Category Archives: Badiou

humanism as backlash

I just read Scu’s blog post which provides his riff on Harman’s thoughts on the Adrian Johnston interview carried out by Brian Smith and myself. While I completely get where he is coming from, I think it may be a bit much to call the position outlined by Johnston an ‘anthropocentric backlash’ for at least two reasons. First, it’s hardly a new position to privilege the human to some extent, and there is a certain French reliance on Descartes and Rousseau that seems to have never really left (the best contemporary example would be Badiou). Second, it seems like the position of someone like Johnston is far to subtle to be taking for a sort of reactionary humanism, as for him, following someone like Zizek, the point is that through a sort of evolutionary glitch (or fuck-up) humans have been left with a certain capacity for freedom and reflection which is unique to our species. Thus rather than being a ‘traditional’ humanism, it’s a sort of humanism grounded in a thoroughly materialist account of how life and subsequently thought are events which take place after the primacy of matter. After reading some of the excerpts of Meillassoux’s Divine Inexistence in the Harman book, I think his own position (in which humans are ‘the ultimate’) is probably a better target for anyone out to fight the ‘new humanism’.


new IJZS issue

while avoiding ‘real work’ i’ve been browsing the new issue of the international journal of zizek studies and think two pieces are of note to anyone reading this.

The first is Peter Gratton’s review essay of Adrian Johnstons The Cadence of Change. While being a good review of a worth reading book, Gratton brings up some very important/interesting issues regarding Johnston’s discussion of the pre-evental in Badiou’s thought, affect, and the role of philosophy in thinking through actual political engagement. I also think he rightly draws attention to the thin line between the recent obsession with notions of the ‘event’, and the competing obsession with the ‘new’ offered by capitalist culture.

To digress a bit, I found it reassuring to see Gratton taking seriously the question of the pre-evental in Badiou (and Johston’s work), as when I gave a paper on that topic at a conference in the states this spring, I was shocked by the hostile response I received. One fellow presenter in particular seemed to think that there is no need to talk about the ‘problem of the pre-evental’ in Badiou’s work, as in the chapter on forcing in Being and Event he already gives us a theory of the pre-evental. (Personally, I think that is equivalent to saying we shouldn’t have invented flying machines because Michelangelo already sketched out some great options) That said, I’m planning on talking about the issue of affectivity and the pre-evental in the paper I’ll be preparing for this year’s SPEP conference, so I’ll hopefully post some notes here in the autumn while I’m getting it ready.

The other piece I found of interest is the related ‘Open Letter to Slavoj Zizek’ written by Adrian Johnston. While the piece is mostly his response to In Defense of Lost Causes, he also brings up a lot of interesting thoughts on nature, particularly in the way he qualifies Zizek’s assertion that there is ‘no such thing’ as nature. He also mentions a book manuscript that he ‘wrote after finishing his dissertation’ but was never published. Only Adrian Johnston would casually write up a quick book post-phd and move on before publishing it…lengendary.

Regardless, if you have some free time check those pieces, and the other in the issue, out.

politics and mathematics, continued…

following keith’s recommendation in the comments of the last post, i’ve been looking through Badiou’s The Concept of Model this afternoon and came across the quote he mentioned which is in the interview at the end of the book:

And finally there is a bizarre connection, a truly strange connection between politics and mathematics that has been totally central. It is not because there is a mathematics of politics, not at all. Rather the question concerns a politics that will allow for the secrets of thought. How does it understand thought marked out by mathematics? This is the question I would pose. (103)

i find this very interesting, and even if Badiou is not recognizing the priority of either the political or the mathematical (or both for that fact), he is at least acknowledge the strange tension existing between the two. i wonder if rather than trying to think through which one is ‘really’ the primary condition, it could be more constructive (as Keith intimated in his comment) to instead think through this tension (maybe even dialectical tension) existing between the mathematical and the political. thus, rather than prioritizing one, it could instead be the case that Badiou’s thought is a complex ‘dance’ between the two, in the overall process of his work is a constant flux between these two conditions.

that said, i really need to bury myself in some proper math literature sometime in the next year. should be painful….

Badiou, Forcing, and Politics

First of all, I know, a philosophy post? On this blog? In between the insanity of the past 6 months or so I’ve been doing little more on here than posting conference info and sharing the occasional link, but hopefully I can change that a bit.

I’m currently working on a paper I’ll be presenting at DePaul’s graduate conference next week. The title is ‘From Life to Liberation: Thinking Capital in Alain Badiou’, and while in a sense it builds on some previous work (including a paper I gave at Queen Mary last summer, and an article forthcoming in Political Theology), I am trying to do a few new things as well. A few of these ‘new things’ I hope to at least bring up are, in no particular order: Badiou’s relationship to Marx (primarily through a reading of Theory of the Subject), the lack of an axiomatic for capital is his work, and the place of the political in his ontology.

The issue I’m working on/writing on today is the problematic place of the political in his thought. I find this to be problematic not because of his inadequate theorization of the political and its relationship to the philosophical, but rather because there seems to be a fundamental politicization in Badiou’s ontology that he fails to acknowledge. While he offers four conditions of philosophy, and often notes the risk of suturing philosophy to any condition in particular, I find it fairly obvious that for Badiou philosophy, in practice, is clearly sutured to either the mathematical or the political. On a shallow level, one can see this by simply reading his books and noting how over and over all of his primary examples are political. On a deeper level, one can interrogate the mathematical terms used, and ask whether he’s more faithful to the axioms themselves, or instead to the political exemplifications they engender. One of the examples that I may explore in this paper is the case of forcing.

While my knowledge of set-theory is still pretty piss poor, here is what I find to be important. For Badiou, forcing serves as a sort of infinite subjective process, something that is tied to both temporality and the creation of a new present. This is not what forcing is in set-theory. It’s an instant mathematical process, completely formal, and not tied to any notion of temporality or process. So, in simple terms, it seems like Badiou stays faithful to set-theory up until a certain point, but then his true political fidelity seems to take over. Now, I could be reading too much into one example, but it seems clear that for Badiou the political has priority over the mathematical. But that said, I would love if someone with a more refined knowledge of set-theory could tell me that I’m wrong or push me in the right direction here.

And while I won’t go into it, if this is true then I think it brings up another important problem in Badiou’s thought (one that I’ve brought up before), and that is the issue of humanity and/or anthropology. If politics is primarily a human endeavor, and at the end of the day politics and philosophy are sutured, then I think this warrants a fuller discussion of the human in Badiou. (Supposedly this is coming in his next ‘big book’, The Immanence of Truths). If this line of thought is followed, then I think its inevitable that a return to a (certain reading of) Marx take place in the work of Badiou. The important distinction, however, would be between the Marx of Althusser and the Marx of Sartre. This is something that came up quite a bit at the conference last weekend (especially in conversation with Johnston and Hallward), and I think they key to furthering a critical evaluation of the usefulness of Badiou’s philosophy must take the role of Sartre in shaping his thought much more seriously.

Sorry if this comes of as incoherent rambling, but I’ve always utilized philosophy blogging for random ideas rather than well worked out treatises. Any thoughts on this appreciated…

Lecture in London: Kierkegaard for the 21st Century

for a bit of annoying self promotion…

I’ll be giving a talk at the Roehampton University, London (hosted by the Royal Institute for Philosophy) on March 23rd at 6pm. The title of the talk is Kierkegaard for the 21st Century, and during it I’ll be sketching out what I see as the main problems with the way Kierkegaard was read/used during the 20th century, and outline a new reading of him which puts him in dialogue with what I see as the currents that will shape philosophy in the first part of the 21st century.

If you’re in London and interested, come check it out. Details here.

most overrated philosophers, really?

in the past day or so quite a few bloggers have been throwing out their own candidates for who the most ‘overrated’ philosopher is. i had no intention to get involved in the debate, but just saw this posted on graham’s blog:

 Most overrated of all time: someone I like to read but can’t seem to use… Kierkegaard.

now, this quote doesn’t come from graham himself but rather from someone he knows ‘fairly well’. that said, i find the idea that Kierkegaard is the most overrated philosopher of all time  absolutely absurd. if anything, he has to be near the top of the list for the most underrated philosopher! has someone who works on Kierkegaard, it’s shocking how many people working in philosophy have never really given his work much attention, and it seems if anything most people’s experience with Kierkegaard involves reading Fear and Trembling and maybe Repetition in an undergrad course on existentialism. if the person who sent this to graham “can’t seem to use” Kierkegaard, this is likely their own fault.

along with this, i’m pretty shocked at how many times Sartre’s name has come up in these discussions as well. maybe he was overrated in the 60’s or something, but he’s also one of those figures who seem to be more and more relegated to undergraduate ‘introduction to existentialism’ type courses. and it is also telling that his most serious philosophical work, Critique of Dialectical Reason vols. 1 and 2 is only now starting to get some bits of attention in the english speaking world.

and just to perpetuate the debate, i think Nietzsche, Foucault, and Derrida are three of the most overrated philosophers, at least in the recent continental tradition.

immanence-materialism papers

I know a few of these were up a while ago, but almost all of the papers (including mine) from June’s Immanence and Materialism conference at Queen Mary are now up on the conference website.

If anyone has thoughts on my paper, feel free to comment. It contains a lot of ideas I’m exploring and playing around with, and I’m already convinced some of the arguments in this don’t pan out, but either way, would love to chat about it more, especially as some of what I try to outline here relates (i think) to the recent Hallward discussion.

Will of the people: notes

So, to hopefully push forward the discussion which started during the last post, I’m going to post some rough notes/thoughts on Hallward’s ‘The will of the people’.

I’ll begin with Hallward’s definition of ‘will of the people’, which for him is “[…] a deliberate, emancipatory and inclusive process of collective self-determination.”

For me the crucial question is in regards to the use of the term ‘self’ in this description, and more importantly, the question of anthropology, which resides under this discussion. At this point, Hallward has not developed any sort of an anthropology of this wiling self, or, free human. Although it may be coming in a more full scale work, I think any project of this sort needs to start with some simple questions on the nature of the human as such, and the subsequent capacity for this human to act as both an individual and as a unit of a collective project. A failure to theorize the human in this way is what seems to lead to the accusations of this project being either ‘vitalist’ or ‘folk-psychological’ (criticisms he anticipates in this piece).

Another interesting point in the piece is when Hallward claims:

“It’s no accident that, like Agamben and Zizek, when Badiou looks to the Christian tradition for a point of anticipation he turns not to Matthew (with his prescriptions of how to act in the world: spurn the rich, affirm the poor, ‘sell all thou hast’…) but to Paul (with his contempt for the weakness of human will and his valorization of the abrupt and infinite transcendence of grace).”

Two thoughts here. First, this brings up the generally interesting question about why recent political philosophers using Christianity for material have focused so much on Paul, for whom man is ultimately nothing without divine grace (theologians, correct me if I’m reading him wrong), and thus, using Paul seems to hold on to some sense of divine transcendence (whether this be the divine/god/void/nothingness). Hallward’s point here seems to once again focus on what could be called (in light of Badiou) pre-evental man. Whereas Badiou’s pauline subject comes into existence with the event, it seems as if Hallward is attempting to theorize the human as that which can will to act on its own accord, and subsequently use this individual will to reinforce and support collective will. Rather than drawing on some ‘outside’, Hallward here seems to want to emphasize the inherent potential (potentia) of humanity to act politically. Once again, this issue seems to reside on the question of anthropology, and a theorization of this pre-evental human. The risk here, from my perspective, would be theorizing the individual human in such a way as to not lapse back into a tired brand of liberal individualism, and instead theorize the individual as that which is dialectically related to the group at all times. The tension seems to be, how to keep the willing individual, without losing the group subject.

A bit further on in the piece, he quotes S’bu Zikode, who is the chairperson of the Durban shack dwellers movement Abahali baseMjondolo as calling for a ‘living communism’ which asserts the ‘humanity of every human being.’ Hallward seems to openly affirm this call, which brings up the question of the place of both life (living communism) and humanity once again. I know I must be sounding redundant at this point, but I must again ask, what do these terms (life/humanity) mean in this context, and how does a theory of the living human ground this theory of dialectical voluntarism as a whole?

I’ll stop my notes here (about half way through the article) to keep it short, and will hopefully post more later. But as can be seen, my main issue at this point is one of anthropology. What does it mean to be human for Hallward? And equally, what does it mean to be a living human? My concern revolves around who this human is that is able to freely will and organize in collectives. It may seem nit-picky, but for me these issues are crucial when one wants to theorize from the individual to the group in a way which thoroughly accounts for each.

Would love to hear some other thoughts on this.

what just happened?

So, in the past 30 hours or so, everyone has collectively decided that they hate Badiou. What a burst of originality.

I’m glad at least some people are getting the ridiculous and sad irony in all of this. I’m not going to bother linking to all the ‘lets kill the father’ posts out there, I’m sure you’ve seen them or can find them, but almost all of them share one troubling thing, an odd absence of any philosophical or textual engagement with his work. And, if I can make a guess, at least a few seem to be written by people critiquing a book (LoW) which they have not read, or, understood.

As I said in a comment on one of the previously mentioned blogs, this reminds me of being 14 years old and turning violently against one of my favorite punk bands when they would sign with a major label or put a video on mtv.

Dark and obscure doesn’t always equal rigorous or interesting.

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.