‘Fifteen Theses on Contemporary Art’ by Alain Badiou

Text as published on lacan.com and chtodelat.org. Drawing by Mark Lombardi  (1951 – 2000).

1. Art is not the sublime descent of the infinite into the finite abjection of the body and sexuality. On the contrary, it is the production of an infinite subjective series, through the finite means of a material subtraction.

2. Art cannot merely be the expression of a particularity (be it ethnic or personal). Art is the impersonal production of a truth that is addressed to everyone.

3. Art is the process of a truth, and this truth is always the truth of the sensible or sensual, the sensible qua sensible. This means: the transformation of the sensible into an happening of the Idea.

4. There is necessarily a plurality of arts, and however we may imagine the ways in which the arts might intersect there is no imaginable way of totalizing this plurality.

5. Every art develops from an impure form, and the progressive purification of this impurity shapes the history both of a particular artistic truth and of its exhaustion.

6. The subjects of an artistic truth are the works which compose it.

7. This composition is an infinite configuration, which in our own contemporary artistic context is a generic totality.

8. The real of art is ideal [Èelle] impurity conceived through the immanent process of its purification. In other words, the raw material of art is determined by the contingent inception of a form. Art is the secondary formalisation of the advent of a hitherto formless form.

9. The only maxim of contemporary art is: do not be imperial. This also means: do not be democratic, if democracy implies conformity with the imperial idea of political liberty.

10. Non-imperial art is necessarily abstract art, in this sense: it abstracts itself from all particularity, and formalises this gesture of abstraction.

11. The abstraction of non-imperial art is not concerned with any particular public or audience. Non-imperial art is related to a kind of aristocratic-proletarian ethic: it does what it says, without distinguishing between kinds of people.

12. Non-imperial art must be as rigorous as a mathematical demonstration, as surprising as an ambush in the night, and as elevated as a star.

13. Today art can only be made from the starting point of that which, as far as Empire is concerned, doesn’t exist. Through its abstraction, art renders this in-existence visible. This is what governs the formal principle of every art: the effort to render visible to everyone that which, for Empire (and so by extension for everyone, though from a different point of view), doesn’t exist.

14. Since it is sure of its ability to control the entire domain of the visible and the audible via the laws governing commercial circulation and democratic communication, Empire no longer censures anything. All art, and all thought, is ruined when we accept this permission to consume, to communicate and to enjoy. We should become the pitiless censors of ourselves.

15. It is better to do nothing than to contribute to the invention of formal ways of rendering visible that which Empire already recognises as existent.

Hegel’s ‘Bad Infinity’ as a Logical Problem

Paper shared without authorization.

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The paper analyses the concept of ‘bad infinity’ in connection with Hegel’s critique of
infinitesimal calculus and with the belittling of Hegel’s mathematical notions by the
representatives of modern logic and the foundations of mathematics. The main line
of argument draws on the observation that Hegel’s difference is only derivatively a
mathematical one and is primarily of a broadly logico-epistemological nature. Because
of this, the concept of bad infinity can be fruitfully utilized, by way of inversion, in an
analysis of the conceptual shortcomings of the most prominent foundational attempts
at dealing with infinite quanta, such as Cantor’s set theory and Hilbert’s axiomatism.
As such, the paper is an attempt at reconstructing Hegel’s philosophy of mathematics
and its role in his philosophical system and, more importantly, as a contribution to logic
in the more general and radical sense of the word.

‘US enters brutal ideological civil war as four-party system begins to take form’ by Slavoj Žižek

Text reproduced without authorization; as published on 11th February 2020 19:48 on Russia Today (rt.com)

Despite Trump’s impeachment victory, the US is entering into an ideological civil war, because the real conflict is not between the Democrats and the Republicans, but within each of those parties themselves.

Two weeks ago, while promoting his new film in Mexico City, Harrison Ford said that “America has lost its moral leadership and credibility.” 

Really? When did the US exert moral leadership over the world? Under Reagan or Bush? They lost what they never had, ie, they lost the illusion (the “credibility” made in Harrison’s claim) that they’ve had it. With Trump, what was already true merely became visible. 

Back in 1948, at the outset of the Cold War, this truth was formulated with brutal candor by US diplomat and historian George Kennan: “[The US has] 50 percent of the world’s wealth but only 6.3 percent of its population. In this situation, our real job in the coming period…is to maintain this position of disparity. To do so, we have to dispense with all sentimentality…we should cease thinking about human rights, the raising of living standards and democratisation.”

In this we find an explanation of what Trump means by “America first!” in much clearer and more honest terms. So we should not be shocked when we read that “the Trump administration, which came into office pledging to end ‘endless wars,’ has now embraced weapons prohibited by more than 160 countries, and is readying them for future use. Cluster bombs and anti-personnel landmines, deadly explosives known to maim and kill civilians long after fighting has ended, have become integral to the Pentagon’s future war plans.”

Those who act  surprised by such news are simply hypocrites: in our upside-down world, Trump is innocent (not impeached) while Assange is guilty (for disclosing state crimes).

So what IS going on now? 

It’s true that Trump exemplifies the new figure of an openly obscene political master in disdain of the basic rules of decency and democratic openness. 

The logic that underlies Trump’s actions was spelled out by Alan Dershowitz (who is, among other things, an advocate of legalized torture). The Harvard Law professor stated that if a politician thinks his re-election is in the national interest, any actions he takes towards that end cannot by definition be impeachable. “And if a president did something that he believes will help him get elected, in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment,” Dershowitz argues.

The nature of power out of any serious democratic control is clearly spelled out here.

What was taking place in the ongoing debates about Trump’s impeachment was a case of the dissolution of the shared common ethical substance which makes argumentative polemical dialogue possible: the US is entering into an ideological civil war in which there is no shared ground to which both parties to the conflict can appeal – the more each side elaborates its position, the more it becomes clear that no dialogue, even a polemical one, is possible. 

We shouldn’t be too fascinated by the theatrics of the impeachment process (Trump refusing Pelosi’s handshake, Pelosi tearing up a copy of his State of the Union address) because the true conflict is not between the Democrats and the Republicans but within each of the parties. 

The US is now transforming itself from a two-party state into a four-party state: there are really four parties that fill in the political space – the establishment Republicans, establishment Democrats, alt-right populists and democratic socialists. 

There are already offers of coalitions across party lines: Joe Biden hinted that he might nominate as his vice-president a moderate Republican, while Steve Bannon mentioned, a few times, his ideal of a coalition between Trump and Sanders. 

The big difference is that, while Trump’s populism easily asserted its hegemony over the Republican establishment (a clear proof, if one was ever needed, that, in spite of all Bannon’s ranting against the “system,” Trump’s reference to ordinary workers is a lie), the split within the Democratic party is getting stronger and stronger – no wonder, since the struggle between the Democratic establishment and the Sanders wing is the only true political struggle going on.

To use a little bit of theoretical jargon, we are thus dealing with two antagonisms (“contradictions”), the one between Trump and the liberal establishment (this is what the impeachment was about), and the one between the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party and all the others. 

Brutal battle ahead

The move to impeach Trump was a desperate attempt to regain the moral leadership and credibility of the US – a comic exercise in hypocrisy. This is why all the moral fervor of the Democratic establishment should not deceive us: Trump’s open obscenity just brought out what was always there. The Sanders camp sees this clearly: there is no way back, US political life has to be radically reinvented.

But is Sanders a true alternative or, as some “radical Leftists” claim, is he just a (rather moderate) social democrat who wants to save the system? The answer is that this dilemma is false: Democratic Socialists started a mass movement of radical re-awakening, and the fate of such movements is not predestined. 

Only one thing is certain: the worst imaginable stance is the one of some Western “radical Leftists” who tend to write off the working class in developed countries as a “workers’ aristocracy” living off the exploitation of developing countries and caught in racist-chauvinist ideologies. In their view, the only radical change can come from “nomadic proletarians” (immigrants and the poor of the Third World) as a revolutionary agent (maybe linked to some impoverished middle-class intellectuals in developed countries) – but does this diagnosis hold? 

True, today’s situation is global, but not in this simplistic Maoist sense of opposing bourgeois nations and proletarian nations. Immigrants are sub-proletarians, their position is very specific, they are not exploited in the Marxist sense and are as such not predestined to be the agents of radical change. Consequently, I consider this “radical” choice suicidal for the Left: Sanders is to be unconditionally supported.

The battle will be cruel, the campaign against Sanders will be much more brutal than the one against Corbyn in the UK. On the top of the usual card of anti-Semitism, there will be wide use of the race and gender cards – Sanders as on old white man… Just recall the brutality of Hillary Clinton’s latest attack on him. 

And all these cards will be played on grounds of a fear of Socialism. Critics of Sanders repeat again and again that Trump cannot be beaten from his (Sanders’) all-too-leftist platform, and the main thing is to get rid of Trump. To this we should just answer that the true message hidden in this argument is: if the choice is between Trump and Sanders, we prefer Trump…

‘How to Read Lacan’

First published 2006

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Lacan’s motto of the ethics of psychoanalysis involves a profound paradox. Traditionally, psychoanalysis was expected to allow the patient to overcome the obstacles which prevented access to “normal” sexual enjoyment; today, however, we are bombarded by different versions of the injunction “Enjoy!” Psychoanalysis is the only discourse in which you are allowed not to enjoy.

Slavoj Žižek’s passionate defense of Lacan reasserts Lacan’s ethical urgency. For Lacan, psychoanalysis is a procedure of reading and each chapter reads a passage from Lacan as a tool to interpret another text from philosophy, art or popular ideology.

‘Écrits’ by Jacques Lacan

Published January 8th 2007 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1966)

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Jacques Lacan’s work lies at the epicenter of modern thought about otherness, subjectivity, sexual difference, the drives, the law, and enjoyment. This new translation of his complete works offers welcome, readable access to Lacan’s seminal thinking on diverse subjects touched upon over the course of his inimitable intellectual career.