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Bruno Bosteels “Badiou and Politics”

August 15, 2013 Leave a comment

Bosteels, Bruno 2011. Badiou and Politics. Durham; London: Duke University Press.

Elements of dialectical materialism

Between a given situation and the various figures of subjectivity that actually make a truth happen, the real issue is to account for where one can impact the other, for how long, and to what effect. Ultimately, this is nothing more and nothing less that the question of structural change, of how a given situation can be thoroughly transformed in the event of a new and unpredictable truth. (5)

[…] dialectics ultimately means a form of thinking that grasps the truth of a situation not by way of mediation but through an interruption, a scission, or a cut in representation. (16)

[…] a decision in politics does not depend on the positive study of the circumstances in which it takes place (even when these circumstances include the history of the class struggle), nor can politics depend on the moral elucubrations of our (good or bad) conscience […] (26)

Politics is not the art of the possible but the art of the impossible. To be more precise, a political process must make the impossible possible. This means in the first place to give visibility to the excess of power in the normal state of affairs. During the revolt of May ’68, no less than during the still obscure sequence of later events – from the protests of Solidarity in Poland to the uprising in Chiapas to the second Intifada – this process involves a certain gamble, or wager, through which the state is forced to lay bare its inherently repressive nature as a violent excrescence, typically shielded in a military and police apparatus used both inside and outside its own borders. (30)

Politics […] has nothing to do with respect for difference or for the other, not even the absolutely other, and everything with equality and sameness. (31)

[…] we should always come back to the principle that „ontology [does not equal] politics” since politics, like the events that punctuate the historicity of mathematics as a truth procedure, involves that which is not being qua being. In other words, there is no such thing as a political ontology […] (40)


The absent cause

[…] we can surmise what will be needed to think through the possibility of a situation’s becoming historicized by virtue of an event, namely, a theory of the subject that is no longer reduced to a strictly ideological function but accounts for the specificity of various subjective figures and different types of truth procedure. (65)


Lack and destruction

Badiou’s argument is rather that idealism consists in denying the divisibility of the existing law of things, regardless of whether these things are ideal or material: „The indivisibility of the law of the place excepts it from the real. To link up this exception in the domain of theory amounts to stipulating the radical anteriority of the rule,” he writes: „The position of this antecedence is elaborated in philosophy as idealism.” (85 – Theory of the Subject, 184)


One divides into two

Indeed, if politics is to be more than a short-lived mass uprising or manifestation, what the idea of the party is meant to add, even if its name disappears, is precisely the question of material consistency, embodiment, durability, that is, the question of organization. „Without organized application, there is no testing ground, no verification, no truth,” as we already read in Theory of Contradiction. (128)

  1. In the cas of „leftism” it is the structural element inherent in every tendency that is neglected in favor of a viewpoint of pure, unlimited, and affirmative becoming. The typical example of this viewpoint is the adventurist tendencies fostered by May 1968 itself: „If, indeed, one neglects the structural element, one takes the tendency for an accomplished state of affairs.” Everything then fuses into the being of pure becoming.
  2. In the case of „rightism” it is the possibility of radical change that is foreclosed in the name of a purely objective analysis of the structure. The typical example of this is still, not surprisingly, the economism of the Second International: „If one neglects the tendential element, one inevitably represses the new in the name of the old, one supports the established order. One becomes installed in an opportunistic attitude of waiting.” Everything then is made to depend on the pure state of existing conditions. (134 – Théorie de la Contradiction, 81-82)

For the Maoist in Badiou, though, […] everything must always be split – split between itself and something else, as determined by the system in which something finds its place. (139)


The ontological impasse

[…] the fundamental thesis of the whole metaontological enquiry in Being and Event affirms that there is an excess of parts over elements, of inclusion over belonging, of representation over presentation. There are always more ways to regroup the elements of a set into parts than there are elements that belong to this set to begin with […] The state of a situation, in other words, cannot coincide with this situation itself. (160)

[…] the most important argument in all of Being and Event effectively holds that an event, which brings out the void that is proper to being by revealing the undecidable excess of representation over simple presentation, can only be decided retroactively by way if a subjective intervention. (161-162)

[…] far from presupposiing some wild vitality of pure presentation, this impasse of being is nothing but the result of formal counting operations that are impossible to fix. (162)

[…] the break with nature as a gradual and well-ordered structure implies that, for such a break truly to happen, the initial situation will have had to become historical. (164)

A subjective figure […] becomes reactive whenever the logical outcome of a truth process in retrospect is considered to be indifferent as compared to the event that caused it. (171)

An event is a sudden commencement, but only a recommencement produces the truth of this event. (173)


Forcing the truth

Truth, in order to become effective in the situation, must be forced. That this is always the case should not be understood in the sense of a structural invariant. Forcing is, on the contrary, that which in principle breaks, through a symptomatic and reflective torsion, with all structural or transcendental points of view – even with those cases in which, as happens so often today, the structure is supposed to include what we might call its point of internal excess, its constitutive outside. (189-190)


Logics of change

„Finitude, the constant harping on of our mortal being, in brief, the fear of death as the only passion – these are the bitter ingredients of democratic materialism.” (210 – Logics of Worlds, 514)

If we have a prior concept of what constitutes an event, if we know what the conditions are without which it is impossible to speak of an event in the „true” or „proper” sense of the term: if indeed we have such a philosophical concept or transcendental understanding of the conditions of possibility of an event, then by necessity any case that serves as an example of such an event no longer would be an event, since it would be predictable, foreseeable, exemplifiable in advance. If there is an horizon expectation, in other words, there can be no event. Or, to put it the other way around, there is an event only when there is no horizon of expectation, or only when there is an horizon of nonknowledge – of a faltering knowledge, or a powerlessness to know, to comprehend, to foresee, to expect. (217)


From potentiality to inexistence

Political conflict […] cannot be derived from prior data that would be given at the level of society or the economy. (232)

Precisely because of this, politics is an art and not a science, namely, because there is no objctive guarantee, in the sense of existing class contradictions, for the emergence of political antagonisms; instead, all such antagonisms are themselves the product of an artful intervention, with which a subject responds to the unpredictability of an event. (233)

For Derrida, in contrast, because there is never or there must never be any actualization into the living present of ontology, much less a certain or necessary one, a spectral possibility or potentiality is also always a form of inactuality or impotentiality. (234-235)

As I repeatedly mentioned above, an event is always an event for a specific situation, as defined by the evental site that is symptomatic of this situation as a whole. It is not an absolute ex nihilo creation but a production that starts out from the edges of the concrete void that is proper to this situation and to this situation alone: „There are events uniquely in situations which present at least one site. The event is attached, in its very definition, to the place, to the point, in which the historicity of the situation is concentrated. Every event has a site which can be singularized in a historical situation.” (242 – Being and Event, 178-179)


For lack of politics

Modern would be that period in which nothing „is” if it does not fall under the domain of consciousness, that is, under the control of the representational system that always seeks to oppose the world to the mirror of human reason. Finally, if the idea of forcefully dominating reality, according to this way of thinking, is what defines the essence of the metaphysical project, then the modern age of technique and science will also have been the nihilist age of the fulfillment of metaphysics, which at one and the same time is its exhaustion and its end. (254)

„I say archi-aesthetic, because it is not a question of substituting art for philosophy. It is rather a question of posing within the scientific or propositional activity the principle of a clarity the (mystical) element of which is beyond this activity, and the real paradigm of which is art. It is a question therefore of firmly establishing the laws of the sayable (the thinkable), in such a way that the unsayable (the unthinkable, which in the final instance is given only in the form of art) be situated as ‚upper limit’ of the sayable itself.” (267 – L’Antiphilosophie de Wittgenstein)


Appendix 1: Can Change Be Thought? An Interview with Alain Badiou Conducted by Bruno Bosteels (Paris, June 10, 1999) (289-317)

[…] I have always been concerned in a privileged way by the question of how something could still be called „subject” within the most rigorous conditions possible of the investigation of structures. (295)

Can we think that there is something new in the situation, not the new outside the situation nor the new somewhere else, but can we really think of novelty and treat it in the situation? The system of philosophical answers that I elaborate, whatever its complexity may be, is subordinated to that question and to no other. (307)

The event is self-referential and, in addition, it is nothing else than the set of elements of its site. Here, the same principle applies: if you isolate self-referentiality and the set of elements of the site, you cannot adequately think through what I propose as the event’s figure. Because as multiple, the event’s figure mobilizes the elements of the site, delivered from the axiom of foundation. Subtracted from this axiom, and thus unfounded, the multiple of the elements of the site is going to act in a peculiar manner, namely, by immanentizing its own multiplicity. But you cannot isolate this point of the event’s material singularity as such, since the event is tied to the situation by way of its site, and the theory of the site is fairly complex. It was Deleuze who, very early on, even before our correspondence, at the time when Being and Event had just appeared, told me that the heart of my philosophy was the theory of the site of the event. It was this theory, he told me, that explained why one is not in immanence, which he regretted a lot, but neither is one in transcendence. That’s what he told me. The site is that which would diagonally cross the opposition of immanence and transcendence. (308-309)