more on logics of worlds

I came across something just now that I think helps better articulate what I was trying to get at in my last post. On page 144 of Logics of Worlds Badiou states:

The triple of the non-whole, which we advocate, is as follows: indifferent multiplicities, or ontological unbinding; worlds of appearing, or the logical link; truth-procedures, or subjective eternity.

The important thing here, in relation to what I was trying to get at in my last post, is the notion of ontological unbinding. I am in complete agreement that before one can enter a world and begin the process of becoming-subject, they must first be unbound. My concern though, is whether or not a notion of the ‘human animal’ is adequate for this unbinding. I know many will advocate for an accelerationist theory of capitalism, by which pushing capitalism to its limits we end up with nothing but un-bound ‘post-human’ elements, but I don’t buy this argument. As capital currently stands, it functions exactly like a transcendental (in Badiou’s terms). It functions to order intensities of appearance in a world, and those in this world must bind themselves to the psuedo-event of capital to have appearance.

I would thus want to explore the possibility of lifeserving as the counter foundational event of universal unbinding, and a sort of primary event which allows the individual self to exists unbound from the one way relationality of capital, and instead exist in a primary state of self relation through this primary relation to life. This would subsequently produce un-bound self relational individual selves capable of entering new worlds through a decisive entering into a subjective body.

I’ll end with a quote from an article by William Large that gets at the critique of capital I’m relying on here:

What is outside capital is not social in the sense, but what resists it within society, which is life itself […] the only answer to capital is life.

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16 thoughts on “more on logics of worlds

  1. Ben Kautzer says:

    Hey Mike,

    Let me start off by saying that I really like your summary critique of the accelerationist theory of (transcendental) capital. It seems to me that because capital represents the sort of violent, totalizing co-option of all evental space, the type of ‘post-human’ reality left over would (1) not necessarily or automatically be unmoored from such formative logics, and (2) would therefore be incapable (or certainly far less capable) of producing the sort of subjectivity envisioned here.

    Be that as it may, I wanted to comment on your final point about ‘life.’ From the language employed here it seems like you are trying to pull together certain threads of thought that might not intersect as neatly as you describe them. In particular, I would be curious to see the ways in which you see Henry informing Badiou’s project at this point.

    It seems like you’re reaching for an alternate ‘foundational event of universal unbinding.’ This unbinding ought to strip away the ‘one way relationality of capital’ in order for this ‘individual self’ to enter (return?) to a ‘primary state’ free of all such bindings. Several questions come to mind. First, if capital has truly become as transcendental and normative as you suggest, then its impact on persons and social structures should be polyvalent, pervasive, and systemically entrenched. What specifically and concretely is gathered up under the phrase ‘one way relationality of capital’? More generally speaking, what constitutes that which the ‘individual self’ needs to be unbound from in order to (re)enter its more primal (pre-subjective) state of being? Language, history, family, memory, formation, knowledge … do these (socially mediated, relational) elements of personal identity also need stripping away to find what we’re looking for? If so, is it because each of these have been deeply malformed according to the transcendental norm of global capital? Or is it because they do not intrinsically belong to the ‘primary state’ of the individual as such? The former remains (at least for me) uncomfortably ambiguous and the latter simply invokes an unreflexive repetition of a Rousseauian ‘state of nature’ (a political theory and anthropological mythos foundational for the very system of statism and capital you’re calling into question). Put differently, are you suggesting that atomized individuality is the necessary, foundational condition of cultivating subjectivity? That sounds a bit odd to me.

    Of course, reading such interpretations into your account would be a bit uncharitable because it’s pretty clear that you are hoping to rely on Henry’s paradigm of Life to supplement your reading and to present an alternative in which the individual, freed from the bonds of capital, can ‘exist in a primary state of self relation through this primary relation to life.’ On the one hand, this move has vast philosophical and theological potential in the space it clears for a fresh discussion of givenness, Ipseity (personhood), freedom, action, epistemology, ethics and so forth. However, it seems to me (and I may have misread things here) that the self’s ‘self-relation through this primary relation to life’ is directly at odds with the sort of buffered self of the unbounded (autonomous?) individual. Badiou might describe the pre-subjective entity as a ‘human animal’ or an ‘individual self,’ but Henry would suggest that this entity always has its Ipseity in the participatory givenness of Life, but often refuses to act as such due to the transcendental egoism of its own self-sufficiency. Is there a connection between the ‘unbinding’ necessary for the cultivation of subjectivity and the awaking from Henry’s ‘transcendental illusion’?

    In the previous post you wrote, ‘[…] it seems as if it’d be more constructive for his whole project if he would just concede to the existence of this originary individual self, which theorized properly is situated in such as a way as to be cable of feeling affects and subsequently enter the process of becoming-subject.’ Put simply, much of what I have written has been an attempt to tease out what it is you mean by ‘this ORIGINARY individual self’ and how you see Henry’s understanding of origins qualifying your interpretation.

  2. Scu says:

    Interesting so far. All the posting on post-human and the human animal makes me wonder if there is some discussion of the concept of the open in this book? I heard a strange rumor there was.

    Thanks.

    • michaeloneillburns says:

      Scu,
      Sorry, just realized I never responded to this! As far as I know, however, there is no theory of the ‘open’ in LoW.

      Best,
      Michael

  3. michaeloneillburns says:

    Ben,
    Thanks for your comment. You are absolutely correct in noting that I’m attempting to pull together two threads of thought that don’t fit with each other easily. As Badiou has outlined it in his article ‘The Adventure of French Philosophy’, there are two strands of 20th century french thought, put simply, philosophies of Life/Affect, and philosophies of Concept/Number. Although these notes are only alluding to it, part of my current project is attempting to see what happens when we force philosophies of affect and concept together (or as Mullarkey put it in his last book, the matheme and patheme).

    You also pick up exactly what I’m getting at with positing an alternative event of universal unbinding, Life. So in this way, I’m attempting to pose Life as the answer to capital, and as a potential site of unbinding and the creation of a self capable of freedom. Regarding Henry, we can basically think of him as a pre-evental, or maybe better put, an originary evental (or what some have called a ur-evental) thinker. Thus, Henry and Badiou are philosophizing from different sites of the event, and while Badiou’s primary concern is the free subject, Henry’s project spends more time elucidating the living self.

    On this point, the last essay/chapter of ‘Material Phenomenology’ and the conclusion of ‘I am the Truth’ are important, as Henry points out that capitalism is basically death, and only a parody of life. So for Henry, capitalism leads to the sort of perversion of truth in science that leads to ‘technology’ (as Badiou puts it in St. Paul) and perverts the beauty of scientific truth for the sake of technology to serve military industrial complexes.

    You ask a ton of great questions, many of them which I can’t answer at this point, or may need to be answered in a more thought out email, but I’ll try to at least respond to them in some form. So, if we could (for the sake of argument) agree that capital serves as a transcendental within a world, and thus orders the intensity of appearance of objects in that world, then elements (humans) existing within that world are subsequent to this ordering of appearance, and existing is predicated on the intensity of one’s relation to the transcendental of capital. So, the first step of any unbinding would be the positing/existing of an alternative transcendental which orders appearance. In this case, I want to stick with the language of an originary event/transcendental and posit that originary transcendental of life would fit with the egalitarian maxim in Badiou’s work, where all would appear with the same intensity.

    Many of the more social questions you raise are very valid, but I haven’t thought through them well enough to respond at this point.

    As for the atomizing of individuals, here I’m really just thinking of the notion of the ‘single individual’ in Kierkegaard. The point being, that to properly relate to any-thing (truth, movement, etc) one must relate as an unbound individual, and more importantly, one must be a proper individual to then exist in a relational group. (This is something which, as far as I’ve seen, is not theorized by Badiou to any sufficient extent).

    Once again, I don’t have the books in front of me, but I’m pretty sure Henry has an account of the individual, to an extent at least, and for him the primary move is that the individual be made aware on their own original connection to life as absolute affectivity. I think for Henry, it’s not that there are no individuals because there is one absolute auto-affecting life, I think it’s rather than because there is an absolute auto-affecting life, there is thus the possibility of relational individuals. But this is something we’d have to get a bit more textual about to really tease it all out.

    Re: Notions of the buffered self, I haven’t read Taylor (where I’m guessing this comes from), but I can’t respond to that, as it’s not a notion I’ve dealt with, or one used by Badiou, or other french thinkers (that I know of at least).

    I’m currently preparing a paper on this topic that I’m giving in a couple weeks, so I’ll either post it here or send you a copy and you can see if it responds to any of this better.

    Thanks again for your comment…but I’m a bit pissed at you for bringing up Henry…I’m trying to be at least a bit elusive about what I’m working on right now! Good call though…

  4. Ben Kautzer says:

    Thanks for that. Sorry to burst your shrouded bubble of elusiveness, but having read your post elsewhere on your ‘summer projects’, I could only presume that you were cool with laying your cards on the table. Now that they are, I had a few follow-up points to make. But before I get to that, though, I have to say from the top that I am deeply sympathetic with what you are working on here. Most of what I’m about to say is explorative rather than definitive. My intention is to understand what you’re pointing at more clearly and also highlight a few potential pitfalls that I foresee might cause you some problems.

    You replied that I, ‘also pick up exactly what I’m getting at with positing an alternative event of universal unbinding, Life. So in this way, I’m attempting to pose Life as the answer to capital, and as a potential site of unbinding and the creation of a self capable of freedom.’

    Despite the instant appeal of this claim, I have many deep hesitations about such philosophical paradigms that seek to challenge the totalizing forces of capital in this way. That is NOT to say that these forces should not be resisted. Quite the contrary. However, the game of unbinding surely cannot begin and end with ‘capital’ as such. While the case can be easily argued that a whole host of evils have been intensified by capitalism, things like militarism, empire, slavery, patriarchy, etc., all have also flourished outside of its framework as well. In other words, I think we would be using the term far too loosely to suggest that ‘capital’ equates ‘that which binds the individual.’ The unbinding you are describing will inevitably go beyond the obvious … I’m just curious as to what else needs to place its neck on the reductionist guillotine of Badiou’s ideology? ‘Life’ might be the ‘answer to capital,’ but what else will have to yield to it in the end?

    It may very well be that only ‘bad things’ will have to go away and that this system is ultimately a genuine means of facilitating freedom and human flourishing. At the same time, ‘Life’ – unless heavily and carefully qualified in something akin to concrete terms – risks becoming a cipher for old and crusty political/philosophical ideologies. Hence, if all this is really about grounding human subjectivity/Ipseity/personhood/identity and so forth into the primal state of an a-relational, a-historical, a-linguistic, a-sexual ‘pure’ individuality then we’re right back to the Cartesian roots of modern political economy.

    What I’m pushing for is a clearer description of this pre-relational individual that you hint at when you say, ‘one MUST be a proper individual to then exist in a relational group.’ From a phenomenological perspective, I think that such a claim is nonsense. The ordering you have here never patterns real human existence. I know I’m about to pull in some figures that don’t normal communicate with this discussion directly, but MacIntyre’s work on epistemology, virtue, and the traditioned nature of human formation radically calls into question the type of ‘proper individual’ you invoke here. Likewise Taylor makes much the same point with his critique of the ‘buffered self’ of secular modernity. Taylor notes,

    ‘I have been speaking of the modern self as “buffered”, and the earlier mode of existence as that of a “porous self”. But the use of the substantive here may mislead. Someone can live the modern sense of self as buffered, while being very conscious of himself as an individual. Indeed, this understanding lends itself to individuality, even atomism; sometimes we may wonder if it can be made hospitable to a sense of community. The buffered self is essentially the self which is aware of the possibility of disengagement. And disengagement is frequently carried out in relation to one’s whole surroundings, natural and social’ (A Secular Age, pp. 41-42).

    Even Heidegger points out that an ‘ontological’ characteristic of Dasein is being-with and that this is in many senses more primal – the always ‘already there’ — that constitutes the givenness of Dasein’s being as an ‘I’. To substantiate this assertion, consider the following from Being and Time,

    ‘Yet even the positive Interpretation of Dasein which we have so far given, already forbids us to start with the formal givenness of the “I”, if our purpose is to answer the question of the “who” in a way which is phenomenally adequate. In clarifying Being-in-the-world we have shown that a bare subject without a world never ‘is’ proximally, nor is it ever given. And so in the end an isolated “I” without Others is just as far from being proximally given’ (p. 152).

    I emphasize the point because it seems to me that this abstract move of ‘unbinding’, ‘disengagement’, ‘deterritorialisation’, ‘autonomy’, or whatever you want to call it actually exposes the self to co-option by the forces of states and markets, both national and global. Once denuded from ‘all’ moorings external to the self (for ‘capital’, as I mentioned earlier, is not the only binding force on a pure individuality), this (newly created) individual must stand alone in the face of the structural forces and social imaginaries of capitalism, but this time make the existential move, turn away and ‘choose life’ (Deut. 30.19). But how does one thus isolated make such a choice without being absorbed or crushed by the prevailing ideology? What happens if in the process of the unbinding that you have outlined here one actually looses genuine continuity of self? Would not this absorption therefore become inevitable?

    Or could it be even worse still? Is it possible that this processes of unbinding-to-free-the-individual actually becomes the means by which capital hegemonically advances and levies its violent subjugation of the self? To elucidate the point, consider this unbinding paradigm in the context of William Cavanaugh’s critique of torture. He argues that

    ‘[. . .] torture breaks down and reconstitutes the subjectivities of citizens, adapting them to the state project. The key to this project is individualization. Torture breaks down collective links and makes of its victims isolated monads. Victims then reproduce the same dynamic in society itself, with the net result that all social bodies which would rival the state are disintegrated and disappeared’ (Torture and Eucharist, p. 34).

    So to put this as polemically as possible, how is your ‘unbinding’ not ultimately an act of (voluntary?) torture, abdicating both persons and communities to the formative power of the state?

    • Alex says:

      Here is the interesting question for me, which is a rebuttal of what you are recommending here.

      How precisely do MacIntyre et al allow us to unbind from the structures of capital etc? Okay, so we get human as thickly described non-ahistorical, cultural self, great. But, in a bad Wittgensteinian sense (who both Taylor and MacIntyre are indebted to) this simple description not “leave everything as it is”? IE simply accurately describe the world. Say the evil capitalist says “okay, we admit that individuals are socially mediated, but capitalism has it’s own virtues” (as many have done). Then isn’t the game rather up? Aren’t we left rather where we are in normal discourse, with people arguing about which form of political organisation is correct, without anyone being able to pull a social ontological fast one that there is no pre-social self? This appears to be Stout’s move (though not pro-capitalist) in Democracy & Tradition. His move is, yes, liberalism admits all these things and conceives of itself as a historical tradition, cards out, MacIntyre’s big “gotcha”, “you think your universal and ahistorical, but you ain’t, humans aren’t like this” is dissolved. Now we have problem, we have two rival traditions adjudicate each other? We are left with a kind of relativism, not to mention bad postmodern idealism.

      • Alex says:

        Also, is not the unbinding to communities precisely what is required? Okay, sure, torture might operate by this logic (perhaps but this is rather a limit case) but surely part of the problem is people are bound in “bad” communities of capital and power they must escape from? And as personal experience tells us, some of this must mean breaking out from the community as an individual?

    • Alex says:

      Also, an interesting book to consult is Against The Romance of Community by Miranda Joseph and a volume she writes in The Seductions of Community: Emancipations, Oppressions, Quandaries. The move you often get it community, inter-relation etc thrown out as a easily winning response to capitalism and individualism. In fact, Joseph argues community is quite capable of shoring up these structures, as well as repeating power structures that exclude and destroy.

  5. michaeloneillburns says:

    Ben,
    I think the problem in this discussion is the differing use of the terms at play. When MacIntyre/Taylor/Cavanaugh use the term ‘self’, they don’t mean the same thing as Henry (or for that regard, Kierkegaard or Heidegger), so I think this is a crucial distinction to make.

    Before answering things point by point, let me lay out a fuller account of this model of self-subjectivity I’m advocating here.

    The point is NOT that I’m advocating for an a-relation a-social self (as we see in MacIntyre’s terrible mis-reading and false critique of Kierkegaard), but rather than I’m advocating for this as the first stage of a tripartite dialectic of subjectivity. So in the way I read Kierkegaard, the subject starts as a non relational self, moves to an inward-relational self, and then leaps into an outward-relational subjectivity existence. The point here is that this is a dialectic movement of subjective becoming, and thus I don’t think your critiques of the self as such have much potency in this regard.

    Also, I need to re-emphasize that what I’m getting at here is inherently ontological, and thus I don’t see how taylor’s notions of the self really have anything to say here. We need to draw a clear distinction between ontological/material accounts of the subject, and an account of the ‘self’ as a social construction.

    I also don’t think the Torture example has too much bearing here, to go back to Kierkegaard, his point is NOT (as MacIntyre and to an extent Levinas as argued) that one must be nothing but a singular inward focused individual, the point is rather than until one is a self relational individual, they will not be able to fully pledge themselves to any greater cause/event/idea/truth. So, and sorry if I’m getting repetitive at this point, is not to advocate for an isolated individualism, but instead to argue for the importance of a stage of isolated individualism as a part of a greater dialectic which ends in a properly relational subject. But, when it comes to torture, I think there is a point at which the final stage of subject becoming is itself violent, its a violent leap out of oneself and into an uncertain future, so there is a violence there, but I think it has more to do with the risk laden production of the new than it does with destruction as such.

    The point here is the theorization of a subject capable of properly participating in the production of new paradigms for both thought and politics, and I don’t think Taylor/MacIntyre (and that specific tradition) give us the resources for production, maybe critique, but not production.

    and just to at least comment on it, I don’t think the Heidegger quote is relevant as I don’t think I’m attempting to theorize a subject-without-world, I’m with Badiou and the inherent link between subjectivity and the creation/production of a world. This is the key point at which Henry needs to be surpassed, as he provides a theorization of life without world, an interiorization that can lead to dangerously conservative consequences. So I’m not ‘with’ Henry in going all the way with advocating life/subjectivity as nothing but ‘pure inside’. The point is rather theorizing the pure inside only in so much as it pre-figures a movement to the outside of a world.

    (hope this makes sense….very tired but wanted to make sure I responded before bed!)

    • Ben Kautzer says:

      Hey Mike,

      Sorry I inadvertently veered this whole conversation into questions and concerns so far removed from our original discussion about Badiou and Henry. You are absolutely correct to point out the fact that most of these thinkers are deploying the same terms within radically different philosophical frameworks. Undoubtedly, such juxtaposed comparisons can be illuminating if done carefully. My point in attempting such moves (not sure whether they were more careful or rash!) was to interrogate the underlying questions these thinkers bring to the table. MacIntyre and Taylor do have different agendas (from Badiou and from each other), but I think there is fruitful potential in bringing such agendas to bear on Badiou’s project to see how he holds up in the face of discourses foreign to his own particular philosophical tradition.

      After a full night’s sleep and the recovery of my ability to see straight, I’ve had a chance to read through and think more thoroughly about your recent posts. I have to admit that beyond my crotchety screeching and melodramatic complaints, I do think you’re really on to something here and I’m genuinely excited to see you develop this project out in more detail.

      I found your thoughtful qualifications to be very helpful. In particular, I liked your claim that the creative space engendered between the formation of subjectivity and the production of worlds is ‘the key point at which Henry needs to be surpassed, as he provides a theorization of life without world, an interiorization that can lead to dangerously conservative consequences. So I’m not ‘with’ Henry in going all the way with advocating life/subjectivity as nothing but ‘pure inside’. The point is rather theorizing the pure inside only in so much as it pre-figures a movement to the outside of a world.’

      This argument is very much what I have been fishing for in my chat back and forth with Alex. In many ways it reflects some of the initial concerns lurking in the back of my mind when you first hinted at the merging of Badiou and Henry. Despite the beginning descriptions, it seemed odd to me that you would be pushing for a vacuous interiorized self as the radical subject who alone is capable of outflanking the volatile maneuvers of capital. Now it makes way more sense to see that you are employing Badiou as a corrective to Henry at precisely this point.

      Regarding my use of Heidegger, my point in referencing that passage from Being and Time was not to suggest that Badiou is arguing for a ‘world-less’ subject (though perhaps you’re right to suggest that Henry has a world-less Life), but instead to argue that for Heidegger Dasein is a ‘being-with’ who encounters others not as ‘theoretically concocted “explanations”’ (p. 155), but as a socially constituted person. And that for Heidegger this is an ontological affair. In this light, its relevance has to do with the question of inter-subjectivity as an ontological category rather than on the production of worlds as such. Of course, it doesn’t seem like you’re out to contest this, so it’s become rather a mute point.

      A few closing thoughts:

      First, assuming I concede that it’s philosophically illegitimate to speak of Badiou and MacIntyre (or Wittgenstein) in the same sentence, does that mean that Badiou’s subject-body is thereby neither traditioned or linguistically shaped? Does not even an ontology of truth necessitate certain degrees of interpretive responsiveness? I have this bad feeling that your distinction is painfully obvious and I’m just not quite thinking it straight in my head.

      Second, I’m intrigued by your proposal here regarding this ‘tripartite dialectic of subjectivity.’ I’m curious to know a bit more about what you intend it to mean with regard to ‘communities of resistance.’ Are these (logical?) moves from individuality, to reflexivity, to inter-subjectivity of a purely theoretical nature akin to a type of thought experiment? Are they discernable, embodied changes? Or do they remain more on the order of dispositions? Is this also an exclusive pattern or can genuine subjectivity be cultivated through any other means?

      Finally, a bit later you go on to say, ‘We need to draw a clear distinction between ontological/material accounts of the subject, and an account of the ‘self’ as a social construction.’ Maybe this is a stupid question, but what does such an implied distinction look like for a conversation like ours? What exactly are we ‘allowed’ to talk about in a discourse ‘inherently ontological’? Where does this put questions of politics, practices, ethics, movements, corporate patterns of resistance, and other such factors that weigh in on the formation of subjectivities?

  6. Ben Kautzer says:

    Before I offer some responses to you (Mike), allow me to continue to push a few tangents with Alex because I don’t think they are as unrelated as you seem to suggest.

    So Alex,

    First of all, to admit that MacIntyre’s analysis ‘simply accurately describes the world’ demonstrates the strength rather than the weakness of his overall project. It concedes that MacIntyre is (on the whole) correct in saying that the ‘pure individual’ is a fantasy of modern philosophical and political ideology and any such project that attempts to ground its intelligibility on such a maxim – and thereby relegate the harder questions of political formation, social solidarity, and commonality to the margins – is neither appropriate nor sufficient. The point is that many such moves toward a pure individuality are arguably naive about the political consequences that often result (as are those that presume that ontological questions can be safely bifurcated from ethical ones). Autonomous individuals unmoored from any collectivity are not a threat to dominating power structures. My invoking MacIntyre here is an attempt to suggest that such a move is a specter of revolutionary difference, rather than a genuine attempt to engage ‘accurately’ the world.

    By agreeing with MacIntyre’s argument I don’t think you call his bluff so much as acknowledge that the hard task is allowing traditions to peaceably negotiate the conditions that constitute the good life.

    That being said, my point here is NOT to defend MacIntyre or Taylor for having found the alternative to the structures and pervasive ideologies of capital. Here I agree (to an extent) with Mike. To be honest, I have yet find ANY such attempts thus far to be thoroughly convincing. Of course, MacIntyre does offer some excellent critical tools for such a project through his manifold critiques of emotivism; managerial and therapeutic cycles of capitalistic, consumptive patterns; the bureaucratic clerics of modern organizations; and so forth. It would be a bit unfair to demand from MacIntyre a blueprint that would ‘allow us to unbind from the structures of capital etc’ because that is not his first and primary concern. He does offer the University model as a potential site where these traditioned differences can be negotiated out non-coercively and non-violently. Then again, since the publication of MacIntyre’s work, the University has seemingly become a less and less likely site of such a revolutionary movement due to its continuing cooption by powers of militarism, pharmaceutical companies and their ‘research’ agendas, globalized marketing firms, and the raw appeal of capitalism itself. So we must turn elsewhere (and this is why Mike’s work is important). But to reiterate the following point carefully: we must turn SOMEWHERE else. What this talk of the ‘pure individual’ often seems to ignore is the ‘somewhere’ that these individuals are to sojourn into (and from which they come). What new socio-political/communal formations are we talking about? If we are simply to abide in the ontological space of thought experiments, then we are still left with the capitalist logic Cavanaugh critiques; namely, that individuals have the autonomous freedom of theory (the ‘seeing’ of thought) and spirit, but their bodies are handed over to the state. Of course theory doesn’t have to be bound to thought, but can be integrally wedded to practice, via language and the (social) forums in which it can be habitually performed.

    Alex: ‘[. . .] surely part of the problem is people are bound in “bad” communities of capital and power they must escape from?’

    You may very well be correct. However, I still find myself wondering why you are so hesitant to describe that which constitutes a ‘good’ community in these terms? Or, to pose this question to Mike, what norms might the new transcendental ‘Life’ establish for the cultivating of such convivial gatherings?

    Alex: ‘And as personal experience tells us, some of this must mean breaking out from the community as an individual?’

    To speak analogously (maybe?), it seems like we’re fishing for a model of ‘conversion without a church’, that is a liberal, Gnostic interiority in a secular guise. Undoubtedly, persons ought to be free from oppressive social formations, structures, and situations. But does that then implicitly and necessarily condemn social formations, structures, and situations as such? Should we all become revolutionary hermits in the wilderness of our own self-concern? Is that not an alternative readily available only to the rich who alone can afford such isolation?

    Alex: ‘The move you often get it community, inter-relation etc thrown out as a easily winning response to capitalism and individualism. In fact, Joseph argues community is quite capable of shoring up these structures, as well as repeating power structures that exclude and destroy.’

    That is precisely my point! Of course communities and social organizations are capable of shoring up the structures of capitalism, militarism, violence, and oppression. This happens all the time … even to those who originally laid it all on the line in order to stand against such injustice. Of course ‘community’ as a paradigm can and very often does repeat these same abhorrent, oppressive power structures. Which is precisely why it is critical to interrogate not only the nature of the ‘pure individual’ (a concept that all the figures listed above mutually agree does not exist), but the necessary form of social formation that accompanies the cultivation of new subjectivities. How are we guaranteed that Badiou’s unbound individual doesn’t get swept away in the turbulent sea of ever-shifting socio-political allegiances? How do we know that this new transcendental of Life does not produce power structures as bad as capitalism itself? This should not be heard as an appeal for the status quo, sigh of defeat, and a tacit acceptance of the way things are. Far from it. Yes, we ought to break out of ‘bad’ communities (as you put it), but into what? That’s what I’m driving at here. If we escape out of capital-entrenched communities into individuality as such, we are doomed to eventual subjugation. Why? Because the whole system of political liberalism functions on cultivating and preserving the binary between the individual and the state and thereby domesticating and/or eliminating any other social or political threats to its own well-being. What I’m asking for here is a bolder, more radical articulation of the possibility of difference. That sure as heck isn’t going to come from running back into the arms of an 17th century enlightenment-style pure individuality that abdicates social and political realities to the margins.

    (I have to go to a wedding now … but I will respond more directly to Mike’s post in due course).

    • Alex says:

      Okay I think we are more agreeing here than disagreeing.

      “Alex: ‘And as personal experience tells us, some of this must mean breaking out from the community as an individual?’

      To speak analogously (maybe?), it seems like we’re fishing for a model of ‘conversion without a church’, that is a liberal, Gnostic interiority in a secular guise. Undoubtedly, persons ought to be free from oppressive social formations, structures, and situations. But does that then implicitly and necessarily condemn social formations, structures, and situations as such? Should we all become revolutionary hermits in the wilderness of our own self-concern? Is that not an alternative readily available only to the rich who alone can afford such isolation?”

      No, I’m not actually advocating anything of the sort. I think your response displays the rhetorical move of all post-MacIntyre thinking in that it establishes a strict binary: individuality – bad, community – good. Anyone who talks of the individual and becoming and individual is a gnostic liberal, obsessed with pure solipistic interiority. The problem here is two fold.

      First, a philosophical point. You say that MacIntyre’s conception of social reality is in fact true, and the pre-social individual is a fiction. Yet at the same time, a person is capable of even becoming a gnostic liberal individual, something that their social ontology states is strictly impossible. These solipisitic individuals exist nowhere – I actually agree. People love capitalism not because they like being individuals, but because they like being in certain social groups or alternatively like being disapproved of by certain social groups. Take fashion as a quick example – people buy expensive positional goods to be part of a community, an elite, that is perceived jealously by the rest of the community. Say someone who is trying to be an individual, go nuts, wear crazy clothes etc – well, this individualism (because individuals don’t exist) is paradoxically inversely related to the mass of people not like this, who recognise the person as an individual because they don’t fit into their social norms. Sociality is all the way down even when people are trying to be ‘individuals’. Look at group of goth teenagers hanging out!

      Second, a point about what I was trying to get at. This was not the point I was making. The reason why I mentioned ‘personal experience’ by which I meant loosely the life story of people we know. For example, we can all tell stories of the person who was brought up in a ultra capitalist environment (say) supplemented by all the usual civil and real religions – think of a standard uber-right Fox loving republician. Then through reading and exposure to other ideas, and then the company of others (who they will ultimately become communal with if they are lucky enough to be geographically close to) then are able to break out of this community and become an “individual” within it, deciding this is not the way to go, that ways of life are unjust etc. A certain amount of de-hooking from the community, and from the perspective of the community, becoming an individual, is required for change. No one needs to be in wilderness of their own self concern, but one must sometimes unhook themselves from a given community to escape ‘oppressive social formations, structures, and situations’. The person who first puts it ‘on the line in order to stand against such injustice’ must unhook fro the structures they are part of. Think of a gay person in a evangelical fundamentalist church, for example.

      As for your final point, as I’m not recommending individualism I don’t feel I need to answer your question. And I don’t have a quick answer as I have already said too much already, to how precisely new forms of community can resist capitalism. But all of them will involve people to some degree unhooking from their community to form communities of resistance. And the solutions will not be singular, but a plurality, that is sensitive to geography and local concerns, as has been witnessed in the more successful anti-neoliberal formations in the South America. For example the Zapatistas.

      • Ben Kautzer says:

        Greetings Alex!

        Always good to spark up a lively debate! Thanks for your response. I think we’re slowly circling around what a direct conversation would have put straight right in minutes … that is scrambling to identifying the few particular points where we actually disagree.

        I know you may think that I’m simply acting as the all guns blazing, MacIntyrian spokes-hole regurgitating the same tired rhetoric and blind appeals for anything ‘community’ and fuzzy feeling. I certainly hope that what I’ve written here demonstrates that isn’t what I’m talking about. To clarify what’s bothering me, allow me a few brief responses.

        Alex: ‘I think your response displays the rhetorical move of all post-MacIntyre thinking in that it establishes a strict binary: individuality – bad, community – good. Anyone who talks of the individual and becoming and individual is a gnostic liberal, obsessed with pure solipistic interiority.’

        First, I would absolutely reject such a binary as a gross generalization. Your description seems a bit fascist and totalitarian for my taste. As we’ve established already, clearly certain communities are very often bad, violent, unjust, oppressive, etc. Likewise, individuality/subjectivity/personhood/Ipseity/identity and the like is of tantamount importance. Both can be construed in a convivial and healthy fashion; both can also be distorted and deeply compromised. It’s a bit uncharitable to say that I’m out to condemn ‘anyone’ who talks of the individual. I was originally responding to Mike who was making certain claims that sounded odd to me and I wanted to chase it up and clear the air. Maybe it’s just because I’m a bit thick (and/or tired), but when I hear an account of a ‘pure individual’ that refuses (or at least is very hesitant) to acknowledge any socio-political moorings and that suggests that such a ‘subject STARTS as a non relational self, moves to an inward-relational self, and THEN leaps into an outward-relational subjectivity existence’, my gut reaction is that we might be repeating the sins of our (gnostic liberal) fathers. I could be wrong and I’m sure Mike will put me straight if that is so. However, this is not – in my opinion – a question better left ambiguous. I think MacIntyre is right to say that the employment of the term ‘starts’ in this paradigm is what gets us into trouble.

        Obviously, ‘individuality’ has a whole heck of a lot of philosophical, political, cultural, and theological baggage attached. So if we lay down our mutual polemics for a moment and bracket the extreme outliers on both sides of the spectrum, I think we would both agree that what we’re after is a project that facilitates their synergistic coexistence; namely, a good social structure that can produce and sustain a more flourishing, robust subjectivity beyond the narrowing confines of such things as global capitalism. The long hard debate can then focus on what we mean by ‘good’ here and what constitutes a ‘flourishing subjectivity.’ For me, those conversations have far more potential for moving us forward.

        Alex: ‘A certain amount of de-hooking from the community, and from the perspective of the community, becoming an individual, is required for change. No one needs to be in wilderness of their own self concern, but one must sometimes unhook themselves from a given community to escape ‘oppressive social formations, structures, and situations’. The person who first puts it ‘on the line in order to stand against such injustice’ must unhook fro the structures they are part of.’

        Absolutely. I heartily agree. From a theological perspective, this is precisely what ‘baptism’ is all about. Dying to one ‘community’ and one way of life and being raised to the possibility of new life in another. In many ways, that tradition has much to offer to these questions about unhooking, unbinding, and/or ‘conversion’ (or visa-versa). I fully admit that my phrase about the ‘wilderness of their own self-concern’ was over-the-top (even to the point of being flatly unhelpful). However, even at the risk of annoying anyone reading this conversation, I reiterate once again that it’s not the move of (temporary/transitory) individuation that I’m most concerned with. I am curious as to what happens next. That was my point. I was trying to suggest that if we cannot provide a clear answer, then that newly emancipated individual is only going to get sucked back in to the formative powers of another ‘bad’ community (many of whom seem to all be serving the same masters). But I think we’re starting to say the same thing here, so I’ll move on.

        Alex: ‘As for your final point, as I’m not recommending individualism I don’t feel I need to answer your question.’

        Fab. I didn’t think so. But I’m not convinced that Mike isn’t recommending some kind of similar individualism. Of course, I’ve still not responded directly to him yet, so I won’t be presumptuous.

        Alex: ‘And I don’t have a quick answer as I have already said too much already, to how precisely new forms of community can resist capitalism. But all of them will involve people to some degree unhooking from their community to form communities of resistance.’

        Bingo. From politics and to politics. From community to communities. From tradition and to tradition. The means of that unhooking can be individual or otherwise. Now we can start some real concrete conversations about what such communities of resistance can actually look like; who they risk excluding; how to preserve them against forces that would see them domesticated, subjugated, and eliminated; what virtues mark a ‘good’ practice from a ‘bad’ (i.e. using slave labor to mine the raw material necessary for our cell phones probably ought to be considered a ‘bad’ practice for such a resistance community); and so forth. The Zapatistas would be a wonderful context to launch such a discourse. I suggest we return to that conversation another time. While I for one still have a lot of thinking to do before I can venture too deeply into those waters, at least we can acknowledge that’s where the conversation has to go if we’re going to take seriously our claims to resistance.

        (Sorry I’m ignoring you, Mike. I’m a bad friend, I know. Sleep first, blogging second).

  7. michaeloneillburns says:

    Ben, you said:

    “But I’m not convinced that Mike isn’t recommending some kind of similar individualism.”

    The one thing I’d quickly want to say to this is that I am absolutely not advocating some sort of completely non-relational ‘pure individual’. I am saying that before one enters a subject-body/community/movement they must enter as an individual. At one point Kierkegaard says ‘God does not have grandchildren’ (and I think we could picture Badiou saying something like ‘post evental subject-bodies don’t have grand-elements’). The point being that for one to be truly committed to some-thing, they must commit as an individual.

    Also, and this is may be a moot point, but I think one of the reasons for the confusion here must be the foundations of he discourses being used. Correct me if I’m wrong (And I think Alex already noted this), MacIntyre is basically a Wittgensteinian? No? And if so, I don’t think one can compare a language-community ala’ Wittgenstein to a subject-body ala’ Badiou. The whole functioning of this sort of subjective dialectic is that there is such thing as truth which drives the whole thing in its becoming, and clearly this doesn’t mesh well with a sort of linguistic philosophy interpretation. But hey, maybe I’m wrong?

  8. “From a theological perspective, this is precisely what ‘baptism’ is all about.” Oh yeah?

  9. Ben Kautzer says:

    And my last post ended up in the middle of the conversation … that’s not bound to be confusing …

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