‘5 Theses on the Politics of Cruelty’ – Hostis: A Journal of Incivility

cross-chair- josef svoboda

(A preview from the forthcoming Issue of Hostis: A Journal of Incivility)

I). The politics that seduces us is not ethical, it is cruel.

We contrast the politics of cruelty to the politics of ethics. Ethics goes all the way back to the Greeks, whose ethics was the study of ‘the good life.’ Our interests do not lie in being better than our enemies.There is only cheap satisfaction in telling yourself that you have more exciting sex, stronger friendships, or fiercer personal convictions. The point is not to be better, but to win. Perhaps this leaves a bad taste in some mouths. However, we ask: is ethics not just a last resort for the impotent? Are ethical people what is left after struggles collapse into impossibility, futility, or counterproductivity

If abandoning ethics leaves one disturbed, it is because ethics is a wholly personal affair. To be ethical today is not even reformist – it is politics rendered as fantasy, a live action role play of those who ‘mean well.’ The sphere of ethical life is a world of braggarts and bullies looking for others to affirm that they have made the right personal choices. Ethics valorizes the virtue of activist intentions while leaving the systemic destruction of globally-integrated capital intact. In other words, it is fueled by the elitism of ‘being better than everyone else.’ And the problem with elitism is that it plunges us back into the milieu.

Cruelty has no truck with the individualism of ethics. It does not guide political action with virtue or best intentions. We are not looking to win the respect of those we wish to defeat. Ethics is the trap laid for those who walk the earth searching for respite from the destruction and violence of capital and the state. There is no use in making peace with an enemy whose realized interests entail your subjugation. There was nothing ‘ethical’ about the colonial world. And as Fanon reminds us, it could only be destroyed by giving up on an ‘ethical’ method. It is in this sense that a politics of cruelty picks up the old adage that one must ‘destroy what destroys you’.

II). Few emotions burn like cruelty.

It is already old wisdom that emotions are at stake when we talk about becoming ‘politicized.’ Emotions are what render the speculative and abstract into a lived reality. Winning is not simply a question of having the right ideas or right principles, this is why we define politics as the transformation of ideas into a whole mode of existence where one’s principles are at the same time one’s impulsion toward the world. If the politics of cruelty follows from the belief that we must destroy what destroys us, the emotion of cruelty is revenge. Only this taste for revenge offers resistance to the voices of this world that tell us to put up with the daily violence done to us. To feel cruel is to know that we deserve better than this world; that our bodies are not for us to hate or to look upon with disgust; that our desires are not disastrous pathologies. To feel the burning passion of cruelty, then, is to reclaim refusal. We refuse to compromising ourselves and the million tiny compromises of patriarchy, capitalism, white-supremacy, heter/homo-normativity, and so on. As such, the subject of cruelty no longer convinces themselves to love the world or to find something in the world that redeems the whole. Simply put: the subject of cruelty learns to hate the world. The feeling of cruelty is the necessary correlate to the politics of cruelty; learning to hate the world is what correlates to the political task of destroying what destroys us all. And as we already noted, it is because these two principles have a long history behind them that a politics of cruelty does not posit itself as a novelty: The Women’s Liberation movements are correct in saying: We are not castrated, so you get fucked.

III). Those motivated by cruelty are neither fair nor impartial.

Fairness is the correlate to the ‘ethics-as-politics’ paradigm. Why? Because fairness suggests that we relate to everyone in the same way. There is nothing about this world that encourages universal fairness or acting according to mutual support of any and all interests. Rather, we live in a world where everyone is pitted against each other – we have a structurally determined interest to be mean and to succeed at the expense of others. Fairness, as it currently exists, is the fairness of neoliberal competition; a state sponsored ‘state of nature’. Impartiality is the counter-tendency to the subject of cruelty. Unlike the cruel subject who understands that there can be no agreement made between capital and its dispossessed, the impartial subject furthers the myth that agreements can and should be found between the two parties. Impartiality is the idea that power is symmetrical and that a social contract can give this symmetry its proper force through law.

We know that we are in the midst of a civil war. We act as partisans. And as in any war, we have friends and enemies. For our enemies, we have nothing but disdain, hatred, and cruelty. Our only engagement with them is when it strategically advances our side in the conflict. For our friends, we extend care, support, and solidarity.

Some say that capital and the state operate through cruelty; and contrary to their cruelty, our struggle is to take the higher ground. This is to misunderstand what few things are unique to our position. Our enemies must reproduce their bases of power, which is takes a costly investment in corrupt political systems, crumbling industrial infrastructure, and expensive wars of ideology. As anarchists, we do not need to reproduce much  – we do not need to justify our actions, we do not need to be consistent in our activities, and we need not defend any of the institutions of this world. To limit ourselves even more than our enemies by following the narrow path of ethics is to give up our only advantage.

IV). Their actions speak with an intensity that does not desire permission, let alone seek it.

There is a qualitative difference between the cruelty exercised by us and the cruelty of capital and its State(s). In the United States, there is the idea that the 18th amendment guarantees the protection of citizens from ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’ This was to juridically curtail the power of the State over and against its citizenry. But due to the explicitly bourgeois heritage from which it emerges, this guarantee against State-cruelty only goes as far as the eyes of the State can see; that is, only insofar as two isolated individuals are coming into conflict with one another, and where the State intervenes impartially as the mediating third term. It is in this way that the curtailing of State-cruelty remains within the logic of recognition: metrics of intelligibility only pertain to situations of isolated actions. State recognition ignores situations of collective antagonism. What is more, is what we gain via the channels of State recognition (e.g., desegregation in the 1950’s) was already being eroded through other State sanctioned economic mechanisms (e.g., redlining as early as the 1930’s). The conclusion should be obvious by now: State-recognition is nothing more than the continuation of war by other means.

Thus, if our politics of cruelty seeks to destroy what destroys us coupled to its subjective correlate of revenge – which means our learning to hate the world while staving off the internalization of those norms which teach us to hate ourselves – then it is clear that our political-cruelty cannot treat the state and capital as reliable sources for recognition since what we want and need cannot be tolerated by globally integrated capital and thus pre-emptively renders us all variations of pathological, trouble-making, hysterical, killjoys alike.

V). While social anarchism sings lullabies of altruism, there are those who play with the hot flames of cruelty.

Altruism comes in at least two variants. The first is already well known; the emphasis on collectivist ethics that diffuses any antagonism through its criteria of absolute horizontalism. The second, more insidious, is a zealous altruism; here the emphasis is placed on the absolute destruction of the individual put in the service of actualizing an Idea. These are not the actions of the dispossessed. Rather, it is the altruism of an anarchists crucifixion. If the latter at least agrees that struggle is an ineluctable fact of politics, the zealous altruists weakness still lies in his belief that to engage in civil war means to burn out in the process. For every form of communal horizontalism that defers the moment of attack there is a correlating tendency to collapse heroism and martyrdom. Additionally, it is true that we have said that our political-cruelty seeks to destroy what destroys us. However, this does not necessitate the assertion that real transformation means our own self-destruction. There is a world of difference between converting structural oppression into a fight for abolition and identifying existential abolition as the proper means toward the abolition of capital as such. In a word: “Even if we had the power to blow it [the State] up, could we succeed in doing so without destroying ourselves, since it is so much a part of the conditions of life, including our organism and our very reason? The prudence with which we must manipulate that line, the precautions we must take to soften it, to suspend it, to divert it, to undermine it, testify to a long labor which is not merely aimed against the State and the powers that be, but directly at ourselves.”

That said, the first iteration of altruism should not be given scant attention precisely because of its prevalence. In place of weaponizing our feelings of cruelty, social anarchism substitutes a straight forward Habermasianism sutured to the mantra of ‘returning to a class based analysis’. This helps some sleep at night. Contra these political sedatives, we again confront the history and cruelty of our politics. What is at stake is the feminist lesson we must never forget: that the personal is political; that few emotions burn and catalyze collective insubordination like those of pain, vengeance, and cruelty. The lesson is that the efficacy of political-cruelty lies not in the never ending reflections and discussions on what pains us; rather, that emotions such as cruelty are what constitute the armature of our collective antagonism.

Frankenstein Revenge Poster

A Brief Note For Enemies And Allies:

We could care less about those whose politics amounts to being a good ‘friend’ to those who struggle, or being a good ‘ally’ by reading up on the history of people of color, queers, and so on. A politics of cruelty is not a politics of friendship; since we do not see a softer world here because sociability has its cruelties, friendship has its rivalries, and opinion has its antagonisms and bloody reversals.

Friendship is already too Greek, too philosophical, and too European for our politics of cruelty. In its place, we should reinvigorate the politics of the Guayaki in Paraguay or the many tribes in that territory known as Zoma. That is, political cruelty does not seek to be included into the universality proposed by the history of Western capitalism and instead seeks to find the means of escaping from a universality that was never ours from the start. For those who would prefer reductive formulations, we could say that while the West continues its process of inclusion and expansion, our political-cruelty maintains its relation to the Outside. To our enemies who get off on finding contradictions that abound in this politics of cruelty we say to them ‘all the better!’ For them, whose desire is to be the intelligible subjects of globally integrated capital, these contradictions are mere impasses on their road to being exceptions to the rule. To our allies, who opt for a politics of cruelty, we say ‘savor these supposed contradictions!’ From the point of view of political-cruelty a contradiction simply means that we have a weapon with more than one side.

Towards a Feminist “Axiomatics”

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The title of this post, Feminist ‘Axiomatics,’ is a term I will use to explain and articulate a specific gesture within feminist theory – mainly found in the work of Elizabeth Grosz and Sara Ahmed. This gesture consists in this: to understand that there is something specific and distinct about feminist theory – where for Grosz it is understanding the historical specificity of feminist theory as a body of work that stands apart from other competing theories (Marxism, structuralism, etc.), and for Ahmed it is a certain preoccupation with the future and the attempt to not repeat the past. Based on this initial claim, Grosz and Ahmed then make the following move: feminist theory takes as its object of critique every theoretical project claiming for itself the path toward emancipation in order to understand and deconstruct every patriarchal, sexist, and misogynistic assumption which help found the very project in question. It is in the combination of these two claims that we can come to understand the axiomatic quality of feminist theory and its relationship with other, and sometimes seen as competing, thinkers and ideas.

From Equality to Autonomy

For Grosz, this move begins in the 1960’s; specifically with the rise of Feminist Theory in universities as distinct from Feminism as a political movement. “In the sixties, feminists began to question various images, representations, ideas, and presumptions traditional theories developed about women and the feminine” (Grosz, 1986). Given the already established presence of the struggle for women’s emancipation, what was specific about this time period was the rise of what Grosz calls a ‘politics of autonomy’ as opposed to a ‘politics of equality.’ A politics of equality was based on two basic ideas: the inclusion of women into the intellectual concerns of theorists and the intellectual treatment of women as legitimate objects of inquiry as being equal to the way in which intellectuals have long since treated men as objects of study. Against these two claims, a politics of autonomy understood that equality does not go far enough since equality would only grant women and the feminine equal treatment insofar as certain aspects of the lives of women and feminine lives were like the lives of men: “The project of women’s equal inclusion meant that only women’s sameness to men, only women’s humanity and not their womanliness could be discussed” (Grosz, 1986).
The politics of autonomy, means not undertaking an emancipatory project on the basis of women’s sameness to men. Rather, “struggle for autonomy…imply the right to reject such standards and create new ones”(Grosz, 1986). It is this politics of autonomy that constituted the heart of Feminist Theory as a distinct and specific intellectual movement. By understanding that equality is the attempt to grant women the privileges enjoyed by men as long as they emulated men/masculine lives, the politics of autonomy attempt to not only reject this move but also posit the idea that the dogmatic assumption of the equivalence of maleness with rationality and womanliness with irrationality was too a bankrupt framework. Feminist Theory, understood through the lens of autonomy, then means 4 things:

  • 1). Women are both the subjects and objects of knowledge – they ought to be granted the same standing as men and the lives of men in terms of theoretical inquiry as well as granting the idea that one cannot easily separate reason from desire.
    2). Due to the first point, there is undertaken by Feminist Theorists a radical questioning of all methods, theory’s, and ideas in the attempt to bring under critical analysis each of their main axioms and tenants. This critical attitude which constitutes the heart of Feminist Theory brings under close scrutiny commonly held beliefs of intellectual’s of the left in order to show how even the most liberatory projects can still reinforce and perpetuate anti-feminist ideas and practices.
    3). The politics of autonomy feminists ‘work through’ all objects of study, sometimes in order to subvert and detourn them.
    4). All of this, plus the alternatives developed through Feminist analysis, constitutes what Grosz calls Feminist Theory.

Thus, as Grosz says, the goal of Feminist Theory is to render patriarchical theories and institutions incapable of exercising domination and power over women and the feminine. Ultimately, for Grosz, Feminist Theory as a politics of autonomy is an attempt to counter patriarchical paradigms as well as establish alternative theories and institutions based on the principles of Feminist Theory itself.

Feeling Differently

Extending Grosz’s insights into the question ‘What is Feminist Theory?’ and concluding with a politics of autonomy that takes up a critical attitude toward all ideas, theories, and intellectual projects which present themselves as emancipatory, Ahmed’s essay ‘Feminist Futures’ acts as a further reflection on the status of Feminist Theory itself. For Ahmed, writing after Butler’s Gender Trouble which brought to the attention of Feminist Theory the crisis in the category of Woman, acknowledges the differences which separate feminists of all stripes while also acknowledging that what all feminists share is a “concern with the future; that is, a desire that the future should not simply be a repetition of the past, given that feminism comes into being as a critique of, and resistance to, the ways in which the world has already taken shape” (Ahmed, 2008).

To be concerned with the future and to avoid repeating the past, Ahmed highlights the way in which she, as a feminist, can write her coming into being a feminist through various emotions: anger, pain, love, joy, wonder, and hope. Briefly, in this section, I want to reconstruct Ahmed’s main argument regarding the relationship between emotion and feminist theory/politics since I believe it is an extension of Grosz’s prior claims about the emergence and foundation of Feminist Theory as a theory in its own right. Ahmed’s main argument is as follows:

  • 1). Gender permeates all aspects of social life, hence it is constitutive of our being-in-the-world in a fundamental way.
    2). Feminist anger is directed towards an object that has gone by various names (patriarchy, sexism, misogyny, sexual division of labor) but shares the same quality of pain and oppression constituting women’s everyday lives.
    3). Anger already implies a reading of the world, thus it begins with a reading of a specific object and moves on toward the world itself (due to point 1).
    4). When Feminist anger becomes a critique of “what is,” it becomes “a critique that loses an object.” Through this loss of an object, Feminism opens up the potentials that are not found in the present organization of society.

It is from these four main claims, and read in relation to Elizabeth Grosz’s definition of Feminist Theory, that we come to understand the concept of a Feminist AxiomaticsThrough the reading of Grosz and Ahmed, we can come to a set of conclusions as to what constitutes Feminist Theory as Theory and why is Feminist Theory, in this line of thinking, understood to be “axiomatic.” Simply stated: when Feminism becomes a critique without an object, a critique waged against the world as such, it becomes once again a Theory a la Grosz; that is to say, when one aims at a critique of the world as such, the task is not to name, describe, and diagnose the world (although this may be done along the way). Rather, the project of a feminist axiomatics becomes the creation and establishment of a world where gender and sexuality no longer operate as oppressive relations, no longer perpetuate and continuously solidify stratified and socialized inequality, where this project is founded on the principles of Feminist Theory itself.

Towards a Feminist Axiomatics

So, what is ‘axiomatic’ about this understanding of Feminist Theory and “Feminist” about ‘axiomatics’? The term axiomatics, indebted to the concept of the axiom, is borrowed from Alain Badiou’s own understanding of the relationship between politics and justice – where politics is the collective and voluntaristic decision making of the body politic and justice does not signify a unity or stability, but an instability, a rupture, with the current state of affairs. For Badiou, the status of the axiom in his ontology, just as it is with the status of choice in politics and metapolitics, is not something taken for granted or assumed to be true prior to investigation. Rather, axioms are only ‘true,’ or gain the status of intelligible through their application in the process of which they are a part. That is to say, the intelligibility of an axiom cannot be separated from the demonstration of its Truth: “choice has its intelligibility neither in the objective collective nor in a subjectivity of opinion. Its intelligibility is internal, in the sequential process of action, just as an axiom is intelligible only through the application of the theory that it supports” (Badiou, 2005).

In regards to Feminism and Feminist Theory, what makes Grosz’s and Ahmed’s feminism a feminist axiomatics is due to their shared investment in the idea that what is axiomatic and foundational for theory and politics does precede the process of politics itself. As Grosz writes, a feminist axiomatics is not simply one method among others. It is the search for a new method where theory is sexual, political, gender infused, and understood as historically and politically produced – that there is, at bottom, not simply truth but a ‘politics of truth:’ “feminist theory is involved in continuing explorations of and experimentation with new forms of writing, new methods of analysis, new positions of enunciation, new kinds of discourse…Instead of attempting to establish a new theoretical norm, feminist theory seeks a new discursive space, a space where women can write, read and think as women” (Grosz, 1986). In a similar sentiment, Ahmed writes at the end of her essay: “And so, everyday, we might be compelled to declare “I am/we are feminists,’ even when the meaning of the word is not decided in advance, indeed because it is not decided and because it has effects that are, as yet, not lived. So we say it, and we say it with a certain kind of love, a love that is impure, and not easy, but one that might give us life, a life that has all the vitality of the living, even if it is a life that has yet to take form” (Ahmed, 2008).

It is this idea, of a feminism that remains faithful to all the ways in which it is yet to be decided what it means to be a feminist at this specific historical, political, social, and economic situation that constitutes the axiomatics of Grosz’s and Ahmed’s feminism. For each show us, in their own way, that what is most important about “being a feminist” is the relationship between the lived experience of women and the feminine and the coupling of that experience with intellectual work. To be clear, feminists (political and/or intellectual) do not need Badiou to educate them on the various ways being a feminist constitutes a yet to be decided position with regards to the world as such. The bringing together of Badiou and Feminist Theory is an attempt to show how a thinker such as Badiou has the potential to be brought into conversation with feminist intellectuals and activists, and for this reason, must take into account the claims and method of feminist theory itself. Hence the “towards” in the title of this post: bringing together Badiou with Grosz and Ahmed is a first attempt to move toward a conversation where each can benefit, intellectually and politically, from their shared commitments to the axiomatic quality of their thought. Each thinker, in their own way, is a subject of a truth (where they are faithful to an Event – be it May ’68, the birth of Feminist Theory as a necessary counter part to feminist politics, or the commitment to a future that does not replicate the past) that aims to derive its Truth, as a subject, immanently from the situation itself. Thus, we say once more and along with Ahmed: “And so, everyday, we might be compelled to declare “I am/we are feminists,” even when it has effects that are, as yet, not lived” (Ahmed, 2008).

 

 

 

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


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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

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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

A Rupture in Colonial Reason: Spivak, Fanon, and The Question of Subalternity

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This is an abridged draft for the upcoming ACLA conference in NYC in the Spring of 2014

I. Memories of a Spivakian

Given her revisions in A Critique of Postcolonial Reason, Spivak delineates three main point regarding the subaltern. First, the subaltern refers to the space of “sheer heterogeneity of” decolonization. Second, “when a line of communication is established between a member of a subaltern groups and the circuits of citizenships…this is absolutely desired.” This is to say, we should not valorize the condition of the subaltern unless, as Spivak writes, “we want to be romantic purists or primitivists.” And third, the trace-structure which characterizes the postcolonial intellectuals work is the experience of hearing the subaltern through this “effacement in disclosure”’(CPR, 310).

These three points could be summed up as follows: the inhabited spaces of difference and erasure are not to be valorized as the revolutionary space par excellence; rather, justice takes place in a move away from the space of subalternity, into forms of hegemony which counter those institutions which maintain the conditions of the subaltern. Moreover, the position of the postcolonial intellectual in this relationship is always at a particular remove, at a particular distance (temporal or geographical) from the subaltern. It is in the name of this movement out of subaltern space that the postcolonial intellectual actively critiques the sites of global capital which produce the truths of power masquerading as the Truth of the Other. Thus, what follows from Spivak’s revised position concerning subaltern speech are two important themes: the temporal structure of ethics and the idea of constructing a counterhegemony. Regarding the former, the ethical responsibility of the western intellectual has a temporal structure specific to its way of being in the world. Regarding the latter, Spivak’s belief in the political potential of constructing a ‘counterhegemonic ideology’ against the persisting forms of colonialism and imperialism is at the constitutive heart of her, seemingly, aporetic position.

Concerning the question of the ‘time of the ethical relation’ between the postcolonial intellectual and the subaltern group, it is always an ‘effacement in disclosure;’ it is as if the intellectual is always-already late to the scene of colonial and imperial violence and nonetheless, it is through the erasure of the subaltern that they are disclosed. Judith Butler articulates the logic of this time best, which is worth to quote at length:

“The norms by which I seek to make myself recognizable are not fully mine. They are not born with me; the temporality of their emergence does not coincide with the temporality of my own life. So, in living my life as a recognizable being, I live a vector of temporalities, one of which has my death as its terminus, but another of which consists in the social and historical temporality of the norms by which my recognizability is established and maintained. These norms, are, as it were, indifferent to me, to my life and my death. Because norms emerge, transform, and persist according to a temporality that is not the same as the temporality of my life, and because they also in some ways sustain my life in its intelligibility, the temporality of norms interrupts the time of my living. Paradoxically, it is this interruption, this disorientation of the perspective of my life, this instance of an indifference in sociality, that nevertheless sustains my living” (Butler, Giving an Account of Oneself, 35).

This time which is both not mine and yet mine; a time that is older than me and yet constitutes me in my subjectivity; this time which remains indifferent to me and is yet the time of my immediate experience; it is this double structure of time which lies at the heart of the ethical responsibility of those of us who find ourselves in the positions of intellectual/knowledge production. It is a time of preserving the past in the present; a time of memory in the name of the trace-structure of subaltern speech.

While Butler is working to articulate the conditions of possibility of how one can give an account of oneself and makes sense of the multiplicity of narratives that constitute who one is; Spivak’s relationship to this double structure of ethical time is thought within the context of how those in positions of knowledge production always-already inherit the history of exploitation, and how those whose subjectivities are created by the diasporic movements from the Third to First world become complicit in the absolute erasure of this history. This question of the relationship between ‘ethical time’ and politics is articulated, in my estimation, in a different way by Frantz Fanon.

II. Memories of A Fanonian

In The Wretched of The Earth, Fanon articulates Spivak’s first point on subalternity as follows: “In colonies the economic infrastructure is also a superstructure. The cause is effect: You are rich because you are white, you are white because you are rich” (The Wretched of The Earth, 5). On Fanon’s account, the space inhabited by the colonized subject, their way of being in the world, is such that they are in a position of radical exclusion such that they do not even constitute a class in themselves. This space of exclusion is a space where,

“you are born anywhere, anyhow. You die anywhere, from anything. It’s a world with no space, people are piled one on top of the other, the shacks squeezed tightly together. The colonized’s sector is a famished sector, hungry for bread, meat, shoes, coal, and light. The colonized’s sector is a sector that crouches and cowers, a sector on its knees, a sector that is prostrate”(WE, 4-5).

As Butler correctly articulates, this is a space whose time is one which is totally indifferent to the time of the Algerian people; a space of norms which are indifferent to their life and to their death. It is at this point in colonialism where the trace-structure of subaltern speech is effaced absolutely: “the colonist is right when he says he “knows” them. It is the colonist who fabricated and continues to fabricate the colonized subject” (WE, 2). Thus, subalternity is maintained when French colonialism speaks for the Algerian people; and it is an identity which is neither desirable for Fanon nor Spivak.

Additionally, Fanon methodologically articulates the logic of colonial ideology and then quickly juxtaposes them with the values which correspond to the way of being that would lead to the liberation of the Algerian people:

“How many times in Paris or Aix, in Algiers or Basse-Terre have we seen the colonized vehemently protest the so-called indolence of the black, the Algerian, the Vietnamese…The colonized’s indolence is a conscious way of sabotaging the colonial machine; on the biological level it is a remarkable system of self-preservation and, if nothing else, a positive curb on the occupier’s stranglehold over the entire country…Put yourself in his shoes and stop reasoning and claiming that the “nigger” is a hard worker and the reality of the “towelhead,” the reality of the “nigger,” is not to lift a finger, not to help the oppressor sink his claws into his prey” (WE, 220, my emphasis).

Thus Fanon establishes a rupture within colonial Reason; a break in the rational underpinnings of the logic of colonialism – the ‘reason’ of colonialism (it’s structure, it’s values, it’s economics, it’s temporality, it’s knowledge-production) is opposed to the ‘reason’ of the decolonial project with it’s own structures, values, economics, temporality, and knowledge-production. As Fanon aptly writes, “challenging the colonial world is not a rational confrontation of viewpoints. It is not a discourse on the universal, but the impassioned claim by the colonized that their world is fundamentally different” (WE, 6, my emphasis). It is this ‘fundamental difference,’ this understanding of the incommensurability of colonialism with the colonized’s condition, that rests at the basis of constructing a counterhegemony in the style of Fanon. Additionally, Fanon’s analysis of the psychiatric case studies during French colonialism marks a second moment of attempting to construct an alternative hegemony to that of bourgeois, French, ideology.

III. A Rupture in Time: Opening onto the Outside

Spivak’s approach to the question of the subaltern remains within certain limits (limits, which she herself acknowledges). By affirming the concept of ‘trace’ and carrying it over into postcolonial discourse, she marks the relationship between ‘the field of academic prose’ and the subaltern voice. As she says, “this trace-structure (effacement in disclosure) surfaces as the tragic emotions of the political activist, springing not out of superficial utopianism, but out of the depths of what Bimal Krishna Matilal has called “moral love” (CPR, 310). This trace-structure relationship is a bringing together of the earlier and later Derrida: not only is the trace-structure that which is always being set off from the dominant meaning systems of culture (differ-defer); it is also that which marks out the radical alterity of the subaltern voice (the experience of the impossible). This is something she also sees in Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved: “In the novel…Morrison places the “Africa” that is the prehistory of Afro-America or New World African-to be strictly distinguished from the named contemporary continent-in the undeconstructible experience of the impossible” (CPR, 430). This trace-structure, on Spivak’s reading, is the structure of the subaltern relationship to globalization.

Moreover, the trace-structure as the relationship of Western intellectual subject-position to the subaltern is the extent to which, I believe, her analysis can bring her to doing ‘justice’ to the subaltern. It is telling through her examples and criticisms, most of which revolve around the production of cultural and historical objects, the way knowledge has been produced and transmitted throughout history, and the way in which Western intellectuals remain complicit in the silencing of subaltern speech (the second mode of complicity – the inclusion and absolute erasure of subaltern identity in globalization – is also at stake in this bringing together of the early and late Derridean concept of the trace-structure).

However, I believe the limit of Spivak’s analysis of subaltern identity is overcome by Fanon, which can be seen in his articulation of the position which the colonized subject finds themselves in colonial society. As he writes, “Challenging the colonial world is not a rational confrontation of viewpoints. It is not a discourse on the universal” (WE, 6). This logic is furthered by statements such as “to the expression: “All natives are the same,” the colonized reply: “All colonists are the same” (WE, 49); or “The work of the colonist is to make even dreams of liberty impossible for the colonized. The work of the colonized is to imagine every possible method of annihilating the colonist…The theory of the “absolute evil of the colonist” is in response to the theory of the “absolute evil of the native”” (WE, 50). As mentioned above, this logic articulated by Fanon is the logic of rupture; it is the logic of articulating a political position which is absolutely incommensurable to the colonial condition.

However, there is something deeper lurking in such claims to incommensurability. The fundamental premise of Fanon’s form of argumentation is the realization that colonialism, and the capitalism which benefits from it, is an internally rational system. That is to say, colonialism does not contradict itself. It’s forms of exclusion, segregation, the knowledge produced and imposed on the colonized subjects; all of these are positive and necessary elements within the logic of colonialism itself. It is at this point that Spivak’s reading of Deleuze limits her from seeing the ways in which a “social field is not defined by its contradictions” (Desire and Pleasure) can become a productive way of thinking through the subaltern condition.

Additionally, the differences between Spivak and Fanon also revolve around the idea of this trace-structure and her commitment to a theory of ideology. While for Spivak, the trace-structure is what it means to be constituted as a subject – an always-already differed-deferred experience of the impossible – for Fanon, this subject is constituted by the colonial situation itself: the interpellation of the black body, or the construction of the ‘native’ subject as ‘lacking a cortex’, these are truths of Power and not truths of the Other. Thus, it is the institutions of colonial power which construct the ‘truth’ of the lacking subject. Or as Deleuze and Guattari say, and as Spivak cites unapprovingly, “Desire does not lack anything; it does not lack its object. It is, rather, the subject that is lacking desire, or desire that lacks a fixed subject; there is no fixed subject except by repression” (AO, 26, my emphasis).

There is a fundamental difference, then, between Spivak and Fanon. While both agree for the need to attend to those abject spaces and peoples of global capital, their approaches remain distinct in the sense that Spivak seems to be fine with the integration of subaltern peoples into society as long as they preserve the memory of the subaltern space. Fanon, on the other hand, is not so quick to desire inclusion into society. In Fanon’s case, there is no place in existing social bodies for the colonized, abject, subject. Thus, the only way to articulate a politics that would do justice to the condition of the abject subject would be to institute a rupture within capitalist reason itself. It is rupture, and not inclusion, that Fanon calls for and which marks him off from Spivak’s approach. On this difference, perhaps Walter Mignolo has put it best when speaking of the difference between and ‘ethics of discourse’ (where I would place Spivak) and an ‘ethics of liberation’ (where I would place Fanon):

“an ethics of discourse argues for the “recognition of difference” and the “inclusion of the other”; such benevolent recognition and inclusion, however, leave those to be included with little say in how they are recognized or included. In that it assumes an abstract universal space in which to recognize and where to include, the ethics of discourse is, in essence, the standard version of multiculturalism, and, as such, is common, in spite of the obvious differences…The idea of an ‘ethics of liberation,’ on the other hand, thinks, as it were, from the thinking of the excluded…Whereas an ‘ethics of discourse’ allows only the tolerance of diversity within a refashioning of existing and hegemonic abstract universals, an ‘ethics of liberation’ proposes diversality as a universal project.” (‘The Zapatista’s Theoretical Revolution’).

Continuing, he writes “The Ethics of LIberation is transformation grounded in a philosophical discourse which questions the fact that in the politics of inclusion and recognition what is left unquestioned is the very place in and from which inclusion is being proposed. Those who propose inclusion do not reflect critically on the fact that those who are being welcomed for inclusion may not necessarily want to play the game generously offered by those who open their arms to the inclusion of what is perceived as different” (ZTR). It this difference, between inclusion and liberation, between the deconstructive rememberance and instituting a rupture within the logic of capital, that marks the shortcomings of Spivak, and the hope of Fanon’s work for the future.