Category Archives: Sartre

Real Objects/Material Subjects Journal Issue (finally.)

So I’ve let this blog wither away into nothingness….but would like to try to insert a spark of being into it again by posting the table of contents for an upcoming issue of Cosmos and History edited by Brian Smith and myself. It features papers that are based on presentations given at the ‘Real Objects or Material Subjects?’ conference which took place at the University of Dundee in March, 2010. As C&H is open access, the issue will be available for everyone. I’ll post again once it’s online. Until then, here is what you can expect:

Real Objects or Material Subjects?

The Future of Continental Metaphysics

Table of Contents

Editors Introduction

Michael O’Neill Burns & Brian Anthony Smith

The Problem with Metzinger

Graham Harman

The Transcendental Core of Correlationism

Paul Ennis

Critical Idealism and Transcendental Materialism: A Speculative Analysis of the Second Paralogism

Michael Olson

Objects in manifold times: Deleuze and the speculative philosophy of objects as processes

James Williams

Becoming L’Homme Imaginaire: The Role of the Imagination in Overcoming Circularity in Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason

Austin Smidt

Beyond Objects, Beyond Subjects: Giorgio Agamben on Animality, Particularity and the End of Onto-theology

Colby Dickinson

Fanon and Political Will

Peter Hallward

The Necessity of Contingency or Contingent Necessity: Meillassoux, Hegel, and the Subject

John Van Houdt

Aufhebung and Negativity

Ryan Krahn

Lacanian Materialism and the Question of the Real

Tom Eyers

Materialism, Subjectivity and the Outcome of French Philosophy

Interview with Adrian Johnston


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…

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.

affectivity and the human animal in Logics of Worlds

In Logics of Worlds Badiou identifies four affects which signal the incorporation of a human animal into a subjective truth-process. These affects are terror, anxiety, courage, and justice.

The first, terror, “testifies to the desire for a great point” [86]. This point serves as the decisive discontinuity which brings about the new in an instantaneous fashion, and completes the subject in the process. The initial point is the break in a previous situation, or world, which inaugurates the opening of the path into the new one.

The second, anxiety, “testifies to the fear of points” [ibid], in which the human animal fears the choice between two hypotheses which comes with no guarantee. Thus, anxiety, in the Kierkegaardian-Sartrean sense, comes about when the individual (or, human animal) is confronted with the realization of free and contingent choice.

The third, courage, “affirms the acceptance of the plurality of points” [ibid]. Thus, one has the courage to navigate the consequences of an event in the form of points. To once again use Kierkegaard/Sartre as the example, courage is the affect which grips the individual who has overcome the anxiety of contingency and freely willed a decision.

The final affect is justice, which “affirms the equivalence of what is continuous and negotiated, one the one hand, and of what is discontinuous and violent, on the other.” [ibid] To justice, all categories of action are thus subordinated to the absolute contingency of worlds. Justice is thus the affective sign of the egalitarian maxim.

On page 87 of LW he goes on to note that “all affects are necessary in order for the incorporation of a human animal to unfold in a subjective process, so that the grace of being immortal may be accorded to this animal.” Thus, the human animal must go through each affect to enter into the process of ‘becoming-subject’.

While I am excited and intrigued to see Badiou relying so much on language of affect (which was a major lack of Being and Event, see Gillespie, The Mathematics of Novelty, for the best critique of BEin regards to affectivity) in Logics, I am also left wondering what is actually feeling these affects? And along these same lines, how does a/the subject ‘feel’ an affect? Because the subject is non-individual and non-human (as theorized by Badiou), what is it that feels itself feelingthese affects? Is it only a collective subject-body whom is able to feel enthusiasm in regards to an emanciptory political movement? Or can the individual be equally affected by novelty in this respect?

It seems as if theorizing the pre-subjective individual as the ‘human animal’ is problematic in these regards, and it would be more constructive to theorize the existence of the non/pre-subjective ‘human animal’ as the ‘individual self’. By providing a more detailed theorization of this individual self, we can have a self whom is self relational and capable of ‘feeling itself feeling’ theseaffects which subsequently lead it into the subjective process. As anthropocentric as Badiou’s philosphy of the subject is (no matter how much he argues otherwise), 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.

I’m still working my way through (the english edition of) Logics of Worlds, so more thoughts on this to come for sure. Would be interested in hearing what others are making of this language of affect in LW…

existential marixsm in postwar france

I’m sure many of you are already well aware of this, but if you’re not, Mark Poster’s important text, ‘Existential Marxism in Postwar France‘ is available online in the form of a well organized website.

Worth a read if you get the chance.