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Posts Tagged ‘Avital Ronell’

where: to begin…

In Love, what is philosophy? on August 22, 2009 at 8:29 pm

with ‘w’ it seems…

but the real story would take a full alphabet.

jet lagged but enthralled after a week working with Avital Ronell in the morning and Judith Butler in the afternoon, i will need some sleep and time reviewing my notes before i can get back to Ronell, Butler, Agamben and the rest of the lectures I heard in Saas Fee this year.

in the meantime, i’ll let  John Protevi sum it up as somehow finding him late is just the same as knowing him early (though i would protest that at least and today Butler and Ronell be part of what he is describing as Deleuze or Deleuzian, as surely one thinker cannot do all the work that is needed to be done…), so with that:

although the work of Jacques Derrida is a magnificent achievement and a lasting contribution to the tradition of post-phenomenological European philosophy, it is, while still necessary to any progressive philosophical and political practice, primarily of propaedeutic value in the reflection on and intervention into the convergent fields assuming the highest importance in the material structuring of the current global system of bodies politic: recombinant genetics, cognitive science, dynamical systems theory and others.  Derrida’s work, though destroying the self-evidence of the various identification machines at work today – the naturalized self-images of nations, racse, genders, subjects and so on – by inscribing the production of meaning in a world of ‘force and signification’, can only prepare the way for the radicality of Deleuzean historical-libidinal materialism: the principles guiding the empirical study of forceful bodies politic in their material production.

in other words, in moving the concept of the transcendental from that of the conditions of possibility of experience to that of the quasi-transcendental conditions of impossibility, the aporias of experience, Derrida performs the labour necessary to shake free of millennia of philosophical idealism, thus moving us from the pretensions of the cultural stratum to the point where a Deleuzean investigation of the material forces of all strata can begin.  thus a Derridean deconstructive reading will move us from the pretensions of metaphysics or phenomenology as the self-grounding of a rational, meaningful sign system – the book of nature – to the inscription of marks in a world of force and signification – the ‘general text’.  At that point the Deleuzean injunction takes hold: conduct a material analysis of forceful bodies politic.                           John Protevi, Political Physics, p. 2

more than a play on words…

In what is philosophy? on July 8, 2009 at 11:41 pm

after a break, moving boxes, moving books…

books and boxes.

returning to charles taylor, where i left off more than a week ago.  taylor, in overcoming epistemology, issues a challenge, a call to arms… tracing epistemology through the sciences to post-modernism (which i propose is more accurately structuralism and it’s posts-) where it gets lost in solipsism, only to be found again in and by the hermeneutic tradition.  what is at stake for taylor is a knowing that allows us to engage the world and others in it.  he is looking a ‘serious argument’ from the other side (foucault, derrida and nietzsche).  from ronell (see stupidity), derrida (limited. inc) and even rousseau (the confessions) i am learning to be leery of the serious.  and yet,

or perhaps because…

i would like to respond.  before this can happen, if it can happen at all, a critical clarification seems to be in order.  i am not the first to make it: as levi bryant at larval subjects writes it, there is epistemology and there is ontology.  this seemingly straightforward discussion gets repeatedly muddied by conversants who pit themselves against derrida, foucault and nietzsche, as well as by those who rise to the latter’s defense.  the confusion is, ironically, understandable.  in nietzsche’s work, epistemology and ontology are notable bedfellows.  if, reductively, might makes right… then the way we know and see and read the world is what that world becomes.  in foucault, discursive modes carve out and create the world we see, live in and reciprocally determine even while being determined in the exchange.  and in derrida, language strong-arms ways of knowing to such a degree that nature/culture, method/truth (and we could add here epistemology/ontology) cannot be distinguished.  clearly the move to muddy epistemology and ontology in these thinkers has it’s ground.

yet as ground is precisely in question…

i’d like to spend some time with one of derrida’s better known texts: “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences” (1966).  working through levi strauss’ research into the incest prohibition, derrida finds, with strauss, that the distinction between nature and culture is suspended in this universal no-no:

This scandal is the incest prohibition.  The incest prohibition is universal; in this sense one could call it natural.  But it is also a prohibition, a system of norms and interdicts; in this sense one could call it cultural…  Derrida, Structure Sign and Play.

and yet how did we get to incest from epistemology and ontology?  allow me a long quote from levi strauss to help make the connection:

let us suppose then that everything universal in man relates to the natural order, and is characterized by spontaneity, and that everything subject to a norm is cultural and is both relative and particular.  we are then confronted with a fact, or rather, a group of facts, which, in the light of previous definitions, are not far removed from a scandal; we refer to that complex group of beliefs, customs, conditions and institutions described succinctly as the prohibition of incest, which presents, without the slightest ambiguity, and inseparably combines, the two characteristics in which we recognize the conflicting features of two mutually exclusive orders.  it constitutes a rule, but a rule which, alone among all social rules, possesses at the same time a universal character.      from the elementary structures of kinship, strauss.

in the slippage, what derrida will call the play of nature and culture, the red thread is revealed in its unraveling: what we had posited as natural, as out there, as ontological is at one with what we had posited as cultural, as historically situated, as epistemological.  the impact of this find is dramatic: revealing for both strauss and derrida that the ways we know, our abilities to think a thing, an institution, a prohibition shape what we see and encounter in the world.  this is not too far afield from heidegger, either.  and on first read, perhaps this is the derrida everyone seems to know..? the derrida taylor all too quickly (and bizarrely) associates with ‘the spiritual stance of self-making… (p. 16)’ the derrida who claims the center is de-centered, oddly unaware that he is re-positing a center in the statement of decentering.  ahhh… if all our theoretical enemies were only so easy…

permit me another long quote, this time from derrida, to re-complicate this story:

This example [incest prohibition], too cursorily examined, is only one among many others, but nevertheless it already shows that language bears within itself the necessity of its own critique.  Now this critique may be undertaken along two paths, in two “manners.” Once the limit of the nature/culture opposition makes itself felt, one might want to question systematically and rigorously the history of these concepts.  This is a first action.  Such a systematic and historic questioning would be neither a philological nor a philosophical action in the classic sense of these words.  To concern oneself with the founding concepts of the entire history of philosophy, to deconstitute them, is not to undertake the work of the philologist or of the classic historian of philosophy.  Despite appearances, it is probably the most daring way of making the beginnings of a step outside of philosophy.         Structure, Sign and Play (p. 285 in Writing and Difference), [brackets] mine.

so here, finally and surely, this is the derrida we all know..?  moving through the history of philosophy, systematically pulling up concepts that complicate binaries and deconstitute foundations?  surely this is the derrida who initiates the return to solipsism, to what did taylor call it… “self-making” as he peels back all other founding possibilities to reveal the worms below.

still again, this derrida, this antagonist is yet all too simple:

the other choice (which I believe corresponds more closely to Levi-Strauss’s manner), in order to avoid the possibly sterilizing effects of the first one, consists in conserving all these old concepts within th domain of empirical discovery while here and there denouncing their limits, treating them as tools which can still be used.  no longer is any truth value attributed to them; there is a readiness to abandon them, if necessary, should other instruments appear more useful.  in the meantime, their relative efficacy is expolited, and they are employed to destroy the old machinery to which they belong and of which they themselves are pieces.  this is how the language of the social sciences criticizes itself.  levi-strauss thinks that in this way he can separate method from truth, the instruments of the method and the objective significations envisaged by it.  one could almost say that this is the primary affirmation of levi-strauss; in any event, the first words of the Elementary Structures are: “Above all, it is beginning to emerge that this distinction between nature and society (‘nature’ and ‘culture’ seem preferable to us today) while of no acceptable historical significance, does contain a logic, fully justifying its use by modern sociology as a methodological tool.”

given his way of surprise, and the very move to rethink essence and appearance, it would be premature to say this is in fact Derrida as he’d prefer to be read.  but in the three derrida’s we’ve now seen and read, the pop image (if there is anything popular about these sorts of people, discussions, etc..) begins to shift and dissolve.  stepping just back or aside from a rigorous upheaval of history,  in this derrida, in this paragraph, we read derrida reading strauss and there is a (shocking?) pragmatism in the idea that even broken tools (metaphysics) must/can/will still be used, must still be taken up, until something better comes along.  does this give pause to the idea that derrida was unaware of the metaphysical loop that his digs at metaphysics inevitably succumb to..?  to say that derrida, even heidegger were aware that there is no escape – there is no outside of the text – is not to say there is nothing beyond what we make up, what we construct.  it is to say, amongst other things, that in our very attempts to get ‘beyond’ epistemology, metaphysics, etc… we are repeatedly and undeniably caught in the webs we are examining and that derrida was clearly aware of this.

yet moving back into this last quoted paragraph, derrida writes: “the other choice… in order to avoid the sterilizing effects of the first one…” after positing two paths derrida recommends not the one less traveled by, but the one less sterile.  less sterilizing.  in the last two years, derrida has either come under harsh attack or dismissed with the argument that you can’t do anything with deconstruction except deconstruct.  perhaps this call for something other than sterility, (would its opposite be passion? (re)production? even a little dirt?) could also give pause to this critique.

and where does this leave us in regard to the epistemology/ontology distinction we began with?  while i am accusing taylor of such a mix-up, am i not inevitably engaged in the same cycle?

my response to taylor’s call is to offer something other than what he has been served thus far and to ask of him and his readers what precisely they are after in calling nietzsche, derrida and foucault to account.  in the process i hope i have debunked a few of the most sterilizing myths surrounding what derrida was writing, where deconstruction found its own fathers (heidegger, strauss) and clarified the stakes for what could eventually begin to formulate a response to Taylor.  to read derrida as thinker of nihilism, via nietzsche, is not to read him close enough.  concluding with derrida, this point is made with voice and vigor:

turned towards the lost or impossible presence of the absent origin, this structuralist thematic of broken immediacy is therefore the saddened, negative, nostaligic, guilty, Rousseauistic side of the thinking of play whose other side would be nietzschean affirmation, that is the joyous affirmation of the play of the world and of the innocence of becoming, the affirmation of a world of signs without fault, without truth, and without origin which his offered to an active interpretation.  This affirmation then determines the noncenter otherwise than as loss of center…

there are thus two interpretations of interpretation, of structure, of sign, of play.  the one seeks to decipher, dreams of deciphering a truth or an origin which escapes play and the order of the sign, and which lives the necessity of interpretation as an exile.  the other, which is no longer turned toward the origin, affirms play and tries to pass beyond man and humanism, the name of man being the name of that being who, throughout the history of metaphysics or of ontotheology – in other words, throughout his entire history – has dreamed of full presence, the reassuring foundation, the origin and the end of play…

for my part, although these two interpretations must acknowledge and accentuate their difference and define their irreducibility, i do not believe that today there is any question of choosing – in the first place because here we are in a region (let us say, provisionally, a region of historicity) where the category of choice seems particularly triviall; and in the second, because we must first try to conceive of the common ground, and the differance of this irreducible difference…                  derrida, structure sign and play [extractions from the concluding paragraphs].

if taylor was asking for a way to engage the world and others, the move to ‘conceive of the common ground…’


tayloring a discussion…

In Subjection, what is philosophy? on June 25, 2009 at 5:20 pm

i am reading ‘overcoming epistemology’ by charles taylor

primarily, because it was suggested, but also because there is something in his work, in his talks, that makes me want to squint my eyes and back up.  it may be his radiant clarity, his way of slicing through and focusing beams that makes me sweat and search for shade and shadows…  

in this 17 page piece (it may be a chapter of a larger work?  i just have a photocopy of this section…) taylor walks us through recent moves away from epistemology, highlighting the way that representational thinking has played a role in this same demise.  representation, epistemology and foundationalism seem to be a stake for taylor, to varying degrees of interest and rejection.  

while the discussion on representation is an interesting one (one attentively addressed by Gilles Deleuze for the french school in Difference and Repetition) i would like to more carefully read the last 3 pages of Taylor’s article, taking up his call for discussion or, in his words a ‘dispute to be fought…’  

this ‘dispute’ turns on two taylor-made paradigms.  one, the heideggerian lineage taylor sees himself as inheriting or ascribing to, the other, the ways in which foucault, derrida and others have taken this lineage in directions taylor disagrees with. (already i can hear derrida’s discussions on brotherhood, paternity and inheritance, as they were taken up with Searle and Carl Schmitt’s work, separately). since taylor poses what could be a call for discussion between these two  heideggerian progeny as something that needs military terminology, we can assume the stakes are very very high in his mind.  i would like to suggest that this is due to a misreading of heidegger, derrida and foucault together.  let’s see if i can trace this out in what follows:

earlier in the article, taylor looks to heidegger as an alternative to epistemology, articulating Dasein as being-in-the-world, or in other words, always situated, he writes:

what reflection in this direction would entail is already fairly well known.  it involves, first, conceiving reason differently, as including – alongside the familiar forms of the enlightenment – a new department, whose excellence consists in our being able to articulate the background of our lives perspicuously.  Taylor, p. 15

it is at this proposed binary pairing and opposing of ‘background’ and ‘lives’ that i would like to begin to outline a different reading of heidegger, foucault and derrida… one which might ease taylor’s call to battle, one which calls him to read the above again with less of simplifying eye.  beginning with heidegger, as taylor did, and taking into account taylor’s professedly moral concern for ‘situated freedom and the roots of our identity in community’, i would like to call up heidegger’s discussion of authenticity and inauthenticity in Being and Time.  all too quickly, authenticity and inauthenticity are modes of being-in-the world, for heidegger.  in Dasein’s average everydayness, he or she is enmeshed in the ‘they’, the chatter of the masses, the gossip of life lived inauthentically and fully among others: this is, for heidegger, inauthenticity.  authenticity, in contrast, comes from ‘the call of conscience’ it induces a move out of the ‘they’ into authentic historical Being-in-the-World, into quietude, into the stillness of the ‘clearing’.  what calls, what Dasein is called to is the ability to choose, and more pointedly to choose one’s destiny as someone who chooses.  while heidegger endlessly protests that inauthenticity and the ‘they’ are not derogatory states, or terms if you aren’t hearing community versus the ‘free’ individual in this description, i am not writing loud enough.   Being and Time ends with a quite terrifying and dramatic call to answer the call of conscience, to embrace one’s destiny as an historic people… we’ve seen how heidegger answered the call, picked up the phone… (Avital Ronell brilliantly wonders, in her seminal work The Telephone Book, what is it to answer a call, how to know who is calling, and how many who’s are on any given line, and most specifically – what if heidegger answered the wrong call when he took up the phone with the SS on the line?) and there is much more to pursue here, at another time.  but right now, back to this tayloring process, the point to be made among many is that for heidegger, mit-dasein, being-with, or even by extension, being-together in community is not the affair of one in ‘situated freedom…’ with ‘…roots of identity in community’.  it is only in those who have come after heidegger – jean-luc nancy in particular – who have taken heidegger’s being-with out of heidegger’s framework and into something taylor might recognize as community.  what is required to do this work, to find community out of mit-sein is to look again, and closely, at inauthenticity.  at the ‘they’… at those who do not speak in their own voice…, who are engulfed in the production of chatter…

and yet…  this is precisely where foucault comes in.  seemingly a lone wolf, foucault, in a late interview, plainly stated that heidegger was his strongest influence.  given this, given his work, i would like to invite taylor not to a duel, to a dispute, but to a reading group ‘rooted’ in foucault’s work and writing.  as is so easy to do, taylor writes foucault as a theorist of umbrella terms – where gigantic words like power subsume any and all as it it were a miraculous tornado, or glacier, clearing land and people and histories of its own accord, making victims of all the helpless in its wake. beginning with his doctoral thesis, foucault writes very different works and tells a very different story: power, for foucault is the force and effect of discourses enacted.  as enacting more than implies actors, we can here take up foucault’s understanding of subjectivation, as well as the works he wrote on madness at least, to dispel the oversimplifications which occur when taylor and others (including, most recently, bruno latour) read foucault.

subjectivation, first, can be described as a larger movement of louis althusser’s concept of interpellation, famously illustrated as follows:  a man is walking down a sidewalk when a police whistles and calls ‘hey you!’ as the walking man turns to look at the police, he, in effect, answers the call, and responds as the ‘you!’ in question.  now we can imagine circumstances where one turns simply in curiosity, but the broader point of this silly narrative is to illustrate that it is not simply ‘power’ or ‘authority’ that creates the subject of foucault’s descriptions, when the actor in this scenario turns, when he answers the call, he takes in and onto himself the authoritarian paradigm, stepping into a discourse that is formed and formulated in both the call and his own turning.  and he could have done otherwise… he could have kept walking.  the point is that the call was made, the police are in power, the whistles has social parlance and all of this is continued and enacted as the walking man turns in acknowledgement.  

if this sounds unlike the foucault you know, let me take us back into his writings for just a moment to further illustrate the same points.  in foucault’s doctoral thesis, madness and civilization, foucault starts in the middle ages, describing madness as it was defined, looking to social and historical factors that helped make this definition possible and plausible… and yet not for a moment does this description and genealogy step outside its own anthropocentrism.  we don’t see mental institutions building themselves: there are humans collaborating with discourse, formed by and  refining this discourse in their actions… in a very careful reading of descartes, foucault illustrates the way that descartes’ separation of madness and reason trickled down into the formation of madhouses, packing together those who could not live by reason – even when reason was refined and redefined as that which is not sloth… it is always human sloth which is operated on, human productivists who are keeping the doors to these madhouses shut… there could be no actionable discourse without actors taking up their cross and doing their part.

parts, roles, discourses… and of course texts.  if anyone has read anything by jacques derrida it is the oft requoted and misunderstood phrase : ‘there is nothing outside the text’.  taylor goes past this, thankfully, to a critique of Derrida through Nietzsche (as he did with Foucault).  i will pick this up tomorrow…

Americaine philo, interview with Avital Ronell

In Uncategorized on June 18, 2009 at 3:30 pm

part 2 of Avital’s whirlwind tour through and across Parisian media this month – published in May, 2009 with


Il paraît que la philosophie connaît un regain d’intérêt. Perceptible est la nostalgie des grands maîtres et des «grands récits». On veut des réponses, TF1 appelle cela la «quête de sens». Mais que sait-on de ceux qui font profession de philosopher, de travailler les concepts, d’étudier les textes, de faire et défaire des hypothèses ? Derrière le vernis des hommages, il se pourrait que l’atavique suspicion perdure. «Même avec des collègues de l’université, raconte Avital Ronell,quand je me mets à parler d’Homère, on me dit : “Tu nous ennuies. Homère, c’est pas cool, pas queer !” C’est tellement décourageant.» Dieu que la philosophie serait jolie sans ces pinailleurs de philosophes.

Avital Ronell, 57 ans, figure majeure de la philosophie américaine, est jusqu’à la fin juin l’invitée d’un cycle de conférences au centre Pompidou. Traduite dans de nombreux pays, amie des plus grands – elle tiendra à la rentrée un séminaire commun avec le néo-marxiste Slavoj Zizek et la féministe Judith Butler lui consacre son prochain livre -, elle a été découverte en France avec Telephone Book, enquête fiévreuse sur la signification philosophique du téléphone, qui commence par le coup de fil que Heidegger reçut en 1933 d’un dignitaire SA, qui marqua le début de son engagement nazi. Le philosophe de «l’appel de la conscience» incapable de résister à un appel téléphonique, voilà le genre de vertige qui attire irrésistiblement Ronell. Inutile de dire que Telephone Bookn’apporte pas de réponse.

A première vue, Avital Ronell a tout de l’universitaire de gauche tel que le roman anglo-saxon a pris l’habitude de le ridiculiser. Elle pratique le yoga, ce qui l’apaise. Ecrit le matin, enseigne à la prestigieuse New York University (NYU), habite sur Washington Square, au cœur du Village. S’habille «post-punk», vit seule «avec ses fantômes». Déplore le machisme français et défend la manière américaine de prendre la sexualité comme un moyen de se rendre heureux. Cuisine bénévolement pour les malades du sida. Quelques indices, pourtant, ne cadrent pas avec le stéréotype. Ainsi, l’espièglerie, quand, à propos des dates qui résument sa vie (ci-dessus), elle propose d’ajouter «l’année où je serai impératrice du monde». Ou le besoin de se mettre en danger, comme si, à chaque instant, il fallait qu’elle détricote et retricote ce qu’elle est : avant d’être recrutée à la NYU, elle avait été virée de deux universités, à cause de son look et de sa façon d’enseigner. Et encore sa manie, à contre-époque, d’exprimer sa gratitude, en commençant par Derrida, dont elle coanima le séminaire américain.

Pour le dire autrement : chez Avital Ronell, la philosophie n’est ni une science ni une sagesse, mais une affaire de survie psychique. «Idéalement, un philosophe doit savoir se détacher : un scepticisme sain, distant, qui n’a pas besoin de sa dose. Moi, j’ai un besoin archaïque de la philosophie, dont j’ai un peu honte. J’ai l’impression que cela m’expose trop. Vivre comme Socrate ou Nietzsche de nos jours serait tabou. Un temps, j’ai eu envie faire mes cours au milieu de la foule, à la gare routière de New York par exemple. Mais on m’enfermerait comme folle. A la fac, je suis protégée.» De cette tradition, elle a gardé le corps à corps : empoigner le monde, se saisir des objets «les plus méprisés» (la télé, la bêtise, les tests), les convertir en concepts, bien agiter.

Ce qui donne, à propos du sida : «Ce n’est pas une punition tombée du ciel ; c’est quelque chose qui est créé, un effet de la technologie, qui s’adresse à l’homme, à nos villes…» Sur l’addiction : «Les drogues sont le nom de l’exposition de notre modernité à l’incomplétion de la jouissance» (in Addict).Sur la télévision : «[Elle] s’installe après un traumatisme historique précis, une catastrophe néanmoins irreprésentable, la Shoah […]. Dans presque chaque histoire à la télé, il s’agit d’un meurtre, mais d’un meurtre résolu. Les choses reprennent leur place, le scandale s’efface […]. La télévision pose la question de la violence et de la force» (in American Philo). Partout, Ronell cherche cette imbrication de la vie et de la mort qu’en philosophie, on appelle «l’être».

Pas besoin d’être phénoménologue pour y voir l’effet d’une histoire hors du commun. Allemands, juifs, issus de la grande bourgeoisie berlinoise, ses parents sont partis en Palestine avant la guerre. Max Brod, l’écrivain et ami de Kafka, transporte leurs lettres d’amour lorsque la mère d’Avital retourne en Suisse. Auparavant, celle-ci a été la secrétaire de Ben Gourion, licenciée parce qu’au cours d’une réunion où était évoqué la nécessité de bouter les Arabes hors de territoires qui reviendraient à Israël, elle s’est exclamée: «Mais c’est immoral !»Quand Avital naît, ses parents sont diplomates, en poste à Prague. En 1956, ils n’en peuvent plus, quittent Israël et reprennent leur vie à zéro, en Amérique, au prix d’une chute sociale tragique et d’un rapport survolté à la judéïté.

Berlin, Tel Aviv et New York forment un triangle dont elle dit : «Il n’y avait pas de place pour moi.» Les Etats-Unis ? «Je ne m’y suis jamais sentie bien accueillie, ni par les institutions, ni par les gens, ni par la culture. C’est en lisant Derrida que j’ai pu comprendre les opérations d’exclusion, pourquoi elles sont nécessaires, qui les commande, qui en bénéficie. Ça m’a donné l’espoir de trouver une place.» Israël ? «Le premier mot en hébreu que j’ai appris, c’est “nazi”.» Aujourd’hui, son nom figure sur la liste noire des juifs antisionistes (ce qu’elle n’est pas). Mais son cauchemar préféré reste l’Allemagne, à laquelle, quel que soit le sujet, ses pensées ne cessent de la ramener : «Je ne peux pas me retenir, il faut que je frappe. Pour ne pas cacher le traumatisme.»Spécialiste de philosophie allemande, elle est souvent, dans les colloques sur Heidegger, «la seule femme juive», ce qui en agace plus d’un.«La culture allemande reste responsable de la grammaire guerrière de l’Amérique : voyez Wagner dans Apocalypse Now ou Schwarzenegger. La question est : quels sont les trajets souterrains, les transmissions fantômes, les cellules dormantes ?»

Lorsqu’elle rencontre Derrida, celui-ci vient d’écrire que la métaphysique n’existe pas. Il lui demande son nom, elle répond : «Comment, tu ne me reconnais pas ? Pourtant, tu m’as offensée.» Etonné, Derrida insiste et Avital Ronell s’emporte : «Je suis la Métaphysique ! Et tu as dit que je n’existe pas !»«La Métaphysique», ça lui est resté comme nickname (surnom) pendant une dizaine d’années et ça lui va bien. Car, de fait, qu’est-ce que philosopher, sinon chercher ce qui n’existe pas : la vérité ? Ou, autre définition possible,«espionner, se promener sur les lieux ennemis, où l’on n’est pas bienvenu. C’est ma spécialité, comme une responsabilité qui m’incomberait.» Mission impossible, bien sûr (le feuilleton lui a inspiré quelques pages), mais qui clôt le débat sur la quête de sens : chez cette Américaine, la pensée est une frénésie insensée. «Heidegger dit que nous courons après quelque chose qui se retire de nous.»

Avital Ronell se présente aussi en DJ qui mixerait les concepts et l’argot new-yorkais. Ou encore en standardiste des grands philosophes : «Je les mets en contact avec leur propre avenir. Je suis sûre qu’Aristote aurait écrit Telephone Book.» Son directeur de thèse l’avait prévenue : les Allemands ne comprendront jamais sa façon d’écrire ; les Américains resteront hermétiques à son contenu ; seul espoir, disait-il, les Français. On verra ce mois-ci.

deux amazones a Paris

In what is philosophy? on June 18, 2009 at 3:09 pm

an interview by the Nouvelle Observateur with Judith Butler and my phd advisor, Avital Ronell from bibliobs in Paris, June 11th, 2009.

Judith Butler et Avital Ronell, les deux plus grandes représentantes américaines de la «French Theory», cette pensée inspirée de Deleuze, Foucault, Derrida, évoquent ici leur relation à la France, à l’amour, et le scandale que leur oeuvre n’a cessé de provoquer.  

Si l’on ne présente plus Judith Butler, grande théoricienne des genres sexuels, professeur à Berkeley, égérie gay mondialement connue, le public français commence à découvrirAvital Ronell. Lectrice raffinée de Derrida, Blanchot, Flaubert et de tant d’autres, la «Dark Lady» de la déconstruction, comme on la surnomme, élue par «Village Voice» comme un des trois meilleurs écrivains au monde, en impose par sa sophistication subtile, son humour et la prodigieuse intelligence de ses textes. Rencontre au café Le Rostand, à deux pas du jardin du Luxembourg.

Le Nouvel Observateur. – La France a mis quinze ans à vous publier, Judith Butler, et l’on commence à découvrir Avital Ronell. Toutes deux, vous êtes pourtant de prestigieuses hybridations de la pensée française… Comment expliquez-vous cette latence?

Judith Butler. – Ce n’est pas trop tard, c’est ainsi. Plus tôt, cela aurait sans doute été compris autrement. C’est aussi l’expérience que je vis en Espagne ou en Argentine, où les gens m’interrogent sur ce que j’écrivais il y a vingt ans comme si je venais à peine de l’élaborer. Ainsi mon travail revient-il me hanter comme une sorte de fantôme. Quand les Chinois se mettront auxgender studies [NDLR : théorie apparue dans les années 1970 aux Etats-Unis, posant que la différence des sexes est une construction sociale], ça risque d’être une expérience déroutante pour moi.

Avital Ronell. – C’est vrai qu’il y a pas mal de bruit en ce moment autour de nous, et que nos livres sont désormais disponibles. En même temps, il ne faut pas être dupe. Cela ne signifie pas nécessairement un vrai welcoming. Les institutions sont heureuses de montrer qu’elles savent accueillir la radicalité et sont capables de nous supporter pour quelque temps. 

N. O. – Ce décalage dans la réception de vos oeuvres n’est-il pas lié au long refoulement de ce qu’on a appelé «la pensée-68» durant une vingtaine d’années en France?


A. Ronell. – Sans doute, mais il y a toutes sortes de façons de refouler. Aux Etats-Unis, ça passe par une espèce d’hyper-exposition qui n’a rien à voir avec la véritable étude. Il y a un temps pour tout. La plupart de nos maîtres sont morts, à commencer par Derrida, dont la perte m’a tant affectée. Comme dans une course de relais olympique, le moment est peut-être venu de courir. Le temps de la pensée n’est pas celui de l’actualité. Il est rare qu’un penseur existe simultanément avec lui-même. Nous ne saurions pas vraiment qui est Hegel si Marx ne l’avait tardivement découvert.


N. O. – Aujourd’hui encore, les gender studies n’ont pas «pris» ici comme outre-Atlantique. Elles suscitent même souvent un vrai rejet. Faut-il y voir un effet de l’universalisme républicain à la française?


J. Butler. – Il y a dix-huit ans de ça, quand on avait proposé à Fayard mon livre «Gender Trouble» («Trouble dans le genre»), l’éditeur avait répondu que c’était «inassimilable». C’est un mot parfait, ça, hein? Trop étranger, trop étrange, non tolérable par les anticorps français. Le livre a alors connu une sorte de vie underground, les gens se repassaient des photocopies. Aujourd’hui, c’est l’inverse. J’entends dire çà et là que les gender studies sont devenues incritiquables, omniprésentes. Certains disent même qu’elles représentent une vraie menace pour la recherche française, qui sous leur emprise risquerait de perdre sa spécificité. Bref, je suis passée sans transition d’inassimilable à mainstream, normalisée. Heureusement que c’est de la mauvaise foi… ça m’ennuierait de contribuer à détruire une université française déjà en triste état ! [Rires].

N. O. – Vous avez un jour déclaré, Avital Ronell, que la pensée française avait été pour vous une sorte de «refuge pour femmes battues» à une époque où votre excentricité intellectuelle vous marginalisait aux Etats-Unis... 

A. Ronell. – La France, ou du moins le fantasme qu’on appelle France, a toujours été pour moi un refuge, un sanctuaire. Il y a ici une intelligence spéciale, un rapport responsable à la pensée. Il est vrai que mes débuts universitaires ont été rudes… Pas de poste, pas de job. Moi aussi, j’ai eu mon affaire «Gender Trouble». Mais ce qui choquait chez moi, c’est que je me mêlais de la grande tradition phallique, que je suis entrée sur le terrain de Hegel ou Goethe, que j’ai investi un territoire réservé aux vieux messieurs sérieux. C’était compliqué parce qu’en moi il y avait une bonne fille qui voulait que la longue chaîne des papas et des maîtres la reconnaisse. Au lieu de quoi j’entendais : c’est vraiment de la merde ce que tu fais ; qui t’a invitée dans la maison de l’Etre? montre-nous ton carton ! Mais en moi il y avait aussi une autre personnalité, plus dominante, qui disait : fuck that ! tant mieux si c’est inacceptable, tant mieux s’ils vomissent.

J. Butler. – Avital est depuis devenue quelqu’un d’indispensable pour la réflexion aux Etats-Unis. Ses livres, depuis«Telephone Book», ont inauguré une ère nouvelle. Tous ceux qui travaillent sur la technologie, Heidegger ou la communication, se réfèrent à la pensée ronellienne. Elle a une façon virtuose d’entremêler registre populaire et haute culture qui pour le coup est très peu française.

A. Ronell. – Je suis très touchée.[Rires] Ce qui est certain, c’est que les grands morts sont pour moi des amis, et que je prends pas mal de libertés avec eux. Cela s’est produit quand j’ai ressorti la correspondance longtemps occultée de Goethe avec sa mère. Celui-ci rompt avec elle à l’âge de 24 ans, mais à distance elle encourage son fils à devenir le grand pervers qu’il était par ailleurs. «Tu devrais tous les enculer», etc., elle lui écrit des choses incroyables. Ce faisant, je portais atteinte au grand Phallus de la nation allemande. Mais c’est moins les aspects sexuels qui ont choqué, je crois, que le regard contemporain que je portais sur tout ça. Goethe est le premier à avoir osé peindre le portrait d’un suicide sans alibi transcendantal.

N. O.– Autre exemple de déplacement subversif dans la relecture des «monuments», vous abordez dans «Test Drive» la question de la rupture amoureuse à travers la relation entre Nietzsche et Wagner…

A. Ronell. – Nietzsche a réellement été amoureux de Wagner. D’ailleurs, depuis mon ami et interlocuteur Socrate, transmission et amour sont liés. Socrate se laisse instruire par Diotime, mais pour philosopher il faut qu’il couche mentalement avec un garçon. C’est tout à fait récent d’oublier ça. L’amour ne renvoie pas toujours à la sexualité, sauf en France je crois !

N. O. – Vous aussi, Judith Butler, vous pensez que le pays des French lovers est en réalité particulièrement étriqué sur la question de l’amour?

J. Butler. – Nous vivons actuellement une revalorisation publique du couple, qui dépasse largement la France. Même le mouvement pro-mariage chez les homos participe de ça. Il y a pourtant d’autres formes de reconnaissance érotique, plus excitantes. Au fond, si je suis pour la possibilité du mariage gay c’est pour qu’on puisse commencer à attaquer le mariage en tant qu’institution. Ma girl-friend m’a dit qu’elle divorcerait immédiatement de moi si jamais je tentais de l’épouser. C’est très charmant, n’est-ce pas ! Mais au fond, même dans le mariage le plus conventionnel et bourgeois, on ne sait en réalité jamais ce que les gens vivent. On n’en connaît que ce qui transparaît dans le discours public. Le sociologue Eric Fassin a montré que 60% des Français vivaient dans une situation maritale non normative : séparations, recompositions, parentalité diffuse. Si la réalité est celle-ci, pourquoi sommes-nous si attachés à maintenir l’idée que c’est le couple qui est bon pour l’enfant et que les autres situations créent des psychotiques?

A. Ronell. – Oui, ce qu’on considère comme «inassimilable» est en réalité déjà un fait sociologique. Le couple est un mensonge, érigé sur sa propre défaite. Ce discours nous met des menottes et nous fait croire qu’il y a une réalité référentielle derrière ça. Et cependant, si on arrivait à détruire le couple, est-ce qu’il n’y aurait pas quelque chose d’encore pire à venir derrière? Quelque chose d’encore plus monstrueux et régressif? [Rires.]

J. Butler. – Le fait est que la sexualité humaine n’est pas aisément adaptable à quelque forme sociale que ce soit. C’est là un des grands acquis deLacan. Il n’y a aucune façon de résoudre ce problème qui soit en soi meilleure qu’une autre. A chacun de choisir son propre dysfonctionnement, et la part de sacrifice qu’il comporte. Rien ne serait pire que d’être un stalinien de la politique sexuelle et de décréter que le modèle du couple est à dépasser. Et cela même si certains doivent se droguer pour arriver à rester en couple…

A. Ronell. – Ou se mettre à boire ! [Rires.] En réalité, qu’est-ce qu’un couple? C’est difficile à dire. Il y a toujours un troisième terme là-dedans. Même au lit. Un fantôme. Qui me télécommande dans mes désirs? Qui approche l’autre en moi? Parfois on le fait pour quelqu’un d’autre. Un jour où il se sentait mal et fragile, Jean-Luc Nancy m’a dit à propos de quelqu’un : «Je l’aime bien, tu sais.» D’un seul coup je me suis mise à éprouver un grand désir pour cette personne. Deux mois après, très en colère, j’appelle Jean-Luc : «Mais enfin, pourquoi m’as-tu obligée à coucher avec cet incroyable connard !» Il était stupéfait. On ne sait pas d’où vient le désir. C’est parfois l’odeur de sa mère qu’on aime en quelqu’un. C’est comme ça qu’on choisissait les saints au Moyen Age… à l’odeur délicieuse qu’ils dégageaient. On ne sait jamais pourquoi on sanctifie l’autre.

N. O. – Lors d’une conférence récente à Beaubourg, vous vous disiez stupéfaite, Judith Butler, de voir que certains intellectuels avaient ramené les émeutes de 2005 dans les banlieues à une crise de l’autorité paternelle. Trop maternant, l’Etat manquerait de testostérone, en somme…

J. Butler. – Il y aurait beaucoup à dire à ce sujet. L’idée que l’ordre social entier repose sur la figure du père fort est un genre de croyance en réalité très localisée, singulière, provinciale, pourrait-on dire. Quand on sait le sort qui est fait aux immigrés dans votre pays, ramener la crise politique à une question de discipline familiale est hallucinant. Cela vaut autant pour Sarkozy que pour Ségolène Royal, d’ailleurs. Comme par hasard, c’est survenu au même moment que le combat contre l’homoparentalité. Il s’agit en réalité de purs fantasmes fabriqués pour conforter un certain type d’exercice du pouvoir.

A. Ronell. – Pourquoi le père est le centre de tout, à commencer par le Père éternel bien sûr? Je suis justement en train d’écrire un texte qui s’appellera «Losers Sons». Notre destin actuel est en effet très lié à des fils perdants comme Bush ou Ben Laden, lui aussi méprisé par son père. La destruction du monde a partie liée avec ces fils-là qui n’assument pas leur castration. Les travaux de Judith et de Hannah Arendt me sont très utiles en ce moment pour analyser l’emprise qu’ont sur nous ces représentations de l’autorité. Voyez, c’est ce genre de choses que j’explore. Des choses qui n’ont pas vraiment le statut d’honnêtes citoyens du concept.

Propos recueillis par Aude Lancelin





un.content.ed forms

In Love, resurrection, Subjection on April 21, 2009 at 5:00 pm


it may be an antiquated binary, form vs content.  and while it isn’t quite fair to collude it with the mind/body distinction, it is fair to say that martin heidegger went after both in Being and Time.  dasein, being-in-the-world, the read-to-hand: you know where this is going.  as did nancy after him.  for both of these theorists form is content is form.  in nancy there is skin, there is surface and this is the very content in question as well.  ronell complicates this in crack wars posing bodies of addiction: to literature, to mind, to love… where psychoanalysis meets heidegger meets reagan era politics (not so far behind our new obsession with the mexican border) things get more complicated.

as they should be…?


form vs. content: as zizek often says, ‘i have not lost my thread.’

so zizek’s thread.  we could call it badiou’s, we could call it st. paul’s.  but what we cannot call it is revolutionary.  that’s any easy put down, but a put down is not what i have in mind.  i’m all for derrida, and now recently zizek’s call toward the impossible possibility.  what i can’t stand behind (yet..?) is the move zizek, badiou and others are making toward a formal christianity, a mode of belief in the form, not the content, of a particular religious belief.  again, this is not because i’m for the content.  it is in fact that i am for change, i am for a way of shifting out of where we are and i’m just not sure that formalism is going to be enough to drive the needed change.


the puppet and the dwarf, published in 2003.  slavoj zizek.

st. paul: the foundations of universalism, published in 2003.  alain badiou. 

the political theology of paul, published in 2003.  from lectures given in 1987.  jacob taubes.

a jewish theologian, a lacanian psychoanalyst and a post-marxist mathematician all walk into a bar…


as fast as zizek thinks, it is still probably fair to say that the puppet and the dwarf was conceived at least a year before its publication.  that puts this response (hear: responsibility in all the best ways) somewhere in 2001 and 2002. while many other significant things happened in the world in 2001, 2 actions continue to eclipse the rest of life: the 9/11 attacks and america’s invasion of iraq. in 2002 Jacques Chirac and Jean-Marie Le Pen ran for president of France.  the US created the iraq WMD threat, declared war on iraq, and, finally, froze Bin Laden’s assets.   and this is just what bubbled up to the surface.  suicide bombers went to work.  the US military complex continued to go to work.  and billboards all over the rural south continued to call people to prayer – not for peace, but for justice against the ‘evil doers’ of the world.  

nothing like the death of innocents, particularly the death of foreign muslims, to get us thinking about Christianity.


form vs. content

was it capitalism or otherwise that reared its head before and after 9-11?  what did Zizek and Badiou, among others, see in the world in 2001 and 2002 that brought them to st. paul?  ideology, certainly.  a form that was unaware of its content.  clearly.  but also a content fully in control of manipulating forms: Cheney, Rumsfeld… but then again, maybe not.  as Badiou continues to charge, capitalism is worldless, and you should hear all the echoes of Heidegger here as it is not that capitalism is otherworldly, or that it destroys cultures, but that it destroys the worlding of worlds, the environment of Dasein and mit-Dasein.  it is form without content. force without content.ment.


this is where things get strange.  within the inescapable confines of the worldless world of capitalism, Zizek and Badiou, post-marxists at least, continued to look for a way not out, but on-the-outs with capitalism.  did they need a leader?  did they need a lamp post?  what was the appeal of a jewish pharisee turned christian apostle?  

paul’s own path opens up some possibilites for thinking zizek’s appropriations: saul was  pharisee, a man of the law and the letter, a leader in stonings and persecutions of those who crossed the line.  he has a vision, a transformation ensues and saul becomes saul becomes the leader of the church of the excluded, the mouthpiece of universality  ‘there is neither  jew nor greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female…’

perfect.  in the shadow of a ‘you are for us or you are against us…’ wrapped up in market ideology and religious belief, the post-marxists find one from the inside, paul of tarsus, who is ready to wield both the sword and the pen for the cause.  the only problem is, well, of course… the cause.

i said this would get strange: during a time when religious rhetoric and christian collusions are at their peak, Zizek gets on board.  but he gets on board with a hollowed out version of christianity, one that is purely formal, one that sees a revolutionary dedicated to a cause, living and dying for that very cause… not that he agrees with that cause.  no, he just agrees with the move.  the man overturning the money changer’s tables – yes, ok, in the temple, but it could be, for zizek, anywhere.  the man who says you must hate your mother, ‘if anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters-yes, even his own life-he cannot be my disciple…’ – yes, ok, for the love of God, but what is god but a universal, universality = equality… and there you  have it socialism revived as soon as we thrown out the content of both the forms that are paul and jesus.

of course, it isn’t that simple.  and zizek is well aware of the complexity: this is why we love him.

but what do we do with a form without content?  holding this up to revolutions past it is hard to see the french revolution as a move toward formal equality, and not the content thereof.  it is hard to see the american revolution as a driven by a form, but not belief.  even as i write this i am disturbed and displaced the distinction between form and content – so archaic in fact, but even if we withdraw from this divide, if we take up Nancy and Heidegger’s positions, we are even further away from the formal embraces of Zizek and Badiou’s work.


so what next?  as Susan Buck-Morss, Zizek and Badiou move toward the form of religious belief, even a specifically christian religious belief, consider this a sounding from somewhere close by, if not within.  in support, not detraction, but in earnest support – perhaps a tough love toward the above group’s dis.content.ment.  

yes, perhaps.

to cry or to mop over spilled milk…

In Uncategorized on April 15, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Hegel’s man is the type who starts off by crying over split milk (the Unhappy Consciousness confronted by the objective world).  Then he beings to ‘philosophise’ about it, and dries his eye, because he has come to know the situation as it really is.  Marx’s man will immediately point out that this is all very well, but the milk is still on the floor.  He will reach for the mop and do something about it.  Hegel’s man, however, still retains one potent defence.  he will regard the antics of his friend with an amused contempt, and point out to him how silly it is to get one’s knew dirty trying to clean the floor, when all the situation demands is a little high-level reflection.

From Marx’s Paris Writings – John MaGuire

though the floor would get muddled, we could read this with Heidegger’s ‘Letter on Humanism’ introducing not only Martin, but Jean Paul Sartre as well.  And then with Sartre, Beauvoir and already with Heidegger, Arendt.  

Sartre and Marx would mop.  Heidegger and Hegel would stand by and smirk, though hidden cameras might show the mops’ earlier arrivals via Heidegger’s hand.  Oddly, Arendt might call Zizek in, as inevitably he’d be waiting outside, pacing and wondering what Hitchcock would do with all these scenes and actors.

I’m being silly.  and then again, I’m not.  

What can be said about philosophy, about action, about thinking… now.  In a recent talk in NYC, Zizek said he was reading Lacan in order to bring the German Idealists back, knowing full well and admitting that such an action is really far more provocative, risque and risky then any of the art movements who claim to be pushing boarders and buttons in their skin bare works.  But is it really risky?  John Maguire reading Marx might say that until Zizek picks up the mop, he is all thought and no action.  Yet Marx himself, a prolific writer and theorist troubled those milky waters long before Maguire began to write about him.  

I’d like to side with Heidegger in the way he nullified the mind/body thought/action distinction.  Yet isn’t this where Heidegger’s own political alliances (with National Socialism) call us all to question? 

And isn’t the question precisely that of the nature of the call?

In a brilliant analysis of Heidegger’s understanding of the call of conscience, Avital Ronell pulls no punches: her debut text, the Telephone Book  proposes a multiplicity of splits, not of mind and body, or thought and action, but of mind and mind, and mind again.  We know this splitting as schizophrenia and her point is that the one called is never one.  The caller is never singular and someone is always on the line, be it an operator on the switch or a censor on the prowl… the caller and the called are never alone, are never only two, are never less than multiple.

what does this do to Praxis?  are we left either to smirk or to mop?  to we smirk first, and mop later?  do we smirk and find someone else to mop?  

i am asking.  i am acting.  i am asking.

the history of what…

In what is philosophy? on April 5, 2009 at 10:16 pm

it might be a question of form.  

of what is in-form,


the question is: what is philosophy?  

i read it daily.  i have books of it lined up on my shelf.  but when pressed to think of how to present it to new readers, how to teach it to undergraduate students, how could i be so shocked to find out that it is only what it is and cannot be what it is not?

the problem, for me, began as follows: in thinking through a potential undergraduate syllabus, i started looking for women.  i found the token essays in the more recent anthologies (usually simone de beauvoir and helene cixous) but started wondering about the women who wrote during the suffragist movement, and then the men who wrote during the american civil war, and the people who have long written about class struggle.  the more i looked for these people the more deeply they disappeared and the further they disappeared the more disheartened i became.

in frustration, as usual, i intellectualized the problem and leaned on my mentors:  i thought about ronell and derrida, about the margins of philosophy, about discourses on inclusion and exclusion.

and then, in doing so, i realized my mistake.

in 1954 Heidegger wrote an essay titled ‘what is called thinking’… where he left philosophy, the history of metaphysical thought, behind for a different pursuit.  perhaps part of what heidegger recognized is that philosophy is a narrow history of a very particular sort of questioning.  it is not the ‘love of wisdom’ it’s name purports: it is the history of posing and answering a very narrow set of questions, beginning in a very particular time and place. and while this specificity doesn’t excuse philosophy for all that it ignored and silenced, it is clearly part of what has lead to all the late modernist and post-modernist’s disciplinary death cries.  as the field of philosophers expanded, philosophy as it was known necessarily burst at the seams with new, needful infusions.  it brought ‘theory’ in its wake, it opened to include not only race, class and gender theory, but also literature, psychoanalysis, music, art, science and media discourses…

today, standing in the middle of this outpouring, i, unthinkingly, looked around in search of texts to teach, open and explain the worlds of theory that are whirling past me.  struck by the fecundity of my time i was shocked to look back and see the dearth philosophy had traversed.  and at this funny juncture, the question again stands: 

what is philosophy?  

is it a history of a particular questioning?  is it a narrow misrepresentation of a broader history of thought?  is it a dominating dialogue, a power play that established what could and could not be known, thought, understood?  is it a tradition, a trust, even a belief that is now fading?  

or is even this an outmoded way of thinking about philosophy, when people like Badiou and Zizek, reacting to the breadth we’re all witnessing, are tightening down in both new and old ways, calling for philosophy’s return and revival?

what is philosophy?

what is philosophy?

sons of bitches.

In Law, Subjection on January 14, 2009 at 12:23 am

funny. has bitch listed as, of course, a female dog.  but under the subheading ‘offensive’ you’ll find

1) a woman considered to be overbearing

2) a man considered to be weak or contemptible

but as no one (well, not that badiou is everyone) is talking about women today, perhaps there’s no purpose in bringing all this up.


lacanian ink #32, badiou has a really delightful little piece on aleatory sons.  and i do mean delightful.  this piece is almost poetic.  at least i think Badiou should consider it so… for a man concerned with false sutures, with ‘improper ties’ between philosophy and poetry (think deconstruction)  in fact there are moments when he comes so close to the work of Avital Ronell, well… you do wonder if the son got in this purist’s eyes.  and perhaps blindness is the works’ very strength.  perhaps without a certain closing of the eyes, this piece couldn’t have been written at all. but then, i am getting ahead of myself.

in ‘The Son’s Aleatory Identity in Today’s World” Badiou plays the role of a concerned (albeit disconcerting) father figure. he begins this role with the claim that between freud’s totem and taboo and moses and monotheism and the lives of our present day sons, some serious ground has been lost.  in the cited texts, the original freudian construction had boys hating their jouissance loving fathers quite literally to death.  post-burial, the return of the father, in law, brought order, regularity and simply job descriptions for men-to-be.  this regularity bred (yes it did) love.  love for order, love for harmony.  love for (are we forgetting a few historical ‘heartbreaks’ or just reading metaphorically?)… you get the idea.  

but, here, now, in Badiou’s view, that idea, those ideas, they are all gone.  today, according to “The Son’s Aleatory Identity…” sons have no clear track.  or they have three + 1 tracks… none of which lead to decapitation or patricide, rendering them, therefore, clearly insufficient. Badiou describes these tracks as follows:

first, right from the start, track one is perversion – think tattooing, marking, a physical, mental and technical working to differentiate the (fore)skin in order to bring sons into their own by right.rite… right.  as we’ve seen from badiou before, this perversion looks very much like what badiou nicknames pornography: i.e. anything which is a rejection of its intended purpose, (purpose in this case being the  making of a subject.)  

the second option looks just like terrorism, mainly because it is. in option 2, perversion inverts to traditional dogmatism and we have sons sacrificing themselves for ideas and ideals which are not only planes in the sky but pie in the sky as well.  (these are terrible puns, but it is late… in the day and otherwise.)

the third and presumably final option is simply that of the sell-out.  badiou calls him something more glamorous but essentially this son is a harvard grad with a secured job on wall street attached to his diploma.  he’s been groomed for this.  protected by, what badiou calls a policing (see Avital Ronell’s “Trauma TV” in Finitude’s Score for stellar work on the police force) that structures society and separates the wheat from the chaff while meritoriously concealing a deep seated nihilism.

the point of all three of these options is, for badiou, that the real points have all been blunted.  we are left with miserable, and clearly fatherless sons: perverts, terrorists and sell outs abound and there is nothing to be done about it. 

or almost nothing.  badiou ends the article with the +1: Rimbaud, who, it seems, lived the bastard trinity himself… yet rose above.  found his true father.  learned to kill, and thereby reinstall a saving symbolic.   he, like philosophy was saved by “‘His body!  The dreamed-of redemption, the shattering of grace meeting with new violence’.  “This,” writes Badiou, “could be the maxim of our common efforts in the service of the new initiation of our sons.”    

as we’ve seen and read before from badiou, whether he is calling to the lawless or the fatherless, (the point being always, with lacan, that they are the same), the shadow of the cross is never far behind.  this time, when law recedes, grace – and grace by the sword no less – can be found to (in full christian chorus) ‘bridge the gap’.  but what gap is badiou bridging?  is ‘aleanation’ being equated with grace?  if so, if you’ll follow me following blanchot, something interesting may be seen:

“luck and grace, in being compared, help to determine certain relations to the law.  grace is unjust, an unjustified gift that does not take what is right into consideration, while confirming it nonetheless…  the law is empty authority, before which no one in particular can maintain himself and which could not be softened by mediation, the veil of grace  that would make this approach tolerable… the circle of the law is this: there must be a crossing in order for there to be a limit, but only the limit, in as much as uncrossable, summons to cross, affirms the desire (the false step) that has always already, through an unforeseeable movement, crossed the line.”  (The Step Not Beyond, Maurice Blanchot p. 24) 

in all of this law and grace and line crossing we are back to the stake, to the totem, with freud.  the empty authority of the father must be surpassed, the father must be killed, but only to return in such a way (as law redoubled after death) that shows he was never lost or cut off to begin with…


“the law says ‘in spite of you’ [“malagre toi”] familiarity that indicates no one.  grace says, ‘without you, without your being there for anything and in your own absence’, but this familiarity which seems to designate only the lack of anyone, restores the intimacy and the singularity of the relation.” (Blanchot, Step Not Beyond, p 25)

here what Blanchot writes, is that the subject Badiou is building, searching out, hoping for in Rimbaud, in grace, is a ‘lack of anyone’.  it is an empty subject.  one who was singled out not by merit (that would be law), not by familiarity (that would be favoritism, or…) but by sheer… luck?

“luck joins these two traits.  luck comes only through playing.  and the game does not address itself to anyone in particular.  he who is lucky is not lucky and is not so for himself or because of himself.  the ‘without you’ of luck frees, through the familiar address, for the anonymous” (Blanchot, Step Not Beyond, p. 26)

In this de.scription, Blanchot addresses what Badiou has yet to formalize.  the empty, anonymous recipient of “grace, the rupture and the new violence” are the same bastard sons Badiou had hoped to make into subjects. yet, by reinstating a randomly violent, virilent father, luck-loving father, could these sons really be anything but hollow receptacles, anonymous ‘without you’s’ targeted by a grace without stability, a father’s love that knows nothing more of his son than that he is a body, a replica, a random recipient of his, the father’s, good graces?  yet, perhaps this is Badiou’s dream.  perhaps this is the hollowing out he has been up to since his book on st. paul.  it might, in fact, be his savior made in fumbling textual flesh: and is that what all this sword raising is heading toward?  hollow subjectivities?  haven’t we seen these before (in marx, in the march of history, in hegel, in…)?  and if this hollow recipient of the event, of truth, is not on Badiou’s hit parade, what is he doing with luck, grace and law that doesn’t end in a pew?

By now, with ‘grace meeting with new violence’ and ‘the new initiation of our sons’, I’m simply (and surely not the only one) thinking: Where are these boys’ (overbearing) mothers?  

Wouldn’t a few good bitches just clean up this whole messy problem of contemptible and weak fathers?

Or did I miss something?  because really, Alain, even web.ster could see that one coming…