Archive for September 2011
Philosophy in the twentieth century has been deeply preoccupied by – if not structured around – the question of novelty. How do (or more pessimistically, how might) new things, events, happen? Badiou, coming at the end of the chain, abandons all the previous modes of causal explanation, last but not least Deleuzian vitalism, and espouses instead a strictly non-causal explanation of change. Long story short, the event simply happens when someone decides that it has. It is not simply that he doesn’t explain how this decision might happen – his position is staked on the argument that we can’t explain how it happens, as if it were explicable it wouldn’t ever have been the new, an event, in the first place.
To me, Badiou’s conception of the event is far more symptomatic than useful. It’s symptomatic of the failure of a line of inquiry – the entire interrogation of novelty that is modern philosophy. When you have to be Pascalian about an issue, when you have to privilege the blind and (purportedly) inexplicable conversion of Paul on the road to Damascus, it means the game is over.
After all, what’s even the point of explaining any of this – if an event is going to happen, it’s going to happen whether Badiou writes these books and we read them or not, as there’s no preparing for an event, no knowledge of the shape of the event that we need in order to be ready for it.
In all, my recent reading of Badiou – and the sense of his well-informed but desperate attempt to make some room for unentangled novelty – makes me even more convinced that the question of the new, of the event, was the wrong question to ask from the start. There’s another way, I think, to look at things, and it’s my gambit that certain modernist texts show the way.
Should I go for a walk on the South Downs today? It’s cloudy, and there’s work to be done. But….
I’ve spent a lot of time on airplanes lately, some of them reasonably well equipped with infotainment, so among other things I watched some of the Bourne Films… I’ve also been reading a lot of Badiou – not by choice…
Thing is, as you no doubt have noticed, Jason Bourne never stops for a pizza slice or takes a shit, he never has to change his clothes or brush his teeth, and rarely needs to sleep. He only runs… Full forward, all subjective processes seemingly on autodrive. He doesn’t stumble when he speaks in foreign languages, he doesn’t hesitate because his great gift (if also ostensibly his curse) is that he is a permanent amnesiac, locked in a perpetual present tense. In short, he doesn’t think – he simply and automatically does.
Likewise this subject of Badiou’s, formed only in the event and by absolute fidelity to that event, unconscious of the event but instantly faithful to it, can’t have second thoughts or moments of confusion and ambiguity. He can’t quietly think what we all generally doublethink when trying to believe in the novelty of something – all this has happened before, there’s nothing new under the sun. Metanoia is coupe de foudre – blinded by the light, he does not think, he simply does.
They both, in other words, dwell wholly outside of the everyday – the actual state of the world all of the time and for everyone because we are what we are and we’re wired as we are wired. And the one requires as much suspension of disbelieve from its “audience” as the other… But of course the one is the currently most popular theorist of political change, the other a character in a silly series of films….