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Sunday, 20 March 2011

Preserving events

Went to one of the meetings of Badiou's seminar on "Qu'est-ce que c'est changer le monde" last Wednesday at the ENS. The theatre was full, I sat on the corner of the stage. He arrived and apologised for the room so packed and the subsequent lack of proper seats for the audience. (I agreed with Lise Lacoste that it is always interesting to notice how things get started...)

His philosophy of events was made very appealing. He explored a bit the space between the pure being and the worlds - a world being where whatever there is (and ontology is mathematics) gets implemented. He then moved to the Jasmin Intifadas to consider what he calls the Problem Stalin, or how to preserve the political force of a revolutionary event. A million people (in fact less than that) in Tahrir square became Egypt in the streets. Yet it is a small minority if we think in terms of elections. It is, he goes, a dictatorship (of those in the square). Is the run-of-the-mill, business as usual, low intensity democracy the best way to preserve the force of this (dictatorship-like) event? He calls this the problem called Stalin. Surely, it has equivalents wherever truth emerges (not only in politics but also in love, in science and in art). How to keep the force of an event? In a museum? In the wedlock?

How does one preserve the exception? (Events happen where the things are busy being but they are not themselves part of the ontology - this is a way maybe to build a Lévinas-proof philosophy where there is no all-encompassing ontology.) Or, rather, how can we create an order that preserves the elements of a disorder? Perhaps in the case of art, or maybe of love, someone could say that the event is not to be preserved but rather multiplied. One needs more poems, more falling in love, more sculptures made of ice. But the problem in the ontology of politics, I guess, is that legitimacy cannot come from anything by the force of a political event (say, the act of establishing a social contract, or getting together to create a country etc). One could say that democracy is event-free politics. Still, it needs a constitution etc - who votes? Why not les bêtes sauvages? So, for example, the application of any law needs to refer to the legitimating event that made a piece of writing a law.

In any case, this is how the media present the problem of Maghreb, as a Stalin problem: will they create a way to preserve the Intifadas? And most of the media means that the problem is already solved, it is through the usual democratic institutions (and not through what Khadafi describes as a political system without leadership) that a revolutionary event is preserved. The issue seems to be: there is much space for manoeuvre and manipulation when there is an event to be preserved (and this is the Stalin problem, I suppose). I would tend to think that since there is no preserving (of events or of whatever), there could be no (proper) ontology of the politics if it ought to refer to founding events. It's all about distorting: how to bend them, how to interpret them, how to make use of them. But maybe Badiou is somehow implying that it is more of an open problem, maybe there is a way to preserve the force of a political event at least in its liveliness. But then again, how can one have an ontology that preserves the exception to ontology? Maybe then politics is always away from ontology and the latter is no more that a political museum, made of the left overs of politics.


  1. Rrrrgh I had written a rather long comment only to have this combox crash on me. Darned google. I hope to recapture most of it.

    How do we preserve an exception in being? Badiou has compared the kinds of truth to the attributes of spinozan substance: they are infinite in number, but we know just a few. Badiou's few however seems to me to be too few. Was german idealism not trying to be faithful to the horizons opened by Kant? Does the Church not institute the anamnesis of Christ's life? Badiou himself admits, that of all religions, he takes catholicism to be the closest to the truth. He opposes to it simply his assertion "it is a fable". But this is also the problem of the neoplatonic academy: how to preserve the unio mystica and the insight of pagan learning in a progressively more hostile environment.

    The joy at the onset of an event seems to me to be connected tot he discovery of a higher more harmonious order and our participation in it, be it the bond, with which Love above binds us, or the order of reality to which our Nous awakes us. Hence Voegelin's title for his work Order & History. This makes the question of how we convert the disorder into order in principle solvable.

    How this can and should be carried into politics I don't know, but I find myself more in a Coriolanus mood: "There is a world elsewhere". The path of Proclus seems particularly promising: the cosmos is my polis and its rule and citizenship are what interest me. Who needs to return to the cave when the great, magical and better powers are communed with in the open sunlit air?

  2. great notes, thank you for sharing them with us...