Category Archives: politics

my first journal article, now online

please excuse the self promotion, but i was pleasantly surprised to see that an article i’ve written has finally been published in the new issue of the heythrop journal. The article is entitled ‘The Self and Society in Kierkegaard’s Anti-Climacus Writings’, and if you have access you can read it here.

if anyone without access to the journal has interest in reading it, let me know and i can email you a copy.

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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…

Kierkegaard and the Political

IT just posted an announcement for a day conference/workshop on the topic of ‘Kierkegaard and the Political‘. Those familiar with my work know that this is my area of research, so I may have to check this out. The schedule is as follows:

David Wood, ‘Singular Universal Once again’ (Vanderbilt University, USA)
Christine Battersby, Kierkegaard, ‘The Phantom of the Public and the Sexual Politics of Crowds’ (Warwick University, UK)
Clare Carlisle ‘Kierkegaard and the Question of Freedom’(Liverpool University, UK)
Alison Assiter ‘Love for Strangers: the Sublime and the Poltical’(UWE, UK)

They are charging 40 pounds waged 20 unwaged for this event. (wtf?) So hopefully there is a free lunch and open bar.

‘kierkegaard, metaphysics, and political theory’

my review of Alison Assiter’s recent book on Kierkegaard is now up on the Philosophers Magazine website. You can read it here.

it’s maybe a bit harsh, but at least honest.

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.

Hallward’s ‘The Will of the People’

This could very well by old news, but a pdf of Hallward’s piece from the last radical philosophy is available here.

While this has been around for a couple of months now, I’ve yet to see any interaction with it on the world wide interwebs. This may due to lack of accessibility, or because this piece (as well as Hallward’s current project) seems to fall outside the realm of what’s ‘in’ in interweb based philosophy these days. Personally, I have lots of sympathies with his project, and will try to find time to post some thoughts of critical affirmation soon. As I said in a previous post, I was surprised with the hostility towards Hallward’s position which emerged at the Immanence/Materialism conference in London a few weeks back, so would be interested in hearing others thoughts on this piece, and the project in general.

Ernst Bloch-Atheism in Christianity

Peter Thompson left this comment today on an older post, and I think it deserves to be seen by all:

Dear All
one of the figures who has been largely forgotten or ignored in the whole debate about liberation theology is Ernst Bloch, who, as a Marxist, took as his starting point the attempt to define the message of exodus in the old and new testaments as a self-misunderstood rational for the uprising of the subaltern. Verso are just re-publishing this work in English translation and I think it could answer some of the debates going on on this (excellent) blog. He anticipates much of the stuff which Badiou, Zizek, Meillasoux etc. have argued and posits the possibility of transcendence without the transcendental. The book can be found at http://www.versobooks.com/books/ab/b-titles/bloch_ernst_atheism_and_christianity.shtml
or http://www.amazon.co.uk/Atheism-Christianity-Ernst-Bloch/dp/1844673944and has an interesting and very good new introduction (hey, if I don’t say it no-one else will!)

I have heard about Bloch before but have yet to read him, but I’m glad Peter has brought this work (which was has written the introduction for) to light. As soon as it’s available for order I will definitely be checking this out. Of specific interest seems to be Bloch’s work on transcendence.  If anyone here is familiar with Bloch’s work I’d love to hear more…

new Kierkegaard texts

As many whom either know me personally, or know this blog digitally, have ascertained, one of my primary areas of interests is the work of Soren Kierkegaard, and specifically in developing a reading of his work which places him in proximity with the political and ontological concerns of the recent materialists (and/or ‘post-phenomenological’) traditions of European, and specifically French Philosophy. That said, there are two recent works which seem to share a similar concern, which is both exciting and encouraging.

The first, written by Latin American (but US based) Theologian Eliseo Pérez-Álvarez, is entitled A Vexing Gadfly: The Late Kierkegaard on Economic Matters.This one is not only interesting as its the first study (at least that I’m aware of) which takes Kierkegaard seriously on economic matters, and its about time. Even more interesting is that the preface to this book was written by liberation philosopher Enrique Dussel, on whom I wrote much of my MA (on liberation philosophy and theology). It’s always exciting when two seemingly disparate research areas converge. Regardless, I’m waiting for this to be available on amazon.co.uk, and I will likely post thoughts as soon as its in my hands.

The other book, written by Alison Assiter of University of West England, is titled Kierkegaard, Metaphyics, and Political Theory. Sadly, this is being published in the Continuum series which constantly publishes interesting sounding text in paperback only editions cost over £50, far out of the economic reach of this books prime audience, PhD students. That said, I’m hoping to get an inter-library-loan copy of this book to read, and I’m really looking forward to it. Taking Kierkegaard seriously in regards to metaphysics and politics is one of the issues which helps get me up in the morning, so its exciting to someone else with a similar concern. I must admit, however, that when I first heard of this book I was afraid that it would render my project un-original, but luckily, what I’ve seen of this work so far seems to be far from what I’m working on.

Regardless, both would be interesting for anyone wanting to reckon with Kierkegaard as a political (and inherently non-postmodern) thinker should give these a read. I’ll try my best to post some notes once I acquire these.