“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Thursday, March 17, 2005

It’s a sad day at Limited, Inc. All the staff left early today: boss is out of town. None of them, though, left to get an early start to reveries for St. Patrick; no, theirs are somber drinks tonight: Lil’ Kim was convicted of perjury.

In lieu of an introduction, I will jump to the conclusion:

“For a long time, the chapter I have just written was at the tip of my pen, but I kept rejecting it. I had promised myself that in this book I would display only the cheerful aspect of my soul; but this plan slipped out of my hands, like so many others: I hope that the sensitive reader will forgive me for having asked a few tears of him; and if anyone finds that in all truth I should have cut this chapter, he can tear it out of his copy, or even throw the book on the fire.” Xavier de Maistre – A Journey Around My Room

This is not LI. This is odd.

If R. is to LI what Johnny Carson was to The Tonight Show, then….. I am, as a guest host, seated behind the familiar desk…. who? John Davidson? Joey Bishop? Joan Rivers? Jay Leno? Oh fer fucks' sake! Let us hope, altogether now, that I'm not Jay Leno and that this nightmare analogy might quit my thoughts!

This is odd. The problem of the address. The problem of the typing of a conversation with one’s self.....the bullet in the barrel of the transference gun..…

So, no more about me, let's return to Badiou......today's lesson:
Slavoj Zizek on Badiou, and, later, Derrida. Please open your copy of The Ticklish Subject, and please turn to page 132..... No, I really ought to promise no more Badiou. No, no, and no more Badiou! [but please do go to ‘The Lacanian Subject’, page 158, of this book if you want to get to why LI is not on the side of Badiou; LI, as has been stated previously, remains on the side of Derrida, and Zizek gives one version of an account as to why – or, of course, you can take the path of patience and wait for the return of the founder and proprietor of LI for an account of on which side LI remains, and, perhaps, why it remains so].

No, no more Badiou; this is not to be Art, as Truth or otherwise, any more than it will be an Event, either horizonless or immanent.

Instead, an anecdote: many years ago, when he was a younger man, this correspondent was given this advice by a hard-drinking, long-travelled, scruff-bearded Dutchman at Fanelli’s Bar, on Prince Street: every man should visit a prostitute at least once in his life so that he might know that particular shame that one feels upon leaving her room. Why? Because, in the Dutchman’s jovial opinion, that shame was necessary to any condition that might be called ‘human’.

Whatever one makes of this perhaps not so well-remembered suggestion, whether or not one knows that particular shame, a more general but no less sincere account of where one might find one’s self is offered by F. Scott Fitzgerald:

“Of course all life is a process of breaking down, but the blows that do the dramatic side of the work – the big sudden blows that come, or seem to come, from the outside – the ones you remember and blame things on and, in moments of weakness, tell your friends about, don’t show their effect all at once. There is another sort of blow that comes from within – that you don’t feel until it’s too late to do anything about it, until you realize with finality that in some regard you will never be a good man again. The first sort of breakage seems to happen quick – the second kind happens almost without your knowing it but is realized suddenly indeed.” The Crack-up

Shitter. Something has gone wrong. The Event has returned. I suppose that LI has its own gravity.

No time left to sketch an alternate conclusion. This day is nearly done, afternoon is long since past. Raise a glass to Myles na gCopaleen.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Badiou (the end, temporarily)

LI is going to pick up the thread of the Badiou posts next week. Since we are taking a vacation, our friend, T., has agreed to put together a few LI posts. This should shake up this site, which suffers a bit from the arteriosclerosis of our egotism.

Okay, a few more notes.

The sensible is transformed into the Event of the Idea in Art. So it stands written. One wants to know:

1. What is the function of the sensible, here? Here, surely, we have wandered into the very traditional categories of aesthetics, in which one way of working with the sensible – say, measuring the sensation of sound – is taken to be science, while another way of working with it – say, creating an opera with those sounds – is taken to be art. The difference is not, however, in the measuring, surely – in the techniques. Mozart has to measure sound to achieve his goal as surely as an audiologist has to measure his sound to achieve his goal. And then there is the problem of those forms of art – poetry, for instance – in which the model of the sensible doesn’t work too well. A poem could consiste of writing la la la muchly – or a poem can be the Iliad. In order to fit the poem into the sensible model, the sensible is quietly rearranged – where the sensible is the medium for listening to Mozart, the sensible is “appealed to” by the poem – not just by the sound of it, but by the images and the narrative – the mythos – that appeals to the passions. The double place of the sensible in aesthetics, both as what gives us the object and as what the object appeals to, is certainly preserved in Badiou.

2. What does the transforming? The artist? Remember, Badiou’s theses are about contemporary art, in which the artist has a primary function – the death of the artist notwithstanding. Badiou seems uncomfortable with the artist’s survival of that philosophically mandated death – as is LI. But the place where the transformation of the sensible takes place seems to demand some kind of artist. And some kind of audience. The transformation of sandstone into rock formations of astonishing beauty took place millions of years ago in the Southwest U.S., but this was not quite the transformation of the sensible – since the wind, rain, and earth were, presumably, not sensitive, in the philosopher’s sense, to what was happening. However, Badiou makes it clear that the sensitivity of the artist must be just right – the artist must not be a fetishist, must not be too personal, must not be too ethnic, etc. So, there is a gradient here in the artist’s sensibility.

3. finally – Why not just transform the sensible into an Idea? why throw in the event? What does it add, or clarify, to talk about an Idea-event?

LI has to leave it there.

Monday, March 14, 2005


"Thesis 3: The truth of which art is the process is always the truth of the sensible qua sensible. Which means: transformation of the sensible into the event of the Idea." - Badiou

We don’t have much time today. So: a few notes about events. Which, in a later post, we will tie in with Badiou.

LI has an idea about a certain dissatisfaction we feel with analytic philosophy. Here’s the problem:

In Physics, it is true that what Wenger famously called the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences has been borne out by the success of physics. That success – the applicability of mathematics, it turns out, to not only describe relations in nature, but to describe it in such a way that it can be built upon and can make predictions possible. Mathematics is different, in that sense, from any other instrument we know of – it is like a human tracker, it seems to have an intuition for its prey.

It was natural, back in the days when logicians were keen about encoding the axioms of mathematics into logic, that it might be the case that language, whether formal or natural, would, with the proper conceptual tools, do the same thing for philosophers. Thus the infinite worrying of language one finds in analytic philosophy papers – the respect for the (usually English) vernacular rendition of reality. Whereas the applicability of mathematics to nature is, actually, the kind of thing that has proven itself, so far in physics, the parallel applicability of language to reality has proven, in our opinion, a dud. Not that there aren’t wonderful things that have been done in philosophical semantics, but on the whole, it has never given us any more reason to believe that this is the royal route to reality than, say, Hegel, or Gurdjieff.

That said, we do think that event ontology as done in the analytic tradition has made some fascinating suggestions about problems with quantifying over events, about event parts, and about how language filters events through its various luxurious mechanisms. We’d particularly recommend Jonathan Bennett’s Events and their Names for a discussion of most of the major analytic theories – Davidson’s, Quine’s, Kim’s, Vendler’s, etc. Or you can read the first chapter of Speaking of Events, Pianesi and Varzi, (pdf), here. It outlines the sundry views – starting with the view that events are universals (which, on one reading, would make recurring events interesting – if I take a walk every evening, can somebody else take my walk? Which is a nice philosopher’s question). It outlines the more common view that events are particulars. Here’s a typical passage:

“This is the account of those philosophers, such as Jaegwon Kim, who construe events as property exemplifications:

We think of an event as a concrete object (or n-tuple of objects) exemplifying a property (or n-adic relation) at a time. (1973: 8)

Exactly what is meant by the locution ‘exemplifying’ is a delicate issue. Moreover, there is some uncertainty about what is to count as a property in the relevant sense. Presumably running and stabbing count, whereas being self-identical or greater than five do not count, but there are no obvious criteria for making a thorough demarcation (see Kim 1976). At any rate, leaving these issues aside, it is clear that this account tends to multiply the number of events far beyond the thick account of Quine. John’s swimming the Hellespontus, his catching a cold, and his counting his blessings are regarded as three distinct events in
Kim’s account insofar as they involve exemplifications of distinct properties; and clearly enough, identical events must be exemplifications of the same properties (or relations) by the same objects (or n-tuples) at the same time. Likewise, when we speak of Brutus’s stabbing of Caesar, we are not, in this account, speaking of his killing of Caesar: for the first event is the exemplification (by Brutus and Caesar) of the binary relation expressed by the predicate ‘stabbing’, whereas the second event is an exemplification (by the same Brutus and Caesar) of the relation expressed by the predicate ‘killing’. Since these two relations are
distinct, so are the events. In fact, by the same pattern, Brutus’s stabbing of Caesar is to be distinguished also from his violent stabbing of Caesar, his knifing of Casear, his murderous knifing of Caesar, and so on. All of these are to be counted as different events (rather than different descriptions of the same event)
because they are exemplifications of different properties.”

While Badiou does like to yoke together the truths of mathematics and the truths of ontology, his Eventiment is not amenable to this sort of fine grained sifting. Or so it would seem. Partly this is because his work is in the tradition that requires truth to be disclosure – as we pointed out in a previous post. Although perhaps we are committing ourselves too hastily – after all, truth is a fourfold field, for Badiou, and there are different truth processes appropriate for each of those fields. But the “event of the Idea” (as opposed to its non-lieu, one supposes – that moment of procrastination in which LI seems to live) is supposed to give us the truth of Art – which would suggest that art’s truth is performative, a matter of the proper assertion of its authority.

Let’s leave it at that for the moment.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

LI urges readers to go to the article about Arthur Ransome in the Guardian. Ransome is in the heroic line of English children’s book authors – but he is rather unknown in the United States. More interesting, from the American point of view, is that he saw the heroic core of the October Revolution and helped the Bolsheviks out in their wholly just war against the White Reactionaries. Applause all around. He also – being a son of the British governing class – informed the British secret service of what he was doing. Well, you can only stretch your character so far…

In a comment on a recent post, LI’s perpetual friend and foil, Mr. Craddick, asked our opinion of the Soviet Union’s level of barbarity. We cheerfully gave it – nobody should ever diminish the evil of the Gulag. However, there is another side to our opinion of the Soviets. That side is that the world does not need superpowers. It does not need leadership. And the U.S., while not a particularly bad country – in fact, a very good country in many ways – is drawn, by the logic of power, into doing bad things as a superpower. This is why we think that the spies that gave Stalin the means to make an atom bomb were essentially right to do so – although it was also right, or justifiable, for the U.S. to punish them as traitors. Fundamentally, we can’t think of any political reason to countenance the seizing of excessive world power by any nation. It has always puzzled us that the right, which doesn’t trust the state to deliver mail, trusts the state with the means of ending the human species. This, indeed, is straining at the gnat and swallowing the ICBM missile. LI’s view is that there is something wrong with a theory of the state that starts out with an anti-statist ideological coloration while having no real philosophy of governance – that is, having no recognition that governance is in question in every organization, and doesn’t, at the fundamental level, divide between public and private entity – that is a derivative difference.

Returning us to our point of origin – the accidentally adventurous Mr. Ransome. In a sense, his reaction to the Russian Revolution – and the reaction of the Bloomsbury crowd – was conditioned by their descent from the people who ran the British colonies. You will find that almost all the Bloomsbury group, and most of the Fabians, were connected, somehow, to the Indian Civil Service. That group had been imbued with the wholly whiggish view (represented by Lord Macauley and Mill, two India House employees) that the state could actually design a society. That, of course, was the whole point of the “India” project, and it is no surprise that, through that perspective, the Russian revolution looked like what the Brits thought they did in India – rationalizing a superstitious society. The descendents of this group think they are doing the same thing in the Middle East. Plus ca change …