BADIOU’S CRITIQUE OF LYOTARD (1): against the subjectivity of waiting

(source: seminar IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS, academic year 2012-2013, class December 12, 2012, my translation)

Badiou’s strategy in THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS  involves beginning with a critique of the dominant ideology of modern society, one which is no longer based on the traditional form of finitude, one of stability and repetition, but on a new (modern and post-modern) form of finitude, one of movement and innovation. The critique of the dogma of human finitude will lead Badiou to elaborate a new theory of the infinite. This new theory of the infinite allows him to concur with the postmodern critique of the messianism normally associated with grand narratives (e.g. waiting for the revolution) without accepting the concomitant rejection of grand narratives themselves.

Badiou criticises the « postmodern » as an attempt to make one’s peace with the finitude of capitalist circulation, to inhabit it playfully and cynically, i.e. to accept it as a given albeit without being duped by it, to « accelerate » it, perhaps to take pleasure in the invention of new rules.

Lyotard spoke of the « end of the grand narratives ». In fact, when there is no more narrative there are only rules. Personally, I am absolutely for their being grand narratives, because they always assume an unfolding and a resolution, while the « post-modern » is a pessimism concerning finitude, i..e. a pessimism concerning  the possibility of exiting it. It is better to seek for good « grand narratives » than for new rules.

Lyotard himself always opposed this version of the postmodern, the cynical acceptance of and detachment from the play of complexification. Lyotard’s own postmodern added something else to this relativist tableau of bodies and their pleasures, of language games and their moves. One of his names for this something else was « anamnesis », the recalling of an otherness that opens us to another way, and the living within this openness

Badiou accuses Lyotard’s post-modernism of being a form of pessimism and resignation, of accepting that there is no exit from the finitude of the modern world. According to Badiou, Lyotard is right to give up the notion of waiting for a better world tomorrow, but he is wrong to conflate the grand narrative with messianism and prophetic expectations:

one must have done with prophetic waiting, for good. We have conflated « grand narrative » and « prophetic waiting » (cf. the banality of drawing a parallel between the communist narrative and the religious narrative).

Against this postmodern “pessimism over finitude” Badiou insists that we need a grand narrative without the messianic wait. We can have a grand narrative based on openness rather than on waiting. We need to find elements of the infinite already there inside the finite world we live in and “release” them:

To release the infinite is to live in the world in such a way that the present is so intense that there is no need to wait for tomorrow; in reality tomorrow must be here.

There must be points of infinite intensity already there, as points of infinity immanent to the world of mediocre intensities.

The immanent activation of the possibility that tomorrow is present as effective promise is not a prophecy. I understand the need to attack the notion of waiting, which is ultimately only the primacy of receptivity (simply, you wait for not what you are given, but for what you will be given). The primacy of practice, in contrast, requires that the representation that one has of tomorrow be validated in finitude’s opening from the inside, i.e. in points within finitude that nevertheless are also the bearers of its opening.

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5 commentaires pour BADIOU’S CRITIQUE OF LYOTARD (1): against the subjectivity of waiting

  1. XxX dit :

    One might argue that a practice, opening up to the immanent tomorrow in the now, which is yet grounded in a /practical/ goal beyond the reach of one’s actual knowledge or any hope for actual knowledge still suffers from a blindness — and an even greater arrogance. Sure, narratives about the eventual self cancelation of contradictions can cause complacency and “waiting”, but narratives about practical steps to be taken in a “science of history” directed towards opening up to a tomorrow (that is in fact falsely projected) can yield things much worse than waiting or complacency — over which they are perhaps to be preferred. Belief that there is any inherent recommendation that will lead to a desired outcome in the “things themselves” is itself a “grand narrative” and one which has been put to the test for a century now with dubious results — that is, on any world historical scale. Recognizing the limits in both what the world has to say to us and our limits to use that knowledge towards whatever goal — the limits and relative contingency of human agency — seems to be the entire point of doing away with grand narratives. Granted, infinity has the benefit of not having any human significance and so is a prime candidate for rhetorical obscurantism, by which I mean to say, the -1 of the infinite set, which is merely the operation of excluding man from history, tending to dwindle the delusional calculus of epochal tomorrows towards the finite horizon of human becoming, is the exclusion finality and origin towards the eternity of the uncertain middle (or whatever way of speaking zests things for you.)

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    • terenceblake dit :

      I fully agree with the first half of your comment, that active projection can be even worse than passive reception. I do not agree that infinity has no human significance, and the whole argument of Badiou’s book is to show that it does.

      Aimé par 1 personne

      • XxX dit :

        Of course it is able to, but if you need a book to show a significance, chances are you’ve created that significance — there seems to be a trend of using vague sounding words to bundle up collections ambiguous phenomenon that I’m growing less and less found of, no matter how much I used to enjoy the trick. I haven’t read the book in question, obviously, so I really have no grounds but idle speculation to be critical. However, your quotes didn’t seem to be saying anything particularly shocking or out of the loop of the last few decades. I often have this awful feeling that text really has usurped any relationship between the world and philosophy, but in the sense that, the same sets of relationships there between change their clothes and act brand new every ten years. I read someone’s sources after having really liked them and weep with the futility of it all. All that’s left to us is to sift minutia and reinvent the wheel. I suppose I’m losing hope for novelty, for conceptual innovation, and my will to add to the cacophony of the battle of small differences, which perhaps only means that I am not a philosophical character at heart. I like hairsplitting and conceptualization; I just don’t have the philosopher’s belief that the concept determines anything but the concept in a world where most people are bellow conceptualization. But, it is rude to curse god in a temple, so to speak; I’ll leave you to it.

        Aimé par 1 personne

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