Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Infinite Coup - Notes on the Egyptian Revolution

1. Unknowing (Non-Savoir)
2. The Tao of Deception
3. Power of Degeneracy
4. Time of Tyrants
5. Badiou’s Infinite State
6. Bonapartism or Pétainist Transcendental?

1.  Unknowing (Non-Savoir)

There are many forms of unknowing – as many if not more than those of un-being.  One state of not knowing is that of never knowing – that which ‘induces’ this never knowing is unknowable (dare one say ‘object’), but perhaps only from the state of a particular unknowing.  The state of unknowing may also conceivably be one preceding all (any) knowing.
The “cloud of unknowing” is a semi-permanent darkness which merely borrows the ‘relation of no relation’ of unknowing to mark a state in which knowledge is unattainable – even undesirable.  This state cannot be transcended or altered in any way.  It is permanent unknowing.  Mystical states of beatitude or relations not based on knowledge are typical examples of such unknowing.  Knowledge is used to hold back knowledge similar to instances of will used to hinder will – as an intra-monadic action.

Unknowing in the sublunary literary cosmogony of relations refers to the strange but very common occurrence – when something known becomes unknown.  It is the reverse of mystical unknowing – yet potentially more disturbing – because accompanied by unspecific loss.  One had been familiar with something or someone – a person, a place, a thing – that person, place or thing becomes unfamiliar, strange.  One had been connected by knowing, perhaps without even noticing it - if this knowing was habit or ‘second nature’ – but suddenly one is disconnected.  Knowing reverts back to unknowing.  The ‘present’ unknowing could be a kind of temporary lapse, an amnesia, or a second new kind of unknowing.  When you don’t recognize someone you know, you’ve forgotten that you know them, this is the ordinary experience of unknowing.  An old woman at the wake of her husband wonders if she ever ‘knew’ him – knew in the biblical sense – “Did I have sexual intercourse with him?”.

The second type of unknowing is similar to second innocence – harder to lose than the first innocence.  One knows nothing – one is unknowing – this unknowing is agitated by a first knowing – one leaves the state of naiveté – the step from the first unknowing to knowing is irreversible.  One is astonished at how everything is changed and one cannot even imagine how it was to have been so unknowing.  From the point of knowing - unknowing becomes the “first fine careless rapture, which can never be recaptured”.  This first unknowing casts that of which one is unknowing as the unknown – once this shell of the unknown is cracked or perforated it can never be repaired – it is irreparable – knowledge or knowing is a kind of damage done to unknowing.  The perfection of unknowing has been forever marred by the imperfection (and incompleteness) of knowing – this imperfection could also be called the ‘original sin’ of unknowing – the source of all insincerity.
Although this kind of irreparable move from unknowing to knowing seems to hold only of other knowing or unknowing subjects – the inorganic unknown or animal unknown do not radiate (emanate) this fatal irreversibility.  Only when the unknowing is of another unknowing subject whose move to knowing may or may not emulate (mimic) one’s own can any sort of irreversibility (irreparability) of this move be contemplated.

But sometimes the first knowing can be undone – when one ‘unknows’ someone – they become unfamiliar.  One sees them again with the eyes of a stranger, although they themselves see nothing different.  You the second unknower or unknower to the second degree have become the stranger.  This means you look again with unknowing eyes on what you had previously looked with knowing eyes.  In the sense that knowledge is a kind of servility of consciousness  - exercising its power of knowing for the purposes of serving some kind of recognition – unknowing is sovereignty – or the ‘miraculous’ subject.  “I define unalloyed sovereignty as the miraculous reign of unknowing.” (Georges Bataille, “Sovereignty”, The Bataille Reader, edited by Fred Botting and Scott Wilson, Oxford, 1997, p. 312 note 3)

You unknow yourself in the new body of drill – the new body of the ballerina, the soldier, the terrorist, the castrato.  You sacrifice yourself to the Other who is you – like Odin – I to myself.  “Zucht und smart-sein” (drill and being-smart).  In the accident “nothing gives place to the unknowable of the moment” (Bataille, op. cit., p. 312) – but one anticipates the value of drill for the accident – just as drill or discipline are not dissociable from Wittgenstein’s ‘random’ method of philosophical investigation.  To be ‘smart’ is not just a question of the uniform, but especially of what is underneath it.  Does one have to have heard anything about Sparta to conduct oneself as a Spartan?  Would it not be better to know nothing of Sparta.  Discipline is an unknowing of the absence of discipline.  Self-preservation of knowing is at the heart of the Enlightenment – sacrifice of knowing is at the root of the ‘community’ (without community).  How does the one become the other?  You unknow yourself in the community or community is an active non-knowledge (non-savoir) of yourself.  As Bataille warns: “Il n’est loisible à quiconque de ne pas appartenir à mon absence de communauté.” [“No one is free not to participate in my absence of community.”  From “Prendre ou Laissez” 1946 (?) quoted in “Georges Bataille: incarnation, destruction, et absence de la communauté”, Lyon, Horlieu, 1999 (supplement au n°9 de la Lettre Horlieu)  Note: Thanks to Greg Yudin (Moscow School of Higher Economics) who brought this principal thought of Bataille to my attention.]

The second unknowing is much more permanent – it can neither go back to a first knowing nor forward to a second knowing.  This is a state one wants to achieve.  Hence it is innocence, which cannot be lost.   All of this could have some implications for the Heideggerian notion of the “unthought” in or of a philosophy.  The unthought of a philosopher.  Unthinking can mean without thought – or prior to thought.  Like in unknowing.  A kind of innocence of thought.  Thought before it is thought is unthinking.  Heidegger seems to mean – the part of a philosophy, which is permanently unthought – the dark unpresentable side of thought – the formless ground in which thought is ungrounded.   But unthinking can also mean the reversing of thinking.  A thought, which had been thought, unravels (itself) into unthought.  This would be the second unthinking.  Such unravelling is more of the nature of entropy than innocence.  Given that philosophy (in a Heideggerian sense) ‘originates’ in the formless ungrounded ground of unthought – every thought (philosophy) could be said to have an innate ‘death drive’ of its own – to return to this state of total equilibrium of the unthought.  It would be the aim of a critique of philosophy to unthink its thought – to reflect on the question “what is unthinking” – to propel its thinking into unthinking or to show how its thinking is already an unthinking.  (Unfortunately this already sounds like a kind of counter ‘Destruktion’ or deconstruction – but one has to resist the automatic sirens of unthinking.)

Axiom:  Every thought, which has been thought, can be equally unthought.

If what Ernst Bloch says is true – that every philosopher has one thought – (and why shouldn’t it be true being the paraphrase or imitation of all those other onenesses – every writer has one story, every composer one song etc.) – then potentially by unthinking that one thought one could unthink that philosopher too.

One is also unknowing when one thinks one knows but doesn’t.  This is particularly dangerous – the state of thinking one knows when one doesn’t is typical of a person with a sense of false security.  The philosophical stance – to know that one knows nothing is to be in a perpetual state of being on guard, to resist any quietude imposed by a sense of security.  To shun such knowing.  To always strive for the aporetic.

Oddly those in power although perhaps obsessed with their security or with the uninterrupted prolongation of their power – are not immune to such a sense of false security.  The paranoia of the tyrant (Gewaltherrscher) is the other side of his ostentatious representation and colossal ‘public’ works.  The infamous tyrant Giangaleazzo in 14th century Milan undertook massive dam constructions costing 300,000 Goldgulden on the Mincio of Mantua, the Brenta of Padua, so as to be able to divert these rivers at will, leaving those cities without a defence.

An odd analogy exists between the philosophical stance of unknowing and the permanent watchfulness and distrust of the absolute ruler – the ruler of the state of exception.  As Burckhardt remarks about the tyrants of Renaissance Italy – their states (lo stato) were founded on illegitimacy rather than on a “mystic foundation” (Montaigne) of law.  Although Montaigne qualifies this “mystic foundation” as being  a necessary “fiction” of authority and
devoid of justice.  “Now laws remain in credit not because they are just, but because they are laws.” (Montaigne, “Of Experience”, Book III, 13, The Complete Essays of Montaigne, Stanford, 1965, p. 821)  The laws are also “grossly and widely and ordinarily faulty” (ibid.) making them into sacred things.  Sacred things tend to be defective, badly made, because the sacred is not useful, it is not work.  The proof of the mystic foundation of the authority of law is their faultiness – if they were just or equitable in themselves, men would obey them for their own sake and not for their mystic foundation.  So “in spite of everything, the sacred thing ends up having utility.” (Bataille, op. cit., p. 314)

In the tyrant state all relations within the entourage and family (often the same) are equally illegitimate – or based on unknowing of the fidelity of such a relation.  In a state of illegitimacy no loyalty could be nor was expected.  The only ‘rational’ behavior was one of constant distrust and elaborate precaution against betrayal and assassination.  Any act of loyalty to the ruler on the other hand could be seen as a microcosmic legitimation of the state.  The briefly serving vice-president of Egypt Omar Soleiman is portrayed as someone who once saved the life of the then President Mubarak – this is especially remarkable not just as an act of personal fidelity – but in the sense of the “two bodies of the king” – by ‘saving the life’ of the president he had also legitimated this specific rule or state of exception.  The act itself was the logistical decision to ship Mubarak’s armoured Mercedes with him on a state visit to Addis Ababa during which an attempt on his life occurred – not a personal act of bravery or sacrifice on the part of Soleiman.  But in the history of the reign of Mubarak – similar to the absolute states in the past – even such a bureaucratic decision was coated in glory – being itself an exceptional act of fidelity in a state based on infidelity and illegitimacy.

2.  The Tao of Deception

No organized retreat.  Just organized remaining.  Unchanged.  Sometimes one can retreat into a more rather than less dangerous terrain.  Especially if the enemy is scattered all over and the theatre of war is circular.  The inevitable distance sets in, what seemed to draw close was actually a pulling away.

How much does the rule – ‘war is the Tao of deception’ apply to the afterlife (of war).  The afterlife does not remove the constraints of life; it increases them and gives them a new tensility.  The old rules about when to lie and when to tell the truth assumed that one knew the world outside and one knew one’s own mind accurately.  But if one operates under a premise of unknowability and unpredictability this ceases to be the case.  Believing, the other side of lying and truth telling is similarly indeterminate.  One can believe to be telling the truth.  Error is another state.  One can be in error but truthful.  Better believe oneself to be telling a lie – but in terms of the universe to be telling the truth.  Truth can be an obstruction to real knowledge.  Truth of revelation is not provable, so it can be dismissed at any time as a lie.  A lie is more universal than a mere fact, which might be considered by ordinary judges to be true.  Facts are what people usually mean when they say truth.  As if a fact were so easy to obtain.  The secrets Ciceron, a Turkish spy for Nazi Germany, sold were not facts, they were threats – even if they described real invasion plans of the Allies.  He was the untruthful simpleton who served to deepen the German phantasy of being beyond defeat – already a sign of the euphoria of defeat.  Speer uses the words “euphoric ideas” in his book about his “conflicts with the SS” -  “Der Sklaven-Staat” (The Slave State).  The SS was a ‘euphoria engine’.

When one is happy together with someone else, does this mean that each person possesses his own happiness or that x parts of happiness (in the case of x number of people) formed one whole happiness?  The same question could be asked about the “will of the people” – “la volonté générale” (Rousseau) – out of which one whole state is reputedly formed?

In a remark in the Encyclopaedia expounding upon the notion of the one and the many in atomistic philosophy, Hegel fractures Rousseau’s idea of “la volonté générale”.  Each one is a one and one of many, so the one and the many are one and the same.  Each one though is also a negative relation to itself – one of exclusion or repulsion.  It repels itself from itself, which is another way of saying it is attracted to the other ones – all like itself.  So the excluding relation of the one to itself – its ‘for-itself’ sublates itself (hebt sich auf).  Hence Hegel can conclude, following an atomistic view of “the political”, “more important lately than the atomistic view of the physical”, that “the will of the singular as such is the principle of the state” – here seeming to allude to ‘lo stato’ of the tyrant – yet the “general, the state itself, is the external relation of the contract.” (Enzyclopedia der philosophischen Wissenschaften I, G.W.F. Hegel, Werke in zwanzig Bänden 8, Frankfurt, 1970, p. 207)  He has dissected Rousseau’s “general will” into the “will of the singular” (the one of the many ones) and “the general” which is the state itself, the contract exterior to the will of the one.  Hegel’s state is a hybrid of the absolute state of the tyrant and the Enlightenment concept of the state as social contract.

But as the principle “überhaupt” (above all) of atomistic philosophy is “the for-itself in the figure (Gestalt) of the many” – the many or the people are inherent in the “will of the singular”. (ibid.)

The undecidability of the one or the many as the foundation of the state appears to be resolved in this essential principle of atomistic philosophy.

3.  The Power of Degeneracy

Heidegger considers Nietzsche’s Zarathustra to be the ‘teacher of the overcoming of the spirit of revenge’ – by way of the eternal return of the same.  But isn’t it quite the opposite?  The spirit of revenge is the aversion of the will (being of Being is will) to time – or the ‘it was’ of time.  The return of the same overcomes ‘it was’.  Could Nietzsche mean though the return of the same in the world or history or the cosmos – or in thought itself – which in its recurrence ‘materializes’ itself in world, history, cosmos?  The Egyptian revolution of today is haunted by many recurrences of the same collective thought – on “The Friday of Farewell”, itself a repetition of the “Friday of Departure” – protestors in Alexandria are marching to the (presidential) Ras Al Tin palace where King Farouk stepped his final steps as king before being ousted by the 1952 officer’s coup led by Nasser.  They obviously hope for a recurrence of such a coup.  Note: A few hours later Mubarak stepped down and the military took charge.  Did the march to the scene of the first toppling conjure up the ‘return of the same’ finally?  A revolution is the apotheosis of the return of the same – at least it manifests a circular logic – of revenge.  Something which was the ‘state’ ceases to be so abruptly – as if a circle has completed itself at a strict point.

Soleiman delivered the final speech of the regime, in which Mubarak’s resignation was announced and power transferred to the army, in approximately 20 seconds.  This was the exact point or moment of the revolution and at the same time a ‘silent coup’.  Tariq Ali named it a “coup against the dictator” – but was it really that?  An abbreviated sort of revolutionary dialectic seems to be at work - the Egyptian revolution erupted simultaneously with its own counter-revolution.  (Interestingly, the disappeared police are now back on the streets in uniform – but as “protestors” in their own right, claiming they are also victims of the regime.)  Counter-revolution is not just the reverse or mirror image of the revolution.  It is a movement in itself – positivity without negativity.  In this case, counter-revolution is the positivity of martial law, which is not a state of exception.  Or can the object ruled by martial law be considered a state or sovereign?
In the Egyptian Revolution/Coup one can detect at least two versions of the ‘one and the many’.  The One of the People who united almost physically in their masses to transfer (convey) their will to the state (perhaps not quite willingly) and the Many of the multitude who cannot be One and resist this transfer of will.  By seemingly acceding to the “will of the people” unified in that one artificial construct of a “general will” (“Communiqué 1: all the people’s demands will be met”), the army for the moment seems to have been able to decapitate the revolution with one ‘coup’.  The “will of the people” has become the army’s effigy.

The One of the “will of the people” and the amorphous multitude form a “zone of indistinction” between them – where neither people nor multitude prevails.  Virno in his “Grammar of the Multitude” cites the medieval jus resistentiae – as characteristic of the pre-state multitude associated in a variety of corporations – who resist encroachments of the law of the realm on their particular ‘bodies’.  A tragedy of such an idée fixe of jus resistentiae is unfolded in Kleist’s “Michael Kolhhaas”.  Virno sees the contemporary multitude (following Spinoza and not Hobbes) as preserving and reviving a certain non-state concept of freedom found in those earlier multitudes – although in great contradistinction to the 17th century multitude, the contemporary multitude considers itself more rather than less universal than the state. (see Paolo Virno, Grammar of the Multiude, Los Angeles, 2004, pp. 42-43)  The universality of the multitude transcends the ‘nation-state’, corresponding, in Virno’s estimation, to the “general intellect” – a concept he derives from the chapter “Fragment on Machines” in Marx’s “Grundrisse”.

Virno identifies the multitude in the discourse of the seventeenth century in particular in Hobbes as the anti-state – this anti-state is in contrast to the people who are the necessary and proper complement of the state.  The Egyptian protest was conducted by a multitude in the process of becoming a people of the ‘coming’ unknown state.  The concept of ‘will of the people’ is already in Hobbes – it represents that which the people has (as its natural right) so as to transfer it to the sovereign.  The multitude has no unified will – hence it is in essence ungovernable.  Spinoza as Virno notes sees in the multitude the true “architrave” (armature) of civil liberties and civil society. (Virno, op. cit., pp. 22-23)  The multitude is the many, the people becomes the one.

The other binary of the “One and the Many” – is the One of the Ruler/Dictator and the Many of the subjects, individuals.  For Badiou, though there are no individuals in the state, they are only ‘present’ and ‘represented’ as countable singularities or singletons.  The multitude or anti-state might correspond to what Badiou calls the “void”.

The eternal recurrence of the same sounds less romantic or implausible when one sees it in light of the principles of  ‘accident theory’ – the accumulation of chance occurrences can lead over a period of time to amazing recurrent patterns.  Conversely – one minute flaw in a regular sequence can result in a catastrophic accident.
The recurrence of the same thought or thoughts is another way of overcoming one’s own time - this is not the same as memory, but the persistence for unknown reasons of certain irreducible and permanent thoughts – which keep returning without volition – such as the ‘power of degeneracy’.  Thinking of Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Stalker I had thought I had discovered something ‘new’ – that it was a fable of degeneracy from the perspective of a scepticism towards all human economies.  His images radiate a great ‘power of degeneracy’ using an old telephone which surprisingly rings, decaying railroad tracks, decrepit industrial barracks beyond all modernity, swampy caves in a depopulated rural hinterland and a lumpy crowded bed.  But already some years ago I had been observing phenomena in the ‘valley’ – which I compared with the Zone in Stalker – “not just the characters (degeneracy) but the physical surroundings with their outré sense of the ordinary:  “We saw an utterly bright immobile light in the eastern sky over the river.  Then it disappeared and came again.  It could have been an extraterrestrial visitor – all things are possible in our valley.”  The only ‘new’ thought is that the power of degeneracy is also the “will to power”.

Over the years the same thought faded only to reappear with slight revisions and deflections – first as degeneracy, then power of degeneracy then will to power – of degeneracy.  One could ask if every power is a ‘will to power’ – as in the power of degeneracy.  There is a fact of power– the power of degeneracy to promote degeneration – Verfall.  But is it a will to power?  Perhaps it is.  Bloch speaks of a “Rausch des Unglücks” (drunkenness of unhappiness).  Benjamin says in Einbahnstraße (One-Way Street) decline, degeneration is no more astonishing or less stable than ascendance (progress).  The groundless presumption, once one is settled in the stability of decline – is to imagine a rescue from this solid well-established degeneracy.  The anticipated miraculous rescue is often the ripening catastrophe.  In this sense – stability is inertia (entropy) – it can only be interrupted or altered or transformed by something extraordinary (not change as incremental progress) – this is the rescue.  (Hölderlin – “wo aber Gefahr ist, wächst das Rettende auch” – “where danger is, the rescue also grows”)  Only in the stability of decline does that extraordinary other grow – the catastrophe.  Nazism was both for the Germans – rescue and catastrophe.  One can see Benjamin’s writings about messianism or the messianic, as writing in anticipation of a catastrophe-rescue from the stability of a degenerate progression.

4.  Time of Tyrants

The time of the tyrant is dead time – even for the tyrant.  Or it is suspended time – the suspension of the law in the form of emergency laws.  For the people it is a time of waiting – for the end of the tyrant and his tyranny.  In a note in Das Passagen-Werk (The Arcade Project) Benjamin asks himself – how to remove the blemish of waiting from the ‘messianic’.  In the case of the tyrant – the ending of tyranny is the messianic anticipation (expectation), for the people, who wait for it every day.  Just as in the case of all messianic expectations – it could potentially come at any minute and through any door.  This is the excitement of the uncertain arrival of the end.  Such excitement is the only true frisson one can experience in the time of tyranny.  In a life without pleasure (which is the state of tyranny) the end of the tyranny is the only pleasure of pleasure.
One knows that there will be a violent end – because just as the tyrant begins his rule illegitimately – he cannot end it other than illegitimately – in other words he has no succession.  Mubarak when resigning did not observe the constitutional procedure of a written submission to parliament, after which power should be transferred to the Speaker of parliament – so even his resignation itself is technically illegal.  In tyrannies succession was always rare, even in antiquity – the passing on of the rule of Syria from the father Hafez-al-Assad to his son Bashar-al-Assad – could be seen as the exception in this present generation of absolute rulers.  Perhaps for the tyrant – the most difficult aspect of his tyranny is its ending – the period of tyranny has no natural conclusion – it has an indefinite mythical duration – as in the 1000 year Reich.  From the moment it begins it must search for its mode of retreat – this absence weighs not only on the people, it weighs equally on the tyrant.  For although it may be true – that the sovereign is the one who decides on the state of exception – or rather when it begins – he is not the one who decides when it ends.  That decision is always beyond the limit of the tyrant’s time – it is a decision, which approaches him from a time beyond himself – as if he were seeing life from the perspective of his own demise or afterlife.  The time of the tyrant is an exceptional time, which cannot initiate or conceive its own ending.

An Egyptian human rights activist in London scoffed, in an interview on Al Jazeera, at the planes flying over Tahrir Square.  “Does he want to establish an occupation of Egypt?”  The activist also said the ruling class when it loses power goes mad – it is living in a parallel reality.  But this parallel reality is exactly the state of exception.  It is for the tyrant and his entourage, his retainers a time without end – hence they can only live in its endless reality.  The time of the Führer-Bunker was a similar endless, never-ending time.  The protestors want to end the state of exception – they want a ‘normal’ state – but they have occupied a ‘state of madness’ – Mubarak’s state – so long (thirty years) that he cannot be convinced that this state can no longer hold them.  The protestors impose their own state of non-exception as the antinomy of the tyrant’s state of exception.  Their state of non-exception though appears to be a non-state of exception in relation to the tyrant’s state of exception.  Hence for him his state of exception represents stability – whereas their non-state of exception is chaos.  Quite logically – for the protestors the reverse is the case.  One of the protestors frequent chants is simply “Hosni Mubarak – batal” – “Hosni Mubarak – invalid”.

A placard presents the demand – what you did not do in thirty years, you won’t manage in three months – leave.  The placard’s text reminds the tyrant – he has lost track of time.  His reign must end like the Faustian bargain – eventually but right on time Mephistopheles (the army? the army’s backers?) appears and tells Faust “time’s up” (game over).  The time of tyranny is always endless – but it must always end abruptly.  Or rather it begins to end – the moment it begins its illegitimate visitation upon a population.  The actual ending is often counted in days – such as the “ten days that shook the world”.  Each moment of these days of ending – has a temporal density far higher than the preceding years of tyranny.  This is a law of revolution – time is not suspended as in the state of exception – time is raised to a higher power – a kind of temporal escape velocity – to rush an immobile presence, the paralyzed unrest embodied in the tyrant and his ‘mob’ of beneficiaries (security forces and business – local and global) off the historical stage.  The brevity of the time of collapse of such a regime is also a kind of law.  It represents an acceleration of events driven forward doubly by the protestors’ actions and the usual and extraordinary acts of suppression by a power itself already in a negative depleted mode.  The aggregate of power has been subsisting in an ‘afterlife’ for a long period before the ‘final push’ begins – the remnant of power at the end of a state must cannibalize itself to continue to project a phantasmagorical vitality.  Or – the power remaining in the state is only sufficient to accelerate the obliteration (disappearance) of its own phantasmal substance.

A man amongst the crowd of Egyptian protestors said – “Thirty goddamned years he ruled.”  But one wonders if at the beginning of the thirty years one would have spoken like that.  “One year he ruled.” does not convey the same kind of burden or pharaonic yoke.  The thirty years weigh most heavily at the end – it is the end weight (critical mass) which counts.  Or the first year of the thirty years (from the point of view of the end) seems as tiresome and oppressive as the thirtieth year – the time of overflowing rejection.  All years seem like the thirtieth year at the end.  Benjamin’s observation about the clocks during the time of the July Revolution (1830) seems to refute this principle of revolutionary time – he notes that on the first day of the battle revolutionaries in various parts of Paris independently of one another shot at the clock towers so as to freeze the time of the revolt.  It is rather the time of tyranny which is frozen – time unthaws, becomes a living time again only during the revolt against the dead time of the tyrant.

Besides the years of the tyrant, the days of the revolution, there is also another time, which echoes incessantly in the demands of the protestors – now.  Mubarak – leave now, step down now.  Even Obama could not resist using the ‘messianic’ word – now.  The orderly transition to democracy should start now.  One hears in that ‘now’ what Benjamin calls – “Jetztzeit” – Now-Time.  In the bipolar ‘algebra of revolution’ though the sign (symbol) ‘now’ also stands for ‘never’.

Omar Soleiman threatened the protestors with “dialogue or coup” (like the lady or the tiger?) – but how could a coup have a coup?

5.  Badiou’s Infinite State

Contemporary philosophy is hypnotized by the power of the state – although this fascination tends to veil itself in a preoccupation with militancy and revolution.  Agamben makes this most explicit in his introduction to Homo Sacer -  “Today, now that the great State structures have entered into a process of dissolution and the emergency has, as Walter Benjamin foresaw, become the rule, the time is ripe to place the originary structure and limits of the form of the state in a new perspective.  The weakness of anarchist and Marxian critiques of the State was precisely to have not caught sight of this structure and thus to have quickly left the arcanum imperii, as if it had no substance outside of the simulacra and the ideologies invoked to justify it.  But one ends up identifying with an enemy whose structure one does not understand, and the theory of the State (and in particular the state of exception (…) ) is the reef on which the revolutions of our century have been shipwrecked.” (Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer, Stanford, 1998, p. 12)

Axiom:  Communiqués are like axioms, Badiou’s favored mode of thought.  ‘Proving’ Deleuze’s and Guattari’s own axiom - “the great axiomaticians are men of State (…)” (A Thousand Plateaus).

Rather than considering the moribund state as a ‘negative power’, Badiou sees the power of what he calls the rioters in Tunisia to bring a regime to its collapse as itself the “negative power”.  “Its negative power is recognized, a lamentable power that vanishes fully into its own image.” (see Daniel Fischer’s transcription of Badiou’s seminar “What does “change the world” mean?”, from January 19th 2011, online at wrong+arithmetic, Alain Badiou on Tunisia, riots and revolution, February 2, 2o11)  Still, one must regard this vanishing power with sympathy (empathy) – because it shows that what appears “unfailing stable” can collapse (“all that is solid melts into air”).  That is its “minimal lesson”. The paradox implicit in his analysis – what Badiou cannot explain is why that lamentable vanishing negative power is precisely that, which can cause that whose appearance is “unfailing stable” to collapse – thus “changing the world”.  Why is changing the world then ‘minimal’?  Badiou seems unable to conceive of a revolution in the time of its occurrence – he describes our time as “intervallic” – between distinctive historical epochs.  Now is a time of riots.  He diminishes the status of the Tunisian protestor to a “rioter” – because the rioter does not present himself as an “alternative to the State” – which the revolutionary organized in his Party invariably does.  As if a revolution were merely the orderly transition from one state and party to the next – and not (in principle) the total destruction or at least interruption and as such change of what is.   The state of which he speaks is always the “ontological” state – in itself a non-volatile count.  A revolution, for Badiou, is only that which can immediately ‘substitute’ a ready-formed immobile set of subsets for the existing defunct one.  He sees the revolutionary overthrow of a state as analogous to following a mathematical rule or series.
Here Badiou lapses into a fallacy Wittgenstein criticized as a myth of continuity, a sort of utopia of the infinite and seamless following of a rule – reflected in everyday practices as well as in the application of mathematical rules.

Badiou cannot help judge the events in Tunisia as “illegal” – from the point of view of the situation of the state, his major ontological category.  “A vague uneasiness makes itself felt in the requisitely contented character, let’s call it consensual character, that must be displayed in spite of the inherent illegality of the events concerned.” (ibid.) (“(…)en dépit d’illegalité fonciere des événements concernés.”)

Perhaps the “unfailing stable” which has collapsed – is not just the empirical regime in Tunisia or Egypt – but the ‘western’ paradigm of the “mafia-esque dictatorship” (see Toni Negri: Letter to a Tunisian Friend, February 14, 2011, http://multitudes.samizdat.net/) as a katechon – ostensibly “the bulwark” against the threat of Islamism.  Although this katechonic legitimacy of tyrant states (proxy despots) – is itself dependent upon the veracity of such a threat – the sheer unbearability of these katechonic states unleashed another sort of Antichrist (rather than holding back its dominion) – the popular uprisings leading to their own collapse.  When the U.S. Secretary of State Clinton, in a kind of autosuggestive stupor, urges the governments of the region facing the revolts, for instance the government in Bahrain (home of the U.S. Fifth Fleet) or in Libya to use “restraint” – she unconsciously summons the figure of the katechon, the restrainer of chaos and lawless ones  – the failing golem of U.S. and ‘western’ foreign and military policy in the Middle East.

Paraphrasing Marx’s distinction in the 1844 Manuscripts –it is only necessary to think the thought of communism to overthrow the thought of capitalism– though of course not enough for the same in reality.  In Badiou’s thought it is impossible to even think a revolution.  His ontology of the state precludes the thought of revolution or any other kind of ‘interruption’ of the state.  How could the negativity of the evental rupture be ‘recognized’ by the positive state? First of all, the event has no structure and by definition “lacks being” – meaning it does not exist in the “situation”.  An event must undergo a torturous examination by a lethargic secretive “state” bureaucracy with no certainty of ever qualifying for the status of event.  (Typically, he asks of the Tunisian ‘rioters’ – what do they affirm?)  The event stands ‘before the law’ with little hope of ever entering.
Badiou’s philosophy is predestined to be part of what Jacques Ranciere names “the intellectual counter-revolution” (in the public discussion: “Importance of Critical Theory for Social Movements Today, February 1, 2011, YouTube), because his ontological premise is that of the state – the historical-political ‘nation-state’, the “figure of being” he finds admittedly indispensable to insure the “count”.

He is a statist in ontology – the state is simply “what is”.  “In the ontology of historical multiplicities I have proposed, the State, qua the state of a situation, is what ensures the structural count of a situation’s parts, a count of the situation that generally bears the proper name of a particular ‘nation’.  To call such a state, that is such an operation of counting, a State ‘of right’, basically means (…)the rule of counting (…)” (Alain Badiou, “Philosophy and Politics” in Conditions, London, 2008, p. 167)
Badiou criticized Althusser for “suturing” philosophy directly to politics – as “class struggle in theory”. (see “Philosophy and Politics” op. cit., p. 160)  But hasn’t Badiou also sutured ontology to politics by designating the historical state as identical with the ontological state – the bracket, frame he uses to decide or leave undecided the nature of an ‘event’, its discernibility or indiscernibility?  Badiou can seem to leave politics as it is by surreptitiously ontologizing it – not as politics itself but as a quasi ‘non-political’ state.  Politics though means state – not anti-state movement – or if a movement then only the movement of the state, bringing politics very close to fascism.  As Agamben says, echoing Adorno – we are still under the sign of fascism/Nazism.

In any situation the state determines the three sorts of “one-terms”, meaning the degree of inclusion or belonging in the state.  If something is presented but not included in the state it is singular, if both presented (belongs) and represented (included) it is normal, if represented and not presented it is deemed excrescent.  These three one-terms depend solely upon the state for their recognition or existence (the state confers the seal of the one) – besides “they are the most primitive concepts of any experience whatsoever.” (Alain Badiou, Being and Event, London, 2007, p. 100)  In other words, the state is all there is.

What state will ever decide to include its own destruction?  Badiou’s ‘ontological state’ immunizes itself against resistance, it is a state of immunity.  The state is the presentation of fullness or plenitude.  The anti-state interruptions are invisible, inexistent, indiscernible.  Dialectic has been discarded – as Badiou says, there is no becoming, hence no negativity.  The ‘romantic’ distance is the irreparable breach between singleton and state.  The state is tautological, the contract between self and self – the Ich=Ich of German idealism.  The state is the state because it excludes the presentation of the void – this is also what makes it necessary.  “The state secures and completes the plenitude of the situation.” (Being and Event, op. cit., p. 522)

Badiou prescribes impossible conditions for ‘deciding’ if an “intervention” will have been an event – always only in the future anterior tense.  For an event to have taken place (or to become established as such in the state or situation of the state) – a sort of phantom prior-event must have already taken place – a deferred pre-condition.  But as an event is only something, which is new and undecided, its pre-event disqualifies it permanently from ever having been an event.  “It is evental recurrence which founds intervention.  In other words, there is no interventional capacity, constitutive for the belonging of an evental multiple to a situation, save within the network of consequences of a previously decided belonging.  An intervention is what presents an event for the occurrence of another.” (Being and Event, op. cit., p. 209)

Despite his often-repeated slogan “The truth is first of all something new” – an event can never be new – there is only as Badiou says “evental recurrence” – sounding almost Nietzschean.  Any idea of a “radical beginning” or a “primal event” he dismisses as “speculative leftism”.  A radical beginning would be in Badiou’s system something wild and ‘unsubmitted’ to the order of the situation alias state – it is a false and violent thought of an “ultra-one of the event, Revolution or Apocalypse”.  But the event shrinks still further towards insignificance/unreality – even as recurrence its occurrence is negligible – it must have already been to be at all – it is existent only “after the fact” in its “consequences”, a mode of being Badiou calls “being-faithful”.  (see chapter on “The Intervention” in Alain Badiou, Being and Event, London, 2007, p. 210)

Just as Badiou refers to the Tunisian events as “illegal” – so the intervention whose status vis-à-vis the state must remain undecided – is first of all also “illegal”.

Badiou admits that this is a “circle”, part of the “long critical trial of the reality of action” (Being and Event, op. cit., p. 209).  These are almost magical conditions – such as those presaged by the witches to Macbeth.  Macbeth will fall only when Birnam Woods moves to Dunsinane Hill, though none of woman born can harm him and beware of Macduff.  Perhaps the contagion of uprisings in our time – does follow this logic: the moving of Birnam Woods is like Badiou’s ‘roaming void’ of the ‘rioters’, unborn but lurking in the ontology of the state.  Macduffs seem to be plentiful.

The undecidable event of the Tunisian ‘riots’ was the impossible unexpected pre-event for the fall of Mubarak in the Egyptian Revolution.

One wonders why Badiou, who casts himself as a thinker of the revolution, should so require the state for the securing of his ontology.  Why is the state so indispensable a category?  Peter Hallward hints at this dilemma at the end of a review of the second volume of “Being and Event” – “Logics of Worlds”.
“In Being and Event he developed an ontology which accepted the state as an irreducible dimension of being itself: consistency is imposed at both the structural and ‘meta-structural’ levels of a situation, and a truth evades but cannot eliminate the authority of the state.” (Peter Hallward, “Order and Event” On Badiou’s Logics of Worlds, New Left Review 53, Sept Oct 2008 p. 121, pdf, online at wrong+arithmetic, Alain Badiou on Tunisia, riots and revolution, February 2, 2011)
Hallward notes this complicity of state and being for Badiou’s ontology – but he does not give any reason for it.  Badiou himself is quite frank about the function and necessity of the state: “It is by means of the state that structured presentation is furnished with a fictional being; the latter banishes, or so it appears, the peril of the void, and establishes the reign, since completeness is numbered, of the universal security of the one.” (Being and Event, op. cit.,
p. 98)  Quite clearly, Badiou’s ontological state is also a security state, one in which coercion is a quasi-natural action of structure.

The state is so construed by Badiou – his whole artifice – as he says – to determine and act the criteria for inclusion and belonging in the set of multiples which count as one.  But such a multiple of multiples is haunted by something, which constantly endangers its consistency, but is equally unavoidable.  This something is as potently dangerous and constitutive for Badiou’s state as is anxiety (Angst) for Heidegger’s ontology of Dasein.  The void in Badiou’s construction is the equivalent of Heidegger’s Sorge, “the care of Being”.  “What Heidegger names the care of being, which is the ecstasy of beings, could also be termed the situational anxiety of the void, or the necessity of warding off the void.” (Being and Event, op. cit., p. 93)

The unpresented and unrepresented of the state – is its fatal (congenital) flaw. The quasi-unborn of the state is the void. (Note: The idea of the “unborn” is from Arthur Bradley, “Politics of the Unborn: Unbearable Life from Augustine to Schmitt” paper presented in “Force and the Worst” series, Inc, Goldsmiths, 15th February 2011)  At the same time – the state is a guarantee of the void – for where could it exist if not within the state.  If it were elsewhere immanence of the state would be even more severely threatened.  The state is necessary to contain the void, just as the void is an inevitable breach or gap haunting the multiplicity of the state.  The state is quite simply Being – and that must be preserved at all costs.  But the state is even more ensnared and precarious – as the Being of being is the void.  The utmost danger is that the void become fixated or fix itself.  To prevent that happening - above structure is another structure or meta-structure (the state) whose sole function is the un-localizing of the void.  The void is an inner limit of being within the meta-structure of the state – its own infernal region which Badiou calls “subjacent to chaos” or a “spectre to be exorcised”.  When one considers that precisely this void is where if anywhere a revolutionary event would be likely to arise – one can hardly imagine that Badiou’s thought edifice can conceive of the fragility of state-power.  The void qua event of revolution not only ruins the historical-political state in Badiou’s thought – it is the ruin of being itself.
“Evidently the guarantee of consistency (the ‘there is Oneness’) cannot rely on structure or the count-as-one alone to circumscribe and prohibit the errancy of the void from fixing itself, and being, on the basis of this very fact, as presentation of the unpresentable, the ruin of every donation of being and the figure subjacent to Chaos.” (Being and Event, op. cit., p. 93)

Agamben seizes upon Badiou’s absolutist ontology of the state – using its arguments about the event to reveal them as a precise illumination of what Agamben following Carl Schmitt calls the exception.  The State (as per Badiou) or the Sovereign (more or less synonymous for Agamben) is the exception and the event – the interruption or intervention in itself.  “Badiou’s thought is, from this perspective, a rigorous thought of the exception.  His central category of the event corresponds to the structure of the exception.” (Homo Sacer, op. cit., p. 25)  If the State is the state of the situation – the exception/event in excess of it – is the Sovereign.  One sees where Agamben perhaps simplifies or vulgarizes Badiou’s idea of the event – by seeing it as “excrescent” – meaning included but not presented in the state (or represented but not presented), whereas the event for Badiou is certainly not included/represented – even if its membership is undecideable.  It is neither included (not at all) nor is it a member – definitely not.  But Agamben is eager to draw out a potentiality from Badiou’s scheme – one that configures the event and the Sovereign as one – under the sign of the decision (in the sense of Carl Schmitt).  “This is why sovereignty presents itself in Schmitt in the form of a decision on the exception.” (ibid.)  The actions of the Egyptian Military council within or as a counter movement to the Revolution – is a prototype of the Event as the Decision on the Exception.  The Event according to this logic is not the Revolution, but the ‘temporary’ counter-revolution.  By fixing the sovereign as the event/exception of the State – Agamben’s interpretation of Badiou’s ontology of the state as a “logic of sovereignty” is the counter-revolution in theory.  Any position of subtraction of or in the State (count), is ‘always already’ occupied by the sovereign exception – a counter-revolution in permanence – to prevent the worst.

6.  Bonapartism or “Pétainist Transcendental”?

There is a One and the Many within the state – Badiou’s vision of the absolute state towering from the austere heights of power over its subsets of singletons is a fiction or myth.  Here Badiou seems blinded by the political-theological model of Hobbes’ Leviathan – a hierarchic monolith firmly in the grip of an absolute sovereign whose legitimacy derives from the “divine right of kings” and whose cosmic imperative is to inhibit the unbinding of itself into chaos.
The State (always capitalized) in Badiou’s system is basically infallible and non-political.  He sees it, citing a ‘despairing Lenin, ready to die’ – as ‘obscenely permanent’: “(…) for the State is precisely non-political, insofar as it cannot change, save hands (…)” (Being and Event, op. cit., p. 110)

Hobbes’ Leviathan itself was composed in the midst of the English Civil War and regicide; his system is based on fear, especially of the ever-present danger of the imminent dissolution of authority.  The acid stringency of his rule of commonwealth reflects the deep knowledge inherited from antiquity – that all power could end abruptly.  For what is any state but the temporary coalescence of power?  As Seneca wrote in answer to Serenus in his treatise entitled “From the Tranquillity of the Soul”: “What kingdom is not threatened by collapse, shattering, takeover and execution? And that without any long intervals.  An hour’s work: sitting on the throne and kneeling in front of it.  Take note: every position is changeable (…)” (Seneca, Von der Seelenruhe, Leipzig, 1980, p. 154)

Marx has shown, in 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, his classical study of the collapse of state or the coup d’état of a post-revolutionary nation-state, how the action of the ‘One’ took 36,000,000 French citizens by surprise.  Louis Napoleon, president of the French Republic at the time of his coup, could use the state to capture the state – he manipulated the inconsistencies or loopholes in the constitution regarding the exceptional role of the president, elevating it to that of emperor for himself thus bypassing those rancorous elements of the national assembly and the system of official representation.  The State or the count reverted to Oneness of an absolute ruler by way of the coup.  The assertion of the one-of-the-count, the presidency, over the sub-sets of parliamentary representation exploited the vestige of absolute monarchy embodied in the office of the presidency.  The constitutional aporia was the basis for the coup – the coup of the One over the many within the meta-structure of the state.  By an odd twist, the errancy of the void reappears in the meta-structure itself, fixing itself as a coup d’état.  The coup qua void ‘restores’ or secures the One or Oneness of the state.
Non-being and Being (of the State) coincide in the coup d’état.

Varying the theme of the one and the many, the Egyptian military council, after the forced resignation of Mubarak, have taken over the One of the presidency as a collective leadership.  Similar to Louis Napoleon’s circumventing of parliament – though in apparent cooperation with the demands of the people’s revolution – the supreme military council has suspended the constitution and parliament, those tainted parts perpetuating the fiction of the representation of the many.  Since both constitution and parliament – as well as the cabinet which is still in power – are seen as corrupt relics of the old regime, the military rulers could appear to be acting in the name of the revolution whilst de facto carrying out what appears to be a ‘temporary’ coup.

The coup and the revolt are two opposing forms of interruption of the state, antithetical mirror images of each other.  As a kind of historical symmetry, following upon the reign of Louis Napoleon begun in a coup d’état and ended in ignominious defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, came the outbreak of the popular insurrection of the Paris Commune.  The coup d’état secured the one-ness of the state thus preserving being from within the meta-structure – the reign of Louis Napoleon lasted 18 years.  The “non-place of the place” created by the “fixated void” (those rebellious members of Paris national guard militias and army units who refused to return their weapons and cannons) attempted to realize a communist society for the three months of the Paris Commune.
They had the aim, as Marx writes, of destroying state power and its pretence of national unity: “The unity of the nation should have become real through the destruction of that state-power, which pretended to be the embodiment of unity, but wanted to remain independent and superior to the nation, on whose body it was only a parasitic growth.” (“Die Einheit der Nation sollte (…)eine Wirklichkeit werden durch die Vernichtung jener Staatsmacht, welche sich für die Verkörperung dieser Einheit ausgab, aber unabhängig und überlegen sein wollte gegenüber der Nation, an deren Körper sie doch nur ein Schmarotzerauswuchs war.” Karl Marx, Der Bürgerkrieg in Frankreich (The Civil War in France), in K. Marx und F. Engels, Ausgewählte Werke, Moskau, 1972, p. 303)

Which historical interruption of French state-power would Badiou’s system consider an Event – the ‘positive’ coup or the ‘negative’ revolt? Either, neither or both?  Is the Event for or against Being?

In his more immediately political work – The Meaning of Sarkozy – Badiou has analyzed an enduring unconscious pattern within French political and social history of the state – which he calls France’s “Pétainist transcendental”.  “I propose to say that ‘Pétainism’ is the transcendental, in France, of catastrophic forms of disorientation taken by the state.  We have a major disorientation, this is presented as a turning point in the situation, and is solemnly active at the head of the state.” (Alain Badiou, The Meaning of Sarkozy, London, 2008, p. 78)
He depicts it as a process of legitimacy of the state, whereby the state aligns itself with history.  Although he names it Pétainism, Badiou traces this pattern back to the time of the Restoration of 1815 in France.  The state is the historical actor, the rescuer of the people from a moral crisis and decline originating in a disastrous event.  The state of the restoration rescued the people from revolution, beheading of the king, etc; later for Pétain himself – the Nazi puppet state at Vichy was the “national revolution” against the disaster of the Popular Front; for Sarkozy, the disastrous event for which the state is the only medication was May 1968.  As Badiou explains:
“There is a historical element in Pétainism that consists in linking two events: a negative event, generally with a working class and popular structure, and a positive event, with a state, electoral and/or military structure. (…) This is a source of legitimacy for the new government, since all legitimacy of this kind is a link between the state and history.  The government represents itself, and has itself represented, as historical actor of the first importance, since it is this government that has finally embarked on the correction needed in the wake of the inaugural damaging event.” (Alain Badiou, op. cit., p. 84)

One can recognize in Badiou’s typology of the “Pétainist transcendental” the ‘unconscious’ model of Badiou’s own ontology of the state, his positive state of legitimacy of Being.  The government or meta-structure represents itself as the One or historical actor, whose function it is to safeguard and correct Being against any intrusions of the “unpresentable”.  The state/head of state is outside of the count –in Badiou’s terminology the equivalent for the ancient “rex solutus est a legibus” (the king is released from the laws).  Most notably, the name of the collaborateur state installed in Vichy under Pétain was changed from French Third Republic to simply the French State.
The two events in the Pétainist transcendental – corresponding to a “negative event” of social revolution and a “positive event” of state or head of state resulting in a despotic ‘correction’ of the negative event – bear great structural resemblance to the two apparently irreconcilable elements of Badiou’s ontology - Being (positive-state) and Event (negative-revolution) – more universally, state and history.

In essence, the only manner in which the infinite state could exist (or inexist), securing Oneness of Being infinitely, is as an infinite coup in permanence.

In a time though of uprisings and insurrections against the state and even the idea of the state, some of which have been able to shake the “unfailing stable” as Badiou has conceded – one might ask if an ontology such as his presuming the infinitude of the state – might itself be in need of a coup/rescue.

The incurable melancholy of the system (Baudrillard) will have been the infinite unthinking of this thought.

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