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Tag Archives: Infinite Thought

Hearing Alain Badiou on Hardtalk: The Bashful Maoist

I’m sorry, I had never had the pleasureof hearing Badiou speak on contemporary politics, or even speak on anything. A funny thing happens when you see the person. Ideas, tones, the very specular sense of a person invades the writing, filling it out. Here in Hardtalk, originally posted by Infinite Thought, Badiou attempts to make himself clear. I can’t say that in presence this is a man bristling with intellectual acuity. Perhaps it is that he is speaking in English, but my sense of him as a thinker is diminished even from the sense that I already had that his ideas were somewhat inflated. Here Badiou’s ideas filtered down to everyday language and deprived of their technical, interlocking workmanship, appear pale and disorganized thought-themes.

Infinite Thought regretfully admits that this is not the most “successful” interview, something she chalks up to the interviewer’s “pure crystallised Anglo intello-Franco-phobia” (my goodness, PURE?). I have to say as someone who is rather intello-Franco-philic, I found Badiou alternately filled with sopping facializations or staid retreats into ambiguities and prevarication. Perhaps one feels that it was the interviewer’s job to try to draw out what is unique and gemlike in Badiou, a showcase…only though if one is a cheerleader, a true believer, it would seem. Badiou brings almost nothing on his own. We must believe that Communism is the “right hypothesis” despite (brutal) 20th century failures, why…because “faith” is sometimes a good thing.  If you have read Badiou you understand why he says this, but without all the terminology, concept-architecture and whatnot, this is pretty much how it all boils down. If intellectuals can’t do better than this, they are to remain essentially what they are, text-producers for a highly selective, and privileged readership.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Mikhail on the Communism Conference; Don’t talk about the car!

Mikhail over at Perverse Egalitarianism posts on Toscano’s presentation at the Birkbeck Communism Conference, a text provided for us by Infinite Thought. He remarks that the illustrations that I.T. provide actually illuminate something of the meaning of it, and makes the interesting mistake of including the striking image of a Rolls in Soviet colors:


In an anecdotal bit of ideological truth, among the commentators a light-hearted joy about the car rose up including a question of what kind of car it was, allowing Infinite Thought to chime in and exasperatedly advise, “Aaargh! Discuss the piece! Not the car!”.

Oddly this seems to crystallize exactly the kinds of things at stake in such a conference. There is a kind of implicit demand upon the importance of the words being spoken by largely white, middle aged men, the respective stars of academia. It is these men who are dreaming the dream for those who cannot dream for themselves, it seems. Infinite Thought’s turning of our eyes from the car (not that dream!), towards the real dream (yes!, that  dream) allows us to see the normative pre- and pro-scritions of such a discourse. In my mind, the ironic contrasts of the car are actually quite revealing of many forms of communist intellectual conflicts.

Mikhail responded to my thought of the contradictions implied when an elevated group thinks/dreams on the behalf of another,

Is this not almost always the case when it comes to philosophical and political ideas? Others are dreaming their dreams for us – I can’t think of any really significant idea that I consider to be true and useful that I personally came up with, unless, of course, you count fundamental principles like “Don’t drink too much the night before an important meeting or a presentation” and “If it doesn’t smell, it’s fresh enough to wear again”…

Which lead me to ruminate on the role of philosophers in the historical path of the world, in particular in regards to the freedoms of others who cannot speak for themselves. Something perhaps worth repeating here:

It is also the case with artists that they are “dreaming for us” and thank goodness so. But with this specific brand of philosophical revival, the attempt to make good on a Political Idea that has been done so very wrong (okay now, so the end of the world did not occur at midnight, the year 2000, what did he REALLY mean? In what way did WE fail him?) that troubles me.

I think that art is very “useful” in the sense that it dreams for us, and philosophy as well, but when description becomes prescription, when artists stop showing us what they see, and telling us how we should see, (then act and do) there is an inherent contradiction which somehow leads to brutal historical absurdity. It is a monastic priesthood all over again.

Now yes, it may be very interesting to ASK an artist what he thinks of the situation. There will be a certain feel to her/his words if you have respect for their work. But there is no necessary connection between their process and ours.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE reading the political philosophers. They are the dreamers of new possibilities of thought as it relates to the concrete world. But they confuse sometimes their role as dreamers with an imagined position of being the ONLY dreamers, or the only dreamer (the one with the correct argument), perhaps the “meta-dreamer”.

It is back to that odd realization, philosophers are curious TYPE, and those that have thrived in the academic environments (survival of the fittest), carry with themselves quite a number of, what would be considered genetic defects, out there in the real world of persons and lives lived. When the university arose in the middle ages there was a time when your two best vocations were those of a theologian or a lawyer. A nice, complimentary pair these two. Those that make the real world, and those that critique the makers in the name of something “higher”.

What does it mean to not talk about the car?

The Half-Tune of Political Speech: Palin’s Song

Found over at Infinite Thought, who asks under the title aaargh! dissonance! modernity! politics!,“What would Adorno make of this?” Adorno tells us, in his Kantian flavor, “Insofar as a social function can be predicated for artworks, it is their functionlessness”. So what are we to make of this Palin Aesthetic Object. Let is bring to bear Adorno’s description of the utopian urge, the image of a child sitting at a piano:

“searching for a chord never previously heard. This chord, however, was always there; the possible combinations are limited and actually everything that can be played on it is implicitly given in the keyboard. The new is the longing for the new, not the new itself”

Is this not how Palin’s piano searching sounds? We want to be unkind to her (her apparent horrific incompetence, clearly she is glancing down at notes), and equally unkind to those that are so charmed by her (so simple minded they must be, or so blindly forgiving we want to say), but one really has to engage the richness of the phenomena, in order to grasp its full power and potentiality. Leaving aside Adorno’s direct objectives, what if we aesthetically take her admittedly nervous leaps between cliches as a utopian search for the new, the sense that amid the fractured half-tunes of ideological buttressing, buried beside the “dissonance” of trite, chord to chord hops is the fumbling for the new, the chord that has not been played.

I ask this not because I wish to be kind to Palin, but to address the “music” that this piece brings out, to exact its moral force. As much as one might cringe repeatedly over this interview, it was also a kind of music to some. As she fumbled, or strained, others felt the same, an affinity.

One can take an interpretive tact at the level of content. One can say that Palin here was rummaging through bankrupt ideas, dealing only with the broken shells of eggs and no yolks. If she only she had IDEAS, a comprehension of what she was saying and not just slogans she would be saying something meaningful. But I contend, given that she is not saying something “meaningful” this does not mean that her tuneful act itself was not meaningful. It forms an aesthetic object. There is no doubt, I feel, that Palin’s candidacy, in mirror to Obama’s, was utopian, and in some sense sub-ideological. Tina Fey’s portrayal did much to break the ideological spell, but in so doing obscured something of the power of the aesthetic form of the Palin performance, the way that it enacted the dissonance that comes as we strain for new sense within the old keyboard.

I suggest a non-oppositional reading of her “song”.