This book offers a detailed account and discussion of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophy of mathematics. In Part I, the stage is set with a brief presentation of Frege’s logicist attempt to provide arithmetic with a foundation and Wittgenstein’s criticisms of it, followed by sketches of Wittgenstein’s early views of mathematics, in the Tractatus and in the early 1930s. Then (in Part II), Wittgenstein’s mature philosophy of mathematics (1937-44) is carefully presented and examined. Schroeder explains that it is based on two key ideas: the calculus view and the grammar view. On the one hand, mathematics is seen as a human activity — calculation — rather than a theory. On the other hand, the results of mathematical calculations serve as grammatical norms. The following chapters (on mathematics as grammar; rule-following; conventionalism; the empirical basis of mathematics; the role of proof) explore the tension between those two key ideas and suggest a way in which it can be resolved. Finally, there are chapters analysing and defending Wittgenstein’s provocative views on Hilbert’s Formalism and the quest for consistency proofs and on Gödel’s incompleteness theorems.
Georg Lukács’s philosophy of praxis, penned between 1918 and 1928, remains a revolutionary and apocryphal presence within Marxism. His History and Class Consciousness has inspired a century of rapture and reprobation, perhaps, as Gillian Rose suggested, because of its ‘invitation to hermeneutic anarchy’.
In Lukács: Praxis and the Absolute, Daniel Andrés López radicalises Lukács’s famous return to Hegel by reassembling his 1920s philosophy as a conceptual-historical totality. This speculative reading defends Lukács while proposing an unprecedented, immanent critique. While Lukács’s concept of praxis approaches the shape of Hegel’s Absolute, it tragically fails to bear its weight. However, as López argues, Lukács’s failure was productive: it raises crucial political, methodological and philosophical questions for Marxism, offering to redeem a lost century.
Alain Badiou’s Being and Event is the most original and significant work of French philosophy to have appeared in recent decades. It is the magnum opus of a thinker who is widely considered to have re-shaped the character and set new terms for the future development of philosophy in France and elsewhere. This book has been written very much with a view to clarifying Badiou’s complex and demanding work for non-specialist readers. It offers guidance on philosophical and intellectual context, key themes, reading the text, reception and influence; and further reading.
What is to be done? This was the question asked by Lenin in 1901 when he was having doubts about the revolutionary capabilities of the Russian working class. 77 years later, Louis Althusser asked the same question. Faced with the tidal wave of May ‘68 and the recurrent hostility of the Communist Party towards the protests, he wanted to offer readers a succinct guide for the revolution to come. Lively, brilliant and engaged, this short text is wholly oriented towards one objective: to organise the working class struggle. Althusser provides a sharp critique of Antonio Gramsci’s writings and of Eurocommunism, which seduced various Marxists at the time. But this book is above all the opportunity for Althusser to state what he had not succeeded in articulating elsewhere: what concrete conditions would need to be satisfied before the revolution could take place. Left unfinished, it is published here in English for the first time.
Flaubert’s description of the first encounter of Madame Bovary and her lover condense the entire problematic which, according to Foucault, determines the post-Kantian episteme of the 19th century: the new configuration of the axis power–knowledge caused by the incommensurability between the field of representation and the Thing, as well as the elevation of sexuality to the dignity of the unrepresentable Thing. After the two lovers enter the coach and tell the driver just to circulate around the city, we hear nothing about what goes on behind the coach’s safely closed curtains: with an attention to detail reminiscent of the later nouveau roman, Flaubert limits himself to lengthy descriptions of the city environment through which the coach aimlessly wanders, the stone-paved streets, the church arches, etc. — only in one short sentence does he mention that, for a brief moment, a naked hand pierced through the curtain. . . this scene is made as if to illustrate Foucault’s thesis, from the first volume of his History of Sexuality, that the very speech whose “official” function is to conceal sexuality actually engenders the appearance of its secret, i.e. that, to make use of the very terms of psychoanalysis against which Foucault’s thesis is aimed, the “repressed” content is an effect of repression: the more the writer’s gaze is restricted to irrelevant and boring architectural details, the more we, the readers, are tormented, greedy to learn what goes on in the space behind the closed curtains of the coach. The public prosecutor walked into this trap in the trial against Madame Bovary when he quoted precisely this passage as one instance of the obscene character of the book: it was easy for Flaubert’s defense lawyer to point out that there is nothing obscene in the neutral descriptions of paved streets and old houses. Any obscenity is entirely constrained to the reader’s (in this case: the prosecutor’s) imagination obsessed by the “real thing” behind the curtain . . . . It is perhaps no mere accident that today, this procedure of Flaubert strikes us as eminently cinematic: it is as if it plays upon what cinema theory designates as hors-champ, the externality of the field of vision that, in its very absence, organizes the economy of what can be seen: if (as was long ago proven by the classical analyses of Eisenstein) Dickens introduced into the literary discourse the correlatives of what later became the elementary cinematic procedures — the triad of establishing shots, “American” pans and close-ups; the parallel montage, etc. —, Flaubert took a step further towards an externality that eludes the standard exchange of field and counter-field, i.e. an externality that has to remain excluded if the field of what can be represented is to retain its consistency.
The crucial point, however, is not to mistake this incommensurability between the field of representation and sexuality for the censorship of the description of sexuality already at work in the preceding epochs. If Madame Bovary were to have been written a century earlier, the details of sexual activity would also have remained unmentioned, for sure, yet what we would have read after the two lover’s entry into the secluded space of the coach would have been a simple short statement like: “Finally alone and hidden behind the curtains of the coach, the lovers yielded to passion.” There, the lengthy descriptions of streets and buildings would have been totally out of place, they would have been perceived as lacking any function, since, in this pre-Kantian universe of representations, no radical tension could arise between the represented content and the traumatic Thing behind the curtain. Against this background, one is tempted to propose one of the possible definitions of “realism:” a naive belief that, behind the curtain of representations, some full, substantial reality actually exists (in the case of Madame Bovary, the reality of sexual superfluity). “Postrealism” begins with a doubt as to the existence of this reality “behind the curtain,” i.e. with the foreboding that the very gesture of concealment creates what it pretends to conceal.
An exemplary case of such “postrealist” playfulness, of course, are the paintings of Rene Magritte. Today, when one says “Magritte,” the first association, of course, is the notorious drawing of a pipe with an inscription below it: Ceci n’est pas une pipe (“This is not a pipe”). Taking as a starting point the paradoxes implied by this painting, Michel Foucault wrote a perspicacious little book of the same title. Yet, perhaps, another of Magritte’s paintings can serve even more appropriately to establish the elementary matrix that generates the uncanny effects pertaining to his work: La lunette d’approche from 1963, the painting of a half-open window where, through the windowpane, we see the external reality (blue sky with some dispersed white clouds), yet what we see in the narrow opening which gives direct access to the reality beyond the pane is nothing, just a nondescript black mass. . . . In Lacanese, the painting would translate thus: The frame of the windowpane is the fantasy-frame that constitutes reality, whereas through the crack we get an insight into the “impossible” Real, the Thing-in-itself.
This painting renders the elementary matrix of the Magrittean paradoxes by way of staging the “Kantian” split between (symbolized, categorized, transcendentally constituted) reality and the void of the Thing-in-itself, of the Real, which gapes open in the midst of reality and confers upon it a fantasmatic character. The first variation that can be generated from this matrix is the presence of some strange, inconsistent element which is “extraneous” to the depicted reality, i.e., that, uncannily, has its place in it, although it does not “fit” in it: the gigantic rock that floats in the air close to a cloud has its heavy counterpart, its double, in La Bataille de l’Argonne (1959); the unnaturally large bloom which fills out the entire room in Tombeau des lutteurs (1960). This strange element “out of joint” is precisely the fantasy-object filling-out the blackness of the real that we perceived in the crack of the half-open window in La lunette d’approche. The effect of uncanniness is even stronger when the “same” object is redoubled, as in Les deux mystères, a later variation (from 1966) on the famous Ceci n’est pas une pipe: the pipe and the inscription underneath it “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” are both depicted as drawings on a blackboard; yet on the left of the blackboard, the apparition of another gigantic and massive pipe floats freely in a nonspecified space. The title of this painting could also have been “A pipe is a pipe,” for what is it if not a perfect illustration of the Hegelian thesis on tautology as the ultimate contradiction: the coincidence between the pipe located in a clearly defined symbolic reality, and its phantomatic, uncanny double, strangely afloat nearby. The inscription under the pipe on the blackboard bears witness to the split between the two pipes: the pipe which forms part of reality and the pipe as real, i.e. as a fantasy–apparition, are distinguished by the intervention of the symbolic order: it is the emergence of the symbolic order which splits reality into itself and the enigmatic surplus of the real, each one “derealizing” its counterpart.
The Lacanian point to be made here, of course, is that such a split can occur only in an economy of desire: it designates the gap between the inaccessible object-cause of desire, the “metonymy of nothingness” — the pipe floating freely in the air — and the “enmpirical” pipe which, although we can smoke it, is never “that”. . . (The Marx brothers’version of this painting would be something like “This looks like a pipe and works like a pipe, but this should not deceive you — this is a pipe!”) The massive presence of the free-floating pipe, of course, turns the depicted pipe into a “mere painting,” yet, simultaneously, the free-floating pipe is opposed to the “domesticated” symbolic reality of the pipe on the blackboard and as such acquires a phantom-like, “surreal” presence . . . like the emergence of the “real” Laura in Otto Preminger’s Laura. The police-detective (Dana Andrews) falls asleep staring at the portrait of the allegedly dead Laura; upon awakening, he finds at the side of the portrait the “real” Laura, alive and well. This presence of the “real” Laura accentuates the fact that the portrait is a mere “imitation;” on the other hand, the very “real” Laura emerges as a nonsymbolized fantasmatic surplus, a ghost-like apparition — beneath the portrait, one can easily imagine the inscription “This is not Laura.” A somewhat homologous effect of the real occurs at the beginning of Sergio Leone’s Once upon a Time in America: a phone goes on ringing endlessly; when, finally, a hand picks up the receiver, the phone continues to ring — the first sound belongs to “reality,” whereas the ringing that goes on even after the receiver is picked up comes out of the nonspecified void of the real.
The non-intersubjective other
The impenetrable blackness that can be glimpsed through the crack of the half-opened window thus opens up the space for the uncanny apparitions of an Other who precedes the Other of “normal” intersubjectivity. Let us recall here a detail from Hitchcock’s Frenzy which bears witness to his genius: in a scene that leads to the second murder, Babs, the soon-to-be victim, a young girl who works in a Covent Garden pub, after a quarrel with the owner leaves her working place and steps out onto the busy market street; the street noise that for a brief moment hits us is quickly suspended (in a totally “nonrealistic” way) when the camera approaches Babs for a close-up, and the mysterious silence is then broken by an uncanny voice coming from an indefinite point of absolute proximity, as if from behind her and at the same time from within her, a man’s voice softly saying “Need a place to stay?”; Babs moves off and looks back — standing behind her is an old acquaintance who, unbeknownst to her, is the “necktie-murderer;” after a couple of seconds, the magic evaporates and we hear again the sound tapestry of “reality,” of the market street bustling with life. . . . This voice that emerges in the suspension of reality is none other than the objet petit a, and the figure which appears behind Babs is experienced by the spectator as supplementary with regard to this voice: it gives body to it, and, simultaneously, it is strangely intertwined with Babs’ body, as her body’s shadowy protuberance (not unlike the strange double body of Leonardo’s Madonna, analyzed by Freud; or, in Total Recall, the body of the leader of the underground resistance movement on Mars, a kind of parasitic protuberance on another person’s belly. . .). It is easy to offer a long list of similar effects; thus, in one of the key scenes of Silence of the Lambs, Clarice and Lecter occupy the same positions when engaged in a conversation in Lecter’s prison: in the foreground, the close-up of Clarice staring into the camera, and on the glass partition-wall behind her, the reflection of Lecter’s head germinating behind — out of her — as her shadowy double, simultaneously less and more real than her. The supreme case of this effect, however, is found in one of the most mysterious shots of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, when Scottie peers at Madeleine through the crack in the half-opened back-door of the florist’s shop. For a brief moment, Madeleine watches herself in a mirror close to this door, so that the screen is vertically split: the left half is occupied by the mirror where we see Madeleine’s reflection, while the right half is sliced by a series of vertical lines (the doors); in the vertical dark band (the crack of the half-opened door), we see a fragment of Scottie, his gaze transfixed on the “original” whose mirror-reflection we see in the left half. A truly “Magrittean” quality clings to this unique shot: although, as to the disposition of the diegetic space, Scottie is here “in reality,” whereas what we see of Madeleine is only her mirror-image, the effect of the shot is exactly the reverse: Madeleine is perceived as part of reality and Scottie as a phantomlike protuberance who (like the legendary dwarf in Grimm’s Snow White) lurks behind the mirror. This shot is Magrittean in a very precise sense: the dwarf-like mirage of Scottie peeps out of the very impenetrable darkness which gapes in the crack of the half-open window in La lunette d’approche (the mirror in Vertigo, of course, corresponds to the windowpane in Magritte’s painting) — in both cases, the framed space of the mirrored reality is traversed by a vertical black rift. As Kant puts it, there is no positive knowledge of the Thing-in-itself, one can only designate its place, “make room” for it. This is what Magritte accomplishes on a quite literal level: the crack of the half-open door, its impenetrable blackness, makes room for the Thing. And by locating in this crack a gaze, Hitchcock supplements Magritte in a Hegelian–Lacanian way: “If beyond appearance there is no Thing-in-itself, there is the gaze.”
In his Bayreuth production of Tristan und Isolde, Jean-Pierre Ponelle changed Wagner’s original plot, interpreting all that follows Tristan’s death — the arrival of Isolde and King Marke, Isolde’s death — as Tristan’s mortal delirium: the final appearance of Isolde is staged so that the dazzlingly illuminated Isolde grows luxuriantly behind him, while Tristan stares at us, the spectators, who are able to perceive his sublime double, the protuberance of his lethal enjoyment. This is also how Bergman, in his version of The Magic Flute, often shot Pamina and Monostatos: a close-up of Pamina who stares intensely into the camera, with Monostatos appearing behind her as her shadowy double, as if belonging to a different level of reality (illuminated with pointedly “unnatural” dark-violet colors), with his gaze also directed into the camera. This disposition, in which the subject and his or her shadowy, ex-timate double stare into a common third point (materialized in us, the spectators), epitomizes the relationship of the subject to an Otherness which is prior to intersubjectivity. The field of intersubjectivity where subjects, within their shared reality, “look into each other’s eyes,” is sustained by the paternal metaphor, whereas the reference to the absent third point which attracts the two gazes changes the status of one of the two partners — the one in the background — into the sublime embodiment of the real of enjoyment.
What all these scenes have in common on the level of purely cinematic procedure is a kind of formal correlative of the reversal of face-to-face intersubjectivity into the relationship of the subject to his shadowy double which emerges behind him or her as a kind of sublime protuberance: the condensation of the field and counterfield within the same shot. What we have here is a paradoxical kind of communication: not a “direct” communication of the subject with his fellow-creature in front of him, but a communication with the excrescence behind him, mediated by a third gaze, as if the counterfield were to be mirrored back into the field itself. It is this third gaze which confers upon the scene its hypnotic dimension: the subject is enthralled by the gaze which sees “What is in himself more than himself”. . . . And the analytical situation itself — the relationship between analyst and analysant — does it not ultimately also designate a kind of return to this pre-intersubjective relationship of the subject(–analysand) to his shadowy other, to the externalized object in himself? Is not this the whole point of the spatial disposition of analysis: after the so-called preliminary interviews, the analysis proper begins when the analyst and the analysand no longer confront each other face to face, but the analyst sits behind the analysand who, stretched on the divan, stares into the void in front of him? Does not this very disposition locate the analyst as the analysant’s object small a, not his dialogical partner, not another subject?
The object of the indefinite judgment
At this point, we should go back to Immanuel Kant: in his philosophy, this crack, this space where such monstrous apparitions can emerge, is opened up by the distinction between negative and indefinite judgement. The very example used by Kant to illustrate this distinction is tell-tale: the positive judgment by means of which a predicate is ascribed to the (logical) subject — “The soul is mortal;” the negative judgement by means of which a predicate is denied to the subject — “The soul is not mortal;” the indefinite judgement by means of which, instead of negating a predicate (i.e. the copula which ascribes it to the subject), we affirm a certain nonpredicate — “The soul is not-mortal.” (In German also, the difference is solely a matter of punctuation: Die Seele ist nicht sterbliche – Die Seele ist nichtsterbliche; Kant enigmatically does not use the standard unsterbliche. See CPR, A 72-73.)
Along this line of thought, Kant introduces in the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason the distinction between positive and negative meanings of “noumenon:” in the positive meaning of the term, noumenon is “an object of a nonsensible intuition,” whereas in the negative meaning, it is “a thing insofar as it is not an object of our sensible intuition” (CPR, B 307). The grammatical form should not mislead us here: the positive meaning is expressed by the negative judgment and the negative meaning by the indefinite judgment. In other words, when one determines the Thing as “an object of a nonsensible intuition,” one immediately negates the positive judgement which determines the Thing as “an object of a sensible intuition”: one accepts intuition as the unquestioned base or genus; against this background, one opposes its two species, sensible and nonsensible intuition. Negative judgement is thus not only limiting, it also delineates a domain beyond phenomena where it locates the Thing — the domain of the nonsensible intuition — whereas in the case of the negative determination, the Thing is excluded from the domain of our sensible intuition, without being posited in an implicit way as the object of a nonsensible intuition; by leaving in suspense the positive status of the Thing, negative determination saps the very genus common to affirmation and negation of the predicate.
Herein lies also the difference between “is not mortal” and “is not-mortal”: what we have in the first case is a simple negation, whereas in the second case, a nonpredicate is affirmed. The only “legitimate” definition of the noumenon is that it is “not an object of our sensible intuition,” i.e. a wholly negative definition which excludes it from the phenomenal domain; this judgment is “infinite” since it does not imply any conclusions as to where, in the infinite space of what remains outside the phenomenal domain, the noumenon is located. What Kant calls “transcendental illusion” ultimately consists in the very (mis)reading of infinite judgment as negative judgment: when we conceive the noumenon as an “object of a nonsensible intuition,” the subject of the judgment remains the same (the “object of an intuition”), what changes is only the character (nonsensible instead of sensible) of this intuition, so that a minimal “commensurability” between the subject and the predicate (i.e., in this case, between the noumenon and its phenomenal determinations) is still maintained.
This subtle difference between negative and indefinite judgment figures in a certain type of witticism where the second part does not immediately invert the first part by negating its predicate but repeats it with the negation displaced onto the subject. Let us recall Marx’s ironic critique of Proudhon in The Poverty of Philosophy: “Instead of the ordinary individual with his ordinary manner of speaking and thinking, we have nothing but this ordinary manner purely and simply — without the individual.” This is what the chimera of “nonsensible intuition” is about: instead of ordinary objects of sensible intuition, we get the same ordinary objects of intuition, without their sensible character. Or, to take another example: the judgment “He is an individual full of idiotic features” can be negated in a standard mirror way, i.e. replaced by its contrary “He is an individual with no idiotic features”; yet its negation can also be given the form of “He is full of idiotic features without being an individual.” This displacement of the negation from the predicate onto the subject provides the logical matrix of what is often the unforeseen result of our educational efforts to liberate the pupil from the constraint of prejudices and cliches: the result is not a person capable of expressing himself or herself in a relaxed, unconstrained way, but an automatized bundle of (new) cliches behind which we no longer sense the presence of a “real person.” Let us just recall the usual outcome of psychological training intended to deliver the individual from the constraints of his or her everyday frame of mind and to set free his or her “true self,” with all its authentic creative potentials (transcendental meditation, etc.): once the individual gets rid of the old cliches that were still able to sustain the dialectical tension between themselves and the “personality” behind them, what take their place are new cliches which abrogate the very “depth” of personality behind them. . . in short, the individual becomes a true monster, a kind of “living dead.” Samuel Goldwyn, the old Hollywood mogul, was right: “What we need are indeed some new, original cliches. . . ”
Invoking the “living dead” is no accident here: in our ordinary language, we resort to indefinite judgments precisely when we endeavor to comprehend those borderline phenomena that undermine established differences, such as those between living and being dead: in the texts of popular culture, the uncanny creatures which are neither alive nor dead, the “living dead” (vampires, etc.), are referred to as “the undead” — although they are not dead, they are clearly not alive like us, ordinary mortals. The judgment “he is undead” is therefore an indefinite-limiting judgment in the precise sense of a purely negative gesture of excluding vampires from the domain of the dead, without for that reason locating them in the domain of the living (as in the case of the simple negation “he is not dead”). The fact that vampires and other “living dead” are usually referred to as “things” has to be rendered with its full Kantian meaning: a vampire is a Thing which looks and acts like us, yet it is not one of us. . . . In short, the difference between the vampire and the living person is the difference between indefinite and negative judgment: a dead person loses the predicates of a living being, yet he or she remains the same person; an undead, on the contrary, retains all the predicates of a living being without being one — as in the above-quoted Marxian joke, what we get with the vampire is “the ordinary manner of speaking and thinking purely and simply — without the individual.”
“I am going to talk to you about the lamella…”
What one should do here, in the space of a more detailed theoretical elaboration, is to approach in a new way the Lacan–Heidegger relationship. In the 1950s, Lacan endeavored to read the “death-drive” against the background of Heidegger’s “being-towards-death (Sein-zum-Tode)”, conceiving of death as the inherent and ultimate limit of symbolization, which accounts for its irreducible temporal character. With Lacan’s shift towards the Real from the ‘60s onwards, it is the indestructible life sprouting in the domain of the “undead” that emerges as the ultimate object of horror. Lacan delineates its contours towards the end of Chapter XV of his Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis where he proposes his own myth, constructed upon the model of Aristophanes’ fable from Plato’s Symposium, the myth of l’hommelette (little female-man—omelette):
“Whenever the membranes of the egg in which the fetus emerges on its way to becoming a newborn are broken, imagine for a moment that something flies off, and that one can do it with an egg as easily as with a man, namely the hommelette, or the lamella.
The lamella is something extra-flat, which moves like the amoeba. It is just a little more complicated. But it goes everywhere. And as it is something . . . that is related to what the sexed being loses in sexuality, it is, like the amoeba in relation to sexed beings, immortal — because it survives any division, any scissiparous intervention. And it can run around.
Well! This is not very reassuring. But suppose it comes and envelopes your face while you are quietly asleep. . . .
I can’t see how we would not join battle with a being capable of these properties. But it would not be a very convenient battle. This lamella, this organ, whose characteristic is not to exist, but which is nevertheless an organ . . . is the libido.
It is the libido, qua pure life instinct, that is to say, immortal life, or irrepressible life, life that has need of no organ, simplified, indestructible life. It is precisely what is subtracted from the living being by virtue of the fact that it is subject to the cycle of sexed reproduction. And it is of this that all the forms of the objet a that can be enumerated are the representatives, the equivalents. The objets a are merely its representatives, its figures. The breast — as equivocal, as an element characteristic of the mammiferous organization, the placenta for example — certainly represents that part of himself that the individual loses at birth, and which may serve to symbolize the most profound lost object.”
What we have here is an Otherness prior to intersubjectivity: the subject’s “impossible” relationship to this amoebalike creature is what Lacan is ultimately aiming at by way of his formula $ <> a. The best way to clarify this point is perhaps to allow ourselves the string of popular-culture associations that Lacan’s description must evoke. Is not the alien from Ridley Scott’s film of the same title “lamella” in its purest? Are not all the key elements of Lacan’s myth contained in the first truly horrifying scene of the film when, in the womblike cave of the unknown planet, the “alien” leaps from the egg-like globe when its lid splits off and sticks to John Hurt’s face? This amoebalike, flattened creature, which envelops the subject’s face, stands for the irrepressible life beyond all the finite forms that are merely its representatives, its figures (later in the film, the “alien” is able to assume a multitude of different shapes), immortal and indestructible (it suffices to recall the unpleasant thrill of the moment when a scientist cuts with a scalpel into a leg of the creature which envelops Hurt’s face: the liquid that drips from it falls onto the metal floor and corrodes it immediately, nothing can resist it).
The second association which brings us back to Wagner is a detail from Syberberg’s film-version of Parsifal: Syberberg depicts Fisher King Amfortas’ wound as externalized, carried by the servants on a pillow in front of him, in the form of a vaginalike partial object out of which blood drips in a continuous flow (as, vulgari eloquentia, a vagina in an unending period. . .). This palpitating opening — an organ that is at the same time the entire organism (let us just recall a homologous motif in a series of science-fiction stories, like the gigantic eye living a life of its own) — this opening epitomizes life in its indestructibility: Amfortas’ pain consists in the very fact that he is unable to die, that he is condemned to an eternal life of suffering; when, at the end, Parsifal heals his wound with “the spear that smote it,” Amfortas is finally able to rest and die. . . . This wound of Amfortas, which persists outside himself as an undead thing, is the “object of psychoanalysis.”
1. See Alain Abelhauser’s analysis “D’un manque a saisir” in Razpol 3, Ljubljana 1987.
2. One can imagine how the cinematic version of this scene would be able to rely on the contrapuntal use of sound: the camera would show the coach running along the empty streets, the fronts of old palaces and churches, whereas the soundtrack would be allowed to retain the absolute proximity to the Thing and to render the real of what goes on in the coach: the gasping and moaning that attests to the intensity of the sexual encounter. . .
3. See Michel Foucault, This is not a pipe, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press 1982.
4. One encounters the same paradox in Robert Heinlein’s science-fiction novel The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag: when a window is opened, the reality previously seen through it dissolves and all we see is a dense, nontransparent slime of the Real. For a more detailed Lacanian reading of this novel, see Chapter 1 of Slavoj Zizek, Looking Awry, Cambridge (Ma): MIT Press 1991.
5. In Marx Brothers’ films, we encounter three variations on this paradox of identity, i.e. of the uncanny relationship between existence and property:
•Groucho Marx, upon being introduced to a stranger: “Say, you remind me of Emmanuel Ravelli.” — “But I am Emmanuel Ravelli.”— “Then, no wonder you look like him!”
•Groucho, defending a client before the court: “This man looks like an idiot and acts like an idiot, yet all this should not deceive you — he is an idiot!”
•Groucho, courting a lady: “Everything on you reminds me of you, your nose, your eyes, your lips, your hands — everything except you!”
What lies at the heart of these paradoxes, of course, is the thesis, defended already by Russian formalists (Jakobson, for example), according to which every predicate has the status of a metaphor: describing a thing by means of a predicate ultimately equals saying what that thing resembles to.
6. What we have in this scene, of course, is a kind of reflective redoubling of the external stimulus (sound, organic need, etc.) that triggers the activity of dreaming: one invents a dream integrating this element in order to prolong the sleep, yet the content encountered in the dream is so traumatic that, finally, one escapes into reality and awakens. . . . The ringing of the phone while we are asleep is such a stimulus par excellence; its duration even after the source in reality ceased to emit it exemplifies what Lacan calls the insistence of the real.
7. Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, New York: Norton l977, p. 103.
8. This phantomlike double, our shadow and yet “more real than ourselves,” is also rendered by the famous verses from Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner which Mary Shelley used to characterize Dr. Frankenstein’s relationship to his terrifying creature: “Like one, that on a lonesome road / Doth walk in fear and dread, / And having once turned round walks on, / And turns no more his head; / Because he knows, a frightful fiend / Doth close behind him tread.”
9. Karl Marx, “The Poverty of Philosophy,” in Karl Marx / Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Volume 6, New York: International Publishers 1976, p. 163.
10. Lacan, of course, alludes here to the proverbial “You cannot make an hommelette without breaking the egg.”
11. Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, New York: Norton 1979, p. 197–198.
12. Here, apropos of lamella, one should avoid the trap of identifying it precipitously with the maternal body. As Freud himself pointed out in one of his letters, the model of the double (and of lamella) is not mother but rather placenta – that part of the child’s body that, at the moment of birth, is lost by the newborn as well as by the mother.
13. It is precisely this physical, tangible impact of “lamella” which gets lost in the sequel Aliens, which is why this sequel is infinitely inferior to the original Alien. — Alien3 is far more interesting because of two key features: first, the doubling of the “alien”-motif (Ripley, herself an alien in the male penal colony, carries within her the “alien”); secondly, the suicidal gesture which concludes the film (upon learning that she already is pregnant with the “alien” which, sooner or later, is bound to jump out of her chest the way it did in the first Alien out of John Hurt, Ripley throws herself into the hot melted iron – the only way to destroy what is “in herself more than herself,” the a, the surplus-object in herself…).
14. The more general interest of Syberberg’s Parsifal lies in the specific mode of subverting ideology which might be called interpellation without identification (the same paradox is also at work in Franz Kafka’s novels; see Chapter V of Slavoj Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology, London: Verso 1990): the subject finds itself interpellated without knowing what s/he is interpellated into, without any point of identification, of self-recognition, being offered. And it is precisely this “empty” interpellation, this nonspecific notion that we are addressed, summoned, lacking any clear indication of what the Other actually wants from us, that gives rise to an intense culpability. The “Che vuoi?” emanating from the Other thus remains unfulfilled. Or, to put it a different way, Syberberg’s Parsifal overwhelms us with a baroque profusion of symbols in which we, the spectators, look in vain for a consistent message; this overabundance paradoxically hinders the effect of meaning and brings about what Lacan baptized jouis-sense, enjoy-meant, enjoyment-in-meaning.
1. Art is not the sublime descent of the infinite into the finite abjection of the body and sexuality. On the contrary, it is the production of an infinite subjective series, through the finite means of a material subtraction.
2. Art cannot merely be the expression of a particularity (be it ethnic or personal). Art is the impersonal production of a truth that is addressed to everyone.
3. Art is the process of a truth, and this truth is always the truth of the sensible or sensual, the sensible qua sensible. This means: the transformation of the sensible into an happening of the Idea.
4. There is necessarily a plurality of arts, and however we may imagine the ways in which the arts might intersect there is no imaginable way of totalising this plurality.
5. Every art develops from an impure form, and the progressive purification of this impurity shapes the history both of a particular artistic truth and of its exhaustion.
6. The subjects of an artistic truth are the works which compose it.
7. This composition is an infinite configuration, which in our own contemporary artistic context is a generic totality.
8. The real of art is ideal [Èelle] impurity conceived through the immanent process of its purification. In other words, the raw material of art is determined by the contingent inception of a form. Art is the secondary formalisation of the advent of a hitherto formless form.
9. The only maxim of contemporary art is: do not be imperial. This also means: do not be democratic, if democracy implies conformity with the imperial idea of political liberty.
10. Non-imperial art is necessarily abstract art, in this sense: it abstracts itself from all particularity, and formalises this gesture of abstraction.
11. The abstraction of non-imperial art is not concerned with any particular public or audience. Non-imperial art is related to a kind of aristocratic-proletarian ethic: it does what it says, without distinguishing between kinds of people.
12. Non-imperial art must be as rigorous as a mathematical demonstration, as surprising as an ambush in the night, and as elevated as a star.
13. Today art can only be made from the starting point of that which, as far as Empire is concerned, doesn’t exist. Through its abstraction, art renders this in-existence visible. This is what governs the formal principle of every art: the effort to render visible to everyone that which, for Empire (and so by extension for everyone, though from a different point of view), doesn’t exist.
14. Since it is sure of its ability to control the entire domain of the visible and the audible via the laws governing commercial circulation and democratic communication, Empire no longer censures anything. All art, and all thought, is ruined when we accept this permission to consume, to communicate and to enjoy. We should become the pitiless censors of ourselves.
15. It is better to do nothing than to contribute to the invention of formal ways of rendering visible that which Empire already recognises as existent.
I think everybody has the 15 theses, it is necessary, I think, for the talk. I’ll comment about the theses and you can read them. I think the great question about contemporary art is how not to be Romantic. It’s the great question and a very difficult one. More precisely, the question is how not to be a formalist-Romantic. Something like a mixture between Romanticism and formalism. On one side is the absolute desire for new forms, always new forms, something like an infinite desire. Modernity is the infinite desire of new forms. But, on the other side, is obsession with the body, with finitude, sex, cruelty, death. The contradiction of the tension between the obsession of new forms and the obsession of finitude, body, cruelty, suffering and death is something like a synthesis between formalism and Romanticism and it is the dominant current in contemporary art. All the 15 theses have as a sort of goal, the question how not to be formalist-Romantic. That is, in my opinion, the question of contemporary art.
Lombardi is really a good example, and I am very glad to speak here tonight. We can see that there is something like a demonstration, a connection, points of connections. You have something very surprising, because Lombardi knew all that before the facts. We have somewhere, a great drawing about the Bush dynasty which is really prophetic, which is an artistic prophecy, that is a creation of a new knowledge, and so it’s really surprising to see that after the facts. And it’s really the capacity, the ability of art to present something before the facts, before the evidence. And it’s something calm and elevated, like a star. You know, it’s like a galaxy, see, it’s something like the galaxy of corruption. So, the three determinations are really in the works of Lombardi. And so it’s the creation of a new possibility of art and a new vision of the world, our world. But a new vision which is not purely conceptual, ideological or political, a new vision which has it’s proper shape, which creates a new artistic possibility, something which is new knowledge of the world has a new shape, like that. It’s really an illustration of my talk.
The first thesis: Art is not the sublime descent of the infinite into the finite abjection of the body and sexuality. It is the production of an infinite subjective series through the finite means of a material subtraction.
This is an intimation of how not to be a Romantic. It consists of the production of a new infinite content, of a new light. I think it’s the very aim of art; producing a new light about the world by means of precise and finite summarization. So, you have to change the contradiction. The contradiction today is between the infinity of the desire for new forms and the finitude of the body, of the sexuality, and so on. And new art needs to change the terms of this contradiction and put on the side of infinity new content, new light, a new vision of the world, and on the side of finitude, the precision of means and of summarization. So, the first thesis is something like the reversal of the contradiction.
Subtraction: the word subtraction has two meanings. First, not to be obsessed with formal novelty. I think it’s a great question today because the desire for novelty is the desire of new forms, an infinite desire for new form. The obsession of new forms, the artistic obsession with novelty, of critique, of representation and so on, is really not a critical position about capitalism because capitalism itself is the obsession of novelty and the perpetual renovation of forms. You have a computer, but the following year it’s not the true computer, you need a new one. You have a car, but the coming year it’s an old car, something like an old thing and so on. So, it’s a necessity for us to see that the complete obsession with new forms is not really a critical position about the world as it is. It’s a possibility that the real desire, which is subversive desire, is the desire of eternity. The desire for something which is a stability, something which is art, something which is closed in-itself. I don’t think it’s quite like that, but it’s a possibility because the perpetual modification of forms is not really a critical position, so the desire of new forms is certainly something important in art, but the desire for the stability of forms is also something important. And, I think we have to examine the question today.
The second meaning of subtraction is not to be obsessed with finitude, with cruelty, body, suffering, with sex and death, because it’s only the reversal of the ideology of happiness. In our world there is something like an ideology of happiness. Be happy and enjoy your life and so on. In artistic creation we often have the reversal of that sort of ideology in the obsession with suffering bodies, the difficulty of sexuality, and so on. We need not be in that sort of obsession. Naturally a critical position about the ideology of happiness is an artistic necessity, but it’s also an artistic necessity to see it as a new vision, a new light, something like a positive new world. And so, the question of art is also the question of life and not always the question of death. It is a signification of the first thesis; we have to search for an artistic creation which is not obsessed with formal novelty, with cruelty, death, body, and sexuality.
Second thesis: Art cannot merely be the expression of a particularity (be it ethnic or personal). Art is the impersonal production of a truth that is addressed to everyone.
The great question here is a question of universality: is there, or is there not, a universality of artistic creation? Because the great question today is the question of globalization, the question of the unity of the world. Globalization proposes to us an abstract universality. A universality of money, the universality of communication and the universality of power. That is the universalism today. And so, against the abstract universality of money and of power, what is the question of art, what is the function of artistic creation? Is the function of artistic creation to oppose, to abstract from universality only a singularity of particularities, something like being against the abstraction of money and of power, or as a community against globalization and so on? Or, is the function of art to propose another kind of universality? That’s a big question. The more important issue today is the main contradiction between capitalistic universality on one hand, universality of the market if you want, of money and power and so on, and singularities, particularities, the self of the community. It’s the principal contradiction between two kinds of universalities. On one side the abstract universality of money and power, and on the other the concrete universality of truth and creation. My position is that artistic creation today should suggest a new universality, not to express only the self or the community, but that it’s a necessity for the artistic creation to propose to us, to humanity in general, a new sort of universality, and my name for that is truth. Truth is only the philosophical name for a new universality against the forced universality of globalization, the forced universality of money and power, and in that sort of proposition, the question of art is a very important question because art is always a proposition about a new universality, and art is a signification of the second thesis.
Third thesis. It’s only a definition of the universality of art. What is an artistic truth? Artistic truth is different from scientific truth, from political truth, from other sorts of truths. The definition is that artistic truth is always a truth about the sensible, an outline of the sensual. It’s not a static sensible expression. An artistic truth is not a copy of the sensible world nor a static sensible expression. My definition is that an artistic truth is a happening of l’Idèe in the sensible itself. And, the new universality of art is the creation of a new form of happening of the Idea in the sensible as such. It’s very important to understand that an artistic truth is a proposition about the sensible in the world. It’s a proposition about a new definition of what is our sensible relation to the world, which is a possibility of universality against the abstraction of money and power. So, if art seems very important today, it is because globalization imposes to us the creation of a new kind of universality, which is always a new sensibility and a new sensible relation to the world. And because the oppression today is the oppression of abstract universality, we have to think of art along the direction of the new sensible relation to the world. And so, today, artistic creation is a part of human emancipation, it’s not an ornament, a decoration and so on. No, the question of art is a central question, and it’s central because we have to create a new sensible relation to the world. In fact, without art, without artistic creation, the triumph of the forced universality of money and power is a real possibility. So the question of art today is a question of political emancipation, there is something political in art itself. There is not only a question of art’s political orientation, like it was the case yesterday, today it is a question in itself. Because art is a real possibility to create something new against the abstract universality that is globalization.
Fourth thesis. This thesis is against the dream of totalization. Some artists today are thinking that there is a possibility to fuse all the artistic forms, it’s the dream of a complete multimedia. But it’s not a new idea. As you probably know, it was the idea of Richard Wagner, the total art, with pictures, music, poetry and so on. So the first multimedia artist was Richard Wagner. And, I think multimedia is a false idea because it’s the power of absolute integration and it’s something like the projection in art of the dream of globalization. It’s a question of the unity of art like the unity of the world but it’s an abstraction too. So, we need to create new art, certainly new forms, but not with the dream of a totalization of all the forms of sensibility. It’s a great question to have a relation to multimedia and to new forms of images, of art, which is not the paradigm of totalization. So we have to be free about that sort of dream.
A few words about theses five and eight. The question here is what exactly is the creation of new forms. It’s very important because of what I previously said about the infinite desire for new forms being a problem in contemporary art. We have to be precise about the question of new forms in themselves. What is the creation of new forms? I hint that, in fact, there is never exactly pure creation of new forms. I think it’s a dream, like totalization, pure creation of absolute new forms. In fact, there is always something like a passage of something which is not exactly a form to something that is a form, and I argue that we have something like impurity of forms, or impure forms, and purification. So, in art there is not exactly pure creation of forms, God created the world, if you want, but there is something like progressive purification, and complexification of forms in sequence. Two examples if you wish. When Malevich paints the famous white on white, the white square on white square. Is that the creation of something? In one sense yes, but in fact, it’s the complete purification of the problem of the relation between shape and color. In fact, the problem of the relation between shape and color is an old one with a long story and in Malevich’s white square on white square, we have an ultimate purification of the story of the problem and also it’s a creation, but it’s also the end, because after white square on white square there is, in one sense, nothing, we cannot continue. So we have a complete purification and after Malevich all correlation between shape and color looks old, or impure, but it’s also the end of the question, and we have to begin with something else. We may say that with artistic creation, it’s not exactly the pure creation of new forms, something like the process of purification with beginnings and with ends too. So, we have sequences of purification, much more than pure rupture of pure creation. And it’s the content of theses five and eight.
We come now to theses six and seven. The question here is what exactly is the subjective existence of art? What is the subject in art, the subject in the subjective sense? It’s a great discussion, a very old one. What is the subject in art? What is the agent of art? The subject in art is not the artist. It’s an old thesis too, but an important one. So, if you think that the real subject in artist creation is the artist, you are positing the artistic creation as the expression of somebody. If the artist is the subject, art is the expression of that subject, thereby art is something like a personal expression. In fact, it is necessary for contemporary art to argue the case that art is a personal expression, because you have no possibility to create a new form of universality and you oppose to the abstract form of universality only the expression of the self or the expression of communities. So, you understand the link between the different problems. It’s imperative for us to say that the subject in artistic creation is not the artist as such. “Artist” is a necessity for art, but not a subjective necessity. So, the conclusion is quite simple. The subjective existence of art are the works of art, and nothing else. The artist is not the subjective agent of art. The artist is the sacrificial part of art. It’s also, finally, what disappears in art. And the ethic of art is to accept the disappearance. Sometimes the artist is someone who wants to appear, but it’s not a good thing for art. For art, if you want art to have today the very important function of the creation of a new universality, if you think that art is something like a subjective expression for the market, it’s necessary that the artist make a great appearance, naturally, but if art is the creation, the secret creation, something like that, if art is not something of the market, but is something against the force of universality of the market, the consequence is that the artist must disappear, and not to be someone who appears in the media and so on. And a critique of art is something like a critique of something like desperation. If the ethic of art is something like desperation, it is because what show are works of art, which are the real subjective existence of art in-itself.
It’s also the same thing in thesis nine. I don’t comment The question of the ethic of art is not to be imperial. Desperation because operation is always something like imperial operation, because the law of operation is today imperial law.
About theses ten and eleven, I think we can demonstrate that imperial art is the name for what is visible today. Imperial art is exactly Romantic-formalism. That is a historical thesis, or a political thesis if you want. The mixture of Romanticism and formalism is exactly the imperial art. Not only today, but, for example, during the Roman Empire too. There is something common between the situation today and the situation at the end of the Roman Empire. It’s a good comparison, you see, and more precisely between the United States and the Roman Empire. There is really something very interesting with that sort of comparison, and in fact the question is also a question of artistic creation, because by the end of the Roman Empire we have exactly two dispositions in artistic creation. On one side, something really Romantic, expressive, violent, and on the other, something extremely formalist, politically straight. Why? When we deal with the situation of something like an empire, something like having the formal unity of the world, if you want, it’s not only the United States, it’s finally the big markets, when we have something like a potential unity of the world, we have in artistic creation something like formalism and Romanticism, a mixture of the two. Why? Because when we have an empire, we have two principles. First, all is possible because we have a big potency, a unity of the world. So we may say, all is possible. We may create new forms, we may speak of everything, there is not really laws about what is possible, what is not possible, so everything is possible. Yet, we also have another maxim, everything is impossible, because there is nothing else to have, the empire is the only possible existence, the only political possibility. So, you can say that everything is possible and you can say that everything is impossible, and when the two are said you have an artistic creation, formalism, that is to say all is possible, new forms are always possible, and Romanticism and nihilism because all is impossible, and finally, we have the mixture of the two, and contemporary art is saying that all is possible and that all is impossible. The impossibility of possibility and the possibility of impossibility. That is the real content of contemporary art. To escape that sort of situation is to state that something is possible, not all is possible, not all is impossible, but something else is possible. There is a possibility of something else. So, we have to create a new possibility. But to create a new possibility is not the same thing as to realize a new possibility. It’s a very fundamental distinction, to realize a possibility is to think that the possibility is here and I need to conceive the possibility. For example, if all is possible, I have to realize something, because all things are possible, but, naturally, it’s quite a different thing to create something possible. The possibility is not here. So, it is not true, that all is possible, some things are not possible, and you have to create the possibility of that thing which is not possible. And it is the great question of artistic creation. Is artistic creation the realization of a possibility or is artistic creation the creation of a new possibility? The possibility of something, the possibility of saying something is possible. If you think all is possible (that is the same as to think all is impossible), your conviction in the world is finished, the world is something closed. It is closed with all the possibilities, which is the same thing that everything are impossibilities and artistic creation is closed too, it’s closed in formalist-Romanticism which is the affirmation that all is possible and all is impossible. But the true function of artistic creation today is the possibility of saying that something is possible, so to create a new possibility. But where can we create a new possibility when something is impossible? Because we can create a new possibility when something is not a possibility. If all is possible, you cannot create a new possibility. So, the question of a new possibility is also the question of something impossible, so we have to assume that it’s not true that all is possible, that also it’s not true that all is impossible, we have to say something is impossible where something is impossible. I have to create a new possibility. And, I think the creation of new possibility is today the great function of art. In other activities of circulation, communication, the market and so on, we have always the realization of possibilities, infinite realization of possibilities. But not creation of possibility. And so it’s also a political question, because politics truly means the creation of a new possibility. A new possibility of life, a new possibility of the world. And so the political determination of artistic creation is today whether it is possible, or impossible to create a new possibility. Actually, globalization carries the conviction that it is utterly impossible to create a new possibility. And the end of Communism, and the end of revolutionary politics is, in fact, the dominant interpretation of that all: it is impossible to create a new possibility. Not to realize a possibility, but to create a new possibility. You understand the difference. And I think the question of artistic creation lies here. It proves for everybody, for humanity in general, that it is a possibility to create a new possibility.
About thesis twelve. It’s a poetic thesis. The three determinations of artistic creation, to compare artistic creation with a demonstration, with an ambush in the night and with a star. You can understand the three determinations. Why a demonstration? Because finally the question of artistic creation is also the question of something odd, something possessing a sort of eternity, something which is not in pure communication, pure circulation, something which is not in the constant modification of forms. Something which resists and resistance is a question of art also today. Something which resists is something endowed with some stability, solid. Something which is a logical equation, which has a logical coherence, consistence, is the first determination. The second determination is something surprising, something which is right away the creation of a new possibility, but a new possibility is always surprising. We cannot have a new possibility without some sort of surprise. A new possibility is something that we cannot calculate. It’s something like a rupture, a new beginning, which is always something surprising. Thus, the second determination. And it’s marvelous, like something in the night, the night of our knowledge. A new possibility is something absolutely new for our knowledge, so it’s the night of our knowledge. Something like a new light. Elevated as a star because a new possibility is something like a new star. Something like a new planet, a new world, because it is a new possibility. Something like a new sensible relation to the world. But the great problem lies elsewhere. The formal problem for contemporary art is not the determination, one by one. The problem is how to relate the three. To be the star, the ambush, and the demonstration. Something like that. And Lombardi is really a good example, and I am very glad to speak here tonight. We can see that there is something like a demonstration, a connection, points of connections. You have something very surprising, because Lombardi knew all that before the facts. We have somewhere, a great drawing about the Bush dynasty which is really prophetic, which is an artistic prophecy, that is a creation of a new knowledge, and so it’s really surprising to see that after the facts. And it’s really the capacity, the ability of art to present something before the facts, before the evidence. And it’s something calm and elevated, like a star. You know, it’s like a galaxy, see, it’s something like the galaxy of corruption. So, the three determinations are really in the works of Lombardi. And so it’s the creation of a new possibility of art and a new vision of the world, our world. But a new vision which is not purely conceptual, ideological or political, a new vision which has it’s proper shape, which creates a new artistic possibility, something which is new knowledge of the world has a new shape, like that. It’s really an illustration of my talk.
The last thesis. I think the great question is the correlation between art and humanity. More precisely the correlation between artistic creation and liberty. Is artistic creation something independent in the democratic sense of freedom? I think if you consider Lombardi for a second time, we may consider the issue of creating a new possibility as not exactly a question of freedom, in the common sense, because there is an imperial definition of freedom today, which is the common democratic definition. Is artistic creation something like that sort of freedom? I think not. I think the real determination of artistic creation is not the common sense of freedom, the imperial sense of freedom. It’s a creation of a new form of liberty, a new form of freedom. And we may see here that sort of thing because the connection between the logical framework, the surprise of new knowledge, and the beauty of the star is a definition of freedom which is much more complex than the democratic determination of freedom.
I think of artistic creation as the creation of a new kind of liberty which is beyond the democratic definition of liberty. And we may speak of something like an artistic definition of liberty which is intellectual and material, something like Communism within a logical framework, because there is no liberty without logical framework, something like a new beginning, a new possibility, rupture, and finally something like a new world, a new light, a new galaxy. This is the artistic definition of liberty and the issue today consists not in an art discussion between liberty and dictatorship, between liberty and oppression, but in my opinion, between two definitions of liberty itself.
The artistic question of the body in some art forms, like cinema or dance, is precisely the question of the body within the body and not the body without body. It is an idealistic conception of the body without the body or the body as something else, crucial in the story of Christianity and in Paul. For example in the Greek classical painting the body is always something else than the body, and if you consider something like the body in Tintoretto, for example, the body is something like movement which is body like something else than the body. But in fact today the body has a body, the body in the body is the body as such. And the body as such is something very hard, because the body has no representation which is really a representation as a star, something like that. In that sort of painting (Lombardi), we have names, and no bodies. It is a substitution of names to bodies. We have no picture of Bin Laden, but the name of Bin Laden. We have no picture of Bush, but the name of Bush. Father and sons.
Excerpt from the actual article – in the printed edition of Lacanian Ink. For information about subscribing to the magazine click here.
The word “democracy” is today the main organizer of consensus. What the word is assumed to embrace is the downfall of Eastern Socialists States, the supposed well being of our countries as well as Western humanitarian crusades.
Actually the word “democracy” is inferred from what I term “authoritarian opinion.” It is somehow prohibited not to be a democrat. Accordingly, it furthers that the human kind longs for democracy, and all subjectivity suspected of not being democratic is deemed pathological. At its best it infers a forbearing reeducation, at its worst the right of meddling democratic marines and paratroopers.
Democracy thus inscribing itself in polls and consensus necessarily arouses the philosopher’s critical suspicions. For philosophy, since Plato, means breaking with opinion polls. Philosophy is supposed to scrutinize everything that is spontaneously considered as “normal.” If democracy designates a normal state of collective organization, or political will, then the philosopher will ask for the norm of this normality to be examined. He will not allow for the word to function within the frame of an authoritarian opinion. For the philosopher everything consensual becomes suspicious.
To confront the visibility of the democratic idea with the singularity of a particular politics, especially revolutionary politics, is an old practice. It was already employed against Bolsheviks well before the October Revolution. In fact, the critique addressed to Lenin – his political postulate viewed as nondemocratic – is original. However it’s still interesting today to peruse his riposte.
Lenin’s counter-argument is twofold. On the one hand he distinguishes, according to the logic of class analysis, between two types of democracy: proletarian democracy and bourgeois democracy. He then asserts the supremacy, in extension and intensity, of the former over the latter.
Yet his second structure of response seems to me more appropriate to the present state of affairs. Lenin insists in this that with “democracy,” verily, you should always read “a form of State.” Form means a particular configuration of the separate character of the State and the formal exercise of sovereignty. Positing democracy as a form of State, Lenin subscribes to the classical political thinking filiation, including Greek philosophy, which contends that “democracy” must ultimately be conceived as a sovereignty or power trope. Power of the “demos” or people, the capability of “demos” to exert coercion by itself.
If democracy is a form of State, what preordained philosophical use proper can this category have? With Lenin the aim – or idea – of politics is the withering of any form of State, democracy included. And this could be termed generic Communism as basically expressed by Marx in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. Generic Communism designates a free associative egalitarian society where the activity of polymorph workers is not governed by regulations and technical or social articulations but is managed by the collective power of needs. In such a society, the State is dissolved as a separate instance from public coercion. Politics – much as it voices the interests of social groups and covets at the conquest of power – is de facto dissolved.
Thus, the purpose of Communist politics aims at its own disappearance in the modality of the end of the form separated from the State in general, even if it concerns a State that declares itself democratic.
If philosophy is predicated as what identifies, legitimizes or categorizes politics’ ultimate goals, much as the regulating ideas acting as its representation, and if this aim is acknowledged as the withering of the State – which is Lenin’s proposition – then it can be termed pure presentation, free association; or again if politics’ final goal is posited as authority in-separated from infinity or the advent of the collective as such, then, with regard to this supposed end, which is the end assigned to generic Communism, democracy is not, cannot be regarded as a category of philosophy. Why? Because democracy is a form of the State; let philosophy assess politics’ final goals; and let this end be as well the end of the State, thus the end of all relevance to the word “democracy.”
The “philosophical” word suitable to evaluate politics could be, in this hypothetical frame, the word “equality,” or the word “Communism,” but not the word “democracy.” For this word is traditionally attached to the State, to the form of the State.
From this results the idea that “democracy” can only be considered a concept of philosophy if one of these three following hypotheses is to be rejected. All three are intertwined and somehow uphold the Leninist view on democracy. They are:
Hypothesis 1: The ultimate goal in politics is generic Communism, thus the pure presentation of the collective’s truth, or the withering of the State.
Hypothesis 2: The relation between philosophy and politics entails the evaluation of a certain politics’ final goal, its general or generic meaning.
Hypothesis 3: Democracy is a form of the State.
Under these three hypotheses “democracy” is not a necessary concept of philosophy. It can only become such provided one of these three hypotheses is dropped.
Three abstract possibilities follow:
1. Let generic Communism not be the ultimate goal in politics. 2. Let the relation between philosophy and politics not be one of scrutiny, enlightenment or legitimization of the final aims. 3. Let “democracy” imply something else than a form of the State.
Under any of these three possibilities the structure according to which “democracy” is not a concept of philosophy is put into question. I would like to analyze one by one these three provisions which allow for the consideration or reconsideration of “democracy” as a category of philosophy proper.
Let’s assume that the ultimate goal of politics is not the pure assertion of collective presentation, is not the free association of men, disengaged from the State’s principle of sovereignty. Let’s assume that generic Communism, even as an idea, is not the ultimate goal of politics. What can then be the goal of politics, its practice’s finality, much as this practice involves, or questions, or challenges, philosophy?
I think two main hypotheses can be construed in light of what is viewed as the history of this question. According to the first hypothesis, politics’ aim would be the configuration, or the advent, of what can be termed “the good State.” Philosophy would be brought forward as an examination of the legitimacy of the State’s various possible forms. It would seek to name the preferable character of state configuration. Such would be the final stake of the debate on politics’ goals. This is indeed related to the great classical tradition in political philosophy, from the Greeks onwards, devoted to the question of sovereignty’s legitimacy. Now, of course, a norm appears on the scene. Whatever the regime or the status of the norm, an axiological preference for a distinct type of state configuration relates the State to a normative principle as, for instance, the superiority of a democratic regime over a monarchic or an aristocratic one, for any particular reason. That is, the convening of a general system of norms sanctions this preference.
As a passing remark let’s say this situation does not apply to the hypothesis in which the ultimate goal in politics is the withering of the State, since you are not dealing with “the good State.” For the case you are dealing with the political process as self-cancellation, that is as engaged in the cessation of the principle of sovereignty. It does not concern a norm associated with the state configuration. It rather concerns the idea of a process that would bring about the withering of the entire state configuration. The singularity of withering does not belong to the normative question as it can be exerted upon the persistence of the State. On the other hand, if politics’ ultimate goal is “the good State” or the preferable State, then the emergence of a norm seems ineluctable.
Now, this poses a difficult question in that the norm is inevitably external or transcendent. The State, in itself, is objectivity without norm. It is the principle of sovereignty, or of coercion, endowed with a separate functioning necessary to the collective as such. It will obtain its determination in a set of regulations stemming from subjective topics. These are precisely the norms that will introduce the subject of “the good State” or the preferable State. In our present situation, that is, the circumstance in our parliamentary States, the subjective relation to the issue of the State is regulated according to three norms: the economy, the national question and, precisely, democracy.
Let’s consider the economy first. The State is accountable for assuring a minimal functioning of the circulation and distribution of goods; it falls into disrepute as such if it proves exaggeratedly incapable of complying with this norm. In the sphere of the economy broadly, whatever its organic relation to the State, the latter is subjectively accountable for the functioning of the economy.
The second norm is the national question. The State is under a set of regulations such as the nation, the representation on the world scene, national independence, etc. It is accountable for the very existence of the national principle at home and abroad.
Thirdly, today democracy is itself a norm as it’s considered within the subjective relation to the State. The State is accountable for knowing wether it is democratic or despotic, for its relation towards instances such as freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of action.
The opposition between dictatorship and democracy is something that functions as a subjective norm in the evaluation of the State.
Thus the actual situation of the question subordinates the State to the normative threesome of economic functioning, national evaluation and democracy. Here “democracy” acts as a normative characterization of the State, precisely as what can be termed the category of “a politics,” not of politics in general. “A politics” is what regulates a subjective relation to the State. Let’s say that the state configuration regulating its subjective relation to the State under the three aforementioned norms – economy, national question, democracy – may be dubbed parliamentarism, though I prefer to call it parliamentary-capitalism. However, since “democracy” is here summoned as the category of a particular politics – a particular politics whose universality is quite problematic – we should refrain from defining it as being in itself a philosophical category. At this level of analysis then “democracy” unfolds as a category characterizing – by means of the formulation of a subjective norm in relation to the State – a particular politics, which I deem to call “parliamentarism.”
So much for the case with regard to the hypothesis that politics’ ultimate goal is in determining “the good State.” What you get at most is that “democracy” turns out to be the category of a particular politics, parliamentarism. This is not a definite reason to posit “democracy” as a philosophical concept.
What we are examining here is the ultimate goal of politics when this goal is not generic Communism. Our first consideration was that politics aimed at establishing the best possible State. It follows from there that “democracy” is not necessarily a concept within philosophy.
The second possible reasoning leads you to the notion that the ultimate goal of politics is none other than itself. In this case politics would not address the issue of “the good State” but would be its own goal for itself. Conversely to what has been reflected previously, politics would then become a movement of thought and action that freely eludes the dominant state subjectivity and propounds, convenes, and organizes projects ill-suited for consideration and representation within the norms under which the State functions. In this case politics is presented as a singular collective practice estranged from the State. Again that kind of politics, in its essence, is not the carrier of a State agenda or a state norm but is instead the development of what can be termed the dimension of collective freedom, precisely in that it avoids the normative consensus represented by the State – provided the State is assessed by this organized freedom.
“Democracy,” is it thus relevant? Yes, “democracy” is relevant “if democracy is to be understood in a sense other than a form of the State.” If politics is thus to itself its own goal insofar as it is able to withdraw from state consensus, it could eventually be termed democratic. Yet in this case the category will not function in a Leninist sense, as a State form. And this brings you back to the third negative condition with regard to the three Leninist hypotheses.
Here concludes the first part of our discussion, that is: what if the goal of politics is not generic Communism?
The second part of the discussion concerns philosophy itself. Let’s assume that philosophy is not related to politics as much as it is the representation or the seizure of politics’ ultimate ends, that philosophy has another rapport to politics and that it is not intended to evaluate – the appearance before a court – or legitimate politics’ ultimate ends. How does philosophy then relate to politics? What is the name of that relation? How are we to prescribe it?
There is a first hypothesis, namely that the task of philosophy would be what I call the formal description of politics, its typology. Philosophy would set up a space where politics are discussed in accordance with their sort. All in all, philosophy would be a formal apprehension of States and politics as it pre-elaborates or exposes the said typology to possible norms. Yet, when this is the case – indubitably this is part of the work of thinkers such as Aristotle or Montesquieu – it becomes apparent that “democracy” acts upon philosophy as the description of a form of the State. There is no doubt about it. Accordingly, the categorization starts from state configurations, and “democracy” becomes, from the viewpoint of philosophy, the description of a form of the State, as opposed to other forms such as tyranny, aristocracy and so on.
But if “democracy” designates a form of the State, the premise would then be asserted, regarding this form, about “the goals of politics.” Is it a matter of “willing” this form? If so, we are inside the logic of “the good State,” which is what was previously analyzed. Or is it a matter of going beyond this form, dissolving sovereignty, even democratic sovereignty? In this case we relapse inside the Leninist frame, the withering hypothesis. In any event, this option brings you back to the first part of the discussion.
The second possibility implies philosophy’s attempt to apprehend politics as a singular activity of thinking, of politics itself as providing for the historical collective a modality of thinking which philosophy must take in as such. Here philosophy should be understood – consensual definition – as the cogitative apprehension of thinking operational conditions in their different registers. If politics is deemed as an operative thinking, in a register of its own (Lazarus’ central thesis), then philosophy’s task is the grasping of thinking operational conditions in this particular register named politics. It follows that if politics is an operative thinking, it cannot be subservient to the State, it cannot be reduced to or reflected on its state dimension. Let’s venture a rather spurious proposition: “the State does not think.”
As a passing remark, the fact that the State does not think is the source of all sorts of difficulties for philosophical thinking as far as politics is concerned. All “political philosophies” adduce evidence that the State does not think. And when these political philosophies posit the State as leading the research on politics as thought, difficulties increase. The fact that the State does not think leads Plato, at the end of book IX in Republic, to declare that as a last resort you can pursue politics everywhere except in your own fatherland. And the same eventuality brings Aristotle to the distressing conclusion that once the ideal types of politics have been isolated, only pathological types are left in the real. For instance, for Aristotle monarchy implies a kind of State that does think and is reputed to be thinkable. Yet, in the real there are only tyrannies, which do not think, which are unthinkable. The normative type is never achieved. This also leads Rousseau to ascertain that in history all that exists is dissolved States, and no legitimate State. Finally, these postulates, which are extracted from within utterly heterogeneous political conceptions, agree on one point: namely, it is not possible to envision the State as the doorway to politics’ research. Perforce one comes up against the State as a non-thinking entity. The problem should be pursued from another angle.
Therefore, if “democracy” is a category of politics-as-thought, that is if philosophy needs to use “democracy” as a category to get hold of the political process as such, then this political process eludes the pervasive injunction of the State, since the State does not think. It follows that “democracy” is not here understood as a form of the State but differently, otherwise, or in another sense. And this is how you are brought back to the proposition positing “democracy” as something other than a form of the State.
Let’s then advance a provisional conclusion: “democracy” is a category of philosophy only when it indicates something other than a form of the State. Yet what is “something other”?
There lies the core of the question. It is a problem with conjunction. To what, other than the State, is “democracy” to be conjoined in order to become a real approach to politics-as-thought? There is a large political tradition pertinent to this, and I won’t go further into it. Let’s suffice to mention just two examples concerning the attempt to conjoin “democracy” to something other than the State thus allowing the meta-political (philosophical) re-examination of politics-as-thought.
The first instance concerns the direct conjoining of “democracy” to the political activity of the masses – not to the state configuration but to its immediate antagonism. For usually the masses’ political activity, its spontaneous mobilization, comes about under an anti-state drive. This produces the syntagm of mass democracy, which I’ll style romantic, and the opposition between mass democracy and democracy as state configuration, or formal democracy.
Whoever happens to have experienced mass democracy – historical events such as collective general assembling, crowded gatherings, riots, and so on – manifestly notices an immediate point of reversibility between mass democracy and mass dictatorship. Inevitably the essence of mass democracy is translated into a mass sovereignty, and this mass sovereignty becomes in turn a sovereignty of immediacy, of assembling itself. The sovereignty of assembling exerts – pattern formations Sartre termed “group-in-fusion” – a fellowship of terror. Here Sartrian phenomenology persists indisputably. There is an organic correlation between the practice of mass democracy as internal principle of the group-in-fusion and a point of reversibility with the immediate authoritarian or dictatorial element at work in the fellowship of terror. Looking into the issue of mass democracy itself notice that it is not possible to legitimate the principle after the sole appellative of democracy, since this romantic democracy immediately includes, in theory as well as in practice, its reversibility into dictatorship. You are dealing thus with a pair democracy/dictatorship that avoids an elementary designation, or eludes a philosophical apprehension, under the concept of democracy. And what does this entail? It entails that whoever assigns legitimacy to mass democracy, at least today, does so on the basis, or rather from the viewpoint of the non-state perspective of pure presentation. The appraisal, even under the appellation of democracy, of mass democracy as such, is inseparable from the subjectivity of generic Communism. The legitimization of this couple of immediacy – democracy/dictatorship – is only conceivable if the pair is thought, and valorized, from the generic point of the withering of the State, or from the perspective of a radical anti-state attitude. Actually, the opposite pole to State consistency, which precisely shows up in the immediacy of mass democracy, is a provisional representative to generic Communism. We are now brought back to our first major hypothesis: if “democracy” is conjoined to “mass,” the goal of politics is actually generic Communism, whence “democracy” is not a category of philosophy. This conclusion is empirically and conceptually established by the fact that from the perspective of mass democracy it is impossible to differentiate democracy from dictatorship. It is what has obviously enabled Marxists to employ the expression “dictatorship of the proletariat.” It should be our understanding that the subjective valorization of the word “dictatorship” thus rested on the presence of such reversibility between democracy and dictatorship as it historically appears in the figure of mass democracy, or revolutionary democracy, or romantic democracy.
We are left with another hypothesis, a quite different one: “democracy” should be conjoined with the political regulation itself. “Democracy” would not be related to the figure of State or to the figure in political mass activity, but would rather relate organically to political regulation, provided that political regulation is not subservient to the State, to “the good State,” when it is not systematized. “Democracy” would be organically tied to the universality of political regulation, to its capability of universality, and thus the word “democracy” and politics as such would be bound. Again, it is politics in the sense that it is something other than a State program. In this case, there would be an intrinsically democratic characterization of politics, insofar as its self-determination is posited as a space of emancipation removed from State consensual figures.
There is some evidence of this in Rousseau’s Social Contract. In chapter 16, book III, Rousseau discusses the issue of the establishment of the State – apparently the opposite topic we are discussing here – the issue of the institution of the State. He comes up against a well-known difficulty, namely that the causative instrument of government cannot be a contract, cannot proceed from the dimension of a social contract in the sense that this contract acts as founder of the nation as such. The institution of the State concerns specific individuals, and this cannot be carried out by means of a law. For Rousseau a law necessarily implies a global association relating the people to the people and thereby cannot involve specific individuals.
The institution of the State cannot be a law. And this suggests that it also cannot be the practice of sovereignty. For sovereignty is precisely the generic form of the social contract and it always connotes a relation of totality to totality – of the people to the people. Apparently, we face an impasse here. A decision is needed, a decision that should be at the same time special (since it establishes the government) and general (since it’s taken by the “totality” of the people and not by the government, which does not yet exist and will eventually be established). However, it is impossible for Rousseau that this decision result from the general will, since every decision of this kind should be manifested in the shape of a law or a deed of sovereignty. And this can only be the contract agreed upon by all the people and all the people, a contract that bears no particular character. You can also posit the question this way: the citizen votes for the laws, the governmental magistrate takes the concrete measures. How are particular magistrates to be appointed when there aren’t yet any magistrates, but only citizens? Rousseau pulls himself out of this difficulty by stating that “the institution of government is accomplished by the sudden conversion of sovereignty into democracy so that without sensible change, and merely by virtue of a new relation of all to all, the citizens become magistrates, and pass from general to particular acts, from legislation to the execution of the law.” For many this was a singular conjuring trick. What does this sudden conversion without any modification of the organic relationship between totality to totality mean? How does a mere displacement of this relation, which is the social contract as instituting the general will, allow for the proceeding to the possibility of initiating particular political acts? Basically this means – leaving aside the formal argumentation – that democracy originally refers “to the particular character of the interests at stake in political regulation.” Political regulation with its particular interests at stake – in the last resort it only has particular stakes – is confined to democracy. Rousseau’s case for the establishment of government is but one symbolic example. Generally speaking, the universality of political regulation – much as it evades the singular holding of the State – can be deployed as such only when particular interests are at stake and is constrained, when deployed under particular stakes, if only to invest the democratic form in order to remain political. Here a primary conjunction between democracy and politics effectively takes place.
Democracy can then be defined as what authorizes an individual investment under the law of the universality of political will. “Democracy,” in a way, names the political figures of the conjunction between particular situations and politics. In this case, and in this case only, “democracy” can be recaptured as a philosophical category. Hereafter democracy will designate what can be termed as the effectiveness in politics, meaning politics when it conjoins with particular interests. Thus understood politics becomes free from its accountability to the State.
In order to pursue this contention you would expound on how “democracy,” in this conjunction to political regulation as such, refers in philosophy to the taking in of a specific kind of politics whose regulation is universal. Still this specific kind of politics may conjoin to the particular in a figure wherein situations transform so as to render impossible any other inequitable enunciation.
The reasoning of this position is rather complex and I present a brief outline. Let’s say that “democracy” posits the fact that politics – with regard to a politics of emancipation – is sooner or later related to the special nature of people’s lives, not to the State, but to people as they come forth in the public space. Again, politics cannot be itself, which is being democratic, in its dealing with this particularity in people’s lives, unless it dismisses all inequitable sense in the very dealing. For, if politics allows for an inequitable acceptation in its dealing, then it introduces a nondemocratic norm – in the original sense I am addressing here – and the conjunction is cancelled. This means politics is no longer competent to deal with the particular from the perspective of the universal regulation. Politics will deal with the particular differently; it will deal with it from the perspective of the particular regulation. Thus, the case would be that every particular regulation redirects politics towards the State where it is subjected to the constraint of state jurisdiction. Consequently, the word “democracy,” in its philosophical significance, presupposes a kind of politics insofar as the effectiveness of its emancipatory process works at the impossibility proper of all inequitable enunciation in concern with this situation. For the aim of this kind of politics to be real proceeds from the fact that these enunciations are, by means of such politics, not forbidden but impossible. Interdiction is always a rule of the State; impossibility is a regulation of the real.
Also democracy as a philosophical category is what “brings forward equality.” Or, what excludes from circulating as political nominations – or as political categories – any sort of predicate formally in contradiction with the egalitarian idea.
In my view, this very fact drastically restricts the possibility of using in politics, under the philosophical sign of democracy, any type of “communal” designations. For the communal designation or the identity assignation to the subsets as such cannot be dealt with after the idea of the impossibility of an inequitable enunciation. Consequently, ‘democracy” is that which regulates politics in relation to communal predicates, to subset predicates. Democracy is that which anchors politics to the element of universality proper to its destination. It will also expose articulations of race as well as sexual or social or hierarchic articulations, or an enunciation such as: “there is a problem with immigrants,” that would undo the conjunction between politics and democracy. “Democracy” means that “immigrant,” “French,” “Arab,” “Jew” are words that inevitably bring calamity to politics. For these words, and many others, necessarily refer politics to the State, and the lowest and most essential function of the State is the inequitable breaking of mankind.
Ultimately, the task of the philosopher consists of exposing a certain politics to its evaluation. Neither in the sense of “the good State,” nor in the sense of generic Communism, but intrinsically, that is to say for itself. Politics sequentially defined as that which attempts to create the impossibility of the inequitable enunciation, might, by the slant of the word “democracy,” be exposed through philosophy to what I’ll call a certain eternity. Let’s say that by means of the word “democracy” thus conceived, by means of philosophy and philosophy alone, politics can be evaluated after the rule of the eternal return. Then philosophy takes hold of politics, not just as the particular or pragmatic avatar of human history, but as connected to a standard of evaluation, which upholds without ridicule, or without crime, that the return be foreseen.
In the end a very old word, a word very much worn, philosophically nominates those politics that overcome this ordeal: it’s the word “justice.”
*From Abrégé de métapolitique, Seuil: Paris, 1998.
This English version was published in lacanian ink 16 (out of print)
The Age of the Poets revisits the age-old problem of the relation between literature and philosophy, arguing against both Plato and Heidegger’s famous arguments. Philosophy neither has to ban the poets from the republic nor abdicate its own powers to the sole benefit of poetry or art. Instead, it must declare the end of what Badiou names the “age of the poets,” which stretches from Hölderlin to Celan. Drawing on ideas from his first publication on the subject, “The Autonomy of the Aesthetic Process,” Badiou offers an illuminating set of readings of contemporary French prose writers, giving us fascinating insights into the theory of the novel while also accounting for the specific position of literature between science and ideology.
For Alain Badiou, theatre—unlike cinema—creates a space in which philosophy can be lived. It is, of all the arts, the most closely related to politics: both depend on a limited number of texts or statements, which are collectively enacted by a group of actors or militants who test the limits of the structure inn which they are confined, be it the medium of drama or the nation-state. For this reason, the history of theatre is inseparable from the history of state repression and censorship.
This definitive collection of Badiou’s work on the theatre includes not only the title essay “Rhapsody for the Theatre,” originally published as a pamphlet in France, but also essay on Jean-Paul Sartre, on the political destiny of contemporary drama, and on Badiou’s own work as a playwright.
Published in 1973, “L’Etourdit” was one of the French philosopher Jacques Lacan’s most important works. The book posed questions that traversed the entire body of Lacan’s psychoanalytical explorations, including his famous idea that “there is no such thing as a sexual relationship,” which seeks to undermine our certainties about intimacy and reality.
In There’s No Such Thing as a Sexual Relationship, Alain Badiou and Barbara Cassin take possession of Lacan’s short text, thinking “with” Lacan about his propositions and what kinds of questions they raise in relation to knowledge. Cassin considers the relationship of the real to language through a Sophist lens, while the Platonist Badiou unpacks philosophical claims about truth. Each of their contributions echoes back to one another, offering new ways of thinking about Lacan, his seminal ideas, and his role in advancing philosophical thought.