BADIOU, ALTHUSSER, LARUELLE: the problem of change

Badiou has a deep problem, carried over from Althusser’s structuralism, in regards to the relation between stasis and change. (I have commented on this problem at a more general level, without mentioning Badiou, in terms of the relation between diachronic and synchronic ontology, in my article IS ONTOLOGY MAKING US STUPID? However, I do not think that Althusser is in a position to give Badiou lessons in avoiding the idealist tendencies implicit in structuralism.

Much post-Althusserian thought was devoted to finding a principle of de-stabilisation of structures tied to subjectivity: Derrida’s writing, Kristeva’s subject-in-process, Lyotard’s drift, Deleuze and Guattari’s group-in-fusion and later their process of subjectivation, and Foucault’s care of self. Badiou’s project is clearly inscribed within this field of responses to the perceived excessive determination of the subject by the structure and to its link with the problem of change.

Another problem that comes with inheriting from Althusser’s philosophy is his structuralist scientism. Badiou attempts to mitigate this excessively static and monlolithic privilege given to science in several ways:

1) by characterising science as as a site of truth production, rather than simply of knowledge production. One must remember that for Badiou truth is linked to change, whereas knowledge is linked to stasis.

2)  by asserting the contemporary existence of four figures of truth production (science, love, politics, art).

3) by incorporating the subject within the scientific process of truth production, and more generally within all of the processes of truth production.

4) by emphasising that science as a truth procedure exists only in diverse “crossings” with other truth procedures, some of which are legitimate (this acceptance of the legitimacy of crossings distinguishes Badiou’s position from Althusser’s policing of frontiers): this theorisation of crossings can be found in Badiou’s latest seminar, class of October 19th 2015.

On the queston of the priority given to axiomatics by Badiou, this is an ambiguous move in terms of the stasis/change (or synchronic/diachronic) distinction. “Axiomatics” refers to a formal structure and so is a force of stabilisation, but also to the (subjective) decision to adopt certain axioms. This priority of axiomatics comes under fire from François Laruelle, who proposes “quantum” thinking in its place. Laruelle’s quantum thinking is, at least in intention, more process-oriented, than structure-oriented axiomatics. Yet this critique ignores Badiou’s more recent work-in-progress on the “immanence of truths”, an enquiry into how truths (and not knowledge) modify and transform worlds from within.

“Quantum” thinking as used by Laruelle explicitly involves a principle of “indetermination in the pre-first instance” (this is Laruelle’s quantum reformulation of “determination in the last instance”. It belongs, despite Laruelle’s denials, to the same conceptual field as the other principles of de-stabilisation cited above: writing, subject-in-process, group-in-fusion, process of subjectivation, care of self.

My running argument with the Laruelleans has been:

(1) it is necessary to give an important place to this concept, as Laruelle’s pre-quantum non-philosophy is too structuralist and synchronic (Laruelleans strenuously avoid doing so, because they are remarkable uninformed about Anglophone philosophy of science, and

(2) quantum thinking is not really developped by Laruelle but functions as a gesture towards the need to supplement his thought with diachrony in order to be able to account for change.

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3 Responses to BADIOU, ALTHUSSER, LARUELLE: the problem of change

  1. matthewjorda says:

    I’d like to say, first, how cogent, acute and pertinent I’ve found these first few posts I’ve read (eg. I’ve always thought Foucault was probably kidding the Mid-Western Searle). Now, the relation between “structuration” and quantum thought, which was always an avenue I wanted to explore further. Have you read Arkady Plotnitzky? It seems to me he maps the ground and draws parallels more than philosophically investigating it, but you might find him interesting nonetheless. Last, my specific (and rather vague / large) question: have you kept patience with Zizek?? I rather thought he jumped the shark a decade or so ago when parting ways with Ernesto Laclau, but I’m quite enticed by what I can glean on his recent stuff on recognition in Hegel / “Liberalism,” specifically Absolute Recoil. Should I remain wary or answer the siren call?? I hope this is not too much of an unhelpful / begging for help question in this forum.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. terenceblake says:

    I have not yet read Plotnitsky, although I have several of his books, and mean to get around to reading him soon. Zizek is a tough case for me, as I find his take on Deleuze unbearably wrong and wrong-headed. However, I think his introduction to the new edition of ORGANS WITHOUT BODIES remarkable. So I persevere with him because he exhibits occasional bouts of freedom of thought that compensate for his massive Lacano-conformism.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. matthewjorda says:

    Yes; I got to the point where I felt that Zizek’s mincing-machine, whatever it was doing for him, was going to be a liability for me. Then the volume with Laclau and Butler made me feel I had warrant for giving up, for the while at least, on trying to understand the “Slovenian Lacanians” on sexuation. Will consult the essay you mention, thanks.


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