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Anodyneheavy: The Codification of Revolution

Anodyne lite has a wonderfully concise critique of what I take to be the Badioun-Zizek, perhaps Negri epistemo-revolution tactics. A brief sample, with which I in spirit and point agree:

Because insofar as our notions of what’s radical rely on rehashing a hypothesis that is haunted by the specter of colossal failure and violent abuse, grounded in a bygone era of industrial proliferation, humanism, and positivism, operating according to grandiose totalizing epistemologies that can find no purchase in praxis, and rife with unchallenged fetishism and essentialism, these ostensibly radical theories present absolutely no threat whatsoever to global capitalism.

For my part, I’m not even sure what revolutionary thinking is, or if I would want any part of it. I’m much less concerned with something being radically new, or radically radical, and much more drawn to that which is radically interesting. I’m not even sure that there is such a thing as “global capitalism” (or if any one knows what global capitalism is), other than one vast projection of a supposed series of alliances and principles of exchange that form some indominable (and evil) System. How about this: We look for a way to make peoples lives more meaningful.

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51 responses to “Anodyneheavy: The Codification of Revolution

  1. anodynelite March 29, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    More and more I think the supposed pieties of these people are more than just empty ritual, but they’re even a little disturbing. Do they really think it’s better when a central committee of bureaucrats orders all the killing rather than a somewhat larger group of oligarchs?

    Is this the best the Left can do?

  2. kvond March 29, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    What I found interesting about the interview of Badiou was the way that because it could not dive down into the scholastic jargon of philosophical authority it provided a kind of broad-brush picture. Badiou literally struck one who had a life-turning experience in ’68, and couldn’t stop talking about it. “The girl that got away.”

    I am a critic of all women (men) because some contingent woman (man) a long time ago f***ed me and really blew my mind. Viva the revolution. Let us be faithful to that woman (man), let us begin truth procedures! Let is purge the world of all who do not see how unique that moment in history was, what it embodied!

  3. kvond March 29, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    p.s. I do see the comparison to ritual. This is the mark of the Kantian Death circulation, that the “law” once founded needs to be repeated into infinity, without content or merit, the pure circulation of drive, grinding out the pathogens of “interest”.

  4. anodynelite March 29, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    If Badiou had at least said in that interview–“Yes, I am a communist. Communism is the way, and here’s why–” and given *some* sort of heuristic account of his thought, I would’ve thought it was a moderately successful interview. This would’ve knocked down the interviewer’s concern trolly tactics a peg or two, at least.

    I’m not completely averse to communist principles, not at all. A radical leveling off of values of the sort communists believe possible through common ownership of the means of production makes all kinds of sense to me.

    But Badiou, a pre-eminent thinker for the Left that defines itself in opposition to neo-liberalism, when pressed, and asked whether he identifies as a communist, could only reply by stammering that “the idea of communism is…”

    You can’t revolt using equivocations as maxims, that much I think is quite obvious.

  5. kvond March 29, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    Anodynelite: “I’m not completely averse to communist principles, not at all. A radical leveling off of values of the sort communists believe possible through common ownership of the means of production makes all kinds of sense to me.”

    Kvond: Perhaps I felt this way, or feel this way in some sense, but really what is at bottom of this “principle” is a sense that justice is composed of some kind of “equality of exchange”, that numerical evenness of distribution is the core of justice. Unfortunately, this mathematical sense of abstraction is core to Capitalist relations which regard “fairness” as abstract balancing of books. Making “labor” a value to be plugged into this mathematicization of the human, and having some architecture of forced equivalence, does nothing to correct or even enrich it. What is required are OTHER valuations, OTHER logics, to suppliment that of “equivalence of exchange”. As David Graeber points out, equivalence of exchange in many cultures is the mode of dealing with enemies, and marks the end of relationships.

  6. Pingback: More on teaching (social) theory « Dead Voles

  7. Carl March 30, 2009 at 12:02 am

    “Is this the best the Left can do?”

    Yes. Everything short of total transformation ends up being a variant of liberalism, and total transformation is either paralyzing or murderous.

  8. slawkenbergius March 30, 2009 at 1:47 am

    kvond, I have nothing to contribute, but I did want to say that I’m a very big fan of your recent posts, cafeteria trays and all. Hope you keep it up–there are still many red balloons that need deflating.

  9. anodynelite March 30, 2009 at 4:38 am

    The picture for this post is amazingly pointedly right on, btw.

  10. Dominic March 30, 2009 at 8:20 am

    Yah, I had a big bonfire last night. Books first, then people. You know the routine.

    I must say, it’s unerringly pleasant to have other people’s genocidal fantasies projected on to one. And such a novel experience for a leftist, too! Why, it even made me pause for a moment of reflection during the composition of my 50,000-line epic poem celebrating the accomplishments of Stalinism. I put in a little verse about the victims, just for you.

  11. kvond March 30, 2009 at 11:59 am

    Carl: “Yes. Everything short of total transformation ends up being a variant of liberalism, and total transformation is either paralyzing or murderous.”

    Kvond: Somehow, somewhere the Left got it in its head that its project was to take on the “total transformation” of the individual, and therefore society, as if it were taking over the ideological role of Religion, which it thought it had supplanted, instead of focusing on the healing and progressive advocacy of persons. It is not without coincidence that the latest version of Leftism philosophicallly finds its base in the “Born Againism” of St. Paul, offering “faith” alone as its ultimate virtue. Instead of “God” its “the people” (however Platonically abstract they may or may not be).

  12. kvond March 30, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    Slawkenbergius: “…there are still many red balloons that need deflating.”

    Kvond: I don’t know if you would realize this, but it was your extremely pessimistic comments about the University system several weeks back or more, I think at Mikhail’s site, which were what set me off thinking in this direction. It was painful to hear brilliant minds so distainful of the alma mater, the richness of mother, that begets them. Honestly, the biggest problem with the Left is the monastic system of text scriptoriums out of which it is born. I have no problem with red balloons, but perhaps something of a problem with the nature of the hot air used to inflate them.

    (At least I remember the comment being yours.)

  13. kvond March 30, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    Dom: “Why, it even made me pause for a moment of reflection during the composition of my 50,000-line epic poem celebrating the accomplishments of Stalinism. I put in a little verse about the victims, just for you.”

    Kvond: Excellent line. I like it. But as Badiou tells us in his latest interview, Stalinism was just an “experience” we had, not worthy of 50,000 lines, surely. They got a few things wrong, those guys. The Party and the State just wouldn’t wither away. Who would have thunk it?

    Now 50,000 lines on Hegel, that would be something. He is more than an experience we had. Something more of a bad dream of the Negation that doesn’t stop. Long live the End of History! You wouldn’t even have to include a verse on the victims! It is just one huge parade of Spirit (or, as one might like it, “truth procedures” heading toward the generic).

  14. kvond March 30, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    Anodynelite,

    Honestly, I have to confess that I wasn’t thinking of book burning which I don’t readily associate with the Left (though I certainly see your point), but perhaps of a general problematic of transforming matter into Spirit through heat and combustion (that trope, those dangers). But book burning is an interesting thought here, in the sense that the discourse of the Left that I have been speaking about is all about the text, and the privileged elite that read them. The Left does perform some kind of perverse book burning, in the sense that one pleasurably “burns” when one reads such onto-politics. What it is that is burning inside (is it thymos or is it banked eros/anger Sloterdijk wants to ask), and what is it burning for? A connection between obscure epistemologies and pornography of spirit I sense is here.

  15. Carl March 30, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    No worries Dominic, given that you reject both liberalism and the theoretics of the big fix, I had you in with paralysis. Which I respect. Camus doesn’t get us out of liberal humanism and doesn’t even ironize it all that much, as The Plague shows pretty well, although The Rebel is a good head fake.

    For those who won’t give up on the Goals with Capital Letters the other possibilities are radical aestheticism and/or fascism, which is where the youthfully socialist Mussolini ended up once he figured out the things you have.

  16. Duncan March 30, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Kvond – a few quick things.

    1) It’s entirely appropriate, imo, to critique an academic status-system that treats the production of texts as politically radical, and understands politics as the consumption of texts. For that reason, it’s silly to assimilate the left to the intellectual figures you‘re discussing. “The biggest problem with the Left is the monastic system of text scriptoriums out of which it is born.” But what makes you think that the left – rather than academic production – is born of text scriptoriums?

    2) “Making “labor” a value to be plugged into this mathematicization of the human, and having some architecture of forced equivalence, does nothing to correct or even enrich it. What is required are OTHER valuations, OTHER logics, to suppliment that of “equivalence of exchange”.”

    Which is one of the points of Marx’s critique. “Instead of the conservative motto, “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work!” [the working class] ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, “Abolition of the wages system!”“ This is an attack on capitalism’s logic of forced (and coercive, and necessarily spurious) equivalences – not an attempt to make the equivalences work better. There are debates to be had about that, for sure – but no sensible debate can get off the ground if you assimilate egalitarianism to mathematicization.

    3) “How about this: We look for a way to make peoples lives more meaningful.” Yes. But as some Maoist or other once said – meaning just ain’t in the head. Making lives more meaningful involves the transformation of society. Which is why it’s at best problematic, and surely apologist, to write stuff like – “The utopia is the here and now”

    For what it’s worth (and kind of pettily 😦 ) I also think that an anecdotal one-liner about cafeteria trays is a slender thread from which to suspend a critique of contemporary left politics. But the stuff above is what I wanted to say.

    Cheers…

  17. anodynelite March 30, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    When I’m talking about book burning, I’m talking about people trying to ban pornography.

    Because, as we’ve seen with the war on drugs, and other bans, they definitely get rid of the problem. Yes sirree.

  18. anodynelite March 30, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    People who say “egalitarianism” as if that’s some kind of given, as if that word alone is uncontested i meaning, as if that explains everything, and then retreats into cliches about “the collective” being the Real of the social aren’t really doing Marxism any favors either.

  19. Carl March 30, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    Right. However as I understand Foucault, the point is not to get rid of the problem but to create it, and in doing so turn it into an occasion for discipline. Every transgression is then an affirmation of the discursive power of the state. (Or did I just shade into Althusser there?)

    Duncan, you’re right! But we can’t get there from here, and when we try, Black Book of Communism. Is there a point where the old movement rhetoric of renegade this and apologist that collapses into an apologetics of its own?

  20. anodynelite March 30, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    I love how people who have repeatedly and explicitly endorsed violence as a politically and morally legitimate means of revolution immediately back down when anyone questions them and, of course, try to make it look like some kind of “projection”…

    Oh yes, all of those glib comments about who you’re going to “re-educate through labor” “come the revolution” are so witty. The pictures of people being beheaded, the constant insinuations of future violent upheaval being led by your movement. The appeals to Ulrike Meinhof.

    At least if you actually went and Timothy McVeighed something, I might take you all seriously. Until then, you’re going to strike me as worst kind of numbskulls.

  21. anodynelite March 30, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    Speaking of Foucault I just ordered The Hermeneutics of the Subject…

  22. kvond March 30, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    Duncan, thanks for your thoughts.

    Duncan: “But what makes you think that the left – rather than academic production – is born of text scriptoriums?”

    Kvond: Why is this an either/or. Clearly both, the arcane academic disourse of the Left, and academic production itself in the wider view, are born out of such text scriptoriums. The question is, when professors of the Left act primarily as text producers, one has to keep in mind the full nature of the discourse they are supporting, and the readership they look to address.

    Duncan: “There are debates to be had about that, for sure – but no sensible debate can get off the ground if you assimilate egalitarianism to mathematicization.”

    Kvond: Which is ultimately why the primary differential of “use value” and “surplus value” and its mathematical basis of equations of exchange, is mistaken as a groundwork for universal justice, at least in my opinion. The premise is that there is some kind of perversion of an equivalance of exchange that keeps society from being just. This traces itself back to a mythological conception of original exchange, the more or less natural form of bartering, and the perversity of monetary abstraction. All human action is not that of “exchange” to be measured by equivalencies.

    Duncan: ” But as some Maoist or other once said – meaning just ain’t in the head. Making lives more meaningful involves the transformation of society.”

    Kvond: In case you haven’t noticed, society is and has been under radical transformation for the past 50 years, even 10 years. The question is, does such transformation have to be guided by the Party, those theory-blessed individuals who know better, and can grant meaningfulness to the New Order.

    Duncan: “I also think that an anecdotal one-liner about cafeteria trays is a slender thread from which to suspend a critique of contemporary left politics.”

    Kvond: Two things. The first is that the “anecdote” was culled from nearly 50 years of witness of a professor (who had social justice leanings as far as I could tell) at one of the more Leftist colleges in America. It was yes, a personal reflection, but it was not “Hey, those Leftists left their trays around today”. As I pointed out, it was not meant to bash Leftists, but rather to cite a specific tendency in a specific institution, with clue to perhaps an inherent internal contradiction in the ethical authority of their discourse. Let’s put it this way, it would be the equivalent of someone working in a Christian College and noticing that the most born-again and “committed” professors were those that exhibited the least among them, a Christian love to others. It would be something worth noting.

    Secondly. It was not from this thread that my critique is suspended. This is a blog, and it was something that came to mind when thinking about the general detachment from actual persons and situations that Leftist academic discourse is marked by. It proves, at least in my mind, symptomatic of the fact that what Leftist text producers are doing when they theorize and lecture is something other than simply helping the oppressed and exploited. Perhaps something that has almost nothing to do with such “help”.

  23. kvond March 30, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    AL: “When I’m talking about book burning, I’m talking about people trying to ban pornography.”

    Kvond: Yes, I understand. I just wasn’t thinking of it, but it is always a tendency of utopian and universalizing discourses.

  24. slawkenbergius March 30, 2009 at 8:04 pm

    I’m glad I could provide the impetus! For me, though, it’s not the scriptoria themselves that constitute the problem. I like scriptoria, and I’m hoping to find a shady spot in one of them once I get my PhD (even if I’m not bullish on their future prospects). What I don’t like is the fatuous pretense that the scriptoria operate as some kind of node of revolutionary or “really revolutionary” thought. Robert Anton Wilson has a line in Illuminatus:

    “All the militant radicals in your crowd ever do is take out the diagram of the Molotov cocktail that they carefully clipped from the New York Review of Books, hang it on the bathroom door, and jack off in connection with it.”

  25. Duncan March 31, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    Kvond, thanks for responding. From the top…

    “Clearly both, the arcane academic disourse of the Left, and academic production itself in the wider view, are born out of such text scriptoriums. The question is, when professors of the Left act primarily as text producers, one has to keep in mind the full nature of the discourse they are supporting, and the readership they look to address.”

    I agree with the latter entirely. My point was just that the left =/= the academic left. I‘m concerned about a slide from a critique of the academic left based on the conditions of production of its textual output (as it were), to a critique of left politics more generally. If all you have in mind is the former, fine – but I don’t think it’s legitimate to treat left academics – or a specific subset of left academics – as the exemplars of the left in general. To do so seems to me, in fact, to partake of some of the self-validating intellectual hermeticism you criticise. Badiou may think that a new philosophical concept of communism must be forged in the ivory towers’ smithy in order to ground political practice. (He may not think this – I haven’t read much of his stuff – but that’s an impression I’ve picked up from what little I’ve seen.) I’d imagine that most people who identify or can be identified as on the left would disagree.

    Kvond: “Which is ultimately why the primary differential of “use value” and “surplus value” and its mathematical basis of equations of exchange, is mistaken as a groundwork for universal justice, at least in my opinion. The premise is that there is some kind of perversion of an equivalance of exchange that keeps society from being just. This traces itself back to a mythological conception of original exchange, the more or less natural form of bartering, and the perversity of monetary abstraction. All human action is not that of “exchange” to be measured by equivalencies.”

    I agree with this too – though I think we disagree about how much left thinking it applies to. There are prominent strands of Marxist theory that can accurately be characterised, and criticised, this way, I believe. I don’t think it’s the dominant premise of left politics – and, fwiw, I don’t believe Marx himself does this. The surplus value stuff in Capital is not, on my read at least, intended as the foundational theory for a new society – it’s meant to be descriptive of capitalist social relations, which are based, in part, on systems of equivalence. The question of what normative criteria we should attend to in attempts at political change is another matter.

    “In case you haven’t noticed, society is and has been under radical transformation for the past 50 years, even 10 years.”

    Sure it has – capitalism is a self-transforming system. We’re going through a big transformation now…. When I refer to transforming society, I don’t mean that capitalist society is static – I mean its transformations have a specific character, which is open for political contestation.

    “The question is, does such transformation have to be guided by the Party, those theory-blessed individuals who know better, and can grant meaningfulness to the New Order.”

    No. The question is whether we’re in fact faced with a choice between the Party – which is generally understood as totalitarian command-economy violence – and the (relatively) decentralised violence of capitalism. We’re told that this is the choice – that capitalism may be brutal, but the alternative is Stalin, Yezhov, a shadow of a smile passing across what was once her face. Where this binary choice comes from, who consumes this discourse, what pleasures it gives and what pains it ameliorates (by diminishing the painful sense that things could be other and better) – these are also questions to keep in mind, as we trace textual and discursive effects.

    On the trays thing… I should never have brought it up. Apologies.

  26. slawkenbergius March 31, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Duncan, everything you say is true–but it’s entirely without significance unless you can describe what exactly you mean by “political contestation,” and how it can function as a way of getting there from here.

    a shadow of a smile passing across what was once her face

    I applaud the allusion!

  27. kvond April 1, 2009 at 10:14 am

    Duncan,

    All good thoughts. You know, when you write a blog of the abstract type, your posts take on an unusual method of continituity. At least for me they are part of a process of self-exploration, of drawing out the threads of past written and unwritten posts and semi-papers. Because of this sometimes only those who have been following closely over time understand the nature of a point being made at any one point in time, and sometimes not even they.

    To feel you and others in, in this case my comments about the Left were really specific to the Academic Left. They were born out of probably Dominic’s rather ludicrous engagements with Anodynelite over sex work and feminism which reveal almost no real world connections with the kinds of persons he thought he was advocating for with his Badiouian theorizations, and then also from the painfully incoherent Badiou Hardtalk interview itself. Now these two events are not enough to launch an entire critique of the academic Left, but they touched deep-seated discomfort with this kind of discourse. As I think about it, there seems to be a rather textual, really fetishistic, flavor to the moral foot and hand holds these kinds of persons take. Its not so much upsetting as nearly farcical that intelligent others actually find these kinds of voices significant moral forces in the world.

    I appreciate all your concerns here, and look forward to your future thoughts as I might encounter them.

  28. kvond April 1, 2009 at 10:33 am

    Slawkenberius: “For me, though, it’s not the scriptoria themselves that constitute the problem. I like scriptoria, and I’m hoping to find a shady spot in one of them once I get my PhD (even if I’m not bullish on their future prospects).”

    Kvond: Yes, a nice, shady spot in a “rotting hulk”. As you wrote,

    “I don’t think the professoriat is capable of producing anything novel or interesting to anyone outside of itself; the modern university model was dubious to begin with, and now it’s a rotting hulk. My only hope is that I can get a PhD and tenure before it disappears completely.”
    (from comment on Mikhail’s post, Re-branding Humanities: http://pervegalit.wordpress.com/2009/02/28/re-branding-humanities/#comments )

    We agree that the idea that some form of ethical-moral revolution of society is going to come from those who have been (re)educated in this “rotting hulk”. But I suggest that the very problem is that even the best of minds come from this huge monasticism of minds and bodies have something of this view of the text-producer. “I just want to get mine” my place, my nook, my position, at best, my students, my readers, while the whole thing churns forward in processes that have little to do with the “inner” me. Yes, I understand that you like the scriptorium, you love the text, you love the ideas. But the very reason why the Left cannot arise out from such a process (or at least it is highly unlikely) is that the disjunction that marks the “shady place” pursuit engenders or reflects the very disjunctions that the academic Left is attempting to adress in society. At the very best you get someone like Graham Harman writing about how one is to fake historical depth in paper writing and how to balance all your text production responsibilities.

  29. Pingback: Dostoevsky Character Does It Again. « Perverse Egalitarianism

  30. larvalsubjects April 2, 2009 at 12:45 am

    Definitely a less than stellar interview with Badiou, though I confess I sympathize with his plight in the first ten minutes or so. The interviewer keeps trying to push him into the box of “being a communist”: “But you’re a communist, right?” I suspect that Badiou is so cagey when it comes to answering this question because at the level of subtext what the interviewer is really saying is “but you’re a supporter of Stalinist state totalitarianism, right?” The point, I think, that Badiou was groping towards– and failing to make, perhaps due to language barriers, perhaps due to a cold –was that we really don’t know what communism is or what it would be. That is, envisioning or thinking an alternative to our current system and way of life is very much a life problem. Shaviro has a really great post on this up over at his blog with respect to the Birbank conference.

    Here I think I disagree with Duncan and Kvond a bit in their critiques of academic leftists. While I’ve certainly spilled a lot of digital ink criticizing academic leftism and arguing that it is prone to certain internal illusions and false problems by virtue of the institutional structure within which it is enmeshed (Carl can attest to this), nonetheless academic and philosophical work does play an important role in rendering alternative forms of praxis and life available through the generation of problems and new concepts. This shouldn’t be discounted, I think. Along these lines, an important point to keep in mind with respect to Badiou’s own philosophical thought is that he doesn’t see truth as coming from philosophy. For Badiou, truth always comes from outside of philosophy in one of the four domains of art, science, politics, or love. The job of the philosopher, according to Badiou, is simply to think the compossibility of truths that arise in these domains and to articulate that truth (that often goes unarticulated in these praxes). Here, then, if Badiou doesn’t “give us the solutions” or tell us “what communism is”, then this is because he does not believe it is the role of the philosopher to invent these things, but rather the role of all of us engaged in these struggles to invent them. Just as it is the artists that invent art, new styles, etc., and the philosopher conceptualizes these things, so too with politics.

    In my view, Badiou sees his own work as that of trying to render alternative possibilities available. This is what he is struggling to articulate throughout the entire discussion. It’s notable that over the course of the entire discussion the interviewer keeps implying that alternatives aren’t possible, that we’ve exhausted the possibilities of how humans can live, that we’re stuck with this, etc. In many respects, this is the crux of the matter. Do we side with doxa that says this is all there is, or do we try to create openings where something else might begin to build itself? Badiou is trying to do the latter.

    All of this said, Badiou is probably among the worst choices of interviewee for an issue like the economic crisis. Badiou has repeatedly and explicitly emphasized that economics falls outside the domain of political truth procedures. For Badiou politics seems to consist of a radical egalitarian declaration that draws a transversal line across category based social differences. This is why he gets so worked up by Saint Paul, as Paul, in Romans, had declared that the old social sorting differences based on whether one was Jew, Greek, or Roman, were no longer operative, that the kingdom of God was a kingdom where these differences no longer mattered, and where all the ethnic laws defining social membership became irrelevant. Likewise, in debates surrounding the sans papiers (illegal immigrants) in France, Badiou has wholeheartedly endorsed the declaration that “if you live here you’re from here”, seeking to elide something like ethnic origination as a ground or condition for citizenship. True to the set theoretical “foundations” of his ontology, then, Badiou’s position is that the social space should be organized like a set rather than, vis a vis Russell, a class. Where membership in a class in logic requires a shared predicate (for example the class of all red things), anything can belong to a set even where the members belonging to the set share no feature in common. “True” politics, in Badiou’s view, consists in the production of a social field based on this sort of set-theoretical principle where predicates legislating over class membership are erased or rendered “in-different” or indiscerned. Political economy completely falls by the wayside under this model. In this respect, Badiou is a very peculiar Marxist and certainly not a Marxist inspired by Capital.

  31. kvond April 2, 2009 at 7:24 am

    LS: “Here, then, if Badiou doesn’t “give us the solutions” or tell us “what communism is”, then this is because he does not believe it is the role of the philosopher to invent these things, but rather the role of all of us engaged in these struggles to invent them. Just as it is the artists that invent art, new styles, etc., and the philosopher conceptualizes these things, so too with politics.

    In my view, Badiou sees his own work as that of trying to render alternative possibilities available. This is what he is struggling to articulate throughout the entire discussion.”

    Kvond: An embarassing interview, and no amount of theoretical positioning should cover for the acute incommunicability of his person. It presumes a privileged place, a place accessable only through the indoctrination by his concepts and terminology, revealing really the arcane level of his theologizing. Just for which persons are his answers meant?

    It is a shame, isn’t it, that Badiou would be called to give some account for his political position and the ideas he advocates for. Thanks though for all the theoretical mumbo-jumbo rundown for those who have not read Badiou. If you too can master these important set-theory arguments, you too can be a revolutionary thinker.[sigh]

    Compare his inarticulation with that of anarchist David Graeber (who had the “uncomfortable” position of having to defend being something even worse than a Communist), in this linked interview to uber-Capitalist advocate Charle Rose:

    http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/473

    Just who is the elitist talking to an eilite? Who is the revolutionary?

  32. anodynelite April 2, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    Personally, I’ve never had much of a problem with what I’ve read by Badiou (beyond some quibbles with set theory and the matheme-centric ontology, since if you map out this thinking in symbolic logic you’re going to see that it’s basically a grand tautology).

    I do have a problem with the way he’s often interpreted, though, and the way he’s appealed to as some kind of authority above all others. There’s something happening where Badiou seems to be getting all the credit within the Left, and anyone who isn’t on the bandwagon is accused of all sorts of intellectual “barbarism”, including not being a real “Leftist”… I think there are plenty of ways to read Badiou that are productive politically, and many ways that aren’t.

  33. kvond April 2, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    Anodynelite: “(beyond some quibbles with set theory and the matheme-centric ontology, since if you map out this thinking in symbolic logic you’re going to see that it’s basically a grand tautology).”

    Kvond: I am often reminded of Nietzsche’s criticism of Spinoza’s more geometrico, when I think of Badiou’s set theory:

    “Oh consider the hocus-pocus of mathematical form with which Spinoza clad his philosophy – really “the love of wisdom,” to render the word fairly and squarely – in mail and mask, to strike terror at the very outset into the heart of any assailant who should dare to glance at that invincible maiden…”

    But the mail and mask of Spinoza that he accomplishes with vast armature, Badiou only forms as a wide analogy. Set Theory. For some reason people think that this appeal somehow grounds the very truth of Badiou’s position. Nice analogy, but little more.

  34. duncan April 3, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    Thanks Slawkenbergius, thanks Kvond. Sorry it took me a while to get back to you.

    Slawkenbergius: “everything you say is true–but it’s entirely without significance unless you can describe what exactly you mean by “political contestation,” and how it can function as a way of getting there from here.”

    Political contestation can take any number of forms. It can involve activism, unionisation and union power, organised or spontaneous social movements. It can involve mainstream political processes, policymaking, and the influence on policymaking of larger social forces. It can be about institutional change, top down or ground up. It can be intellectual contestation – one of the problems with the academic left (of the sort kvond’s talking about) is that it spends a lot of time producing abstract critique, and not so much time getting more-or-less concrete alternatives and take-downs into the public sphere, where they could potentially be picked up and used. It can also be about more habitual or widespread things. When communities make judgements about what is acceptable and what is monstrous – and in part create themselves as communities through such judgements and practices – the conflicts involved are (often) politically vital. And, of course, political contestation can be about violence – though the violence is most often directed at those doing the contesting. This list is by no means exhaustive.

    On the question of getting from there to here: this is only, I think, an issue if we understand political change as oriented to a blueprint of utopia, to which society must be brought into line. I don’t believe that this is generally how political change takes place – nor do I believe it’s how most left politics understands its goals.
    As kvond says, social and political change is a constant. Such change is chosen – it is always chosen – albeit not always knowingly. Society will be transformed – the question’s how. It seems to me that the problem therefore isn’t ‘how do we get from here to there’ (with the implication that there’s an unbridgeable gap / insurmountable obstacle somewhere along the line), but rather: given that we’re inevitably going somewhere, what kind of place do we want it to be, what kind of world do we want to live in – what kind of political direction do we think it’s wise and humane to push for?

    Following on from that there are of course countless debates to be had about political goals, strategies and tactics. But questions of the ‘how to get there from here’ variety seem to me often to shut down such debates, by assimilating them to a utopianism they generally don’t much resemble.

    Kvond: “To feel you and others in, in this case my comments about the Left were really specific to the Academic Left” Yes – I understand – and as I say, I’m sympathetic in lots of ways. I’m just worried that the net was cast too wide.

    On your site in general: I’ve been reading it for a while now – I de-lurked for this thread. It’s I guess one of the perversities of the way I engage with blog stuff (time management, I suppose) that I don’t normally comment when I’m simply enjoying the work. [Though I’ve commented once before, yonks ago, on Wittgenstein] To be clear, though, I like your site enormously – it contains some exceptionally beautiful writing. I just didn’t like this series of posts too much. 😛

    That said, I haven’t read Dominic and Anodynelite’s exchange. Is it in a thread here somewhere?

    Cheers…

  35. kvond April 3, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    Duncan: “To be clear, though, I like your site enormously – it contains some exceptionally beautiful writing. I just didn’t like this series of posts too much”

    Kvond: This made me laugh, and nicely said. As far as Anodynelite and Dominic, I might not have the full view, but at least much of the discussion can be found in her post, and comments:

    http://anodynelite.blogspot.com/2009/03/female-bodies-in-still-property-of-male.html

  36. duncan April 4, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Thanks, I’ll read.

  37. anodynelite April 4, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    Duncan–I agree with everything you’ve written in your post at 4:35.

    The discussion began as a disagreement over word-choice–quite semantic–and devolved into an argument over Dworkinism and the faction of radical feminism that would ultimately reinforce patriarchal hegemony by insisting that females are always not-subjects, that they exist only as objects of desire and never desiring subjects. I think this sort of logic has very serious implications that end up damaging feminism, insofar as feminism is, in practice, about protecting the civil rights of women. Denying the full status of “rational subject” to females is part of the *problem*, not the solution, when it comes to sexism.

    I admire radical feminists for their intensity and sincerety, and I applaud some of Dworkin’s work–I agree with her on compulsory heterosexuality and the fact that, in the time she was writing, the U.S. and other western societies were plagued by what she and others have called “rape culture”. Images of coercion and “no sometimes means yes” mixed messages were being passed of as “sexy” (often still are) and this perpetuated a lie about the “essence” of female sexuality as passive and masochistic. I vehemently disagree with the principles behind the Dworkin-led movement to ban pornography, and with the idea that consent is ipso facto (and in all cases) obviated by the power imbalance between men and women.

    Just wanted to make those points clear.

  38. Dominic April 5, 2009 at 4:12 am

    For my part, I do not consider Dworkin to have said that consent is “ipso facto (and in all cases) obviated by the power imbalance between men and women”, although I do think that the consent standard fails to recognise the multitude of ways and degrees in which it can be so obviated, and substitutes an abstract conception of individual choice and autonomy for the concrete individuality of social persons. I don’t deny that this concrete individuality includes a degree of self-determination, even in quite ungenerous circumstances, but I take it as a premise that in order for my choices to be cogent other people have to play along in various ways. If, for example, the people around you don’t recognise your same-sex partnership as valid, that doesn’t make it disappear but does diminish the scope and intensity of its social reality.

    I don’t consider it important that women be acknowledged to be “desiring subjects”, because the model of the “desiring subject” at stake is one of an objectifying user of other people, and I don’t believe that extending that form of bourgeois masculine privilege is the right thing to do with it. “Subject fucks object” is not what I want sexuality to be.

  39. Dominic April 5, 2009 at 7:41 am

    The other thing is that obviously Dworkin hated pornography and wanted to destroy it, wanted its statements about what men and women are and what sexuality is to be repudiated, torn up, thrown in the dustbin of history. But this was not a hatred of men per se, or of sexual pleasure, or of the visual representation of sexual pleasure, or of the sexual enjoyment of visual representations of sexual pleasure. The issue was the sexual ontology of porn, the “realism” that formed the support of its “fantasy”, which Dworkin contended was simply the sexual ontology of male domination. She may have been too sweepingly pessimistic about pornography as a genre (if that’s what it is), but she was essentially right about most of what there was and is, and surely right to wish it all in hell. Cut the word lines, cut the image lines…

  40. anodynelite April 5, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    You can reject anything you want, but it won’t change how social relations work. Desiring subjects have nothing to do with objectification, unless you’re somehow associating this concept with Lacan–when I use it I’m referring primarily to Deleuzo-Guattarian jargon. I take “desiring subject” from D&G because I agree with them that desire/sex is itself a mode of production, and the “objet petit a” concept from Lacan, because I believe humans are incapable of desiring subjects-in-themselves (love is maybe a different story).

    I happen to think that what is called “objectification” is not in-and-of-itself the horrific thing others believe it to be, and I also think that it has far less to do with cultural conditioning than people believe. “Objectification”, suspending a holistic assessment of another person long enough to find them attractive, is a self-protection or survival mechanism. Without being able to momentarily suspend fear or insecurity or inhibition or reality (since, let’s face it, none of us are really that attractive, we’re all flawed, no one ever lives up to their lovers’ ideals), nobody would ever have sex. Objectification is a sort of “positive illusion” that gets things done, gets people to reproduce or at least mate long enough to form lasting attachments and healthy relationships. Men do it to women, women do it to men, LGBQT does it to LGBQT– it’s a six lane highway.

    In our culture, since women have for so long been barred from access to financial independence and the attending social power this affords, women objectify wo/men based on status, and often look for partners who will offer them financial stability or social status. Since men have been denied “mystique” and sexual allure based on physical characteristics, they tend to objectify wo/men based on looks, and seek out partners who will shore up their sexual identity or self-image. In all cases, one person is using the other to fill-out their own ego-ideal, to project “success” socially, and to up their own status. This is of course a general picture, and not all relationships follow a strict “status-based” reductionism–especially since women have begun to slowly gain financial independence and men have become more focused on body-image. Even as traditional binaries or roles have broken down, society continues to encourage people to seek status through partnerships. (Some even claim this is a hard-wired biological drive–I’m not so certain.)

    There are all sorts of not-quite-lovey-dovey things about biological organisms, and I could spend a few hours naming them. I don’t really have a huge problem with this particular human limitation, unless it is perverted into a pathological malignant narcissism that poses a threat to the safety of others/the social good. In fact, I think a certain amount of objectification is necessary to avoid co-dependence and maintain a healthy measure of psychological independence within a relationship.

    As for porn, it’s quite obvious to me that there’s nothing inherently wrong with people enjoying to watch others have sex, or with people enjoying making sexual videos, but with the *specific narrative content* of a lot of mainstream porn today. More than being directly threatening to the safety of women, however, I think porn is more subtlely damaging because it is mostly unrealistic rather than violent or coercive (although violent porn exists, it’s mostly on the margins). Unfortunately, young teens learn about sex mostly from porn these days, and porn depicts female sexuality as basically just like male sexuality–i.e. intercourse is going to get women off, and if it doesn’t, there’s something wrong with women. Women are always horny, and if they’re not, they’re not sexy. Too much exposure to porn at a young age can basically ensure that one will have problems with the real-life complexities and even banality of sex. If this weren’t the case, if more realistic, balanced, healthy portrayals were standard, or encouraged, I’d have absolutely no problem with porn.

  41. anodynelite April 5, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    Sorry to hijack this comments box, Kvond. Just one more point about co-dependence and narcissism.

    Far more damaging than even porn, in my opinion, is the fact that our societies tend to teach females, from a very young age, that “femininity” is essentially co-dependence. At the same time, we tend to teach males that masculinity is counter-dependence. So by the time people are old enough to be partnering up, you have a group with a lot of raging male narcissists and hapless female co-dependents. The dynamic created by these two types within a relationship, especially when they cohere across gender lines, is mutually destructive and basically sick. I would even go so far as to say that the model heterosexual relationship as portrayed in our pop culture is actually based not on love but a pathological “need”.

    If we want people to have healthier relationships, sexual and otherwise, we need to redress this imbalance and teach both males and females that love is not a pathological “need”, that a partner is not to be used to “complete” yourself, but is to be added onto an already complete life.

    Objectification is pertinent here, because someone who is able to objectify their partner is better able to say “you’re hot, but you ain’t THAT hot” and walk away from a control freak, or an abuser-in-training, before the violence ensues. Straight men are much more comfortable doing this, in general, than straight women are, because straight men are not taught from the time they’re born to believe that “love” means unconditional self-denial and abject need. They are, however, taught that if you’ve snared a perfect “10” that you should cling to her for dear life, no matter how sick the dynamic.

    So the point is not that we should try to teach girls what we teach boys about relationships, but that we should teach them both the same healthy standards.

  42. kvond April 6, 2009 at 1:04 am

    Hijack all you want. I enjoy when posts morph into divergent lines of thinking.

  43. Carl April 6, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    AL, I think you’ve got this exactly right. This is how I read Beauvoir, too. Nevertheless, there’s a bargain in every relationship, and if the co-dependence and counter-dependence are precisely aligned and not disrupted by conflicting images or disconfirming contingencies, those relationships can work very smoothly. I’m thinking of one of my sets of grandparents – but not the other.

    “Objectification is a sort of ‘positive illusion’ that gets things done, gets people to reproduce or at least mate long enough to form lasting attachments and healthy relationships. Men do it to women, women do it to men, LGBQT does it to LGBQT– it’s a six lane highway.”

    Yes. Carving each other up into bits and paying selective attention to the parts we like is a big favor we do each other. And I agree with you that this does not describe a condition of fundamentally upsetting dehumanization, except in relation to a silly platonic ideal.

  44. Dominic April 7, 2009 at 5:22 am

    There’s a difference, isn’t there, between perceiving or paying selective attention to part of someone, and reducing them to that part (that is, treating them as if that part was all they were)?

    I don’t know: the part/whole language here doesn’t seem to me to really get at what we mean, or at least what I think I mean, when we talk about objectification. I take it that we never see ourselves, or each other, “whole”, and that each of us is involved in a panoply of possibly inconsistent social presentations. Objectification as I understand it is a rather drastic simplification of this situation, a reduction of someone to what they are in some particular role, specifically insofar as they relate to one’s own requirements (also narrowly and selfishly conceived). It’s an essentializing operation: to objectify someone is to treat them as essentially an object or instrument of one’s needs, and only accidentally or secondarily or unimportantly anything other than that.

  45. Dominic April 7, 2009 at 7:23 am

    More generally, I think there’s a raft of arguments normalising sexual objectification, either by naturalising/psychologising it or by eliding it with commonsense views of human social interaction, which I find it hard to accept; to me these arguments read simply as quasi-sophisticated apologetics for the commercial interests of those who sell sex, or use sex to sell other things, and are part of a fairly well-established backlash against the radical feminism that identified and opposed these practices. Naturally they would like us all to think that our interests coincided with theirs, and that commercial freedom for them was the same as personal freedom for us. It is a point of honour for me to remain unconvinced of this.

  46. kvond April 7, 2009 at 9:00 am

    Dominic: “Objectification as I understand it is a rather drastic simplification of this situation, a reduction of someone to what they are in some particular role…”

    Kvond: I think that what objectification is, is seeing the world reflected through a very small range of another person’s existence, but in so doing finding in that smallness an intensity of expression.

    Much as objects in the world have only an limited range of the expression of their environment (either marked by their use in functions, or by their brute expression of their structure, reflecting in hand the functionality of their role in possible use, or some broad state of the world), when people are “objectified” they too feedback to us our mutual functionality (when they are in pain: something is wrong in the world, or something is wrong with them, or they are not really in pain; when they are happy: something is right in the world, or somethinhg is right with only them, or they really aren’t happy).

    In this way “objectification” can allow people not only a social role, but also the capacity to express to us something more than simply what they are. They can represent powers that appear to coalese about them, into them (when a woman is sexually objectified a great deal is condensed there, she is not just a use-object…some of what is condensed there can be creative, some destructive, but she is not just a cog, just as Obama is not just a cog when he is objectified in his political role). Objectification allows a person to be both more and less of what they are, to take on more of the social fabric, for better or worse. A good hammer is not merely a hunk of wood. It expresses its character, but also the entire relationship of craftmanship which made it, and the richness of interelationships that make up its beautiful employ. A bad hammer something of the same, in opposite. Apart from the usual assumption, it is not just a case of instrumentality when things are objectified, but also of expression. Or alternately, to use something is to participate in, inhabit and depend upon its expression. Part of consciousness is coming to realize that you are not simply who or what you think you are, but also are the capacities you have to reflect and express whole swathes or definite threads of the social fabric.

    It seems to me that when people speak of the objectification of women it is not necessarily objectification per se that is what troubles them, but the particular aspects, the parts of the social that are condensed and expressed there. That affective project.

  47. anodynelite April 7, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    Yes, Carl. Many heterosexual couples–in fact, I’d guess that a majority of heterosexual couples who marry and never divorce–are comprised of one co-dependent and one counter-dependent partner. And sometimes two co-dependents. (Yikes.) Doesn’t really matter which gender is which, but I’d also guess that there are probably more counter-dependent men than there are women in the world.

    Kvond describes many of the positive effects of “objectification”–there are positive and negative effects, but these vary in intensity. I think what Dominic has in mind is more the sort of objectification based on looks that many people think is skewed toward females in the media. I’ll agree with this–with the proviso that men are also and in large numbers objectified based on physical characteristics and atheletic/sexual prowess. But I sometimes wonder whether the types who are so quick to jump on looks-based objectification actually understand *why* beautiful people are used to make mediated images. Humans are hardwired to look at beautiful things, people included. The advantage of putting a beautiful man or woman in an ad is that you are more likely to catch the attention of passersby, and hold it for long enough to insinuate your LOGO or VISUAL BRANDING into that person’s brain. (There’s no such thing as bad advertising, remember…) The point is not to in doing so insinuate that everyone else is ugly.

    The negative side of using looks-based-objectification to sell things, particularly when it comes to advertising, is that more and more studies are confirming that people (NOT JUST FEMALES, but MEN TOO) are made to feel inadequate physically by ads that depict already pretty people airbrushed into pure abstraction. Hence the Dove “real beauty” compaign, and self-esteem training in schools, and these sorts of counter-balances.

    Most of the objectifications that are common in the traditional media annoy me to death, honestly. I’ll be thrilled when they finally have an ad that depicts a man cleaning house. But these, too, are starting to break down as the traditional family does. I actually saw an ad (Sprint, I think) featuring a single dad of three girls yesterday.

    There are all sorts of things I’m supposed to “be” because I’m female, and when it comes to most of them I’ve never really fit the bill. Honestly, what bothers me far more than the idea that I’m supposed to be trying my best to look good is the way the “women’s channels” and female-directed entertainment focuses almost entirely on: 1) weddings, reality shows about “bridezillas”, women saying things like “every girl dreams about her wedding day” 2) b-grade romance novel soap operas, and 3) shows about how all girls care about is finding a man, and how unhappy they are that they decided to pursue career instead of landing a high-earner in their early 20s.

  48. anodynelite April 7, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    Actually, what Dominic says about not wanting to elide the significance or damaging effects of certain specific media images is something I agree with very much. But for me it’s almost such a given that I usually take for granted that people understand this–after all, even the most conservative people in the U.S. believe this is a huge problem. In the U.S. most university students spend the first four years slowly learning to deconstruct what they’ve been taught to take for granted by our institutions and our media.

    I don’t think using sexual imagery to sell products is necessarily a good thing, not at all. But until we stop selling things, we’re not going to be able to stop this, only change the types of images we make/consume. (Back to that old chestnut.) For as long as people have eyes, and an endocrine system, and reproductive organs, we’re going to objectify one another based on looks–this is an important function of human sexuality and I don’t really think it’s always in and of itself a bad thing. But at the same time, I loathe the way women barely exist in the media except in the role of sexual cipher, and I certainly don’t think we should passively accept what’s handed to us by the media–we should openly challenge it and boycott certain companies/parent companies, etc. (Purchasing power is something that corporations are rightfully respectful of…corporate sponsors routinely pull ads from programs that might offend their demographic…public outcry has also successfully caused sponsors to yank campaigns in the past). Funnily enough, Christians in the U.S. are probably the most mobilized in this way. Unfortunately, I think they usually have things backwards when it comes to which images they find offensive.

    Myself–I was barely allowed to watch TV when I was young, and when we were my parents made relentless negative commentary on how stupid things were. If I had kids, I think I’d turn of the flow at the spiget, to the best of my ability. I noticed early in school that I was far less indoctrinated by heteronormativity than most of my peers. Massive educational reforms are probably necessary as well.

  49. anodynelite April 7, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    Another thing: I don’t think that objectification based on looks can be chalked up entirely to capitalism because *it has always existed* for as long as humans have been making images. This doesn’t mean we can de-politicize our own media images, of course– but have you seen any Grecian urns for crying out loud?? They make our media seem pretty damn tame.

    Things have certainly changed since then, of course. Technology makes it possible for a single sexualized image to be made and distributed all over the world in a matter of minutes. What’s different now, I think, is more the accessibility and omnipresence of sexualized imagery than its mere existence.

    It’s at once very difficult but entirely crucial that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater by simply looking at anything we deem to be less than 100% positive in social value/effect and insist that this is only happening because capitalists are evil greedy pigs.

    There’s a sense in which we all participate in the image, in which we all have a role in producing relations and social values and images, and I think it’s of utmost importance that we focus on this, because this is the level on which we have to begin to effect change.

    Capitalism may exploit the fact that humans like to look at beautiful people/places/things, but it isn’t responsible for giving people eyes or their ability to enjoy and seek out and value beauty.

  50. anodynelite April 7, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    Images are always two-dimensional, lacking any “whole” vision of those whom it depicts. You can never make an image that is not to some extent an objectification. You can, however, control the content of images to avoid feeding into certain negative feedback loops–e.g. stereotypes, gender binaries, certain cultural ideals, conservative ideologies, etc. All images of women need not depict them pouting and arching their backs suggestively.

    When I say that I don’t think women are the only ones objectified in our culture, it’s because I can so easily think of all kinds of negative objectifications of men. Video games where men are all gigantic buff killing machines, television shows where men are mostly emotional cripples and narcissists, sports, where men are held up to the “masculine” ideal and will perform it even until they get seriously injured or die. In fact, it’s very difficult to think of depictions of men in the media that don’t reduce men to emotional retards whose brains are in their dicks and whose primary function is to act as aggressively as possible in all situations and sleep with anything that moves.

    Why is this any better than being depicted as an emotionally needy sex toy? It’s just the flipside.

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