Sunday, December 5, 2010

Advent thoughts on Badiou and the Event

So Advent has started, and I'm sitting here next to the Christmas tree reading about the advent of revolution in past moments in history and wondering when it's going to arrive next. This got me thinking about how our act of perceiving something new happening in history relates to our intervening to create that something new. For example, to what extent did people's response to the Good News of Christ's advent on earth actually constitute this event? Throughout the gospel, Jesus is unable to heal people unless they themselves make a willing choice to be healed - unless they are open to a new rebirth and a break from their past, unless they participate in an Event, something new in their lives and in history.

Similarly, when do we know a revolution is starting? At a certain point, isn't it the revolutionaries themselves who recognize something new is breaking out in their own life activity, and by recognizing and naming it a revolution they actually make it a revolution?

In this comment on a very interesting piece by Don Hamerquist, somebody named Jordan gets at this question, reflecting on the French Marxist philosopher Alain Badiou. Badiou criticizes rigid Marxist political parties of the old 20th century model that are not open to the advent of new Events in history and end up missing or trailing them instead of helping to create them. He says that in contrast revolutionary organizations today need to have a certain "porosity to the Event".

Badiou wrote a book on St. Paul and Christianity that I hope to read, and it seems his understanding of revolution is shaped partially by Paul's "porosity" or openness to the Christ Event.

Here is Jordan's comment:

This is specifically in response to Nate’s questions about Badiou’s conception of the event in relation to the ‘revolutionary party’:

By ‘porosity to the event’ Badiou means firstly the apprehension of the event. He doesn’t mean any sort of normal occurence like a tree falling or a person running into another; there is no sense of the day to day happenings that surround us implied in his definition.

Instead the event is something which is a nameless (only upon introduction into the situation) name, a part of the situation that has no clear basis in it. In this sense it appears totally radical and irrational, but this is only to the ‘state’ and those who view the event in the same way.

So, to have ‘porosity to the event’ one must be the ‘intervenor’, as Badiou says, that names the event first–so that it may become a reality in the situation and circulate as part of the knowldge therein–and secondly ‘selects’ those occurences which happen as a result of the event. Keeping watch for an event is what this ‘porosity’ entails, that one might be sensitive enough to discern what is actually new and therefore completely generic (not particular as a nameable object) in the situation. The generic character of the event is what makes it possible to be universal, though John points out that it is not of a completely transcendental character. If it were particular it would only have one place in the structure of knowledge and the world.

This is the precise futility of a firm political party. The rules and guidelines that may be laid out in this party do not entail a revolution nor an event because they are in reaction to the current state and the overall situational structure. Reaction to the political or governmental structure is a simple denial of what is actually existent. It cannot be argued that the current structure is actually in place and actually working throughout the ‘Western world’, but trying to implant an idea into the structure, trying to change it by its own means, as it were, will never universally proclaim an idea, nor proclaim one that is radically different to whatever structure is in place. This is not to say that disagreement and denial of a flawed system and its rules is not an honorable first step, but that is not the point of intervention, of changing the structure and bringing a new idea into the world.

Badiou’s discussion of the Christ-event as the foundation of Christianity is a completely legitimate event that even the most stubborn atheist cannot deny. It isn’t that there is a metaphysical being called ‘God’ or that Jesus was the ‘dei filius’, but that as the ‘death of god’, which takes place in existence through his son, the event has happened. This is the point that what is trans-worldly comes to appear and then immediately exit (in the form of death) the realm of the world, or existence. This makes it event, and the cross as a newly obtained religious symbol, for before it was only an object of capital punishment. And the fact that this punishment is inflicted by the state and by a statist tool (the cross) it is recognizing that this man, this messiah to a certain group of people, is dying by it. Therefore the death is the emergent life and circulation of the Christ-event whether or not spirituality is involved. One can see then how this foundational circumstance had the effect of the Church-system. This, though being a religious model, is one that is congruent in structure to the political one.

His (Badiou’s) works are dense and sometimes sections of them come across as very cryptic. I can understand that someone without much time to undertake a new study would be overwhelmed by Badiou, so I hope that this helps a little. Though I have explained this in a philosophical way (hopefully easily understandable!) I don’t know that it can be done otherwise. I would say that the confusion and the upset that is found in our present time is due to a lack of ideological ground and so I won’t deny that we are in need of philosophy at the moment. We are in need of it to make sense of our situation and to found any worthwhile ‘action’, any legitimate thought on the world that we are engaging in.