Sunday, 30 May 2010

Middlesex, Open City

1.  The Supplicant

Middlesex Philosophy resembles nothing so much as an ‘open city’ or a house of mourning.  Anyone can walk in – offer condolences (protest letters - letters of support), incite, flatter, self-promote, reminisce about the ‘dead’ (the ‘world renowned department’).  That world in which they are renowned ended with the threatened closure of their ‘world’.  The subjects of protest are now victims, victimized.  They are no longer activists or active.  Everything is unnaturally ‘wide open’ – it seems one could even as a stranger look into every nook and cranny of the abandoned city.  The city ‘fathers’ (professors) have fled or have been made incommunicado.  Conducting the defence are children (students) and a motley ‘international brigade’ or foreign mercenaries depending upon the perspective.  As it is a site of abandonment and extreme openness – all manner of historical drama can be re-enacted simultaneously – whether it be the precociousness of May ’68 in Paris or the Volkssturm of Berlin 1945.  Apropos, Winston Churchill used the Mansion at Trent Park as a retreat during the Blitz.  It belonged at that time to the family of Siegfried Sassoon.

The only Middlesex philosophy professor still rallying from the barbican of “Save Middlesex Philosophy!”- Facebook is Eric Alliez.  He acts mostly as a medium of masochistic spectacle (his own?) or as the official mourner.  In his video of a súplica to the Pope (online) he played the role of a wailer on his knees.  It was a spectacle of self-punishment in the sense of Anti-Oedipus – restoring the harmony disturbed by the criminal (Middlesex philosophy and occupation) who is at the same time the supplicant.
The Pope was the great absent (imaginary?) auditor – imaginable only as the mute direction of Alliez’ rapt upturned semi-ecstatic hysterical gaze and his supplicating gestures.  Every gesture was redolent of the tainted ecstasy of the martyr – revealing and concealing impure true emotion.  As if in the midst of a lycanthropic seizure (becoming-animal) Alliez engaged in a symbolic ‘Middlesex’ with the Pope. 
He conceived the role in the tradition of French classical drama, statically reciting the litany of Middlesex’s impressive ‘RAE ratings’, numbers make the best prayers and aphrodisiacs – as if he were wooing the Pope with a sort of “Catalogue Aria” of erotic statistics.  Yet as the presentiment of infinite disaster is starkly visible in his ‘tragic mask’ – one could have equally dubbed the scene with the words of the abandoned Dido, Queen of Carthage from Berlioz’ “Les Troyens” quoted by Badiou in “Logics of Worlds”:
“Adieu, mon peuple, adieu! adieu, rivage vénéré, / Toi qui jadis m’accueillit
suppliante; / Adieu, beau ciel d’Afrique, astres que j’admirai / Aux nuits
d’ivresse et d’extase infinie, / Je ne vous verrai plus, ma carrière est finie.”
[“Farewell, my people, farewell! Farewell revered shore,
You who once welcomed me, beseeching;
Farewell, beautiful African sky, stars that I beheld
In nights of drunkenness and infinite ecstasy,
Never again shall I see you, my run is over.”
Alain Badiou, Logics of Worlds, Being and Event, 2, translated by Alberto Toscano, p. 32]

Alliez’ onto-theological address to the representative of the ‘not-One’, the somewhat sexually discoloured Universal-Transcendental was at the same time in the words of Napoleon a ‘consommation forte’.  It was an ostentatious consumption or waste of reputation – the social debt/asset of Middlesex.  Was it in a sense the ‘price’ for the intimacy between master and slave (Pope-Alliez)?  The Middlesex numbers are those of regret, of the almost but not quite, not unlike unconsummated love.  Especially that mere 2% shortfall from the amount of 55% income-tribute required from the department by the university, one can imagine the Pope’s sympathy for such a partial indulgence.  But one might doubt that he offered Alliez matching funds.  

Still Alliez’ plea was a spectacle and not a drama – there is no behind the scenes, mere anamorphic ‘noise’ or distortion in the plane.  The illustrious unseen auditor gives an audience and he is the inner-spectacular ‘onstage’ audience of the spectacle.  As such the invisible Pope is the occulted part of the spectacle.
At a presumed unfilmed audience with the Pope, the intimacy reaches an even greater intensity.  This was the true organ without bodies.  Alliez emphasized in his report to Facebook that he got the Pope (Law of the Father) to repeat a word – Albion.  He himself had to repeat Middlesex – he mentions that he told the Pope’s interpreter not to translate ‘sex’ as in ‘sex’.  As according to Deleuze/Lacan the Phallus introduces the difference between life and language/logos – repeating the word is equivalent to repeating the symbolic masochistic coitus with the Father.  One wonders what the Pope has to do with Middlesex – but it was the magic of kairos , being within physical reach of the Father in Porto – the right moment to indulge an impossible desire – with the logic of dreams.  Middlesex was the cover for sex with the Pope.

Alliez has also enlisted other sadomasochistic contributions from various artists –“A Good Philosopher is a Dead Pig” under an image of a recumbent life-size pig face (slightly gaping jaw, a few stumps of teeth) demonstrating some kind of art pleonasm and a second image of the labyrinthine anal quarters of a pig urging the onlooker to “fuck philosophy”, both from Paul McCarthy.  “A (famous) feminist French artist” provided her interpretation of the genitals of the Dean – grey monochrome ice cubes in a suspended bidet, describing her reaction as doubly obscene, SM, “painful therefore JOYFUL” and signing predictably “Marcelle Duchamp”.  Alliez was very quick though to censure a comment from someone identifying himself as an ‘urban guerilla’ – his language of the guerrilla threatening “Management property and wealth” was a “cheap fairy tale of the revolution”.  “Does it help you fall asleep?”, he asked.  Obviously Alliez felt called upon in that instance to promptly defend Management.  Yet he is astonished that all those imposing letters from the ‘greats’ of ‘militant’ philosophy leave the ‘revolutionaries’ in the management unmoved.  For in disbanding the philosophy department at Middlesex it is the management who have effectively ‘occupied’ or paralyzed the department with their abrupt and surprising tactics.  The student occupations are symbolic counteractions or counter-occupations. Refugees from the conquered philosophy department, they have created an occupation against the occupation – in other words a refugee camp, and invited experts on post colonialism to tell them how to be more perfect refugees. 

2.  “Reactive Subjects”

Capitalism is ‘revolutionary’ in its total dissolution of bonds, writes Badiou. He was paraphrasing Marx who spoke of the “great civilizing influence of capital” in the Grundrisse, which is “constantly revolutionizing, tearing down all barriers in the way of the development of the forces of production(…)” such as “the satisfying of existing needs and the reproduction of old forms of life”. [Karl Marx, Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, Frankfurt/Wien, p. 313]  This is perhaps true of ‘old forms of life’ within the general population.  The ‘revolutionary tendencies of capital’ convert the population 
into a generic mass poised and malleable as ‘whatever’ material of the state organization -  whereas the true and indissoluble bonds are preserved within the state organization itself.  In England they still call these resilient bonds - the ‘old boys network’.  The State becomes the subject of state revolutions perpetrated upon the population – in local, national and supranational dimensions.  The case of Middlesex is an example of one such miniature state revolution, disrupting and dismantling existing structures of fidelity in vivo and all the organic reproductive tissues grown by them over the years.  Agamben calls the individuals of this shapeless body of society – “whatever singularities”.  [see Giorgio Agamben, Means without End, University of Minnesota Press, 2000, pp. 86,7 ff]
“For this reason – to risk advancing a prophecy here – the coming politics will no longer be a struggle to conquer or to control the state on the part of either new or old social subjects, but rather a struggle between the state and the nonstate (humanity), that is, an irresolvable disjunction between whatever singularities and the state organization.” [Agamben, op. cit. p. 87]

The non-state would seem to approximate the populace of ancient Rome – Agamben’s perpetual inner topography.  The majority of the population  were merely a nameless quantitative bulk (sine nomine vulgus), a count, but worst of all was not to be counted at all (nullo numero esse).  The Middlesex management spoke like Romans when they told a student “that when thousands of people sign a petition or ‘push a button on Facebook’ this doesn’t indicate a meaningful expression of support.” [“More Information about Philosophy Suspensions”, 25th May 2010 on Save Middlesex Philosophy]

‘Whatever singularities’ correspond to “inferior subjects” (see the previous post “Nos numerus sumus”).  But they do not just stand in discrete opposition or separateness from the state – they carry the state within them, as the ‘subject’ deformed by the intrinsic ‘imperative’.  In a recent action of the Middlesex ‘camp-pain’ called “I occupied Middlesex”, the anonymous undifferentiated group of protesters/students obligingly singularized and named (identified) themselves complete with ‘mug shot’ – as an ironic gesture of vorauseilender Gehorsam (anticipatory obedience) to the investigation of the management.  But the ‘irony’ of the protesters is not theirs at all – it is the fetishized metaphysical State subject working through them and ‘behind their backs’.  “The imperative categorizes its addressee; it affirms the freedom of the addressee, imputes evil to it and intends or abandons it to the law.”  [Jean-Luc Nancy, The Kategorein of Excess, A Finite Thinking, Edited S. Sparks, California, 2003, p. 151]
The whole notion of groups protesting against the state – or developing into dangerous destabilizing factors within the state is antiquated.  On the contrary, it is the groups which are destabilized and abandoned by ‘revolutionary’ acts of the state, and these groups protest only in the name of restoring what has been taken from them. 

They are essentially “reactive subjects” addicted to “reactionary novelties” [Badiou, Logics of Worlds, op. cit.].  By an odd inversion such reactive subjects claim (appropriate) the ‘infinity’ of the power of the state in relation to the masses as their own infinity.  The danger exuded by the state is ‘unthinkable’ for them except as added as a mass to their own ‘body’ of protest.  But their ‘protest body’ is actually the reflection of the double infinity of the state – the infinite power inscribed in the state and its infinite distance to the masses.
“This distance between the power of the state and people’s possible affirmative thinking possesses the characteristic of being errant or without measure.
We could say that the world in which there appears such a power (the state)—a measureless power which is infinitely distant from any affirmative capacity of the mass of people—is a world in which political sites can exist. If it is of a political type, an event-site (…)is a local disruption of the relation between the mass of people and the state. What endures from such a site is a trace, a fixed measure of the power of the state, a halting-point (for thought) to the errant character of this power.” [Badiou, Logics of Worlds, op. cit., pp. 69-70]

Badiou would seem to confirm that the ‘political’ originates in the infinite state subject – its “measureless power”.  When the relation between the infinite power of the state and masses is locally disrupted, then this becomes an “event-site” – but what remains of this site is not the trace of the disruption, nor of the “affirmative capacity of the mass of the people”, but rather a “fixed measure of the power of the state”.  It is the peculiar delusion of the “reactive subject” to see the infinite trace as its own.  

Eric Alliez on “Save Middlesex Philosophy!”- Facebook 30th May 2010: “Obscure, Pavel???? From the Pope in Porto to the F1 in Istanbul, the consequence is excellent!  Our battlefied is the antimodern/postmodern interface, remember… (…)A new way to inform them about the dangerous infinity of our supporters!”

3. “State of Exception”

An odd asymmetry – in the amoral quantitative world, why should the state be any more ‘legalist’ than the protesting anti-state (non-state)?  Only a passive ‘whatever singularity’ who carries the legal transcendental illusion inside would expect that the state keep within the bounds of its own ostensible legal code.  But it is precisely the state or sovereign power which decides when its legal code is binding and when it becomes unbound as in the “state of exception”.   “Sovereign is he who decides on the state of exception”, a truism of Carl Schmitt’s ‘political theology’ underlying all of Agamben’s thinking about sovereignty and law.  In political philosophical terms, the exception precedes and grounds the rule – in the empirical world it appears as its opposite, something outré, outside of the law.  It is though, says Agamben, the negative condition of all positive law.  The relation of the ‘negative’ law (the exception) to the positive law (the rule) resembles, says Agamben, the relation of negative to positive theology.
“The exception is an element in law that transcends positive law in the form of its suspension.  The exception is to positive law what negative theology is to positive theology.  While the latter affirms and predicates determinate qualities of God, negative (or mystical) theology, with its “neither…nor…” negates and suspends the attribution to God of any predicate whatsoever.” [Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer, Stanford University Press, 1998, p. 17]  
When the state metamorphoses empirically into the “state of exception”, when the positive law is suspended, it stops thinking in terms of business as usual, with all of its weighing up of costs and benefits.  That is the thinking of a petit bourgeois, a Monsieur Prudhomme.  When perplexed Middlesex philosophy supporters wonder – how could a university such as Middlesex squander its best assets, they are the ones who are trapped in the worldview of an accountant.  The management or corporation has moved into its decisionist mode of state avant-garde.  The state as avant-garde obeys the logic of the sovereign, the suspending of the law, the ostentatious destruction of value.  In suspending the students and their professors, who cling to ‘neoliberal’, neo-utilitarian criteria of image, brand and sponsors – the corporation demonstrates how it has moved beyond economic grounds back into its ‘originary’ state.  In a sense ‘reverting to type’ while approaching what Agamben calls an “imperfect nihilism”.  The situation of abandonment in Middlesex is one “in which the law is in force without significance”.  “What, after all, is the structure of the sovereign ban if not that of a law that is in force but does not signify?”
[Agamben, Homo Sacer, op. cit. p. 51]  

4.  Infinite Ratings

In 2009 a similar attempt to close down a philosophy department was undertaken at Liverpool University – and successfully reversed. 
The senior management team and deans in Liverpool based their closure recommendations on the poor performance ratings of the department during the now notorious RAE 2008 – the same one in which Middlesex Philosophy scored so well.  Paradoxically, Liverpool’s poor ratings were perhaps their good fortune.

An article in the Guardian from 1oth March 2009 reported: “The local Labour MP Peter Kilfoyle lodged an early day motion in Parliament condemning the cuts.” [Anthea Lipsett, “Liverpool staff promise strike over subject cuts”]
The Liberal Democrat MP John Pugh disparaged the rating system itself as being unfair.  “I am dubious about assessment systems like the RAE.”  [John Pugh, “Liverpool’s cuts have not been thought through” in Mortarboard Blog,, 11 March 2009]

In May 2009 the philosophy department at Liverpool was granted a reprieve under the condition their ratings and research output improve.  The logic of the Liverpool administration had no chance to exceed the normal.  They never touched the sphere of the exception.  But in Middlesex the ratings are too good – they have already banished themselves from the logic of numbers and tables.  As their ratings are so good, though, they are reluctant to question the notion of ratings in itself. 
A precarious situation has arisen in which neither usefulness nor value have any meaning any more.  But the negation of value is also meaningless.  All that remains is the sovereign state of exception whose other body is the philosopher ‘homo sacer’.

Is it wise to rely so heavily on the ‘foreign legions’, the polymath defenders and supporters from abroad?  Machiavelli warns against such a strategy in strongest terms. [Discorsi, Book II, 20.]  Foreign auxiliaries stiffen the resistance of local warlords (management) and otherwise tend to occupy the terrain they have been invited to defend.
England is an island – the universities are still feudal corporations at whose apex some sort of ennobled personage, Marx’s proverbial “dung-hill aristocrat”, always has the last word.  The long hand of the monarchy insures the fidelity of university subjects.  Her Majesty’s representative in Middlesex is the Chancellor, the Rt Hon Lord Sheppard of Didgemore KCVO Kt.  Although the monarchy itself is a global capitalist enterprise, those whose duty it is to defend it must occasionally abandon a sheer business rationale. 



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