WAITING AND OPENNESS vs SUBJECTIVE URGENCY: Althusser’s advice on method

« Politics is a protracted war. Do not be in a hurry. Try to see things far in advance, and know how to wait, today. Don’t live in terms of subjective urgency. Know, too, how to put your defeats to use. » (Althusser in LETTERS FROM INSIDE THE ITALIAN COMMUNIST PARTY TO LOUIS ALTHUSSER, by Maria Antoinietta Macchiocchi, page 23)

Note: I am indebted to Agon Hamza for calling my attention to this quote and for a very interesting discussion that helped me to clarify my ideas.

I think this passage from Althusser gives good advice not only for the practice of politics but also for the other truth-procedures (scientific research, artistic experience, and the experience of love). It does, however, pose the question of the time limit, as neither I nor my collective have unlimited time at our disposal.

The passage also illustrates that good, conjuncturally appropriate, advice is also trans-conjunctural, because it contains within it a universal or generic aspect (which Deleuze called « untimely »).

Althusser is far more methodologically sophisticated than he is usually given credit for. This text aptly illumines the contrast between method (one answer for everything), and « heuristics » as having at hand multiple, evolving responses, including waiting or « doing nothing ».

Of course, sometimes things just are urgent, and pragmatic considerations must come to the fore, but subjective urgency is often a great force for literalisation of reality, of de-concepting the conjuncture.

On the other hand, doing nothing cannot in the last instance be a method unto itself, to be employed in isolation. Inaction or waiting on one plane needs to be accompanied by action on other planes. One thinks of the activism that accompanies strikes.

There is no magical power of waiting as such, no mono-method, but in specific contexts it can be very potent.

Badiou prefers openness over waiting, but what he is critiquing is « prophetic waiting », which seems to be tied to some idea of the inevitability of the « correct » change: https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2020/07/16/badious-critique-of-lyotard-1-against-the-subjectivity-of-waiting/

I think it is more useful to see openness and waiting as complementary strategies, and to incorporate them in the more general process of trial-and-error, of, as Althusser says « putting your defeats to use ».

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