Friday, September 15, 2006

Badiou: Event, Truth, Subject

Given my continuing interesting in Badiou and his relevance to political and theological inquiry, here is an extended summary of his understanding of the event, truth, and subjectivity,. Below is part of a larger project contrasting recent pragmatist understandings of 'social objectivity' with Badiou's 'political subjectivity'. But below is just the parts concerning Badiou on truth and subjectivity.

(If it feels like you jumped into the middle of something, it is b/c you did....
and this is a first draft)



“We shall posit that discernment is founded upon the capacity to judge (to speak of properties), and classification is founded upon the capacity to link judgments together (to speak of parts). Knowledge is realized as an encyclopaedia. An encyclopaedia must be understood here as a summation of judgements under a common determinant” (Being and Event, 328). “The encyclopaedia contains a classification of parts of the situation which group together terms having this or that explicit property” (B&E, 329). Or as we said before, all that falls within a specific norm of objectivity is considered its ‘knowledge’.

What we can see here is the deployment of language games as designators of knowledge which circumscribe ‘existence.’ What Badiou describes as the ‘encyclopaedia of knowledge’ consists of all the terms, properties, objects, and rules which have been allowed, created, or otherwise found(ed) by a language game. In this framework, only what can be made explicit by a well formed language is granted existence, and “whatever is not distinguished by a well-made language is not” (B&E 283).

To speak of ‘judging’ and ‘judgment,’ and the ideas of a well-made language should trigger Stout’s conception of ‘objectivity’ and the operations of making everything explicit. Badiou is not criticizing this conception, knowing that it is usefully deployed in understanding different situation and contexts. However, Badiou seeks to understand how these situations can change, and change drastically, especially when the resources within a situation cannot make everything explicit.

Events and Truths

So, how might something new come about? How can a new word/idea/thought be spoken? How are these new things spoken, breaking with the existing ‘knowledge’ and established ‘understanding’ of the world? We can become trapped in our language games, but not necessarily.

the margins of knowledge
This extended quote from Theoretical Writings (TW) will clarify:
“I call ‘encyclopedia’ the general system of predicative knowledge internal to a situation: i.e. what everyone knows about politics, sexual difference, culture, art, technology, etc. [But] there are certain things, statements, configurations or discursive fragments whose valence is not decidable in terms of the encyclopedia. Their valence is uncertain, floating, anonymous: they exist at the margins of the encyclopedia [of knowledge]…Nowdays, for instance, knowledge enjoins us not to decide about God; it is quite acceptable to maintain that perhaps ‘something ‘exists, or perhaps it does not. We live in a society in which no valence can be ascribed to God’s existence; a society that lays clam to a vague spirituality. Similarly, knowledge enjoins us not to decide about the possible existence of ‘another politics’ [beyond democracy]; it is talked about, but nothing comes of it. Another example: are those workers who do not have proper papers but who are working here, in France (or the United Kingdom, or the United States..) part of this country? Do they belong here? Yes, probably, since they live and work here. No, since they don’t have the necessary papers to show that they are French (or British, or American…), or living here legally. The expression ‘illegal immigrant’ designates the uncertainty of valence,…it designates people who are living here, but don’t really belong here, and hence people who can be thrown out of the country” (TW 146-7, italics added).
These terms floating at the margins of ‘knowledge’, these ‘empty signifiers,’ are unstable sites with the situations. They are areas within the encyclopeadia ready to explode and change everything.

event of truth
But how are these unstable areas ignited? They are set off by an event, blowing a hole in ‘knowledge’ and setting off a chain reaction reorganizing everything previously ‘known.’ Badiou calls this chain reaction a ‘truth procedure’, culminating in the production of a truth. For a “truth is always that which makes a hole in knowledge” (B&E 327).

What Badiou calls an event is a decision about something undecidable within a situation. “Basically, an event is what decides about a zone of encyclopedic indiscernibility” (TW 147). An event is the naming of something for which the ‘encyclopedia of knowledge’ had no language; it is the calling into existence what the situation (the encyclopeadia) did not allow. It is the calling of something out of the nothing. Examples: the Copernican event of calling the solar system ‘heliocentric’ against the knowledge claiming the sun circled the earth; the event of the French Revolution within the situation of the ancient regime; the event of special-relativity within the encyclopedia of Newtonian science.

These events lead to new truths. They don’t gives us the Truth, but open a path towards certain truths. The emergence of a particular ‘truth’ linked to a particular ‘event’ keeps us focused on the reality that truths emerge through a process, rather than being merely found as ready-made objects, and that it is not ‘the Truth’, but ‘a truth,’ which is produced in a dynamic process.

knowledge as objectivity and truth in events
So in summary, we could say that objectivity is on the side of knowledge, according to its specific norms of rationality and objects of investigation, but truth makes a hole in this knowledge, it obscures this objectivity. A truth, while being infinitely open to addition, while constantly grouping to itself different and radical combination from the situation (from the encyclopeadia), is nevertheless not gather by objectivity, but rather with a type of subjectivity.

Subjectivity without Subject

Having now traversed Badiou’s somewhat complex presentation of knowledge, objectivity, events, and truth, we are in a position to understand the question guiding our investigation: In relation to politics beyond Science (objects) and the State (subjects), “is it possible to think subjectivity without a subject?” ( Metapolitic, 64).

Why a ‘subjectivity without a subject’? This is a subjectivity without a (modern) subject because this subject does not “overlap with a psychological subject [Freud], nor even with a reflexive subject (in Descartes’s sense) or the transcendental subject (in Kant’s sense)” (Ethics, 43). A subject realizes a truth, or “we might say that the process of truth induces a subject” (Ethics, 43).

truth induces a ‘subject’
How is the truth of an event made possible? Or, how is the truth of an event known? For Badiou, the truth of an event is manifest through a faithful subject, or rather, through one subjected to the event. A truth always works its way through particular subjects, faithful to a singular event, investigating its results and connections. A subject does not produce truth (being merely a type of subjectivism); rather a truth produces a subject.
Using an example dear to Badiou, we could say that St. Paul did not produce the truth of Christianity on a subjective whim, but rather he was himself produced (/converted) by the truth of Christianity in his encounter with Christ. St. Paul was faithful to the event of truth (the resurrection), and in his declaration of this truth, became more and more subjected to it. We could say the truth made St. Paul, rather than that St. Paul made the truth.

Or, concerning Galileo, he was ceased by the truth of the heliocentric model, and faithful to this truth, he discerned and articulated the being of this truth within the reigning geocentric situation.
For this reason Badiou says, “it is abusive to say that truth is a subjective production. A subject is much rather taken up in fidelity to the event, and suspended from truth” (B&E 406). A subject is suspended from the truth because there are no free-standing, transcendental subject who finds or discovers the Truth; only those who have been subjectified by a truth, and are actively discerning its reality in the world. Or, not using the static term ‘subject’, but the dynamic ‘subjectivization’, Badiou says, “Subjectivization is that through which a truth is possible” (B&E 393).


Well, there it is. Questions please.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Badiou on Heideggar on Truth

In a previous post on Badiou and Truth I summarized the 'structure of Truth' but not Badiou's understand of a 'truth procedure' and the becoming new of a truth. Also, in the comments, John noted a similarity between Heideggar and Badiou. I will take up these issues in reference to Badiou’s “Philosophy and Truth” in Infinite Thought.

Badiou starts with four fundamental theses on truth:

1) Starting from Hiedeggar, there is no other solution to the question of truth than that of the poem. While, as John noted, Badiou might seem similar to Hiedeggar, he is actually opposed to him. B. argues that the for H., only the poem can properly reveal Being, and also our being-in-the-world (this movement to the poem, while latent in B&T is in full blown in the later writings). For H., Dasein is always already in the 'truth' of being. Before the 'truth' of assertions, Dasein is in the Truth, the primordial Truth of Being of which he falls into forgetfulness through predication/metaphysics. But equally, Dasein is in the un-truth, or is in erring. But for Badiou, we are never simply in the 'truth' because truths are new and unexpected. For Badiou, Truth is not a structure of our being, but something that becomes. And the best way to speak of this newness of Truth is not through the poem (as for Heideggar) but through mathematics (a mathematics of which H. would have no part).

2) But to move beyond the poem we must also distinguish truth from the narrow form of proposition and judgment of the analytic tradition. So truth is neither the poem nor proposition.

3) so “we must conceive of a truth both as the construction of a fidelity to an event, and as the generic potency of a transformation of a domain of knowledge” (43).

4) In light of the above, the essential categories of truth are negative: undecidablity, indiscernibiltiy, the generic not-all, and the unnameable.

After passing through a couple comments on Hiedeggar’s concept of truth, Badiou begins his own ideas, begin with the distinction between knowledge and truth, with truth as a becoming of something new. It is worth quoting a lengthy section:
“I will start from the following idea: a truth is, first of all, something new. What transmits, what repeats, we shall call knowledge. Distinguishing truth from knowledge is essential. It is a distinction that is already made in the work of Kant: the distinction between reason and understanding. It is a capital distinction for Heidegger: the distinction between truth—alethia—and cognition or science—techne.” (45)
If a truth is distinguished from knowledge, as the becoming of something new, then what is the process of its appearing? “A truth must be sumitted to thought, not as a judgment, but as a process in the real” (45). This begins an examination of what Badiou calls the “truth process,” filling out the four negative of truth.

The process of a truth begins when something happens, where there is an event. Knowledge is a repetition of what we already know, of common sense and received knowledge. Truth is a supplement to knowledge, and knowledge is always of what exists, of what is, so Truth is something that happen as a becoming beyond what already is. This is initiated in the event. The event is the first negative of truth: the undecidable, because the realm of knowledge cannot decide if this thing called the event actually exists. But the undecidability of the event is such that it induces a subject, a subject which decides that the event did indeed happen, that it does exist, and this subject is constituted in this act of decidinig to be faithful to the event. Fidelity is the nature of the subject of the event, through the decision, is caught between two indiscernibles. Two concepts are indiscernible when no language game can distinguish between them. But the subject of truth, does distinguish between them based on his fidelity to the event. From the faithful discernment of the Subject, between indiscernible concepts, the process of the truth continues, producing a generic subset within the previous situation of knowledge. The generic subset can never be fully named, otherwise it would fall under the rule of knowledge and under the sway of mere existence. The process of truth in its becoming can never be fully realizing, and therefore always has the unnameable as its limit. In fact, for Badiou, the forcing of a truth into total nomination, is the basis of Evil.