1968-2018: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose(?)

may 68 barricade bordeaux

A working (and incomplete) draft of my talk for the ‘’68 & its Double-binds’ conference (University of Kent)

[ intro ]

50 years on and who would have thought that France’s very own Christophe Castaner (Minister for Parliamentary Relations) would be the one to mark the occasion and set the mood. For Castaner and the institutions which he so valiantly defends, there will be little difference in how the State commemorates its 50th anniversary when, speaking to BFM TV, he assuredly claims that “There will be no lawless zones in France.” And just as it was for De Gaulle’s government in ’68, so too is it for Macron’s: 50 years on and the events of May persist in their significance insofar as they take on the form of a problem. In light of these events, the legacy of ’68 appears to be something more than any presentation of a set of political solutions or prescriptions. Rather, May ’68 persists in the present in the guise of a problem (i.e. the essence of 68 as the form of Problems themselves). Reason being that for thinkers such as Badiou, the problem posed by 68 belongs strictly to the order of politics, while others such as Guattari conceive of ‘68’s problematic as socio-economic in essence. And for others still, such as Jean-Luc Nancy, the problem of May is a decidedly metaphysical problem in nature. So it seems that the fate of ’68 was to become an eternal site of contested historical remembering, always irreducible to any single political issue (i.e. students, workers, filmmakers, youth, women, etc.). Hence the suggestion that “the meaning of May” signifies less a resolution of contradictions and more so a formulation of a set of problems. However, from the vantage point of our present, it is necessary to reopen this debate in order to inquire as to whether or not we still remain ’68’s contemporaries, as Badiou has claimed. In other words, is it as simple as recognizing the fact that contemporary struggles continue to lack the relevant forms and organization of political subjectivity capable of ushering in a qualitative transformation of the forces/relations of production, alongside with the attendant social relations of capital? In what follows, we will see how even this fidelity to ‘68-as-problem a la Badiou must itself be problematized; since, unlike ‘68, the current cycle of struggles find themselves circumscribed by a qualitatively different composition of race, gender, nationality, capital, and class. For our present is defined not only by a ‘crisis’ of capital, but by a direct confrontation with the increasing impossibility of self-reproduction for an ever growing number of surplus populations. And as we will see, contra Badiou and ’68’s discovery regarding the inefficiency of the traditional figure of revolutionary subjectivity, the present appears to be defined more by what Marx termed ‘the multiplication of the proletariat;’ a multiplication, that is, of the number of potentially revolutionary social-positions relative to capital.

[ 1 ]

“I would like to begin by asking a very simple question: why all this fuss about May ‘68 – articles, broadcasts, discussions and commemorations of all kinds – 40 years after the event? There was nothing of the kind for the thirtieth or twentieth anniversary”(Communist Hypothesis, 33). Thus begins Badiou’s reflections on the 40th anniversary of the events, which transpired across the country during that month of May in 1968. And not without justification, for it is indeed strange that May ’68 has become worthy of national commemoration only once 40 years of silence has come to pass (and which to some would be better understood as four decades of historical forgetting). Beginning with this question what we are able to see is that there have been two dominant ways of answering this question. On the one hand, there are a set of answers that can be said to be pessimistic & propose the idea that it is possible to commemorate May ’68 precisely because it no longer has any socio-political influence on the present . Or we could say that this commemoration is possible because what was really achieved through the events of May was the establishment of the conditions of possibility for neoliberalism. On the other hand, there are those answers that are decidedly optimistic – ranging from arguments that view this commemorative moment as a looking towards the past for the inspiration needed to change the present, to those who still hold on to an image of political upheaval that held out the promise of another world is possible. Now, in contradistinction to these positions, and by emphasizing what he takes to be May ‘68’s irreducibly complex character, Badiou argues that there are not two but four different May’s:

…the reason why this commemoration is complicated and gives rise to contradictory hypotheses is that May ’68 itself was an event of great complexity. It is impossible to reduce it to a conveniently unitary image. I would like to transmit to you this internal division, the heterogeneous multiplicity that was May ’68. There were in fact four different May ‘68’s. The strength and the distinctive feature of the French May ’68 is that it entwined, combined and superimposed four processes that are, in the final analysis, quite heterogeneous. (Communist Hypothesis, pp. 34-5)

In place of both optimistic and pessimistic mystification, what goes by the name ‘May 1968’ was a political sequence that was effectuated due to the interplay of (i) the student/university uprising, (ii) the general strike organized by workers and unions, and (iii) the cultural protestations which arose most notably from young people and filmmakers. And it is for this reason, says Badiou, that it comes as no surprise that the symbolic sites of ‘68 are “the occupied Sorbonne for students, the big car plants (and especially Billancourt) for the workers, and the occupation of the Odéon theatre” (39).  Now, while each of these segments of ‘68 correspond to the first three iterations of May’68, what constitutes this supposed ‘fourth’ May? And what is its relation to the university, factory, and the struggles of everyday life? Straightforwardly, this ‘fourth May’ was the generalization of a refusal, or rejection, that crystalized with respect to ‘68’s social movements relationship to the history of the workers movement. It was a disavowal  of a certain set of assumptions about just what it is that must be done; an absolute rejection of the Dogmatic Image of (Political) Thought that Badiou perfectly describes in the following terms:

At the time we assumed that the politics of emancipation was neither a pure idea, an expression of the will nor a moral dictate, but that it was inscribed in, and almost programmed by, historical and social reality. One of that convictions implications was that this objective agent had to be transformed into a subjective power, that a social entity had to become a subjective actor. For that to happen, it had to be represented by a specific organization, and that is precisely what we called a party, a working-class or people’s party. That party had to be present wherever there were site of power or intervention. There were certainly wide-ranging discussion about what the party was…But there was a basic agreement that there a historical agent, and that that agent had to be organized. That political organization obviously had a social basis in mass organizations that plunged their roots into an immediate social reality…This gives us something that still survives today: the idea that there are two sides to emancipatory political action. First there are social movements…[T]hen there is the party element. (Communist Hypothesis, p. 40-41)

This fourth iteration of May, then, was the movements rejection of the Marxist-Leninist outline of how revolutions were to be carried out – replete with its workers’ parties seizing state power with professional revolutionaries organizing the masses and founded on a confidence in the power of Party led unions and a belief in the transformative potential of electoral politics. Moreover, this rejection of revolutionary orthodoxy doubled as the grounds for the unification of ’68’s various movements. Thus, Badiou will define this fourth May as the collective attempt to construct“a vision of politics that was trying to wrench itself away from the old vision… [a politics] seeking to find that which might exist beyond the confines of classic revolutionism” (43). In addition to distancing itself from ‘the confines of classic revolutionism,’ the other decisive factor of the fourth May was its rejection of working-class identity as being the sole determinant of one’s revolutionary potential. So what must understood regarding the ‘events of May’ is that 1968 was that it was political sequence that was able to be realized due to students, workers, cultural producers, and historically marginalized identity groups sharing the same horizon of struggle, which rejected both the politics of parliamentarianism, party led unions, and transitional programs and the figure of the proletariat as the sole bearer of revolutionary potential. A sequence, says Badiou, whose guiding question was the following: “What would a new political practice that was not willing to keep everyone in their place look like? A political practice that accepted new trajectories…and meetings between people who did not usually talk to each other?” (45). Thus, we can say that ’68 marks the birth of a political subjectivity defined by an unrelenting defiance of the social positions (‘places’) allotted to it by Capital – so much so that Kristin Ross will go on to describe this ‘68-subject’ in a manner quite similar to that of the Badiouian militant who remains ever faithful to its Evental origins:

What has come to be called “the events of May” consisted mainly in students ceasing to function as students, workers as workers, and farmers as farmers: May was a crisis in functionalism. The movement took the form of political experiments in declassification, in disrupting the natural “givenness” of places; it consisted of displacements that took students outside of the university, meetings that brought farmers and workers together, or students to the countryside—trajectories outside of the Latin Quarter, to workers’ housing and popular neighborhoods, a new kind of mass organizing (against the Algerian War in the early 1960s, and later against the Vietnam War) that involved physical dislocation. And in that physical dislocation lay a dislocation in the very idea of politics — moving it out of its…proper place, which was for the left at that time the Communist Party(May 68 And Its Afterlives, p25, emphasis mine)  

And so… Badiou’s framework of there being not two but four May’s retain its usefulness since it allows us to conceive of ‘68 on its own terms, as a form of politics whose horizon of struggle was one that rejected past and present iterations of left-wing politics and gave consistency to its collectivity via the fourth-May-as-diagonal ‘that links the other three [to one another].’ In this way we are led to the conclusion that it was only by virtue of the diagonal function of the fourth May that ‘68 succeeded in giving a new meaning to struggle itself; a vision of struggle no longer subordinate to any party line; no longer in want or need of recognition from the established institutions of the Left; no longer faithful to a notion of revolutionary agency confined to the point of production; and thereby making it possible to (briefly) live in reality what we have long been said to be in truth: non-alienated, collective, and thus free.

[ 2 ]

Unlike the movements of 1968, those of 2018 increasingly find themselves confronted with the crisis of (social) reproduction for both capital and labour; and unlike our present moment, the struggles born out of ’68 found themselves in that postwar period, which saw the annual growth rate of France’s GDP continuously outperform its G7 counterparts (and it was only at the beginning of the 1980s that France’s annual growth fell below this postwar growth rate):

Taking economic growth as a key indicator, France can be seen to have outperformed other G7 states consistently in the postwar period, right until the early 80s. In the period of 1960 to 1967 the French annual growth rate was 5.4 percent, as compared with a G7 average of 5.0 percent….from 1968 to 1973 France moved even further ahead of the G7 average, with its rate of 5.5 percent as against the G7 average of 4.4 percent; while in the globally depressed market is the 1970s, France grew at 2.8 percent each year in the period 1974-1979, as compared with 2.7 percent across the G7 states. (Gallois, After the Deluge, p. 56)

That said, the conclusion to be drawn is not the banal fact that France’s underperformance vis-a-vis it’s postwar boom demonstrates how the contemporary terrain of struggle is different from that of ’68. Rather, the implicit point being made is that the decline in France’s annual growth rate is indicative of the structural shift accumulation away from production and toward circulation – for it is this turn away from production and toward circulation as dominant site of accumulation and realization of value that has been identified as the key factor in understanding the particular way in which the capital-labour relation has been reconstituted as the contemporary terrain upon which struggles are played out. And according to the recent work of theorists such as Joshua Clover, what is perhaps the chief consequence of this recomposition of capital according to the logic of circulation is the transformation in the form resistance takes, where collective action turns away from the strike as tactic and assumes a revitalized riot-form (i.e. riotprime). Contra Badiou, it is better to say that the current cycle of struggles are defined less by ’68’s realization of the insufficiency at the heart of the traditional figure of emancipatory politics and more so by the fact that, as Clover puts it, we are witnessing what Marx called the multiplication of the proletariat:

It is by now impossible to suppose…a labor market that tends toward “full employment”…The long-term tendencies are apparent, and the signs we might expect to indicate a secular reversal [are] nowhere to be seen. There are no sails on the horizon. In this context class might be rethought…Given the relative dwindling of this form of labor [industrial/factory based], Marx must have meant something else when, arriving at this conclusion regarding surplus populations, he proposes that “accumulation of capital is therefore multiplication of the proletariat. (Riot. Strike. Riot., p. 159, my emphasis)

Rather than any absence of emancipatory subjectivity, our present is defined by its proliferation (‘multiplication’); ours is an era defined by a substantive re-working regarding who does and does not count as those said to harbor within themselves the potential for communism; that is, the potential for becoming one more participant in “the real movement that abolishes itself and the present state of things” (Marx and Engels, The German Ideology). And so, to recap: we are not the contemporaries of ‘68 precisely because this ‘multiplication of the proletariat’ characteristic of circulation struggles suggests, however vague, the possible existence of emancipatory figures, or forms, revolutionary subjectivity (and despite the current cycle of struggle exhibiting analogous attempts at building a movement premised on the notion that the problems of students are also the problems of workers and vice versa). If 1968 was defined by its confrontation with the impotence of the fabled subject of history, 2018 appears to be defined by the possibility of realizing a form of subjectivity that is, in the words of Aimé Césaire, “a universal rich with all that is particular, rich with all the particulars there are, the deepening of each particular, the coexistence of them all” (‘Letter to Maurice Thorez’).

fuck may 68 fight now

[…]

 

Bibliography

Alain Badiou, Communist Hypothesis, tr. David Macey and Steve Corcoran, (Verso: London, 2015)
Aimé Césaire, Letter to Maurice Thorez (Paris: Présence Africaine, 1957), p. 6, p. 7, pp. 14-15.
Joshua Clover, Riot. Strike. Riot: The New Era of Uprisings (Verso: London, 2016)
William Gallois, ‘Against Capitalism? French Theory and Economy After 1945,’ in After the Deluge: New Perspectives on the Intellectual and Cultural History of Postwar France, ed. Julian Bourg (Lexington Books: London, 2004), pp. 49-72.
Karl Marx and Frederic Engels, The German Ideology
Kristin Ross, May 68 And Its Afterlives (University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 2002)

 

 

Advertisements

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.

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


Screen Shot 2014-01-12 at 2.27.56 PM
Criminal
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.’

Policing The Simulacra: Between Events and Non-Events

Screen Shot 2013-12-11 at 12.18.31 PM

There is a sort of univocity of being, but an equivocity of existence.

– Alain Badiou, ‘The Three Negations’

In a lecture delivered at the Cardozo Law School in New York City in 2008, Alain Badiou recapitulated his understanding of Being, Event, and Simulacrum in relationship to Logic and Law. With an incredible power of precision, Badiou recapitulates Aristotle’s three main pillars of the process of thought (Identity, non-contradiction, and the excluded middle), which he then uses to delineate the three kinds of negation he understands to be at work: classical, intuitionistic, and paraconsistent. With the “three kinds of negation,” Badiou aims to underscore how Events transpire in a world; and what the impact of an Event, according to each kind of negation, actually means.

In Classical logic, negation obeys Aristotle’s principles of non-contradition and the excluded middle. That is to say, the relationship between P and non-P is that either the former is true, or the latter is true, but not both simultaneously. Additionally, there is no third term available in this truth relation. All throughout Badiou’s lecture, he provides us with examples of such a logic. For Badiou, the most common understanding of how classical logic defines a certain kind of negation is seen in the concept of God: “Certainly, God as such pertains to classical logic: between his existence and his non-existence, there is no third possibility” (TTN). Badiou makes it explicit that classical logic pertains to God, only because the concept of God itself is an ontological concept. Thus we arrive at the first of Badiou’s main themes: Being (which operates according to classical logic and it’s specific kind of negation).

In Intuitionistic logic, negation obeys the law of non-contradiction but does not obey the law of the excluded middle. So according to intuitionistic logic, the relation between P and non-P does not excluded any number of intermediary possibilities between those two extremes. Now, intuitionistic logic, as one might be able to already see, cannot pertain to be Being qua being (either God exists or does not exist, and it cannot be said that God exists between those two claims). However, Badiou finds intuitionistic logic useful (“valid”) when it comes to making claims about concrete worlds. Thus, keeping in mind his audience is a room full of law students and professors, he gives an example through the institution of law as to how intuitionistic logic allows us to comprehend the world:

So, if the great field of the law is always a concrete world, or a concrete construction, its logic is not classic. If we take “law” in its strict legal sense, we know that perfectly well. If the sentence P is “guilty,” and non-P “innocent,” we have always a great number of intermediate values, like “guilty with attenuating circumstances,” or “innocent because certainly guilty, but with insufficient proof,” and so on. (TTN)

Thirdly, in Paraconsistent logic, negation obeys the law of the excluded middle but not the law of non-contradiction. This is defined by Badiou as “non-perceptible change at the level of the inexistent.” However, in order to get a better understanding of how paraconsistent logic fits into the ‘three kinds of negation’ Badiou is articulating, it’s helpful to turn to his own example which he believes spells this out more clearly.  Regarding Events occurring in a world, Badiou claims that we have the twofold task of defining the event ontologically (abiding by the rules of classical logic) and existentially (abiding by the rules of intuitionistic logic):

To be complete, we must define first an event at the ontological level: what sort of multiplicity is an event? And after that, we must define an event at the phenomenological or existential level: how does an event appear in a determinate world? Today, and for you, I simplify the matter. I suppose that 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…For example, the political existence of poor workers in a revolutionary event…The question for an event is: what is the destiny, after the event, of an inexistent of the world? What becomes of the poor worker after the revolution? (TTN)

In order to account for the nature of an Event in a world, Badiou redeploys the three kinds of logic in order to trace an Event in its most effective form (classical) to an Event in its least effective form, that is to say as a non-Event (paraconsistent). If the most effective Events are those which operate under Classical Logic it is because the Event, as that which institutes a disruption of the reason or conventions of a world, brings about the strongest contrasts between existents and inexistents in this world:

The test is that among the consequences of this change, we have the maximal value, the maximal intensity of existence, for an object which was an inexistent, which appeared with the minimal degree of intensity. The poor worker, who before the revolution appears as nothing in the political field, becomes the new hero of this field. The abstract painting, which was purely decorative before an artistic revolution, becomes an essential trend of the history of the arts, and so on (TTN).

Thus, for Badiou, the Event which is most effective in disrupting the conventions and rationale of a world is that which can reduce the world into a duality between minimal intensity (or inexistence) and maximal intensity (or existence): “And that sort of world, with only two degrees of intensity, is always classical. We shall say in this case that the change is a true event, simply, if the context is clear, an Event.” Now, the Event which accords to Intuitionistic Logic is the second possibility of an Event’s occurrence in the world. This type of Event institutes neither maximal nor minimal change, but rather intermediate changes in the world.

“The poor worker appears in the political field, but it is not at all a new hero of the field. The abstract figures can be used in painting, but they are not really important. In this case, the logical framework of the event, and of its consequences, is clearly intuitionistic. There is no obligation for the event to be of maximal intensity” (TTN).

This type of Event, which institutes changes in a world that does not cause fundamental breaks, ruptures, or novel ways of doing art, politics, or science, abide by the principle of non-contradiction but not by the law of the excluded middle. It is a form of change that maintains that either P or -P, while also maintains that this form of change takes place between P and -P, it is a form of change that instantiates the transformation of a world by degrees and rather than in kind. It is for this reason that an event that accords to intuitionistic logic is said to be less effective than its classically logical counterpart for it denotes a form of change that realizes a relative degree of modification within a specific world. And finally, we arrive at the Event which corresponds to Paraconsistent Logic. This kind of event is characterized as the indecidability between event and non-event.

“Yes, something happens, but, from the point of view of the world, everything is identical. Se we have event and non-event simultaneously. And there are no new values between affirmation and negation, because the world is exactly the same. The principle of excluded middle is true, the principle of contradiction is false; so we have a paraconsistent logic. We say then that we have a false event, or a simulacrum” (TTN, my emphasis).

Thus, for Badiou, true change only occurs in a world when the Event alters or interferes with the rules which govern a world – hence why he still claims that change occurs when Events abide by classical and intuitionistic logic (the former being a radical change, the latter being reformist). It is because of this that Badiou ends his lecture with this statement: “The lesson is that, when the world is intuitionistic, a true change must be classical, and a false change paraconsistent” (TTN). Now, while there is much to point out regarding Badiou’s work on these three understandings of negation and how they relate to Being, Event, and Simulacrum, I would like to make a gesture toward another thinker who highlights an important aspect of the relationship between the World and Simulacrum: Jacques Rancière. In his text On The Shores of Politics Rancière underscores the police as the exemplary aspect for present day society to ensure the continued existence of ‘non-events,’ or simulacra.

Police intervention in public space is less about interpellating demonstrators than it is about dispersing them. The police are not the law that interpellates the individual (the “hey, you there” of Louis Althusser) unless we confuse the law with religious subjection. The police are above all a certitude about what is there, or rather, about what is not there: “Move along, there’s nothing to see.” The police say there is nothing to see, nothing happening, nothing to be done but to keep moving, circulating; they say that the space of circulation is nothing but the space of circulation. Politics consists in transforming that space of circulation into the space of the manifestation of a subject: be it the people, workers, citizens. It consists in refiguring that space, what there is to do there, what there is to see, or to name. It is a dispute about the division of what is perceptible to the senses.” (Aux bords du politique, 242)

And there, in the ending of this passage, Rancière meets with Badiou: with Badiou we understand the existence of a simulacrum by its logical function; by its being the non-event par excellence. With Rancière, we understand the non-event, the simulacrum, as being guaranteed by the police. The power of the police, according to Rancière, is to render what is sensible, existent, and manifest in public space, imperceptible, inexistent (Badiou), and silent. However, if we accept the similarities and productive relations between Badiou and Rancière, we are obliged to re-write Badiou’s summary lesson from his lecture. Now, it is not only that the world is intuitionistic, true change classical, and the false change paraconsistent. Rather, the lesson is that, when the world is paraconsistent, a true change must be classical, and a false change intuitionistic