The Event of Loss as the External Cause of Thought
At the inception of philosophy there is a loss, but not all philosophers begin with this loss. While some of them start from before the loss, some others begin after the loss. One way or the other philosophy proper begins with the inscription of this loss and aims at causing a loss of loss. That which is lost is nothing but the sense of reality as it has been; things turn out not to be the way they seemed to be. Immediately following the inscription of loss there emerges the question of “how can that which has happened be justified?” It’s not for nothing that philosophy has come to be considered a proposition of justice in response to a loss of the sense of reality embodied by the subject and in which the subject is embedded. Whether or not one begins by asking “why is there nothing rather than something?” as opposed to “why is there something rather than nothing?” makes a lot of difference. For at stake here in these initial questions is a primary decision concerning what matters the most, what makes one thing matter more than the other. Philosophy, after all, is a matter of deciding what matters and what not.
What matters now is how the question of beginning is put in terms of the event. From Plato to Zeno of Citium, passing through Kant and Hegel, onwards to Heidegger and Deleuze, and culminating in Zizek and Badiou, philosophers have come to determine the cause of subjective thought to be the objective circumstances surrounding the subject. Accordingly, an external factor, a traumatic incident, a banal accident of life, or the experience of an act of violence have all been considered necessary for the emergence of thought. Thought is immanent to the subject but its conditions transcend it. The event is such a transcendent contingency that it has come to mark the beginning of something new and necessary.
Homer had once said that “the gods send us catastrophes so that we can write about them.” What to do when faced with catastrophic incidents has been a recurring theme throughout the histories of literature and philosophy since then. We know, for instance, that Zeno of Citium’s temporary turn towards cynicism and eventual creation of Stoicism as a philosophical position is a result of a huge loss he had undergone during his journey from Cyprus to Greece. His ship sinks with all the silk and linen Zeno was exporting to Athens. Reduced from a rich merchant to the level of a tramp who has nothing, Zeno initially embraces the Cynic stance, but he is not exactly keen on remaining a Cynic who is not engaged in any positive projects content with merely turning his back on society. In a fashion similar to the Cynics, Zeno also develops a profound dislike for material possessions upon the financial loss he experiences. But instead of turning his back on society he moves on to invent a new model of society which is not driven by an obsession with material wealth. His philosophy now known as Stoicism would later on be turned into a tool for coping with the difficulties of life by Epictetus among others.
Another famous statement on this issue of lack and negativity is Nietzsche’s “that which doesn’t kill me renders me stronger.” In Hegel the same theme is worked through in this passage from the Philosophy of Right.
Many diverse details have a bearing on the preservation of life, and when we have our eyes on the future we have to engage ourselves in these details. But the only thing that is necessary is to live now, the future is not absolute but ever exposed to accident. Hence it is only the necessity of the immediate present which can justify a wrong action, because not to do the action would in turn be to commit an offence, indeed the most wrong of all offences, namely the complete destruction of the embodiment of freedom.
As for Kant, his whole project is to situate the traumatic incident at the heart of enlightened subjectivity itself. Isn’t Kant’s whole edifice an attempt at introducing a split between reason and the madness inherent to its constitution?
I have doubts whether there is a distinction between general lunacy (delirium generale) and that which is fixed upon a definite object (delirium circa objectum). Unreason (which is something positive and not just a lack of reason) is like reason, a mere form to which objects can be adapted; and both reason and unreason, therefore, concern themselves with the general. However, what first comes into the mind at the (usually sudden) outbreak of a crazy disposition (the accidentally encountered subject matter about which the person will rave later) will be from then on the insane person’s chief concern, since it is, because of the novelty of the impression, more firmly fixed in his mind than anything else occurring afterward.
And Deleuze, probably the most innovative philosopher of the event, situates the encounter with the event at the heart of his Difference and Repetition.
Something in the world forces us to think. This something is an object not of recognition but of a fundamental encounter. What is encountered may be Socrates, a temple or a demon. It may be grasped in a range of affective tones: wonder, love, hatred, suffering. In whichever tone, its primary characteristic is that it can only be sensed. In this sense it is opposed to recognition. In recognition, the sensible is not at all that which can only be sensed, but that which bears directly upon the senses in an object which can be recalled, imagined or conceived. The sensible is referred to an object which may not only be experienced other than by sense, but may itself be attained by other faculties. It therefore presupposes the exercise of the senses and the exercise of the other faculties in a common sense. The object of encounter, on the other hand, really gives rise to sensibility with regard to a given sense.
Badiou goes even further and proclaims, “better a disaster than an unbeing [desêtre]….”
A Philosophical Manual for Coping with Loss Before and After Its Occurrence
One doesn’t have to love one’s own fate to be able to produce something good, beautiful and true out of it. Our lives are full of big and small, good and bad things happening to us all the time. Even the loss of money while on long or short term vacation can cause immense ruptures in our lives. Imagine a specific situation wherein you have just lost a considerable amount of your little wealth and your modest accommodation. You have also lost time, since you had to give your time in exchange for that money and you will have to give more of it in order to regain what you have lost. You are deep into a vicious circle to say the least. In order to be able to recover the lost time and money, you have to spend less in more time and do more in less time.
Your situation requires reconfiguring the foundations of your being, you are confronted with a profoundly ontological problem. So as to become capable of changing your very mode of being in accordance with the change that occurred in your situation, it is time for you to return to dialectical modes of thinking, being, and acting. Now that you have made the decision not to run after the money you have lost and opted for the more rational route of reconfiguring your relation to time, perhaps it is indeed time to reconsider your life in its relation to capital. The dialectical modality of life is a rigorous creative process intervening in the structure of time itself. Striking at the heart of what constitutes time as an open procedure of constituting a framework for a new life, dialectical theory turns death into life, nothing into something, negativity into positivity by way of exposing that it is how we use time, what we do, how we act in the face of traumatic events that matters the most in determining the sense of what happened, is happening, and is yet to happen. In and through the course of a dialectical process the bad thing turns out to be a good thing after all. But it wasn’t always like that. The bad thing was bad at the time of its occurrence, our actions after the event, however, determined the significance of this event. Dialectical thought thinks of time as that which is continually re-split and re-synthesized by the living subject of theory and practice in one simultaneous movement in two directions at once.
The orientation of your existence towards singular change requires going beyond the co-ordinates of ordinary life of capitalist axiomatics. For a singular change necessitates making a choice to go in the direction of the world as an open multiplicity of possibilities. Unlike a human-animal you would rather take it upon yourself to transform affects in such a way as to move from existence to being. Of course you are anxious beyond measure, that’s because you have to know something you don’t know, create a future that doesn’t yet exist as a possibility. To do this you have to approach the event of loss as an opening of new possibilities. The event itself is never fully constituted, the significance of the loss is ever yet to be fully determined. Deleuze has this to say concerning the object of encounter: “It is not a quality but a sign. It is not a sensible being but the being of the sensible. It is not the given but that by which the given is given. It is therefore in a certain sense the imperceptible [insensible].”
The loss is not given, the subject gives its own loss to itself. The way in which the subject handles the loss before giving it to itself determines the future effects of this loss. The subject henceforth takes it upon itself to shape the loss in such a way as to reduce its negative effects. The consequences of the loss as the event which initiates a rupture in the ordinary flow of things in the subject’s life are yet to be determined by the subject as its own founding act. The being of the subject is itself affected by loss. In the case of a financial loss, for instance, our mode of being in time is affected since it is our time which we give in exchange of money when we are employed under wage labour. Is it even worth mentioning that in today’s world time is money and money is time?
Not only in the mathematical formulae of modern physics but in general in all human comportment towards time, time becomes a “factor,” i.e. a “worker,” that “works” either “against” or “for” man, namely “against” or in “favor” of the calculation by means of which man makes plans to master beings and secure himself in them. In modern terms, time is something man takes into account precisely as the empty frame of the progression of occurrences one after the other. Everywhere, not only in physics, time is the “parameter,” i.e., the coordinates along which runs all measurement and calculation. Man uses and consumes time like a “factor.”
The Time of Capital, the Time of Being, and the Time of the Dialectical Subject
The situation depicted in the film In Time (Dir. Andrew Niccol, 2011) is very similar to contemporary capitalism in which the rich survive death forever, while the poor run out of time and die. Capitalism is a mega death-drive, an ever regressive process of production and consumption in and through which time becomes capital. The value of your life is measured by how much money you have in the bank, higher the number all the more immune to death you feel you are. In capitalism the future has succumbed to retrospection locked in an eternal present, but still there are signs all around for the possibility of a progressive move towards a new future, one only needs to have the eyes to see them in this time.
If, as Benjamin Franklin has once put it, time is money and money is time, does this mean that the more money you have the more time you have as a living being? Yes and no… Already at the beginning of Marx’s Capital we come across this problematic relationship between time and capital. A quantitative increase in capital causes a qualitative increase in the time of life and inversely.
The economic paradox that the most powerful instrument for reducing labour-time suffers a dialectical inversion and becomes the most unfailing means for turning the whole lifetime of the worker and his family into labor-time at capital’s disposal for its own valorization.
We live in such times and spaces wherein time and space have themselves become rare commodities. If we keep in mind that scarcity is that which determines the value of a commodity, we can understand why and how the interruption of the ordinary run of things and socially accepted forms of using time and space can open the gates to a new mode of being and thinking in a new space and time. In a world where time is used as the currency, wherein you can earn more time at work to sell it for goods, foods and other services, you are caught in an ever regressive process of production and consumption in and through which time becomes capital and capital becomes life. Once your time as capital runs out, you die.
Catastrophe as the Future History of Utopia
If there is a movement of thought which has stamped the significance of dialectics upon contemporary climate of theory and made this significance manifest for the present state of political affairs in the world, it can be found in Fredric Jameson’s books. It’s all a matter of knowing what to do with time, and Jameson knows what to do with it to say the least. In his remarkable book entitled Valences of the Dialectic, which is itself a performance of dialectical thought in action, Jameson takes it upon himself to point out the increasing relevance of the dialectic in relation to temporality. Using Paul Ricoeur’s Time and Narrative as well as Aristotle’s Poetics in conjunction with the Hegelian system of thought driven by and driving the dialectical process, Jameson constructs a temporal narrative of how time and history are made to appear in the sixth and final part of his book devoted to The Valences of History. By way of introducing an epistemological difference beyond the ontological difference between ecstatic and enstatic conceptualisations of ontic time, Jameson also achieves positing a new difference between time and temporality themselves. History now requires a subject to make it appear anew and thereby become the cause of a new future.
As a philosophical enterprise, Valences of the Dialectic, and especially its final part The Valences of History, signify a difference from Heidegger in understanding the transcendence and the transcendent, noesis and noema. This difference is the difference of Hegel’s dialectical process of infinity from Heidegger’s ontological horizon of possibility. The “transcending towards” of Heidegger is situated in a dialectical relation with Hegel’s identity of immanence and transcendence. In the two quotations below, Heidegger and Deleuze point out the shift from an understanding of time as quantity to time as quality.
As a consequence of this disposition, which consumes and uses up, man constantly has less and less time in spite of all his time-saving, and that is why the saving and economy of time are necessary in even the tiniest procedures of technology. Modern man, the subject to whom the “world” has become a uniquely uniform “object,” consumes even time. Modern man therefore always “has” less and less time, because he has taken possession of time in advance only as calculable and has made time something of which he is obsessed, though he is presumably the ruler whose rule masters time. For primordial Greek thinking, on the contrary, time, always as dispensing and dispensed time, takes man and all beings essentially into its ordering and in every case orders the appearance and disappearance of beings. Time discloses and conceals.
Time is out of joint, time is unhinged. The hinges are the axis around which the door turns. Cardo, in Latin, designates the subordination of time to the cardinal points through which the periodic movements that it measures pass. As long as time remains on its hinges, it is subordinate to movement: it is the measure of movement, interval or number. This was the view of ancient philosophy. But time out of joint signifies the reversal of the movement-time relationship. It is now movement which is subordinate to time. Everything changes, including movement. . . Time is no longer related to the movement which it measures, but movement is related to the time which conditions it: this is the first great Kantian reversal in the Critique of Pure Reason. Time is no longer defined by succession because succession concerns only things and movements which are in time. If time itself were succession, it would need to succeed in another time, and on to infinity.
Following Heidegger’s proclamation that “the dreadful has already happened, and only a god can save us now,” as well as Deleuze’s well known quote from Bosquet which goes as “my wound existed before me, I was born to embody it,” it is still increasingly fashionable today to say that “the catastrophe has already occurred.” Yes, it did indeed, many times during the course of history as a matter of fact. And yet the question still remains: “what if there is not just one big catastrophe in the past alone, but many catastrophes happening all the time?” Yes, many catastrophes have already occurred, are still occurring, and will keep doing so in the future to come. There is no guarantee that the worst is over yet, or that there is no worse to come. As the poets would put it, “when we fall we fall hard, the troubles don’t singly come.” Perhaps we haven’t seen anything yet, and the catastrophe which is claimed to have already occurred is nothing but the beginning of a new sequence of catastrophes. Considering we are floating in a sea of catastrophes, it would surely be convenient to say that the best way of handling our catastrophic situation is to employ dialectics of time and event in the service of overcoming, reversing, or at least slowing down the worsening. The initial question to be asked in the way of achieving a transcendental approach to the concept of catastrophe is simply this: “what if the catastrophe occurred to prevent an even bigger catastrophe?” This question immediately empowers one who wishes to reconfigure the significance of a catastrophic event within a broader sequence of events. One therefore has to think and imagine what would have happened if the catastrophe had not occurred in its time. Now, of course this operation requires a writing of that which is not known in such a way as to effectuate a less bad future. It’s all a matter of minimizing the effects of the presumed major catastrophe which is itself the outcome of many minor catastrophes leading to that unfortunate sequence of events the consequences of which are yet to be determined. The best way of carrying out this minimization is to make up an alternative sequence of events in the past which would change the meaning of the present itself, thereby causing a new future to emerge.
In this case the past and the future appear to be qualitatively identical in the sense that they are both unknown. We know neither what exactly has happened in the past nor what will happen in the future for sure. We are at a perpetual present whose presence itself is dubious in that it never really is, since as soon as we say “I am in the present now” the present which we say we are in becomes past. At this point we may either opt for constructing a fictional past in such a way as to slow down worsening, or disregarding the past altogether and focusing on the effects of the unknown past manifest in the present. At hand there are pieces of information concerning our situation as well as some sense-data such as mental and physical pain, a mass of misery which we have to put in the service of a less bad future than the one awaiting us if either nothing or something wrong is done.
It is here that Lacan’s definition of the Real as “the impasse of formalization” becomes relevant, for it is there that the Real appears as its own disappearance, and hence as a void-in-process in the symbolic order. The imaginary enters the scene to fill in this gap opened by the forever vanishing objective dimension within the subjective process itself. For Badiou it is precisely at this point of impossibility of knowing that the Real emerges as the eternity in time which goes beyond mere subjective experience and objective reality alike.
In a paper on Jameson’s Making History Appear presented at a conference entitled Thinking About Time: Temporalities of Capitalism and the Time of Revolution, Brassier touches upon this same issue of the problematic relation between formalisation, the Real, and making the impossible possible. Following Badiou’s footsteps in the field of formalism, Brassier asserts that a forcing of transformation in the structure of formalisation itself is required to go beyond the impasse of capitalist mode of production under which the subject itself is subsumed. Referring to Jameson’s definition of capitalism as “totalization-in-process” rather than an all-encompassing structure, Brassier points out that “time is what propels capital and drives capitalism on.” Since “capital configures the way in which time is experienced”, it is up to the subject to formalize a new time for itself in such a way as to reconfigure the subject of capital’s relation to time, and hence cause a transformation in the structure of capitalism itself. Here again it’s all a matter of turning catastrophe into a positive investment in the future. Quoting Jameson at length, Brassier underlines the role of catastrophe in the process of progressive transformations of the existing social and political world of history.
In the phenomenon that interests us here, the sudden flash of a sense of history, we must somehow account for the evidence that History in that sense can be experienced either as nightmare or as a sudden opening and possibility that is lived in enthusiasm. It is an alternation which suggests the existence of some deeper duality in the thing itself: the way in which, for example, the appearing of History, its phainesthai, entails a new opening up of past and future alike, which can conceivably be marked antithetically: a somber past of violence and slaughter giving way to a new sense of collective production, or on the contrary a glimpse of promise in the past which is shut down by a closing of horizons in universal catastrophe. Better still, both these dimensions can be experienced at one and the same time, in an undecidable situation in which the reemergence of History is unrelated to its content and dependent above all on that form in which after a long reduction to the lowered visibility of the present, past and future once again open up in the full transparency of their distances.
This returns us to the issue of the causes and effects of unfortunate incidents, those banal accidents of life which may have varying degrees of traumatic consequences. Related to this issue are the concepts such as causality, contingency, and necessity. Is it possible to know the absolute cause of an event? How are we to know whether an event was contingent or necessary?
One should thus invert the existentialist commonplace according to which, when we are engaged in a present historical process, we perceive it as full of possibilities, and ourselves as agents free to choose among them; while, to a retrospective view, the same process appears as fully determined and necessary, with no room for alternatives: on the contrary, it is the engaged agents who perceive themselves as caught in a Destiny, merely reacting to it, while, retrospectively, from the standpoint of later observation, we can discern alternatives in the past, possibilities of events taking a different path. (And is not the attitude of Predestination—the fact that the theology of predestination legitimized the frantic activity of capitalism— the ultimate confirmation of this paradox?) This is how Dupuy suggests that we should confront the catastrophe: we should first perceive it as our fate, as unavoidable, and then, projecting ourselves into it, adopting its standpoint, we should retroactively insert into its past (the past of the future) counterfactual possibilities (“If we had done such and such a thing, the catastrophe we are in now would not have happened!”) upon which we then act today.
What went wrong might in fact turn out to be the turning point in the course of happenings which sets things in the right course. Perhaps it was all already going wrong for a quite a while now, and what seemed to be a negativity in this process of wrongoing was actually a contingent necessity for the conditions of rightgoing.
The initial question the subjects asks to itself in the face of aggravating situations of loss should better be this if the subject wishes to overcome the anguish it feels in the face of loss, and with sufficient effort even sublate its state of being in agony perhaps: “what have I gained with this apparent loss?” This question aims at initiating a thought process which would actualize a change at the level of perception. Viewed from a timeless nowhere, a nowhen from beyond a supposedly predestined future which doesn’t yet exist and may never do so, from the realm of an a-temporal Utopia, the Real, that is, the event as the spark of an open ended story the significance of which is never fully determined becomes possible to handle in such a way as to situate it as a void in time, a gap between the past and the present out of which a new future emerges. Beginning with this void in time, this nothing which is now at hand, the subject can become an active constituent of time rather than being passively constituted by it.
Now, which one is the question to be asked, then?
- Why is there something rather than nothing?
- Why is there nothing rather than something?
The second one is indeed the question a dispossessed person would ask, rather than someone who still has something at hand. Yes, here we begin with nothing, because it’s all there is. Jack Kerouac had once asked, “what’s in store for me in the direction I don’t take?” The question still begs to be answered, with or without the recent developments in science and technology in mind, although needless to say it would help to use them in our investigation in search of a true answer. Perhaps time would tell indeed, if only time had a voice to say the least. When one of Beckett’s nameless voices in Texts for Nothing asks “where would I go if I could go, who would I be if I could be, what would I say if I had a voice?” one should listen to this voice without reserve and act accordingly without determination, that is, introject the lost object and project it as the subject without incorporating it. The introjected object of loss does not become a part of the subject at work here. What’s at stake is rather that a new sense of time is created and embodied as void within the subject itself. Out of this void emerges new modes of being and thought which deliver a third question: “how come there is both something and nothing at the same time?”
 Hegel, G.W.F., Philosophy of Right, trans. T.M.Knox (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 252-3 / Pr. 127
 Kant, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, 1978, p. 116.
 Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, p. 139.
 Alain Badiou, The Subject of Art, transcript by Lydia Kerr. The Symptom, Issue 6, Spring 2005. http://www.lacan.com/symptom6_articles/badiou.html
 Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, p. 139.
 Martin Heidegger, Parmenides, trans. Andre Schuwer and Richard Rojcewicz (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2002), p. 141.
 Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes, London: Penguin, 1976, p. 532.
 Hegel, G.W.F. Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V.Miller (Oxford: O.U.P, 1977), p.492.
 Deleuze, Kant’s Critical Philosophy: The Doctrine of the Faculties. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984, ix
 Heidegger, Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics. Trans. Richard Taft (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1990), p. 132.
 Badiou, Logics of Worlds, pp. 143-4.
 Bergson, Time and Free Will, trans. F. L. Pogson (New York: Dover Publications, 2001), p. 104-5.
 Badiou, Theory of the Subject, p. 118-9.
 Badiou, Theory of the Subject, p. 119.
 Badiou, Logics of Worlds, p. 231.
 Heidegger, Martin. Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, 5th edn. (Indiana, 1997), p. 22.
 G. W. F Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University
Press 1977), p. 89·
 G. W. F. Hegel, The Science of Logic. trans. A. V. Miller, Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press 1969. p. 400.
 Zizek, Less Than Nothing, p. 37.
 Badiou, Logics of Worlds, p. 141.
 Badiou, Logics of Worlds, p. 141.
 Badiou, Logics of Worlds, p. 233.
 Slavoj Zizek, The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity, (MIT: Cambridge and London, 2003), p. 134-5.
 Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (Glasgow: Fontana Press, 1973), p. 257.
 Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History”, in Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (Glasgow: Fontana Press, 1973), p. 257.
 Slavoj Zizek, The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity, (MIT: Cambridge and London, 2003), p. 134-5.
 Aristotle, Physics, p. 291b1.
 Sigmund Freud, ‘Mourning and Melancholy’, in James Strackey, ed., The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. XIV, (London: The Hogarth Press 1957), p. 245.
 Giorgio Agamben, Stanzas, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), chs 3-5.
 Slavoj Žižek, Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism. Five Interventions in the (Mis)Use of a Notion, (London/New York: Verso, 2001), p. 143.
 Brassier, Nihil Unbound, p. 178.
 Ibid, p. 178.
 Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), p. 36.
 Brassier, Nihil Unbound, p. 158.
 Martin Heidegger, Parmenides, trans. Andre Schuwer and Richard Rojcewicz (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2002), p. 141-2.
 Deleuze, Kant’s Critical Philosophy: The Doctrine of the Faculties, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), p. vii.
 Ray Brassier, Jameson on Making History Appear, Thinking About Time Conference, American University of Beirut, 27 March 2015.
 Jameson, Valences of the Dialectic, p. 598.
 Zizek, The Puppet and the Dwarf, p. 164.