Berlin, 2009

Berlin, 2009
We want more voices, thoughts and languages!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Alain Badiou´s The Century, 2005

I’m posting Page Pavlov´s review on Badiou’s book on the last century. Along the way, I´m also reviewing here, less directly, Badiou and Cassin´s Heidegger: Le nazisme, les femmes et la philosophie, 2010.

Page Pavlov: A quasi-review of Alain Badiou’s The Century, 2005.

Who are the nameless? Where are they? The sacrificial bodies, other homini sacri, deep into a language that is ours. But also theirs. Edmond Jabés. Where are the traditions shaken from the trees of the garden? "Our garden"? (125). Their garden. This place we love. Where we meet every spring and in winter again.

Reading The Century, it has been hard to contain my rage. It might be because of my attentive sympathy with the mood of the text or rather, more likely, because the forms&contents demo-manifested therein demand a response - einen Zeichen zu setzen: to take a clear and radical stand against them - against a position assumed ever again - as if what Badiou calls the century had never happened, as if the Shoah had never happened, as if he could celebrate with impunity the eternal return of totalit/arianism.

Spirituality and materiality, and the cruel cut in-between: materialist formalization of a new-present: the present of the movement of repetition, not repetition itself. Badiou, so busy in tracing the cruel line he assumes it’s his task to trace (but without traces, it must be a final cut), extensively quoting Brecht, forgets maybe a poem by the latter, quite a famous poem:

"The war which is coming / Is not the first one. There were / Other wars before it. / When the last one came to an end / There were conquerors and conquered. / Among the conquered the common people / Starved. Among the conquerors / The common people starved too."

Does this also sound like a war cry?

There have been more cries than wars in this century that’s not closed yet. Historical construction should listen to those voices, now.

Certainly I share with the author the adversary he names, the contemporary pseudo-democracy of the West, as well as those he doesn´t name, some reappropriations of deconstruction; nonetheless the reasons Badiou adduces only succeeded in strengthening my sympathies for Derrida and followers, because of the common ground we share. Yes. I´m terrified. One dead Jew. Two dead Jews.

Three dead Jews.

Four dead Jews. Five dead Jews.

How many does one need to make the Real, to force "a thinking to declare, in its area of concern, the state of exception"? (160). Certainly those bodies have been endowed with their real martyrized corpse - and yet no tongue, still no tongue, no tongue yet. Did they take part in the "grandiose, epic and violent" (9) "astounding historicism" (14) of the century only with their Leib, with their corpse? Because it seems to me pretty clear that this book still cuts their tongue/traditions like others allegedly did with such a passion du réel - - to see their interiors?

I´m not interested whatsoever in reading another history written "by the hands of the murderers" - and if a work of redemption has to be done even there, this can only happen by rescuing the living traditions, certainly not by endorsing a murderous violence – as a method.

This is not a review of the book. I´ve no desire to write any review of this book.

Page 158: "In a text that has become too famous, Walter Benjamin indicates..." I would like to give a look into the work of this author, I presume also a "too famous one," and see if maybe this too famous author of the XX. Century shared something deeper with Foucault and Celan than any passion of the real. Certainly he shared with both of them too early a death.

Near Benjamin´s grave, where you won´t find his bones, it is written that "it is more arduous to honor the memory of the nameless than that of the renowned. Historical construction is devoted to the memory of the nameless."

Like dogs we bend and dig for bones. And we listen and we read. We learn. Respect for the elderly and for the poor - has nothing to do with men and humanity, certainly everything to do with languages, translations and traditions. Weakness: a weak Messianic force.

I wonder though. I wonder aloud. When contradiction nests in the materiality of the idea ("materialist formalization," p. 156), when the mimetic tempo of language is broken and expression becomes demonstration/manifestation, when, in Lacan´s terms: "the signifier plays an active role in determining the effects by which the signifiable appears to succumb to its mark, becoming, through that passion, the signified" (Lacan, Ecrits, 274) - it´s no wonder that "the thesis of a conjunction between murder and the failure of language is a powerful one" (Badiou again, 46).

I would like to stay on this point for the spit of a sentence. Let´s assume - as the author we consider - that language means Two - "disjunctive synthesis" (31) - means me and not me, means spirituality and materiality irreducibility bound to each other in a contradictory fashion as a materialist formalization, where form and content - far from being the same - cleave the subject in its (new) being, in the guise of a seemingly medieval torture apparatus. Let´s also assume - as the author we consider - that there is no subject prior to this Übergemeinschaft, overcommunity (what there is instead is some sort of hypostatisation, be it the state, be it the individual, or the "idiotic particularity of a provincial professor," Heidegger in this case).

Let´s assume - like Badiou and Lacan - that lack is the startling point between materiality and spirituality, language and animality: that language enters the humans as a disease of desire - or the passion of the real. Then man is torn. Then his naturalness is eradicated and he is (must be: Kantian imperative, or de Sade´s joissance!) either "the endless becoming of the absolute that he is" (170) or the "man of inhuman beginning" (174) - either Sartre or Foucault, "Sartre and Foucault" (172) - following Badiou.

Then he´s lack. The question that Irigaray and Butler, among others, addressed cannot be avoided. Lack of what? Materialist formalization of what? "There´s no other of the other" - as Zupančič never tires of repeating after Lacan - but there is a lack in between, which is also a task that cannot be neglected: a passion for this real: the breaking point, cruelty. Passion and cruelty dwell on the same rift or lack, where intelligence shows itself as a brain-ache. There, phallically, man dwells on earth. Heidegger, but not Hölderlin.

Someone might have fun comparing Heidegger and Lacan´s (poetical) erections between world and earth - as far as I´m concerned right now I mean only to touch another (G) spot. The lack between spirituality and materiality inscribes itself in the bureaucratic and biological maintenance of the human nervous system. The contradiction point between signifier and signified is the cut in/of the biological, where sexism, racism and homophobia throw their roots. Lack of - - the ferociousness of silence and terror, inlaid every time anew.

Walter Benjamin´s too famous essay on the Work of Art explained much of it, introducing the figure of the surgeon to substitute the magician as the one who dwells now in the lack opened up by the breaking of the magic mimetic tempo. A brain: what better than a brain demo/manifests a materialist formalization? (Benjamin: a redemptive net was thrown also there - confronting the highest risk).

And experiments on brains - at open skulls. Were these the unforsakable skills of the Century?

But let’s come back to this lack, since there’s nothing else but this lack and the cruelty it requires, it summons us up to. It seems that the 'coming-we' will fulfill the lack we must be. More precisely: it won’t fulfill it, but it calls us to such an attempt. Only dwelling on this lack we are/not, the old-man can be abandoned to embrace the new-subject. Only facing this lack we state our subjectivity into the present of a new beginning. After all, what’s man before the Kantian imperative? If there’s man only where man is not anymore, we must pursue this line till the end of the beginning.

A lack. I believe it’s extremely important to understand what this lack is. Badiou is honest enough to show us that the marking of this lack requires a knife, the lack must be showed where it is not visible enough. Leaving apart that this might imply mental and physical surgeries – just to make things clean and clear, I want to stress once more what is at stake when we speak of this lack.

The ones who had the pleasure to watch Lars von Trier’s The Idiots can take advantage of that marvelous imaginary, where the post-traumatic construction of a "coming-we," a "new-subject," demo-manifests its cruelty. After all, following the logic inscribed therein, why shouldn’t the marvelous community-to-come of sexual freedom authorize the rape of a female? She should know there’s nothing wrong with sex. There’s nothing wrong in itself. "In itself" means the real, means digging under the social hypostatisation of systems and cultures. And why to wear a burka then? Let’s reach the Real. Nudity. You’ll never get it. A sharper knife. Why shouldn’t we break grandpa’s old glasses, he cannot see with them anyway. Maybe it’s the time he finally buys new ones! And all this fuss about pedophilia... Lars von Trier at least acknowledged his Nazi heredity, as readily as the cinema-market of Cannes expulsed him, to make sure no one would wonder if after all the ones who celebrated his movies with many prizes could not also share some ideas of his. Badiou would distinguish, I guess, between the idiot man Von Trier and the greatness of his movies, but – see how it goes – idiots appear in his movies too. What about Heidegger?

But let’s talk about the Real of the Century and the lack instead. Pornography is just an Atemwende. Its ruler is the scalpel. The Real shows the secret: here it is – and in so much exposure it is still hidden. Scalpel again, weapons and knives. The lack.

Let’s talk about this lack. We cannot talk about this lack. What’s absent is the Phallus that, the way it’s preached to us, is only an empty signifier. As a signifier it involves some passion and cruelty, Lacan explained. So here we are, talking about a lack of something we don’t know what it is, it’s not even a thing. There’s only lack, but no lacking object. There’s this having the lack and being the lack. And yet this lack clearly divides us – long before we are us – in order that we can be us. Materiality on the one side and spirituality on the other.

I wonder if with this distinction, actually, we already have much, much more than simply a lack. Badiou makes clear (164): "This is a war that possesses numerous less esoteric names: the Idea against reality. Freedom against nature." Spirituality and materiality. "The event against the state of affairs. Truth against opinions," masculinity and femininity, language and things, "the intensity of life against the insignificance of survival. Rebellion against tolerance. Eternity against History," active and passive, white and black, hetero and homo. Should I continue? Aryans and Jews.

Our natural inclination was broken at the start with language. That’s what made of us perverse animals. This lack that language creates in us – already presupposes, necessarily, a "natural animal beginning" and it does indeed tacitly presuppose Darwin and social Darwinism, contrarily to what Badiou wants us to believe. "Yes," he continues: "we have all these wars to win – as the Chuvash poet says – 'among the jolting breaths of the unsaid.'" (164)

This lack is lack of the 'animal status.' A lack of all cultural assumptions (heteronormativism, masculinism, racism...) that gets slyly safe-kept this way misguided in the form of what’s lacking. Certainly Badiou does not assert any of that, he simply implies all of it. In other words: he implies what an animal is.

The animal that therefore I am. We have to deal with that.

If we don’t take care of what we have, traditions and translations, the languages in which we are, the past which is calling us – for justice; if are not willing to fight for grandpa’s stupid old glasses and whatever idiot toy of his he might like – neither political nor aesthetic beginning are possible. Certainly this requires work and destruction, production and hope, courage and and attention, "the natural prayer of the soul", as Derrida says quoting Levinas who quotes Celan quoting Benjamin who quotes Malebranche.

Only summoned by justice we might/should fight – but there’s neither Real nor War before justice, unless we dismiss any hope, happiness, play and sense. To forget the inner link between categorical imperative and justice means to abuse history and its tempo, making room for any sort of totalit/arianism.

In other words: the very idea of history cannot dismiss justice since only the latter guarantees the temporality of memory which alone makes history. To do without any pre-given hypostatisation of the Good does not involve the exclusion of the concept of justice, indeed only the latter prescribes that no demand become a task and no task a demand.

The Real cuts history and justice apart so that the historicity which emerges from such a Real is not historical whatsoever. Such a temporality might be mechanical, Darwinist or metaphysical – in any case it replies neither to the historical claims for happiness nor to the demands for justice. The temporality of the Real is as empty as this Badiou’s Century.

In order to know "the color of a black man" (as Genet alluded; page 1) we need much more than simply colors, as much as we need more than years to know the time of a век (century and era).

On the 23rd April 2007 in Dorsoduro, a beautiful street in Venice, Giorgio Agamben had his first lesson of the academic year, in front of forty people or so, mainly students of architecture. Someone was playing basketball in the courtyard. He had at his disposal only an hour and a half – so you know that in one hour and a half you can read "What is the Contemporary?" an essay that is the transcription of his talk. Like Badiou, also Agamben presents and comments on Mandelstam’s My Century. Like Badiou, he also starts with Nietzsche, and, like Badiou, he also addresses a similar theme, somehow. Despite the appearances, though, the two works have nothing in common.

Since I know that this "review" of mine was just too enraged to transmit anything valuable, I would suggest that both those who liked and those who disliked Badiou’s The Century give a look at this short essay by Agamben:


"In other words, it is like being on time for an appointment that one cannot but miss."


  1. I wonder how things arrive in certain places; for example, how did Agamben's "What is contemporary," or "What is the contemporary?" arrive on that strange website/blog, with pictures of summer dresses like small colorful flags waving above? How is the translation? (Worse than yours, I might presume, the one you sent me years ago, before the last star and the first?) Smile

  2. That happened because a zaicik and a ejek have been really brave and caring and have trusted their hands, empty and full hands, their eyes and life. Not all animals are brave enough to face happiness, a monster which never stops biting, and moreover, not all animals are always brave enough. Sometimes also this zaicik and this ejek become scardy cats. they are scared even of their own tail, silly that they are! But we must say that this zaicik and this ejek have been quite brave so far... I hope you do not remember Agamben's essay better than it seems now... It travelled a lot, it had another face, it landed then, on a few pages of a fallen translation... Mine i guess was such a rubbish, but that's happiness, isn't it? oh my love... can i translate the veins of your arm, your hair... attempting with kisses - - pouring your words in mine?