Alain Badiou on Our Recent Elections

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We can do some­thing. And we must do, because if we do noth­ing at all, we are only in the fas­cin­a­tion, the stu­pid­ity of fas­cin­a­tion…

—Alain Badiou

Badiou’s view of the Left’s Bankruptcy and where we might go from here. After reading his speech I ask myself if we are enacting pre-Weimer Germany but on a vast untold scale across the planet’s surface, if the vacuum in world leadership, the global captilist prison system, the dark insidiousness of the economic devastation, climatic change, and rampant devastation of crops, disease, famine, war, etc. are a prelude to an even darker and more troubling world arising from the ashes of history in some parody of retroactive emergence and parody? Are we preparing the way for a future tyranny from the hinterlands of our unknowing world?

I think both Badiou and Zizek seek to spur change on the global Left to action and thought, to renewed diliberation rather than this continued mourning of its failures… so do I. This sense of a subjective crisis, rather than political and economic is in a sense at the forefront of this global crisis. As he says:

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Postnihilistic Speculations: The Ontology of Non-Being

For speculation which founded itself on the radical falsity of the Principle of Sufficient Reason would describe an absolute which would not constrain things to being thus rather than otherwise, but which would constrain them to being able not to be how they are.
….Quentin Meillassoux

Is this what we’ve been waiting for all along? The movement beyond the troubled circle of Being and becoming, of Time and its figural and literal tropes of disquieting lapses into finitude? The fragments of this lie all around us in such thinkers as Nietzsche, Bataille, Deleuze, Badiou, Zizek, and so many others within this metamorphic thought of a non-thought, this disquisition of an anathema.

My friend Cengiz Erdem in his essay Postnihilistic Speculations on That Which Is Not: A Thought-World According to an Ontology of Non-Being charts such a history:

A speculative move in the way of mapping the cartography of an ontology of non-being, of that which yet to come, post-nihilism clears or excavates the old ground, thereby suspending the dominant presumptions, therefore rendering the void, non being, or the Real itself as the new ground on and out of which a new subject can emerge and present the paradoxical and contingent natures of ‪Truth and Necessity, as well as the ‎non-correlation of Being and Thought…

(addendum: Cengiz added a new post in concert with this… here.)

As I was reading this post of his I felt a deep underlying, almost religious tone in his voice; the power of the absolute filtering its banal surprise (maybe a non-God, non-All, rather than the mundane gods or God religion or the philosophers). Whatever the absolute may be, it seems to ride the edges, or borderlands of between thought and non-being rather than the metaphysical realms of Being. Though secular through and through the incorporation of the themes of eternity, time, mortality, immortality, etc. like those others who have influenced our thinking: Nietzsche, Badiou, Zizek, Laruelle, Henry, Deleuze, etc. – and, lest we forget, Freud (Lacan: lack?) with his mythology of drives, that endless war of eros and thanatos, life and death, love and war – comes through Erdem’s essay. What struck me above all is the underlying mythos and movement toward transcension, toward elsewhere, immortality, transcendence. Of course as he says, this is nothing new, and it is everywhere in our present transcendental field of speculation, as if between a totalistic closure upon metaphysics had brought with it – not a rational kernel, but rather an irrational kernel of ancient thought. For do we not hear that oldest of songsters, Orpheus, the Greek singer, theologian, poet, philosophical forbear out of whose roots Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle and their ancient antagonists Leucippas, Democritus, and Lucretius down to our day still wage a war over the body of a dead thought (God?).

Shall we follow Badiou or Zizek? Or Both?

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Badiou as Anti-Humanist: Daily Quote

I think that, ever since Plato, philosophy has been faced with the inhuman, and that it is there that its vocation lies. Each time that philosophy confines itself to humanity as it has been historically constituted and defined, it diminishes itself, and in the end suppresses itself. It suppresses itself because its only use becomes that of conserving, spreading and consolidating the established model of humanity.

[…]

The greatness of Kant is not at all to be found in his having proposed a theory of the limits of reason, a theory of the human limits of reason. The greatness of Kant is to have [given us back] the idea of an excess of humanity with regard to itself, which is given in particular in the infinite character of practical reason. … [And to have discovered in us] a capacity for the infinite, that is a capacity for the inhuman which is ultimately what philosophy is concerned with?

[Today philosophy must find] the connection between universality and singularity, on the one hand, and the other the necessity of overcoming humanism…

from Philosophy in the Present. Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek Polity; 1 edition (December 14, 2009)

 

 

Alain Badiou: The Philosophical Situation

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Philosophy is first and foremost this: the invention of new problems.
…….– Alain Badiou, Philosophy in the Present

Badiou asks: What is a situation that is really a situation for philosophy, a situation for philosophical thought? 1

I term situation any presented multiplicity. Granted the effectiveness of the presentation, a situation is the place of taking-place, whatever the terms of the multiplicity in question. Every situation admits its own particular operator of the count-as-one. This is the most general definition of a structure; it is what prescribes, for a presented multiple, the regime of its count-as-one. (p. 24 Being and Event)

We know from our reading of the first meditation in Being and Event that the inaugural decision is simply that ‘the one is not’  (23) .  There is no One,  no self-sustaining unity in being, but only the count-as-one, the non-self-sufficient operation of unification. There  is  no unity-in-itself,  because  every unity is  a unity  of something, something that differs from the operation of unification. This decision is no less fundamental for Badiou ‘s philosophy than  his well-known equation of mathematics  with  ontology,  and  their  metaontological  meanings  are deeply entangled; any attempt to isolate one from the other would mutilate the sense that Badiou gives its twin. (Frank Ruda, BD, p. 237)

Badiou will outline three examples of a ‘philosophical situation’ as event, exception, and transformation of Life. The first from Plato’s Gorgias where Socrates and Callicles present their ideas not in dialogue but in conflict and confrontation; one might say in agon. The point for Plato was to illustrate to forms of thought that were incommensurable within a discussion of the relations between two terms devoid of any relation. As Badiou suggests “what becomes clear to any reader of the text is not that one interlocutor will convince the other, but that there will be a victor and a vanquished” (p. 14). The point of the agon is to set up two competing thoughts allowing only for a complete and utter defeat of one or the other, which in the eyes of the young men who witness the scene is shown the force of argument and persuasion in bringing about the winning victory in the agon’s struggle. The point of this agon Badiou tells us,

“The sole task of philosophy is to show that we must choose. We must choose between these two types of thought. We must decide whether we want to be on the side of Socrates or on the side of Callicles. In this example, philosophy confronts thinking as choice, thinking as decision. Its proper task is to elucidate choice. So that we can say the following: a philosophical situation consists in the moment when a choice is elucidated. A choice of existence or a choice of thought.” (Page 15).

Badiou’s second example pits the Roman General Marcellus against Archimedes. Marcellus has heard of this renowned mathematician and wishes to meet him, so sends a soldier to fetch him. The soldier arrives and demands Archimedes drop everything and come meet his General. Archimedes looks on blandly and continues to work on a mathematical problem he is demonstrating to some pupils. The soldier once again confronts the old man and demands he stop what he’s doing and come to meet his General. Archimedes without looking up says he’ll come just as soon as he’s finished with his demonstration. The soldier by name exasperated at the insubordination of this Greek fool that he takes out his sword and slays him. Badiou will describe this as a philosophical situation, explaining it this way,

Why is this a philosophical situation? Because it shows that between the right of the state and creative thought, especially the pure ontological thought embodied in mathematics, there is no common measure, no real discussion. In the end, power is violence, while the only constraints creative thought recognizes are its own immanent rules. When it comes to the law of his thought, Archimedes remains outside of the action of power. The temporality proper to the demonstration cannot integrate the urgent summons of military victors. That is why violence is eventually wrought, testifying that there is no common measure and no common chronology between the power of one side and the truths of the other. Truths as creation. (Page 16).

If one remembers the notion of measure in Old French mesure “limit, boundary; quantity, dimension; occasion, time” (12c), one discovers in this thread of a common measure as a philosophical measure a boundary or limit concepts with both a notion of quantified and temporal forms implied. The point being that at the boundary marker separating power on one side and truth(s) on the other there can be no breaching the gap between them, only a difficult struggle and act of force as violence. The creation of truths is not an action, but a form of thought carried out under terms other than violence and action.

So for Badiou philosophy must reflect upon and think a distance without measure, or a distance whose measure philosophy itself must invent. “First definition of the philosophical situation: clarify the choice, the decision. Second definition of the philosophical situation: clarify the distance between power and truths. (p. 17)”

In his final example Badiou will use his notions of truth-procedures or the conditions of philosophy, specifically relating of love and art in this instance (i.e., science, art, politics, and love). He’ll compare a film by Mizoguchi, entitled The Crucified Lovers, where two lover’s are condemned by the State to a horrible death. As Badiou remarks on the last images of the film “the film’s thought, embodied in the infinitely nuanced black and white of the faces, has nothing to do with the romantic idea of the fusion of love and death. These ‘crucified loves’ never desired to die. The shot says the very opposite: love is what resists death.(p. 18).” The second is of a conference wherein Deleuze quoting Malraux, once said that art is what resists death. Well, in these magnificent shots, Mizoguchi’s art not only resists death but leads us to think that love too resists death. This creates a complicity between love and art – one which in a sense we’ve always known about. (p. 18)

Badiou will remind us that what is incommensurable in this event is the ‘smile’ of the lover’s doomed before the law of life and state: “Why? Because in it we once again encounter something incommensurable, a relation without relation. Between the event of love (the turning upside down of existence) and the ordinary rules of live (the laws of the city, the laws of marriage) there is no common measure. What will philosophy tell us then? It will tell s that ‘we must think the event’. We must think the exception. We must know what we have to say about what is not ordinary. We must think the transformation of life. (p. 18-19)

Here one realizes three musts immanent to the philosophical situation: think the event, think the exception, and think the transformation of life.

For Badiou , an ‘event’ in the proper sense is that which occurs unpredictably, has the potential to effect a momentous change in some given situation, state of knowledge, or state of affairs, and – above all – has consequences such as require unswerving fidelity or a fixed resolve to carry them through on the part of those who acknowledge its binding force.2 To understand the ‘exception’ one must first explicate Badiou’s core concept of subtraction, which Frank Ruda describes this way,

“An understanding o f philosophy as subtractive implies that all its most crucial categories need to be conceived of in a subtractive way, including the most central one, namely truth. This is where a proper systematic elaboration of subtraction can begin. For, from the viewpoint of philosophy , truth can in the first instance be characterised in a simple and somewhat abstract manner as something that is irreducible t o , or logi­cally uninferrable from, knowledge. To say that philosophy has to ‘sub­tract Truth from the labyrinth o f meaning’ ( CS 1 3 ) , means that it must insist on the distinction between the truth and meaning, truth and sense, truth and opinion and, first and foremost, between truth and knowledge. If there are truths, they are irreducible to knowledge; this fundamental claim is a subtractive claim and it necessitates that philosophy cease to identify truth with any of the above categories . Were it not to do so , truth would be posited as objectively knowable and thus would not stand in a consequential relation to an unforeseeable event.” (BD, p. 330)

For Badiou an immanent exception is just another name for an event, from whose trace consequences arise… For Badiou , philosophy is subtractive because it implies an act of insisting on the impossible possibility of immanent exceptions from which truths can emerge. (BD, p. 337) Philosophy is the link between three types of situation: the link between choice, distance and the exception. (PP, p. 19). Badiou reminds us that the most profound philosophical concepts tell us something like this: ‘If you want your life to have some meaning, you must accept the event, you must remain at a distance from power, and you must be firm in your decision.’ This is the story that philosophy is always telling us, under many different guises: to be in the exception, in the sense of the event, to keep one’s distance from power, and to accept the consequences of a decision, however remote and difficult they may prove. Understood in this way, and only in this way, philosophy really is that which helps existence to be changed. (PP, pp. 19-20)

 

    1. Philosophy in the Present. Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek Polity; 1 edition (December 14, 2009)
    2. The Badiou Dictionary. Steven Corcoran. Edinburgh University Press; 1 edition (August 1, 2015)

Alain Badiou on Pasolini

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Alain Badiou will situate his discourse on Pier Paolo Pasolini between destruction and subtraction, never forgetting that it is negation that works within them both. Speaking of that Poet, Marxist and full of the innocence of the sacred, saying,

His question was: is the revolutionary becoming of History, the political negativity, a destruction of the tragic beauty of the Greek myths and of the peaceful promise of Christianity? Or do we have to speak of a subtraction, whereby an affirmative reconciliation of beauty and peace becomes possible in a new egalitarian world?1

Isn’t this our question as well? When many would bury this ancient past as dead and to be forgotten in a world where the drift of things has shifted from the monocular vision of Western Civilization to a complex and international realm of late capitalism and the lost and poverty stricken Third World what should be done? Ours is a time when the post-colonial and multicultural identity politics has brought more divisiveness than recognition, more war and strife, racial tensions, and embittered battalions of the disaffected into a world where such things as beauty and peace seem a dream of ancient utopian failures rather than the real of our political moment. Is an egalitarian vision still viable, or is it an impossible dream at our late hour?

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Between Badiou and Valery: The Poetics of Subtraction and Dissemination

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I like those lovers of poetry who venerate the goddess with too much lucidity to dedicate to her the slackness of their thought and the relaxation of their reason.
…….– Paul Valery, The Art of Poetry

Paul Valery makes the point between philosophical language and the poetic utterance in his essay The Poet’s Rights over Language stating that for poetry to remain distinct and at variance to the transitive power of intellect and its propositional expediency it must “preserve itself, through itself, and remain the same, not be altered by the act of intelligence that finds or gives it a meaning“.1

Yet, none other than Alain Badiou will tell us that poetry is receding into the ether, disappearing among its own forgotten traces, that culture and civilization are no longer tempted too the feigned art of secular gnosis, the untapped light of its disquieting thought.

Poetry, alas, is receding from us. The cultural account is oblivious to poetry. This is because poetry can hardly stand the demand for clarity, the passive audience, the simple message. The poem is an exercise in intransigence. It is without mediation, and thus also without mediatization. The poem remains rebellious – defeated in advance – to the democracy of audience ratings and polls.2

One wonders if Badiou is ridiculing the democratic impulse, or bewailing the fact that we’ve all become morons unable to decipher the difference between poetic language and the mass mediatization of reality that seems so pervasive in our degraded civilization of Rock stars and Hollywood Prima donnas. Badiou like a good Platonist seeks the Good Life elsewhere, somewhere between the purity of the matheme and the condition of Love.

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Alain Badiou: Beyond the Dead God’s Shadow

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Reading Badiou’s Briefings on Existence: A Short Treatise on Transitory Ontology we come across the Third God, the God of the Poets: “The central poetic expression concerning It is as follows: this God has withdrawn and left the world as prey to idleness. The question of the poem is thus that of the retreat of the gods. It coincides neither with the philosophical question of God nor with the religious one.”1

Badiou like many atheist philosophers seems to need God. Why? Like Nietzsche Badiou reiterates the endless series of statements on the Death of God: the death of Religion’s God, of the Metaphysical Prime Mover as God of Philosophers, the Fundamentalist God of Literalists, etc. But then he links this to the other god, the third god, the God of the Poets he finds in Holderlin. He finds in this other god a sense of a reenchantment of the world. One is almost tempted to refer him to C.G. Jung who named this god the Anima Mundi or World Soul, etc. Of course this had a long pre-history as well. Yet, what he finds is not this sense of an animate Nature, but rather its withdrawal which leads to pure idleness and nostalgia for the loss of the ancient gods. This sense that it is neither a philosophical nor a religious question, but rather a literary one brings one back to those secular priests of the Book who sought during the 19th and 20th Centuries to displace the sacred books with a secular one. Was this not the goal from the Romantics through the Late Romanticism and Symbolists. Isn’t this a tradition stemming from the poet Stephen Mallarme who created a sort of secular poetry of the sacred: a symbolic world in almost pure and mathematical sublimity, an alchemical vision as complex as it was metamorphic.

I think here of such philosophers as Quentin Meillassoux with his The Number and the Siren: A Decipherment of Mallarme’s Coup De Des. In which as the blurb tells us: “The decisive point of the investigation proposed by Meillassoux comes with a discovery, unsettling and yet as simple as a child s game: All the dimensions of the Number, understood progressively, articulate between them but a sole condition that this Number should ultimately be delivered to us by a secret code, hidden in the Coup de des, like a key that finally unlocks every one of its poetic devices. Thus is also unveiled the meaning of the siren that emerges for a lightning flash among the debris of the shipwreck: as the living heart of a drama that is still unfolding.” Even Jacques Ranciere in his Mallarme: The Politics of the Siren “presents Mallarmé as neither an aesthete in need of rare essences and unheard-of words, nor the silent and nocturnal thinker of some poem too pure to be written. Mallarmé is the contemporary of a republic that is seeking out forms of civic worship to replace the pomp of religions and kings.”

This notion of a secular religion seems fitting for an age that wants to do away with God but still wants the accoutrements of its ritual ties to ancient forms of existence. As Badiou will say of Holderlin: “The poet’s task-or as Holderlin wrote, his courage-is to bear in language the thought of the God that has withdrawn as it is also to conceive the problem of Its return as an open insertion into that of which thought is capable.” (KL 412) Years ago M.H. Abrams would define this whole tradition in his excellent study: Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature. He shows that central Romantic ideas and forms of imagination were secularized versions of traditional theological concepts, imagery, and design, and that modern literature participates in the same process. As Badiou will add:

Essentially, the relationship to the poetic God is not of the order of mourning, as the obscure relationship to the dead God can often be. Nor is it of the order of critique, or the conceptual defection fection of totality, as the philosophical relationship to the First-Principle Principle God can be. Strictly speaking, it is a nostalgic relationship. It melancholically envisages a chance to re-enchant the world through the gods’ improbable return. (KL 413-415)

Yet, for Badiou our contemporary age is defined not as the romantic poets envisioned as a return of the pagan gods, but rather “our times are undoubtedly those of the disappearance of the gods without return. But this disappearance stems from three distinct processes, for there have been three capital gods, namely, of religion, metaphysics, and the poets.” (KL 442) That these ancient paths are no longer viable Badiou admits:

Committed to the triple destitution of the gods, we, inhabitants of the Earth’s infinite sojourn, can assert that everything is here, always here, and that thought’s reserve lies in the thoroughly informed formed and firmly declared egalitarian platitude of what befalls upon us here. Here is the place where truths come to be. Here we are infinite. Here nothing is promised to us, only to be faithful to what befalls upon us. (KL 449-452)

It’s as if he were preaching a new gospel of total destitution in which we are now condemned to sojourn an empty paradise riven of the sacred, the metaphysical, and the poetic; condemned to live out our bare existence in the immediacy of our own unknowing, eclipsed of any transcendence we are condemned to the truth of our bare lives “Here”:

It is this `here’ that a poet, born so far from us in a language closer to us than any other, the Chouvash poet Guennadi Aigui, celebrated in a song to the glory of what about the here cannot be replaced.’ Divine guidance is not what this song celebrates, which is why it is called, “Here” It leads us toward understanding that the here is gained once the search for the dead God’s shadow anywhere and under any name is renounced. In this song, even the death of man, a transitory configuration of dispersing infinities, can be envisaged as maintaining and receiving these infinites. I end this prologue with his song:

Here everything answers itself
In a primordial and high language
As one part of life answers
The contiguous indestructible part
Here at the curling extremities
Of branches in the appeased garden
We seek not the horrible clot of sap
That resembles the afflicted silhouettes
Embracing a crucifix in the evening of calamity
And we know of no word or sign
That would be higher than another
It is here that we live, here that we are beautiful
And it is here that we trouble the real when being silent
But if our farewells to it are rough
Life is a part of it as well
As if on its own
A novelty inaudible to us
And parting from us
As the reflection in the water of a shrub
It shall remain aside
To afterward occupy
Our place
So that the places of men be replaced
Only by the spaces of life
Forever more. (KL 455-460)

Much like the poetry of Rilke in his Elegies this seems to celebrate a certain power inherent in existence itself that will survive the human, a continuance of the “spaces of life” even if we as a species vanish into the night. Would one call this the poetry not of the Death of God, but rather of the Death of Man? Does it not celebrate pure existence without humans? A universe emptied of thought itself, and poetry beyond poetry? Is Badiou seeking a form of transcendence after all? Only one in which we are emptied of ourselves forever? This sense of the transitoriness of being, of the vanishing and of saying goodbye in an infinite passing is celebrated rather than mourned.

  1. Alain Badiou. Briefings on Existence: A Short Treatise on Transitory Ontology (Kindle Locations 406-412). Kindle Edition.

Letters to a young Comrade (1)

Dear Comrade,

I know we’ve had this conversation before, and I know you’ve asked me more often than not why the ‘Idea of communism’ matters in such an age as ours. You’ve pointed out that the history of communism has been the history of a great failure. But was it communism that failed us, truly? Should we not admit that mistakes have been made? Are we better than Comrade Lenin who once stated that those “Communists are doomed who imagine that it is possible to finish such an epoch-making undertaking as completing the foundations of socialist economy (particularly in a small-peasant country) without making mistakes, without retreats, without numerous alterations to what is unfinished or wrongly done.”1 Yet, we cannot stop there, we must continue, must remember, allow his message to sink in completely into the core of our being, listen to what he says after this first iteration: “Communists who have no illusions, who do not give way to despondency, and who preserve their strength and flexibility ‘to begin from the beginning’ over and over again in approaching an extremely difficult task, are not doomed (and in all probability will not perish). (ibid.)

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Alain Badiou: Quote of the Day!

“I didn’t want to write the script,” he states, “I wanted to see it.” Positioning himself in a video editing suite in front of a white film screen that evokes for him the “famous blank page of Mallarmé,” Godard uses video as a sketchbook with which to reconceive the film.
– Jean-Luc Godard

Passion… never fails to make me think of a tremendous play by the young Ibsen, Emperor and Galilean. It is a play devoted to Julian the Apostate, the Roman emperor who, after Constantine and after the Roman Empire’s adoption of Christianity, wanted to restore the old gods. At a certain moment, Julian, in despair, realizing that his enterprise is futile, says, “We live in a world in which the old beauty is no longer beautiful but the new truth is not yet true.” Passion is a film about just such a thing. Something of what there was before no longer exists, but something of what is supposed to come hasn’t come. That is the space the film inhabits, and its genius lies in changing into a form of themes and variations, all the while borrowing its power from the light of the visible.

Lecture delivered at Le Lieu unique, Nantes, November 2001
– Alain Badiou on Jean-Luc Godard

Slavoj Zizek on Violence

…ugliness today is a sign and symptom of great transformations to come.

– C.G. Jung on Joyce

Contempt, it turns out, was assimilable to democracy. In fact, rather than subverting democracy, it assisted it by making generally available to the low as well as to the high a strategy of indifference in the treatment of others.

– William Ian Miller, The Anatomy of Disgust

Reading this work of Zizek, ‘Violence‘, awakens in me something old and dangerous, a realization that the power of rhetoric and the dialectic serve each other as either violent partners to an ongoing crime, or as the secret accomplices of a two-thousand year old murder and of the guilt that comes with such monstrous actions. The violence of language is at the forefront of this unique work. Zizek uses every tool at his disposal to bring philosophical speculation down into the street. He is no frigid academic whose prose, grey and analytic, distills truths that are so abstract and cold to be almost useless. No, Zizek opens up the guts of the world, spills out the grotesque humor of our dark heritage in all its disgusting glory, and offers us no absolution but the truth of our own inescapable complicity in a crime we commit daily by both our action and inaction, by our failure to solve the riddle of democracy.

According to a well-known anecdote, a German officer visited Picasso in his Paris studio during the Second World War. There he saw Guernica and, shocked at the modernist “chaos” of the painting, asked Picasso: “Did you do this?” Picasso calmly replied: “No, you did this!” Today, many a liberal, when faced with violent outbursts such as the recent looting in the suburbs of Paris, asks the few remaining leftists who still count on a radical social transformation: “Isn’t it you who did this? Is this what you want?” And we should reply, like Picasso: “No, you did this! This is the true result of your politics! (V 11)”1

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Zizek, Badiou, Kotsko: The Revolutionary Sociopath

 We must create new symbolic forms for our collective actions. … We must find a new sun…

– Alain Badiou, Philosophy for Militants

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly—only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!

– Karl Marx, Critique of Goth Program

Why do we need revolutionary sociopaths? If the soldier is a figure who transfigures humanity, and if indeed it is through the deeds of such a being that we attain something eternal as Badiou suggests in his Philosophy for Militants, then why is it that this figure of a new heroism should be sociopathic? Zizek remarks that there is a simple reason for this: our society needs sociopaths if it is to function “normally”; only they can save it, that is, society’s rules have to be broken for the sake of society itself (126).1

Adam Kotsko admits that we need to draw a line between real-life psychopaths or sociopaths  and their fantasy portrayals to be seen on our nightly television sets or at the movies. For Kotsko the dividing line between the reality and the fantasy is one of social mastery.2 As Kotsko remarks, “The sociopath is an individual who transcends the social, who is not bound by it in any gut-level way and who can therefore use it purely as a tool” (Kindle Locations 142-145). Speaking of the dream worlds of our TV’s and movies and their impact on the modern conformist culture of our age, Kotsko remarks that what motivates the fantasy of the sociopath is the simple truth that: our society really is broken.

The question I would ask, however, is what we’re using as a point of comparison. Every social norm, it seems, even the apparently “natural” social order of the family, can be exploited for sociopathic ends or be caught up in the vicious cycle that generates and supports sociopathic behavior. This is because, as I argued in Awkwardness, there is no “natural” social order— all social norms are no more than functional guidelines that we use to help us cope with the anxiety and conflict that comes with being the fundamentally social beings that we are. Rather than coming down from heaven or being grounded in some kind of natural law (such as the biological or evolutionary imperatives that supposedly ground the family structure), our social orders are long-term strategies for dealing with each other, tools that are useful in a given time and place with no guarantee that they will last. (Kotsko, Kindle Locations 212-219).

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Quote of the Day: Badiou on Plato and Love

Plato is quite precise in what he says about love: a seed of universality resides in the impulse towards love. The experience of love is an impulse towards something that he calls the Idea. Thus, even when I am merely admiring a beautiful body, whether I like it or not, I am in movement towards the idea of Beauty. I think – in quite different terms, naturally – along the same lines, namely that love encompasses the experience of the possible transition from the pure randomness of chance to a state that has universal value. Starting out from something that is simply an encounter, a trifle, you learn that you can experience the world on the basis of difference and not only in terms of identity. And you can even be tested and suffer in the process. In today’s world, it is generally thought that individuals only pursue their own self-interest. Love is an antidote to that. Provided it isn’t conceived only as an exchange of mutual favours, or isn’t calculated way in advance as a profitable investment, love really is a unique trust placed in chance. It takes us into key areas of the experience of what is difference and, essentially, leads to

– Alain Badiou,  In Praise of Love

Slavoj Zizek: Why a return to Plato?

This, then, is our basic philosophico-political choice (decision) today: either repeat in a materialist vein Plato’s assertion of the meta-physical dimension of “eternal Ideas,” or continue to dwell in the postmodern universe of “democratic-materialist” historicist relativism, caught in the vicious cycle of the eternal struggle with “premodern” fundamentalisms.

– Slavoj Zizek, Less than Nothing

If one wanted to find the center of Slavoj Zizek’s book, Less than Nothing, one could do no better than start at the question: “So why a return to Plato?” It is just here that he brings up the great divide in philosophy today, which he borrows from his friend Alain Badiou’s Logic of Worlds (Logiques des mondes): the opposition between “democratic materialism” and its opposite, “materialist dialectics”: the axiom which condenses the first is “There is nothing but bodies and languages …,” to which materialist dialectics adds “… with the exception of truths.”1

This need to add an immaterial element to the materialist program is central to Badiou’s gesture. His incorporation of incorporeal truths as the excess that any materialist program needs. As Zizek iterates it, as “a materialist, and in order to be thoroughly materialist, Badiou focuses on the idealist topos par excellence: how can a human animal forsake its animality and put its life in the service of a transcendent Truth? …Badiou repeats, within the materialist frame, the elementary gesture of idealist anti-reductionism: human Reason cannot be reduced to the result of evolutionary adaptation; art is not just a heightened procedure for producing sensual pleasure but a medium of Truth; and so on.”(ibid.)

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Alain Badiou: The Ethics of Truth

It is a difficult task, for the philosopher, to pull names away from a usage that prostitutes them. Already Plato had to take all possible pains to hold his ground with the word justice, against the sophist’s quibbling and devious usage.

– Alain Badiou, Ethics

Against its misappropriation of an ethics deemed a smug nihilism, a conservative order that has proclaimed its own universal ethical dementia through economic enforcement and unbridled conquest of financial resources, Badiou martials the plaintiff case of a an impossible possible: an ethics of truths by which “every loving encounter, every scientific re-foundation, every artistic invention and every sequence of emancipatory politics” tears itself away from such nihilistic smugness.(39)1

Badiou tells us that only a particular kind of animal, the human animal, has – so far as we know, entered into that composition that composes a subject that enables the “passing of a truth along its path”(40). “This is when the human animal is convoked to be the immortal that he was not” (40). But what does Badiou mean by immortal? Badiou explicates:

An immortal: this is what the worst situations that can be inflicted upon Man show him to be, in so far as he distinguishes himself within the varied and rapacious flux of life. … So if the ‘rights of man’ exist, they are surely not rights of life against death, or rights of survival against misery. They are the rights of the Immortal, affirmed in their own right, or the rights of the Infinite, exercised over the contingency of suffering and death. The fact that in the end we all die, that only dust remains, in no way alters Man’s identity as immortal at the instant in which he affirms himself as someone who runs counter to the temptation of wanting-to-be-an-animal to which circumstances may expose him. (12)

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Alain Badiou: Toward a Supreme Fiction

The problem of young people in poor neighbourhoods or cités is the problem of the absence of a fiction. It has nothing to do with a social problem. The problem is the lack of a great fiction as support for a great belief.

– Alain Badiou, Philosophy for Militants

Begin, ephebe, by perceiving the idea
Of this invention, this invented world,
The inconceivable idea of the sun.

– Wallace Stevens, Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction

Alain Badiou encourages us, welcomes us to join him in seeking the, as Stevens once said, “the final belief” a supreme fiction that can sustain us through these troubling times. And not only sustain us but give us hope and truth, for truth is itself – as we have known since Lacan, truth itself is in a structure of fiction. The process of truth is also the process of a new fiction.(77)1

The difficulty lies in the fact that we must find a great fiction without possessing a proper name for it.(78) Or as Stevens so eloquently put it in poetry:

Without a name and nothing to be desired
If only imagined but imagined well….

Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction

Badiou would move us to be unafraid even as atheists to resume the long dialogue between mathematics and religion:

On this point modern mathematics rejoins classical theology. You probably know the famous text of Saint Paul in Romans 7. The direct correlation between law and desire appears here under the name of sin: ‘If it had not been for the law, I should not have known sin. I should not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said you shall not covet.’ Sin is that dimension of desire that finds its object beyond and after the prescription by the law. Finally, this means finding the object that is without name.(70)

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Alain Badiou: The Soldier as Metaphor

Today, this configuration is in a state of total crisis. One of the symptoms of this crisis is the return of the old traditions and the seeming resurrection of old dead gods.

– Alain Badiou, Philosophy for Militants

Is this it? Is this our problem: a return of the old sacrificial gods that bespeak a disjunction between the human and the inhuman?  And not an integration of the inhuman into a new sequence of the historical existence of humanity. “Within our own humanity, we must come to terms with the obscure, violent, and – at the same time – luminous and peaceful element of inhumanity within the human element itself” (41).1 Are the rights of humans also as Badiou suggests the ‘rights of the infinite’ (Lyotard)? He reminds us that humans are irreducible to ‘animality’, that the inhuman is a creative potential, the element which does not yet exist but must become. “Humanity as a natural totality does not exist, since humanity is identical to the local victories that it obtains over its immanent element of inhumanity.”(42)

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Alain Badiou: The Politics of Hope

I am perfectly in agreement with the statement that philosophy depends on certain nonphilosophical domains, which I have proposed to call the ‘conditions’ of philosophy.

 –  Alain Badiou,  Philosophy for Militants

The nonphilosophical domains upon which philosophy depends for Badiou are science, art, politics and love. In science his work depends on a new “concept of the infinite”; in politics on new forms of “revolutionary politics”; in art, the poetry of Mallarmé, Rimbaud, Pessoa, Mandelstam or Wallace Stevens, on the prose of Samuel Beckett; and, finally, on love the context of psychoanalysis and the questions of sexuation and gender that have emerged in our time. (3) 1 And, he offers, we must accept that philosophy always comes in the aftermath of such nonphilosophical domains, is a second rate affair at best.(3)

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Alain Badiou: The Apprenticeship to Signs

It will forever be the case that we must endure our thoughts for as long as the night lasts. … Among such nocturnal thoughts, none is probably more worrying for us today than those that are tied to the political condition.

– Alain Badiou, Philosophy for Miltants

Confronting the inevitable apathy at the heart of leftist political struggle around the world Zizek asks:

What are we to do in such depressive times when dreams seem to fade away? Is the only choice we have between the nostalgic-narcissistic remembrance of sublime moments of enthusiasm and the cynical-realist explanation of why these attempts to change the situation inevitably had to fail? 1

Zizek suggests that these small explosions of emancipatory politics that have thrust themselves to the surface of our world are actually subliminal fragments from the utopic future. Our dystopian times should be exposed to a divinatory hermeneutics that allows these strange signs to be read as the distorted (sometimes even perverted) fragments of a utopian future that lies dormant in the present as its hidden potential. But what is this hidden potential? How can we release it into the world, bring about such emancipatory energy to transform our world? What kind of world would that entail? Does philosophy have an answer?

Badiou tells us that the future of philosophy “lies in its past”.2 He sees two tendencies within philosophy: the power of the Academy and the power of the Militant. The academic philosopher is the great transmitter of knowledge and tradition; while the militant is the confrontational antagonist of all knowledge and academic pretensions who offers the challenge of both individual and social change. As Badiou emphasizes the Militant philosophy corrupts; that is to say:

To corrupt here means to teach the possibility of refusing all blind submission to established opinions. To corrupt means to give the youth certain means to change their opinion with regard to social norms, to substitute debate and rational critique for imitation and approval, and even, if the question is a matter of principle, to substitute revolt for obedience. (10)

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Short note on Laruelle’s Anti-Badiou

Up until Badiou, philosophy was educative and pedagogical; with him, it is re-educated by mathematics.

– Francois Laruelle,  Anti-Badiou

Just began reading Laruelle’s new book on Badiou tonight. Already he sets up an oppositional thematics with Badiou’s philosophical project seen as a re-education of philosophy that incorporates a conservative and authoritarian stance:  “mathematicism is the condition of communism, with the authoritarian Platonist model finding a new lease of life in Maoism.” 1 As Laurelle states it, “Is this not a new, Maoist, avatar of universal Aufhebung, a manner of conserving philosophy through its re-education by means of dismemberment, redistribution and subtraction?”

Against such authoritarian re-education Non-philosophy, according to Laruelle, “seeks a way of depotentializing philosophy and making another use of it, but via other, more positive and less authoritarian procedures— formerly on the “non-Euclidean” model, and at present through a scientific (physical) experimentation and performation of philosophy— not at all through a scholarly and “cultural” breaking-in.”

He likens Badiou’s approach as a great Maoist bootcamp for re-education, one in which the new cadre of philosophers will under the rule of mathematics, logic, and a stringent pedagogical discipline enforce a specific, correct ‘image of thought’. Laurelle tells us that Badiou contents himself once more with a “revolutionary philosophy,” a “cultural” revolution “within the limits of philosophy, rather than a scientific and non-philosophical revolution in philosophy”. There will be purges as well, a new purification of philosophy, Laruelle tells us. In fact “the entire system, in its “metaphysical” depths, in its ultimate axioms, can be read as a manifesto of terror or of “cultural revolution” in philosophy.”

Ultimately with or without mathematics, in Badiou it is not a question simply of a “philosophy of force but of a political practice of philosophy (Lenin) conjugated with the mathematical void, a practice of the force of the void in all domains of thought, in the name of philosophy”. Laruelle asks the question: “How can we oppose Badiou without entering into a mere “relation of forces,” setting against him a force of the same nature as his own?”

Laruelle invites us to join in this struggle or agon against the authoritarian proclivities of such a project asking us if “to protect philosophy against itself, must we purify it through the entirely specular mediation of mathematics, making of it a superior politico-cultural doxa that exalts mathematics as force of the void (like a kind of philosophical brainwashing)? Or should we rather aim for a scientific-type knowledge of philosophy, a knowledge that would no doubt be contingent, but which, this time, would truly escape such doxa?” In the end he describes what must be done:

“The introduction of Maoism into philosophy cannot be a conjunctural accident, even if it is also a matter of a certain conjuncture; this would be to underestimate Badiou as a philosopher. No, it is an essential possibility of philosophy, one that philosophy makes available alongside others; a possibility first actualized by Plato, but one that is profoundly inscribed in the very axioms of philosophical decision, albeit more or less inert or apparently inactive at any given time. We require further details as to the new version of non-philosophy, and as to the analytic means that will allow us to detect in Badiou the indestructible residue of philosophy, and its conservation-reeducation by Cantor and Mao under the sign of Plato.” (ibid)

Looks like this will enact one of Laruelle’s gnosis-fictions: a dualysis masquerade between himself and Badiou, a knowing by way of a dislodgement, an escape from the prison house of Platonism under the sign of Badiou-Mao. But this is no ordinary gnosis, this is the inversion of Gnosticism without god, and venture into the democracy of thought, that is at once an attack upon the academic aristocracy, and a realignment with the scientific movement of thinking and knowing at the conjuncture of the real. And, yet, as we will learn it is not to gnosis that this strange non-philosophy turns, but to philo-fiction where it “becomes possible to transform philosophy, Parmenides’ formula, into a mere symptom of the Real, and then into the material of philo-fiction, and moreover into a model of philo-fiction”. This new form of philosophy must “act upon philosophy, rather than to contemplate it one more time— this is our imperative, and quantum theory is of the order of the means of man as Last Instance; it is not the mirror in which philosophy admires itself again and always.”

The new philosopher “tells a philosophical tale about a positive science”— he repeats the mythological style, whereas the Greek physiologists (rather than Plato) inaugurated a scientific vision of the object “philosophy.” This is a tale that renders philosophy of sciences themselves inventive. He continues, saying,

The Real of immanence, by virtue of the particle that it configures, is the non-dialectical solution to contradiction and to antinomies. It impossibilizes logic and theory without destroying them, instead simplifying them into their materiality, reducing them to the state of fiction— but a logic-fiction or philo-fiction. It gives to deployed theory, to all of fictional materiality, its force of “formalism,” for which reality, the empirical, and ideality are all of fictional materiality, but without constitutive effect upon it. (Kindle Locations 3247-3251).

He envisions a fusion of quatum theory and philosopy, a science ficitionalization of non-philosophy in which the new philosopher must treat metaphor generically, and not leave it either to internal relations or external relations; the correlation, or rather “unilation, of unilateral complementarity is neither substantial nor atomic”. Out of this new creed is born a new ethics, it “will be a matter of passing from absolute poverty (the philosophical loss of philosophy) to radical poverty as non-philosophical loss of philosophy”.

 

1. Laruelle, Francois (2013-01-03). Anti-Badiou: The Introduction of Maoism into Philosophy (Kindle Locations 87-88). Bloomsbury Academic. (all quotes from the preface)

Deleuze: Transcendental Empiricist? – Fidelity and Betrayal

In Nabokov’s short story “Signs and Symbols” a suicidal son “imagines that everything happening around him is a veiled reference to his personality and existence. …Everything is a cipher and of everything he is the theme”. Of course this is closer to R.D. Laing’s sense of the delusional references of a paranoiac: ‘in typical paranoid ideas of reference, the person feels that the murmurings and mutterings he hears as he walks past a street crowd are about him. In a bar, a burst of laughter behind his back is at some joke cracked about him’ that deeper acquaintance with the patient reveals in fact that ‘what tortures him is not so much his delusions of reference, but his harrowing suspicion that he is of no importance to anyone, that no one is referring to him at all’.

But what do we call the delusions of philosophers who reduce the thought and systems of another philosopher to one conceptual thought or ruling idea? What of fidelity and betrayal? I was thinking of this when reading Eleanor Kaufman’s new work on Deleuze, The Dark Precursor Dialectic, Structure, Being, which is an excellent read so far. In it she mentions the work of Alain Badiou, Slavoj Zizek, and Peter Hallward in relation to Deleuze. As she states it:

AS WITH MANY PROMINENT thinkers, there is a striking imperative that circulates among those who read Deleuze: a drive to fidelity, or more nearly to not betray the master’s thought, the trap that so many who write in his wake purportedly fall into. The world of Deleuze criticism is rarely immune from the dialectic of fidelity and betrayal that is arguably so far removed from Deleuze’s thought. (87)

All three of these authors seem to attack those disciples of Deleuze who have fallen into the trap of literalizing the Master’s work, instead one must betray the Master “to remain faithful to (and repeat) the ‘spirit’ of his thought” (87). Yet, as concerns Deleuze, there are those who have betrayed the master by taking one part of his work – the complicit co-authored works of Deleuze and Guattari – for the singular splendor of the Master’s truth. Kaufman cites Badiou in this regard:

“That Deleuze never did anything of an explicit nature to dissipate this [misunderstanding] is linked to that weakness rife among philosophers— in fact, none of us escape it— regarding the equivocal role of disciples. As a general rule, disciples have been won over for the wrong reasons, are faithful to a misinterpretation, overdogmatic in their exposition, and too liberal in debate. They almost always end up by betraying us…” (87-88)

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Meillassoux on Alain Badiou’s Being and Event

“I will thus attempt to explain a nodal and seemingly paradoxical thesis of Badiou’s: that there is only a history of the eternal, because only the eternal proceeds from the event. In other words: there is only a history of truths insofar as all truth is strictly eternal and impossible to reduce to any relativism.”
– Quentin Meillassoux, History and Event in Alain Badiou

Quentin Meillassoux in this essay tells us that Alain Badiou in Being and Event (BE) maintains that there are eternal truths, but that they are not unifiable in a metaphysical system, because they are distributed among four truth procedures: science, art, politics, and love—philosophy itself not having the capacity to produce truths. The idea that the production of truth occurs only within science, art, politics and love, but not in philosophy might seem counter to most philosophical discourse as we’ve come to know it, yet this is exactly what Badiou affirms. Furthermore these truths do not situate themselves in some perfect heavenly world of Ideas (Plato), instead they arise out of an undecidable event and from a fideltiy of subjects that attempt to investigate their world in light of it Meillassoux also relates that Logic of World (LW) reveals to us that all processes lacking truth are not historical in the true sense, but have been reduced to a simple temporal modification without the capacity for truth and the subjects who adhere to it.

He tells us that the three principle terms of BE are history, event, eternity but that to understand them we will need to understand the two “constitutive theses” of Badiouian philosphy:

1. Mathematics is ontology

His ontology is based on set-theory and reveals that any mathematical entity is multiple. To be is to be a set: pure multiplicity.As Meillassoux explicates: “Being is not therefore a multiplicity composed of stable and ultimate unities, but a multiplicity that is in turn composed of multiplicities. Indeed, mathematical sets have for their elements not unities but other sets, and so on indefinitely. When a set is not empty, it is composed of multiple sets.” That he admits to a Platonized world, it is not a unity of the One, but of mulitplicity where being, far from being a stable foundation for a phenomena that would be perishable in relation to it, is “pure dissemination, withdrawn from our immediate experience of reality, where we discover on the contrary, in daily life, consistent multiplicities”.

No longer being concerned with what is the philosopher can now concentrate on “being’s exception” – the event: a “multiple belonging to itself” – something, Meillassoux tells us, is forbidden for set theory and referred to by mathematicians as  extraordinary. This strange multiple emerges from within art, science, politics, and love which for Badiou are “truth procedures” – the “four fields of thought where genuine events can be produced, and as a result—eternal truths”. One of the best explications of Badiou’s term event is described in detail by Meillassoux:

“The political example is, as it often is with Badiou, the most immediately accessible. What exactly do we mean, when we say that “May 68” was an event? In this expression, we are not merely designating the set of facts that have punctuated this collective sequence (student demonstrations, the occupation of the Sorbonne, massive strikes, etc.). Such facts, even when joined together in an exhaustive way, do not allow us to say that something like an event took place, rather than a mere conjunction of facts without any particular significance. If “May 68” was an event, it is precisely because it earned its name: that is to say that May 68, produced not only a number of facts, but also produced May 68. In May 68, a site, in addition to its own elements (demonstrations, strikes, etc.), presented itself.”

The key to the event is “precisely that an event is the taking place of a pure rupture that nothing in the situation allows us to classify under a list of facts.” He formulates it as this: “the event is that multiple which, presenting itself, exhibits the inconsistency underlying all situations, and in a flash throws into a panic, their constituted classifications. The novelty of an event is expressed in the fact that it interrupts the normal regime of the description of knowledge, that always rests on the classification of the well known, and imposes another kind of procedure on whomever admits that, right here in this place, something hitherto unnamed really and truly occurred.” Speaking of the French Revolution he tells us that to call “a Revolution the Revolution, is thus to affirm the sense in which one remains faithful to a hypothesis: the hypothesis, the wager, that something fundamental is being produced in the political field that is worth being faithful to, while trying to draw out that which, at the heart of the situation, upholds an emancipatory truth in the process of elaboration, and which opposes all the forces of the old world”.

2. All truth is post-evental

This is how all truth is post-evental: “we understand in what way a truth, being the patient result of a series of local inquiries under a wagered hypothesis of an undecidable event, cannot exist outside the concrete history of subjects. But how is it that such truths can be at once eternal, and yet the bearers of history, the only genuine history? It is because a truth is the bearer, by right, of an infinite number of consequences: a set of inquiries therefore, by right, inexhaustible, and capable of being extended to historical moments in profoundly different contexts. In other words, a truth is the bearer of theoretical movements that form among themselves a historicity both profound and discontinuous”.

He tells us that truths are eternal and historical, eternal because they are historical: they insist in history, tying together temporal segments across the centuries, always unfolding more profoundly the infinity of their potential consequences, through captivated subjects, separated sometimes by distant epochs, but all equally transfixed by the urgent eventality that illuminates their present. They “give birth to history itself through their reactivation, making their inexhaustible potential for novelty intervene in the monotonous train of daily work, ordinary oppressions, and current opinions”.

1. Quentin Meillassoux. HISTORY AND EVENT IN ALAIN BADIOU, translated by Thomas Nail (PARRHESIA NUMBER 12 • 2011 • 1 – 11) – (warning: pdf)