Saturday, 22 May 2010

"Nos numerus sumus"

Axiom 2:  The exception is the parasite of the rule.
Axiom 2a:  The rule is the parasite of the exception.

In the philosophy of our time one has to study and analyze new structures of sophistry.  Lyotard accused Badiou of being “an absolute decisionist” – a new Carl Schmitt.  Badiou defended himself in an interview in “Infinite Thought” [“Ontology and Politics”, London, 2004] – saying he isn’t, or that his concept of the event is not.  Is decisionism a moment of the new sophists?  Badiou also speaks of the duplicity of philosophy – its inherent split between truth and sophisms, related to rhetoric [“The definition of philosophy”, in Badiou, op. cit.].  Badiou is a decisionist at least to the degree that he considers philosophy to be action – the singular action of the self-transforming philosopher.

Money and Revolution are both circulating entities or have something to do with circularity.  Is Revolution like money an apparition of the sphere of circulation?  The masses circulate on the street like money – “(…) in the exchange of looks and the exchange of rings (…)” (Gottfried Benn)  The gaze you catch en passant you will never see again – like the coin you leave in the café or the shop.  B H Levy implied something similar regarding the uniqueness of May ’68.  These events overthrew the whole of political philosophy, dissolving the relationship of above and below, between the ruler and the ruled.  Everyone became an activist.  Everyone on the street partook of the immortality of youth.  One could consider money in the same way – immortal in its perpetual identity with itself, unchanging general equivalent, above and below is only a question of quantity, not quality.  Ruling introduces a difference of quality into the indifferent mass.  Not ruling is the lack of this quality.  In May ’68 politics as a qualitative sphere was momentarily replaced by the quantitative liberation of the masses on the street.  But this moment in which masses and money equalled one another was very short.  Soon afterward all the qualitative relations of power were restored – those intrinsically bound up with the juridical, the domain most resistant to any numerical onslaught.  The juridical is the bad imperative towering over the individual, but addressing each and every singular as that which exceeds the individual in the most personal and relentless fashion.  The Law unravels the revolt-mass into atomic parts and then crushes them.  The juridical is the profane imitation of the ‘categorical imperative’, the ‘law of the law’ which includes the ‘outlaw’ (each particle of the revolt-mass is a singular ‘outlaw’) as the one to whom the law is addressed.  As a singular ‘outlaw’ for whom the laws are actually conceived, the mass as singular but not identical particles is “abandoned (…) to the entire rigor of the law.”  [Jean-Luc Nancy, The Kategorein of Excess, A Finite Thinking, Edited S. Sparks, California, 2003, p. 140.  One hears the intonations of ‘homo sacer’ in this view of the outlaw in relation to the law before the law – the imperative.]

Even worse, in his abandonment, the ‘outlaw’ is overwhelmed by the sublimity of the law ‘inside of him’ (Kant’s categorical imperative) – of the ‘ruler inside of him’.  The ‘respect’ for the law he carries inside mirrors (is a model or mimicry of) the obedience of a subject to his ruler – if he overthrows this ruler he implicitly destroys himself, self-executioner.  [Nancy, op. cit., p. 148.  Nancy quotes Kant, Religion Ak 6: 49: “The majesty of the moral law (as of the law of Sinai) instils awe (not dread, which repels, nor charm, which invites familiarity); and in this instance, since the ruler resides within us, this respect, as of a subject toward his ruler, awakens a sense of the sublimity of our own destiny (…)”]

The state or sovereign is the metaphysical subject, the true subject as opposed to the finite singular.

The Singular Universal as the Inferior Subject

Structure: There seems a natural development from the “two of love” to the “inferior subject” or “singular” – Kierkegaard’s all encompassing major category – as a result of forfeiting love.
A question for the subject – is the unconscious subjective or objective?  One speaks of the stream of consciousness – but what is the stream of the unconscious?  Does it stream at all?  Is the unconscious rather unmoved, immobile?  The singular is not inferior in itself, it draws its inferiority from its relation to the world, in particular the world as state or the softer version – community.  The singular is a microcosm, the state a macrocosm.  For Plato each regime had its own particular set of human characters.  And yet the state like Swedenborg’s le grand homme is a spiritual entity – an idea.  The human character arising in a state is not spiritual, hence inferior to the state.   Le petit homme, the singular can never reach le grand homme, symbol of the whole, the cosmos.  The unattainable spirituality of the state explains the magical significance of the ‘political’ for contemporary philosophy, especially that which traces its roots to Plato (Badiou, Agamben, Nancy).

French political philosophy remains true to itself – it is not as easily overthrown as the regime it describes.  The idea of what comprises a revolution is also part of political philosophy, at least since the French Revolution.  Rivarol, who was a contemporary of the French Revolution as Levy was of May ’68 characterized the events of his time in a similar fashion – although of course he was a royalist not a sans-culotte.  For Badiou’s generation May ’68 is so precious and unforgettable because it is a means of forgetting the ignominy of 1940-1944, disguising and redeeming it.

Rivarol’s definition of Revolution: “(…) and when a people separates itself from its tool, that is from its government, then there is a revolution.”  [In: Die Französische Moralisten, translated and edited by F. Schalk, Bremen, 1963, p. 163]
Strangely, Rivarol the royalist sees the people as the source of power and violence, perhaps under the direct impression of the revolution.  “People=Force, Government=Tool.  The Unity of Force+Tool=Political Power.”  A propensity for mathematical or formalized thinking is quite typical for French state theory until this day (one understands Badiou somewhat better).  Power—Tool=Revolution.  It is refreshing that Rivarol has no need either to condemn or glorify holy or demonic revolutionary violence, Badiou’s beloved Terror.  Levy describes the interruption of the unity of ‘force and tool’ euphorically, but his concept of revolution is identical with Rivarol’s.  May ’68 was not the ‘overthrow’ of political philosophy, rather the confirmation of the classical theory of revolution and the state.  

It would seem, the only utopias still possible are purely quantitative.

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