24 November 2007

Ghost-like events, event-like ghosts: immediate thoughts on Badiou

Badiou drew crowds on his East Coast tour, as many people were turned away from getting into the New York lecture and possibly Philly’s. His Wikipedia page was a paragraph when I was recounting his commentary last weekend, and it’s grown considerably since the tour.

He’s undoubtably enjoying his stardom in the US after over three decades of departmental struggles in Paris. He has fun with English as the directness with which he expresses his ideas in English helps them pack a punch.

His first book translated into English was Deleuze: The Clamor of Being, I presume because the market for good Deleuze books in English preceded the market for Alain’s own inner thoughts. That’s also the first book of his that I looked at, at the Minnesota MLA booth last December when an editor from the Southwest struck up a conversation and started to get me into him. When I got home I scoured the used internet pool for a few books which I read in dribs and drabs until he stated his positions more directly on the tour.

Since part of Badiou’s star comes from a yearning for a Paris 8 standard bearer, it is interesting to see how his ghosts line up (for the boardwalk shooting gallery). First of all, Badiou’s school spirit pervades his evocation of May ‘68 more than Paris 8's old titan Foucault, who used to brag that he was in Algiers at the time where the real shit was going down.

Like Foucault, he cut his teeth with Althusser as a teacher, and both defended Althusser during Louis’ down years when the bureaucratic pricks were taking their shots. As I’m fond of saying, if you defend your mentor only out of loyalty, s/he’s not your mentor. Badiou writes constantly of the ‘return of philosophy’ while Foucault frequently said that he wasn’t a philosopher. This may have related in Foucault’s case to that stage of structuralism and not wanting to be weighed down by the demands of sorting out questions of traditions, a function that Badiou relishes in his own way. Both referenced Althusser rarely, if ever, in their work. Just as Althusser said avoiding ideology is ideological, avoiding Althusser the mentor is Althusserian, and their divergent approaches can speculatively be seen this way. The Sartreanism of avoiding Sartre is another can of worms here.

Oliver Feltham’s intro to Being and Event touches on this, noting (xxvii, Continuum) the ‘encounter’ between Althusser andthe École normale supérieure’s Cercle d'épistémologie in the 60s and the ‘comparable rupture’ of the ‘lineage of Bachelard, Koyré, Canguilheim and Foucault.’ He then says ‘none of these discourses or authors are privileged in the emergence of the thought of the event, instead Badiou turns to Mallarmé.’ Nowhere in this paragraph or anywhere near it or related to this logical construction do we find the name Deleuze, despite the outline of the rupture from the dialectic and the ensuing integration of Mallarmé in that context obviously coming from Deleuze's Nietzsche and Philosophy. Deleuze is only mentioned in that intro twice: the assertion that Badiou has broken from the self-reflexivity of Derrida, Hegel and Deleuze, when, of course, Badiou’s position with regard to Hegel is a resigned reiteration of Deleuze’s, and noting Deleuze’s objection that Badiou’s thought was analogical.

This omission cannot be underestimated. Badiou’s Althusserianism back in the late 60s put him on a departmental collision course with Deleuze who came to the Paris 8 department with a circle of allies fresh from the glory of Anti-Oedipus’ reception. Badiou got to taking shots at Deleuze and by his account, things got tense when Deleuze thought Badiou’s ‘Bolshevism’ was attempting to wrest control of the department from the ‘troika of Deleuze, Châtelet, and Lyotard,’ which ‘retook "power" without resistance.’

What no one seems to say is how Deleuze seems to have taken power over Badiou’s view of the dialectic without resistance, since Deleuze’s attacks on Hegel and the dialectic in Nietzsche and Philosophy on ‘behalf’ of Nietzsche seem to loom as assumptions which pave the way for Badiou’s work. Deleuze came up with the concept of a rupture from the dialectic making use of ontology, since the Nietzschean opposition of being and non-being could not be synthesized, an approach that takes the form of an assumption in Badiou.

Nietzsche and Philosophy is notably not one of the nine books of his that Badiou cites in Deleuze, citing instead Deleuze’s commentary on Mallarmé from their personal correspondence. For those of you that haven’t hung around me much, I think that Nietzsche and Philosophy is Deleuze’s most important work, and despite its title the most Deleuzean. The Guattari collaborations are thought-provoking, getting overly cute in A Thousand Plateaus, ending with the indispensable reflection of What is Philosophy? Pure Immanence is the pared down, most direct and perhaps enduring of his propositions.

Despite building extensively on Deleuze’s ontological approach, Badiou has his ways of staking out a middle ground within the apparently incompatible rupture between Deleuze and Althusser, the ripples of which go back to when Schopenhauer would schedule his lectures at the same time as Hegel’s out of spite. Badiou, on the structures and universal truths of non-ontological situations:

"..my thesis is that in a situation there is always an encyclopedia of knowledge which is the same for everybody. But the access to this knowledge is very different. We can speak in Marxist terms, we cans say that in a situation there is an ideological dispositif [apparatus] which is dominant - in the end it’s the same thing.

Justin Clemens: "Would you say Marxism talks about encyclopedic knowledges but doesn’t talk about the truth?

Badiou: "No, no I think that Marxism, the category of Marxism designates the same thing that I designate by the dispositif of the encyclopedia of knowledge. But in Marxism there is a series of truths, which is different from ideology." (Infinite Thought, 171-2)

It is sort of comical in that context that Simon Critchley, Badiou’s designated opponent on the West Philly fight card, in his exhaustive examination of the options presenting themselves to the Anglophone philosopher, noted an affirmative interest in a Third Way, sheepishly admitting its being a Blairism while we sat safe from the explosive devices in Baghdad. Critchley stood in the ring as one of the ‘anarcho-desirers’ that Badiou had taken on for years so there was no affirmation of the dialectic coming from either side, just the Third Way, as the Third and First ways never do take the time to lift a finger on behalf of the dialectic that forms the basis of their existence. As Blair, Gordon Brown and the others have proved once again, the Third Way is the First Way without the baggage. In the context of Badiou’s refinement of Deleuze’s critique of the dialectic, we can see the Third Way as an embodiment of the reductive, irrelevant, fabricated side of the dialectic, containing nothing of Athusser’s increasingly convincing and resilient case that all thought is ideological.

Badiou touches more on the dialectic in 2006's Logiques des mondes, which I don’t think has been translated, wherein he sets forth a Third Wayish ‘democratic materialism,’ making a third out of what in the other two is not hegemonic. Žižek not surprisingly accuses it of ‘Eating the cake and keeping it’ suggesting the little victories of the new are ‘his all too crude opposition between repetition and the cut of the Event, his dismissal of repetition as an obstacle to the rise of the New..,’ pitting Deleuzean repetition against the Badiouian event. Badiou’s position is not really Third Wayish in that it’s not a compromised one, though, but one of rupture, of what Žižek reductively calls Big Change while critiquing its indifference to incremental reform.

16 November 2007

What Badiou said at the 'event'

Ethics begins with the refusal of the world.

Ontologically, truth to Badiou is the creation of something new, not a judgement; truth is an artistic creation, process of making the new in the world. He noted the logical definition of truth as an organization of the world, a consequence of fact, but stated that existence is a modification of truth, the sublimation of ‘something’ in existence. He asked Simon Critchley to respond to that definition but ‘No Wittgenstein!!’

Badiou accused Critchley of being Rosseauean, which Critchley later qualified but didn’t deny completely. Badiou said his view of individuals is in line with Nietzsche, that humans are animals indifferent to good and evil. Badiou’s wrinkle about all this is his notion that it is the event, something from outside, which enables humans to transcend the limits of the individual.

He said modesty can be benign when it is modesty of knowledge, but oppressive when imposed on people in the form of ‘know your place and shut up.’ He stuck up for heroic affirmation.

He says history is transformed by moments of affirmation rather than fits of anger, using the example of slave uprisings and May ‘68, when heroism and courage proved victorious on a small scale.

He’s not sure that ethics and ontology were in opposition. He set forth a distinction between individual and subject and between ethics of experience and ontology of the event.

The human within the event is infinite.

This event was being filmed by my pal Laura Hanna who, with her Zizek! collaborator Astra Taylor, suggested having the event in the first place. Laura’s been working for a while on directing Megapolis, a documentary with Mike Davis about urban slums in poor nations.

15 November 2007

I perceive myself with the same anthropological disposition with which I regard some other matters of interest: dust brushes, tweezers, imperialistic conceits.
People that come from a place I’ve long wanted to visit seem to have come from my imagination.

13 November 2007

New on DVD

Dilemma: The 15 hour Fassbinder version of Berlin Alexanderplatz is out, and it appears it will take forever to get the first of the seven discs from the mail service, but the subsequent ones are easily available. Start at two? Start at Fassbinder’s epilogue? Wait? None are satisfactory options. "..something that comes from the outside, something unaccountable, something that looks like fate.."

On the occasions when I go to a blockbuster art show, I get a timed ticket for first thing in the morning, and when admitted I make for the middle to end of the show. But that tactic hinges on the perceived absence of narrative structure.

10 November 2007

“Look, if you want me to write a threatening letter to Heidegger I’m going to have to put in a bill.”

“Just tell him ‘time is of the essence.’”

07 November 2007

In the part of NJ that is south of the longitudinal extension of the Mason-Dixon Line,

a friend of mine who teaches got balled out today by the vice principal of the charter school because he gave one of his students a Nietzsche book.

04 November 2007

The extra hour has been most useful. I am not partisan concerning the allocation of hours towards use-value or enjoyment, but enjoyment is usually more flexible with regard to the hours of the day. I'm up now, which suggests a usefulness. I feel no gratitude towards the institution of Daylight Savings Time, only that my hour given in Spring has been returned to me at an opportune time.