Friday, October 24, 2008

Alain Badiou Weighs In

From the beginning this blog has placed strong emphasis on the thought of Alain Badiou. The theme in this blog has concerned his ideas on what he calls the "Event", briefly stated, an occurrence which, I venture a description, challenges the current set of humanity (and here is meant actually a reference to set-theory). As such it would display a novelty, a "Truth" - again in the briefest of descriptions will follow in which are confronted with Badiou's minimalist mathematics (ontology=mathematics). The meaning of a "Truth": that the "Event" presents a new element in one, or more likely many, sets of multiplicities which may lead to a radical transformation of the current coordinates of those sets.

The transformation is possible because the "Truth" is presented in any occurrence that is in fact an "Event". But important is that the new set remains only "virtual" so to speak until, and if, its actuality is manifest through the allegiance of people taking action on that "Truth", as a result of which the radical transformation becomes reality. My earlier entry, AlainBadiou - Allegiance to the Truth Event, makes reference to several articles by Badiou and others providing authoritative content. So don't listen too much to my poor attempts to explain his ideas - I can only hope serve to elicit your interest. We need to read and study Badiou's latest complete work, Logics of Worlds. Badiou is rooted in Marxism, as well as in psychoanalysis, the school of Jacques Lacan.

Getting to the topic of this post, let me first add Badiou that "applies", I'd guess to say, his mathematical thought, by identifying four modes, or sets, of multiplicities in which the Event and the subsequent Truth process occur: Art, Love, Politics and Science. Again, a tremendous amount of attention and study is actually required to better understand Badiou's thought. A longer "synopsis", so to speak, is found in the Wikipedia account from which I provide the following exerpt:

"Badiou's ultimate ethical maxim is therefore one of: 'decide upon the undecidable'. It is to name the indiscernible, the generic set, and thus name the event that re-casts ontology in a new light. He identifies four domains by which a subject (who, it is important to note, becomes a subject through this process) nominates and maintains fidelity to an event: love, science, politics and art. By enacting fidelity to the event within these four domains one performs a 'generic procedure', which in its undecideability is necessarily experimental, and one potentially recasts the situation in which being takes place.. In line with his concept of the event, Badiou maintains, politics is not about politicians, but activism based on the present situation and the 'evental' (his translators' neologism) rupture. So too does love have this characteristic of becoming anew. Even in science the guesswork that marks the event is prominent. He vigorously rejects the tag of 'decisionist' (the idea that once something is decided it 'becomes true'), but rather argues that the recasting of a truth comes prior to its veracity or verifiability.. Badiou, whilst keen to stress the non-equivalence between politics and philosophy, thus finds his political approach — one of activism, militancy, and scepticism of parliamentary-democratic process — backed up by his philosophy based around singular, situated truths, and potential revolutions.

With this bit of background we come to the specific topic: Alain Badiou weighs in on the current financial crisis. One cannot but see this event of the crisis and the bailout has stirred tremendous focused response in the activist community. Those in the Marxist line in particular are quickly responding, possibly because its about economics of capitalism. I give three good examples from the blogging community, two at least are Marxist and one of these provides the latest viewpoints of Badiou:

Radical Perspectives on the Crisis gives an ongoing analysis of the financial news by a number of qualified people. Its very useful and factual with references and a minimum of the theoretical bullshit some of us love. An excerpt:

"The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times are both predicting a growing role for the worlds rapidly developing nations in the new world financial order. This is significant. What is really impressive, however, is the fact that there is talk of a new financial order at all. More than anything else, the G20 conference (dubbed Bretton Woods ll) can be understood as the end of an epoch. Neoliberal capitalism, the ideology of the free and self-regulating market, is dead. Anti-globalization activists could not defeat it and neither could Hugo Chavez. The free market imploded under the weight of its own contradictions."

Marx and the Crisis of 2008
is another new focused response by a team of contributors with a more emphatic socialist message. I quote from the comments of the writer Andrew Kliman:

"As for the longer-term conditions that have given rise to the crisis, my view is basically this: The world economy has never fully recovered from the crisis of the 1970s – not in the way in which the destruction of capital in and through the Great Depression and WWII led to a post-war boom. That’s largely because of an understandable fear of having a repeat of the Great Depression. So there’s been a partial recovery only, brought about largely through: (1) declining real wages.. as well as exporting the crisis into the 3d world, and (2) a mountain of debt – mortgage, consumer, government, corporate – to.. mitigate the effects of the declining real wages. Thus there have been persistent debt crises, and these will continue until: (a) sufficient capital is destroyed.. to once again make investment truly profitable.. present crisis.. this moment, or (b) there’s such panic.. that lending stops and the economy crashes, ushering in chaos.. (c) capitalism is replaced by a.. socialist society."

From the blog Infinite Thought, the October 18 entry (their translation/interpretation of Badiou's submission in French to the paper Le Monde the previous day) comes the following sampler:

"We will have time later to wonder (the saga will surely continue) where these billions come from, given that for some years, at the least demand from the poor, the same characters responded by turning their pockets inside out, saying they hadn't a cent. For the time being, it doesn't matter. "Save the banks!" This noble, humanist and democratic cry surges forth from the mouths of every journalist and politician. Save them at any price! It's worth pointing this out, since the price is not insignificant... The collapse of capitalism? You must be kidding. Who wants it, after all? Who even knows what it would mean? Let's save the banks, I tell you, and the rest will follow. For the... immediate protagonists – the rich, their servants, their parasites, those who envy them and those who acclaim them – a happy ending, perhaps a slightly melancholy one, is inevitable, bearing in mind the current state of the world, and the kinds of politics that take place within it... Let us turn instead to the spectators of this show, the dumbstruck crowd who - vaguely unsettled, understanding little, totally disconnected from any active engagement in the situation... can only guess at the exhausting weekends of our heroic small team of heads of government. It sees, passing before it, numbers as enormous as they are obscure, automatically comparing them to its own resources, or even, for a very considerable part of humanity, to the pure and simple non-resource which is the bitter and courageous basis of its very life. That's where the real is... As we know, financial capitalism has always – which is to say for the past five centuries – been a major, central component of capitalism in general. As for the owners and managers of this system, by definition they are only "responsible" for profits, their "rationality" is to be measured by their earnings, and it is not just that they are predators, but that they have to be... The return to the real cannot be a movement leading from bad "irrational" speculation back to healthy production. It is the return to the immediate and reflective life of all those who inhabit this world. It is from that vantage-point that one can observe capitalism without flinching, including the disaster movie that it is currently inflicting upon us. The real is not this movie, but its audience... Faced with the life of the people watching it, do we still dare to pride ourselves in a system which delegates the organisation of collective life to the basest of drives – greed, rivalry, unthinking selfishness? Can we sing the praises of a "democracy" whose leaders do the bidding of private financial appropriation with such impunity that they would shock Marx himself, who nevertheless already defined governments, a hundred and sixty years ago, as "the agents of capital"? The ordinary citizen must ‘understand’ that it is impossible to make up the shortfall in social security, but that it is imperative to stuff untold billions into the banks’ financial hole?... this only seems to be a zero-sum game: the speculator loses his wager and the buyers their homes, from which they are politely evicted. But the real of this zero-sum game is as always on the side of the collective, of ordinary life: in the end, everything stems from the fact that there exist millions of people whose wages, or absence thereof, means that they are absolutely unable to house themselves. The real essence of the financial crisis is a housing crisis. And those who can’t find a home are by no means the bankers. It is always necessary to go back to ordinary existence."

So Badiou's poetic analogy of the existing coordinates of power is that of a film, an illusion perpetuated as real, now demonstrated as such in the "Event" of the financial crisis. A "Truth" emerges in the minds of the spectators who reside not in the gated communities of the elite protagonists of the film (the literal and class bound gated communities); in the minds of those who are the victims in the slums (the literal and figurative slums of the oppressed). And so now for the actions to follow the event in allegiance to the "Truth", the enactment within the virtual situation that will be the radical transformation of the world - Badiou concludes:

"We must overthrow the old verdict according to which ours would be the time of "the end of ideologies". Today we can clearly see that the only reality of this supposed end lies in the slogan "save the banks". Nothing is more important than recovering the passion of ideas and countering the world such as it is with a general hypothesis, the anticipated certainty of an entirely different state of affairs. To the nefarious spectacle of capitalism, we oppose the real of peoples, of the existence of all in the proper movement of ideas. The theme of an emancipation of humanity has lost none of its power. Undoubtedly, the word "communism", which for a long time served to name this power, has been debased and prostituted. But today, its disappearance only benefits the advocates of order, the feverish actors of the disaster movie. But we will resuscitate communism, in its new-found clarity. This clarity is also its oldest virtue, as when Marx said of communism that it 'breaks in the most radical fashion with traditional ideas' and that it will bring forth 'an association in which the free development of each is the precondition for the free development of all'. Total break with capitalist-parliamentarianism, the invention of a politics on a level with the popular real, sovereignty of the idea: it's all there, everything we need to turn away from the film of the crisis and to give ourselves over to the fusion between live thought and organised action (everything we need to turn away from the film of the crisis and rise up)."

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1 comment:

nickglais said...

Well done you have presented Badiou very well with your quotes or at least the Alain Badiou that I understand.

I had not seen his article on the crisis so thanks for making his comments available

The words he utters

"But we will resuscitate communism, in its new-found clarity. This clarity is also its oldest virtue, as when Marx said of communism that it 'breaks in the most radical fashion with traditional ideas' and that it will bring forth 'an association in which the free development of each is the precondition for the free development of all'.

These words are both aspirational and inspirational and we all have to try to live up to it during the crisis has the fog lifts so that post capitalism is really on the agenda