BADIOU AND DELEUZE: poetry and politics

I will be continuing with my summary and commentary of Badiou’s first class for this year, but here I wish to record a feeling of disappointment. The seminar starts out with a very interesting programmatic reorientation in terms of the “crossings” of truth procedures and of the typology of the different sorts of infinities that underly these crossings. But the rest of the seminar, while very interesting, does not live up to this programme. Badiou gives us a what is essentially the same lecture as his “Poésie et Communisme” delivered in April 2014 at the Sorbonne (in French):

There exists an English translation of this conference here.

 The second part of Badiou’s seminar is basically a repetition of this older conference, and it does not examine the ontological foundations of the “crossing” in terms of the types of infinity in play. However, Badiou does add some new ideas (for example that of “poetising” the people), and some new formulations. Also, the guiding theme of the crossings between truth procedures is new, and so it casts the old discussions in a new light.

As one reads Badiou’s commentaries on poetry and on Vallejo’s poem, it is impossible to ignore the Deleuzian resonances of his vocabulary and of his concepts. In particular, the four protocols of immanence that I isolated (the reversal of suffering into a world set free; death as construction of a new liberty; active, swarming eternity; the abundance of the real world) are very close to the explicit themes of Deleuze’s own discussions of the relation between art and people, creation and resistance. Yet another Deleuzian theme is the idea that the poem is given to those who have no language or no mastery of it (the mute, the stutterer, the foreigner) and also to those who possess nothing.

When Badiou discusses Deleuze’s politics explicitly he is quite critical (see my analysis here). However, when he is speaking of the crossing between poetry and politics his ideas and formulations are often quite close to those of Deleuze.

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BADIOU’S PROTOCOLS OF IMMANENCE: on a poem of Cesar Vallejo

Some of the most interesting and admirable passages in Badiou’s works are his brilliant readings of a diversity of poems. This first lecture is no exception. Badiou begins his readings with a poem by Cesar Vallejo. He cites an excerpt from Vallejo’s “Hymn to the Volunteers of the Republic“.

According to Badiou, the poetry of Vallejo illustrates a path going from the immediate, sensitive compassionate reaction of the poet to the suffering of the oppressed  to its reversal in the enthusiasm and admiration for the collective uprising to overcome this suffering. This leads to a creative use of suffering, to enounce a new liberty, that of the reversal of suffering into heroism, of

the reversal of an anxiety-ridden particular situation into a universal promise of emancipation.

The path described by Badiou passes from the sensitive reaction of the poet to a particular situation to its universal sublimation.

This whole discussion can at times seem very abstract. However, it is sometimes necessary to pass through a phase of lexical or conceptual ascent in order to change the way we think. Badiou’s lecture here is a good example of what he calls the “orderly voyage”, moving repetitively from concrete discussion of the history of people’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War, through excerpts from modernist poems, and on to Badiou’s own abstract conceptual formulations. One must always remember that French is a Latin-based language, and that a word-for-word transalation of a philosophical text, which I feel is necessary here, will be perceived as even more abstract in English.

The poetic excerpt from Vallejo exhibits the theme that Badiou has been describing in general. It starts from observation of and compassion for the suffering and misery of the “proletarian” and ends with admiration for a world set free to be simply itself, where capitalist “gold” will become just gold in the beauty of its shining.

Another interesting theme is that of an immanent approach to death and eternity:

death itself, which is in question all through the poem, the death in combat of the volunteers of the Spanish people, becomes a construction. We can say that in the poem death becomes a sort of non-religious eternity, a terrestrial eternity.

As we saw in the discussion of the beginning of this lecture, Badiou does not believe in Heidegger’s conception of “being-towards-death”. Rather, he believes in what we could call “being-towards-construction”, or even “being-towards-eternity”, if we can understand “eternity” in terrestrial, Spinozan terms.

A third theme, tied to this rejection of transcendence, is the pluralism that is contained in the expression “bustling, teeming eternity”. Badiou’s French translation says “l’active, fourmillante éternité” or “the active, swarming eternity”, which brings out more clearly the pluralist, Deleuzian resonances:

Eternity is not the unitary simplicity of the beyond, it is here, convoked by all these popular heroes, it is the “active, swarming eternity”. It is that of the true real.

A fourth theme is that the “true life” has to be torn from the cruel powers of transcendence and of capitalist predation, taking us from forced misery to ordinary abundance.

“This eternity is simply that of the true real, torn from the cruel powers, and this is the action that transforms everything into veritable gold. Even the accursed gold of the rich and of the oppressors will become again simply what it is, for everyone: gold”.

These four themes (the reversal of suffering into a world set free; death as construction of a new liberty; active, swarming eternity; the abundance of the real world) constitue four protocols of immanence that can be tested and validated by means of other poems from this partcular period that provides us with a privileged example of the crossing between poetry and politics.

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BADIOU: poetise the people

Badiou’s discussion of the link between poetry and politics implicitly contains a biographical dimension concerning the personal commitments of the poets (and more generally the artists and thinkers). Their doctrinal fidelities and their organisational engagements are to be read poetically, or symbolically, as the sign of a deeper problematic:

Can we understand this link, this assemblage [between poetry and communism] as a simple illusion? An error, or an errancy, or at best an ignorance of the indubitable ferocity and cruelty of the states that legitimate themselves in terms of socialism or communism? This explanation by illusion is the dominant discourse about this subject. I wish to argue that what animated these poets, even when they also adopted the position of explicitly supporting organisations or parties, is the conviction that there exists an essential link between poetry as they conceived it, in a transformed and radical way, and communism, if we understand ‘communism’ as close as possible to its primary sense, that we must never lose sight of, namely the concern for what is common to all. A sort of tense or paradoxical love of common life, of what in common life permits us to dilate and to express differently individual life. The desire for what ought to be common not to be appropriated outside of the common, that is the idea that we must disappropriate the common from its privatised appropriation.

Badiou argues that the link between poetry and politics is not ideological or conjunctural, but essential. Underneath the ideological illusions and the organisational ferocity there is something deeper at work, touching on the essence of poetry and of politics, involving their very nature as truth procedures.

The “communism” of the poets is not so much a matter of adhesion to a doctrine or submission to a party line as a new vision of the people:

What is quite striking is that the poets saw in communism a new figure of the people. They saw a poetic figure of the people, the possibility of poetising the people itself … It is to those who have nothing that everythin must be given. It is to the mute and the foreigner that the poem must be given. It is not made to be given to the speech-maker [Note: I read “bavard”, speech-maker, rather than “barbare”, barbarian], to the grammarian, or to the nationalist. The idea that in the poem could be found a donation that is open to somethin other than the speciality enthused the poets. Basically, it is to the proletarian – defined as those who have nothing except their own labour-power – that we must give the entire earth, all the books, all the music, all the paintings, and all the sciences, and in exemplary fashion the poem.

The crossing of poetry and revolutionary politics becomes internal to the poem, in that the communist poets discover that the most appropriate form for this crossing is the epic. Not the aristocratic epic recounting the deeds of semi-divine heroes, but the democratic epic recounting the heroism of the people collectively creating a new world:

the role of the poet in its link with the historico-political movement is to seek in the language the new resource for an epic.

This epic is woven out of compassion for the harsh conditions and the misery of the oppressed and of admiration for the new world  they can create:

The figure of the misery of the world must be treated with compassion, a compassion that is inevitable and that it is just to feel. But isn’t its destiny to admire what there exists of heroic resistance and of creative greatness in the revolutionary political movement, in uprising, insurrection, revolt, etc?

The new epic means both compassion and admiration, both resistance and its transformation into heroism, both the long patience and endurance of the oppressed and their transformation into the collective force uniting the uprising of bodies and the sharing of thoughts.

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BADIOU’S CROSSINGS: language and the world as commons

In the first class of his seminar for this year, we have seen that Badiou establishes a parallel between the place of language in poetry and the place of the world in politics. He tells us that this parallel exists because language is the poet’s “exclusive domain”, and language is originarily given to all. This rejoins the communist project and its conviction that the world belongs to all.

Yet this parallel relies on what is perhaps an overly reductive account of poetry. In Badiou’s own terms, poetry is also a matter of projects and orientations, of gifts and visions, of subjectivation and singularity.

Badiou talks of the “common”, but this is not the same as homogeneity, the common is not the enemy of individuality. Communism according to him contains a

sort of love, a tense, paradoxical love of common life, of that which in the common life permits us to dilate and to express differently the individual life.

Concern for the common includes a concern for subjectivation, understood as a process of individuation taking place on a backdrop of what is common. This is an important point in Badiou’s discussion of the crossings of truth procédures. His emphasis on subjectivation, individuation, and singularity provides a useful corrective to Bruno Latour’s system, which lacks this dimension.

Another interesting point is that Badiou is already including another truth procedure, “love”, in the crossing of poetry and politics, the love of the common, the love of equality, the love of the world, and the love of the “individual life”. This love of the world is not possible without knowledge of the world – it is not just blind love. Thus the fourth truth procedure is present as well. So the crossing of poetry and politics also includes an implied crossing of both with love and knowledge.

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BADIOU’S CROSSINGS: poetry and politics

Continuing my summary of the first class of Badiou’s “last seminar“, which took place on Monday October 19.

Badiou begins his exploration of the crossings of truth procedures with a crossing that he has already explored on several occasions: the crossing of poetry and politics, more specifically of epic poetry and communism. This is a phenomenological exploration, taking place in a specific world during a specific historical sequence, yet having universal value.

The context is a period when the conflict between the capitalist vision and the communist vision was at its height (between 1920 and 1980), when poetry and artistic creation were undergoing a crisis and an effervescence of new orientations. The crossing of these two contexts was at its most intense during the Spanish Civil War, intricating

poetry and politics, on this occasion, in an exceptional figure of crossing, which has few equivalents.

Badiou gives us a list of great poets who declared their communism:

in France, Éluard and Aragon ; in Turkey, Nazim Hikmet ; in Chili, Pablo Neruda ; in Spain : Rafael Alberti ; in Italy : Eduardo Sanguinetti ; in Greece : Yannis Ritsos ; in China : Ai Qing ; in Palestine : Mahmoud Darwich ; in Peru : Cesar Vallejo ; and in Germany: Bertold Brecht.

What animated all these poets, according to Badiou, is the shared conviction of an essential bond between poetry, in a new and transformed sense, and communism, conceived as the care for what is common to all and as the struggle to “disappropriate” the common from its privatised appropriation. Badiou remarks that there is no poetry of privatisation, whereas the poetry of communism really exists.

Badiou’s explanation of this link between poetry and communism is in terms of language. Poets are communist because their domain is language, the mother tongue that is freely given to all, common to all, and thus the support for equality. The poem is a gift to language, and as such a gift to everyone. So poets recognised in communism something similar to their own creative process and project: that the world, like language, is a gift common to all. This similarity of projects is at the source of the real and effective crossing of poetry and communist politics during that period.

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10 THESES ON NON-PHILOSOPHY: a metaphysical research programme

This blog AGENT SWARM proposes an analysis and evaluation of recent tendencies in contemporary Continental philosophy. The overall guiding heuristic hypothesis: all these seemingly incommensurable tendencies can be grouped under the rubric of metaphysical research programmes. These different philosophies can be examined as metaphysical research programmes in the sense of Karl Popper. These metaphysical research programmes contain both testable scientific components and untestable (for the moment) metaphysical components.

I wish to examine François Laruelle’s non-philosophy and non-standard philosophy as a metaphysical research programme. It is important to see how Laruelle’s philosophy fares when examined in terms of a slightly different philosophical tradition. Laruelle talks a lot about science, but his small circle of Anglophone supporters have no idea of developments in Anglophone philosophy of science.

A specific lexical problem arises for Laruelle’s “non-philosophy”: if one uses its own vocabulary, it comes out as vastly different from and superior to its rivals. Non-philosophy in this sense is a self-indulgent exercise in tautological lexical oneupmanship. Yet we are witness to mealy-mouthed pronouncements about a so-called “democracy” of thought, claiming that there is no normative prescription to be “non-philosophers”.

Philosophers like Deleuze are condemned for failing to attain the goal of immanence, whereas non-philosophy supposedly attains this goal. There is much hypocrisy and double-talk among the “non-philosophers”.

From the beginning of my blog I have defended Feyerabend’s philosophy as proposing a pluralist, diachronic, apophatic, democratic ontology.

A second major thesis of my blog is that philosophically we are traversing a period of the reconceptualisation of pluralism, to articulate its relation to realism, and to distinguish it from relativism. This is what I have called the immanentisation of Platonism. Several philosophies partake of this movement, but no one philosophy is satisfying enough to absorb all the advantages of its rivals. Laruelle’s insistence on “quantum thought” is a very important contribution to the discussion of this reconceptualised pluralism.

My two general theses are thus:

1) recent continental Philosophies are metaphysical research programmes

2) a reconceptualisation of pluralism as realism is taking place.

On the more specific question of the value of Laruellean non-philosophy, it is necessary to examine the obstacles to its diffusion in English.

1) Non-philosophy is insufficiently translated, and Laruelle’s master work PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD has yet to be transalated.

2) Most of the existing translations are seriously flawed, containing very numerous errors. The existing translators are not only not linguistically competent, but not competent in relevant epistemology and philosophy of science.

3) There is insufficient critical discussion of Laruelle’s theses. The existing discussion is mostly hagiographical. Critical discussion is stigmatised as for example “quasi-trolling”.

4) Laruelle’s style is obscure, mostly for terminological reasons: terms are undefined or very insufficiently explicated.

5) Laruelle’s self-description is problematic in that he presents himself as attaining the immanence that others aimed at without attaining.

6) Tautological validation: Laruelle’s vocabulary is designed to validate the superiority of his own philosophy compared to that of his contemporaries.

7) Ideological protective measures: ad hoc defences of Laruelle’s ideas have been elaborated, notably the notion of the “syntax of the real” and the pragmatic notion of performance. Both of these notions elude the very real semantic obscurantism. Both try to grant infallibility to Laruelle’s style.

8) Ignorance of relevant developments in Anglophone philsophy of science casts Laruelle’s scientism in a very unsatisfactory light.

9) Laruelle’s misdescription of the historical context, his “time machine”: much of what Laruellle says belongs to a 20 or 30 year old context. Many of his critiques were already anticipated and replies were elaborated decades before he advanced them.

10) Laruelle’s Anglophone presenters write each under a particular suture: religious, political, artistic, or scientific.

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Alain Badiou, Argument Seminar 2015-2017:

“This seminar will deal with the creative relation between the finite and the infinite, in the four registers where truths exist: science, art, politics, and love. This is why it will combine conceptual explanations and examples directly drawn, for example, from certain curious mathematical results, from some typical productions of contemporary art, notably the theatre, from the political situations of the moment, and from the historical state of the relation between the sexes.

Last year, we principally dealt with the operative modalities of finitude, as the dominant ideology: the different means which convince us that to live always amounts to passively settling down in the inevitable character of finitude. In other words, everything which persuades us that to live is to accept being the finite waste product of the infinity of constraints. During the year 2015-2016, we are going to get to the affirmative side, which shows that the finite as oeuvre always results from an access to two distinct infinities, whose crossing and friction engender, precisely, the universal dimension of a finite fragment. We will do this in two steps: first the critical examination of the most profound formalism of the thought of the finite, that is the theory of constructible sets. Then a first passage through the registers of the work (the “oeuvre”), from the angle of the immanence which constitutes them, namely the dialectic of truths which interlaces two infinites and their finite result : the sciences, politics, the arts and loves”. (My translation).

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