Life – Damaged and Excessive. Negativity and Desire between Adorno and Deleuze

Talk at WinterSchool Tübingen with Ray Brassier 2019


Although both Adorno and Deleuze stage their critique of Hegel in a distinctly Nietzschean fashion, rejecting the totalizing tendency of conceptual thought in the name of the non-identical and singular, their non-idealistic materialisms seem to be dissimilar beyond any chance for reconciliation. However, the respective loci of redemption in both thinkers appear as mirror images according to the necessity of mediation or non-mediation as the condition of life. For Adorno, “life” is always already damaged, fragmented and alienated, therefore pointing to its redemption outside of its current bio-political regime or situation, while for Deleuze no such dialectic is possible, since life is already its own beyond the regime internal to itself. While for Adorno, political action occurs in the name of a damaged life, for Deleuze, life itself becomes resistance, when confronted with power. Hence, while a transcendental empiricist position would accuse Adorno’s reliance on negativity of the same flaw, that was inherent to atheism for Marx, namely, that it must assume the position of the enemy to function at all, the position of negative dialectics would regard Deleuze as complicit in the dissolution of political subjectivity through the power of an inhuman and inorganic life.
Given that any attempt to approach this point of divergence with a sublating gesture would already introduce a Hegelian moment foreign to both of them, the talk wants to enact the difference in conceptions of life between the two as productive mismatch. The (mostly unknown) text by Lyotard “Adorno as the Devil” was published as a reaction to and endorsement of Deleuze’ “Anti-Oedipus”. Lyotard – while decidedly on the “energetic” side of interpreting capitalism against the “tragic” one – begins to negotiate the difference between the two conceptions of life in Adorno and Deleuze by interrogating their respective ideas of libidinal investment in and against conceptual thought. He shows how Adorno’s negativity starts to interfere with the affective and vital remnants resisting conceptual thought, while Deleuze expulsion of the negative disables any traditional emancipatory practices. By reconstructing Lyotard’s confrontation of the two thinkers, we can then move towards a renegotiation of the role of negativity and desire in regard to life in contemporary philosophy.