Subject and Appearance: On Alain Badiou’s Theory of the Subject and Logics of Worlds

Subject and Appearance: On Alain Badiou’s Theory of the Subject and Logics of Worlds

Event held at Bolivar Hall Friday 20th November 2009

Speakers: Bruno Bosteels & Kristin Ross (Theory of the Subject) Alberto Toscano & Ali Alizadeh (Logics of Worlds)

Chair: Peter Hallward, Peter Osborne

Introduction (Peter Hallward): Badiou’s philosophy concerns changing the logic of the world, topologically constituted by the space of placements or l’esplace in Badiouan terminology, ‘not in order to change the bourgeoisie, but to change the bourgeois world’. Therefore he is concerned with the political project of the proletariat. There are two dominant structures to his thought:

i. The Logic of Place (splace), which is a logic of historical topology.
ii. History as aspect of the dialectic, in which history takes secondary status to politics.

The theory of a militant subject is not a science of history, in which history is mere appearance. The emphasis is on political needs over and above what seems historically or teleologically feasible.

[…] it is always in the interest of the powerful that history is mistaken for politics….Science of history? Marxism is the discourse with which the proletariat sustains itself as subject. We must never let go of this idea. [p44 Theory of the Subject]

Bruno Bosteels: On The Role of History – What is Badiou’s relation to Marx? Badiou’s relation to Marx lies in the concept of inexistence (the impossible), potential and actualization. Here Borsteels made reference to Marx’s 1843 Letter to Ruge and the relationship of the dream to change in history:

“The reform of consciousness consists only in making the world aware of its own consciousness, in awakening it out of its dream about itself, in explaining to it the meaning of its own actions.”

So, the image of the dream and its realization of the new is the conscious actualization of a potential world – whereas the dream itself eludes the grip of the world – an acutalization made manifest in practice (see Lukács, Benjamin and Lenin). Therefore the rupture, gap or dream is the fictive extension of the situation, which appears in philosophy in one of the following forms:

i. Spectrality without presence or non-actual radical potentiality (Heidegger/Derrida)
ii. Real Virtuality or virtual-actual, the actualization of latent potential (Deleuze/Benjamin)
iii. Actual Impossibility (Badiou/Zizek)

The actual impossibility of Badiou’s metapolitics is the art of the impossible, and consequently, not a science. The structural impossibility of the transgression of the forbidden could be characterized as a deadlock between the impossible and its actualization. Therefore, impossibility must must be forced into the open of the event. This forcing requires a subjective intervention; the doing of an intervening subject which is only retroactively readable as such. Impossibility or inexistence gives minimal anchorage that prevents political adventurism. The evental site (or splace) – which Deleuze states crosses immanence and transcendence diagonally – is the weakest link in the chain. This is exactly the same as Althusser calls overdetermination, combining Freud and Mao, as a way of thinking about the multiple forces active at once in any political situation, without falling into an over-simple idea of these forces being simply contradictory.

[“…the representation of dream thoughts in images privileged by their condensation of a number of thoughts in a single image (condensation), or by the transference of psychic energy from a particularly potent thought to apparently trivial things … [For Althusser] overdetermination of a contradiction is the reflection in it of its conditions of existence within the complex whole.” – Brewster]

The evental site itself has no matheme and constitutes a movable concept in Badiou’s thought. It is the site where history is inscribed (i.e. the hidden abode of the factory), cut loose from history? Is it more worldly or more transcendent? Does it constitute truth within a given world? Inexistence is derived from Theory of the Subject‘s lesson from the Commune, the event that gives existence to the inexistent. Bosteels questions whether inexistence is too structural in Logics of Worlds (Section 3), where the logic of not-all-ness in conceived of as anti-frontier (an excess of the multiple that limits the world?). In Theory of the Subject immigrants figure as inexistence with regard to proper totality (i.e. the national multiple); they are the internally excluded. Therefore there is an inherent limit to any given totality in the figure of the not-all which lends existence to the non-exsitence; much like Žižek’s ‘perverse supplement’. Badiou criticizes any gesture designed ‘to give equal rights’ as feeble – it is not adequate to merely give papers to the ‘sans papiers’. Conversely, multi-national unity is an excess immanent to the Whole, a transformation from feeble positive potential into negative potential, in which a historical subjective break exceeds the axioms of possibility. The event is not prescribed by given possibilities, but the possibility of possibilities. Under such conditions the Real equals the impossible, here such conditions inaugurate the advent of the Real whereby the subject introduces a minimal gap; the force of which may be impossible to limit. Here we return to Marx’s original dream.

Kristin Ross: Badiou’s Pantheon – Discussion of Badiou’s pantheon of poets. Mallarmé is a purified poet or poet’s poet and the protagonist is Badiou’s thought. He renders more pure the thought of the masses, a negative being which annunciates being at the point at which it vanishes. Mallarmé’s syntactical complexity (i.e. the hypertactical dimension or military organization) is a machine to produce thought, capable of invoking the an event in its absence or vacancy. He is therefore a retroactive thinker of the event post-Commune (along with Edgar Allan Poe, Verne and Rimbaud). However, Ross asks if Badiou’s argument can only be made through high-modernist texts? Suggests that the warding off that modernist aesthetics effectuates has the consequence of gendering as feminine everything that is devalued. By considering everything else to be an inferior understanding lends his argument misogynistic overtones.

Ross also offers the a critique of Badiou’s reading of the Commune, derived from Julien Gracq’s Lettrines, asking if it is anti-communard – whereas Marx was considerably more tolerant of the Commune’s leaders. Does Badiou agree with the passage? Does the desire to be led come from the people? Is the event being used to lend gravitas to the philosopher? Does Badiou still believe that intellectuals should still lead the workers? [Bosteels jokes, ‘if only the masses were still asking us to lead them’]

Alberto Toscano: Logic and Appearance – Badiou opposes democratic imperialism with dialectical materialism. This requires the concept of a world and asks what the idea of a world might mean. Capitalism within Badiou is both a worldless system and at other times a one-world system. Logics of Worlds is a somewhat polemical gesture against French Heideggerianism. He also casts Negri as his nemesis, describing this hegemonic ideological fluid of democractic imperialism which is only made up of ‘bodies and language’. Badiou states that beyond bodies and language there are also truths (dialectical oppositions). The dialectic materialism of appearance and being is a polemic against the vague categories of ‘Life’ and ‘Spirit’, setting Badiou against vital potentiality. Therefore Badiou’s philosophy is a natural philosophy, which begins with a rational choice with regards to intelligibility, utilising mathematics as the testing ground for reason. Badiou’s thought is plastic and equivocal about consistency and inconsistency. The inconsistency of the inexistent Whole of the universe is posed as a both logical and ontological universe, a multiple of multiples. See Russell’s paradox.

If there is the multiple of multiples there must therefore be a chimera (reflexive multiple/non-reflexive multiple?) a non-reflexive inconsistency, which precludes any Whole. This is an argument against the totality, the fact that everything belongs to the Whole is an obstacle to the Whole (a torsion). This shifts in Logics of Worlds in which Badiou perhaps resurrects structural analysis, in which there is a displacement of the non-totality of the site that breaks the laws of being. He links ontological impossibility (the chimerical) with the temporal (structural consistency). The concept of worlds as a closed totality shifts into the reflexive entity of the site. There is also a shift in notions of consistency and inconsistency, subjectivization and the truth procedure or body. And whereas stiuations are bi-facial in Being & Event, in which situations are structured presentations consisting of a double multiplicity of inconsistent/consistent, in Logics of Worlds this is side-lined in favour of individuated elements in being (a fully individuated domain without consistency). Therefore Badiou’s political examples are corrrelated to elements within being itself (i.e. things without virtuality). Is this a claim of access!? Materialism of the Real/actual in Logics of Worlds changes in the schema of that which inexists/exists. There is more emphasis on figures of unity in Logics of Worlds than in Theory of the Subject.

With regards to metapolitics, in Logics of Worlds there is a modification in category of state to world. Representation/State disappears whereas it is central to Being and Event. This presents a problem from political economy and the dialectic, as both the concept of State/Representation and World make any concept of Capital difficult. Particularly, since Capital cannot be regionalized in a world nor is it a world/global totality.

Ali Alidzedah: Hegel – Begins by alluding to Badiou’s ‘strange reading’ of Hegel and highlights difficulties with the mathematical formalization of philosophy. However, such a formalization lends it authority over phenomenology, hermeneutics and Hegel himself. Formal mathematization sutures –– in the Lacanian sense –– Badiou’s thought to the chain of discourse (lack and its structure). Here the suture stands for anyone that says ‘I’. There is no subject of science for Badiou, not even through the placeholder of lack. Instead, everything is signified or given a mark, such as Ø of Frege. For Badiou the subject belongs to ideology not science, the closed field which governs philosophy (or the psychosis of no subject). Theory of the Subject is the exception in Badiou’s work, operating without science and it is here where Hegel comes to the fore. Badiou achieves minimal relationality using Zermelo-Fränkel axioms and in later works, such as Logic of Worlds, mathematics thinks for him. Otherwise philosophy is sutured to politics through Maoism and Hegel’s logic fills the place of science in Theory of the Subject – so Mao → Lenin → Marx → Hegel’s Logic of Science forms the underlying structure of the subject. For Badiou, there is no subject thinking the logic/psychoses of Hegel or mathematics.

Alidzedah queries whether Badiou is seeking justification for what he already politically knows. For instance, subjective forcing is already present in his Maoism and this causes him to go find what he wants in the mathematics of Cohen. Does this inscribe Maoism into mathematical discourse? Also, in Badiou there is no discourse with Hegel, he is only seeking to clear the terrain of philosophy. For him, Hegel decoratively affirms his own thesis, allowing him to borrow dialectical reflection in a detemporalized way. Alidzedah goes as far to ask if Badiou wants negation or subtraction at all, instead favouring affirmation and perhaps even vitalism?

There is also the political danger that destruction will simply bring about the Same, by reproducing the possible. By abolishing the present will we abolish the memory of the Same and simply restore it? Alidzedah also suggests that Badiou might also be too greedy in wanting to talk about too much and perhaps even abdicates the responsibility of thinking.

Unfortunately, I had to leave before the panel discussion at the end, but Nina Power at Infinite Thought has posted a further article: Is Badiou a Modernist?

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About andrewosborne

Andrew Osborne has recently completed his MA in Contemporary Art Theory at Goldsmith's.
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