Frames /sing


More on the Disavowal of Badiou – The Father Who Enjoys


I see that there are others noting the revolt against (or tiring of) Badiou. Complete Lies checks in with his non-believer transformative commitments toward Badiou as a possibility, Anodyne Lite counters with Laclau, and Larval Subjects (which I only now just read), finding that Badiou does not appreciate Levi’s mandatory (though inconsistent) application of epistemological and ontological distinctions (Levi at times makes this a most important distinction but then when faced with a Spinozist criticism that the epistemological must also be ontological, tends to retreat from the category). I post a nice passage here because it points up the problem with a fundamental epistemological/ontological divide. Discussing Badiou’s examination of Hubert Robert’s Bathing Pool:

Badiou claims that every object has an intensive degree that indexes its being-there or appearing in a world. To illustrate this thesis Badiou spends a tremendous amount of time analyzing Hubert Robert’s painting Bathing Pool (above). It is here, I think, that the difficulties of Badiou’s account of objects, from a realist standpoint, become clear. Badiou asserts, for example, that the columns to the left behind the foliage have a lower degree of intensity or being-there than those in the front. He makes similar observations about the women among the pillars compared to those bathing in the foreground and the statue to the right of the pool compared to the one on the left. These sorts of claims make me want to pull my hair out in frustration and ire. Such a thesis can only be epistemological and made from the standpoint of a viewing subject because the degree to which a being is or is not is an absolute binary such that it make not one bit of difference whether or not some appears intensely to us or not. From the realist standpoint something either is or is not, it is absolutely actual.

While I certainly agree with Levi’s notion that linking a degree-of-intensity (being there) to a perceiving subject carries with it all of the human-centric difficulties of a locked in Phenomenological world, one certainly cannot follow with the hair-pulling claim that Realism demands that “the degree to which a being is or is not is an absolute binary such that it make not one bit of difference whether or not some appears intensely to us or not”. I think I follow what this sentence means, yet indeed there is a long heritage of at least a kind of Realism that is founded upon things having degrees of Being (or degrees of Intensity) apart from any observer, and these degrees of Being are not “an absolute binary”. Starting from Plotinus (at the very least), and continuing on through a variety of panpsychic thinkers that culminate in Spinoza, there is a strong sense that things exist in their own right, in degrees of Being. A thinker like Spinoza wants to tell us what we ourselves fluctuate in our degrees of Being as our power to Act fluctuates (in a register of Pleasure). This the key to resolving the epistemic/ontological boundary that Levi has so much trouble orienting himself to. Things in themselves have degrees of Being which are measured by their capacity to affect or be affected, but also, our own degree of Being is expressed via our epistemic status, our ability to affect and be affected due to the adequacy of our ideas. Epistemology is Ontology.

Indeed the pillars in the back have a lower degree of Intensity/Being. But this reflects our own degree of Being, not necessarily theirs.


7 responses to “More on the Disavowal of Badiou – The Father Who Enjoys

  1. Michael June 10, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    Thank you for remarking on exactly what I was about to regarding Levi’s post. I also disagree with the binary of Being and Non-Being, that it is as simple as an on-off switch. Indeed, my whole philosophy claims that there is on ever the awkward in-between of growth and decay, that nothing can ever “be” or “not be” absolutely. I’ve been working on a post about this in regard to Augustine, but your equating it with Plotinus works as well. There is indeed a whole history of thought that seems overlooked in Levi’s binary, from the Neo-Platonists up to Derrida’s hauntology and beyond.

  2. kvond June 10, 2009 at 7:15 pm

    Thanks Michael,

    Yes, Augustine is a very good connection (his degrees of Being passages from City of God, I’m sure you’ve located). He got the concept from Plotinus I suspect. I’ve pressed Levi on this before, from the distinct Spinoza position, and each time I have he has acknowledged that this is so, and that he needs to work it into his position. But then he seems to swing back.

    Here is my translation of a relevant Degree of Being passage from Plotinus:

    It seems to me that if we are to have univocal Being, but also a philosophy of power analytics, Being itself must exist in degrees, or else we face the classic philosophical alternative, some kind Dualism (what which Augustine himself sought to avoid).

    I look forward to your future posts on this, from your perspective.

  3. reidkane June 10, 2009 at 10:55 pm

    You’re criticisms of Levi are spot on. It seems remarkable to me that, in the quest to level the ontological playing field between humans and other objects, Graham and Levi seem to forget that human beings are objects all the same, and particularly influential ones in this ‘mid-sized’ slice of reality. Moreover, since we are, in fact, this very object, it would make sense that we would be concerned with it and relations involving it.

    Object-oriented philosophy acts as if philosophy has committed a sin by worrying about human beings and their relations, instead of relations between coconuts and meteors, or something. It acts as if these relations wouldn’t have unique and especially relevant characteristics, just as all relationships are as unique as their terms and contexts. It acts as if philosophy has always subordinated all problems to this one, which I don’t think is very accurate overall. Certainly this problem is a big and important problem for us, isn’t it? We are human beings, and we do have human relations to everything, don’t we? So why is it wrong to give this question priority?

    I’m gonna post about this tomorrow.

  4. kvond June 10, 2009 at 11:34 pm


    I have to say that I find the problem with OOP the opposite of the one you that see. Quite to the contrary to claiming to be very concerned about objects, GH very seldom talks about objects at all (that is with the exception of waxing poetic in very loose terms and sensuous metaphor). This is distinct contrast for instance with Bruno Latour who actually, in non-metaphysicalist fashion, talks about objects with incredible care, sensitivity, acuity of perception and detail. GH concerns himself almost exclusively with the human, and simply uses object-states as mere props for sensations which he wants to concretize.

    As for Levi, his game seems to be a different one. He, unlike Graham, is much more concerned with bringing the powers of Science to philosophy. Graham wants to say silly things like “a mosquito can hit a mack truck and have absolutely zero causal effect on the truck” (having no evidence whatsoever) while Levi wants to embrace scientific observation to the utmost degree.

    I do agree with you that there is an odd kind of elimination of the human as object, a kind of shortening of the equation of epistemological/ontological effects. If the non-human is going to get its due, it will because the human has taken a rightful place among objects as object, collapsing the epistemic/ontological distinct.

  5. kvond June 10, 2009 at 11:41 pm

    p.s. look forward to your post tomorrow.

  6. Carl June 11, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    I’m not competent in these matters, but I find Levi’s point as you’ve quoted and described it plausible. I also think your gloss at the end works fine (the intensity reflecting us, not them), but suggests that you mean something different by Being than Levi does. If I understand correctly, Levi’s is a thin Being without qualities or interactions; in this sense it either is or isn’t. Once you add qualities like intensity and interactions like perception you’re not talking about Being as such, although you’re talking about important stuff that needs talking about (much more so, I’d say, than thin Being, which as such I don’t find very interesting). Sorry if this is too naive to be any help.

  7. kvond June 11, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    Thanks Carl. I have no idea what “thin Being” is (thin, after all is a quality), and Levi himself has admitted his own problems with this (never bringing up thin Being).

    But this really is the point, to say that something has Being without having relations is a kind of philosopher’s fantasy of abstraction (or subtraction), since Being is to be in relation to other things. Now this Being can certainly have degrees of power without having these degrees be called properties or qualities. They are not added onto its Being, but Being is composed of its very capacity TO BE, to persist.

    In a thinker like Spinoza, this gives the essence of something to be its conatus, its striving. Is the striving of something its “quality”? I would think not.

    From my perspective, the idea that Being is a binary term is largely a product of a philosophy of presence, optical analogy which imagines that things are either seen or not seen. But of course this is not the case, things have degrees of sightedness (which seems to be part of Badiou’s point). Levi is quite correct to say that Badiou is missing something vital, but what is missing is that co-ordination of the degree of Being of the viewer.

    In a certain sense, the “thin Being” is a difference that makes no difference, and simply attrophies, or is sliced away by Ockham’s Razor. It is by leaving behind the binary of a philosophy of Presence (its either there or not there), its where we really get our access to an object-oriented framework, where in fine Latourian fashion each object exists in the degree that it can exist. It is not so much as composed of its relations, but rather its capacity to form relations. In this way an object is not JUST its relations (being only a ghost), a kind of internal intra-relationship (within its epistemic horizon), which is expressed as its relations.

    Only the need for a Phenomenologist/Idealist, optical image of Being, gives us the binary terms (and its laden dualities). Key is to understanding the (Realist) co-determination between internal relations which establish epistemic powers, and external relations which make up ontological powers. This is the class Medieval “ens reale” and “ens rationalis,” At least that is the way that I see it.

    Some thoughts:

    I don’t find your observations naive at all. Bring more of them.

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