to valorize some over others, and to ultimately suppress those expressions and bodies which traverse beyond essentialized demarcations.

One might rush to point out an irony at this juncture, insofar as both Deleuze and Plato seek to find the 'right one' among a field of choices. By gesturing towards Nietzsche as his primary mediator, Deleuze espouses different set of prerogatives for the hunting party. Choosing Nietzsche  is a choice which affords (and rewards) the possibility of breaking him as a "dialectical avatar" inasmuch as it means the affirming the return of imposters driven off by Plato's hunting party. Deleuze's hunt, however,  aspires to reveal the "true" in its fullest extent: by first exposing the internal tensions formed in the fusion of the dialectic with myth and then highlighting a problematic (and subversive) ontological view which it entails.

At the inception of Deleuze's argument, like Plato, he articulates a typology of his own, in this case, a typology of typologies. While Plato's incipient motivation seems to sort on the basis of classes of things (as in deriving a genus or species), Deleuze claims that Plato is more intent upon selecting lineages of objects.  The axis which Plato renders concerns, in Deleuze's view, "distinguishing the pure from the impure, the authentic from the inauthentic". For Deleuze, this means that from the outset Plato's method instigates a rivalry amongst a field of claimants who will either more or less closely approximate a genuine iteration of a type. As Deleuze concludes, Plato offers potential claimants no "breadth" in the scope of his method of classification; a 'true' claimant is one instead which approximates or achieves total "depth" in relation to properties ascribed to 'the true'.

Deleuze also deems Plato's frequent recourse to myth as an abandonment of the dialectical task dashed with irony. Failing to satisfactorily derive a definition of a true statesman and frequently encountering such impasses in the method itself, Plato depicts the stranger encouraging brief diversions in the form of storytelling "of which a good portion [of them] may with advantage be interwoven" into inquiry at hand.  This is perhaps the most important of prey chased from the bramble: a foundationalism which undergirds the dialectic to the fictions of the ages. This move endows the dialectic with a new internal logic driven my the circularity of myth.  This internal logic constitutes the imperishability of Platonic forms, diminishing those representations which conspire to override the metaphysical and implied ethical boundaries staked out by Platonism. A cost endured by even Platonists, as Deleuze suggests, is accepting the true statesman can be nothing other than an "archaic god".  The world and all within it are but second best, including the purveyors of the notion at hand, whom are also blocked achieving the highest degree of moral valorization by being relegated to the position of struggling to achieve the likeness of a perfection.

What counts as a likeness of a proper formal model for Plato hinges on another distinction identified by Deleuze. Among the field of potential claimants exist two kinds: copies and simulacra. In “Statesman”, the stranger is confronted with the worry that even after a rigorous attempt to define the true one, there still lingers a possibility of a fraudulent claimant appearing in the form of the sophist. Thus Plato further pronounces his will to separate the field in order to procure likenesses in the form of iconic copies and dismiss those phantasmic simulacra which dubiously share in the statesman's prerogatives. Their difference, as Deleuze point out, trades on the notion of resemblance.  Good copies embody an "internal or derived" resemblance, whereas fakes and imposters miss essential characteristic of likeness. The implications are harsh for the fake. They are subject to the extortion of a verisimilitude they cannot produce; moreover, they are forced to disavow traits, impulses, and manners of expression in the name of approximating a true form--or, as is a consolation for all, to become a truer expression as an iconic copy. The ultimate regrettable consequence of attempting to rehabilitate a simulacrum is the cutting off of enlivening, affirmative tendencies specific to their own particularity.

In short, Deleuze's anti-Platonism is the project to rescue the world of external objects from essential lineages and overcome the formal boundaries they impose upon differential expressions of identity and use.”