WEIRD ONTOLOGY AND NOETIC ESTRANGEMENT: China Miéville’s THE LAST DAYS OF NEW PARIS

Paper also available on academia.edu here.

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SELF-HOAXING: a postmodern replacement for argument

The interesting point for me in the “Badiou Hoax affair is the self-hoaxing.

H&B have no idea of Badiou’s analysis of “Maoism”, the word is just an empty rubric in a list of stereotypes. Yet they accuse Badiou of using words as tags rather than concepts.

H&B have no idea of Badiou’s lifelong struggle against postmodernism, of which his concept of Truths is a key aspect. Yet they assimilate his philosophy to what they call the “postmodern current”

H&B have no idea of the difference between Truth and knowledge, a quite basic conceptual distinction that can be found in Badiou’s influences (Derrida, Foucault, Lacan, Heidegger) and also in his contemporaries (Bernard Stiegler, Bruno Latour).They have no idea that concepts can bear other names and that the Truth/knowledge distinction is present not only in Deleuze and Lyotard but also in Thomas Kuhn, under the name of revolutionary science and normal science.

H&B have no idea that an important achievement of Badiou has been to work out a new ontological system in such detail that he can address people like Heidegger and Deleuze, with whom it is difficult to argue, and bring them back into the field of argumentation. Yet they claim that one can’t argue with Badiou.

H&B show no concern for the truth of Badiou’s claims, or even about the meaning of his key words. Their way of bringing Badiou back into the argumentative field is to hoax an online review that was in itself already a hoax.

Badiou’s way of bringing Heidegger back into the argumentative field was to devote a year long seminar to him, to extract determinate hypotheses from his texts (in itself a difficult task), to propose alternatives to Heidegger’s hypotheses on every level of abstraction up to the highest, and to try to evaluate which hypothesis is more likely to be right in view of our current knowledge.

This is why H&B’s actual procedure is much more postmodern than anything that Badiou has produced, and their hoax is a self-hoax.

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THE BADIOU DICTIONARY: against the postmodern self-hoax

PRESENTATION

THE BADIOU DICTIONARY is an impressive achievement. Composed of over 400 pages of explication and analysis of Badiou’s philosophy, it comprises 93 entries ranging from two to ten pages, with an approximate average length of four pages. This length is necessary to give an adequate treatment of a concept: definition, evolution, and evaluation. Particularly good instances of this plan are the entries “Dialectics” and “Woman, the Feminine, Sexual Difference”, but there are many others. Such in depth treatment is all the more necessary as Badiou’s philosophising extends over fifty years of published works and is still ongoing.

It is to be noted that two of the contributors, Steven Corcoran and Louise Burchill, make extensive use of Badiou’s untranslated seminars, including some of the most recent ones.

STEREOTYPES

Badiou is a Maoist postmodern philosopher whose incomprehensible writings contain no arguments but only grandiloquent posturing and empty verbiage, where words are used as intuitive “tags” rather than as names of rational concepts. Unfamiliar with, and hostile to, the sciences, Badiou follows in the footsteps of that of the nouveaux philosophes. Preferring mediatic self-promotion to real academic work. Badiou combines the obscurantism of the postmodern intellectual with the pontifications of the media guru, thus doing untold harm to the image and role of philosophy in these anti-intellectual times.

Every single one of these frequently proferred claims and objections concerning Badiou’s philosophy is radically misguided, as even the most cursory consultation of THE BADIOU DICTIONARY shows. Unfortunately, since the publication of the dictionary in 2015, these stereotypes have been reinforced by an intervention called rather inaccurately the “Badiou Hoax”. This pseudo-event does not concern Badiou himself or his philosophy, nor is it properly speaking a hoax, but rather constitutes something new and surprising: a (meta-) self-hoax.

These clichés that prevent us from understanding Badiou’s philosophy can be grouped under two headings: Badiou the Maoist, and Badiou the post-modern. It is one of the main assets of THE BADIOU DICTIONARY that it dispels these obstacles and permits us to get an idea of the real nature, scope, and complexity of that philosophy. We cannot meaningfully disagree with or condemn a philosophy that we are a million miles from understanding.

“MAOIST” POLITICS

Huneman and Barberousse (from now on H&B), the two self-hoaxers of the Badiou hoax, have provided us with a written explanation of the motives for their hoax and a video interview repeating their reasons in even simpler form:

La place du personnage conceptuel « Alain Badiou » en 2016 est assez paradoxale : sur le plan politique, se faisant l’avocat d’une théorie éculée (le maoïsme, recyclé sous le nom d’« hypothèse communiste »), il est régulièrement pris au sérieux et invité comme un emblème de la gauche radicale d’aujourd’hui (Harneman and Barberousse, op cit.).

The place of the conceptual persona “Alain Badiou” in 2016 is quite paradoxical: on the political plane, advocating an outdated theory (Maoism, recycled under the name of the “communist hypothesis”), he is regularly taken seriously and invited as an emblem of today’s radical left (my translation).

This passage contains a number of common misapprehensions that are quickly dispelled by consulting the relevant entries in THE BADIOU DICTIONARY. In “Maoist Politics” we learn that Badiou distinguished between Mao the state figure and Maoist thought as “truth procedure”, introducing a complexity beyond mindless slogans and simplistic judgements. The next entry “Marxist Politics” analyses in what sense Badiou is Marxist, and explains in what sense his politics is best characterised as “post-Maoism”. The entry “Communism” discusses Badiou’s communism in terms of communist invariants, periodisation, and the communist hypothesis. All this complexity and evolution is only to be expected given that Badiou treats politics as a truth procedure, so perhaps H&B should have read the entry on “Truth” first. H&B seem to acknowledge this as they declare that Badiou’s metaphysics is

assez absconse puisqu’elle stipule que la théorie mathématique des ensembles est l’ontologie véritable, clame que la vérité n’est pas du tout un accord entre discours et réalité mais un événement pour nous mystérieux

quite obscure since it stipulates that mathematical set theory is the veritable ontology and proclaims that truth is not at all an agreement between discourse and reality but an event that is mysterious for us

POSTMODERN

There is no entry on “postmodernism” in THE BADIOU DICTIONARY, and the term is not mentioned much, and rightly so as Badiou has consistently condemned the “postmodern current” with even more force than H&B.. Unlike H&B Badiou actually provides analyses of the phenomenon, and arguments against it (see the entries Truth, Sophistry, Conditions, the section on “Democratic Materialism” in Democracy, Linguistic Turn, etc.  So the idea that Badiou cannot be criticised by argument fails to come to grips with Badiou’s actual text.

H&B’s idea of promoting argument is to publish a parody in an experimental issue of a shady, fly-by-night online review, BADIOU STUDIES, whose website no longer exists any more. Aside from H&B’s demonstrable ignorance of even the most elementary concepts of Badiou’s philosophy, this self-contradictory attempt at restoring argument to its rightful place is enough to show that the “Badiou Hoax” is rather H&B’s self-hoax.

Badiou has devoted a lot of time to establishing the necessity of argument in philosophy and to analysing those thinkers who attempt to dispense with argument or to mimimise its importance (see the entry Antiphilosophy). Far from rejecting the traditional mission of philosophy and having a harmful influence on its pursuit, Badiou has indefatigably tracked down the presuppositions that tend to dissolve philosophy into something else, and has proposed a return to classicism (see Platonism/Anti-Platonism).

As part of their conflation of Badiou with the “postmodern current” (this expression is used repeatedly in the video) H&B declare that Badiou is anti-science. Here they should have read the entry on Conditions, which explains that one of Badiou’s key ideas is that philosophy always depends on four outside truth procedures that condition its existence: science, politics, art, and love.

In conclusion, THE BADIOU DICTIONARY does not proceed by simple verbal tokens used to signify membership in an esoteric group devoted to Maoist mysticism and to antiscientific obscurantism, but by rational concepts. If anyone wants to understand the attraction, the dangers, and the limits of postmodern relativism, and to examine a fully worked out alternative, then THE BADIOU DICTIONARY is a useful philosophical vade mecum.

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LYOTARD ON WRITING AS A (BEAST OF) BURDEN (2): childhood’s (not) end

SUPPLEMENT:  A Child

The text A l’écrit bâté was first published, in French in 1986. It was later published in Misère de la philosophie (Galilée, 2000), a posthumous collection of Lyotard’s texts, most of which were fragments for a projected book Supplement to The Differend.

Lyotard’s “book of philosophy”, THE DIFFEREND, seems to emprison us within a closed ontology of phrases, just as stultifying and as stifling as his previous ontology of forces and intensities. The ways out from this prison will be called the sublime, the inhuman, presence, anamnesis, and childhood.

INCIPIT: Eternal Return

The narrator contemplates his son playing in the sand at the seaside. This “scene” is at the same time an objective correlative of the narrator’s relation to writing:

L’écrit cet enfant va d’un pied à l’autre tant bien que mal

“The written this child steps from one foot to the other clumsily” (my translation)

The child carries an unknown burden, away from his parents, from somewhere forgotten to an undetermined destination, where he will put it down. He will grow up, and the waves will efface his footprints, but from that burden a child will come forth himself bearing a burden.

ANAMNESIS: the sea forgets, but Apollo remembers

The child’s footsteps are effaced by the sea, but not right away, only later when he has grown up. The forgetful sea, a maternal element, accompanies the child and the paternal Sun looks on memorising. The child and his shadow are present, the biological parents (“Géniteurs”) are absent from the scene:

The sea follows him she without memory I was forgetting Great sun photographer Apollo has done everything

We, children, writing, stumble between memory and forgetfulness.

CHILDHOOD, DEMOCRACY

Lyotard’s meditations on art and the sensible can often seem élitist, but his childhood turn is something that we can all relate to. Here we consider not the products of High Art available only to the few, but ordinary, universal elements – archetypes. Child, parents, burden, stepping, carrying, sand, desert, sea, sun, effacing, preserving.

JUNG

This text is much more Jungian than Freudian. Like many good French philosophers of his generation Lyotard grew up intellectually under the (paternal?) influence of Lacan’s return to Freud. Lyotard rejects Jung, condemned to lag behind him, and to repeat his progressive deconstruction of Freud.

COSMOS

“Post-modern is pre-world”, according to the poet Kenneth White. Deconstructing Freud, Lyotard tells us that psychoanalytic is no longer credible in its role of legitimation. Lyotard has gone through the post-modern crisis and emerged. He writes experimentally, without legitimation, about a child in relation with worldly elements.

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CARGO CULT OR TROJAN HORSE? Laruelle’s scientism and the religionists’ denial

PHILO-FICTION

Lyotard was uncompromising in his critique of philosophy and in his experimentation with new forms of thought and expression.  I began my commentary on Lyotard’s short text A l’écrit bâté to show what a real “philo-fiction” (Laruelle’s term) looks like.

Lyotard himself would never have used such a clumsy expression as philo-fiction, except as a playful gesture. Lyotard liked both science-fiction and wordplay, and treated philosophy as a form of writing. Lyotard’s “A l’écrit bâté” (“Of Burdened Writing”) is philo-fiction avant la lettre.

OBSCURANTISM

François Laruelle is known for his excessively long-winded critique of standard philosophy and an incredibly timid step outside its confines into “non-philsophy”, or”non-standard” philosophy, or “philo-fiction”. He is the most dogmatic and the most timid, i.e. the most philosophy-bound, of his intellectual generation, and also the worst stylist. Laruelle could only come into prominence once Deleuze, Derrida, Foucault, and Lyotard were no longer with us. He pales in comparison. Lyotard in particular says clearly in 50 lines what Laruelle says murkily in 50 pages.

TROJAN HORSE

There is a strong religionist lobby around Laruelle’s thought in English. Religionism is not religion, but rather the suture of religion and philosophy, subordinating philosophy to its religious condition. Far from decrying this tendency as a distortion of his thought, Laruelle cultivates ambiguity on this point. At the conceptual level, Laruelle’s naive, omnipresent  scientism is laughable, noone can possibly take it seriously. This may be why his disciples are content to simply deny that it is a problem. However, his scientism functions as Trojan Horse, allowing Laruelle (or his religionist disciples) to import religious dominance into a purported “democracy of thought”.

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LYOTARD ON WRITING AS A (BEAST OF) BURDEN (1): the stumbling child

AMBIGUITY

I wish to give a reading of “A l’écrit bâté”, a dense enigmatic poetic text by Jean-François Lyotard, belonging to his “later” period. It is quite short, only twenty paragraphs, and is published in Lyotard’s posthumous book MISÈRE DE LA PHILOSOPHIE (2000). a collection of diverse essays and articles. The title is ambiguous, like many of Lyotard’s key concepts and expressions. It can be translated Misery of Philosophy, but also Poverty of Philosophy.

DISCOURSE, FIGURE

“A l’écrit bâté” is not printed as a continuous text, unlike the other essays in the volume. It is layed out on un-numbered pages, one paragraph to a page, the paragraphs ranging from four to nineteen lines, like Nietzschean aphorisms or fragments. Printed normally, without breaks, this text would amount to four or five pages. This aphoristic spacing as an integral part of the text gives it a “figural” dimension, as does the lack of punctuation. The text is both discourse and figure.

FIGURE, DISCOURSE

Yet discourse and figure are separate, between them there is no conciliation, no fusion, no dialectical synthesis.”To speak is not to see”, Maurice Blanchot tells us. To which Deleuze responds, commenting Foucault’s archeology, “to see is not to speak”. Enunciability and visibility are two different and incommensurable régimes, with no necessary hierarchcal relation between them. But this demarcation is too structuralist, and its reversion is only a first step in its deconstruction. Underneath these two régimes there is something else.

FISCOURSE, DIGURE

“Only a first step”, because such boundaries are not absolute, we can limp back and forth between them. I once asked Lyotard a philosophical question, about a quandary that was bothering me. I felt that my attachment to pluralism left me in an impasse where I had to choose between an eclectic relativism where anything is possible and a sceptical paralysis or mutism where nothing definite can be said or decided on. He responded that this was a problem for him too,but that there was no solution except to “limp”, to advance haltingly, clumsily leaning on one foot then the other, stumbling along, bestriding the line between relativism and mysticism.

PUNCTUATION

There is no punctuation, but the presence of capital letters at a logical or respiratory pause seem to indicate a meaningful breakdown into sentences.The syntax is paratactic, clauses juxtaposed without indication of subordination. Parataxis, dixit Lyotard, is the appropriate mode for the post-modern condition.

STEPS

“Only a first step”, I say, intending to develop this later, planning to take a further step. Interestingly, the text is about paces and steps and their relation to childhood. The first “sentence” (but there is no punctuation) reads

L’écrit cet enfant va d’un pied à l’autre tant bien que mal

“The written this child steps from one foot to the other clumsily” (my translation)

STYLE

The style is imagistic, poetic, non-referential and non-argumentative. I say non-referential to distinguish it from denotative or cognitive discourse. Philosophy does not belong to the referential genre. Yet this is not wholly true. According to Lyotard, philosophy belongs to the reflexive genre. The text “A l’écrit bâté” is self-referential, reflexive. I have translated the deictic “cet” in the quote above as “this” rather than “that”, which is equally possible and acceptable. Reflexively understood, the expression “this child” refers to the text itself, the written. “Tant bien que mal” is a familiar expression meaning as best as one can, but I cannot help seeing a Nietzshean resonance as “beyond good and evil” is “par-delà le bien et le mal”. Once again, a dualism is undone, or at least side-stepped.

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BADIOU’S BECOMING-DELEUZE: a personal observation

1) OPPOSITION, RESISTANCE

I neither forget nor excuse any of Badiou’s “militant” mafia tactics in disrupting Deleuze’s seminar and setting himself up as judge in a caricature of a tribunal of the people.

My current attitude towards Badiou has evolved over a 36 year period. I first read his diatribe against Deleuze and Guattari, “The Flux and the Party”, in 1980, and I was incensed. It took me 8 years to see things more coolly.

2) MISMATCH, PHASE LAG

I read BEING AND EVENT when it came out in French in 1988, and I was very impressed, even if I did not agree with much of it. I felt that it was a monument to a failed chance at dialogue, as it had far more relevance to Deleuze’s DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION and LOGIC OF SENSE published nearly 20 years earlier. Similarly, LOGICS OF WORLDS (2006) is a more satisfying work, which seems to be in dialogue with A THOUSAND PLATEAUS (1980).

Recently I have been reading Badiou’s seminars as soon as they are published in French. I think Badiou’s Heidegger seminar (1986-1987) is brilliant. He engages the discussion with Heidegger’s philosophy as an equal, and his alternative ontological hypothesis allows him to re-integrate Heidegger’s discourse, hardly the most dialogical, inside an argumentative field.

3) BLOCKAGES AND FAILED DIALOGUE

I was living in Paris then, and I now regret that I was “blocked” against Badiou, and I wish I had attended that seminar and the preceding ones, as I stayed in Paris from 1980 to 1987. I attended Deleuze’s seminars, but noone told me about Badiou’s.This is a lost opportunity arising in part from the division of philsophy into rival teams of followers.

Everyone has the right to evolve, and it would be un-Deleuzian to “freeze” someone, even Badiou, into a static stereotype and then to judge them. Yes, Badiou was “blocked” against Deleuze, and is responsible for serious misreadings and mistakes about Deleuze’s ideas.

4) EVOLUTION NOT JUDGEMENT

However, I have been following Badiou’s seminars on THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS for the last few years via the videos, lecture notes and summaries that are being published, and I find that he is still evolving, and becoming more interesting. His writings show an increasing rapprochement with Deleuze.

Similarly, I have been reading and thinking about Deleuze for 38 years now, and the time for hagiography, uncritical adulation or one-sided partisan devotion is long past. I have no status, money or career interests in a Deleuze franchise. My own vision has evolved, and Badiou’s writings, despite his mistakes, have contributed to that evolution.

5) BEING DELEUZIAN, BECOMING (NON-)DELEUZIAN

My own “Deleuzism”, apart from continuing to live in France after having come here to attend Deleuze’s seminars, manifests itself philosophically in my involvement with the work and ideas of Michel Serres, François Laruelle, Bernard Stiegler and Bruno Latour, not to mention my continuing interest in Badiou’s latest developments.

Practically, it is present in the language I speak and think in (French, most of the time), in my conjugal life (I met my wife in Paris, while I was trying to learn French to understand Deleuze’s books and seminars), in my body (I took up tai chi to understand Deleuze more concretely), etc. Everyone has their own story to tell.

I am certainly not a Deleuze “scholar”. Although I am not hostile and I think that Deleuze scholarship is interesting and useful, my own understanding of Deleuze, such as it is, has not in the slightest way been indebted to that particular academic milieu nor to its productions.

6) FROM CONVERGENCE TO DIVERGENCE

It may be the case that the more a philosopher is successful the more he or she seeks convergent dialogues. I do not know, but it would be a shame if that were true. But in the case of a philosopher that we love, and that functions as an educator for us, a large degree of convergence may be a good heuristic phase to go through. However, it is good to have one’s own individuation, to bifurcate off and diverge from what was once individuating but that with time becomes a new alienation.

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