Responses to occursus w/ Pandemic! Badiou

I had spent some time earlier scanning stuff on Badiou, so was able to follow this interesting session. Share some of the misgivings about the modernist art examples, but it was great to see the Sol Lewitt exemplifying set theory. He was a key figure bridging modernism and contemporary (conceptual) art, but I think his work also had a social team-based awareness.

I can buy into BD ‘events’ happening occasionally- great moments in art, falling in love, scientific paradigm shifts, political upheavals, to a certain extent inevitably. So there is no need for hopeful waiting. Recognizing such key political moments is another thing, guarding against appropriation by the System yet another, but the real problematic for me is organizing and maintaining a new order with the same energy and cohesion that produced it. Does anybody have any recommendations for reading around this?

David McNab

A quick response to some of David’s misgivings described above, which were perhaps also widespread in the discussion after the talk. I guess, given the misgivings, that I failed to make explicit that this ‘optimistic waiting’ is precisely the activity that secures the concerns you have David; it involves the recognizing of the event, the securing against appropriation, and the maintaining of its energy and force through fidelity to its original occurrence. Related to this, there is the issue of the ‘inevitability’ of these events. They are not at all to be conceived as inevitable, and certainly their recognition and apprehension, if they do occur, is far from inevitable. I have just stumbled on
which makes this exact point; particularly –

“An event, in Badiou’s rather technical sense, is not a grand happening. It is not even a noteworthy “thing that occurred.” It is, rather, more like a little flicker, which might easily pass unnoticed, and which will pass unnoted in the historical annals unless it becomes the beginning of a truth process. An event gives a momentary glimpse, not of possibilities inherent in what exists, or in history, but (to repeat) a glimpse of the possibility of possibilities. And the axiomatic beginning of a truth-process is the taking of a stance: it is to assume that these possibilities are real. Or even more: to explore the world, to act, as if these possibilities will have already become true.

Thus politics – actual, emancipatory politics – is a leap in the dark. It is not action based on what we know, or what can be known. It is action based on a gamble, on the making of a very serious bet, not even on a possibility (to say it again), but on what would be the case if the implications of that initial glimpse of the possibility of what might be are followed out and made true.”

So when I talked of a ‘change of sign’ that acts as a ‘linguistic shelter’, all this was both significantly active and practical, rather than vacuous or incidental; and further, this fundamental change of orientation is absolutely required in order that an event be recognized and apprehended, and its significance and content be carried forward.

This significance of the proposal relates to another concern voiced in the discussion; that of the role of the Other. I attempted, although admittedly hurriedly, to explain that Badiou seems to me to conceive of this ‘change of sign’ as to do with a switch of power over to the Other, through this ‘encounter’ with alterity. I have read Badiou note his uncertainty at what this would exactly be (particularly near the end of Century), but I don’t think there can be a charge of ignoring or marginalising the Other; it is exactly the opposite.
The set-theoretical presentation of this thought, which came up in the discussion, seems really interesting to me, though I’ll leave it to James to outline it.

Finally, as mentioned I am definitely not a Badiouian. But it seems at least good academic practice to forego to an extent, any concerns about, say, the political thought of those merely related to the content of Badiou’s arguments and claims, in order that we actually stand a chance of accessing and exploring those arguments and claims rather than prejudging them. Otherwise we would not access Hegel because of Popper for example, nor any of a long list of controversial figures – Heidegger and Nietzsche spring to mind (and perhaps even Frege on the standards of ‘politically horrifying, therefore avoid even non-political content that is related simply by being thought by the same person’). Correspondingly, it became apparent very quickly that the ‘Modernist’ or ‘Euro-centric’ aspect of Badiou caused alarm-bells to ring for many; but though, if this is a problem, it shouldn’t be forgotten in examining his thought, neither should it prevent or inhibit the examination in the first place.

Joe Taylor

This isn’t a direct response to David’s question, but I watched it earlier and found it really interesting after last night’s discussion…

‘The subject of art’:

occursus w/ pandemic

As a contaminated branch of the coming P A N D E M I C ! James Jardine & Joe Taylor will be presenting / inciting an early evening of unbound thought and discussion, entitled ‘Creativity as Revolt, Revolt as Creativity: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Alain Badiou’.

Partnered by occursus, it’s happening on Monday 7th November, at 6pm in room A84 in the Richard Roberts building, University of Sheffield. Our tactics (and our desired goal): painstaking anti-jargonism, militant anti-exclusivity, and absolute openness. Come down!