Revolution of the Mind (Amphibolies)
By Stephen Mauldin at Feb 02, 2009
February is to be a personal struggle. I have began the practice of making the first blog entry of the month something of a diary of my philosophical journey. Actually as I write this I am well into the future of the month and pre-dating the entry so it becomes somewhat of the truth written in future anterior. The fact is, there was (is to be) too little time and too much confusion to keep up with writing in line with actual events. I have been contemplating different scenarios for relocating out of China where I have been working for six years. This has been taking my time in its difficulties around personal life; while the confusion has been in the area of my study of philosophy - about which we get to the title of this entry, a title appropriately quite ambiguous.
First, as if it is February 2, I provide the usual re-cap of what happened the month before (all prior entries are linked at the bottom of this page). The one I did on the Obama Inauguration was fun. It was based on opinion pieces about Obama by a range of thinkers including Noam Chomsky (on Obama and the Palestinian situation), Paul Street, and Savoj Zizek; and on Alain Badiou's analysis of the electoral system of Western nations, what he calls capitalo-parliamentarianism. The point made was: that it is from within the new situation that something novel can arise, that we are given new and better scope for our personal decisions as a result of the election. It is a much more profound and performative requirement for us to take action once we are awake to the tragedy of the mere formal freedom afforded by the electoral system. The spectacular advent of Barak Hussein Obama in the existing coordinates of power may evoke at least a paucity of hope to be found not in the person, but in the gaps of the new situation he rules - openings for our greater scope of action; a critical analysis of the suppressed reality of the Palestinian situation may enable us to see beyond the illusions we are fed under the ideological signifiers such as "democracy"; but these are but examples within a greater systemic problem. A truly eloquent expression of the idea of world emancipation from the confines of the current "global" situation was described in a quote from Badiou:
"Contemporary capitalism boasts, of course, that it has created a global order;.. The ‘one world' of globalization is solely one of things—objects for sale—and monetary signs: the world market as foreseen by Marx. The overwhelming majority of the population have at best restricted access to this world. They are locked out, often literally so... The price of the supposedly unified world of capital is the brutal division of human existence into regions separated by police dogs, bureaucratic controls, naval patrols, barbed wire and expulsions. The ‘problem of immigration' is, in reality, the fact that the conditions faced by workers from other countries provide living proof that—in human terms—the ‘unified world' of globalization is a sham... The simple phrase, ‘there is only one world', is not an objective conclusion. It is performative: we are deciding that this is how it is for us.."
Most of January however, was spent on an initial reading of several articles about Lacan, newly published by the International Journal of Zizek Studies, about which I was only able to briefly comment. Most of my intellectual energy was put into beginning an i n-depth re-reading of Sam Gillespie's The Mathematics of Novelty which explores the core of Badiou's philosophy: ontology = mathematics. The writing was comprised of a two part series introducing how it is that these thinkers, Lacan and Badiou, can speak of engendering zero: calling forth or bringing forth what? Precisely Nothing. Engendering zero implies generation and bringing into being in relation with the Void as it were. Why and how the Void? That was and has been my question. The first part of that series, Engendering Zero (Part 1), resulted in a 10-point schematic about what I think I know about Badiou's ontology=mathematics and its relationship to his key concepts of the Event and the Truth procedure that ensues; adding importantly that, in Badiou's theory, the truth (small t) in situations is categorized as existing in basically four quadrants: love, science, art and politics. Situations are transformed following the Event, thus being verified as novel in an anterior sense, to have transformed. In the interim, the individual is functioning in relation to inconsistent multiplicity in the Truth (capital T) procedure by which the situation and the individual herself are transformed.
The second part, Engendering Zero (Part 2), anticipated where I am going in my thesis conflating Badiou and Zizek and Lacan: Being (ontology, being qua being) exists not just as our mere biological life (our situation), but is sustained by an excess of life (inconsistent multiplicity); the fundamental alienation / death drive (the fundamental Event) is a constant impulse to heal the wound (establish a novel situation). The questioning going on in me has to do with the perhaps repetitive and therefore non-novel resolution characteristic of thought itself in the thought of subjectivity as an ultimate name/place in the world. As I understand it, Lacan as per Zizek, posits this very impossibility of thought encompassing all of experience - that the subject as the thought of one's place in relation to the world is not the Subject. I want to put it this way: I know I exist and I know the world exists - isn't this our common experience as human beings? I mean this is the framework of daily existence. We can actually for a period observe this duality - and then experience that we forget to observe this fragmentation in the field of thought. Nonetheless, such observation provides an insight that the knower is the known in that the subject and its objects in the world are in the field of thought. We then say this is "my insight", however, and so perpetuate subjectivity (small s) rather than remain in fidelity to our insight. We continue to experience ourselves as a subject with external objects as comprising the total unity of life. But the fact is, that however we experience the subject there is some excess to the subject from which this experience is occurring - this would be the Subject (a name for no thing of thought - of Nothing, of the Void).
So began February. I continued since working on trying to understand each step in Gillespie's book, now I think I can write about it sometime up to about page 60 - essentially to the point where he has clarified Badiou's alignment of his philosophy with three positions in contention within modern mathematics: zero exists, one exists as an operation generated from zero, and thirdly that infinity exists. Its complex, I will be trying to understand it better for some time as it also requires gaining some familiarity with the mathematical terrain of the founding thinkers of these three positions: Frege and Russell, most importantly Cantor and his followers (Zermelo, Fraenkel and Von Neumann). For reasons I will discuss, I don't see myself getting back to the core ideas on engendering the Void for some time.
I continue to write as if its February 2, though in fact I am describing the coming month. It was refreshing to encounter an excellent video featuring a "debate" between Alain Badiou and Cornel West. I cover that in the entry subsequent to this one, so I won't go into it now other than to say its a hell of a lot more accessible than the mathematics. Its an inspiring presentation of political dialectics that is nonetheless substantiated by the formal mathematics - but we are spared the details of the substantiation! Political dialectics today he explains, unlike prophetic democracy, is a new democratic political activity engaging Truth rather than a repeating the failed political struggle of the last century. It is not an effort to produce an expressive harmony, a negotiation between multiple cultures. Subjects in the productive action of participation in a becoming of a novel "truth body" do so, according to Badiou, primarily through existing situational modalities of politics, art, science and/or love. What is more, he says, the individual in political dialectics is becoming more than herself in the existing situation, doing more incorporating truth than was possible with her proper ability.
Now we get to talking about what is to have been written in February that has not yet been written. The reason I have not kept up is that I am preparing to exit China after six years here. Its not clear where I will be living most of the time, although it will be a few weeks once a year in New York, Brooklyn to be exact, where I have a couple of grandchild units. The primary indication from my personal life situation is that New Zealand will be in the picture. With regards to my interests in revolutionary practice, however, I anticipate at least some initial time in making a return to Nepal. I was there in 2005 and have been following and writing on the revolution there since well before that time. Coinciding with my present transitioning is the perceived "deterioration" of the political situation in Nepal. I tend to think the general misconception, perhaps fostered by those in opposition to the revolution, is that the revolution happened and resulted in a wonderful opportunity for the Nepal Maoists to take part and lead a democratic parliamentary government. It is actually the case I, and many others would argue, that the real revolution has yet to occur. Obviously then, I have been concentrating on reading extensively on what is happening there now - such will be the topic of the post following the discussion of the Badiou video.
Now Nepal is clearly my focus as to revolutionary practice. What is becoming rather confusing and deeply interesting at the same time is the aspect of my theoretical learning. My reading has centered on Badiou and Zizek and this in turn has involved some study of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist writings as well as some study of psychoanalysis per Lacan. Zizek studies gets one into a wildly diverse range of topics and the deeper understanding of Badiou and Lacan is difficult for me and a long-term continuing project obviously. At the same time this area of seeming focus involves a diffuse involvement with other lines of philosophical thought that converge in certain figures of the past as well as other modern trends.
At this point I have been experiencing the topic of the Void as intimately connected to my feelings of mortality and also my immortality. This has drawn me to a growing interest in the juxtaposition of Badiou and Zizek thought to that of Martin Heidegger - who after all is about Being and in a mood toward death. Badiou uses "Being" as does Heidegger (Dasein).. there is distinctions but deep similarities. Void/Death? Its about the meaning of it, being or not, living or not. Then also there is meaning or not. Badiou and Heidegger are much about the important meaning of it and yet Ray Brassier, who has studied Badiou deeply and translated some of his works, is a nihilist. It seems, for him, the Void (Badiou, Lacan)may engender the Event (Badiou) and transform the Situation (Badiou) for Being-in-the-World (Heidegger) - but the Void is (according to Brassier) a mind-independent reality indifferent to to our ideas of meaningfulness; our way of making existence feel more hospitable, more palatable to our self-aggrandizement.
It is Brassier who uses the term "amphibolies" to describe much of what goes on, has gone on, in philosophy. By definition it is the use of words that create grammatical confusion in conveying meaning (like the phrase "They are flying airplanes"). Intuitively I experience they are talking about the same thing, but when Badiou, Zizek, Lacan, Heidegger or Brassier use terms such as being, void, death and so on - are they about pilots or flying objects? My God, its wonderful to be in the process of theoretical inquiry, this revolution of the mind. This is all for later writing if I can, but first is the area of practice: the revolution in Nepal.
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