Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Stupid Christ (Part 2)

The title refers to the poem opening the first entry, a poem which is no way written in bad faith. We didn’t want to try to interpret it, but we did examine its mathematics. Still, it was hard to ignore it had something to do with religion. It ends up, though, that religion has had no small part in discussions by Marxists. This discussion has had a lot to do with St. Paul and philosophical wagers on faith; not a theist faith, but an atheist faith. My investigations have been about Alain Badiou on this line in his very influential work St.Paul: The Foundation of Universalism.

I provided, in the earlier piece, commentary on an excellent article by Adam S. Miller - An Interview with Alain Badiou : “Universal Truths & the Question of Religion”. It provides a detailed review of Badiou’s book and quotes from the text extensively. In breaching a concept of universalism, Badiou is actually leading to his special concept of the “Event” which is a central tenant of his philosophy. It’s far from a traditional concept of universalism; Badiou extends the meaning of universalism most pointedly in stipulating the role of indifference. However, in Badiou thought, this going beyond evident differences and separations does not mean the formation of a new separate particularity. His perspective is clear in his reading of the text of St. Paul:

“You have to understand that there is something in the becoming of a truth that exceeds the strict possibilities of the human mind. There is something in truth that is beyond our immediate capacities. In a new truth there is something that is beyond the established differences between languages and facts”

This is an astounding statement for me. There is the individual, as I understand it, which is subjectivity in the coordinates of the pre-evental situation (in the case of St. Paul, before the crucifixion and resurrection), the state of an individual’s mind. Not transcending this state, but within this state, is the potential of an expansion of the pre-evental situation by a process of faith; not in an external god, but in participation in the truth of a novel event in the universal field of subjectivity. As for Badiou, this is a vision of revolutionary praxis, action based on fidelity to the truth of an emancipating event. Badiou’s philosophy brought many questions to the mind of the poet:

Is the intuition operating in a poem universal subjectivity and does creativity in the poet exceeds the immediate capacity of his mind? Did Christ at last contract into the coordinates of humanity’s limits in his day, such that he and his Father were not one? In putting him to death did the protagonist of the poem initiate participation in the event of Christ’s resurrection? Was this an event for the eternal life of the Holy Ghost? How could the poet possibly know?

“The Stupid Christ”

when you felt forsaken
you knew us best . .
it was after all then
you were a stupid christ

you were damned lucky son .
for that bit of the story
nailed that way . . .
complaining about it .

the guy next door knew more
you finally got it straight maybe
seeing him there .
hanging just like you .

dear sweet jesus .
you never left the cradle really
your ascension .
was barely an elevation

so when I used the mallet
saving an extra nail
pounding through . . .
both feet at once .

making sure to shatter
the joints in your wrists
to finish at last .
the manifest trinity .

not leaving one arm dangling
I was the worst of us
so my personal sorrow ended
thanks to you . . .

having finished .
what father wanted
completely . . .
for life eternal

for we the holy ghost

Its no simple thing to understand the philosophy of Badiou, the treachery of language is indeed a barrier for accessibility to his ontology. He hopes to help us with mathematics: his well known aphorism “ontology=mathematics”. There is a lot of active commentary on Badiou at the blog The Parallel Campaign, this one from the contributor Brian proves very useful:

Badiou and Saint Paul

Ironically, here at this posting I am thinking about how to make Badiou’s engagement of St. Paul more accessible through his mathematics while Brian opens his entry with how he:

“..will attempt to make some of his more abstract and mathematical concepts more accessible through an engagement with Badiou’s own work on Saint Paul..”

Still, Brian’s objectives coincide with mine. What he chooses to call ”material faith” is the same dog in a different color, atheism. The truth procedure in fidelity to an event is inexplicable and free from the coordinates of current power, law, action based on faith in the truth of the event: an event which has happened, spoken of by Badiou in the unique grammar of the French language, in the future anterior, that the event will have been true. Brian explains as follows the two points he will examine:

“.. first, the initially strange sounding concept of the possibility of a material faith, and the consequences of such a faith, which is a truth procedure which founds a universal truth. Second, a truth procedure, which founds such a universal truth, is governed by a fidelity, or faith, to some event that has ‘happened’. The inexplicable nature of this event means that the procedure operates without reference to any rule, or law. These are two common themes within the letters of Saint Paul; the superiority of faith over works and that faith operates free from the law. In a sense, one of Badiou’s aims is to wrest religion’s final defense from it; the invocation of faith, and make it operate in a wholly material fashion, devoid of all theological reference..”

Brian continues with some discussion of Badiou’s anti-theological stance, but I already discussed that in the statement I quoted at the beginning of this post. What I want to focus on is the implications of “ontology = mathematics” as being all about the creation of novelty. So I continue with the excellent outline of Badiou’s application of set theory, what..

“.. Badiou succinctly calls his ‘wager’: that the One is not. Anything that counts for a One, or a unity is not, the correlate of this is that what is, is pure multiplicity, or pure difference. This is the root of Badiou’s anti-theological stance, which he equates [theology] with any system of thought that has as its fundamental ground of existence in some unity, be it a transcendent omnipotent entity, or the unity of some impersonal vital force that somehow permeates all reality..”

In the first posting on “The Stupid Christ”, we looked at a very careful distinction made between the “individual” and the “subject”. The unity is that of the subject that permeates the individual, or to look at it in reverse, the individual is superimposed on subjectivity. I am curious to know if this concept of superimposition doesn’t itself exceed the authority of Badiou! The individual in fidelity to an event is engaged in a truth process. The truth of the event is about subjectivity in excess of an individual human mind prior to the event. The process is an expansion of individuality in a situation that will have already been true. There is never anything impersonal involved.

Ours is a world of individual people, a multiplicity in the set of humanity. It is a unity in its superimposition on subjectivity. We experience we are individually different; I tend to believe in my own individuality as having a relationship with world unity different than that of Adolf Hitler and Jesus Christ for couple of contrasting examples. What I think is that Badiou, in contrasting individuality with subjectivity, makes a wager not on reality as we experience it as being unity precluding any excess of subjectivity, but a wager that individuals experience only multiplicity in a field of subjectivity, subjectivity being a greater unity already true but exceeding the capacity of thought by individual minds at any point in time-space, in the coordinates of thought in other words. The Parallel Campaign article does not say what I am saying necessarily, or even what Badiou is saying, but that’s what I get in the passage quoted, saying Badiou uses..

“.. the very language of a wager on multiplicity, as opposed to unity.. this pure multiplicity is completely unordered and un-orderable, it cannot be taken as a unity or totality; it is therefore inconsistent multiplicity. That which can be unified, or counted as one, is consistent multiplicity.. Badiou states: ‘what must be said is that the one, which is not, exists solely as operation. Or; there is no one, there is only the count-for-one.’ This count for one presents what has been counted to consist as a unity, what has been gathered together to form a one, but this pure operation has, as yet nothing to operate on. It is the foundational step of applying this pure process of naming to inconsistent multiplicity that grounds all possible systems of related and consistent unities. This operation when applied to what is, inconsistent multiplicity, can present, as consistent, precisely nothing. All that appears, or is presented, is the pure operation of gathering..”

This above is the author’s very useful segue into discussion of Badiou’s application of set-theory, which continues on the one founding axiom that existentially asserts the existence of a set..

“.. the empty set axiom. All the other axioms state how to manipulate sets which have already been given. The empty set has its own special symbol Æ, but is in essence simply a pair of empty braces {}, nothing but the presentation of the operation of gathering, or drawing together as a one. It is also possible, within this theory, to show that all other sets can be generated from this one set through the application of the remaining axioms..”

What is said in the article after that suggests that Badiou uses “the Void” to mean inconsistent multiplicity. Consistent multiplicity is the illusion of unity in the “count-for-one”. Consistent multiplicity is what is presented to the mind. I read this meaning in that part of what is said:

“.. the Void as Badiou sometimes calls it, cannot be presented, but it founds all possible presentation. The empty set is therefore what Badiou calls a pure, or empty name, it is not the presentation of the Void but its name. Therefore inconsistent and consistent multiplicity are linked through this axiomatic naming through the application of the count for one, the empty set sutures the presentation of consistent multiplicities, which are not, to inconsistent multiplicity, which is: Æ, the empty set, is the proper name of being. It also has a strange universal property; it is included in every set but never belongs. Therefore every set represents the void, but it is never presented and its universal property does not amount to much, it is simply the representation of nothing..”

In the framework of my thesis, the relationship of the individual to subjectivity as I understand Badiou, the Void is the unknowable excess of subjectivity over the individual mind as yet not seized by the truth of an event or as yet still in the process of fidelity to the truth of that event which in resulting expansion of an individual mind is known as having been true. The Subject is the source of the “foundational naming” in the statement found in the article text:

“This foundational naming is a decision taken in the face of the void, an empty naming which makes consistent construction possible. All such foundational elements will always be essentially empty; therefore any regressive philosophy that attempts to understand itself through an ever more thorough examination of its foundations will fail.”

Another way I would state this: no matter how deeply we may analyze our individual self, my thoughts of myself, as distinct from the world I know, the thoughts of the world not myself, there is operation of the Subject in excess of my thought. Consider this in reading the text:

“.. In being capable of examining anything, one must have already understood the situation in order to orientate oneself towards what is being examined. The horizon of a situation cannot itself, as horizon, be bought into the foreground and examined: it is the condition of possibility for making things present.. “

This is where we get to the part of working from the foundational axiom of set theory, the empty set, to what can been known in its generation of additional axioms. In doing so it is very important to keep in mind what Badiou said about the empty set having a “strange universal property; it is included in every set but never belongs”. For example , continuing in the article, Brian offers us a very good illustration of the following additional axiom:

“.. although every element that belongs to a set is also included as a subset in it; it is not true that every subset is itself an element of the original set..”

The example given is a group of people in a room. Taken together they form a set, precisely of all the people in the room belong to the set, contributing a number “n” of elements that belong to the set. This set can, however, be divided into a number of parts such as the subset of men or women, etc.. Brian says correctly that the number of such sets computed from the elements that belong to it is precisely “2n”. Perhaps it would have been better to add that the number of subsets not only exceeds the number of elements, but always includes the empty set.

Badiou places key significance on subsets not belonging to sets but rather their being included in sets. I want to keep in front of us the fact that the empty set is also included as a subset of every set though of course it contributes no elements that belong to it. As one may suspect, I gather this excess relates to the excess of subjectivity over the thought elements belonging to an individual mind. We are examining not only the fact that not every subset is an element of the original set, but also what I see as Badiou’s assertion that the actually existing material elements of a set, its existing situation as he says, has inherent possibilities for novelty in the greater, but not transcendental, field of subjectivity.

Along with my caveat, the logic holds in the creation of a new term we will be employing “re-presentation” as discussed in the article we are reviewing:

“.. What a subset does, in relation to a situation, is to re-present a part of it, therefore the totality of such subsets is a re-presentation of the situation taking into account all the possible ways that it might appear..”

The set of all subsets, is called the power set of a set, the power set. Re-presentation of the elements in a set situation with their inclusion in subsets is strictly calculable as “2n”, but we need to consider that “n” may be a finite number or it may be infinite, such as in the set of all natural numbers. The finite is said to be determinable, it has an intuitively obvious meaning as to all possible arrangements of the elements in this situation. A set of infinite elements however is in-determinable. With Badiou, with his philosophical assertion of the possibility of the Event, situations that are in-determinable are potentially capable of novel re-presentation of the presented elements of the set.

Badiou considers any political situation as in-determinable, his is not a philosophy of determinism. I think this means the present coordinates of power, the law, may always be providing consistency, foreclosure against the Void, asserting measure to the un-decidable excess of the power set and establishing the political situation; but the elements of the political situation are always open to novel re-presentation. I am immediately reminded of Lenin’s distinction between formal and actual freedom. We may have formal freedom to act within the law, but actual freedom is a challenge to that authority. “For what?” will always be the question, but actual freedom, to be that, cannot be foreclosed.

How does all this operate in Badiou’s depiction of St. Paul? How does the text of St. Paul relate to Badiou’s Event? I return to the text of the article which leads into this discussion with yet another rendering of the mathematical concepts, the distinction between constructible and non-constructible sets:

“.. how can novelty be created, or generated? It is clear from the above model of how a consistent world operates that everything possible has already been accounted for. Badiou does not want to seek novelty in changing the situation.. Any such operation from ‘outside’ the current consistent world would be an unwarranted appeal to some transcendent factor.. One of the key ways of limiting the state of a situation is to only allow sets which have an intentional definition; they are sets which can be constructed according to some rule or law. The simple rules of construction which at a finite level can easily calculate all the possible permutations a finite set can be consistently modified to work on infinite sets, but it is no longer clear that this process of calculating permutations will actually exhaust all possible compositions of infinite sets. This difference is recognised by the two categories of constructible and non-constructible sets.. If a situation is governed by a state which only allows constructible sets, then a non-constructible set, although composed of the same material elements of the situation, will not be represented as a possibility of the situation, it will be invisible. The existence of such sets can only be asserted to exist; one must have a belief in them, and a faithful fidelity to the consequences that such a belief will deploy. This is what occurs in a truth procedure, stemming from the declaration of an event, which is simply the assertion that a number of non-constructible sets exist as possibilities of the situation. This fidelity to an event will force the language, or representation, of the situation to operate in a new way which will extend its usual functioning, such that it will begin to incorporate and make visible the consequences of holding such an event as true. The only way for this to happen is to investigate the situation element by element, and ask whether each element belongs to the non-constructible sets we are asserting exist. Every element must be investigated as the non-constructible set has no rule or condition that might include, or exclude any element in advance of an actual immanent investigation. The full sequence of these investigations constitutes an extension of the original representational range of the state of a situation; to such an extent that it can now consistently operate ‘as if’ the non-constructible set belonged to the representation of the situation.. By investigating an infinite set, element by element, it is clear that a truth procedure is an infinite affair; any finite portion of this procedure can constitute a subject. An individual will simply be the notion of someone defined entirely by the legalistic definitions deployed in the state of a situation, be it their physical materiality, their belonging to a certain community or country etc. In other words, an identity centred on some definable trait, what such an individual is capable of is to be traversed by a truth procedure; that is to be taken up by it, such that his identity is shifted away from a comfortable constructible identity and moves toward a faith in a non-constructible, unstructured event..”

Badiou depicts Paul’s fidelity to the event of Jesus Christ’s death resurrection as a Truth procedure. Brian’s article paraphrases Badiou’s book:

“Paul becomes a subject in his fidelity and faith to the event of Christ’s death and resurrection, and this is manifested in his wondering militant preaching of the Gospel, not only to fellow Jews but also to the Gentiles. The message must be truly universal, as the event held to introduces a number of non-constructible elements, which if adhered to as true requires that this ‘message’ must be taken to all elements of the situation. In this case the situation is that of social world of the Roman Empire, and the preaching of the Gospel must be carried out as a systematic militant investigation of every element of that situation. No group can be assumed to belong to this truth in advance, according to some condition such as the laws governing Judaism, nor can any group be excluded in advance due to any condition.. Paul’s relation to the law, and the message that Christ’s death and resurrection brings to the law. The discussion on law is taken up in Paul’s letter to the Romans, where the law is seen as death, and that which introduces the possibility of sin. This is the life of the flesh, and for Badiou is the simple animal life that we lead as mere individuals, living only according to specified rules and laws equates with the controlled representation, or state of a situation. Such laws can either be fulfilled or negated, and their very invention leads to a desire to violate and transgress them. Such transgressions do not challenge the law, but merely affirm their status and justify the need for their existence. Law and transgression form a neat binary relation. Both of which can be easily formulated in the language of the situation in terms of a condition, and the negation of that condition.. The event for Badiou, in this case the death and resurrection of Christ, is not illegal in this sense, the event’s non-constructible elements are invisible to the legal constraints of a situation, the law lacks the ability to be able to properly talk about an event; it can neither affirm nor condemn it. But also Christ’s resurrection is a resurrection into life. The death to sin and the life of the flesh does not mean an eradication of law and sin, but only that through a faith and fidelity to an event one operates according to faith and not according to law. One can only investigate a situation’s elements according to a non-constructible set if one holds that this set exists, as no proof as to its non-constructible nature can ever be given. What this new life according to faith does is to transform and extend the situation, to add something truly new, to create something new from the given material. There is no intervention, or addition of new material from outside, this novel transformation happens immanently through the faith in an event which disrupts the relation between the horizon of a situation and what can appear within that horizon. The resurrection and life according to faith is a true life, a life that is truly creative as it deploys the consequences of an event and transforms its situation. This life of faith proceeds in a lawless fashion, distributing its message in a universal way to the furthest reaches of a situation..”

It’s a poem, so its hard to say, I don’t know. Maybe the protagonist of our poem is one hell of a sinner, the worst of us, a responsible worker justified in the eyes of the law and completing what the Father, the Void, wanted completely. Maybe our sinner is a vehicle of the Holy Ghost, as we are in this situation, in our situation with death, with our exhausting the possibilities of sin. Maybe the ghost is the invisible element extending the situation, ending our personal sorrow. Maybe it’s a novel expansion to the subjectivity of Christ resurrected in eternal life as we act from faith in that truth, dying to the limits of our individual situation, its formal freedom. Maybe we are actually free not just clinging to our individual freedom alone, but deciding that we are the world, that that is how it is for us.

Blog Guide: A discussion of blog features and primary topic content may be found at the initial entry. The first few entries give a good idea of how best to use the blog, especially for the tagging and social bookmarking at my external Delicious site, and for instructions regarding the Stefandav TV widget.

Subscribe to Stefandav: Atom 1.0 RSS 2.0

No comments: