Time and Voluntarism in Badiou and Lazarus

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How do we locate voluntarism in the political thought of Sylvain Lazarus and Alain Badiou? First, what do I mean by voluntarism. Two things mainly: voluntarism posits that consciousness declares antagonism, not that antagonism declares consciousness. Voluntarism posits that the possibility of political decisions and acts occurs from within the sphere of consciousness subtracted from capitalist time. It refuses a thinking of political acts as necessarily driven by crisis, by structure or by the repetition of the exterior. It thinks political novelty and action as a highly subjective matter. As such, voluntarism involves a theory of consciousness that is subtracted from time and history.

For Lazarus, this subtraction of consciousness is one where consciousness enters into an interior relation to the real from which it forms the subjective possibility of decision and of political acts. Consider these two quotes from Lazarus:

“It is not antagonism that produces consciousness but consciousness that declares antagonism” and “consciousness is not so much an historical space as a political and prescriptive space” (44).

I want to examine this prescriptive space of the political and its relation to time in Lazarus’ most important work, Anthropology of the Name. In this text, Lazarus argues that politics is not given in the form of an object or in the form of a revolution. The subjective is not connected to the objective (or to what Lazarus calls the state) in any way what so ever. Lazarus makes it clear: the subjective has no dialectical relation to the objective only an interior relation to thought. This means that thought as such is thinkable. Thus, his first axiomatic statement is people think. The second statement is that thought is a relation to the real. Once thought enters into a thinking process separate, or interior to thought itself, and outside of the state, thought develops names which can only be located (topographically) by their places. Lazarus aims to connect these two propositions in the text, asking how we might understand statement two from within statement one.

Politics in interiority has a different relation to time than does politics in exteriority. Any politics posited from the state and economics separated from capital is a politics that is exterior for Lazarus. Exterior politics exists in movement politics, such as populism which does not require an anthropology of the name to arrive at thoughts relation to the real and he posits parlimentarism functions at the sam level. Exterior politics undergoes a dialectical relation to the state but it remains unable to generate a rupture with the objective side of the state. For Badiou, this is what he means by non-evental politics. The politics of interiority presents two relations of the real in politics: there is an initial heterogeneous real (objective) followed by a homogenous (subjective) real (33).

The latter subjective real is what’s most central to the prescriptive space. Alongside human groups exists a separate autonomous time that stresses what will come is open. Largely influenced by the intellectual historian Bloch, Lazarus claims “the unicity of time is unrepeatable” (130). We deal with unnameable names within the space of the prescriptive and we separate the problematic of the name from any occurrence related to time (137). Here is a nice quote from Lazarus that stresses the centrality of time in his vision:

“Alongside the social existence of humans, a category of time is present, a subjective category, specifying that what will come is open. There is no counter-example. When what will come seems completely closed in the order of myths, rules or rites, then myths, rules and rites, while asserting the closure of this opening, actually assert its possibility. What will come, the opening, is the mark of the spirit of human beings and of the social world” (56).

Lazarus further makes a distinction between the political site, which is not dialectizable, with that of the site of time — the site of time combines three elements:  capital, consciousness and experience. As such, the site of time is opposed to the sphere of the political in capitalism. Time is thus for Lazarus a problem of the subject and he argues that Marx understood the subject under capitalism to be a subject constituted by time. The figure of the worker is not a problem of the subject – the worker is a problem linked to time because it is the time of the worker that the surplus relation extracts. Time is what articulates labor with capital.

Time for Badiou:

Both Badiou and Lazarus have taken the problem of the subject as one that is re-constituted outside of capitalism in a new relation to time. For Badiou, going all the way back to Theory of the Subject, time is an adjunct to what happens. Time is what makes way for the production of truths—an event opens a new time, where the discipline of the subject gathers and controls this new time. More recently, in Logics of Worlds, time is what presents a new present: time is split by what is not being qua being. The key thesis remains the same throughout his work, which is that the subject keeps time. As A.J. Bartlett, Justin Clemens and Jon Roffe note, time is not a concept at all for Badiou but remains the ground of being. Time is what gives being its strength, and it cannot be formalized. Time exists as a sophistic concept to be overcome, displaced and subjectivated, which is why if the subject is coextensive with time, the subject is lacking in being.

The subject is a friend or lover of time and works to construct a true present under conditions of an evental rupturing of time and place. Time is overcome under what Badiou calls a subjectivation of time as ‘future anterior.’ Going back to his analysis of the prisoner’s dilemma in Theory of the Subject, we see the first attempt to get out of the differential return of repetition. This requires the affect of courage to anticipate against the logic of time what will have been certain. What is at stake is the subjective control of time.

In the later Badiou of Being and Event, Bartlett, Clemens and Roffe point out: “The link between temporalization and place, the proper place for the thought of the infinite, is key to comprehending Badiou’s aversion to the concept of time” (91). Time is what guarantees that everything be decidable, within the framework of finitude. A decision is thus concentrated where one faces a cut — and this cut is what severs time. This is where I locate Badiou’s voluntarism.

By Logics of Worlds, time is completely objectified in his so-called objective phenomenology. Time is made into another object in a world that appears for a world and not just for any subject. As the Badiouian project proceeds, and we wonder how time will be treated in the Immanence of Truths final book, it is of utmost importance to parse this relationship between time and time is that which must be taken down by the subject.

One response

  1. Socialists Think: Study Group on the Thought of Sylvain Lazarus – Daniel Tutt

    […] may remember my references to the thought of Sylvain Lazarus over the years, including my piece on his Anthropology of the Name. I’m pleased to invite you to join me for a reading circle on […]

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