nikki moore

ears or eyes?

In Law, Subjection on October 28, 2008 at 3:15 pm

maybe the point is both.  precisely.

I am reading ‘the ends of man’ by Derrida, and Alain Badiou lectured for my class with Simon Critchley at Cardozo Law School yesterday afternoon, as he will continue to do for the next 2+ days.

Somehow i can’t quit thinking about sequence – that “the ends of man” was written before Badiou announced his candidacy for the Ubermensch, that, as Zizek contends phrases like the ‘end of man’ or ‘the death of man’ beg to be toppled like the twin towers.  Perhaps then, Badiou’s thought is less an event than an inevitable.

if there hadn’t been napoleon, etc…

oh how uncomfortable.

from (or to) ‘the ends of man’

…Hegel, Heidegger, Husserl and the understanding that man was to be slowly removed from his cartesian post at once misunderstood by those, like sartre, or sartre precisely, who could not let go of the existential humanist position.

I flagged a section that reads as follows:

“It remains that Being, which is nothing, is not a being, cannot be said, cannot say itself, except in the ontic metaphor.  And the choice of one or another group of metaphors is necessarily significant.  It is within a metaphorical insistence, then, that the interpretation of the meaning of Being is produced.  And if Heidegger has radically deconstructed the domination of metaphysics by the present, he has done so in order to lead us to think the presence of the present.  But the thinking of this presence can only metaphorize, by means of a profound necessity from which one cannot simply decide to escape, the language that it deconstructs.” (Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, p. 131)

Werner Hammacher presented a beautiful paper this summer on metaphor and Being and Heidegger, though Wolfgang didn’t let him finish.

But back to Badiou… and sequence.  A student of Althusser, Badiou is surely aware of his mentor’s concept of interpellation and the infamous metaphor he, Judith Butler and others have repeated to illustrate the point which looks like this:

An individual is walking down a street when a policeman yells, “Hey You!”  The individual turns and in that turn, toward the policeman, toward the law, toward the call, becomes the subject of the call.  It is subjection and subjectivity in one full/foul turn.  Zizek explains this succinctly, ‘the subject becomes the call it answers’.  

For Butler and Althusser, subjection takes place in relation to the call of the law.  For Badiou, as stated in his presentation yesterday, the evental inauguration of the subject takes place when law is suspended, altered and phased into reformation.  Even broken, in the figure of the out-law.

Is it reading too graciously to allow, to enable (to force?) the feminine to enter here?  And did I just write that as if it were an essence, a something other than what was already present in that room yesterday?  Why did the law of the father feel more oppressive at 55 5th Avenue than it has before?

Were we, as Avital Ronell writes, taking it through the ear?  

Or is the problematic somewhere right between the eyes

and ears


There is something utopian that Badiou is blatantly endorsing.  Something reasonable, rational and something eerily like Ayn Rand… not in content as much as in form.  Perhaps there isn’t enough body in what he proposed?

What did he propose?

First, a 3 day seminar in 3 parts.  

1) the Dialectics of the law – finding a clear definition of the law.

2) the change of the law – is there a possibility for the signification of change?

3) the law as the disappearance of law.


So first things, first:

If we are to think law’s definition, we can begin this thinking by thinking law’s opposite.  Perhaps disorder? We can also think through the verbage around both law and disorder.  The Outlaw came to mind as a topological framing.  There is juridical law, a topologically ordered space, a closed space.  And then the laws of nature, laws of pure contingency.  Bibilical law, where the spirit is opposed to the letter as its opposite.  Here we enter into questions of commandments vs. commitments.  Then there is the Kantian law of duty, a purely subjective and purely immanent construction.  The law of natural rights, which would pitch universality against culture.  

After laying out these options, Badiou went to his source: Plato.  For Plato law (nomos) is opposed to nature as a purely intellectual creation.  Looking at the debate on law between plato and the sophists we find that:

for the sophists – law is the political result of the agent of strength, or of might.  There is no default to universality, as law is the projection of the nature of the strongest for a particularity. It is the formal result of natural particularity.

for plato – law is the concrete realization of the transcendency of the good.  Universality is on the side of law, and more accurately on the side of the idea of the law, which is the transcendent norm.  It is the particular result of a universal principle.  In fact, however, law is something of the form of weakness: if all were in its place, no law would be needed as it would be innate.

Badiou then gives the interesting distinction between young Plato who still believes in direct access to the good and the un-necessity of law, as opposed to the aged Plato who wrote 9 books of law in the Republic.  This is important for Badiou in that communism as theory, as hope, is on the side of the young Plato, while communism as practice is always, in its coercion, on the side of the older Plato.  For Marx, neither the ‘good state’ nor the ‘good law’ exists.

And then there is Rousseau, for whom law is not simply conceptual but active.  As proffered in the Social Contract, the general will is the active creation of a collectivity… yet… there is the supplement.  The ‘special man’, the legislator who is from the outside, a stranger who mediates between the universal principle and the singularities.

And finally, Badiou’s 8 definitions of the law and their dialectics (as, for Badiou, law is always between two entitities).

1) Law as juridical structural order.  The dialectics here are between the multiple and the one as unity of the multiple.  It is the imposition of the form of one to ensure multiplicity, i.e. it is the expressive unity of law, of community, of difference. (Could this be lacanian?)

2) Law as the form of necessity.  The dialectics here emerge between necessity and contingency.  This type of law centers on knowledge, not justice, as law is the valuation of all that might stand outside itself.  It is the explanation of the outside.

3) Law as the extended letter of duty or obligation.  Read: Pauline.  The dialectics are between the letter and the spirit.  The law is always written and this is a law of transmission, between tradition and interpretation of duty.

4) Law as an internal subjective commitment.  Read: Kant’s moral law with dialectics between the subjective universal and subjective desire. This law creates a problematics of selfishness.

5) Law as the foundation of natural rights.  This law is relative to/by culture yet searches out something universal in human being.

6) Law as strength.  The dialectics are between formalization and strength, and nothing like the ‘law as such’ can exist in this conception.  (Nietzsche?)

7) Law as the particular inspiration of a universal.  Read: Plato.  Dialectics are here between hierarchies of concepts.  Law here mediates between such concepts.

8) Law as the active relationship between people. Read: Rousseau. The dialectics in this formation are between something like the technology of history and nature.  Law by this demarcation is a non-natural concept.

Under the weight of these laws, “I” am sinking.  But wasn’t that the point: the ends of man, the ends of woman, the ends of ‘we’?  

Or.  What happens if the conversation around in and through Being is only ever metaphor?  When Badiou breaks with the law of the father, the law of the Master Signifier, even the law of the sets, will he find more rationality?  Is there any room outside these 8 points and these 3 points and, and, and… Where is Kristeva?  Where is the irrational?  The unconscious?  What happens when the law breaks and revolution doesn’t go where you had hoped?


– thanks to Julia Honkasalo & Krista Johansson for their conversation on these ideas.


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