Between Badiou and Spinoza: On Epistemic Conditioning and The Doctrine of Parallelism

L'Avenç - Ramón Casas

“The true is generic, even when being is the power of singularities.”

— Alain Badiou, ‘Spinoza’s Closed Ontology’

(short essay currently in progress…)

0. Intro

In a short essay from the 1990’s, Alain Badiou addresses the persuasive force and fundamental shortcoming of Spinoza’s philosophy: it’s force, says Badiou, is that Spinoza has thoroughly proven that ‘Being can only be thought more geometrico.’ Spinoza’s shortcoming, however, stems from his treatment of Being independent from temporal determination by way of the Event. It is for this reason that Badiou claims that a theory of the event is the necessary supplement to Spinozism, in order to account for categories such as ‘indeterminacy, difference, subject, undecidability…” and so on. In a certain sense, Badiou’s criticism of Spinoza is reminiscent of the charge leveled by Hegel, which claimed that while philosophy must begin with Spinozism since it directs thought toward the Absolute, Spinoza must be rendered as a moment within the progression of dialectical thought since Spinoza’s Substance, by itself, remains static. Badiou formulates the criticism in the following manner: “The true is generic, even when being is the power of singularities.” In other words, the problem of Spinozism is how to account for the movement from the Infinite to the finite, from infinite intellect to finite intellect, and from substance to subject. However, what I want to show is that Badiou’s critique of Spinoza rests on several reconceptualizations of Spinoza’s own concepts; some reconceptualizations which are justifiable and some which remain untenable from the perspective of Spinozism.

Badiou will insist on treating the infinite intellect and extended things as separate, and on claiming that infinite intellection has an additional form of determination that is not found in extended things. Additionally, Badiou insists that there are three additional assumptions behind the arguments for the status of substance, substance’s relation to itself and things in the world, and its essence: namely, what is assumed in substance is a ‘proof of difference,’ what is assumed regarding the relation of substance and its modes additional to causality is ‘coupling’ and ‘inclusion,’ and what is assumed in the essence, or identity, of substance is an exceptional subject that is ‘heterogenous’ to Being itself. By reconstructing how this critique proceeds, we will be able to see that while it appears to be plausible that we can justifiably treat the infinite intellect and extended things as separate and coupled, Badiou’s claim that an infinite intellect has an additional form of determination that is not found in extended things misses all the necessary theoretical justifications found in the doctrine of parallelism; a mistake on Badiou’s part that at the same time grounds his entire critique.

1. The Implicit Assumption Of A ‘Proof of Difference’

Problems arise for Spinoza with the status of the relationship between substance and its attributes. That is, what underlies the relationship between substance and its attributes isn’t simply logical identity (e.g., substance is its attributes). Rather, this relation is constituted by some notion of difference, which gives rational grounding for the existence of an infinite number of attributes. This notion of difference is defined in two main ways. Implicit in Spinoza’s thought, this idea of ‘infinite substance’ conveys what Badiou calls a ‘determination of the indeterminate.’ That is, the role played by the term Infinite is one of Substances own internal determinations of itself, by virtue of its essence (causa sui). Second, the infinite nature of substance is expressed, numerically/quantitatively, through an infinite number of attributes. This means, then, that each attribute must be different in kind from, and therefore cannot be collapsed back into, every other attribute.

Now, while it might not seem like a real obstacle given the implication of difference in kind between the attributes of substance, Badiou underscores that the problem of the relation between attributes and substance arises because of how Spinoza conceives of attributes themselves; namely, as “operations of the intellect” that “give meaning to God’s existential singularization as infinite substance.” That is to say, if attributes are simply the conceptual mediators which arise from the intellects attempt to know and understand Substance, what is it about the intellect itself that gives it this specific function and capacity? That is, in Badiou’s own words, “the intellect is operative, but what is the ontological status of its operation?” It is by raising the question of the metaphysical status of the intellect itself that Badiou will build his critique of Spinoza.

In order to do this, Badiou begins by affirming Spinoza’s own definition of the intellect as a mode of the attribute of thought, and by affirming that the infinite intellect is a mode, also infinite, and follows logically and necessarily from the attribute of thought itself. Additionally, the intellect functions as a ‘measure of the power of God’ insofar as God is a thinking thing, and when considered under the attribute of Thought, God’s power is understood to be infinite: ‘All the things that it can intellect…are held to exist.’ However, Badiou takes this idea of God’s infinite intellection being equivalent to the infinite power of God as being separable and distinct from any other attribute of substance. It is this claim that sets up Badiou’s critique and should be quoted at length:

“Clearly, no other infinite mode imaginable by us posses such a capacity for measuring God’s power. This holds in particular for the other example of an immediate infinite mode given by Spinoza, movement and rest, which is supposed to be the correlate of infinite intellect on the side of extension. For it is obvious that no general prescription about God’s power follows from the pure concept of movement and rest.”

What is the possible justification for Badiou’s claim that it is only the powers of the infinite intellect that can serve as an adequate, and true, measure of God’s power? It is, for Badiou, the fact that what differentiates the metaphysical status of infinite modes of Thought from those infinite modes Extension is that an “infinite intellect presupposes an entirely different determination, one which is extrinsic. For the intellect, whose components are ideas, is equally well determined by what it intellects, or by what the idea is an idea of. ” Badiou’s reading is in fact corroborated by Spinoza in Part II of the Ethics in the propositions where he deals with the nature of the mind as the idea we have of our body (extended thing) in its relation to other bodies (extended things). For Spinoza, it is true that the ideas we have of bodies are conditioned by their relation to my own body and their relations to other extended things: “A human mind perceives the nature of many bodies together with the nature of its own body” (EIIP16Cor1); “The ideas that we have of external bodies are more informative about the condition of our own body than about the nature of the external bodies. I have explained this by many examples in the Appendix of Part I” (EIIP16Cor2).

In other words, on Badiou’s reading, the intellect is privileged precisely because it exists as a mode which is determined internally according to its attribute and externally according to the objects of the intellect. Here we begin to see what is at stake in beginning with the relationship between substance and its attributes: if the attributes are the conceptual mediators through which the intellect gains knowledge of substance, and if the infinite number of attributes are truly distinct from one another, then there will be certain properties of each attribute that cannot be found in others. In this case, the property that is specific to the infinite intellect is being determined by the attribute to which it belongs (Thought) and by the object of its activity (extended things). However, as we will see, it is from this idea that there is a type of extrinsic conditioning of the mind by extended things in the operations of the intellect that give Badiou the suspicion that the doctrine of parallelism is untenable since it fails to correctly thematize the minds dependence on extended things.

2. ‘Coupling’ contra Parallelism

Now, even if we are to accept this reading of the relationship between the infinite intellect and things in the world, the first major critique leveled against Spinoza by Badiou, is the following: while Spinoza’s argument for the parallelism between ideas and things seems to ensure the unity between the mind and the body, between our knowledge of the world and the essence of the world itself, Badiou insists that what grounds this union must be found in something other than the essential form of relation that substance has with itself; namely, causality. In other words, Badiou’s first major criticism of Spinoza regards the very connection between ideas and things themselves and is built upon his first claim that the mind is not only internally determined by the attribute of Thought but also extrinsically determined by the attribute of Extension. If Spinoza has barred any causal relation between Thought and Extension (since substance is the only true cause of things), and if causality is the essential and necessary way in which substance relates to itself, then how do the attributes of Thought and Extension relate to one another if not through a causal connection?

Regarding this problem of the unity of the attributes of substance, Badiou posits that what needs to supplement the thesis of parallelism is what he terms ‘coupling.’ This term, which is derived from Spinoza’s claim that a true idea is an idea that agrees with its object (EIA6), suggests that while Spinoza does not have an explicit account for how thought and extension are united, Spinoza holds the belief that what gives an idea its truth-value is an ideas agreement with its ideatum. It is because this argument hinges on the term agreement that Badiou will call ‘coupling’ a normative practice. That is, the coupling of mind and body is normative insofar as the criteria for the truth-value of ideas is their ‘agreement’ with their objects. Here we arrive at Badiou’s second major criticism: it is because the norm of agreement, which constitutes a true ideas, cannot be said to have a causal relationship with an infinite intellect that the idea of ‘coupling’ becomes necessary.

Now, if this operation of ‘coupling’ becomes necessary for an infinite intellect, then this underscores the fact of the difference in kind between attributes and gives Badiou reason to conclude that there is something specific to the infinite intellect that cannot be found in any other attribute. That is, if the thesis of parallelism were in fact true – that the same order and connection underlies both ideas and things – then the process of coupling with its norm of agreement would not be necessary. The fact of its necessity in Spinoza’s account leads Badiou to claim that

“…it is impossible to conceive of (or for the intellect to represent) a structure isomorphic with that of the intellect itself in any attribute other than thought. Consequently, the attribute of thought is not isomorphic with any of the other attributes, not even in terms of the relation of causality alone.”

Therefore, on Badiou’s reading of Spinoza, not only does the parallelism thesis fail at the level of uniting the attributes of substance with substance itself; Spinoza’s argument for parallelism even fails to overcome what many have thought Spinoza of resolving: namely, the existence of a difference in kind between mind and body, between res cogita and res extensa. On the Badiouian reading, the difference which guarantees that each attribute of substance is not simply interchangeable with every other one ensures that each attribute of substance will have something particular to itself. It is from these specific determinations proper to each attribute, and from Spinoza’s refutation of the idea that any two attributes have a causal relationship to one another, that the unity of the mind with the body, of Thought with Extension in substance, cannot be rationalized in the form of causality and must be said to be a relation of ‘coupling.’

3. Substance’s Heterogeneity

The third and final criticism of Spinoza regards the passage from the infinite to the finite; a problem, which according to Badiou, “constitutes the greatest impediment for Spinozist ontology.” In connection with the prior discussion regarding the infinite intellect, Badiou’s suspicion regarding this passage from the infinite to the finite can be formulated in the following way: Spinoza provides his understanding of the passage from the finite to the infinite, via the intellect, in part II of the Ethics. In propositions 38 to 40, Spinoza argues that what constitutes ‘reason’ is the construction of common notions; whose characteristic of being ‘common’ is derived from the shared properties of various things in the world. That is to say, on the basis of these common notions, rational activity is made possible. However, says Badiou, the status of truth in this Spinozist view ultimately renders Truth itself general and universal. As Badiou writes, “there is no true knowledge of that singular body of which our mind is the idea. But the finite intellect necessarily has a true idea of what is common to all bodies, and consequently of what is not singular, as soon as it is able to couple with it.”

While the claim that Spinozist truth is only ever general and universal may be seen, from within Spinoza’s system, as a virtue, it is here where Badiou’s ultimate objection can be understood. If truth can never be said of singular, finite, and particular things (Badiou’s claim that being is the power of singularities) and only of those things which are ‘most common’ to all things, then Spinoza has merely demonstrated the basic determinations of substance – infinite, eternal, etc. – without having given us the reasons, or causes, by which we can think and understand the particularity of things. It is for this reason that Badiou gives the title of a ‘closed ontology’ to his essay on Spinoza and concludes, in a critical light: ‘All truth is generic. Alternatively: what is thinkable of being is mathematical.’ Thus, when Badiou criticizes Spinoza for assuming that Substance is in fact heterogenous to Being itself, it is to indicate how the general and universal determinations of things via the second kind of knowledge (reason) do not in fact give us access to Substance itself. Rather, the type of knowledge derived through ‘common notions’ can only be said in a general manner, excluding the possibility of us having knowledge of particular and singular things on their own terms.

4. Critiquing Badiou’s Critique

What should be clear by now is that Badiou’s critique of Spinoza rests, fundamentally, on his disagreement with the sufficiency of Spinoza’s understanding of the relationship between the attributes of Thought and Extension and how their relationship is played out in terms of the doctrine of parallelism. For Badiou, while no two attributes of substance can be interchangeable with any other, Badiou’s argument is that what is true of the attribute of Thought (intrinsic and extrinsic determination) is not true of Extension (mere extrinsic determination). It is Thoughts dual determination – internally via its attribute and externally via the bodies it cognizes – that renders suspect the doctrine of parallelism since parallelism appears to claim that what is true of Thought is also true of Extension. It is the same order and connection of things which is found, each time, whether we consider things from the vantage point of Thought or from the perspective of Extension. However, this cannot be the case for Badiou since Thought appears to have an additional form of determination viz-á-viz extended things and thus, what is true for Thought cannot be said to be true for Extension. Thus, for Badiou, a more robust theory of ‘coupling’ will need to supplant Spinoza’s theory of parallelism. Now, very quickly, I want to underscore that while Badiou’s criticisms are persuasive, they overlook crucial features of Spinoza’s doctrine of parallelism and thus lead more to a misunderstanding between Badiou and Spinoza than any type of critique proper.

The reason why Badiou’s critique of Spinoza’s parallelism leads to so many misunderstandings is due to a certain type of confusion, or a certain equivocation between what Badiou calls ‘determination’ and what Spinoza calls ‘causality’. For Badiou, as we saw, Thought is determined in two directions while Extension is merely determined according to its own attribute. However, the claim that the mind is determined both by its attribute and by the modes of Extension in no way contradict Spinoza’s thesis of parallelism since what Spinoza denies in terms of the relationship between the mind and extended things is not ‘determination’ understood as conditions for thoughts operations. Rather, what Spinoza denies is any ‘causal’ connection between the mind and extended things, where ‘causality’ here means nothing other than ‘the reasons for why something exists’. That is, the body does not cause the mind nor does the mind cause the body simply because neither one nor the other brings their correlate into existence. In other words, the very fact that human cognition is conditioned by the very nature of cognitive activity as well as by the objects of its activity is explicitly affirmed and accepted by Spinoza unproblematically since this plurality of conditionality does not give us the reasons, or the causal connections adequate for understanding things from the point of view of Substance, for what gives existence to thought and extension respectively. Thus, the thesis of parallelism is less a thesis about the co-constituting, or co-conditioning, of the mind and the body and rather a thesis about how each term in the relation is not what gives existence to the other (to assume that one term in fact gives existence to its correlate is to move from Spinoza to Descartes, since for Descartes it was the operations of the mind that explained the nature of the body).

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Transcendental Clones & Generic-Humanity: Ray Brassier, Nina Power, And the Future of (Non-)Humanity

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“Thus, the non-human subject of the death-drive is neither HE nor SHE but IT: the transcendental clone. The cloned subject of transcendental parthenogenesis which yields IT as universal non-human subject of the unconscious-the unconscious subject with which I am identical in the last instance.” – Ray Brassier

This essay will attempt to build some conceptual links between Ray Brassier’s essay ‘Solar Catastrophe: Lyotard, Freud, and the Death-Drive’ and Nina Power’s ‘What is Generic Humanity?’ and asses one of the political consequences of this encounter. The hope here is that by demonstrating the conceptual solidarity between what may appear as two entirely different topics – the question of the conditions for thought with Brassier and the question of the status of universality in politics with Power – we gain a better understanding of how philosophical activity is conditioned today and what those conditions can tell us about philosophy’s relation to politics. Since this is an essay which seeks to build connections and develop their consequences, I will reserve most of my criticisms or hesitations for another forum.

I will first begin with a brief introduction of each essay with their respective theses and conclusions, then move to a discussion of what I understand to be the shared set of commitments common to both: namely, the commitment to a standard of immanence in Thought and Politics. Then, I want to read back into each essay, taken together, these commitments in order to get a better sense of what is at stake – where what is at stake is whether or not the life of the mind and the life of revolutionary struggle can feasibly be said, understood, measured, and most importantly lived as concrete reality and not a simple theoretical possibility. For each thinker, it is through interrogating the ontological and political feasibility of certain conceptions we have of ourselves as rational subjects and political agents via the the themes of Universality and Thought that we can move beyond the limits imposed by the definitions of Thought as circumscribed by a horizon of meaning, or politics as grounded on those inviolable features of the human animal.

By bringing both essays into conversation I will end with some brief comments on how a). the philosophical project laid out in Brassier’s piece calls for a ‘radicalization’ or ‘generalization’ of the implications effected onto theoretical activity by solar death as transcendental catastrophe and b). how the political project laid out by Power in the Feuerbachian-Badiouian register could possibly be seen as the practical/concrete extension of what is already given in the former. One of the chief consequences of this conjunction is the following: with the eradication of all horizons for Thought in light of solar death (Brassier) the corresponding political task becomes the attempt to actualize the material organization of human life in such a way that makes it possible for a form of living adequate to the ‘non-human subject’, or ‘transcendental clone.’ By projecting Brassier’s Laruellean corrective of Lyotard and Freud through the lens of the Feuerbachian-Badiouian conception of ‘generic-humanity’, we arrive at a single (albeit ambiguously alien or liberatory) conclusion: revolution can no longer be thought of as necessary on the basis that there is some Evil, or a violation of liberal-human-rights, in the world. Rather, revolution is necessary in order to organize human life in such a way that we begin to concretely and materially construct a form of life that actualizes the transcendental catastrophe of Thought itself. Thus, the ‘revolutionary maxim’ in this conjunction of Transcendental Clones with ‘generic-humanity’ is nothing short of the assertion that we must act in such a way that we can Transcendentally Clone the Real universally and without contradiction.

[1]. Only Transcendental Clones Will Survive The Solar Catastrophe


In ‘Solar Catastrophe: Lyotard, Freud, and the Death-Drive’ Ray Brassier revisits Lyotard’s question: ‘can thought go on without a body?’ For Brassier, what is of interest in Lyotard’s line of thinking is not so much the content of his arguments or the conclusions he draws from them. Rather, what is of importance is that in simply posing this question Lyotard raises the ontological status of cognitive and rational capacities vis-a-vis its embodiment in human animals. While Lyotard’s essay oscillates between two interlocutors – relevantly nominated as HE & SHE – where the male/masculine eschews a position in the affirmative and the female/feminine adopts the position of the negative. While the former proposes a way for thought to persist independent of embodied existence, the latter not only refutes this assertion but implies, further, that it is only through embodiment – and hence gender – that thought can exist as thought. For SHE, the body engenders thought as thought. Brassier himself opts to sidestep any attempt to reconcile Lyotard’s dialogue – because it remains impossible to conceive of thought without a body and it is not without critical import that the body-as-gendered holds a certain influence on how we think – in exchange for positing a third interlocutor: IT. As Brassier writes, what we are dealing with when Lyotard feels the need to emphasize the important fact that the sun will die roughly 4.5 billion years from now extinguishing all cognitive life with it, is not a cosmological or physical reality but a transcendental catastrophe:

It is because we are dealing with a transcendental catastrophe that Lyotard’s question needs to be specified. It should be: can philosophical thought go on without a body? I believe it cannot and can only continue to oscillate…between two possibilities: the claim that there is a horizon of all horizons, if not the earth then some other candidate, and the claim that we can keep changing horizons indefinitely. [Ray Brassier, 2003: 421-9]

Brassier develops the transcendental constitution of solar catastrophe by connecting Lyotard’s thought experiment with Freud’s death-drive. What is of importance for Brassier here is how Freud comes to conceive of the death-drive; Freud’s reasoning for why people compulsively relive traumatic moments even though it goes against the pleasure principle:

If the function of dreams is primarily that of wish-fulfillment, in accordance with the pleasure principle…then traumatic neurosis poses a problem for psychoanalysis because it resists explanation in terms of the pleasure principle: why is the patient compulsively drive to relive a shatteringly unpleasurable experience? Freud’s answer is that the patient suffering from traumatic neurosis is driven to repeat the moment of trauma so that his psyche can muster the anxiety required to achieve a successful cathexis or binding of the excess of the excitation concomitant with the traumatic breaching of the organism’s psychic defenses. Thus, the compulsion to repeat consists in an attempt on the part of the unconscious to relive the traumatic incident in a condition of anxious anticipation that goes some way to buffering the traumatic shock. [Brassier, 2003: 425]

A few things are of importance regarding the connection between the death-drive and the relationship between Thought and Solar Catastrophe. First, the relationship between compulsive behavior and the initial trauma that is barred from conscious experience and yet motivates conscious life is analogous to the relationship between the nature and function of Thought and the fact that 4.5 billion years from now the sun will die. Why? Because, like the originary trauma, solar death can never be constituted in human experience and is only knowable theoretically. Additionally, like compulsive behavior which is a reaction to originary trauma, thought (and for Brassier philosophical thinking) is thus constituted by this fact that cannot be experienced and only known.

However, we need to add an important caveat here. The transcendental nature of this solar catastrophe is not one that ‘logically precedes’ the activity of thought itself. Rather, as Brassier frames it, solar death draws our attention to the function and directionality of thought itself: how does Thought continue to project itself into the future, or continue to set ends for itself, given the fact of solar death, which would mean that whatever ends thought sets for itself are, in the last instance, futile? This problem of the future oriented activity of thought raised by solar death is seen as problem only insofar as we understand Thought as the attempt to overcome solar catastrophe itself. In other words, the problem of the future is a problem for philosophical thought insofar as this thought manifests itself as the compulsive behavior that reacts to an initial unconscious trauma:

Bear in mind that what is repeated in the death-drive is something that never happened: a non-event that cannot be registered within the perception-consciousness system. Thus, organic life merely recapitulates the non-occurence of aboriginal inorganic death. Similarly, terrestrial philosophy as quest is fueled by the non-occurence of solar death as impossible possibility. Solar death is catastrophic because the collapse of the terrestrial horizon is unenvisageable for embodied thought…and it is because it is unenvisageable that solar catastrophe overturns the relation between thought and its terrestrial horizon. [Brassier, 2003: 428]

For Brassier, then, the task at hand becomes one of retaining the insights of Freud in relation to Lyotard’s question of ‘can thought go on without a body?’ while at the same time developing an account of Thought that is freed, in some sense, from the need to act compulsively and reactively. “What if, instead of switching horizons and staving off death, thought could annihilate every horizon by effectuating the death that drives it?” (SC, 427-8). In order to do this, Brassier lays out three criteria for a thought which seeks to ‘effectuate’ the death that motivates thought itself: unidentification, unilateralization, and excarnation.

 
Unidentification is the conceptual construction of a subject that instantiates the identity-without-synthesis of death and thought; or in Brassier’s terms “This subject-(of)-death is the immanent identity of the death of the death that is the life of thought” [Brassier, 2003: 427-8]. Regarding the identity-without-synthesis of unidentification, this would be the way in which Thought can successfully bind the catastrophe that constitutes its own activity. Unilateralization, on the back of unidentification, is “the transcendental clone. The cloned subject-(of)-death is established through a form of transcendental parthenogenesis which yields IT as universal non-human subject of the unconscious” [Brassier, 2003: 429]. Unilateralization, then, would not only be the subject whose identity is the identity of the death that motivates Thought, but is also the subject who elevates the unconscious to the status of constituting the fundamental features of subjectivity itself. However, it is not sexual difference or sexuation that constitutes the unconscious subject. Rather, it is the aboriginal death transformed into effective and acting subject that is the product of unilateralization.

Lastly, excarnation means that a Thought freed from reactionary and compulsive activity “is not the labor of the negative but the organon of death” [Brassier, 2003: 429]. As organon of death, Thought becomes the conduit for the expression in thought and experience of the unconscious death-drive that motivates the life of thought but now no longer in compulsive terms, but in an expressive, productive, and colder register. With these three criteria (unidentification, unilateralization, and excarnation) Brassier concludes that a thought which can appropriate the death-drive that is the life of the mind would satisfy these three tenants and would be the properly non-human subject, the transcendental clone: “As organon, IT, the subject-(of)-death, inhabits the non-thetic universe of the autistic unconscious: IT is deaf, dumb and blind. This is the excarnation of thought” [Brassier, 2003: 429]. Thought-as-organon-of-death; a Thought that becomes aware, if only for the first time, of the transcendental catastrophe presented by solar death ultimately amounts to Brassier’s reconfiguration of Lyotard’s initial question of whether thought can go on without a body. For Brassier, Lyotard suffered from the misplaced concreteness of taking the death of the sun as either of phenomenological or of epistemic import instead of understanding that solar death is, in fact, of transcendental significance. If, following Brassier, thought is truly bound up with embodiment where one cannot persist without the other, and if solar death is true for thought just as it will be true for terrestrial life, then solar death is of transcendental significance because the death of the sun becomes the very thing which conditions Thought’s future oriented activity:

“Lyotard’s question…here serves as the pretext for dealing with another question, one that I think is perhaps more fundamental, although it only warrants a passing mention by Lyotard. This other question is: can thought go on without a horizon? The use of the word “horizon” here is intended to bear a quasi-transcendental charge. For European philosophy up to and including Nietzsche…the name for the horizon was “God.” Then…the name for the horizon becomes “Earth.” My aim here is to show that this horizon too needs to be wiped away.” [Brassier, 2003: 421]

Thought must become the organon of death and must be able to effectuate the death-drive (fact of solar death) that constitutes the vitality of the life of the mind because to think and live according to any series of horizons simply prolongs our understanding of that which is already true for thought itself: that the very condition for theoretical and philosophical activity is, in fact, that this activity is not constituted by any horizon whatsoever. Brassier’s corrective to Lyotard’s thought experiment aims at the heart of the terrestrial nihilism inaugurated by solar death in order to transform our own theoretical and philosophical activity in such a way that Thought is no longer the compulsive repetition of the (non)originary fact of solar death. That is to say, at the level of theoretical and philosophical activity, to predicate any Thought in terms of its horizonal purchase is simply to delude oneself and secure the life of the mind as the debilitating compulsive repetition of the very (solar) death Thought cannot grasp through experience all the while viewing this compulsion of the mind as one of the many epistemic virtues of philosophizing.

 
[2]. Connecting Generic-being with its Transcendental Clone


In her article entitled ‘What is Generic Humanity? Badiou and Feuerbach’, Nina Power revisits another classical problem in the history of philosophy: what is the metaphysical status of the human, especially in light of the concept of Gattungswesen (species-being). For Power, bringing Feuerbach and Badiou into relation around the question of gattungswesen is important, not simply for Badiou’s own appropriation of Marxism. The question of species-being, or ‘generic-being’, is central for understanding Badiou’s criticisms of human rights and his conception of what is actually ‘universal’ in terms of political struggle. Power suggests that, like Badiou, Feuerbach himself doesn’t hold onto a notion of species-being that is simply a taxonomical categorization of the human animal. Rather, for both thinkers, the human is that animal which is ‘unnatural’, or for Badiou ‘Infinite/Immortal’:

“What is most important to note about Feuerbach’s use of the term Gattungswesen is its distance from any straightforwardly naturalistic resonances – genus (or species) should not be understood as a taxonomic category. The ‘unnaturalness’ of man…is a crucial aspect of Feuerbach’s position. It is what distinguishes Feuerbach from Hegel, who used the category of Gattungswesen precisely to refer to the natural component of human life in the Encyclopaedia. Similarly, for Badiou…the potential for dissymmetry is what distinguishes generic humanity from any over-determination by its biological, victimized, human-rights-inflected descriptions, and allows for a rationalist, non-theological conception of immortality.” [Nina Power, 2005: 35-46]

The very ‘unnaturalness’ of Man gets translated into the fact of Thought for Badiou, and leads him to posit that it is Thought itself that constitutes what is generic, or universal, in humanity as such. Thus, each in their own way, refuse to ground gattungswesen in some biological or anthropological genealogy of human history. Rather what is generic, and thus constitutes the real possibility for universality, is Thought itself. Power goes on to underscore how Badiou himself relates this idea of generic-humanity with the tradition of revolutionary politics:

“What is unique about Badiou’s project in the wake of Heidegger is precisely his attempt to think ‘man’ anti-humanistically, that is, as devoid of the limitations imposed by transcendental legitimation, biological perishing, or moral destination – whilst at the same time preserving precisely the political force of the original humanist project, with its anti-religious aims.” [Power, 2005: 37]

For Badiou, any conception of gattungswesen that serves as the guiding thread and political axiom of revolutionary struggle must be evacuated from any residues of what is generic in humanity as being predicated on some form of biological, anthropological, or transcendental determination. As Power goes on to show, Badiou extends this evacuation of the residual ways of dogmatically determining what is generic in humanity all the way down to the idea of the pursuit of self-interest:

“For Badiou as for Feuerbach, interest is not a specifically human capacity, since all living beings protect their interests as imperative for survival. Thought as traversed by truth – this peculiarly human capacity – must be capable of being absolutely disinterested. Badiou writes, “Any truth procedure distinguishes the properly immortal disinterest from an abject properly “animal” assemblage of particular interests” (2001a: 15). Furthermore, thought and disinterest coincide in the overcoming of all that is finite in man,”Thought is the specific mode by which a human animal is traversed and overcome by a truth” (Badiou 2001a: 16).” [Power, 2005: 39]

While Power’s essay goes on to deal with the question of the infinite as it relates to Badiou’s ontology and politics, I want to shift our focus onto her discussion of Badiou’s critique of human rights discourse since it will have important bearing on the consequences of relating Badiou’s project with Brassier’s.  As Power points out, Badiou’s argument against human rights discourse in his Ethics is centered on the ideas that the presuppositions of human rights misconstrues what it is that constitutes the generic, or universal, character of humanity. For Badiou what is errant in this discourse is the definition of the human as victim; the definition of human life as that which must be protected from the physical, environmental, and sociological vicissitudes that befall it. As Badiou writes,

“For at the core of the mastery internal to ethics is always the power to decide who dies and who does not. Ethics is nihilist because its underlying conviction is that the only thing that can really happen to someone is death…Between Man as the possible basis for the uncertainty [aléa] of truths, or Man as being-for-death (or being-for-happiness, it is the same thing), you have to choose. It is the same choice that divides philosophy from ‘ethics’, or the courage of truths from nihilism.” [Alain Badiou, 2003: 35]

While these features of human existence (namely all those things which constitute our vulnerability to physical and mental harm) are important, and Badiou himself would not support a politics that seeks to neglect altogether the claims made by those seeking human rights, his argument is centered on the fact that this conception of the human, and a conception which guides our political projects as the desired aim, excludes precisely what human beings are capable of: namely, thought as that which gives us access to the universal. Thus, following Foucault, the criticisms leveled at a politics that begins and ends with the demands of ‘human rights’ simply replicate this desire for the ‘mastery internal to ethics’ which should be termed biopolitical. Thus, in order for politics to avoid being reduced to determining and administering life – the ones who die and the ones who are left to die – the democratic fetish for the recognition of rights must be subordinated to Thought as that which constitutes humanity’s ‘generic-being’. As we saw Power underscore above, a politics that administers and manages ‘interests’ is nothing but biopolitics. However, a politics that is motivated by the disinterested and universal character of Thought is a politics worthy of the name; where the concern for rights would simply be a moment of this politics’ pre-history.


Now I want to briefly draw out important similarities and summarize the key moments of Power’s and Brassier’s piece as it will be important for understanding the final section of this paper, which is something of a fusion of each essay. Brassier’s piece deals with the thought experiment posed by Lyotard and Power’s which deals with the question of species-being in the Marxist tradition. However, both of these pieces actually constitute parts of a larger set of questions/problems for both strictly philosophical motivations (what is the nature of thought?) and more readily practical and political concerns (what is the nature of humanity and how does this affect our conception of revolutionary politics?). As an entry point into Brassier’s and Power’s underlying alliance we can say that what is common between the two is the attempt to think of the nature of reason and the nature of politics, respectively, without its being indexed to something other than itself. Thus, for each thinker, there is a minimal commitment to a standard of immanence, where this standard means that whether we are speaking about the nature of cognitive/rational activity or the nature and structure of political struggle, each object of analysis cannot be measured, understood, nor lived in good faith (and this is the important conclusion I want to draw out at the end of this essay) as anything other than what the activities of reasoning and politics in fact are; both in their ontological and modal register.

As we saw with Brassier, what is important in Lyotard’s piece, and with its connection to Freud (and we should add here Nietzsche), is the problem each poses for the nature of thought itself. For Lyotard the impending death of the sun constitutes human death as already existing in principle and thus already existing for thought itself. Freud’s conception of trauma and the death-drive is important for us here since what Lyotard is highlighting – solar death in principle – is exactly what Freud understands by trauma. That is, trauma is that which elides our conscious perception; or experience; and thus is the motor of unconscious drives themselves. Thus, the attempt of consciousness to repeat in a compulsory manner the trauma which it has in fact never experienced is the attempt of consciousness to experience-through-the-mastery of its own motivation; it’s own constitution by something that can only grasped through the traces of trauma. Consciousness, we might say, in its striving toward the unconscious vis-a-vis its compulsive behavior is nothing but post-traumatic neurosis raised to the level of thought.


For Power, what is generic in humanity is Thought understood as the “capacity for universal, abstractive, activity, even (especially) in his isolation (his inner life)” [Power, 2005: 40]. It is the nature of Thought as that capacity for abstraction and universalization that marks off the human animal from the rest of the natural world, and hence for Badiou and Feuerbach, constitutes what is, in fact, the content of the concept of  ‘generic-humanity.’ If Thought is that aspect of humanity which expresses Universality it is because the disinterested character of Thought places us in the proper relation viz-á-viz the infinite (which is the object of ontology and politics) while simultaneously elevating the human animal above its brute (and ultimately animal) interestedness:

“The infinite comes into play in every truth procedure, but only in politics does it take the first place. This is because only in politics is the deliberation about the possible…constitutive of the process itself…politics treats the infinite as such according to the principle of the same, the egalitarian principle.” [Badiou, 2004: 32]


It is because Thought affords us a relation to the Infinite and because the infinite is given priority in the realm of political struggle, that Thought will be constitutive of our ‘generic-being’, our gattungswesen, and will be the very condition by which politics itself operates. Thus, what is common to both of these projects, while different objects are treated in their course, is the idea that the ontological and political conditions of solar catastrophe (Brassier) and Thought’s universal character (Power) require a substantial reconsideration of what we mean by the very terms of revolutionary transformation, liberation, and some form of rational and collective self-determination. It is this (albeit partial and incomplete) reconsideration of the meaning of revolutionary transformation in light of the transcendental conditioning of Thought viz-á-viz Brassier and the political constitution of Thought viz-á-viz Power that this last section will take up.

The important conclusion that will be drawn here, given the transcendental catastrophe for thought and the generic element of humanity, is the political prescription that we must be in reality what we already are in truth (where the reality of human social organizations fails to adequate (clone) the truths presented by the transcendental conditions for both Thought and Politics). Thus, it is not accidental that it is precisely this intellectual and political prescription that Althusser already discovered and attributed to Feuerbach himself:

“Feuerbach calls out to Humanity. He tears the veil from universal History, destroys myths and lies, uncovers the truth of man and restores it to him. The fullness of time has come. Humanity is pregnant with the imminent revolution which will give it possession of its own being. Let men at last become conscious of this, and they will be in reality what they are in truth: free, equal, and fraternal beings.” [Althusser, 2005: 43]


[3]. …And What if the Transcendental Clone was the Content of Our ‘Generic-Humanity’?


Now it is not without import that one of the guiding concerns we see in Brassier’s and Power’s theses is the shared concern with either the ontological or political status of Thought – whether as traumatic compulsion (Transcendental Catastrophe) or constituting our universality. And it is precisely this shared concern with the status of Thought that we can begin to draw some consequences from each thinkers object of study. Perhaps for a bit of theatrics we can begin with the consequence that we see arising from the conjunction between Brassier’s Laruellean reworking of Lyotard and Freud and Power’s clarification of the concept of gattungswesen in Feuerbach and Badiou: what is of consequence from this encounter is a theoretical and political project that seeks to create the material conditions under which what is true of the transcendental catastrophe for Thought is rendered as true in the lived experience of humanity’s Immortality.


Why is this one of the possible consequences of this encounter? For the very reason that the Laruellean corrective offered by Brassier does not seek to synthesize, fuse, or negate its predecessors but simply ‘radicalize’ or ‘generalize’ the very condition of thought as constituted by solar death.  It is this idea of opting for radicalization over synthesis or negation that I take Brassier to mean when he writes that Thought “is not the labor of the negative but the organon of death” [Brassier, 2003: 429]. That is to say, with Brassier, what we have is a reworking of how we are to understand the very conditions by which Thought functions. It is for this reason that Brassier alters Lyotard’s question in terms of a transcendental (as opposed to phenomenological, or epistemic) catastrophe. However, if we were to merely stop here, we are left with a sense of achieving a conception of a new type of subjectivity without the means for determining any other features about this mode of being other than the three criteria of unidentification, unilateralization, and excarnation. And it is at this point that Power’s essay sheds necessary light on the matter.

With the Feuerbachian-Badiouian assertion that it is precisely what thought is capable of (i.e., universalization/abstraction) that constitutes ‘generic-humanity,’ Power’s piece provides the necessary supplement to the Laruellean move – namely, while it is with Brassier’s Laruelleanism that we gain a new perspective on thought considered transcendentally, it is with Power’s reading of Feuerbach and Badiou that we gain insight into thought considered in its capacities. That is, by bringing these two thinkers together, we bring together what conditions theoretical activity and what theoretical activity can, in fact, effectuate. It should be noted here that if we remain faithful to the Laruellean inflection in this reworking of what is proposed by revolutionary transformation, we must also understand that bringing these two thinkers together is not simply a theoretical construction via conceptual addition: it isn’t that the Laruellean corrective is given its added supplement to enhance its overall project. Rather, this conjunction alters the very content of what the very concepts of ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ mean for us today.


In a certain sense, we should say that once we understand these transcendental conditions  and modalities of Thought, the problem posed for theory and practice, or for revolutionary transformation, become one and the same. Namely, how does one live their life, individually and collectively, in a way that remains ‘dictated’ both by Thought’s transcendental catastrophe and its generic-being? In other words, by what means and procedures can we fashion a kind of living that replicates, or ‘clones,’ what is already true for Thought itself? We should maintain that the consequences of bringing these two essays into conjunction remains focused on the question of the opportunities afforded to human beings to fashion their lives since it is precisely this idea that is implied in Brassier’s piece. As Laruelle himself writes, “The identity of the real is lived, experienced, consumed while remaining in itself without the need to alienate itself through representation.” Thus, the political supplement via Power’s essay is not the moment of Thought moving outside of itself in order to realize itself. Rather, it is because the philosophical problematic and the political problematic have become one and the same that the proposed task is the extension, or ‘radicalization’ of what is given for Thought viz-á-viz the transcendental catastrophe of solar death.


So, how does this ‘radicalization’ operate? Primarily through the recapitulation of the three criteria for Thought but at the level of a politics that remains guided by, or ‘dictated’ by, the Real itself. Namely, if the goal of revolutionary politics is the eradication of everything that constitutes any form of oppression, repression, violence, exploitation, etc., because these are conditions which obstruct our ‘generic-humanity,’ then, it follows that the goal of revolutionary politics would be to create and organize human society in such a way that what is generic in humanity is both theoretically and practically the case. Now, up to this point, the proposed project does not drift far from most radical/revolutionary political programs. However, the important ‘programmatic’ difference in terms of this Laruellean-Badiouian consequence is that revolution can no longer thought of as necessary on the basis that there is Evil in the world.

As we saw with Badiou, any politics that begins and ends with human rights can only be reformist at best while excluding the very features of humanity that can positively determine revolutionary transformation itself; namely, our ‘generic-being’. And here we should turn Badiou on his head, so to speak. Instead of his formula regarding the inherent nihilism specific to ethics and human rights discourse we should assert the following: it is only by virtue of ‘cloning’ the nihilism that is at the heart of the transcendental condition for Thought into the realm of politics – where the inherently nihilistic situation of this condition arises from the eradication of any horizon for Thought itself – that we can, both in principle and in fact, relieve ourselves of the pathological compulsion of Thought’s dependence on the fictions of fixed, or quasi-fixed, horizons. It is the fact of nihilism as transcendental condition of Thought coupled with the understanding that Thought is what gives us our generic-humanity that we can positively determine revolutionary transformation; one where revolution is necessary in order to organize human life in such a way that we can begin to live (according to and sustainably with) the transcendental catastrophe that is nihilism, which conditions that which is most markedly proper to humanity. Or, what amounts to the same, what is specific and singular for Thought itself. If the transcendental clone is the only one who can survive nihilism as its very condition for existence it is because the transcendental clone understands that it is the cloning of nihilism to which any revolutionary politics worthy of the name is alloyed.

Notes on Badiou’s ‘Affirmative Dialectics’

Soyez réalistic demandez l'impossible '68

 

The fundamental problem in philosophy today, for Alain Badiou, is the creation of a new logic “or more precisely, a new dialectics” (1). It is this new logic that precedes any considerations regarding “politics, life, creation, or action” (1). For Badiou, the two main problems that Marx dealt with (revolutionary politics and a new dialectical framework) are our problems today. Thus, Badiou’s search for a new form of dialectics is characterized by his concern with rectifying revolutionary politics “after two centuries of success and failures in revolutionary politics, and in particular, after the failure of the State-form of socialism” and by articulating a new logic which corresponds to “a new philosophical proposition adequate to all forms or creative novelty” (1). This can be summed up, as Badiou himself does, in one word: negativity. “If you want, our problem is the problem of negativity” (1).

For Badiou, when we think of political action in a dialectical manner, we find ourselves already immersed and committed to the classical dialectical logic which privileges negation and understands novelty to arise from this process. In this framework, “The development of the political struggle is fundamentally something like ‘revolt against’, ‘opposition to’, ‘negation of’, and the newness – the creation of the new State, or the creation of the new law – is always a result of the process of negation. This is the Hegelian framework; you have a relation between affirmation and negation, construction and negation, in which the real principle of movement, and the real principle of creation, is negation” (1-2). If we commit ourselves to the classical dialectical logic, then we are necessarily committed to understanding “the very definition of the revolutionary class” as that which is “against the present State or against the present law in the precise sense that revolutionary consciousness, as Vladimir Lenin would say, is basically the consciousness that one stands in a relation of negation to the existing order” (2). Therefore, in classical dialectical logic, negation is the principle of creativity, novelty, and political action is characterized by the oppositional manner in which the proletariat engages with the bourgeois state.

For Badiou, the classical dialectical logic “cannot be sustained today” (2). The crisis of the ‘trust in the power of negativity’ is characterized by a critique which claims, on the one hand, Hegelian dialectics being too affirmative (e.g., Adorno), and on the other, Hegelian dialectics being too negative (e.g., Negri and Althusser). The crisis, then, is characterized by either side that Hegelian dialectics goes too far in either the direction of negativity or affirmation: one either risks submitting to “the potency of the Totality and of the One’ or one risks forgoing the model of philosophy set forth by Spinoza, who is the main source of the anti-Hegelian critiques of Negri and Althusser. With the latter group of neo-Spinozists, Badiou writes “They find in Spinoza a model of philosophy which is finally without negation. We know today that in this way, we have an accepting of the dominant order, through the conviction that this order is full of newness and creativity, and that finally modern capitalism is the immediate strength which works, beyond the empire, in the direction of a sort of communism” (2). While not the most accurate of portrayals of the positions taken by Negri and Althusser, what is essential for Badiou is underscoring the full affirmation, the abandoning of the role played by negation, in analyzing and making sense of contemporary capitalism. It is true that both Negri and Althusser opt for Spinoza’s substance in opposition to Hegelian dialectics, and for this, Badiou remains skeptical since he remains convinced that the role of the negative retains a certain importance in thinking revolutionary politics and a new form of dialectics which can account for creative novelty without relying on negation pure and simple. To choose the paths of Adorno, or Negri and Althusser result in either “the aesthetics of human rights” or a “Nietzschean ‘Gay Science’ of History” which destroys all forms of dialectical thought, respectively (3).

Given the crisis of our trust in the power of negativity, Badiou writes, “I think the problem today is to find a way of reversing the classical dialectical logic inside itself so that the affirmation, or the positive proposition, comes before the negation instead of after it. In some sense, my attempt is to find a dialectical framework where something or the future comes before the negative present. I’m not suggesting the suppression of the relation between affirmation and negation – certainly revolt and class struggle remain essential – and I’m not suggesting a pacifistic direction or anything like that. The question is not whether we need to struggle or oppose, but concerns more precisely the relation between negation and affirmation. So when I say that there is something non-dialectical…formal it’s the same idea” (3). Ultimately, for Badiou, the answer to this crisis in the negative is the understand that it is, what he calls “primitive affirmation” that comes before negation and therefore, the principle of change and novelty is not negation (although it has its role to play) but rather affirmation (Affirmative Dialectics) (3).

Affirmation Precedes Negation: From St. Paul to Democracy

In order to understand how positivity precedes the negative, Badiou relies on his vocabulary of Event and Subject. So, how do we account for how affirmation precedes negation? For Badiou, it begins with understanding how Events transpire in Worlds. For Badiou, it is with an Event that we can begin to understand how affirmation precedes negation. As he writes, “an event is not initially the creation of a new situation. It is the creation of a new possibility, which is not the same thing. In fact, the event takes place in a situation that remains the same, but this same situation is inside the new possibility” (3).

Thus, with an Event we have the existence of a new possibility within a world, while at the same time having that world remain fundamentally unaltered by the event. These are the Events two defining characteristics, for Badiou. Second, and following from this definition of an Event, we have the understanding of the subject, or a “new subjective body:” “A new subjective body is the realization of the possibility that is opened by the event in a concrete form, and which develops some consequences of a the possibility. Naturally, among these consequences there are different forms of negation…but there forms of negation are consequences of the birth of the new subjectivity, and not the other way around; it is not the new subjectivity that is a consequence of the negation. So there is something really non-dialectical – in the sense of Hegel and Marx – about this logic, because we do not start with the creativity of negation as such, even if the site of negativity is certainly included in the consequences of something which is affirmative” (4).

This idea, that affirmation and the positivity of an event precedes the various forms of negation is what Badiou understands to be at stake in figures like St. Paul. As Badiou writes, “what is interesting in the example of Paul is that the very beginning of something new is always something like a pure affirmation of the new possibility as such. There is a resurrection; you have to affirm that! And when you affirm the resurrection, and you organize that sort of affirmation – because affirmation is with others and in the direction of others – you create something absolutely new, not in the form of a negation of what exists, but in the form of the newness inside what exists. And so there is no longer negation on the one hand and affirmation on the other. There is rather affirmation and division, or the creation that grounds the independence of new subject from within the situation of the old. This is the general orientation of the new logic” (5).

Paul, by virtue of the fundamental change instituted by the resurrection regarding his own existence, becomes the figure of Badiou’s affirmative dialectics: the principle of change is affirmation, whereby negation takes a secondary role. The example of Paul, because he is the figure of this new logic, is exemplary of a new relationship to Power and a new conception of resistance. As Badiou goes on to inquire, “is there today a possible good use of the word ‘democracy’?”(5). This simple question is what allows Badiou to unfold the difference between classical Hegelian and Marxist dialectics and Badiou’s affirmative dialectical logic. The further we begin to inquire into the debate between the good and bad use of the word democracy, its political relevance and the debates political importance, we may often find ourselves in a particularly defensive position, if we want to retain the word ‘democracy’ in our political vocabulary. Badiou opts for this position, while outlining the possible trap laying at the end of the road for those who remain committed to the classical version of dialectical thought:

“I have decided ultimately to keep the word, ‘democracy’. It’s generally a good thing to keep the word, because there is something problematic about leftists saying, ‘I am not interested in ‘democracy’ at all, because it has become practically meaningless’…The situation is difficult because we have to criticize the actual ‘democracies’ in one sense and in a different sense we have to criticize the political propaganda made today about the term ‘democracy’. If we do not do this we are paralyzed. In this case we would be saying ‘yes, we are in a democracy, but democracy can do something else’ and we would ultimately be in a defensive position. And this is the opposite of my conception, because my position is to begin by affirmation, not at all by a defensive position. So, if we keep the world, we must divide the signification of the world classically and differentiate between good democracy and bad democracy, between the reactionary conception of democracy and the progressive conception of democracy” (6).

Thus, everything rests on the division: the division between good and bad democracy, between reactionary and progressive democracy, etc. While in the traditional Marxist framework this division is grounded on class divisions, which then allowed on to understand popular democracy as distinct from bourgeois democracy. However, for Badiou, “this strict duality, however, is not convincing in the framework of a new dialectical thinking; it’s too easy to determine negatively the popular democracy as being everything the state democracy is not” (6-7). In order to evade the trap and the inefficient logic of Hegelian dialectics, Badiou offers “three understandings of democracy” (7). These ‘three understandings of democracy’ are all rooted in this new logic which has four terms, instead of Hegel’s three: “Hegel has three terms, because after the negation and the negation of negation, he has the totality of the process, the becoming of the absolute knowledge as a third term, but for me, after two different affirmation [Event and Subject], the conservative one and the affirmation of the new possibility, I have two different negations. It’s because the conservative negation of novelty by the reaction is not the same as the negative part, against the conservative position, of the new affirmation” (7).

Thus the three understandings of Democracy: 1) Democracy = a form of State (representative or parliamentary). 2) Democracy = “movement…which is not democracy directly in the political sense, but perhaps more in the historical sense.” So when democracy takes place, it is democracy in the form of an event. This is the sense of democracy in the work of Jacques Rancière, for example. For Rancière, as for me, democracy is the activation of the principle of equality. When the principle of equality is really active, you have some version of our understanding of democracy: that is, democracy as the irruption of collective equality in a concrete form, which can be protest or insurrection or popular assembly or any other form in which equality is effectively active” (7).

Badiou notes that this second definition of democracy is less understood as a system of governance than a “form of a sudden emergence in history, and ultimately of the event” (8). That is to say, when democracy signals collective equality within a situation understood as a movement, democracy is present insofar as democracy means, in this instance, “collective equality in a concrete form” (7). However, the third form of democracy is still different from these two understandings. As Badiou writes, “we have to find a third sense of democracy, which is properly the democracy of the determination of the new political subject as such. This is my ultimate conception. Democracy for me is another name for the elaboration of the consequences of collective action and for determining the new political subject” (8). It is from these three articulations of democracy (State, political action in relation to an Event, and Determination of New Subjects) that Badiou arrives at his 4 terms:

i) classical representative democracy (form of State power)

ii) mass movement democracy (historical)

iii) democracy as a political subject

iv) Communism (vanishing of the State, which is the historical and negative inscription of politics in History).

Badiou provides another example – the relationship between politics and power – to illustrate how affirmation precedes negation in his affirmative dialectics. Here Badiou takes as an example his own political activism regarding sans papiers  and one’s relation to the State in this circumstance. If we are to struggle for the livelihood and political power of immigrants coming into France, “we will have to confront new laws and decisions of the State, and we will have to create something that will be face to face with the State-not inside the State, but face to ace with it. So, we will have a ‘discussion’ with the State, or we will organize various forms of disruption. In any case, we will have to prescribe something about the State from outside” (9). Here we see the role of “struggle” as it appears in affirmative dialectics: in confronting State power, and particularly, a State which excludes and perpetuates violence against a portion of its population, what is necessary is not simple negation, mere opposition to the State. Rather, Badiou claims, resistance to State power begins with a prescription, from those who resist and addressed to the State, all from the outside. Here we are reminded of what Badiou writes in his text Metapolitics regarding the relationship between the power of the State and the truth procedure of politics, which alludes to the same thought: “The real characteristic of the political event and the truth procedure that it sets off is that a political event fixes the errancy and assigns a measure to the superpower of the State. It fixes the power of the State. Consequently, the political event interrupts the subjective errancy of the power of the State. It configures the state of the situation. It gives it a figure; it configures its power; it measures it” (Metapolitics, 145).This is, for Badiou, what characterizes politics: the prescription and measure of the power of the State by a mass or movement which has “collective equality in a concrete form” as its axiom.

If struggle, in accord with this new dialectical framework with two affirmations and two negations, does not privilege negation as its creative principle, it is because, as Badiou writes, “to be somebody is to be inside the State, otherwise you cannot be heard at all. So there are two possible outcomes. Either finally there is a discussion and some political results or else there is no room for discussion because we are nobody. It is once more the precise question of affirmation: how can we be somebody without being on the inside? We must affirm our existence, our principles, our action, always from outside” (10). That is to say, there is a ‘primitive’ affirmation which precedes negation when we understand political activity as finding its place outside of the State. It is outside of the state that characterizes Badiou’s conception of ‘class struggle.’ For Badiou, class struggle is no longer internal to State power, and therefore the contradiction of bourgeois society is not between Labor and Capital. Rather, for Badiou, if resistance always begins, and comes from, the outside, this new logic must articulate the relationship between the State and those who resist the state. Articulating the logic of resistance as first, beginning with affirmation which precedes all negation, and second, operates as an ‘outside’ to Capital can be seen in the passages of Tiqqun, which seems to dovetail nicely with Badiou’s project to think beyond the Hegelian-Marxist dialectic:

“…under Empire, negation comes from outside, that it intervenes not as heterogeneity in relation to homogeneity, but as heterogeneity itself, as heterogeneity in which the forms-of-life play in their difference. The Imaginary Party can never be individuated as a subject, a body, a thing or a substance, nor even as an ensemble of subjects, bodies, things and substances, but only as the occurrence of all of that. The Imaginary Party is not substantially a remainder of the social totality but the fact of this remainder, the fact that there is a remainder, that the represented always exceeds its representation, that upon which power exercises itself forever escapes it. Here lies the dialectic. All our condolences.”

In the end, Badiou’s article provides one with many starting points, and various ways to begin to pose the question according to his ‘affirmative dialectics,’ and allows us to understood what is at stake and how processes of truth relate to Events on account of the affirmation which precedes negation.