A Note for Discussion Concerning Saidiya Hartman’s Scenes of Subjection. October 15, 2020.

I think it is possible to reflect on Saidiya Hartman’s 1996 book from the point of view of the text that has arguably summarized the political stakes of modernity most decisively: the handful of pages in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit about the master-slave dialectic, which predict its own resolution through labor in history and through history as labor.  What is consequently decisive in Hartman’s book, and presumably the motor or at least one of the motors of the frame of mind that has come to be known as Afropessimism, is the fact that Hartman’s book presumes no political or even social resolution in final reconciliation of the tension between mastery and servitude.   Labor in history will not do the Hegelian trick.  Mastery will continue to assert its privilege. 

The book shows how, from antebellum slavery through Emancipation and Reconstruction all the way through to the liquidation of the separate-but-equal statutes around 1967, servitude only managed to modulate its position of servitude while mastery kept its dominion in the form of white supremacy, white privilege.  I think it is fair to say that the issue of race is historically contingent to the very extent that it is not primarily a matter of white versus black as a function of any imagined racial hierarchy; it is precisely a matter of the fact that mastery needs an other to exert itself, and slavery, which means the slavery of Africans, propitiated the structure both directly, in antebellum times, and indirectly, through the maintenance or resurgence of black subjugation after emancipation.   

Which makes it no less poignant for blacks.  They are the symbolic subaltern in a social structure where political assertions of equality have not managed to achieve the factical elimination of racial subjugation.  But this means that the Hegelian master-slave dialectic proves itself to be just another story, and a wrong and misleading story at that.  Under those conditions, the narrative of emancipation, which emblematizes the predicament of the black slave, has no visible happy ending, that is, no political resolution in an equalitarian symbolization of the social.  Subalternity will not be eliminated; racial subalternity is an irreducible condition of the social as we know it, against and in the face of every piety of the liberal-democratic argument.  What is to be done under those conditions?

Fred Moten, in a review published in 2003, says: “There is an intense dialogue with Douglass that structures Scenes of Subjection.  The dialogue is opened by a refusal of recitation that reproduces what it refuses.  Hartman swerves away from Douglass and thereby runs right back to him.  She also runs through him into territory he could not have recognized, territory no one has charted as thoroughly and as convincingly as she has done.  Still, the structure of this turn away from, to, and through Douglass is familiar, perhaps disturbingly so.  Is there any other way for Hartman to have done what she has done?  This is to ask: Is Douglass inescapable for the theory of (black) performance and the theory of (black) subjectivity?  Can one simply opt out of this primal scene?  Can we think the generativity of that scene in its generality?”  (171).

Douglass’s primal scene is the primal scene of direct, sadistic domination of the human by the human.   It is also the primal scene hidden in the Phenomenology pages.  Hence the question about opting out is also a question about opting out of the political categories of modernity; that is, of modernity’s narratives of tendential democratic equality through labor as production, through social and economic development, through the various adjustments, reforms, even revolutions history will provide through its own teleology of fettered but still inevitable progress. 

In page 65, in the context of a discussion of slave infrapolitics, Hartman says “Even the Gramscian model, with its reformulation of the relation of state and civil society in the concept of the historical bloc and its expanded definition of the political, maintains a notion of the political inseparable from the effort and the ability of a class to effect hegemony.”  It is a rather subdued statement in the context of the book, which nevertheless amounts to a straightforward denunciation of the radical insufficiency of hegemony theory in any guise or form.  Essentially, the contention is that equality is not to be found as a consequence of any inclusionist strategy on the side of dominant culture–that hegemony, that is, mastery, is always to be maintained means that the rhetoric of liberation must be purchased in every case at the price of mimicry, and mimicry is subjugation, which means that, where it succeeds as mimicry, it fails as emancipation.  Already in Anita Patterson’s review of Scenes of Subjection Patterson, who was nevertheless enthusiastic about the book, felt compelled to finish by saying: “I remain unpersuaded by Hartman’s suggestion that we dispense with notions of individuality, freedom, and civil rights just because the discourse of democracy has at times been put to bad use.” This is a fundamental misunderstanding, very tedious twenty plus years later.  Hartman does not “dispense with” those notions. She simply thinks that they are notions that, when wielded by hegemony or as hegemony’s mimicry, that is, even through counterhegemonic efforts, will double down on subjection, and will perpetuate subjection. This should alert us, should have alerted us, to the fact that counterhegemonic applications of hegemonic procedures will not suffice and have not sufficed for any equalitarian symbolization of the social.

This is where the claims for posthegemony and infrapolitics come together and meet and, in the case of the notion of infrapolitics that interests me, exceed subaltern studies.   Hartman refers to infrapolitics and to the “infrapolitics of the dominated” in obvious dialogue with James Scott’s theorization of infrapolitics.  It is clear enough, in Hartman’s book, that politics is a limited tool that cannot account for existential emancipation and that dooms the subaltern to endless subjugation.  The contention, which is made only in the form of a repeated question in Scenes of Subjection, is that infrapolitical practice can at least provide pleasure; that it is the very site of pleasure for subaltern sectors of the population.   Through infrapolitical practice subjugation is bracketed and negated. 

It is interesting that Scott, Robin Kelly, Hartman, Moten and Stefano Harney, seem still somewhat unwilling, at least to me, to take their very thoughts regarding infrapolitical practice to their logical next step and choose to remain constrained by an understanding of posthegemonic infrapolitics still circumscribed to its negative determination.   For them, infrapolitics names a restriction in the concept of politics, given the insufficiency of politics for black emancipation.   Am I right in this?  In any case, this is what I would like to submit to discussion.  In my view, it is a change in the notion of infrapolitics as somehow “prepolitical,” to make use of Ranajit Guha’s unfortunate term in reference to similar phenomena of subaltern revolt and subaltern pleasure that would not be registered in political terms, that could replace “pessimism” in order to open another horizon.  Infrapolitics is not to be thought of as simply a way out of politics.  Can we expand the notion and make it good for an other beginning of politics not constrained or circumscribed to Hegelian dialectics and its implicit philosophy of history? 

I think the notion of the “wayward subject” in Saidiya’s more recent book, Wayward Lives, is a step forward.   Can we continue to push that thought, and see where it takes us? 

Adaptability and Education

As students of contemporary technology will tell you, we are already in a historical time, perhaps for the first time in the history of humanity, where people cannot keep up with technological advancement, and the trend will continue. Technology is already exceeding human adaptability, and the gap will keep growing. We have not seen much yet, compared to what is coming.  And yet we have seen enough already.  But this means most of us will become roadkill if we have not yet become that.  This is in some ways an opening premise of Thomas Friedman’s Thank You for Being Late.  An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations (Picador 2020).  I have only started reading the book, so I do not know where Friedman wants to take us.   What follows are reflections that result from a Facebook discussion, which I may supplement with other considerations as I make progress in Friedman’s book. 

The problem then is to have legions of roadkill zombies organizing not just our education and the education of our children, but also our politics and our labor relations and our everyday life for us, through procedures we are becoming quite familiar with: an absolute disconnect between claims and the real, a thorough falsification of the commons, delusions and ideology ruling our lives everywhere. I do not think there are any easy solutions to this but do believe if the humanities do not help out, by trying somehow to assuage the gap between technical innovation and human adaptability, we are irretrievably screwed. But the humanities are still looking the other way, hence increasingly populated by what Friedman calls roadkill with a chip on their shoulders. Take a minor but symptomatic example: most humanities courses in the North American university are a repetition of the courses that were taught in the 1980s and 1990s, and very little has changed. But this is precisely the reason why students have turned away from us. Is it not high time to have a serious conversation about this? Could we do it, or is the very conversation already too difficult or impossible?

Are the humanities capable of innovation in thinking, can they help contemporary humanity understand their predicament in the face of technological change, market globalization, and climate change, or are they condemned to repeat themselves from parameters that come from a tradition and a world that has largely been left behind, for better or for worse, but for real in any case?  One would want to respond that yes, the humanities can do it.  I think the humanities can do it, but I am not so sure present-day humanists can do it.  I am not such an optimist.  I have reasons to believe humanists today are largely out of touch with the real world and much prefer to have their heads comfortably stuck up their backsides. 

My precarious intuition, since I have no massive empirical data on it: the humanities today are by and large, with minor modifications, in the position of my one-time colleague, a graduate of some prominent university in the late 1970s, who still thinks Wayne Booth, Russian formalism, and Reader-Response is the way to go—the fellow had simply stopped growing intellectually when he graduated, and forty years later he was still using his old dog-eared notes on yellowing paper to continue to teach his classes. Students could only be dumbfounded, I doubt they would have thought it was charming.  But the same is true of course for those who think their alleged courageous political commitment to various identity causes, to which they woke in the 1990’s, is enough to justify their careers.  And one wonders about the rest: those are the very people who prefer to use their social media to issue conventional opinions and would reject any substantive discussion, for instance: the so-called intellectuals who no longer bother to read much, and prefer rereading at most.   And the thing is: they are still proud of themselves, think there is nothing wrong, their real work, I suppose, happens when they prepare an article for PMLA.  Except that very few people are now preparing articles for PMLA. That is not where things are, as everybody knows, if it ever was. 

I think the humanities should assume this task of radical innovation, which can and should probably be seen as no more than a necessary massive updating of presuppositions, but the difficulties are immense, given our own inertia and all kinds of embedded resistance. Now, these two latter things, given the simultaneous recognition of the crisis of the humanities, about which nobody does anything at all, can be summed up in one word: incompetence. Or two words: hopeless incompetence. And notice this: I can only have this conversation on Facebook or in the blog–I already know posting this on the blog will bring at most a hundred readers, and no discussion, or barely any.  If I attempted to have it in my own institution, provided I were allowed to do it, it would mean that my head, toward which I still feel some residual love, would be put on the chopping block. And of course I think that is beyond pathetic, because I am fairly certain that the folks in Engineering or Business do not enjoy the same limitations. But let us attempt to imagine what it would take.  Just two ideas to start with:

Firstly, we need a fundamental revision of our majors and our doctoral programs, most of which are obsolete and worse. Nothing less than a new kind of education in the humanities is needed.  More on this below.

And then, second thing, we would have to reinvent the parameters under which professional advancement in our fields is granted: i think we have had enough of the little paper-producing industry we have laboriously loved for several generations, I think the parameters for tenure are hopelessly anachronistic and useless, and I think the issue of “publishing in adequate venues” is as stilted as seventeenth-century wigs for males.  Nobody reads journal articles as journal articles any more, and hardly any books from their own professional field: at best they read them because someone posts a PDF of them on Facebook or Twitter, normally the author, for her or his own circle of friends.  Or in Academia.edu.  This reinforces a cycle of intellectual narcissism probably never seen before in the history of the humanities. 

It is a matter of survival, and not our survival, but rather the survival of a mode of thought not based on endless technical acceleration and quantifiable h-indexes for licking everybody’s asses (quotations: normally used today to enhance one’s own status, to secure others’ quotations of oneself, given the race for quotations as a measure of impact our own universities have set us up for, on the management model of the flea circus or perhaps the ant farm). Or we could just move out of the university, easy for some of us to say, since we are already eligible for social security checks. But there is a future for others, it simply cannot be based on publishing seven articles on Don Quixote or exploring the affective investments in José Eustasio Rivera’s interesting but somewhat mediocre famous novel. Can we facilitate that future, pointing the way to it, or do we do it by continuing to ruin our present, and see what the children come up with?

The world has changed, and it is useless to dwell on whether the change has been for the better or the worse. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that students have urgencies we did not have and dismiss the urgencies we did have. Trying to impose ourselves on them, rather than learning about their urgencies, is a losing game, but the ones who lose the most are precisely the students. I think the experience of pandemic confinement will have had some positive uses for all of us. I just hope they are not squandered if and when there is a return to so-called normality.

Regarding fundamental curricular revisions, let us grab the bull by the horns.  Our distribution in the academic humanities is obsolete, which means we should move toward a liquidation of the disciplines as they are for the sake of new inventions. Which does not mean liquidating the need to know and explore the historical archive. But the historical archive in Spanish, say, is no longer a priority, as it may have been at times of nation-state hegemony, of national citizenship as first allegiance, and so forth. What I am proposing is not so far-fetched. For instance, we have a PhD program called something like “Multidisciplinary PhD Program in Hispanic Studies.” Let us replace it with something called “Multidisciplinary PhD Program in the Humanities.” Let us give up on field-coverage and area expertise, which really has done nothing for intellectual life in the last fifty years. Let us imagine a new education with new questions and new thought produced in the way of provisional answers. Let us concentrate on what people need to learn in order to face the chaos of their lives.

Forgive me for the autobiographical note here, but I think we all speak from our own life experience, and I want to make mine visible.  There may have been a time in which, to respond to the chaos of my life, I needed to know what Unamuno and Baroja had said. Or what the criollista novelists were proposing to the nation. When it may have been useful personally to know how Clarice Lispector understood female lives in the Brazil of her time. When taking stock of pre-Boom writers could have helped me take on and reflect on varieties of a form of life necessary for my own. I do not think we are any longer there, but in any case: I certainly believe our undergraduates are not there at all, and do not need any of that. It doesn´t mean Baroja, or the rest, are not worth reading. But they must be read, if they must, from a different set of questions, new configurations of thought that “the discipline” is not only not promoting but is actively stifling. With a vengeance.

Yes, I thought at the time that it was just not possible or relevant to think except within your own language’s archive. Which is why I abandoned philosophy in favor of literature, since philosophy in Spanish was just not worth bothering about. It is of course one of my fundamental life mistakes. Equivalent to an American thinking he could only think out of American literature or American thought traditions. Preposterous, if you think about it. And maybe a residue of either Francoism or anti-Francoism, which came to the same thing here.

For our own students, the operative word is “think.” They do not need a national archive, unless they want to make a hobby of it. But no national archive can today sustain an intellectual life not buried in the sand. This is one of the consequences of the very real market globalization.

By the time I finished my seven-year-long doctoral training in the late 1980s, I had read most everything relevant in the Spanish archive. Including Fray Gerundio de Campazas and Diego de Torres Villarroel. And I came to think that rereading it to comment on it as a career was somehow less than attractive. It was because I actually was unsatisfied that I became a Latin Americanist–there were things in the Latin American archive I had not yet read, so at least that would keep me curious.  But all of that was part of my original and fateful mistake, which was precisely to think that an archive, any given archive, could give me the thinking resources I might need. So I kept going from one place to another: middle ages, renaissance, contemporary novel, Golden Age theatre, chronicles, etc., finding compensations here and there, of course, but keeping at a fundamental distance from most of it. With some sustaining exceptions– Libro de Buen Amor, La Celestina, Cervantes, Borges, Valente, some of the classical poetry, Goytisolo. I kept trying, not understanding that the very nature of the questions I was asking should have made me move away a lot earlier than I finally did from most of it, already in my late forties. But I am not bragging about anything. I did what a good student of the discipline would have done (I have always been a good student) and paid the price most paid. Until I felt I had had enough, and switched gears and went through the normal difficulties of it. But I would not put myself as an example of anything. I have never insisted, though, that my approach—i.e., my mistakes, which may have included some partial virtues–should be replicated by my students’. That tendency of mine is today more extreme, in the sense that I think my students should not even be asking the questions I was asking at their age. The questions today should be quite different, and I think they are being asked, but no longer in the humanities.  Or only marginally. 

I would say that there is a crisis of thought in the disciplines, certainly in Latin American Studies. Would not want to guess whether that is also the case for, say, African Studies, or Latinx Studies (but I would not be surprised.) There is, however, no crisis of thought, in the sense that there are plenty of absolutely necessary issues to think about. I suppose the claim I am making is that it is no longer possible to think about those issues from constrained institutional spaces, and particularly from constrained institutional spaces that are and have always been overdetermined in their limitations for a variety of reasons. Say, in the 1990s the mirage of Latin American Cultural Studies created a path that enabled some of us to step away from literary hermeneutics, which had become a dead space for me. But that did not last long. And then what?

The point is not to say that people should stop doing what they love, if they love it.  It is rather to say that we have an obligation and a responsibility to save reflection in the humanities from our own boredom in order to be open to conditions of existence today, which are no longer comparable to those we had up until the 1990s, for instance.  Dramatic changes in the last twenty years in particular have made most of our arrangements and presuppositions obsolete. 

Intellectual Life as Strategic Calculation

Universities were for a time the natural refuge or shelter of a particular form of life, or a particular choice for a form of life.  I suppose the pretense, once upon a time, was that choosing a life of study and reflection over alternative possibilities was in itself worthwhile—something to do, not necessarily for its own sake, rather in view of remaining open to what we might sum up as experiences of existential truth.  It was believed, rightly or wrongly, that a life of study simply created time for a deeper engagement with existential truth, and that the search itself was its own reward.  What was the goal of that search?  What could one possibly expect to gain from the loneliness and obscurity of a life not primarily turned to efforts for glory or wealth, to efforts for mastery, technical or political, in the abdication of the most obvious pretenses for fame, recognition, professional success, payment, in a word?  One chose a certain simple probity, a wage-earning probity, presumably understanding the stakes.  Not that the option was self-defeating.  For a time the university could justify its own function through pedagogical projections: the thinker could talk to the students, and that would have been formative for the latter.  Beyond pedagogical projections, however, the one who chose study and reflection over everything else, provided the choice was open, provided that it was as free a choice as choices can be free in any human existence, obviously hoped to obtain something in return.  I know of no better formulation of this than the one offered by a still young Friedrich Nietzsche at the beginning of Human, All Too Human (and precisely the year, by the way, in which he decided to leave his own university behind):        

From this sickly isolation, from the desert of such years of trial, it is still a long way to the tremendous, overflowing certainty and health that cannot dispense even with sickness as a means and a hook for knowledge, to the ripened freedom of spirit that is just as much self-mastery and discipline of the heart and that permits one to take the paths of many varied and opposed ways of thinking—to the inner comprehensiveness and pampered overabundance that exclude the danger that the spirit may somehow lose itself, even upon its own paths, fall in love with them, and remain sitting, intoxicated, somewhere in a corner, to the excess of plastic, healing, imitating, and restoring forces that is the sign of great health, the excess that gives to the free spirit the dangerous privilege of living for experiments and of being allowed to offer itself to adventure: the master privilege of the free spirit!  (Stanford edition, 1995, 9)

 Nietzsche’s great health of the spirit, summed up in a certain notion of freedom premised on the avoidance of counterfeiting: this is what I call existential truth, or truths.  It could seem desperately old-fashioned today.  It might be desperately old-fashioned in a world where the old virtues of an intellectual life, namely, probity, frugality, self-restraint, courtesy, dignity, and an aspiration to refinement in every sense have been rejected in favor of what the ideologues and lackeys of our time prefer to call a “positive psychology” of happiness and optimism, conducive to an allegedly seamless adjustment to service-oriented, consumerist society where everything is either a resource or an obstacle for personal advancement.   And today the masters in charge have decided that only “social impact,” as measured by contests and competitions that they themselves determine to the detriment of any possible notion of academic freedom, counts as a measure of advancement at the university.   

There are many possible ways of living one’s life, and I do not begrudge any of them.  What seems to me wrong is the travesty of imposing on a certain form of life procedures and expectations that do not belong to it, that the said form of life has always already rejected in order to constitute itself as such.  When it is done massively and systematically, we need to confront the fact that we are witnessing an attempt to erase the form of life itself.  This should be no laughing matter, as it has the status of a gesture for civilizational change, and clearly for the worse.  It is no laughing matter for my generation, but I wonder whether it has become one for more recent generations.  It is a genuine question, and I would appreciate attempts at answering it.   

All of this comes to what current university administrations are now calling “faculty excellence.”  Of course it is only one dimension of the ridiculously pretentious and counterproductive but all-pervasive notion of “excellence” that has flourished on our campus at the hands of its worst elements.  But it is a symptomatic one.  What do you make of a paragraph like this? (for obvious reasons I am redacting names from the paragraph, which is in any case generic and in that sense not the property of any single institution, unfortunately: they are all doing it):

The dean agrees with the University Distinguished Professors that the Department of … and the College should support Dr. … in pursuing avenues, including competitive university-wide research awards, that would be springboards for more prestigious national and international prizes and awards. Therefore, I encourage you to support Dr. … in seeking and attaining one or two highly prestigious national and/or international awards that would further affirm …’s already distinguished scholarly profile. Such an addition to … ‘s scholarly eminence would better position Dr. … for a possible successful future UDP nomination. 

To sum it up: either you pay your way to professional recognition in monetary terms or you will not get professional recognition.  The damage that such a mind structure does is probably unmeasurable.  It is beyond measure to the very precise extent that it aims to subject everything to calculative measure.   The one who chose to devote himself or herself to a life of study and reflection must recant, must turn back on his or her choice, must understand that at the end of the day everything was about the instrumentalization of spirit, now quantifiable in “international prizes and awards,” which have become a sine qua non condition not just of advancement, but merely of recognizable presence. 

But I am still reluctant, and probably terminally so, to educate my students to become nothing but strategic calculators, whatever form of life they end up choosing, even if they want to go into finances and become famously wealthy.  There is something properly repugnant about it.  Perhaps feeling this way is in itself old-fashioned. Well, then, so be it.

Fools and Free Spirits.

In his Nietzsche’s Journey to Sorrento.  Genesis of the Philosophy of the Free Spirit  (U of Chicago P, 2016) Paolo D’Iorio notes a particular jotting in one of Nietzsche’s 1877 notebooks: “Walking along the windless, twilight pathways, while above us the trees rustle, agitated by violent gales in a brighter light” (Nietzsche quoted by D’Iorio 75).  Nietzsche repeats the same thought in a March letter to Reinhart von Seydlitz (75), but of course the reappearance of the thought in Human, All Too Human is more significant.  It happens in #275, entitled Cynic and Epicurean.  D’Iorio points out that the position of the Epicurean is the one occupied by Nietzsche (76).  He also says that the aphorism is a characterization of “one of the great antitheses of the philosophical tradition” (75), that is, that of Cynics and Epicureans.  But I think perhaps Nietzsche was after something more significant for his own project than the rehearsal of a style difference in post-Platonic philosophy.  Here is aphorism 275, which I transcribe in full:

The Cynic perceives the connection between the multiplied and magnified pains of more highly cultivated people and the abundance of their needs; he therefore conceives that the host of opinions about what is beautiful, proper, seemly, delightful must give rise to copious sources not only of enjoyment, but also of displeasure.  In accordance with this insight, he moves backward in his development by relinquishing many of these opinions and withdrawing from certain demands made by culture; he thereby obtains a feeling of freedom and empowerment; and gradually, once habit has made his way of life tolerable for him, he will in fact have fewer and fewer sensations of displeasure than cultivated people and will become very much like a domestic animal; in addition, everything that he does feel has the charm of contrast and—he can also curse to his heart’s content, so that he thereby gets well beyond the animal’s world of sensations. –The Epicurean adopts the same point of view as the Cynic; generally, only a difference of temperament sets them apart.  And so the Epicurean uses his higher culture to make himself independent of prevailing opinions; he raises himself above them, whereas the Cynic merely continues to negate them.  It is as if the former were strolling along in windless, well-protected, twilight avenues, while above him the treetops were being tossed in the wind and betrayed to him how violently the world outside was moving.  The Cynic, on the other hand, acts as if he were going naked outside into the blowing wind and hardens himself to the point of insensibility.

(Human, All Too Human 1. A Book for Free Spirits.  Translated with an Afterword by Gary Handwerk.  Stanford UP, 1995, 186-87)

            Let us imagine that both Epicureans and Cynics are potential examples of “free spirits” in the Nietzschean sense.  The difference between them is a difference of “temperament,” it is said.  The Cynic “negates” prevailing opinion while the Epicurean “raises himself above” it.  The Cynic’s negation has two effects from which the Epicurean is shielded: on the one hand, he must “curse to his heart’s content,” as negation is necessarily militant and calls for a ceaseless fight.  On the other hand, and consequently, and because he goes “naked outside into the blowing wind,” he must harden himself “to the point of insensibility.”  The Epicurean seems to have an advantage:  he has simplified his life, has given up on a host of things that, while they may bring occasional enjoyment, are also sources of displeasure.  He obtains thereby “a feeling of freedom and empowerment” that he may share with the Cynic, but his freedom does not make him curse endlessly, does not make him expose himself to the bitter winds.  The difference may be a difference of style, but the impression is that the Epicurean is also smarter, less of a fool than the Cynic.  Does that mean the Epicurean is no fool? 

            Are Epicureans or Cynics potential examples of free spirits in the Nietzschean sense?  Both kinds of thinkers find their motivation in a desire for freedom.  This seems to be the definition of a free spirit in Human, All Too Human.  Again, I transcribe the full aphorism:

Cautiousness of free spirits.—Free-minded people who live only for knowledge will quickly find they have reached their external goal in life, their final position in relation to society and the state, and will, for example, be content with a small official position or with only as much property as barely suffices for living; for they will arrange their lives in such a way that that neither a great transformation in economic circumstances nor even the overthrow of the political order will overturn their life along with it.  They expend as little energy as possible on all these things so that they can dive with all their collected forces and with a deep breath, as it were, into the element of knowledge.  Thus, they can hope to dive deeply and even to see to the very bottom.—Such a spirit prefers to take in only the fringes of an event; he does not love things in all the breadth and vastness of their folds: for he does not want to entangle himself in them. –He, too, knows the weekdays of unfreedom, of dependence, of servitude.  But from time to time a Sunday of freedom must come to him, or else he will not be able to endure life. –It is likely that even his love for humanity will be cautious and somewhat shortwinded, for he wants to have only as much to do with the world of inclinations and blindness as is necessary for the purpose of knowledge. He must trust that the guiding spirit of justice will say something on behalf of its adherent and protegé if accusing voices describe him as poor in love.—There is in his way of living life and of thinking a refined heroism that disdains offering itself to the reverence of the masses, as his coarser brothers do, and that tends to pass quietly through and out of the world.  Through whatever labyrinths he may wander, through whatever rocks his stream may make its torturous way—when he reaches the light, he goes his way clearly, lightly, and almost soundlessly and lets the sunlight play down into his depths. 

(Human 193-94)

            A Sunday of freedom, if I may have it: that would be my compensation as a cautious man of knowledge.  Because, in the face of protracted unfreedom, dependence, servitude, I too have chosen to minimize my sources of potential displeasure, and I have consequently gone about that task in the only way I know how: by minimizing everything else as well, so as not to risk too much, never to risk too much.   I do not have a lot of property, I do not have a lot of power, I do not get involved in much, or only marginally when I do so.  I am a refined hero for the sake of diving into the element of knowledge.  I may choose to walk my walks protectedly, never to venture beyond the treetops, stay in the lanes, or I may choose to bark my throat off like an enraged dog at the bitter gales of unfreedom. That is just a difference of temperament.  But I am still a fool.  Something else is needed if I am to stop being a fool.  Did Nietzsche–this Nietzsche of the so-called middle period–know it?

On Alain Badiou’s Age of the Poets. Short Version.

A Mutual Liberation

Mathematics is not philosophy, only one of its conditions, in the same way that poetry is not philosophy, but philosophy must think poetic thought, it must bring poetry into its form of reflection, not being itself poetry.  Any number of colleagues in our present are put off by Alain Badiou’s insistence on an ontology of the multiple-without-oneness derived from post-Cantorian mathematics, partly because they know no mathematics and feel disoriented by the appeal to it.  Approximately the same number of colleagues are equally put off by what they assume to be Badiou’s abjuration of poetry in his declaration of the notion that Paul Celan, confronted by the silence of the philosophical master, brought the Age of the Poets to its end, as if that meant that poetry is finished as a resource for thought and from now on we can only think politically or mathematically, or preferably mathematico-politically.[1]  They fail to understand that what is meant by Badiou regarding the end of the Age of the Poets is at the same time a liberation of both poetry and philosophy into, respectively, its truth and its conditions. 

            The point for Badiou, speaking as a philosopher and not as a poet, is that the end of the Age of the Poets liberates poetry from its suture to philosophy as much as it liberates philosophy from its suture to poetry.  The suture itself was epochal, that is, historically contingent, and a derivation of a radical malaise in thought: given the fact that philosophy, in the guise of positivism and analytic philosophy on the one hand, and in the guise of Marxism and historical materialism on the other hand, found itself sutured to science and to politics, a dissenting faction emerged whose most eminent representative would prove to be Friedrich Nietzsche.  Nietzsche initiated, on the philosophical side, and through procedures that Badiou would later name antiphilosophical, a suture of thought to art, initially through his engagement with Richard Wagner’s work and orientation.[2]  Martin Heidegger is the second great name of philosophy in the Age of the Poets, which is why Heidegger’s failure to respond to Paul Celan’s demand concerning the Nazi Holocaust destroys the suture and opens a new path, registered as imperative, both for philosophy to respond to poetry’s demands and for poetry to persist in its own specific register, now liberated from the need to account for a sense of the world, and for a sense of sense.  Far from establishing a new or renewed destitution of thought, the end of the philosophical Age of the Poets enables philosophical reflection by cutting the knot that sutured it to poetry and doomed it to think of itself as a producer of poetic truth. 

            Philosophy must now think of poetry as one of its conditions.  This is probably an even more demanding predicament.  The same is the case for philosophy regarding political or scientific truth, or the truth of love. The liberation of philosophy from its suture to truth procedures rescues philosophy from its 20th century impasses and restitutes it to its position as the holder of the site of thought’s freedom.  The freedom of thought is a not so paradoxical consequence of the fact that philosophy is under no obligation to produce political truth, scientific truth, erotic truth, or poetic truth.  It only inhabits their paths, and learns from them, and perhaps subverts them. 

            The annotations that follow concern the first four essays included in Badiou’s Que pense le poème?, which are also, in slightly altered order, the first four essays of Badiou’s The Age of the Poets, compiled and edited by Bruno Bosteels and Emily Apter and translated by Bosteels.  I will quote from the Bosteels translation.  My interest, beyond achieving as precise as possible an understanding of what Badiou proposes, is also to determine the way in which Badiou, by going beyond Heidegger in his own metapoetics, enables a new presentation of the thought of the poem, now no longer beholden to the poetico-philosophical suture.  I would not want to suggest that the four essays I want to annotate exhaust the reach of Badiou’s thinking on the Age of the Poets, roughly to be understood as the age after which we must reinvent the possibility of thought’s freedom.  Badiou has many other things to say on this score, and he says many of them in his major works and in his seminars.  But one must start somewhere.  So this is just a beginning, and it only means to establish a point from which to proceed, and to do so with all necessary restraint and reserve.  In the process I will point out some of my own difficulties. 

The Fourth Relation

            In the third essay, namely, “The Philosophical Status of the Poem After Heidegger,” Badiou detects three historical “regimes” (38) for the link between poetry and philosophy in order to postulate a “fourth relation between philosophy and poetry” (41).  Since this fourth relation is the relation that Heidegger himself failed to establish, in Badiou’s assessment, it is at least plausible to think that it is the relation Badiou himself favors.  If so, it is the relation that will determine the link between philosophy and poetry at the end of the Age of the Poets; more precisely, after its end.  “What will the poem be after Heidegger—the poem after the age of the poets, the post-romantic poem?  . . .  This is something the poets will tell us, for unsuturing philosophy and poetry, taking leave of Heidegger without reverting to aesthetics, also means thinking otherwise the provenance of the poem, thinking it in its operative distance, and not in its myth” (41-42).  Badiou proceeds to mention “two indications” (42) that amount, if not to a definition, at least to a naming of the task of poetry.  We must take them to be proleptic indications, to the extent they were provided by poets of the Age of the Poets and not by poets after Heidegger.  One of them comes from Stéphane Mallarmé, and it concerns “the moment of the reflection of its pure present in itself or its present purity” (Mallarmé quoted by Badiou 42).  The poem, in the purity of its present, names “what is present only insofar as it no longer disposes of any link with reality to ensure its self-presence” (42).  Poetry would then be “the thought of the presence of the present” insofar as the present would have transcended its reality into a form of eternity (42).  The second indication comes from Paul Celan.  Badiou glosses: “when the situation is saturated by its own norm, when the calculation of itself is inscribed in it without respite, when there is no more void between knowing and foreseeing, then one must poetically be ready to be outside of oneself” (43).  The step outside of oneself is an event extracted from the void of sense, from a lack of signification: a leap.  Badiou concludes his essay saying, not that those two indications define the poem of the future, but rather that they define what a poem “liberated from philosophical poetizing” “will always have been:” “the presence of the present in the traversing of realities, and the name of the event in the leap outside of calculable interests” (43).  We take this to be the conception of the poem in the fourth relation.  What are the first three, and how is this fourth relation post-Heideggerian?

            In Parmenides’ poem there is a tension between the sacredness of the mytheme, which is the structure of authority under which the poem declares its truth, and the truth the poem itself purports to convey, which we could sum up in the notion that only being is.[3]  The second is, Badiou says, necessarily desacralizing.  The desacralization of apagogic reasoning, which is what medieval philosophy called reductio ad absurdum, has no need to rely on anything but its own force of argumentation.  “The matheme, here, is that which, making the speaker disappear, emptying its place of any and all mysterious validation, exposes the argumentation to the test of its autonomy, and thus to the critical or dialogical examination of its pertinence” (37).  This is the regime of what Badiou calls fusion, where the power of the argument is subordinate to the sacral authority of the enunciation itself.  In Plato a relation of distance obtains.  Plato wants to expel the poets from the Republic, as he has understood that “[p]hilosophy cannot establish itself except in the contrast between poem and matheme, which are its primordial conditions (the poem, of which it must interrupt the authority, and the matheme, of which it must promote the dignity” (38-9).  The Aristotelian moment is a moment of inclusion in which the poem comes under the jurisdiction of philosophical knowledge, which it classifies as a regional discipline that will later be called aesthetics.  The poem has now become an object and is to be treated as such.  “In the first case, philosophy envies the poem; in the second it excludes it; and in the third it classifies it” (39). 

            And Badiou, who wants to take his own distance from Heidegger, wishes now to know what Heidegger’s thinking is.  And he says: “Heidegger has subtracted the poem from philosophical knowledge, in order to render it into truth” (39).  Heidegger thoroughly ruins the aesthetic approach without however compromising with Platonic distance.  As a philosopher of the Age of the Poets, Heidegger privileges the “operations by which the poem takes note of a truth of its time,” which, for the Heideggerian period, becomes the destitution of the category of objectivity in ontological presentation, which is a radically anti-Platonic gesture (40).  This means—“unfortunately” (40), says Badiou—that what is left is either a return to the sacralization of the saying or the thinking out of a “fourth relation” (41).  Heidegger opts for the former: “Heidegger prophesies in the void a reactivation of the sacred within the undecipherable coupling of the saying of the poets and the thinking of the thinkers” (41). 

            The fourth relation, which is the relation that opens up at the end of the Age of the Poets and as a condition of the renewal of a desutured link between philosophy and poetry, is therefore what needs to be thought out or understood beyond the “two indications” given above, which referred both to pure presentiality and to a leap in the void beyond all calculation.  If we understand Badiou correctly, this means that pure presentiality and the need for a leap in the void beyond calculation become, not philosophical truths, rather conditions of philosophy.  Let me now move to the essay published as the second chapter in Que pense le poème?.  The English publication places it as first chapter.  Badiou is very clear: the “Age of the Poets” is neither a historicist nor an aesthetic category (it does not mean to put all poetry of the time under a periodizing category; it does not pass judgment on what poets, by belonging to the Age, are therefore the greatest poets).  It is rather a philosophical category: “the moment proper to the history of philosophy in which the latter is sutured” to poetry (4).  This applies to certain poets, or to certain poems within the epoch’s poetic production.  They would be poets that accept the suture, and its injunction, and respond to it.  Among them Badiou mentions Arthur Rimbaud and Mallarmé, Georg Trakl, Fernando Pessoa and Osip Mandelstam, and Paul Celan.  In their work “the poetic saying not only constitutes a form of thought and instructs a truth, but also finds itself constrained to think this thought” (5). 

Take the poems of Alberto Caeiro, who is one of Pessoa’s heteronyms.  “For Caeiro, the essence of thought is to abolish thought” (7).  In Caeiro’s poetry “being does not give itself in the thought of being, for all thinking of being is in reality only the thinking of a thought” (8).  Caeiro abolishes the cogito in order to liberate being to its radical exteriority: “I try to say what I feel/Without thinking about things I feel” (Caeiro quoted by Badiou 8).  Conscious reflection is an obstacle to the purity of presence, and it must be abolished so that being may come into its own.  Caeiro’s operation is an example.  Other operations configure the truths of the poem in the Age of the poetico-philosophical suture.  Badiou names three, and I propose that they be added to the “two indications” in the fourth relation of poetry and philosophy.  The first is “counter-romanticism,” which subtracts the poem from the image and the dream in favor of the presentation of a counter-image in the form of a “tacit concept” (13).  There is a prohibition of the image in place in the thought of the poem in the Age of the Poets.  The second one is “detotalization” (13).  There is a “separate, irreconcilable multiplicity” that is also inconsistent (14).  And the third one is “the diagonal” (13), which is the attempt or the wager “that a nomination may come and interrupt signification” (15).  Take for example Trakl’s verse: “It is a light, which the wind has blown out” (15).  “The poetic diagonal declares that a faithful thought, thus capable of truth, makes a hole in whatever knowledge is concentrated in significations.  It cuts the threads, for another circulation of the current of thought” (16).   This involves, Badiou points out, an endeavor of deobjectification, insofar as the object is “what disposes the multiple of being in relation to meaning or signification” (16).  And it also involves a “disorientation in thought” (18), since the sum of those operations “put[s] under erasure the presumption of a sense that gives meaning and orientation to History” (18). 

            We have, then, as preliminary conditions of the fourth relation, pure presentiality and a leap into the incalculable, the thinking of the abolition of thinking within the poem, the prohibition of the image, the affirmation of an irreconcilable and inconsistent multiplicity, the active production of holes in signification, and the abjuration of a sense of history.  Through its operations the poetry of the Age of the Poets dismantles the pretensions of both the scientific and the political sutures of philosophy.  And it “bequeaths to us, in order to liberate philosophy, the imperative of a clarification without totality, a thinking of what is at once dispersed and unseparated, an inhospitable and cold reason, for want of either object or orientation” (20).  Badiou’s question is whether philosophy can be faithful to that legacy, and his claim is that Heidegger failed to be so for the sake of engaging in a faux re-sacralization that betrayed the philosophical mission that already the Greek first beginning had determined to be the task of philosophy proper. 

Plato’s Restitution

            Before going on to another essay in the series I would like to dwell on a difficulty that the reader may already have sensed.  It is the following: the poetic truth that Badiou’s extraordinary analysis unveils is established by the constellation of poets that configure the Age of the Poets.  Badiou’s claim is that poetic truth conditions philosophical reflection, which must be commensurate, that is, it must measure up, to the rigor of poetic discovery.  Even if poetry is only one of its conditions, philosophy cannot be oblivious to it, but must let itself be determined by poetic saying.  The fourth relation, in other words, constrains philosophy, which must find its freedom not in a refusal to meet the truths of its conditions, poetic or otherwise, once they are analytically determined, but rather in what can only be understood as a consistency with them.  The fourth relation establishes a rule of consistency for philosophical reflection.  This is nothing less than a paradox, since at the core of the poetic analysis we find “an irreconcilable and inconsistent multiplicity.”  The paradox is compounded, to my mind, by the fact that it is the poetic truth of the Age of the Poets that issues a rule of consistency to philosophy in the fourth relation, which can only be thought of as the relation that obtains at the end or after the end of the Age of the Poets, when the suture of philosophy to poetry has been arguably dissolved.  I will come back to this.  Let me now annotate the second essay in the English-language compilation, which is the first in the French volume, namely, “What Does the Poem Think?”

            Faithful to the poetic truth of Alberto Caeiro’s work, and in fact to the other truths he has delimited in the constellation of the Age of the Poets, Badiou insists that the poem is a form of thought and not of knowledge:

Not only does the poem have no object, but a large part of its operation aims precisely to deny the object, to ensure that thought no longer stands in a relation to the object.  The poem aims for thought to declare what there is by deposing every supposed object.  Such is the core of the poetic experience as an experience of thought: to give access to an affirmation of being that is not arranged as the apprehension of an object. (28-9)

            Through “subtraction” and “dissemination” (29) the poem “disconcerts” philosophy, that is, traditional philosophy, because “at the furthest remove from knowledge, the poem is exemplarily a thought that is obtained in the retreat, or the defection, of everything that supports the faculty to know” (31).  This is the reason why the poem, or rather, the poem that is consistent with the inconsistent multiplicity of an affirmation of being that radically subtracts from knowledge, is “haunted by a central silence,” and it is from there, from the point of that void in the situation, that it prepares its leap into the incalculable:

A pure silence, devoid of anything sacred, it interrupts the general racket.  It lodges silence in the central framework of language and, from there, skews it towards an unprecedented affirmation.  This silence is an operation.  And the poem, in this sense, says the opposite of Wittgenstein.  It says: I create silence in order to say that which is impossible to say in the shared language of consensus, to separate it from the world so that it may be said, and always re-said for the first time.  (24-5)

            It is a silence with a bite: it ruins discursivity.  It is radically antiphilosophical.  It ignores dianoia (discursive thinking) and every kind of philosophical argumentation.  It is “incalculable thought” (33).  If dianoia is philosophical procedure, and if it is to be understood as “the thought that passes through, the thought that is the traversing of the thinkable” (33), the poem targets the insufficiency of dianoia, which is also philosophy’s insufficiency.  At the end of dianoia, epekeina tes ousias (beyond substance), beyond every possible knowledge of the entity, Badiou says, “the poem is a thought in its very act, which therefore has no need to be also the thought of thought” (34).  This is what makes the ancient dispute between philosophy and poetry, which Plato evoked: palaia tis diaphora philosophia te kai poietike (Plato quoted by Badiou 32): the ancient discord that the suture of philosophy and poetry had dreamed of suspending or reconciling.  We can perhaps now better understand the implications of Badiou’s definition of the poetry of the Age of the Poets in the first essay I examined: “the poems of the age of the poets are those in which the poetic saying not only constitutes a form of thought and instructs a truth, but also finds itself constrained to think this thought” (5).  The intrusion in poetry of the thought of thought echoes the intrusion in philosophy of the strange and inconspicuous “light, which the wind has blown:” the ancient dark light of withdrawing being.  We are back to the unheard-of meditation of Alberto Caeiro, according to which “[b]eing does not give itself in the thought of being, for all thinking of being is in reality only the thinking of a thought” (8).[4]

            It is now possible to understand that the posited rupture of the poetico-philosophical suture is far from being an abjuration of poetry.  Poetic truth persists at the end of dianoia without being claimed by it.  And yet dianoia must not ban it.  But Plato did.  The core of the fourth essay I wish to examine concerns the insufficiency of the Platonic gesture of violence against the poets in The Republic for the configuration of philosophy in our present.  The fourth relation determines thought’s freedom not through the abjuration of poetic truth but rather through the opening of thought to the determinations of poetic truth in the Age of the Poets.  The consistency of philosophy must thus be understood as an acceptance of the radical inconsistency of objectless being.  Heidegger is said to have recoiled in the face of it, towards the sacred of the first regime of the link between poetry and philosophy.  Badiou persists in philosophical de-sacralization while remaining faithful to poetic operations.  This is, I believe, the extent of the difference Badiou claims from Heidegger, which still retains Badiou in the Heideggerian wake and enables us to understand why the end of the Age of the Poets is a limited or restrained end, itself a philosophical operation through which philosophy opens itself again to its political and scientific and erotic conditions. 

            I think the fourth essay in the series, that is, “Philosophy and Poetry from the Vantage Point of the Unnameable,” points out the stakes for the futures of philosophy after the Heideggerian suture.

The Incalculable Wager

            Let me recap the list of poetic truths in the Age of the Poets, which forms a non-totalizing but epochal account of poetic destiny after the 20th century: pure objectless presentiality and a leap into the incalculable; the thought of the abolition of thinking within the poem for the sake of a liberation of exteriority;  the prohibition of the image, which always hides more than it reveals;  the affirmation of an irreconcilable and inconsistent multiplicity as unnameable being;  the active production of holes in signification, which amounts to a liberation of language from the constraints of inscription; and the surrender of a sense of oriented history.   If reflection on what is imperative about those truths determines philosophy, the ensuing philosophical reflection will be opposed to any kind of archeo-teleo-onto-theology.  It will be an an-archic philosophy without principles; it will suspend any positing of ends; it will understand being as the very void of ground; and it will not submit to any paternal sacredness or indeed to sacredness of any kind.  Beyond that, it will only affirm thought’s freedom to proceed to an order of singular, contingent, existential nomination.   Is that Badiou’s philosophy?  I believe it is. 

            If poetry bothers and disconcerts philosophy it is not simply because philosophy, a dianoetic process which believes in the transparency of the matheme and wants to get as close to it as possible, abhors “the metaphorical obscurity of the poem” (48).  In particular the poetry of the time of the poetico-philosophical suture, as we have seen and Badiou now repeats, “identifies itself as thought.  It is not only the effectiveness of a form of thinking proffered in the flesh of words; it is also the set of operations by which this thinking thinks itself” (49).  The poetry of the Age of the Poets has therefore usurped some of the functions of philosophy (since “philosophy . . . has no other stakes but to think thinking, to identify thought as the thinking of thinking,” 48).  Double jeopardy: if poetry is also the thought of thought, then philosophy must include poetry into its purview, because philosophy is the thinking of thinking, therefore also the thinking of the thinking of the thinking.  Poetry has lodged deep into philosophy, in ways that are now more pervasive than they presumably were in Platonic times.  Philosophy has no choice but to deal with it, short of merely disavowing it as a condition of itself. 

            But there is another problem: mathematics, the model science, the paradigm of philosophy’s dianoetic method, has evolved into a erratic situation, has been traversed, after Cantor, Gödel, and Cohen, by a principle of errancy “on which it cannot put a measure” (50).  Mathematics and poetry have begun to move towards each other, very much against the Platonic injunction of radical distance.  “At the same time that the poem arrives at the poetic thought of the thinking that it is, the matheme organizes itself around a point of flight in which the real appears as the impasse of all formalization” (50).  Both poetry and mathematics, as conditions of philosophy, find their contemporary abyssal ground, are de-grounded, by a point of unnameability that is at the same time their power and their powerlessness: “any truth stumbles upon the rock of its own singularity, and only there can it be announced, as powerlessness, that there is a truth” (54).  This stumbling block is for Badiou to be named as the unnameable (54), since truth can, neither in poetry nor in mathematics, force its nomination.  The mathematical unnameable is consistency, just as the poetic unnameable is power.  Both are simultaneously done and undone in unnameability as nomination.  And this is Badiou’s move: “philosophy will place itself under the double condition of the poem and the matheme, both from the side of their power of veridiction and from the side of their powerlessness, or their unnameable” (57).  Finally, against Plato, Badiou must choose, and paradoxically as the very condition of his exit from the Age of the Poets, to “welcome the poem in our midst, because it keeps us from supposing that the singularity of a thought can be replaced by the thought of this thought” (58). 

            This final appeal to the singularity, contingency, and inconsistency of thought, from which alone a word, in the form of a wager, can be issued towards the incalculable—for me, it means that philosophy has now become open to thought’s freedom, which is the rare freedom of existence. 

Alberto Moreiras

Texas A&M University

Works Cited

Badiou, Alain.  The Age of the Poets and Other Writings on Twentieth Century Poetry and Prose.

Translated by Bruno Bosteels.  With an Introduction by Emily Apter and Bruno Bosteels.  London: Verso, 2014.

—.  Heidegger.  L’être 3.  Figure du retrait. 1986-1987. Paris: Fayard, 2015. 

—. Nietzsche.  L’antiphilosophie 1. 1992-1993.  Paris: Fayard, 2015.

—. Parménide.  L’être 1.  Figure ontologique.  1985-1986. Paris: Fayard, 2014.

—.  Que pense le poème?  Caen: Nous, 2016. 

Caeiro, Alberto and Timoteo Moreira.  Infracendencia.  Inéditos del entorno (¿póstumo?) de

Fernando Pessoa.  Notas y transcripción de Alberto Moreiras.  With an Introduction by Rodolfo Ortiz.  With a Postface and Notes by Yoandy Cabrera.  Vancouver: La Mariposa Mundial, 2020.

Lacoue-Labarthe, Philippe.  Heidegger and the Politics of Poetry.  Translated with an

 Introduction by Jeff Fort.  Chicago: U of Illinois P, 2007.

Lyon, James K. Paul Celan & Martin Heidegger.  An Unresolved Conversation 1951-1970.

Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2006.

Pessoa, Fernando.  Obra complete de Alberto Caeiro.  Edited by Jerónimo Pizarro and Patricio

 Ferrari.  Lisbon: Tinta da China, 2019.


[1]  See Lyons, Paul Celan & Martin Heidegger, for a careful and fairly complete account of the relationship between the poet and the philosopher. 

[2]  Badiou makes a big deal of the importance of Nietzsche’s relationship with Wagner to shape Nietzsche’s process of philosophical production and existential reflection.  In fact, for Badiou the impossibility of saving the Wagner relation made Nietzsche’s antiphilosophical trip rather desperate and led to a particular kind of impasse.  Badiou, Nietzsche, particularly 233-311.

[3]  On the “mytheme” see Lacoue-Labarthe, Heidegger and the Politics of Poetry, in particular “Prologue: Heidegger’s Onto-Mythology,” 11, and “Poetry, Philosophy, Politics,” where Lacoue-Labarthe engages Badiou’s notion of the poetico-philosophical suture (18-37).   Badiou also engages with the Parmenidean poem and with Plato’s Parmenides in a number of seminars, but let me refer in particular to the 1986-1987 seminar on Heidegger, Heidegger, where Badiou also discusses at length Heidegger’s relationship to poetry and rehearses his own notion of the poetico-philosophical suture.  See in particular on Parmenidean issues and the exit from Parmenides’s apagogic reasoning 179-216.  See also of course the 1985-1986 seminar on Parmenides, Parménide

[4]  See on this the literary hoax or semi-hoax perpetrated by Yoandy Cabrera, Rodolfo Ortiz and myself, which nevertheless includes earnest reflection on Alberto Caeiro’s poetry and profile: Caeiro and Moreira, Infracendencia.   See for Caeiro, Fernando Pessoa, Obra Completa de Alberto Caeiro.

A Note on Alain Badiou’s “The Question of Being Today.”

Compared to some Badiouans, I am not a Badiouan—or I am, but I prefer not to compare.  Of all contemporary thinkers, I think Badiou offers the most promise, and a lot of that promise comes in the seminars, which are only now being published, and only some of which have been translated.  From the position I favor, which is that of an antiphilosophy committed to finding resources in thought for a general critique of the metaphysical apparatus that would enable a change in one’s conditions of life (including of course political conditions), I have been finding Badiou, of late, more useful than, say, Deleuze, or even Derrida.   I would even contest Badiou’s own claims still to be a metaphysician.  He ain’t a metaphysician, or not primarily, or he is a metaphysician without metaphysics, which is a curious way of being one.  And I would even claim that he is not primarily a political thinker—he is a political thinker, but secondarily so.  I would posit that his primary task, more or less self-assigned, or rather, encountered, is still within the Nietzschean-Heideggerian remit: to destroy the history of metaphysics in order to clear the ground for a new position of thought connected to existence. 

I cannot go into it in this short note, but let me say that Badiou’s thought has been done a disservice by the Badiouans who read him primarily as a thinker of the political subject.  Of course it was under that false determination that Badiou had his moment of glory in United States academic circles a few years ago.  But everything passes, and today mentioning Badiou in most circles only makes one gain mostly bad looks and condescension.  This is precisely the reason why I think the time to read Badiou is now. 

My purpose here is to present the short essay entitled “The Question of Being Today,” and for a specific reason.  The essay, first published in 1998, is included in Badiou’s Theoretical Writings (Ray Brassier and Alberto Toscano eds., London: Continuum, 2004, 39-48).   My reason is my recent involvement in conversations where, quite surprisingly, I have witnessed folks from whose theoretical trajectory something else could be expected engage in what we could call, following Badiou, a “destinal constraint” under the sign, or the power, of the One.  These folks—is it the Zeitgeist?—want to be saved, perhaps ultimately from themselves, and they think they want to recover, or have already recovered, belief as well as faith in a saving power, a saving reversal.  But it is time to bring back old Hölderlin’s line about the sobriety of thought and claim that there is and there will be no saving reversal, or if there is to be one it will not come as a result of positions taken in thought, even if those positions make a big deal of taking thought into praxis, politicizing everything, and so forth. 

Of course Badiou himself attributes the commitment to a saving reversal to Heideggerianism.  He might be right as far as Heideggerianism goes, that is, in terms of the average Heideggerian out there, but I think Heidegger’s thought can be used today, as Badiou himself does, in quite a different direction.  Heidegger is after all the one who denounced metaphysics as “the commandeering of philosophy by the one” (40), which is Badiou’s starting point.  This is his critique, however: “can one undo this bond between being and the one, break with the one’s metaphysical domination of being, without thereby ensnaring oneself in Heidegger’s destinal apparatus, without handing thinking over to the unfounded promise of a saving reversal?  For in Heidegger himself the characterization of metaphysics as history of being is inseparable from a proclamation whose ultimate expression . . . is that ‘only a God can save us’” (40).  But this is not entirely fair.   First of all, Heidegger did not think any god would save us—not at all.  And, second, there is in Heidegger no promise of a saving reversal.  The most that can be said is that he posited the possibility that the last epoch of metaphysics, in its very exhaustion, might show on its reverse side a way out.  He quoted Hölderlin on “the saving power” that comes with danger, but it is a quotation, for god’s sake, and its metaphorics do not belong to Heidegger. 

The way out is what Badiou himself is searching for, and he thinks he can find it, for philosophy, in one of its conditions, namely, mathematics in its Cantorian and post-Cantorian form, since mathematics offers the example of a pure “ontology” of the “multiple-without-oneness” (41).  The point is then to pursue a philosophy based on the renunciation of the power of the one, on the renunciation of any hermeneutical Versammlung, not necessarily for the sake of “dissemination” in the Derridean sense, rather for the sake of getting rid of the “historial constraint of ontotheology” (41). 

Badiou accepts the effects of ontotheological metaphysics as diagnosed by Heidegger in, say, Introduction to Metaphysics (in some other place he actually linked them to the conclusions Marx and Engels reach in The Communist Manifesto), namely, “the flight of the gods, the destruction of the Earth, the vulgarization of man, the preponderance of the mediocre” (40).  And Badiou finds in those very effects a “saving” power as well: “Thus the flight of the gods is also the beneficial event of men’s taking-leave of them; the destruction of the Earth is also the conversion that renders it amenable to active thinking; the vulgarization of man is also the egalitarian irruption of the masses onto the stage of history; and the preponderance of the mediocre is also the dense lustre of what Mallarmé called ‘restrained action’” (40).  Philosophy’s task, in order to produce whatever philosophy can produce in the way of “saving” or beneficial effects, goes for Badiou through thinking “the immemorial attempt to subtract being from the grip of the one” (40).  So, yes, one could say that this is an announcement of a metaphysics of subtraction over against any metaphysics of presence.  But it would be wrong, because subtraction does not found a metaphysics, it rather destroys it, and because presence, perhaps attributable partly to Heidegger and partly to Heideggerians, is certainly not the only conclusion one can derive from Heideggerian thought (see on this Derrida’s “Ousia and Gramme: Note on a Note to Being and Time”).  I think it is perfectly possible to accept subtraction as an extremely effective way into the destruction of any metaphysics of presence, always linked to the presenting of the one, and I think such a procedure of thought is not alien, certainly not incompatible, with a Heideggerian inheritance. 

Badiou’s essay goes on into a fascinating reading of Plato’s correction to Parmenides on the notion that only being is, that being is the one, and that the one can only be–the one is not, and what about it?–, which he has also discussed in several of his seminars, and then on to examine the impossibility for any definition of the multiple (“definition is the linguistic way of establishing the predominance of the entity,” 43), as testified by Lucretius and then by axiomatic, mathematical thought.   There is no particular reason for me to summarize it, so I will only say that in mathematical ontology, which is not philosophy, only a condition of philosophy, Badiou finds the necessary resource to move away from destinal constraints into a freedom of thought which is the task of philosophy, moreover the task of philosophy in the present.  Subtractive thought is primarily an-archic thought: “once ontology embraces . . . a thinking of pure inconsistent multiplicity, it has to abandon every appeal to principles.  And conversely, . . . every attempt to establish a principle prevents the multiple from being exhibited exclusively in accordance with the immanence of its multiplicity,” 45). 

How is Badiou’s thought then inconsistent with the Heideggerian inheritance, which is also the Nietzschean inheritance?  This is Badiou:

Thought—albeit at the price of the inexplicit or of the impotence of nominations—tears itself from everything that still ties it to the commonplace, to generality, which is the root of its own metaphysical temptation.  And it is in this tearing away that I perceive thought’s freedom with regard to its destinal constraint, what could be called its metaphysical tendency. (44-45)

But, of course, this is a Heideggerianism with a bite, and not the pious one of those who are still awaiting the salvific arrival of the god.  To my mind, it is the only Heideggerianism that matters. 

An Alternative Reading of the Ends of Ereignis

(For reasons of protocol, and to the extent the following notes are part of a correspondence, I will refrain from naming my interlocutor. If the interlocutor wishes to continue the conversation here, however, that would be great and most welcome. I think the issue–not my position or my interlocutor’s, significant and important as the latter may be–is urgent enough to make it somewhat public, or at least generally available.)

X, as promised, I read your text, which I liked very much.  I think you make a very persuasive case, the best I have seen, on Ereignis, in particular by taking what we may call the Sheehan interpretation (we must become who we are, and Eignung, dynamis, propriation belong to physis in general, that is, to plants and animals, and then to the human being), and connecting it beautifully to history, and to the historical event without which there would be no process of propriation, since only history—temporal events in the world– can trigger it. This is ultimately the reason why Heidegger decided to keep Ereignis, as opposed to Ereignung, for instance, as his primary word, his singulare tantum. The historical connection is essential, a proper political structuration of history opens up potentially in it, and you may be right that an entire “philosophy of history” can also be derived from it, and yet, as you say, “appropriation” has to do with the singular coming into one’s own of Da-sein, which is a second temporal register. But how do we understand the latter? Is it just a matter of reestablishing the full subjectivation of the thinker? Is appropriation full hermeneutical retrieval? I think it is something else, and precisely not that. At this point I may concede, if you insist, that you are right regarding Heidegger’s own self-interpretation regarding his notion, but only because even if that were the case I would still want to take things in a different direction.

Towards the beginning of the text you say, certainly quoting Heidegger, that with Ereignis we will no longer be thinking within the Greek inheritance.   This seems a bit counterintuitive to me on two grounds.   First, because of the association you make with Parmenides’ to auto noein kai einai (thinking and being are the same), and also with Heraclitus’ homologein, both of which words have to do with the pursuit of the relation of being to the human and viceversa.  And, second, given the Pindaric imperative about becoming who one is, which you also mention briefly in essay.  What is then so specifically un-Greek about an understanding of Ereignis as the process of appropriation when you place it in that triple context (Parmenides, Heraclitus, Pindar)?  I think your argument has to do with Heidegger’s insistence that appropriation, that is, Ereignis, is to be understood in the post-subjective, phenomenological way that obviously was not available to the Greeks, since they had not been exposed to our history.  In other words, you claim that Ereignis, understood as you understand it, belongs strictly within what we could call the end times of metaphysics, as a preparation for the second inception in the Heideggerian sense.  I would contend, however, that in your interpretation Ereignis still comes through as a Greek concept, hence not likely to facilitate a second inception. In order for it to be properly conceptualized as “outside the Greek inheritance” I believe something else, a supplement in interpretation, or a torsion in the very notion of interpretation itself, is needed.

In order to provide a reference you yourself do not provide, we could also appeal to the 1929-30 seminar on world, finitude, and solitude, and the references there to “awakening to a closedness,” which is proper to Da-sein and not the animal and marks for Heidegger the very site of Da-sein, to the extent that Da-sein is no longer animal rationale, as it is to circumscribed in its Ex-istence in strict difference to animal resources as Heidegger understands them.  This (human) awakening to a closedness, which is an awakening precisely not to any fullness of being but to the experience of the oblivion of being as such, is an awakening, hence an activation, of the appropriation process, always latent in any case, since it is a general human pre-dis/position, but only rarely acted upon.  And things open up and the modern subject is left behind, and there is a promise in it: we must become who we are, as Nietzsche wanted us to. In any case, I think it can be said that this intuition, in spite of a possible Aristotelian antecedent which is mostly implicit, true enough, would be historically new, in the post-Nietzschean, Heideggerian reading, but I am not sure it can be said that it is somehow outside the Greek inheritance.  

Just to dwell on that for a moment: when you bring up the 1928 seminar on the concept of time and the notion of being-towards-its-own-being, a clear forerunner of Ereignis as appropriation, how can we not think of Heraclitus’s ankhibasie and what Heidegger makes of it in Conversations on a Country Path?  Yes, the identification of thinking and being, the old Parmenidean word, is not really an identification.  There is a gap between thinking and being, without which appropriation would not need to take place.  Without the gap appropriation would be always already fully served. And the gap is unfillable and it cannot be brought to a close.  The relationship between thinking and being, or between the human and being, is not a relation of identity—it is rather, as you put it, a relationship of “belonging together,” a Bezug not a Verhaltnis. Asymptotic, as Tom Sheehan puts it. But, again, how is this not at least prefigured in Greek thought?

You constantly appeal to hermeneutics and how to best enter the hermeneutic circle, which I agree is an important issue in Being and Time. In my opinion, however, the “derangement” (Verrückung) of the human’s relationship to being at the end of metaphysics, that is, at the end of the metaphysical epoch, which Heidegger announces in the late 1930s, is precisely a displacement from meaningfulness as such.  Let me put it this way: the structure of meaningfulness described in Being and Time is not to be denied, as it constitutes our world, but it also constitutes the world of “metaphysical humanity” as such.  The Ausgesetzheit, the breakdown in expectations that takes place in the ontological event preparing the second inception, which is an event of historical “derangement,” is not to be conceptualized—just my opinion—in terms of meaning primarily.  In a sense, it would primarily be a destruction of hermeneutics, a destruction of the meaningfulness apparatus of “metaphysical humanity”—this is the Verrückung.  So the Einkehr, the entry that awaits us in the process of appropriation is an Einkehr into the truth of being, and not into a fuller, more complete, renewed structure of significance.  The structure of significance would be placed under erasure, crossed out, like Seyn in the essay Over the Line from the 1950s. What would this mean?

To put it bluntly, appropriation would be an appropriation into truth (concealment/unconcealment, without dissimulation) rather than an appropriation into meaning.  I think this is decisive. The thought is not alien to you. You come very close to it a couple of times, for instance, when you point out that truth is not just present-ed meaning but rather the interplay of concealment and unconcealment, which preempts any kind of fullness of meaning (and rather prompts errancy, even if it is an assumed and free errancy)  Also when you talk about the “abyssal dimension,” which in my opinion is the rupture of the hermeneutical circle.  The notion of Verhaltnis, restraint, which Heidegger describes all too briefly and cryptically in Contributions as the fundamental disposition of the thinker at the epochal end of metaphysics, has a lot to do with this in my opinion. Restraint is the necessary relation to the errant truth.  But I think you recoil from all that if I am right that the final position you take is substantially: “one’s life becomes hermeneutical, hence recollective as well as forward-looking.” You appeal with it to a full pleroma of sense, which appropriation could never provide except metaphysically.

My reference here is Lacanian analysis and the notion of truth that emerges through it.  There are only “true fictions,” there is no such a thing as full recollection, full meaningfulness, except as delusion.  But realizing that, and furthermore dwelling in the very gap between private grammars and collective grammars—that is the moment of the analytic act as such: a form of “traversing the fantasy,” which is a form of truth that can no longer be restricted to the region of true fictions. The latter is the hermeneutical region.   In the realm of “true fictions,” the realm of meaningful interpretation, there can be no second inception: we are still within metaphysics.

Gedächtnis, another key Heideggerian word, as memory could precisely be the memory of the disruption always and in every case, the memory of the “fundamental unknowability” that leads us at most towards a radically paradoxical “hermeneutical retrieval,” which is the hermeneutical retrieval not of signification but of the breakdown of signification.  This is the im-memorial as such. One lives there.  And, for me, that is the “excess,” the radical point of non-measure between being and thinking that organizes the Bezug between the two.  This is what I would call, perhaps, un-Greek.

I agree with everything else in your brilliant essay but, roughly, that would be my preferred direction in the end, in terms of thinking and pursuing “appropriation.” It does not matter to me so much whether this is to be so with or perhaps beyond Heidegger. I do not know.  But I think it is still very much “within the Heideggerian inheritance.” 

Thank you so much for your brilliant text!

The Heroic Machination Device for Critical Writing.

One of the perhaps minor consequences of the ongoing devaluation at the symbolic  and not only the practical level of the academic humanities, specifically in the literary and cultural studies fields, in art, in film, perhaps also in non-analytic philosophy, is that we have allowed the use of the misnomer “research,” taken from other fields of inquiry, to stand in for our intellectual activity.  But research is for most of us a subsidiary activity.  Perhaps there always have been some hard-core philologists whose hermeneutic practice could more precisely be called research in the archival and nowadays mostly digital dust, but for a great deal of us it is the alternative notion of “writing” that commands and should command our attention—writing and thought, even if the latter is rarer.  Surely writing requires some research, because most writing in the literary and cultural studies field, perhaps also in non-analytic philosophy, is critico-exegetic, therefore based on commentary of other texts that must be found and selected and analysed.  And then of course what others have said about those very texts, or about similar texts, must be found out and considered.  But, if we chose to be true to ourselves, we should admit that we do less and less of that secondary study nowadays.  At any rate, all of that activity is for us, thank god, I am not complaining, at least in the best of cases, subsidiary and derivative in terms of our goals, or in terms of what our goals should be.  In principle we aim to say something that cannot be reduced to research, because the truths we seek, whatever content we give to that word, are not factical truths.  No object research will exhaust them: it can only set the conditions for them.  And they are conditions for which any specific piece of research is to an extent replaceable. 

            I wonder whether, in the face of the ongoing radical delegitimation of writing as an academic pursuit, it is perhaps time to revise our own presuppositions and to take a second look at what the institution (in the wider sense) seems to expect or to demand of us, even if in an increasingly derisive manner.  I suppose it is not in our interest to claim that most academic writing is simply subservient to the play of ideology.  It is common, nevertheless, to plan and then deploy our writing at the service of some social opinion or other, at times a hegemonic one, at times counterhegemonic.  We write—the field writes—for the most part in order to confirm ideological opinion, whether it is the majoritarian one or the one that is itself the consequence of some prior critical rejection of the majoritarian perspective.  In either case, however, our writing remains confined to the procedure of following, and following up on, ideological production.  But it is only deluded to think that such particular confinement might move by itself into the terrain of heroic machination.  If we do seek to be true to ourselves, we should admit that some form of heroic machination is the real motor of our writing activity, and the institutional calls for “social impact” and “social relevance” are threatening to make that behavior overwhelmingly present.  The writer sets out, under or within the heroic machination device, to triumph out there, to be hailed by the people, or by some sector of the people.  The writer deludedly puts on the mask of the hero—the hero of the majority, the one who will confirm social presuppositions, or the hero of the oppositional party, the denouncer, the one who has some potent social message to impart in order to rescue the masses from their somnambulistic abyss.  But the masses could not care less.  The writer falls short.  And how could it not be so?

            I seek to claim, say, that the conservative right is wrong and has always been wrong in its interpretation of the symbolic importance of Chicana fiction; or I claim that the hapless left continues to make unfair mistakes in its understanding of the biased sexual identifications of Latin American boom writers.  Well, boring as all of that normally is, the fallen industry of critical production in literary and film studies, in cultural studies and philosophy, thrives on those distinctions and, what is worse, or much worse, can rarely move past them.  And when it does, it finds hostile reproach or deadening silence.  Critico-exegetic discourse today follows ideological lines under the pretext of politicization, as if the latter value were all that can be adduced, and precisely in terms of the social relevance and impact so cherished by our thoroughly hypocritical administrations and state legislatures.  As if politicization were one way or another all that academic writing can do, all that merits doing.   But then of course it is forgotten to what utterly dialectical extent the aim of total politicization necessarily depoliticizes and ends up producing mere undistinguishable white noise and static chatter.  Academic writing in the literary and cultural studies fields, also in film studies and philosophy, also in other disciplines, is gambling at its lethal risk with its conversion into white academic noise and static chatter, thus indirectly helping the life mission of our current administrators to sink writerly reflection into what would then be its well-deserved grave.   

            Is it not time to rescue writing from its self-created doldrums?  I remember when, some years ago, a well-known and generally better-disliked conservative critic thought that his moment of glory had arrived when somebody in the LASA executive committee made the mistake of sending him an invitation to speak about his latest book at the LASA convention, since LASA was for that critic nothing but a vipers’ nest of liberal leftism.  The thought he had reached the pinnacle and acme of his career as he triumphed over his enemies was of course outright laughable.  And he has never again been seen at LASA.  But let me use him as an example of what I am calling the heroic-machination device as the main motor for critical writing today.

            What is it to me, or to you, that many of your colleagues find that you contribute to their social and political opinions?  Or even that they find themselves so perplexed by your cunning that they have no choice but to act as if they shared them or could countenance them?  Is that really the mark of glory and prestige in our career fields?  If we were to be true to ourselves, I am afraid, we would have to admit that it is—primarily and for the most part.  This is the way careers are made, and there is no other.  In our literary and cultural fields, etc.  So perhaps after all a little revision of what it is we do and aim to do when we write is in order.  We do not have to internalize the bogus parameters of our administrators, who are themselves the parrots and cockatoos of other administrators; indeed, it is only because we do internalize them that they succeed in their banally destructive momentum—which will cease being banal only when we discover that it is already too late to put an end to them.  In the meantime we write as if social relevance and impact were what mattered, which is certainly the best way of turning our writing into a publicity stunt, of prostituting it, and of cancelling it out, and of making sure it will never have any possible impact whatsoever, whatever some hapless dean committees and funding agencies out there seem to think (but they don´t think, they just follow orders.)

            God knows, I am not calling for any depoliticization of critical writing.  Much to the contrary—I am writing this tirade under the desperation prompted in me by a number of articles sent to me for review over the summer—I say that the university, at least in the humanities, is today much less political than it ever has been, and this right at the moment when its employees think of themselves at their most political, because both faculty and graduate students claim, now more than ever, that they cannot and will not see anything beyond the political issue that is calling for an opinion, because there is nothing to be seen other than political opinionating.  So political opinionating, at times frank and outright, but most of the time barely disguised as (inadequate, trivial) research, is all they can and will come up with.  For the sake of their minor heroic machinations, redescribed of course as major contributions to the enlightenment of a world spirit that will not arise from its cold ashes.  But there is no foam of the infinite in our contemporary modalities of critical writing, which are at the end of the day a symptomatic manifestation of a massive shrinking of existential experience.  Do we still think, will we allow ourselves still to think, from there, that we could conceivably have anything worthwhile to teach our students? 

Auto-Theory

What is auto-theory? The notion comes up, but is only named, and perhaps enacted in some secret place between the lines of the text, in Frank Wilderson’s Afropessimism. I would claim it is a practice in the marrano register. Through double exclusion the marrano is consigned to a radical non-productivity. Marrano productivity is always melancholy, because it always happens as the consequence of a disavowal: “you don’t want me, so want this,” they say improbably. Auto-theory, which depends also improbably on the friendship of wayward subjects (as Saidiya Hartman calls them), yes, it always takes two, three is better, is a practice of infrapolitical releasement leading nowhere except to unnameable jouissance. Which is better than nothing. It could be the contemporary name of (subaltern) happiness.

Naming Politics

In 1998 Alain Badiou published a short book entitled Of an Obscure Disaster.  On the End of the Truth of the State (Paris: Editions de l’Aube).  The book has been read as a confirmation of Badiou’s communist militancy, but I think it is fair to say it is both less and much more than that.  Its core is certainly not a sponsoring by any means of communism as a state practice nor is it a mere denunciation of the sophistry of the rule of law in capitalo-parliamentarist states, otherwise known as liberal democracies.  It is rather something else, which may probably be captured without abuse in the following five propositions:

  1. “The essence of politics is the emancipation of the collective, or again, the problem of the reign of liberty in infinite situations.  Now the infinity of situations, in which the destiny of collective thought is played out, is not commensurate either with the authority of the rule [of Law] or with the authority of a part, or a Party” (139 in the English edition, which is the second part of Can Politics Be Thought?, Bruno Bosteels transl. and ed., Durham: Duke UP, 2018). 
  • “There is no way of deciding politics in the framework of a preference for the law, which is only a (legitimate) statist preference.  The history of politics, made of decisions of thought and of risky collective engagement, is entirely different . . . from the history of the State” (140).
  • “The end of this monster, State communism, in its fall carries with it and takes the life out of all political subjectivity that would pretend, either under the revolutionary theme or under the theme of law, to solder the statist constraint onto the liberating universality” (140).
  • “The history of politics commences.  It barely commences.  The ruin of any statist presentation of the truth opens this commencement.  Everything remains to be invented . . .  The de-statification of the Truth remains for us a program of thought” (140).
  •  “Politics begins inasmuch as it is the effective thought-practice of the withering away of the State.  The point at which a thought subtracts itself from the State, inscribing this subtraction in being, makes the entire real of a politics.  And a political organization has no other end but that of ‘holding the step that was won’” (140-41).

Pages 139-41 in the English edition are the final pages of the essay, where all five propositions are found.  Those pages are not so much a “program of thought” as the announcement of a program, whose conditions are thought’s self-removal from its sophistical (relativist and skeptical) possibilities as well as from police despotism (embodied by Stalinism as the figure of the suture of philosophy to politics and of politics to philosophy—a definition which is food for thought: all reciprocal suturing of philosophy and politics finally falls under the Stalinist designation, there are many more Stalinist ideologues and police officers than we think out there).   Badiou clearly says, on the one hand, that the name “democracy” has been ruined in advance by its contemporary history, which links it to the Statist rule of Law and to sophistry in general.  And he prefers to preserve the name “communism” insofar as the name is or can be delinked from the monster of State communism, as proposition 3 confirms.   

But he also says this:

“What does “communist” signify in an absolute sense?  What is philosophy able to think under this name (philosophy under the condition of a politics)?  The egalitarian passion, the Idea of justice, the will to break with the compromises of the service of goods, the removal of egotism, the intolerance toward oppression, the wish to put an end to the State; the absolute preeminence of multiple presentation over representation; the tenaciously militant determination . . . the proposition of a singularity without predicate, an infinity without determination or immanent hierarchy, what I call the generic, which is—when the procedure is political—the ontological concept of democracy, or of communism, which is the same thing” (115)

So democracy and communism are the same thing, once delinked from their historical statist sutures.  “Rebellious [political] subjectivity,” he calls it at some other point (116).  The history of politics commences, or commences anew, as a history of rebellious political subjectivity, once historical events, or obscure events, obscure disasters, among which we must count the current state of the economy in or after the Coronavirus pandemic, have made it clear that the “entire real” of a politics begins in State subtraction, which primarily means: in a practice whose end-goal is not and cannot be the storming of the State, the acquisition of State power, any new statalization of life.  Politics begins, Badiou claims in proposition 5 above, in the “withering away of the State.”  And, then, yes, how can we think of it? What does that even mean?

If both “democracy” and “communism” are soiled names, names perhaps terminally contaminated by their statist subsumption, what is wrong with proposing an alternative name, which is also an alternative naming of the enigma of present and future emancipatory politics: posthegemony?  Posthegemony would then be that which philosophy is able to think in the withering away of the State: the name of an emancipation that abjures the acquisition of State power.

In concrete terms this means that a politics that “holds the step that was won” will enact a practice oriented neither toward the upholding and control of a system of rules whose very precondition is the market economy, or capitalism, nor the “privileged relationship to truth” of any particular subset of the social, whether the national(ist) citizen or the proletarian, much less the organic intellectuals and their minions.  Posthegemony does not aim to (putting itself in a position of) the management of the State.  It abjures both the sophistical relationship to the non-truth of the State and the despotic relationship to any “true State.”

Which does not mean it therefore gives up on any conceivable administration of the social.

De-statalizing the truth (of politics) is also de-substantializing it.  The truth of politics as emancipation is desubstantialized posthegemonic truth.  And there, as Badiou says, the history of politics “barely commences.”  And everything must be invented anew.