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Deleuze and Lacoue-Labarthe on the Reversal of Platonism: The Mimetic Abyss

Author(s): David Lane

Source: SubStance, Vol. 40, No. 2, Issue 125 (2011), pp. 105-126
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41300203
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Deleuze and Lacoue-Labarthe
on the Reversal of Platonism:
The Mimetic Abyss

David Lane

Among Friedrich Nietzsche's many daring philosophical declara-

tions, one of the most infamous and renowned is an early formula coined
in his posthumously published notebooks: "My philosophy an inverted
Platonism: the farther removed from true being, the purer, the finer, the
better it is. Living in semblance as goal/'1 As one can discern here, the
theme of inverted Platonism entails a re-valuation of being, truth and
the hierarchy between the real and apparent worlds as these notions are
conceived within the framework of Platonic thought. Nietzsche's style of
describing his philosophy as a reversal of Platonism has served as a major
point of debate in the reception of his work, particularly since Martin
Heidegger's influential lecture courses on the topic.
Heidegger endeavors to illuminate Nietzsche's reversal through
reference to The Republic and the Platonic division between the sensuou
and suprasensuous worlds. In exploring this division, Heidegger describe
how Plato sunders truth (the realm of Ideas) from art (the realm of copy
ing or mimesis), since the latter is incapable of reproducing the Idea in it
self-presencing, or eidos, and hence falls short of the corresponding notion
of truth as non-distortion, or aletheia ( Nietzsche 162-87). For Heidegger
Plato's philosophy distances art from truth and relegates art to the statu
of semblance or the merely apparent. Thus in his manner of adhering t
the strategy of reversal, Heidegger suggests that where Plato subjugates
the sensuous world (the domain of aesthetics) to the suprasensuous realm
of Ideas (the domain of being and truth), Nietzsche must oversee the sub
jugation, in turn, of the suprasensuous to the sensuous; if truth is worth
more than art for Plato, then Nietzsche - in his "reversed" position - must
declare that art is worth more than truth ( Nietzsche 142-50, 188-99).
Yet in claiming to advance beyond any hasty interpretation of the
theme, Heidegger attempts to complicate Nietzsche's reversal as a philo-
sophical problem that exceeds a mere inversion or substitution of values
As he repeatedly emphasizes, only to reverse Plato's thinking without
re-evaluating its underlying structure would be to remain caught withi
this structure, without overcoming it in any essential way. Therefore, Hei-

Board of Regents, University of Wisconsin System, 2011

SubStance #125, Vol. 40, no. 2, 2011 105

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106 David Lane

degger insists that

the suprasensuou
Platonism; both o
which they are c
binary structure
constitutes the tr

as long as the "abov

tonism, Platonism in
only when the "abov
positing of somethin
world - in the sense
true world is expun
the apparent world c
the true world colla
is Platonism overco
philosophical thinkin

Given Nietzsche's efforts to eschew the idealism of Plato's true

world, Heidegger proclaims that the reversal must also surpass a simple
affirmation of appearances, in order to avoid repeating the structure of
Platonic thought. For Heidegger, such an affirmation would only consti-
tute a new form of positivism2 and thus repeat the hierarchical structure
of Platonic thought. Consequently, Heidegger attempts to pass beyond
this kind of oppositional thinking by discussing how the Nietzschean no-
tions of "embodying life" and "physiological aesthetics" replace Plato's
conception of the sensible world. In Heidegger's estimation, Nietzsche
inaugurates an original - if problematic or largely "incomplete" - philo-
sophical project as he sets out to establish a new, transformed hierarchy
in the ordering of the sensuous and the spirit, of art and truth ( Nietzsche
Heidegger's lecture courses were influential for the later French
reception of Nietzsche's work. As such, they serve as a useful frame of
reference in which to situate two of the most prominent contemporary
French readers of Nietzsche: Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Gilles Deleuze.
The different interpretative styles of these two authors are significant in
the way they thematize the topic of mimesis and its role in Nietzsche's
philosophical relationship with Plato.
While Heidegger remains ambivalent in his judgment of the success
of Nietzsche's reversal, Deleuze celebrates the value of this radical enter-
prise. However, by deliberating upon the meaning of the phrase beyond
the apparent simplicity of Nietzsche's gesture, Deleuze contends that the
task of reversing Platonism requires an understanding of Plato's "motiva-
tions." For Deleuze, these motivations can be detected in Plato's desire to
banish the false pretenders to the Idea - those "bad" copies that threaten

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Deleuze and Lacoue-Labarthe on the Reversal of Platonism 107

to undermine the "good" kind of imitation that underpins the hierarc

cal structure of Plato's thought. By unveiling the real intentions behi
Platonism, Deleuze declares that the direction for the reversal of Platonism
can be more clearly brought into view. As such, his emphasis upon t
underlying motivations of Plato's philosophy represents a minor but
meaningful criticism of Nietzsche's approach, which, for Deleuze, te
to leave these motivations in darkness and obscurity. Thus despite th
laudatory aspect of his early writings on Nietzsche, Deleuze concedes
his later works that the Nietzschean project of reversal in some sense fails
Nonetheless, Nietzsche remains an exemplary figure for Deleuze
in his attempt to expose the rebellious quality of mimesis which, in h
view, Platonism had wanted to suppress. In his reading of Nietzsche'
reversal, Deleuze champions a radical reign of false copies, or simulacr
that subvert Plato's internal criterion of truth - namely, the resembla
of the pretender to the intelligible model or Idea. Deleuze acclaims t
power of the simulacrum to undermine the test of resemblance amo
claimants, the hierarchical ordering of models and copies, and the v
foundations of Platonic thought. Indeed for Deleuze, the reign of th
simulacrum instigates a universal breakdown of all foundations, throu
a vertiginous mimeticism that he identifies with Nietzsche's eternal return
However, this treatment of the eternal return gives rise to a number
of interpretative problems. While Deleuze attempts to subvert Plato's t
of foundation, his praise of the simulacrum risks only inverting Platonism
without - as Heidegger had suggested - effectively "twisting free" of
underlying structure. An additional complication to Deleuze's position
be framed through the manner in which he mimics Nietzsche's philosophi-
cal gesture: in assuming the project of reversal, Deleuze may be conside
to copy the model of Nietzsche, and thus to recuperate and reinstate
very Platonic structure he was attempting to overthrow. However, t
argument should be moderated in light of Deleuze's assertion that, unl
Nietzsche's reversal, which remains "abstract" by leaving the motivatio
of Platonic thought in the shadows, his own interpretation seeks to tr
down these motivations and bring them into the light of day.
Throughout this article, I compare these criticisms of Deleuze to
Lacoue-Labarthe' s different interpretative approach to Nietzsche. Wh
the writings of these two authors on the reversal of Platonism share s
similarities, Lacoue-Labarthe develops a style of reading that is marke
distinct from the more polarized position Deleuze adopts in relation
this theme. In Lacoue-Labarthe' s view, Plato, Nietzsche and Heidegge
share a common prejudice against mimesis ( Musica Ficta 110-1); howev
the work of all three philosophers is compromised by this principle
different ways. In his treatment of Nietzsche and Plato, Lacoue-Labar
investigates the analogy between Plato's use of Socrates and Nietzsch

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108 David Lane

use of the histor

demonstrate how
within Nietzsche's
of Nietzsche, Laco
and fictionalizing
question of philoso
( Darstellung ).3
Through a number
Lacoue-Labarthe ra
contends, this sub
of mimesis that u
truth. Through h
Labarthe calls int
simultaneously co
beyond the critica
figurative elemen
ultimate paradox
coincidence and no
In this article, I
Lacoue-Labarthe o
the intractable p
philosophical ide
complicity betwee
mimetic abyss of
assumption of the
upon the critical
the fictionalizing
contemplate these
simulacrum and th
escape from the t
the reversal in th
"end of philosoph
between philosoph
inextricably tied.

Deleuze and the Simulacrum

The majority of Deleuze's reflections on the reversal of Platonism
are contained in two principal texts: Difference and Repetition and the essay
"Plato and the Simulacrum."4 In these texts, Deleuze seeks to extend
Nietzsche's approach by claiming that a completed reversal must track
down the motivation behind Platonic thought ( Logic of Sense 291). In

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Deleuze and Lacoue-Labarthe on the Reversal of Platonism 109

order to capture this motivation, he defines the structure of Platonis

through the notion of an elective participation - the rivalry amo
claimants ( pretendants ) to establish the foundation of their claims
Deleuze's view, a tripartite structure underpins Plato's style of thinki
incorporating the ground (the unattainable Idea that provides t
foundation for participation), the quality of the ground (the object for th
test of foundation) and the claimants to the ground (those who particip
unequally in the object).5
According to Deleuze, Platonic division operates within this triad
through a hierarchical order of models and copies. The model is t
ground (or Idea) in relation to which all participants function as cop
whose claims may be judged well-founded, ill-founded or unfounded
This judgement is based upon an intrinsic relationship between mode
and copy, whereby the pretenders to the Idea can be ranked in terms
the criterion of internal resemblance. However, as Deleuze explains,
Platonic division establishes a hierarchy among the most faithful copi
of the original Idea, then it also descends toward an infinity of degra
and deceitful images, culminating in those that present no more than
illusion or mirage of the founding model. Thus for Deleuze, rather th
the distinction between original and image, the real Platonic division
lies between two types of images ( idoles ); good copies ( icones ) that
faithfully adhere to the principle of internal resemblance, and bad cop
or simulacra (phantasmes) that function as simulators of resemblanc
and false pretenders to the Idea ( Logic of Sense 293-5, 299; Difference
Repetition 62-3).
In Deleuze' s account, the simulacrum presents to Platonism t
dangerous face of mimesis as a rebellious force that works underhande
against the ordered hierarchy of models and copies. As he explains,
mimetic movement of the simulacrum is purely "external" and t
belies Plato's criterion of internal resemblance. Deleuze suggests t
in Plato's philosophy, the simulacrum is identified with the charlata
the counterfeiter, the buffoon and the satyr: the one "who lays clai
to everything, and who, in laying such claims to everything, is nev
grounded but contradicts everything, including himself" ( Logic of Sense 6
It is here that Deleuze distinguishes the real motivation of Platonism:
the desire to track down the simulacrum and to banish it to the bottom of
the ocean ( Logic of Sense 296; Difference and Repetition 127). For Deleuze, the
simulacrum haunts Plato as a sinister double and irrepressible enemy of
his thought; thus, as it places in question the structure of intelligible model
and sensible copy, the simulacrum, for Deleuze, is the abyss in Platonism
that indicates the direction for the reversal of Platonism ( Logic of Sense
293-6; Difference and Repetition 127-8). By affirming the disruptive power

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110 David Lane

of the simulacru
be successfully c
According to De
eternal return are
conservative reig
he interprets the
the primacy of a
Platonism measu
identification, in
radically false co
has been expunge
Through this pe
lacrum and the "
of a transcenden
notion of "true b
vocably overthro
to differentiate b
by the figure of
(embodied in the f
Repetition 68, 12
that the hierarch
In the reversal of Platonism, resemblance is said of internalised dif-
ference, and identity of the Different as primary power . . . The false
pretender cannot be called false in relation to a presupposed model
of truth, no more than simulation can be called an appearance or an
illusion ... By rising to the surface, the simulacrum makes the Same
and the Similar, the model and the copy, fall under the power of the
false (phantasm). It renders the order of participation, the fixity of
distribution, the determination of the hierarchy impossible. ... Far
from being a new foundation, it engulfs all foundations, it assures a
universal breakdown (effondrement), but as a joyful and positive event,
as an un-founding (effondement). ( Logic of Sense 300)

In Deleuze's formulation, the "un-founding" of the simulacrum

brings about a closure of the order of models and copies - adapting a
Nietzschean phrase, he describes this as the "twilight of the idols ( icones )"
(Difference and Repetition 128; Logic of Sense 299). However, given the very
nature of his argumentative claims, this move toward an un-founding
of Platonism presents a number of problems for interpretation. One of
the most pressing of these is the danger that the higher power of the
false could itself be seen to constitute a veiled or "deceitful" expression,
offering only another (however contradictory or paradoxical) version of
philosophical truth.

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Deleuze and Lacoue-Labarthe on the Reversal of Platonism 1 1 1

The radical stance that Deleuze adopts in relation to the simulacrum

is indeed a perilous one. While he describes the operation of the simula-
crum as the internal un-founding of Platonic thought, the question remains
as to what kind of foundation Deleuze is left to appeal to in order to ground
his own argumentative claims. It would appear that Deleuze's reversal
presupposes that the status of the simulacrum can be decided - and serv
as a radical point of departure from metaphysics - without repeating th
same structure of metaphysical thinking.
In attempting to distinguish his approach from the metaphysical
tradition, Deleuze differentiates between two versions of the return, on
manifest and one latent. It is with Plato that Deleuze identifies the weak
or limitative version (the manifest content); despite occasional statements
that could suggest he advocated this average or moderate Platonic posi-
tion, Deleuze credits Nietzsche with providing the genuine, strong and
categorical version (the latent content):
The manifest content of the eternal return can be determined in confor-
mity to Platonism in general. It represents then the manner in which
chaos is organised by the action of the demiurge, and on the model of
the Idea which imposes the same and the similar on him . . . Far from
representing the truth of the eternal return, however, this manifest con-
tent marks rather the utilisation and survival of the [founding] myth in
an ideology which no longer supports it . . . Nietzsche was right when he
treated the eternal return as his own vertiginous idea, an idea nourished
only by esoteric Dionysian sources, ignored or repressed by Platonism
... In the eternal return, one must pass through the manifest content,
but only in order to reach the latent content situated a thousand feet
below (the cave behind every cave ... ). ( Logic of Sense 301)

As this passage reveals, Deleuze's position indeed relies upon a true

sense of the eternal return: that there is always another cave behind every
cave and "a stranger, more comprehensive world beyond the surface, an
abyss beyond every ground, beneath every "foundation"" (Nietzsche,
Beyond Good and Evil 216). However, in his desire to distinguish between
the two versions of the return, Deleuze seems to recuperate a model of
truth at odds with his very affirmation of the simulacrum - a dilemma
that gives rise to the following question: if the un-founding of Platonism
"swallows up or destroys every ground which would function as an
instance responsible for the difference between the original and the
derived, between things and simulacra" ( Difference and Repetition 67), then
how can he differentiate between icones and phantasmes , the manifest and
latent versions of the eternal return, Platonism and his own reversal of
Deleuze appears to be caught within the same binary structure that
he set out to conquer in Plato; on one side are the principles required to
advance a critical project of differentiation, and on the other, a vertiginous

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112 David Lane

experience that c
articulates both si
same inherent dan
However, rather t
ner he ascribes t
its status as an u
foundation throu
While Deleuze is
it may be useful t
reflect upon and
issue in Deleuze's treatment of Nietzsche contra Plato is the distinction
between a simple reversal and a successful overcoming of Platonism.
As Heidegger suggests, to effect a genuine reversal requires more than
merely opposing one term against the other in a binary structure of think-
ing; thus it is not enough to affirm the sensuous over the suprasensuous
world, or - in the terms of Deleuze's argument - the simulacrum over the
Platonic hierarchy of models and copies.
In this light, Deleuze's interpretation could be considered a poorly
framed approach to the problem of overturning Platonism in its essence.
However, such a criticism fails to adequately account for his method of
classifying the motivations of Platonic thought. As he uncovers these
motivations, Deleuze suggests that the threat of the simulacrum was
already dimly perceived on the horizon of Plato's thinking, which thus
in a sense already eschews the distinction between model and copy even
as it attempts to reinforce its legitimacy.
Yet if this is the anti-Platonism at the heart of Platonism, as Deleuze
contends, then his realignment of the "real" Platonic division from model/
copy to the more revealing icones / phantasmes could be seen to reinstall a
mode of Platonism at the heart of his anti-Platonism. If Deleuze exposes
Plato's desire to suppress the operation of the simulacrum, then one could
view his own attempt at definitively wresting free from the reign of models
and copies as a repression of the problematic principle of mimesis, which
subsequently threatens to return and reinstate itself in some other way
within his work.

Lacoue-Labarthe and the Fictioning Essence of Philosophy

In contrast to Deleuze's account of mimesis that endeavors to
strengthen and even sharpen Nietzsche's position, Lacoue-Labarthe re-
examines the status of the reversal in an effort to draw out some of its
philosophical implications. There are several important works in which
Lacoue-Labarthe displays his insight into Nietzsche's philosophy; most

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Deleuze and Lacoue-Labarthe on the Reversal of Platonism 113

notably his "Typography" essay and throughout The Subject of Philo

phy.10 In these texts, Lacoue-Labarthe considers Nietzsche's reversal an
the problem of mimesis in terms of the complex relationship betwe
philosophy and its literary, poetic and fictional operations.
Against a distinct anti-Heideggerian tendency in the French re-
ception of Nietzsche's work, Lacoue-Labarthe employs Heidegger a
constant frame of reference in his reading of Nietzsche.11 In particul
Heidegger's cautionary view that simply opposing Platonism is tanta-
mount to reproducing its foundations is a perennial concern for Lacou
Labarthe, as he suggests that Nietzsche boldly attempts to break free of al
metaphysical structures of thinking, including the predominant Plato
and Hegelian varieties. However, Lacoue-Labarthe warns that by turnin
the subordinate concept of appearance (and its language of fiction) agai
metaphysics itself (and its language of truth), Nietzsche's attempt m
only serve to deny any possibility of breaking out of the metaphysi
enclosure, while reinstating that there is no opposition to the structu
of Platonic opposition and no alterity to the work of alterity within
dialectical method ( Subject of Philosophy 1-4).
If he concedes that a number of Nietzschean statements remain
caught within a "naive" anti-Platonism that reproduces the structure of
Platonic thinking without overcoming it in any essential way, Lacoue-
Labarthe claims that Nietzsche also provides a more complex approach
to the question of reversal. To characterize this less naive approach,
Lacoue-Labarthe follows the movement of Heidegger's interpretation of
Nietzsche with its emphasis upon the text "How the True World' Finally
Became a Fable" from Twilight of the Idols.12 This fable narrates the dawn
and decline of metaphysics with its founding opposition between a true
world and a world of mere appearance. At the conclusion of this short text,
Nietzsche proclaims that with the abolition of the true world, so too is the
apparent world overcome, which for Lacoue-Labarthe is the "properly
Nietzschean moment" and point of departure for an interrogation of the
status of fiction:

What might have remained "naively" anti-Platonic in the preceding

texts has disappeared here. To think fiction is not to oppose appear-
ance and reality, since appearance is nothing other than the product
of reality. To think fiction is precisely to think without recourse to this
opposition, outside this opposition; to think the world as fable. Is this
possible? ( Subject of Philosophy 5)

In exploring this dilemma, Lacoue-Labarthe claims that neither

reality nor appearance can hold sway because both belong to the same
fable; both are part of the same "space" where there is no longer true or
fictional saying because there is nothing outside of saying itself. As a corol-

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114 David Lane

lary to this view

abandon the me
Labarthe is "dou
of Philosophy 7)
rather places in q
the possibility o
Nietzschean mov
indefinite and i
explains that th
language with resp
are not differences
ency and transfer,
muthos and logos
such a language thi
sassement eternel"
desire and of the s
Perhaps this is a wa

For Lacoue-Laba
ity of defining
simultaneously b
physics. Through
assimilate Nietzs
but rather interp
metaphysics and
tion of continua
light of the lite
within the histor
cogency and cohe
ing free from th
imperatives of ph

This question o
raphy" essay, in
certain doubling
For Lacoue-Laba
Nietzsche ident
claims an absolut
takes cover whi
"understood." H
much more com
takes place betw
of his work ("Ty


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Deleuze and Lacoue-Labarthe on the Reversal of Platonism 1 1 5

Lacoue-Labarthe examines this relationship by drawing out the play

between philosophy (Nietzsche) and fiction (Zarathustra) in an epistolary
context. Remarking upon an exchange of letters between Nietzsche and
the classical scholar Erwin Rohde, he highlights an apparently innocu-
ous observation by Rohde on the "analogy" between Nietzsche's use of
Zarathustra and Plato's use of Socrates. For Lacoue-Labarthe, Rohde's
"unmasking" of this Nietzschean imitation raises a whole problematic
of mimesis that threatens the sovereign mastery of Nietzsche's thought.
In a similar fashion to Deleuze' s treatment of Platonic division, Lacoue-
Labarthe reveals the selfsame structure of model and copy in operation
between Nietzsche and Zarathustra - a structure that reintroduces Pla-
tonism where it was least expected: in Nietzsche's declared attempt at
reversing Platonic thought ("Typography" 47-51).
Through this framework of model and copy, Lacoue-Labarthe
re-examines Heidegger's hermeneutic orientation toward Nietzsche's
philosophy. In Lacoue-Labarthe' s view, Heidegger remains reticent and
ultimately fails - or at least refuses - to consider the possible analogy
between Nietzsche and Plato, and with it, the contradiction behind
Nietzsche's position.13 He contemplates the reasons behind this refusal
through reference to Heidegger's portrayal of Socrates, wherein the latter
is engaged in a "pure" mode of thinking that excludes the compromises
involved in philosophy presenting itself ( sich darstellen) through figures
and the subjective determination of Being - in short, this image of Socrates
expresses a disavowal of the problematic of the Gestalt (figure, form,
shape), which, since the thought of Socrates, has implicated the entire
history of Western philosophy.14
For Lacoue-Labarthe, if Heidegger overlooks the figural or allegorical
elements in Nietzsche's text in order to embark upon a hermeneutic
approach toward his "true" thought - namely, what remains "un-thought"
in Nietzsche's thinking - then this interpretative move manages to
circumvent three inter-related questions, concerning: the poetic, fictional
or figurative character of Zarathustra; the dispersion or "worklessness"
(i desoeuvrement ) of the Nietzschean text; and the problematic of Nietzsche's
mimetic "madness."15 To characterize this approach, Heidegger asks "Who
is Nietzsche's Zarathustra?" instead of the more pertinent question for
Lacoue-Labarthe: "What is Nietzsche's Zarathustra ?"16
In examining the literary form of Zarathustra, Lacoue-Labarthe
investigates the key notions of Gestalt and Ge-stell. As he elaborates
upon these terms, Lacoue-Labarthe describes the function of the Gestalt
in Heidegger's thinking through the operation of Ge-stell (production,
presentation), which - as a word for presence and poiesis - brings about
the stability or "installation" of Being:

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116 David Lane

We are now in a pos

of Gestalt ... is carri
time, of poiesis, of
words, through the
the fictioning (ideali
of the "theoretical/

According to Lac
operation of Ge-st
then at some poi
inevitably encoun
the fictioning ess
("Typography" 72
Plato attempts to e
central presupposit
must be conceived
of truth as aletheia
However, in con
claims that both
production ( Dars
(aletheia) and thu
poiesis. The func
Labarthe and serv
the two themes o
("Typography" 82
what?" through t
how Plato is mad
mimesis as that which renders undecidable the distinction between
presence and absence, life and death, truth and fiction. According to
Lacoue-Labarthe, in his approach toward the mirror device and through
the metaphor of "vision" as the determination of eidos/idea , Plato places
theoretical speculation en abyme by installing it right where everything is
to be reflected - including the entire theoretical realm.
In Lacoue-Labarthe' s view, Plato attempts to "capture" the vertigo
and volatility of mimesis by displacing the decisive question from "who
is the mimetician?" to "what is mimesis?" in a theoretical ruse designed
to re-install philosophy upon firm methodological ground ("Typography"
91-5). Yet with this ruse, which was intended to master the "improper"
thaumaturgy of the poet-mimetician, Lacoue-Labarthe claims that Plato
is forced to adopt his own form of "anti-thaumaturgic" thaumaturgy,
which is "speculation" itself:
as the passage to poetry reveals, speculation (the mise-en-abyme, the
theoretical reduction) does not happen all by itself. It remains fragile.

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Deleuze and Lacoue-Labarthe on the Reversal of Platonism 117

And, in fact, if the entire operation consists in trying to go one better

than mimesis in order to master it, if it is a question of circumventing
mimesis, though with its own means (without which, of course, this
operation would be null and void), how would it be possible to have
even the slightest chance of success - since mimesis is precisely the
absence of appropriate means, and since this is even what is supposed
to be shown ? ('Typography'' 95)

For Lacoue-Labarthe, Plato's efforts at conjuring mimesis and hold-

ing it captive by means of mimetic reflection only underscore an inevitable
lack of theoretical mastery, betrayed by the fact that the theoretical opera-
tion already contained a mirror - its own mimetic trap or "thaumatic"
machine ("Typography" 134). Thus in Lacoue-Labarthe' s account, Plato
suffers from the correspondence ( homoiosis ) of aletheia and mimesis, which
threatens his philosophy with a vertiginous circulation of resemblances
in a manner akin to Nietzsche's eternal return. Indeed, Lacoue-Labarthe
suggests that the danger of this kind of mimetic reflection is so readily
recognizable because it has already been portrayed by Nietzsche, whose
daring attempts to break free from the metaphysical tradition culminated
in madness, delirium and a chaotic confusion of his identity with "all the
names in history" ("Typography" 116, 121-2; Poetry as Experience 76-7).
Through his simulated play with doubles, rivals and shadows,
Lacoue-Labarthe regards Nietzsche as an exemplary figure of masquerade
within the mimetic abyss. Unlike Deleuze's unequivocal reading of
Nietzsche contra Plato, Lacoue-Labarthe considers the encounter between
these two philosophers as an "infinitely ambiguous relation" founded
upon a certain "dissimulation" ( Subject of Philosophy 55-6). In The Republic ,
Plato condemns such dissimulation as an improper use of discourse,
displaying a lack of correspondence ( homoiosis ) between the speaking
subject ( sujet de Venonciation) and the subject of speech ( sujet de Venonce).
However, Lacoue-Labarthe observes that Plato, more than betraying his
own precepts, actually fails to utter a single word of "his" own discourse
throughout this text.17
Indeed, Lacoue-Labarthe claims that this kind of irresponsibility or
"impropriety" is in fact fundamental to the subject of philosophy. Despite
Plato's insistence on the need to identify the speaker of the utterance with
the subject of enunciation, Lacoue-Labarthe maintains that nothing can
guarantee such a correspondence; while theory is forever compelled to
seal the hiatus or gap between the speaking subject and the subject of
speech, it is impossible to overcome this essential breach in the subject.
Repeatedly pursued because it can never be captured, the "'subject'
never coincides with itself for Lacoue-Labarthe, and thus remains an
unmasterable enigma for philosophical reflection ("Typography" 136).

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118 David Lane

Critical Compar
Beyond the illu
and Nietzsche, L
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three thinkers a
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designate anythin
However, it is i
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Rather than mer
the wider implicat
account his persp
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identification th
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subject by empha
underlie the for
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Therefore, desp
cating himself in
a practical standar
judging them, his
gaging with the
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no pretensions of
tions within the
either attempt to
to have overcome it.
Of particular prominence in Lacoue-Labarthe's work is the confron-
tation between Heidegger and Nietzsche. Through his patient treatment
of Heidegger, Lacoue-Labarthe provides an intriguing perspective on the
problem of uncovering Nietzsche's "thought." While he continually ques-

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Deleuze and Lacoue-Labarthe on the Reversal of Platonism 119

tions the strategy of Heidegger's reading of Nietzsche against Nietzsche

himself, Lacoue-Labarthe also insists that it is important to avoid the
temptation of simply playing the trick of writing, or the subject, against
Heidegger ( Subject of Philosophy 96). Rather than employing this trick
against the thought of "Nietzsche" that Heidegger is forever attempting
to decide - an opposition that would only constitute another decision (this
time of Heidegger against himself) - Lacoue-Labarthe endeavors to raise
the possibility of an "other" to this process of countering, sublation and
decision, even at the risk of non-sense or insanity
This strategy is similar to the one Derrida advocates in Of Gram-
matology, where he suggests that Heidegger's insistence upon reading
Nietzsche through the question of Being should not be straightforwardly
opposed, despite its apparent limitations. Even if Heidegger imposes
a certain foreignness upon Nietzsche's philosophy, Derrida suggests
that such a reading must ultimately uncover that which in Nietzsche's
work surpasses Heidegger's hermeneutic operation. For Derrida, this
counter-intuitive approach presents the possibility of discovering an
"other" Nietzsche to the Heideggerian version of him, even as it reveals
the unavoidable naivete of Nietzsche's critique of metaphysics, which
inevitably falls back upon concepts and propositions that belong to the
metaphysical tradition:
rather than protect Nietzsche from the Heideggerian reading, we should
perhaps offer him up to it completely, underwriting that interpretation
without reserve; in a certain way and up to the point where, the content
of the Nietzschean discourse being almost lost for the question of be-
ing, its form regains that absolute strangeness, where his text finally
invokes a different type of reading, more faithful to his type of writing.
(Of Grammatology 19)

This strategy of not openly opposing Heidegger's reading of

Nietzsche has a two-fold value. First, it challenges Nietzsche's more
radical declarations, together with the contemporary thinkers who align
themselves with these Nietzschean polemics, by presenting his thought
with its own limits: the metaphysical framework that Nietzsche still
invokes in his attempts to pass beyond metaphysics. Second, such a
strategy avoids succumbing to the same "errors" that many commentators
have attributed to Heidegger - namely, to presume that there is a deeper
truth that serves as the foundation for Nietzsche's thought, and to embark
upon a process of countering, opposing and deciding to unveil this truth
and to reconstruct the system of Nietzsche's thought around it ( Subject
of Philosophy 57- 62).
If Lacoue-Labarthe' s style of reading is worthy of merit for revealing
the dangers of Heidegger's approach, then the critical perspectives he offers
may also prove useful in evaluating Deleuze's interpretation of Nietzsche.

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120 David Lane

By identifying h
metaphysical valu
anti-Platonism. In
silence he maint
viewed as a perilo
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the interpretativ
vigilant reading
If Deleuze relies
esoteric "truth" th
reading of Nietz
with some of the
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Deleuze' s interpr
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thought - a cond
the conservative
However, in an
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claims to extend
Platonism in a de
In affirming the
between the ori
Plato's philosoph
and obscure in N
Nonetheless, the status of the simulacrum is the critical point where
Deleuze's extension or completion of the reversal threatens to unravel.
Deleuze explicitly identifies the model for the un-founding of Platonism
in the doctrine of the eternal return, which he characterizes through
recourse to Nietzsche's metaphor of the cave behind every cave. With this
theme, Nietzsche seemingly alludes to Plato's allegory of the cave in The
Republic and the distinction between reality and mere appearance. While
Nietzsche can be seen to subvert Plato's philosophy by modifying its
metaphors and re-interpreting its imagery, Deleuze's gesture of imitating

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Deleuze and Lacoue-Labarthe on the Reversal of Platonism 121

and identifying with the model of Nietzsche's cave within a cave only
appears to undermine the critical potential of this style of thinking by
revealing - and even emphasizing-its underlying mimetic abyss.
From a Lacoue-Labarthian perspective, one could regard Deleuze
as here unmasking the subversive role of the simulacrum in Plato's
thought without effectively twisting free from the snares of mimesis. If
Lacoue-Labarthe unveils an abyss of self-contradiction behind Plato's
attempts at banishing the poet-mimeticians from the city, then Deleuze
seems to repeat this abyssal structure through his style of imitating the
Nietzschean model of eternal return. To draw out these considerations,
it is useful to contrast Deleuze' s treatment of the eternal return with the
inflection Lacoue-Labarthe gives to this theme.
If the eternal return is invoked by Deleuze as a critical concept that
nonetheless collapses into its own abyss of un-foundation, then Lacoue-
Labarthe employs this notion with a vigilance and caution that betrays
a certain distrust of its capacity for critique. In Lacoue-Labarthe' s view,
the eternal return (" ressassement eternel ") designates a return of the same
desire and a continual going over of the same disappointment whenever
philosophy attempts to re-discover origins, recover truth or overcome its
own limitations. Alternatively, Lacoue-Labarthe casts the eternal return
as an ineluctable affliction of philosophy - the encounter of thought with
the madness of its own mimetic abyss.
Where Deleuze' s reading of Nietzsche seeks to establish an onto-
logical difference through the eternal return, Lacoue-Labarthe seems to
relinquish this kind of critical potential. However, he does reformulate
the issues at play in Nietzsche's reversal by reflecting on the shared space
between philosophy and literature. For Lacoue-Labarthe, any attempt
to approach these terms through a binary structure - where an "out-
side" view could be taken upon one term from a position "inside" the
other - is suspended or indefinitely deferred. As he broaches the intricate
relationship between philosophy and literature, one could view Lacoue-
Labarthe as providing a more nuanced perspective on the complexities
of Nietzsche's reversal than the more polarized position adopted by
Deleuze. With the theme of the fable, Lacoue-Labarthe casts light upon
the thorny question of the aesthetic dimension of philosophy - a question
that remains problematic both for Nietzsche's thought and for Deleuze' s
style of self-positioning in relation to it.


By employing their own distinctive strategies of interpretation

Deleuze and Lacoue-Labarthe open Nietzsche's philosophy up to
critical possibilities when embracing, opposing and engaging its litera

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122 David Lane

or textual "other
treatment of the
styles of reading
and considerations.
In his affirmation of the simulacrum, Deleuze describes the reversal
in a manner that re-evaluates the conventional metaphysical break be-
tween the real world and the deceptive world of appearances. Ultimately,
he endorses the disruptive power of the simulacrum and the chao-errancy
of the return in their capacity to overthrow the (Platonic) place of philo-
sophical truth. Yet in light of the criticisms that I have discussed above,
one could question where this radical perspective leads the contemporary
status of philosophy. In this context, perhaps it is revealing that Deleuze
later divests the simulacrum of the importance that he ascribes to it in his
early writings on the reversal.19
Deleuze seems to suggest that the simulacrum belongs to a philo-
sophical register of thinking, albeit as a counterpart or adversary to the
Platonic interpretation of "true being." As he develops his stance on the
simulacrum, Deleuze draws upon the significance of Klossowski's read-
ing of the eternal return, together with the literary work of a number of
contemporary French authors ("Reversing Platonism" 170-3, 176-7; Logic
of Sense 44-50, 321-41). Indeed, in defining his innovative approach toward
aesthetics, Deleuze claims that the simulacrum and the eternal return can
challenge representations founded upon the conservative conditions of
possible experience by revealing an aesthetics of "real" experience, of the
"lived reality of a sub-representative domain" {Difference and Repetition 69).
However, at this early stage of his thinking, Deleuze fails to ad-
equately consider the displacement of the status of philosophy that cor-
relates with his affirmation of the simulacrum and the eternal return. In
contrast, Lacoue-Labarthe develops a more comprehensive examination of
the complex relationship between philosophy and literature that manifests
itself through the course of Nietzsche's reversal. Here, Lacoue-Labarthe
displays an appreciation for the way his own position implicates itself
within the philosophical problems that it sets out to explore. However,
as some commentators have suggested, by employing this interpretative
procedure Lacoue-Labarthe could be seen to only offer a meditation upon
the various paradoxes facing philosophy.
In order to contest this critical point of view, perhaps these aporias
and impossibilities should be considered alongside what Lacoue-Labarthe
describes as "the age's modesty." For Lacoue-Labarthe, the status of phi-
losophy should not be renounced; rather, the modesty to which he refers
implies a confrontation with the liminal exercise of philosophical thinking.
As he explains, the recognition of philosophy's limits does not call for an
escape from, nor a passing beyond, what Heidegger termed the "closure"

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Deleuze and Lacoue-Labarthe on the Reversal of Platonism 123

of metaphysics. Instead, Lacoue-Labarthe describes a paradoxical situa

tion of thinking at the limits of the possible, which can no more call
an affirmation than a repudiation of philosophy:
Philosophy is finished/ finite (La philosophie est finie)', its limit is uncross-
able. This means we can no longer - and we can only - do philosophy,
possessing as we do no other language and having not the slightest
notion of what "thinking" might mean outside of "philosophising."
This pure contradiction defines an impossible situation; and in actual
fact the limit is, here, as far as philosophy is concerned, that of its pos-
sibility.20 ( Heidegger , Art and Politics 4)

This perspective on the continually questionable pursuit of "philo

sophical" thinking can be used to re-evaluate the revolutionary gesture
reversing Platonism. In engaging with this theme, Deleuze and Lacou
Labarthe both draw attention to the sensible quality of philosophical id
however, the two thinkers offer divergent styles of interpreting the exerci
of philosophy in relation to its aesthetic dimension. From a Deleuzea
point of view, this exercise is bound up in the ontological determinat
of the simulacrum and its capacity - as a radically "false" copy - to e
plode Plato's conservative order of mimesis and the corresponding not
of "true being." Conversely, Lacoue-Labarthe complicates the "proper
operation of philosophy through his manner of exploring the mimeti
fictional and figurative elements of the text. Through this approach,
challenges the univocity of the concept, and with it, all assumptions
theoretical mastery.
While Derrida and Lacoue-Labarthe cautiously reflect upon the in
tractable condition of mimesis, this principle seems to return in Deleuz
work - despite his defiance of the Platonic hierarchy of models and c
ies - through the unruly aesthetic dimension that he set out to affirm
the simulacrum. Where Lacoue-Labarthe contemplates the space of th
fable as a way of framing the limits of philosophy, Deleuze's method
describing an ontological difference through the simulacrum could be s
as an attempt to surpass these limits while simultaneously reinscribi
them within the aesthetic dimension of his thought.
With this kind of paradoxical movement or "leaping in place" be
tween ontology and aesthetics, Deleuze appears to suspend the differe
between identity and difference, the manifest and latent content of
eternal return, and Platonism and the reversal of Platonism in the sam
gesture through which he endeavors to articulate these distinctions. Th
in their respective readings of the reversal, both Deleuze and Lacoue
Labarthe underscore philosophy's torturous encounter with mimesis
their distinctive styles of interpretation bear witness - in contrasting
complementary ways - to the intricate relationship between philosoph
ideas and the aesthetic medium of their presentation.
Monash University

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124 David Lane

1. As cited in Heidegger, Nietzsche: Volumes One and Two (154). The original German formu-
lation can be found in Nietzsche, Kritische Gesamtausgabe, vol. 3, no. 3 (207).
2. For Heidegger's analysis of the question of truth in both Plato and positivism, and how
Nietzsche's philosophy can be distinguished from these two systems of thought, see
Nietzsche (151-61).
3. The German Darstellung has a complex philosophical history, as the translators of
Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy's The Literary Absolute explain. Darstellung has
been employed in modern philosophy to account for the rendering of concepts in term
of sense, and thus involves the notion of sensible presentation, and in particular, visual
or specular presentation. See Barnard and Lester (viii-ix). See also Martis (3-6, 69-94).
4. "Plato and the Simulacrum" was first published in 1966 as "Renverser le platonisme,"
but was later included in modified form among the appendices of The Logic of Sense.
The 1966 version has also been translated into English, with the differences between
versions documented by its translator. See Deleuze, "Reversing Platonism"; Difference
and Repetition (57-69, 126-8); Logic of Sense (3-15, 64, 187-9).
5. By adopting the example of justice from Plato, Deleuze accounts for this structure
through the triad of Justice, justice and the just - a structure he elsewhere describes as
the Unparticipated, the participated and the participant, and the father, the daughter
and the fiancee See Deleuze, Logic of Sense (291-3); Difference and Repetition (59-64). See
also Daniel Smith (96-7).
6. See Logic of Sense (301-2): "Between the eternal return and the simulacrum, there is such
a profound link that one cannot be understood except through the other/'
7. See Difference and Repetition (57-8, 66-7); Logic of Sense (200-5, 332-41). See also Klossowski,
Vicious Circle and his essays on Nietzsche in Such a Dealthly Desire.
8. This tendency in Deleuze' s reading of the simulacrum is brought into play at the con-
clusion of the essay "Plato and the Simulacrum". Here, Deleuze opposes the artificial
(the conservative power of modernity that retains the structure of models and copies)
to the simulacrum (which, by instituting a creative chaos, introduces a critical power to
modernity). See also "Reversing Platonism" (176-7), where Deleuze provides a differ-
ent conclusion that differentiates a chaos of negation and destruction from a chaos of
creation and affirmation.
9. For the brief, critical passages on Heidegger's reading of Nietzsche that are contained
in Deleuze's work, see Difference and Repetition (64-6) and Nietzsche and Philosophy (220).
See also Kuiken (294-8, 304-5).
10. Other texts include Lacoue-Labarthe's analysis of Nietzsche's early "meditation" on
history, as well as several pieces on Heidegger's relationship with National Socialism.
See Lacoue-Labarthe, Heidegger, Art and Politics ; "History and Mimesis"; Musica Ficta
(85-115); Poetry as Experience ; "Oedipus as Figure"; Heidegger and the Politics of Poetry ;
and Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy, "The Nazi Myth".
11. Douglas Smith (211-2, 218-20) examines this tendency in his appraisal of the French
reception of Nietzsche's work in the 1960s and '70s. For his part, Lacoue-Labarthe per-
sistently warns against any hasty denunciation of Heidegger's reading of Nietzsche. See
Subject of Philosophy (57-62, and in particular endnote 9, p. 172).
12. See Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols (50-1). For Heidegger's reading of this Nietzschean
text, see Nietzsche (200-10). It is worth noting that Derrida likewise develops a perspec-
tive on this famous passage. See his Spurs (78-95).
13. See "Typography" (50-4). See also Subject of Philosophy (39-40, 55).
14. See "Typography" (52-3). See also Subject of Philosophy (91-3); Heidegger, What is Called
Thinking? (17-8, 48-9, 64-5).
15. See "Typography" (61-2). For further development of these inter-related questions, see
Subject of Philosophy (16-8, 37-40, 81-98).

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Deleuze and Lacoue-Labarthe on the Reversal of Platonism 125

16. See Subject of Philosophy (46-7). See also "Typography" (62, 91); Musica Ficta (104-
Heidegger, "Who is Nietzsche's Zarathustra?". Derrida also discusses the proble
of Heidegger's approach toward the "un-thought" of Nietzsche's philosophy and
question of the proper name. See Derrida, "Interpreting Signatures". For a more detaile
discussion on the problem of the proper name and autobiography in Nietzsche's wor
see Derrida, "Otobiographies".
17. See "Typography" (134-5): "Plato is the first to betray . . . the norms that he has hims
prescribed and that govern, in his eyes, good fiction as a discourse of truth. But in fact
set-up is much more complex. Not only because Plato does not respect the law that
decrees, not only because an other, Socrates (who speaks in his name, in the first perso
represents him and speaks in "his" name, not even simply because the entire pedagogic
program, in which the question of mimesis and of fiction is debated, is itself presente
as a myth, but because in reality Plato - and this is the height of the paradox- does
speak one word of the philosophical discourse itself See also "Typography" (123-
Subject of Philosophy (54-5).
18. Lacoue-Labarthe concludes his "Typography" essay with the following: "in a cer
sense, in any case, T 'here' decline all responsibility - all authority in the matter. I sim
wanted to see, 'me' too. 'Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe'" (138).
19. Many years after his first writings on the reversal of Platonism, Deleuze declares in h
"Letter-Preface to Jean-Clet Martin": "it seems to me that I have totally abandoned
notion of simulacrum, which is all but worthless" (362).
20. See also Critchley (20-1).

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