Slavoj Žižek on a Hegelian Triad: Rage, Rebellion, and Organizing New Power (Video Lecture)

Mark Fisher: A Return to Communism?

Badiou, Rancière and Žižek lead an all-star cast of speakers at the ‘On the Idea of Communism’ conference at Birkbeck, London (2009)

Towards the beginning of his paper at last weekend’s ‘On the Idea of Communism’ conference at the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, self-described ‘anomalous sociologist’ Alberto Toscano cited the Observer’s recent review of The Meaning Of Sarkozy (2009) by Alain Badiou: ‘[W]hen he quotes Mao approvingly, and equivocates over the rights and wrongs of the Cultural Revolution,’ the review went, ‘it is hard not to feel a certain pride in workaday Anglo-Saxon empiricism, which inoculates us against the tyranny of pure political abstraction.’ Perhaps the inoculation isn’t as powerful as the reviewer hoped; the article goes on to admit that Badiou’s book is ‘strangely compelling’. In any case, it is an odd time to take a pride in ‘Anglo-Saxon empiricism’, since it is the unreflective, plain-speaking commonsense on which the British commentariat pride themselves that has led to the UK falling prey to the tyranny of another kind of abstraction, that of finance capital.

As you would expect, the current financial crisis was a subject that kept recurring at the three-day conference, and indeed may have partly accounted for the immense popularity of the event, which had to be changed to a larger venue because the level of interest was so high. But more than one speaker warned that it will take more than the crisis to undermine capitalism. As Slavoj Žižek rightly insisted, the dominant narrative of the crisis – whereby the excesses of particular capitalists are blamed, rather than the capitalist system itself – will only enable people to continue to sleep in the guise of waking up. Is it time for a return to communism? And, if so, to which idea of communism must we turn?

‘On the Idea of Communism’ was about Alain Badiou’s idea of communism. Badiou doggedly kept faith with the concept of communism at a time, after 1989, when it was both pronounced dead and criminalized , identified with the totalitarianism that a triumphalist liberal capitalism defined itself against. The key reference points for Badiou’s anti-statist version of communism are Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the Jacobins and the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The most obvious absence from this list is Karl Marx, and Badiou’s interjection in the closing discussion (see clip below) confirmed that he rejects the idea – fundamental to Marx – that the economic and the political are indivisible. For Badiou, the political must always hold itself at a principled distance from the economic. But is ‘communism’ the best name for Badiou’s egalitarian and emancipatory philosophy? And does the word ‘communism’ have any further political viability?

The two speakers who most emphatically answered ‘no’ to this second question were sociology professor Alessandro Russo and writer Judith Balso. Russo argued that the collapse of the Soviet bloc at the end of the ’80s had its roots in the Cultural Revolution of the ’60s – a revolution that had might have had its epicentre in China, but which actually was manifested worldwide. The problem is that the co-ordinates of this discussion – party-state versus political organization – were set long ago and seem to have little relevance to the current situation. Balso’s model of the ‘state’ was so exorbitant – it included ‘opinion’ – as to encompass anything of which she disapproves. Certainly, Balso is right to highlight the way in which, far from retreating in late capitalism, the state is becoming increasingly authoritarian, with repressive measures against immigrants a particularly nasty expression of this tendency; after the bank bail-outs, though, it is surely clearer than ever that the state is at the whims of global capital.

Terry Eagleton was the only British-born speaker at the conference, and he prefaced his embarrassingly lightweight musings with a sarcastic reference to the fact that, as ‘a mere Anglo-Saxon’, he was honoured to be among such company. Hopelessly out of his depth on a panel with Badiou and Jacques Rancière, Eagleton’s smug presentation, which used familiar Shakespeare references to make the hackneyed point that true communism would be about aristrocratic languor rather than worker-toil, suggested that the UK’s university system is as decadent as its broadsheet media. Shamelessly playing to the middlebrow gallery, offering theory-sceptics an emollient antidote to theoretical abstraction, the implicit message of Eagleton’s presentation was clear: no need to think, no need to bother your heads with all this difficult French stuff.

The difference between Eagleton and the likes of Badiou, Rancière and Antonio Negri was evident in body language and mode of delivery as much as in the content of what they said. In their different ways, Negri and Žižek had the gestural animation of the militant intellectual rather than the complacent posturings of the career academic.

Žižek’s presentation at the conference eclipsed that of Badiou, his ostensible master. It was necessary to begin again, Žižek said – echoing Badiou’s call to rediscover ‘the communist hypothesis’ as if for the first time. Badiou remains a scalding and bracing critic of the present managerialist restoration of power and privilege, but it is difficult to be confident that he is orientated towards thinking the future. By contrast, Žižek’s focus, like that of Negri and Michael Hardt, was very much on how current (apocalyptic) conditions – ecological catastrophe, the crisis of private property brought about by digitization, the impact on human identity of neuroscience and genetic engineering – may lead to new possibilities. Žižek is ready to affirm the emancipatory potentials brought by science-fictional capital’s liquidation of territories and identities. If what most of the conference speakers still wanted to call ‘communism’ is to be achieved, it will require nothing less than the construction of a new type of human being. (Something that this conference, with its punitively long sessions, also seemed to demand: maintaining concentration through three 45-minute papers in a row exceeds the tolerances of the human organism.) As Toscano and Hardt made clear, concepts such as equality and the abolition of property only appear to be self-evident; in fact they are at the moment only dimly thinkable. Theory, in its destruction of the very ‘workaday Anglo Saxon empiricism’ which treats private property and commodities as natural and transparent concepts, must play a role in the construction of this new collective subject.


Mark Fisher – Nubureaucracy and Capitalist Realism


Date: 12 February 2010

Mark Fisher – Nubureaucracy and Capitalist Realism

“Neoliberalism presents itself as the enemy of bureaucracy, the destroyer of the nanny state and the eliminator of red tape. Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism(Zer0 books, 2009) argues that, contrary to this widely accepted story, bureaucracy has proliferated under neoliberalism. Far from decreasing, bureaucracy has changed form, spreading all the more insidiously in its newly decentralised mode. This ‘nu-bureaucracy’ is often carried out by workers themselves, now induced into being their own auditors. Capitalist Realism aims to challenge the successful ideological doublethink in which workers’ experience of increasing bureaucratisation co-exists with the idea that bureaucracy belongs to a ‘Stalinist’ past.

This symposium will explore nu-bureaucracy and other related concepts developed in Capitalist Realism, such as ‘business ontology’ and ‘market Stalinism’. How has nu-bureaucracy affected education and public services, and how can it be resisted? What implications might the attack on nu-bureaucracy have for a renewed anti-capitalism?”

Respondent, Alberto Toscano, Department of Sociology



Listen at Backdoor Broadcasting Company 

Justice, Normativity, Temporality

My aim in carrying out this research project is to revise and update the contemporary conceptualizations of what it means to be just. I will initially analyse the status of justice in relation to normativity and temporality, especially focusing on how it furthers our understanding of the concept of justice to situate it in the processes of social, economic, political and cultural change. This will be followed by an investigation of the Law’s relation to time and the appearance of justice in and through particular legal-juridical decision making processes in spite of the absence of truth. I claim that the temporal nature of subjectivity need not be in a stark opposition to the eternal nature of truth. An understanding of truth as eternity situated in time can help us construct a theory of subjectivity which includes within itself the objective dimension of being. As a matter of fact the objective perspective can only be established from a subjective position. That said, this doesn’t mean that there can be no objectivity in-itself, but rather that we can only know this objectivity as it is for-us. Kant says that we can think the noumena, but cannot know them as they are in themselves, independently of our subjective access to them. Kant’s aim in his three Critiques (logic, ethics, aesthetics) was to replace divine justice with rational justice, or transcendent moral law with immanent ethical norms. For Kant the problem of ethics was strongly tied to the question of desire as productive action rather than as pursuit of something lacking. His attempt at laicizing or secularizing the concepts of morality and justice as well as the true and the good still retains its forceful effect on our contemporary understanding of these concepts.

Now, of course things have changed, humanity has moved on, we have traversed many hells since Kant. The developments in science and technology have rendered access to knowledge a lot easier but the establishment of truth and justice a lot more difficult at the same time. The instruments we have at hand are indeed constitutive of what we know to say the least. That said, the distinctions introduced by Kant between the logical and the causal, desire and need, as well as between contingency and necessity, should still be reworked through in such a way as to develop a dialectical notion of justice which takes into account the effects of the decisions based on it. It is here that we encounter Hegel who thinks in terms of consequences and whose dialectical thought is driven by a simultaneous interaction and transaction between proaction and retroaction.

In my investigation of the theories of justice in relation to the concepts of normativity and temporality I shall employ the philosophies of Kant-Hegel, Bergson-Deleuze, and Badiou-Zizek. These three series of thought-world have been specifically chosen because they are the representatives of three distinct stances in relation to the concept of justice in contemporary theory. The three series correspond to the modalities of transcendent justice (Kant-Hegel), immanent justice (Bergson-Deleuze), and eventual justice (Badiou-Zizek). The important thing to note here is that the latter two modes of being just (Bergson-Deleuze and Badiou-Zizek) are closely linked to Kant’s configuration of the relation between the reflective judgement and the determinative judgement, as well as the infinite/indefinite judgement and the negative judgement, later developed by Hegel.

The explication of these three modalities of justice will bring us to the issues of universality and particularity in relation to contingency and necessity. At this point we will direct our attention to specific empirical situations in the world which require justice to operate not just as a regulative ideal driven by the infinity of the noumenal and hence forever postponing its actualization, but rather delivering itself whenever and wherever it is required in accordance with a truth situated in its proper time and place.

The significance of the role played by our sense of justice in constituting our subjectivity is undeniable. But it is equally undeniable that our subjectivity is itself constitutive of our sense of justice. One should relate to the objects of judgement in such a way as to deliver justice to the subjects. Normative principles based on rational inferences are required to achieve this deliverance. I therefore propose a Hermetico-Promethean conception of justice, a post-nihilistic mode of judgement not just standing against the Evil produced by the nihilistic tendencies of our perilous times, but also producing the Good in accordance with new truths for the actualization of a less bad and more just future before the arrival of the worse future supposed to be predestined.

There is an interstitial time whereby thought takes it upon itself to transcend itself towards the unknown. That’s where abstraction, formalisation, and visualisation take on a temporal modality of being in and through which differential individuation and inferential rationality constitute new normative judgments giving form and content to a new common-sense in accordance with a new general-intellect giving its law to itself. That’s where the thought as void consumes itself and a contraction takes place in time, giving birth to a rupture between thought and being, a modal time-space between the past and the present, out of which a progressively altered future continually emerges and change takes place. It is only when and if the subject transcends its sense of justice that everything unjust disappears in a peaceful and full light of a fairness true to itself.


Kantian Reflections on Science, Metaphysics, and the Future of Time: Situating Kant’s Spatio-Temporal Modalities of Being and Thought in Contemporary Philosophy and Neuroscience

Inferential Rationality

Kant’s initial project was to explicate the difference between “knowing-what” (pure reason) and “knowing-how” (practical reason) in the way of laying the foundations of a scientific metaphysics. Counter to Descartes[1] and Hume[2] he aimed at situating the subject within the limits of what can be known by rational human beings. The Kantian subject is embodied, embedded, and extended in space and time as opposed to the Cartesian subject thinking itself out of bounds in search of a proof for the existence of God regardless of the limits of reason, and the Humean subject as “a bundle of perceptions” according to whom all knowledge is rooted in sensory experience. Kant’s shifting conceptualization of the subject explicates the relation between the knowing mind and the acting/interacting body. The question is simply this: how does it further our understanding of the Kantian subject to situate it in particular discursive contexts?

Following Leibniz’s “principle of sufficient reason” Kant introduces the question of “knowing-why” to the epistemological field in the Critique of Judgement. What I would like to do is to re-introduce the concept of time, or “knowing-when” into the empirical realism/critical idealism of Kant in such a way as to actualize a unilateral relation, or a non-relation between thought and being, or time and space. If the Kantian categorical imperative is based on a philosophical decision to posit time and space as synthetic a priori categories rendering it possible for the subject to ground the foundation of reason as the non-representable core of being, then we should indeed focus on Kant’s “manifold of sense” and thereby take it upon ourselves to distinguish between multiple modes, types, and layers of the representations of being and thought, organic and inorganic, the finite and the infinite. Now, let us take a closer look at Kant whose attempt at reconciling critique and construction strikes us as nothing short of a ground-breaking achievement.

It also follows naturally from the concept of an appearance in general that something must correspond to it which is not in itself appearance, for appearance can be nothing for itself and outside of our kind of representation; thus, if there is not to be a constant circle, the word ‘appearance’ must already indicate a relation to something the immediate representation of which is, to be sure, sensible, but which in itself, without this constitution of our sensibility (on which the form of our intuition is grounded), must be something, i.e. an object independent of sensibility. Now from this arises the concept of a noumenon, which, however, is not at all positive and does not signify a determinate cognition of any sort of thing, but rather only the thinking of something in general, in which I abstract from all form of sensible intuition.[3]

There is a transcendental difference between thinking and knowing what is thought, sensing and knowing what is sensed. Kant, for whom we can think the thing-in-itself but can only know it as it is for-us, situates objectivity within the subject itself and inversely. This structure of thought is indeed correlationist, as Meillassoux’s puts it, since it points towards the intertwined nature of being and thought. A non-correlationist account of the relationship between objectivity and subjectivity requires a thought thinking itself independently of being.[4] It is at this point that the role of paradox in Kant’s system of thought emerges as a constitutive element of his conceptual/critical apparatus. The paradox is that infinitude is within finitude itself. This immanence of the objective and timeless truth in time and space, the universal within the particular, the immortal in the mortals, is that which prepares the ground for Hegel to carry out the work of speculation necessary for the emergence of the rational subject as distinct from the conscious self. Kant’s great contribution to philosophy is first and foremost the split he introduces between the subject of enunciation and the enunciated content in such a way as to unite them. Hegel only had to situate this process of becoming other than itself in time. The whole Kantian edifice revolves around the dynamic interaction between ontological and epistemological modes of being and thinking. Kant finds the way of overcoming the paradoxes of dialectical process in and through submitting his thought to its own inner dynamics, that is, the dialectical configuration of immanence and transcendence in relation to one another.

Kantian transcendentalism has at its root the immanence of the transcendental itself. This accessibility of the Kantian conception of the relationship between finitude and infinitude, thought and being, the organic and the organic, the subjective and the objective renders it capable of generating new versions of itself. This openness to revision and update of the Kantian edifice makes it a generic thought. In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant explicates what he means by the synthetic a priori which is one of the core elements of Kant’s conceptual/critical apparatus. This apparatus is transcendental precisely because it situates thought and being as immanent to one another, the reflective judgement transcends the void which splits as it unites thought and being. The split is projected on the nature of reality in-itself. The in-itself is itself split within itself by nature. Since one becomes who one is by way of internalizing the work of nature, one projects onto nature what one has already introjected from nature. Kant’s thought is a circle, but it is in no way a vicious one, quite the contrary, it revises and updates itself as it goes along the way, increasingly resembling a spiral as time goes by.

What Neuroscience lacks is a cultural context, likewise what humanities and social sciences lack is a natural basis. Situated in-between the dualities of ontology/epistemology and phenomenology/noumenology, the goal of this project is to establish a non-reductive interaction between neuroscience and philosophy, nature and culture, organic and inorganic, empirical and conceptual, epistemological and ontological, transcendent and immanent, the objective and the subjective. In the way of establishing the link which has come to be considered missing between the mental phenomena and the physical entities, I shall attempt to test and implement new modes of being and thinking in and through which the subject constitutes itself as object of knowledge in contemporary social and natural sciences in accordance with a non-reductive account of the relationship between reasons and intuitions, thoughts and sensations, causes and effects, intentions and actions, inferences and references, concepts and percepts. And this is where Badiou’s formalisation of politics, art, science, and love as the conditions of philosophy becomes relevant. For Badiou’s whole project is itself an attempt at a potentially evental act situating truth as a process of eternity in time. His materialist dialectic opens up the possibility of producing new common-senses in and through political, artistic, scientific, and amorous practices as procedures of truth. By way of carrying out condensed reflections as well as intense meditations on the creative process as it presents itself in Sellars’ manifest/scientific images and Badiou’s mathematics-as-ontology/philosophy-as-truth-procedure, I intend to put social and natural sciences in a progressively productive relation with art and philosophy so as to overcome the problem of transmission among and communication between different temporalities, as well as the varying modes of being and thought within the same temporality.

There is an interstitial time whereby thought takes it upon itself to transcend itself towards the unknown. That’s where abstraction, formalisation, and visualisation take on a temporal modality of being in and through which differential individuation and inferential rationality constitute new normative judgments giving form and content to a new common-sense in accordance with a general-intellect driven by the infinity of the noumenal as a regulative idea. That’s where the thought as void consumes itself and a contraction takes place in time, giving birth to a rupture between thought and being, a modal time-space between the past and the present, out of which a progressively altered future continually emerges and change takes place.

Regulative Idea

In a world wherein conscious desire is absent, one cannot know what is to be done, what can be done, and how to do it. The reduction of consciousness to physical matter deprives humanity of the possibility of rationally intended change. The idea that intervening in the workings of nature solely by way of that which nature presents independently of culture is to fall into the trap one sets for oneself. It is not only necessary, but also possible to develop a theory of self-conscious subjectivity as being aware of oneself within one’s own time and space. Thought can mean something only in so far as it is situated within a context indeed, but for thought to mean something worthy of the name of truth it also has to leave the old paradigm behind, change the co-ordinates, reconstruct the context and perchance initiate a new course of continuity in change driven by a conscious desire to transcend the mode of being and thinking in which the subject is embedded and embodies at once. It is a matter of realising that theory and practice are always already reconciled and yet the only way to actualise this reconciliation passes through carrying it out and across by introducing a split between the subject of statement (the enunciated content) and the subject of enunciation (the formal structure in accordance with this content).

Mode of Enquiry

The nature of this study requires a trans-/multi-disciplinary and inter-/mixed-methodological attitude which goes beyond the opposition between merely conceptual and merely empirical approaches. It requires a mode of enquiry which takes its driving force from a gap that opens paths to a new field in which various perspectives interact and constitute a theoretical practice in order to initiate the emergence of a new subject out of the old paradigm. To achieve this one must not only pose new questions, but also provide new answers concerning the workings of the human brain and its interactions with the world surrounding it, out of which the concepts of mind, consciousness, affectivity, and intentionality emerge.

Conceptual Context and Structural Synopsis

As is well known since Kant, the instruments (software and hardware) social and natural scientists have at hand to investigate natural and cultural phenomena play a very significant role not only in the analysis, but also in the production of the object/subject of study itself. This study is a venture into the relationship between the manifest and the scientific images of humanity[5] designated by Wilfrid Sellars in relation to Alain Badiou’s materialist dialectic of the human animal and the immortal subject of truth. In both cases an intersubjective position constitutive of objectivity as a regulative idea is at work. The rigorous disjunction introduced by Sellars and Badiou between sentience[6] and sapience[7] will be investigated in conjunction with the contemporary thought embodied by and embodying transcendental realism/materialism, embedded in and extended to non-reductive naturalism. By way of referring to Laruelle/Deleuze as the representatives of non-reductive naturalism on one side, and Sellars/Badiou as the representatives of transcendental realism/materialism on the other, with Kant as the vanishing mediator in-between, I hope to demonstrate, at least in theory, that the constitutive link which has come to be considered missing between the mental phenomena and the physical entities is actually a non-relation rather than an absence of relation, for it is neither transcendent nor immanent to the subject, but is rather the manifestation of a purely immanent affectivity (Michel Henry), intervening in the ordinary flow of things, initiating a rupture in time as the subject itself.

The model of mind conceptualized by Gerald Edelman shows us that the mind is an embodied and embedded substance which has the ability to adapt to changes surrounding it.[8] I intend to use Edelman’s A Universe of Consciousness to reconfigure the relationship between the manifest and the scientific images of humanity and the transcendence of the human animal towards the immortal subject of truth. Taking into consideration the emerging technologies within the field of neuroscience, I hope to render a timely reconstruction of Kant’s theory of the subject and the role of representation in its self-constitutive process, which associates the algorithmic dynamics of the neuroplasticity softwares, as well as the programs visualising the neuronal interactions and even analysing the data provided by the synaptic network in all its complexity.

The investigation will begin by tracing Kant’s affinities with and differences from Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, and Bergson. This genealogical exposition will be followed by Kant’s links to the three other forerunners of German Idealism: Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. In the third part the reflections of Kant in contemporary philosophy – as embodying and embodied by Heideggerian Hermeneutics and Existential Phenomenology, Adorno and Horkheimer’s Negative Dialectic, Deleuze’s Transcendental Empiricism, Michel Henry’s Material Phenomenology, Laruelle’s Non-Philosophy, Sellars’ Psychological Nominalism, Badiou’s Materialist Dialectic, Žižek’s Transcendental Materialism as attributed by Adrian Johnston, Metzinger’s Phenomenal Self-Model, Meillassoux’s Speculative Materialism, and Brassier’s Transcendental Nihilism – will be explicated and developed in light of the recent advances in neuroscience (Gerald Edelman) and temporal-modal logic (Rudolf Carnap).

The next step will be to situate Kant’s conception of the subject into the context of neuroscience and the subject of neuroscience into the context of Transcendental Realism/Materialism and Non-Reductive Naturalism. I intend to reconstruct Kant’s edifice by theorizing a temporal metaphysics of modality transfiguring Kant’s paradoxical configuration of Transcendental Idealism and Empirical Realism. I shall therefore attempt to update Kant’s transcendental critique and metaphysical construction by situating it in time in such a way as to reconfigure the Kantian conceptual/critical apparatus. Resolving the tension between the transcendent and the immanent inherent in the Kantian enterprise, the project will culminate in a discussion of the different ways in which science, art, and philosophy may cast a focused view on current research in cognitive computation manifest in digital epistemologies and actualised in new neuroplasticity softwares in the service of a more effective pedagogy taking into consideration the embodied, embedded, and extended nature/culture of the living and learning subject.

Lastly but by no means least significantly, the eventual subject-matter of this research project is  simply the idea that ideas are objects we are embedded in and embody at once. In the light of this idea Kant’s conceptual/critical apparatus has the potential of functioning as a tool-kit to aid in laying the foundations of a new mode of the relation between being and thought, which would bring transcendental critique and metaphysical construction together without subsuming one under the other. Laruelle’s and Deleuze’s analogical mode of thinking (non-reductive naturalism) can be coupled with Sellars’ and Badiou’s digital mode of thinking (transcendental realism/materialism) in such a way as to split as one unites Kant’s Transcendental Logic and Transcendental Aesthetics in and through a disjunctive-synthesis. It is indeed possible to rehabilitate Kantian concepts and methods so as to infer, derive, and present a future oriented, non-reductive, and non-physicalist account of the contiguity between being and thought, the organic and the inorganic, the psyche and the soma, the subject of enunciation and the enunciated subject. Sustaining the conditions of possibility for a continuity in change is precisely the reason why I would like to put forth some theoretico-practical steps in the way of thinking reflectively within and determinatively without a Kantian frame at once, hence contributing to a mode of existence which proceeds by modifying itself ad infinitum – albeit only until the end of time.

Reference Matter

[1] Dogmatic Rationalism: the mind can have a priori cognitive access to reality, reason deduces features of reality. For Descartes correlation between thinking and being is given.

[2] Sceptical Empiricism: takes the intelligibility of sensory experience as given, reason cannot access a priori knowledge of a mind independent reality. For Hume objective correlates of sensory experience, sensations can be intelligible.

[3] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Paul Guyer and Alan Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 348, A252.

[4] Laruelle introduces a unilateral duality (a non-correlation) of time and space, which privileges time over space and intervenes in the symmetrically balanced nature of Kant’s neutrality constitutive of a bilateral relation (a correlation) between these two conditions of possibility for cognition to take place. Non-philosophy’s method of dualysis disrupts the equilibrium of the two terms at work in a dialectical process, subsuming the Two under the One as the None.

[5] The Kantian relation between conception and sensation is at work in the relation between the scientific and the manifest images of human behaviour. The distinction between thinking and sensing can be traced back to Kant.

[6] Sentience: phenomenal and experiential aspects of mind (consciousness).

[7]Sapience: psychological and functional aspects of mind (self-consciousness, awareness of consciousness).

[8] “Imagine a peculiar (and even weird) string quartet, in which each player responds by improvisation to ideas and cues of his or her own, as well as to all kinds of sensory cues in the environment. Since there is no score, each player would provide his or her own characteristic tunes, but initially these various tunes would not be coordinated with those of the other players. Now imagine that the bodies of the players are connected to each other by myriad fine threads so that their actions and movements are rapidly conveyed back and forth through signals of changing thread tensions that act simultaneously to time each player’s actions. Signals that instantaneously connect the four players would lead to a correlation of their sounds; thus, new, more cohesive, and more integrated sounds would emerge out of the otherwise independent efforts of each player. This correlative process would alter the next action of each player, and by these means the process would be repeated but with new emergent tunes that were even more correlated. Although no conductor would instruct or coordinate the group and each player would still maintain his or her style and role, the player’s overall productions would lead to a kind of mutually coherent music that each one acting alone would not produce.” Gerald Edelman and Giulio Tononi, A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 49.

A Conversation with Alain Badiou on Corrupting the Youth


 | Alain Badiou | 02 September 2016 ||

At 79 years of age the philosopher Alain Badiou surveys the youth: the youth whom liberalism has left without a compass, the youth tempted by Daesh, and so, too, his own youth, marked by communism, to which he remains faithful. Interview by Juliette Cerf for Télérama. Translation by David Broder

Faithful at whatever cost to the Maoist ideals of his youth, applauded by some and jeered by others, this politically-committed philosopher is the author of a multi-faceted oeuvre that has been translated worldwide. It ranges from metaphysical tomes based on mathematics like Being and Event and Logics of Worlds — soon to be followed by a third volume, L’Immanence des vérités — to a series of political interventions named Circonstances, via plays for the stage, seminars on the great thinkers of the philosophical tradition, books for the wider public…

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The Trouble With Pleasure: Deleuze and Psychoanalysis



13781804_814568355309280_3122299712074861924_nIs pleasure a rotten idea, mired in negativity and lack, which should be abandoned in favor of a new concept of desire? Or is desire itself fundamentally a matter of lack, absence, and loss? This is one of the crucial issues dividing the work of Gilles Deleuze and Jacques Lacan, two of the most formidable figures of postwar French thought. Though the encounter with psychoanalysis deeply marked Deleuze’s work, we are yet to have a critical account of the very different postures he adopted toward psychoanalysis, and especially Lacanian theory, throughout his career. In The Trouble with Pleasure, Aaron Schuster tackles this tangled relationship head on. The result is neither a Lacanian reading of Deleuze nor a Deleuzian reading of Lacan but rather a systematic and comparative analysis that identifies concerns common to both thinkers and their ultimately incompatible ways of addressing them. Schuster focuses on drive and desire—the strange…

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Interview with Nikola Tesla on Life, Death, Matter, and Thought (Video)

“In 1899, Tesla gave this interview which has rarely ever been published for over 100 years. In it Tesla pulls no punches and reveals the great conspiracy of science that was well under way, the suppression of ether and the introduction of a new fake science to conceal it as well as to suppress the work of Tesla himself.

Once, in 1899, Nikola Tesla had an interview with a certain journalist, John Smith, when Tesla said, “Everything is the light.” In one of its rays is the fate of nations, each nation has its own ray in that great light source, which we see as the Sun. In this interview this greatest inventor and seer of modern time unravels a new vision of humanity which we, the light warriors of the first and the last hour, have created a century later. A must read for every Ascended Master from the PAT.

Part of this interview is dedicated to Tesla’s critics on Einstein’s theory of relativity that discards the ether as energy. I have proved in the new Theory of the Universal Law why Einstein’s theory of relativity is entirely wrong and why there is no vacuum (void), and that everything is energy. Thus I confirm Tesla’s ideas as expressed in this interview.” ~ ✪ Blow Your Mind

Prometheanism 2.0 – Introduction by Bassam El Baroni

Prometheanism is an ‘-ism’ derived from its namesake the Titan Prometheus who stole fire from the Gods of Greek mythology and taught humans how to make their own tools. Prometheus’s name means ‘forethought’, his Titan brother was Epimetheus meaning ‘afterthought’, Prometheus’s course was driven by his brother’s erratic actions when they were both given the mission to develop creatures to inhabit earth. Already – through this ancient mythological component inscribed in the term Prometheanism – we can ascribe a basic lattice of connected ideas that forms a research area for subsequent Prometheanisms thereon. This lattice is composed of: thinking for the future and planning (evident in Prometheus’s name, forethought), a need for rationalism or sound reasoning since thinking for the future, and planning cannot be guided by mere hunches, the contestation of power based on the breakdown of boundaries between what is perceived to be given by nature (the Gods didn’t grant Prometheus permission for fire, he stole it from them) and what is human-made (with the stolen fire he went on to teach humans to unearth iron and craft tools for their survival and wellbeing), putting thought and action in the service of a totality of humans, and finally living with the consequences of such articulations-in-action bent on the progression of humans (for Prometheus this meant harsh punishment by the Gods, ironically through the metaphors of infinite growth and eternal repetition, his regrowing liver devoured by an ever-encircling eagle).

If we graft these components onto more recent portrayals of the promethean, we find them obstructed by questionable notions of morality[2], smuggled into fear-mongering scenarios that deter from more urgent concerns, or damaged by the actual misuse of rationalism. The latter emerged at the point when rationality and reason were thought to be encrypted in objective reality and not socially constructed processes[3]. As for the fear-mongering scenarios, the romanticism of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) is a kind of blueprint for a cinema-script imaginary endlessly populating screens today, associated with the limits of the human and the idea that there are givens that we should not tamper with because they are greater than human. The film industry is obsessed with and hammers into our heads the idea that there is something vitally given in nature, an élan vital that if we dare challenge, nature will take its revenge (Prometheus’s punishment), this is opposition to artificiality by an industry that is now almost fully based on artificial man-made technology.

Opposing this, philosopher Ray Brassier calls the embrace of artificiality ‘the promethean trespass’, humans making the given. This is regarded as a sin by many because it consists in “destroying the equilibrium between the made and the given between what human beings generate through their own resources, both cognitive and practical, and the way the world is, whether characterised cosmologically, biologically, or historically.”[4] Prometheanism 2.0, a temporary label for the work of a wide group of thinkers and actors, can be said to be primarily concerned with the development of concepts, methods, and aesthetics for making the given, i.e. the construction of reality through the transformation of the equilibrium between the made and the given. However, its gist has to do with the much broader issue of discerning and contesting the concepts, limits, and powers that stand against “articulating action and knowledge in the perspective of totality”.[5] The event intends to unpack these various dimensions from their political and aesthetical angles offering a snapshot of what a contemporary prometheanism questions, articulates, and is concerned with.

[1] Ray Brassier, 2014, Prometheanism and its Critics. In #Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader Mackay, Robin and Avanessian, Armen (eds.). Falmouth: Urbanomic, 469-487

[2] Alberto Toscano writes “Prometheanism is precisely the refusal of the articulation between divine (or political) authority and human mortality. […] To the extent that domination is still based on the exploitation of our mortality – and especially of the cares and fears that so often prevent political mobilisation – the figure of Prometheus is […] the bearer of the open question of how we, creatures that draw their breath in gasps, can manage not be subject to the violent prerogatives of sovereignty.” The Plea for Prometheus, 2009

[3] This is the misunderstanding and misrepresentation of science as reason-giving rather than cause-revealing.

[4] Ray Brassier, 2014, Prometheanism and its Critics. In #Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader Mackay, Robin and Avanessian, Armen (eds.). Falmouth: Urbanomic, 469-487

[5] Alberto Toscano, The Prejudice Against Prometheus



via Dutch Art Institute

Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work

A new manifesto for a high-tech future free from work by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams

via Verso

Here are some more insightful and in depth takes on Inventing The Future1779303_1505913316339136_2644416062274766485_n

The Future

Neoliberalism has repurposed the idea of “modernity” for its own ends;[11] but now is the time, say S&W, for the left to reclaim it, by devising a “future-oriented politics capable of challenging capitalism at the largest scales.” Change will not come about as a result of wishful thinking, or by turning our backs on the future altogether. The left must approach the concept of the future as a contestable, hyperstitional field.[12] Likewise the concept of freedom ought to be revised as mutable and synthetic rather than fixed and natural. “Whereas negative freedom is concerned with assuring the formal right to avoid interference, ‘synthetic freedom’ recognises that a formal right without a material capacity is meaningless.”[13] Rather than an emancipatory action, freedom cannot be considered as separate from power.[14] The power to act independently allows us to achieve what is beyond our current capabilities, and is the basic requirement for postcapitalism:

One of the biggest indictments of capitalism is that it enables the freedom to act for only a vanishingly small few. A primary aim of a postcapitalist world would therefore be to maximise synthetic freedom, or in other words, to enable the flourishing of all humanity and the expansion of our collective horizons. Achieving this involves at least three different elements: the provision of the basic necessities of life, the expansion of social resources, and the development of technological capacities. Taken together, these form a synthetic freedom that is constructed rather than natural. (p80)

Freedom, in the form of free time, ought to be the basis of any emancipatory movement, particularly a postcapitalist one; not the negative freedoms for further employment or greater consumer choice. It is necessary therefore to “reject the centrality of work” in ordinary people’s lives.[15] Likewise, humanity itself must be freed from the cultural and social definitions of the humanist mould, as “[i]t is only through undergoing the process of revision and construction that humanity can come to know itself. This means revising the human both theoretically and practically, engaging in new modes of being and new forms of sociality as practical ramifications of making ‘the human’ explicit.” (pp82-83)


Building FuturesInventing the Future

Finally, we will close with a few quick comments to try and clarify some other important points raised in the responses. Sophie and David critique our emphasis on disappointment as a productive affect, and what they see as our rejection of the power of anger. We want to be clear that we absolutely see a role for anger in leftist politics. When Joe laments that we do “not profess an equal love for the present” and warns that “love of the future sits dangerously close to hatred of the present”, we plead guilty. We find the present state of the world intolerable. Our own political stances are mobilised by anger about atrocities small and large that we see every day: anger at friends being beaten by police truncheons, anger at the epithets thrown at the homeless, anger at watching yet another black life snuffed out by the state, anger at the online and offline viciousness visited upon sexual minorities, anger at the mental health issues we see so many friends struggle with, anger at the casual fascism of crossing a border legally, and anger at the outright brutalities forced upon those who cross illegally. Anger has always been and always will be an important resource for those marginalised by society. The anger about abusers and the vitriol tossed at sexists, transphobes, and racists is entirely warranted. And Sophie and David are right when they say we don’t outline the parameters of this argument clearly enough. So to be clear: anger has always had and will continue to have an important affective role in leftist politics. We believe we have to do a lot more work to sort out precisely what we think about social media, along with the ethics and politics that might accompany it. As a society, we are still learning how to use these new tools and develop informal codes of behaviour. But it is clear that social media has been of immense benefit to marginalised communities in finding respect, support, strength, and a voice. We in no way want to dismiss this.

We would also add one smaller clarification to their piece. Sophie and David write “S&W display their ‘only after the revolution’ tendencies here, stating that ‘[p]luri-versalism…relies upon the elimination of capitalism and is dependent upon a counter-hegemonic postcapitalist project as its presupposed condition of existence’”. This is not our argument however, but that of Walter Mignolo (The Darker Side of Modernity, 275). He – we think rightly – recognises that in a world of capital, any vision of many worlds will only be many worlds under capitalism. Any effort to build a pluri-versalist order must therefore simultaneously be one which is anti-capitalist. Not a stagist argument about the priority of Marxism over decolonialism, but rather a simple point that pluri-versalism is incompatible with capitalism.

~ Williams and Srnicek at  The Disorder of Things


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Badiou: Down with Death!

Alain Badiou

Let’s start from the notion of nihilism. What does it mean? Nihilism is a figuration, a diagnostic on the state of the world and of thought, which established itself in the nineteenth century (we could argue that in a certain sense the first nihilist philosophy was Schopenhauer’s) on the ruins of the old religious and class convictions – as if nihilism had come along to name the void in which the collective symbolisation found itself.

So we could say that nihilism is the negative subjectivation of finitude; it is fundamentally the organised or anarchic (either is possible) consciousness that because we die, nothing is important. The most classic figure of nihilism is the statement that everything is devalued, de-symbolised and untenable in the face of death. It is an equalisation of the totality of everything that could be valued, faced with the radical ontological finitude that death represents. This question of the relation between nihilism and values is, as you know, a central question in Nietzsche’s philosophy, which takes up this theme of nihilism in order to make a very important diagnostic and critical use of it.

In reality, the statement ‘because we die, nothing is important’ can remain a theological one. Indeed, we could say ‘Nothing is important, except God, except eternal salvation, except the other life…’; and we would then be embarking on something that is not nihilism, but the vocation for martyrdom or even placing hope in death itself, given that death is the only door to the infinite, and thus the only door to the value that matters, the supreme value. So we ought to say that full, complete nihilism is the nihilism that not only considers death proof of the inevitable devaluation of differences, but which completes this judgement with the death of God himself. So we can speak of complete nihilism only when the death of man is paired with the death of God. It was evidently in this sense that Dostoyevsky made one of his characters say that ‘if God is dead, then everything is permitted’. This is a nihilist statement in the sense that if God is dead, then nothing allows us to claim an inequality among different values. Judgement is itself of no interest, now that death is constituted doubly, both by the empirical death of men and the historical death of the gods.

In reality, this nihilism probably organises a complicated historical disposition – one that is still unfinished even today – which necessarily constructs what I will call a false contradiction, a contradiction that represents the two possible subjective variants of established nihilism.

The first position is a sceptical, atheist nihilism, which is in fact the most widespread ideology bearing it in the contemporary world. ‘Yes, it’s good to doubt…’ – and this is an absolutely fallacious interpretation of Descartes, when we know that what interested him was to prove the existence of God and to remain in doubt for the least length of time possible. It has become a sort of inheritance, with a long history – including in France – and one that results in the view that, fundamentally, the lightly sceptical reign of reasonable opinions combined with a smiling atheism is an acceptable subjective state, even if it does not seem very vigorous or exciting. It is a nihilist configuration, but it is what we might call a ‘non-tragic’ nihilism – the established, peaceable nihilism. The other position, on the contrary, is the frenzied desire for the resurrection of God – after all, the gods make quite a habit of reviving; they have always shown that their greatness is to mount a challenge to death itself.

This is absolutely what we have before us today, including at the level of average opinion: on the one hand, the will to preserve something of sceptical nihilism, of smiling atheism and the way of life that corresponds to it, and then, on the other hand, an attempt at the impossible resurrection of the dead God. This contradiction is, I think, a false contradiction, a contradiction that organises nihilism itself as a primordial renunciation of judgement and in particular as a renouncement of the category of truth. This contradiction – as is always the case with the great contradictions – today has a tragic and a comic form (though it is sometimes a sinister comedy). The tragic form is the extraordinary violent clash – which is always over oil fields (it is an oil-nihilism) – between sophisticated barbarism and what we might call archaic barbarism, killing either with the electronic drone or the butcher’s cleaver. In this latter case you are forced to invest something of your own person, whereas with the drone you can stay in your armchair and command the murder 3,000 kilometres away, before telling the President who signed the murder-order how it went. It is the tragic form because it is, all the same, haunted by death, murder, and occupation; and it is all the more tragic because it is not possible to see any way out of it, to see how it would be possible to give meaning to any kind of way out of this clash, precisely because it is a clash between two positions that are each in a certain sense untenable.

As for its comic form, we see this in the fact that newspapers can devote front-page headlines to the length of schoolgirls’ skirts, as if this were the news of the day. This will go down in history as ‘the skirt wars’… It is not wholly the same as the other nihilism, but in reality it expresses the same contradiction, because sceptical and nihilist atheism is also a whole universe of representations of femininity, of the relation to femininity, etc – and the impossibility of resurrecting the dead God also bears on this point. So this quarrel is the comic form of war.

We could ask what the two sides of this contradiction have in common. What they have in common is, ultimately, finitude. This is clear in the sceptical and atheist form of nihilism, for which it isn’t judgement that matters, but the free play of opinions. As for the figure of the impossible resurrection of the dead God, we know well enough that you can only get to God by manifesting and martyrising your finitude; so this is always a matter of the humiliation of finitude in front of the greatness of the infinite, which transcends and is external to it.

So in both cases it is the power of finitude that is convoked as the ground or territory of the opposition; and it is convoked in its quadruple operating form: that is, of identity, repetition, necessity and God himself. These four terms are, indeed, present at the heart of the contradiction that I am talking about.

Identity, because it is evidently an identitarian war. A ‘war of civilisations’, a war of religions, a war between the West and what is not the West, a war between democracy and tyranny: it has countless names, but it does indeed manifest itself as an identitarian war. Repetition, because in a certain sense it is a scene that has already been rehearsed, particularly in the representation of a conflict between the West and the Orient. Here we can mobilise the crusades, or, in the inverse sense, the expansion of the Muslim religion under the Ottoman Empire, or again in the other sense, colonialism and the Christians imposing their authority over Muslim peoples – in either case, it is a historically constituted scene being repeated. Necessity, because there is the necessity to deploy modernity conceived as the irreducible enemy of tradition. This is the question of symbolisation, of value, which is posed as the need for modernity to be able to develop without the hindrances, the reticence and the objections of tradition. So ultimately we can clearly see that God is the dividing line between, on the one hand, scepticism – which includes the necessity or authorisation of blasphemy – and, on the other hand, the attempt to resuscitate the dead God, which instead speaks to respect for the contents of the faith.

The common term in this conflict is the exacerbation of the power of finitude. What I want to note here is that identity, repetition, necessity and God are in fact concentrated in the theme of death. The thought of finitude is essentially a deadly and mortifying [mortifère et mortifiant] one. Death is the implicit or explicit recapitulation of the four terms.

Firstly, identity. In the logic of finitude, we only know who someone is when he is dead. Death is the seal that allows us to say what someone is – otherwise you still do not know what he is capable of. This is a theme that you will find in Greek tragedy. It is death that comes to seal the destiny of individuals’ identities but also of peoples’ identities: we know of the eighteenth-century fascination for the fall of the Roman empire, which was the point where it was possible to grasp and to consider what the identity of the Roman empire had truly been, in its own being. There is a rather terrifying phrase of Sartre’s on this point, that ‘to be dead is to be prey to the living’. Death is effectively the moment when you can no longer argue back or plead your cause against the verdict that the living choose to pass on you.

Repetition. Death is what makes every individual substitutable for any other. ‘Death is the great equaliser’ – a theme that we find extending everywhere across all religions. At the moment of death you stop being a king or a toiler; you will die, and faced with this terrifying threat of death and the last Judgement, anyone will be substitutable for any other. Death is the means by which humanity indefinitely repeats its constitutive finitude. That’s the meaning of the meditation pursued inEcclesiastes: ‘Nothing new under the sun’. That is, that everything is heading toward death, without death itself changing anything. [Which then brings us to] the magnificent metaphor ‘All the streams flow into the sea, and the sea is never full’. This community-in-death is also an annihilation of time, absolutely cancelling out time’s creative capacity: ‘What are a hundred or a thousand years, when they can be wiped out in an instant?’ (Bossuet).

Necessity. Death is the only thing that we are certain of. Everything else is aleatory and variable – ultimately, the pure necessity of human life is crystallised in death. Malraux has Stalin saying (and it’s been questioned that he did), doubtless on a day when he was feeling melancholic, that ‘Ultimately, it’s death that wins’… even if you are a Stalin. This is Stalinist nihilism.

And then God, evidently. God has always been connected to death. God is the promise of immortality, indeed, immortality in itself. God is the name of non-death.

You see that death is the motif that recapitulates the instances of finitude, also because it is convoked as the ultimate argument every time that we suppose, or invoke, the possibility of humanity’s immanent, effective access to some truth of an infinite power – we always say ‘in the last analysis, man is a mortal animal’. From this point of view, I always admired the canonical example you learn in school of what a logical argument is: ‘All men are mortal, and Socrates is a man, so Socrates is mortal’. Connected together in this example is a triple relation between (1) necessity – that is, syllogism, as the logical form of necessity, (2) the pretention to wisdom or greatness as embodied in Socrates, and (3) the knot between the two, death. This pedagogical syllogism is a toxic vehicle of finitude. That it is why it is given to everyone as a principle of logical wisdom.

Now it would be interesting to ask what the absolute modern form of that is. I think that it’s not at all a matter of insisting on the value of death, giving it an important place, but rather a case of covering up its finitude. That means calmly setting this finitude at a distance, relegating it to lost corners, if possible, with the idea that, in any case, we already live a long time… Fundamentally, the idea is that death can ultimately be covered up by a carpet of commodities. Consumerist mobility, the possibility of humanity always having another go within its reach, the serial ‘another’ of the commodity (another object, another journey…) is in reality what covers up the categories of death, at the same time as being the same as it. If we think about it, commodity consumerism is also, ultimately, the repetition, the identity of objects etc. So it is death in its consumable form. I always have this feeling that when we buy an object, no matter what it is, particularly the most useless objects – that is, the most amusing ones – it is like in the Middle Ages when people used to buy indulgences. It is buying a little guarantee against the vileness of death, a little slice of anti-death fetish. The image I have of that in my mind is that after having little by little been covered up by these commodities, and then finally disappearing behind them, we are dead: and that is where the true reality, the truly immortal reality, triumphs – the immortality of the market. That is the great comfort – life is covered up by little parcels of indulgences, such that this covering ends up displacing death simply because it is identical to death.

In reality, I think that the great element of modernity is to have generalised slow death, that is, the avoidance – as much as possible – of catastrophic death. That is why our societies find it very hard to deal with catastrophes. There must not be catastrophes: this is pathological. Tragic, unexpected death is unacceptable. Suddenly, death has arrived – but what is it doing here? What is the government doing? The plane to Thailand is meant for relaxation, not for smashing into the ground and killing you. We are forced to feel this as a terrible drama. Why? Ultimately we have much less chance of being killed in the plane than walking down the steps; this is not at the level of general statistics, but because it is a death out in the open, a death that does not fit into the law of modern death, which means dying very slowly, and, if possible, almost without noticing.

The thesis underlying all this, it must be said, is that death is the constitutive principle of humanity as such. The dereliction of man as ‘the being for which there is death’ – the problem being to deal with the extreme anguish that this conviction provokes. The contemporary philosopher who thought this through most deeply was Heidegger. Indeed, he said that from the point of view of man’s immanent end, he is ultimately ‘a being toward death’, and he mounted a fundamentally important meditation on finitude on this basis. I’ll read you an extract from Being and Time [all quotes used here are from Joan Stambaugh’s English translation]:

Ending does not necessarily mean fulfilling oneself. It thus becomes more urgent to ask in what sense, if any, death must be grasped as the ending of Da-sein […] Initially ending means stopping, and it means this in senses that are ontologically different. The rain stops. It is no longer objectively present. The road stops. This ending does not cause the road to disappear, but this stopping rather determines the road as this objectively present one.

Here Heidegger is distinguishing – and here I’ll return to the terms I used before, between the finite as passive stopping and the finite as an operation. The rain stops: it has disappeared, it has stopped passively. Whereas if the road stops, it is because it is its own end, it has led us somewhere which is its end, an end that constitutes the road as a direction, a track, leading from one point to another. In this case, the end closes off the possibility of operation.

Hence ending as stopping can mean either to change into the absence of objective presence or, however, to be objectively present only when the end comes. The latter kind of ending can again be determinative for an unfinished thing objectively present, as a road under construction breaks off, or it may rather constitute the “finishedness” of something objectively present – the painting is finished with the last stroke of the brush.

So here we immediately have the metaphor of work, in the fact that the last stroke of the brush is the thing that brings us to its finished glory, whereas if the road stops because it hasn’t been built yet, then that is a transitory and passive stopping.

Even ending in the sense of disappearing can still be modified according to the kind of being of the being. The rain is at an end, that is, disappeared. The bread is at an end, that is, used up, no longer available as something at hand.

To put it another way, the bread is used up, but it has fulfilled the role it was made for.

None of these modes of ending are able to characterize death appropriately as the end of Da-sein. If dying were understood as being-at-an-end in the sense of an ending of the kind discussed, Da-sein would be posited as something objectively present or at hand. In death, Da-sein is neither fulfilled nor does it simply disappear; it has not become finished or completely available as something at hand.

To put it another way: in death, Dasein is not like the road, the rain, the table or the bread we ate.

Rather, just as Da-sein constantly already is its not-yet as long as it is, it also alreadyis its end. The ending that we have in view when we speak of death does not signify a being-at-an-end of Da-sein, but rather a being toward the end of this being. Death is a way to be that Da-sein takes over as soon as it is. “As soon as a human being is born, he is old enough to die right away”.

Heidegger’s description of death essentially consists of saying that, in man’s case, finitude is radically immanent. Death is not something external, indicating a passive finitude or a finitude achieved by human life: rather, human life is commanded or oriented toward death, from within; Dasein is ‘toward death’ from the beginning. To put that another way, the thing proper to man is that the question of death, of finitude, is internal to his existence and to his definition, and not the result of fulfilment or stopping, which are but empirical appearances. For human life, the end is at the beginning. It is an ineluctable component of the prospect of life in itself.

I think that here we have got to the densest and most complete form of an organic relation between human existence and finitude. In my view this is the most radical thesis concerning the assumption of finitude, because it is a thesis that makes finitude immanent in an absolute way. Ultimately it makes death play the same role that the absolute plays in Hegel’s thinking (as he ultimately concluded that if we manage to attain the absolute, that is because the absolute is with us from the beginning). If we take Heidegger’s texts seriously, they tell us that death is also the absolute of human life, that is, at the same time its beginning, its origin and its fate.

I want to defend another thesis concerning death, a thesis that, conversely, upholds the absolute exteriority of death – a thesis that makes death radically non-immanent. If you want the complete details, see Logiques des mondes, Book III, Section 4, a chapter entitled ‘L’existence et la mort’, where you will find the whole context that I can only give a brief sketch of here.

The idea I want to defend – and it’s a simple one, truth be told – is that death is something that happens to you; it is not the immanent unfolding of some linear programme. Even if we say that human life cannot go beyond a hundred and twenty years, for biological, genetic etc. reasons, death as death is always something that happens to you. One great thinker on death is La Palice. A truth we get from La Palice is that ‘a quarter an hour before his death, he was still alive’. That isn’t at all absurd or naïve. It means that ‘a quarter an hour before death’ he wasn’t what Heidegger sees as ‘a quarter hour before death’ – he wasn’t ‘a-being-toward-death’ ever since his birth. ‘A quarter of an hour before his death’ he was alive, and death happens to him. And I would maintain that death always comes from the outside. Spinoza said something excellent on that score: ‘Nothing can be destroyed except by an external cause’. Yes, I’ll take that. Spinoza gives a long proof of that, but I won’t give it too. This means that death is in a position of radical exteriority: we would not even say that a human reality, a Dasein, is mortal. Because ‘mortal’ means to say that it contains the virtuality of death in an immanent fashion. In truth, all that is is generically immortal, and then death intervenes.

I would define death as a mutation of existential status in a given world, which I will try to give you a general schema of. We are all in a world, Heidegger is right on that, we are somewhere, we are localised and our very being contains and retains this localisation. The metaphysical approach I propose is the following: the register of being [l’être] on the one hand, and the register of existence on the other, have to be distinguished. Being belongs to pure multiplicity, under one form or another, whereas existence is always existence in a place. So it is necessary to distinguish, as Heidegger masterfully did, between being and being-there [Da-sein]. Thought on being is one thing (as you know, I maintain that it fuses with the analysis of multiplicities, or mathematics), and thought on existence is another.

Let’s suppose that X and Y exist in the world. They have a being of their own, independent of the fact that they are in this world. But what does ‘existing in a world’ mean for them? It means: being in a state of being differentiated from all the others who are in the same world. The singularity of existence is the possible systemic differentiation between an element of the world and an element of the same world. So somewhere there has to be the possibility of evaluating the difference between the two. So we would say that ‘existing in a world’ is to be taken in a practically infinite web of more or less strong differences with everything that is in the world in question: that’s what constitutes the singularity of our belonging to the world.

We will use the term D(x,y) to denote the difference between X and Y, a relation whose value ‘measures’ the extent to which X and Y are different. The difference D(x,y) has a value that will situate itself between a minimum (µ) and a maximum (M). If it equals M, it is because X and Y are very different, they are as different as could be; if it equals µ, it is because they are almost the same, as similar as they could be. A world, in its basic machinery, is a game of differentiations proper to this determinate world, oscillating between a minimum and a maximum.

So on that basis we can say that for some person, ‘existing in the world’ is the measure of difference between herself and herself. This would be written E(x) = D(x,x). That is a very simple and ordinary idea. Existence is always something qualitative, it is an intensity: there are moments when you feel ‘alienated’, that is, very differentiated from yourself; so D(x,x) has a maximal value. And there are other moments where you feel yourself fully exist, where your existence is intense, you feel close to your true identity; so D(x,x) has a minimal value. Between the two it fluctuates via intermediate values, and X and Y are not absolutely different nor absolutely identical, but ‘averagely’ different.

We can also express it by saying that ‘the existence of a multiple something, relative to a world, is the degree to which in this world the multiple appears identical to itself’ (Logiques des mondes p. 285). This time, this is expressed in the value of the function ‘identity to oneself’ (annotated Id(x.x)): if Id(x,x) has the maximum value (M), that is because this multiple exists absolutely in the world under consideration; and if Id(x,x) has the minimal value (µ) that is because its existence in this world has an extremely weak intensity.

As for death, it is, formally, the sudden, contingent passage – imposed from the outside – from the situation Id(x,x) = p [p being some non-minimal value] to the situation Id(x,x) = µ. That’s why we can always say ‘that is what death is’, when we see death and we absolutely know that is what it is. We know that it’s death because x is still there, but the intensity of his existence is almost entirely eliminated. The fable of the immortal soul does not rely on the distinction between mind and body, but it is rooted within it, that is, in the distinction between being and existence. The idea of immortality is that in this world – the world that prescribed the intensity of an existence proper to this world – x is dead, but that does not mean that he is dead in every world.

Ahmed chose this moment to signal to ‘Mr. Badiou’ that he had to leave the stage instantly. The meditation he had been elaborating, alone on the stage, concluded with the slogan: ‘Down with death!’

See more from Badiou here.

Revolution of the Present (Full Film)

“Humanity seems to be stuck in the perpetual now that is our networked world. More countries are witnessing people taking to the streets in search of answers. Revolution of the Present, the film, features interviews with thought leaders designed to give meaning to our present and precarious condition. This historic journey allows us to us re-think our presumptions and narratives about the individual and society, the local and global, our politics and technology. This documentary analyzes why the opportunity to augment the scope of human action has become so atomized and diminished. Revolution of the Present is an invitation to join the conversation and help contribute to our collective understanding.

As Saskia Sassen, the renowned sociologist, states at the outset of the film, ‘we live in a time of unsettlement, so much so that we are even questioning the notion of the global, which is healthy.’ One could say that our film raises more questions than it answers, but this is our goal. Asking the right questions and going back to beginnings may be the very thing we need to do to understand the present, and to move forward from it with a healthy skepticism.

Revolution of the Present is structured as an engaging dinner conversation, there is no narrator telling you what to think, it is not a film of fear of the end time or accusation, it is an invitation to sit at the table and join an in depth conversation about our diverse and plural world.”

Copyright 2016, Multiplicities, LLC

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