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Reviewed by:
  • Faire l’idiot: la politique de Deleuze par Philippe Mengue
  • Sergey Toymentsev
Faire l’idiot: la politique de Deleuze. Par Philippe Mengue. (Cercle de philosophie.) Paris: Germina, 2013. 112 pp.

Philippe Mengue’s short book explores the role of the literary character (or ‘conceptual persona’) of the idiot in Deleuze’s philosophy, and its relevance for contemporary political debates. For the most part, Mengue argues that the idea of effective political action is undergoing a definitive crisis in Western society, described by Deleuze and Foucault as a ‘society of control’. Precisely because such a society, governed by biopower, is dedicated to taking full care of the life of its people by guaranteeing underrepresented minorities new liberties and rights — thus assimilating them into capitalist production — the leftist [End Page 263] discourse against repression becomes obsolete, for a revolt against control would also be a struggle against such liberties and rights. Mengue admits that Deleuze does not suggest any counter-politics in the traditional sense of face-to-face confrontation, which strongly problematizes his contribution to democratic politics. And yet, his micropolitics of ‘becoming’ or ‘playing’ the idiot does offer an alternative form of resistance that offers a way of escaping control by carving out the ‘smooth’ space of indiscernibility and non-communication within the ‘striated’ space of institutions. For Deleuze, Mengue argues, the figure of the idiot emblematizes the encounter with the pure event and the primary state of being (which has been termed by various thinkers as il y a, Es gibt, Outside, and revolution) and brings forward the disruptive force of the virtual into the symbolic domain. Famous Deleuzian idiots are Melville’s Bartleby, Dostoevsky’s Prince Myshkin, and most of Beckett’s characters. All of them are immersed in the plane of immanence and express their Otherness as new intensities of impersonal life as such. Even though such idiotic figures do not produce or actualize the event in social reality, their obstinate persistence in their own alterity renders its appearance possible. Mengue describes such characters as intercessors between the plane of virtualities of becomings and that of social organization (p. 77) where their suspension between the empty zone of indetermination and the actual state of affairs operates according to the Deleuzian principle of disjunctive synthesis; in the context of Kant’s metaphysics, this reflects their epistemological lingering on the border or passage between sensible intuitions and the concept. By commingling incompatible statements within a single formula, such as that of Bartleby’s preference not to prefer, they create the condition for the emergence of any possible event. However strong and systematic Mengue’s analysis might appear to be, his promotion of such idiosyncratic politics is hardly more than a result of his speculative deduction of the agency of the idiot from Deleuze’s metaphysics, which seems utopian at best yet suffers from insufficient historicization. Neither Melville’s Bartleby nor Dostoevsky’s Myshkin manifest their indeterminacy out of nothing. The former should be viewed in the context of American pragmatism, for example, while the latter comes from the long tradition of the Holy Fool and Orthodox Christianity originating in Russian medieval culture. Mengue’s insights, nevertheless, rightly point in the direction of their further national and historical contextualization.

Sergey Toymentsev
Sholokhov Moscow State University for the Humanities


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pp. 263-264
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