No Dialogue Is Possible: Badiou, Vergès, and the Question of Rupture

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No Dialogue

(This post is a continuation of some previous thoughts on Badiou’s essay ‘The Three Negations,’ which can be found here)

Perhaps one of Alain Badiou’s strongest allies in his articulation of the Event is an anachronistic one. Jacques Vergès, French-Vietnamese lawyer, was made famous by his defense of Djamila Bouhired, Algerian nationalist and fighter in the National Liberation Army in Algeria in the late 50’s. Using the ‘rupture defense,’ Vergès claimed that the French State had no grounds to try Bouhired due to its history of colonial violence against the Alergian people. Thus, instead of defending Bouhired in terms of the French legal system, Vergès approached the trial from the ‘outside.’ As he stated in an interview with Der Spiegel,

The other French attorneys who had taken over the defense in Algiers tried to begin a dialogue with the military judges there. The judges saw the FLN as a criminal group. But the Algerian defendants saw their attacks as a necessary act of resistance. In other words, there was no consensus over the principles that were to be applied in reaching a verdict. For me, it meant that I had to shift the events to outside the courtroom and win over public opinion for the defendants.

This lack of consensus marks the paraconsistent nature of the trial: it is both the case that Bouhired was guilty and innocent; guilty from the point of view of the State and innocent from the point of view of the FLN. It is this confrontation of view points that Vergès brought to the forefront of the trial. As critical legal theorist Emilios Christodoulidis writes, “the defense of ‘rupture’ aims at a confrontation with the system that is represented by the prosecution’s case. In its confrontation with the law of the State, its main aim is to derail the process all the time both using and contesting it…”(SR). Or as Vergès himself writes “rupture traverses the whole structure of the trial. Facts as well as circumstances of the action pass onto a secondary plane; in the forefront suddenly appears the brutal contestation with the order of the state”(SR). Ultimately, the strategy of rupture aims at a confrontation between defense and prosecution that, “excludes all compromise”(SR). It is here that we arrive at the classical logic that underpins Vergès approach: in defending Bouhired through the contestation of the legitimacy of the French legal system, by putting their judgment of Bouhired into contrast with France’s history of colonialism, and their use of torture on Algerian’s despite the State’s acknowledgment of the rights of the subjects of French colonies, Vergès disrupts the State’s legitimacy by positing its actual illegitimacy. That is to say, either France is guilty of ongoing colonial violence and thus revokes its legitimacy as a supposed, neutral, judicial third party; or France is not guilty of ongoing colonial violence and retains its authority, with no third possibility. The rupture defense, then, is an Event in the classical sense.

This defense which constitutes a rupture, is only a rupture (or an Event), since it achieves a critique which contests and posits “new rules of appearing”; since for Badiou, “an event is a sudden change of the rules of appearing; a change of the degrees of existence of a lot of multiplicities which appear in a world” (TTN). As seen above, Vergès led a defense of Bouhired not on the terms articulated by the court, but on the grounds of the principles which defined the legitimacy of the court itself. That is to say, what Vergès sought was a new set of ‘rules of appearing.’ Instead of terrorists, Bouhired was part of the resistance against colonialism; instead of a criminal, Bouhired was a revolutionary; instead of a murderer, she executed a traitor. And here we can see Vergès, and Badiou after him as an articulation of Fanon’s decolonial principle that “challenging the colonial world is not a rational confrontation of viewpoints. It is not a discourse on the universal” (WE). By establishing the incommensurability between the lives of colonized peoples and the legal structure of the French state, Vergès showed how the tactics of the FLN “could no longer be rationally contained within the context of the operations of the French municipal system of justice,” once France was seen for what it was: “a facilitator of the colonial brutality against an emergent people no longer subsumable to ‘le peuple’ (SR). Thus, Fanon’s argument about race and class relations in colonized Algeria takes on a new meaning: not only is one rich because one is white, and white because one is rich; within the French system of justice, one is just because one is white, and white because one is just. Within this logic of colonialism, there is no category by which the Algerian resistor can be recognized by except by the notions of an irrational ‘animal,’ a ‘terrorist,’ and a ‘criminal.’


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