Philosophy in Saturated Times

Daniel Avatar

Frank Ruda’s For Badiou: Idealism Without Idealism probes the question that has driven a number of interventions into Badiou’s thought: what is the role of philosophy in non-evental or saturated times? Saturation is a state of atonality, a state in which the exception is not made actual. Saturation implies the end of a process or procedure of thought from the standpoint of its consequences.

As Sylvain Lazarus notes, the position of the worker under the sequence of revolutionary Leninism reached a point of saturation in the 1970’s. By the 1970’s, it had become clear that to experiment with the resources of Leninism, mainly the party form in revolutionary action, was equivalent to fishing in a pond with no fish. Lazarus argues that a period of saturation is one in which the primary prescriptive aspect to the mode is no longer effectual.

Every historical sequence ends with saturation, forcing a re-questioning of a given historical mode of politics (or art, science, music, etc.) from within this mode itself. Saturation indicates a new role for philosophy, one in which philosophy acts and intervenes to hold the place open for a new subject to come. How does one think the idea in the context of a saturated mode? Badiou’s idealism without idealism lies precisely here, in the wager that in saturated times we must develop the Idea of the Idea. Turning to Badiou’s critique of what he calls democratic materialism in Logics of Worlds, Ruda shows how it is Descartes who provides the basis by which we overthrow the false monism of democratic materialism.

Democratic materialism says yes to the proposition that there are only bodies and languages but it denies a fundamental dualism. It denies the exception by presenting a simultaneous yes and no to the Two – it is thus paraconsistent in its logic. The Cartesian dualism, on the other hand, relies on an exclusion, it relies on the void. A truly materialist thought is one that relies on the void and as such brings truth in the form of a three, not a falsely conflated Two. Materialist thought needs the three: one/multiple/void. There needs to be two ‘there is’s’ in order to arrive at materialism – you need to move through the first false materialism which has ossified into idealism in order to arrive at the materialist conception of the Idea.

To return to our example of philosophy in a saturated mode. What philosophy does is that it brings the Idea (in the case of leninism, the Idea of the party) to a position of idealism and then begins an operation of forcing on that Idea. Ruda argues that the idealist position is enveloped with a fundamental forgetting, whcih is why the task of philosophy is one of intervention into the Idea so as to disturb this forgetting, forcing the Idea towards a confrontation with conditions outside of philosophy proper.

Herein lies Badiou’s contribution to philosophy — by presenting four conditions in which philosophy can hold open new subjects of thought (art, love, politics and science) philosophy itself plays a very central role in saturated times. There are no philosophical subjects, Ruda correctly maintains, but there are philosophical acts that open a space of remembering and then repeating the Idea.

Philosophy is a creative invention of new problems, a decision that implies a new hierarchy. Philosophy does not think the there is, it does not think ontology, it rather thinks that which supplements being: the exception (121). Philosophy is an action without a subject, holding a space open for the subject to come.

The more dense part of Ruda’s text involves his reading of Badiou’s relation to Hegel. In a similar line to the two Two’s of Descartes and the exception being the third, he argues that Badiou abandons Hegel because Hegel presents a one world theory in which being appears according to one law. In essence, Hegel is not a thinker for saturated times. As Ruda states:

“Hegel is abandoned by Badiou because he is a proponent of a one world theory in which one being appears according to one law (of the negative) which is grounded in his denial, or rather masking of any form of (true, ontologically classical) decision and he thereby simply cannot account for multiplicity, true difference, history, and anything but repetition” (149).

Because Hegel is the thinker of the whole, of a constant return to the concept, he cannot think multiplicity and he cannot adequately think the rupture of the idealism of the idea (if you will). Ruda spends some time showing how the dispute between Badiou and Zizek goes back to Hegel, and specifically it goes back to how they both consider philosophy and its conditions.

For Zizek, the movement of philosophy is from the false yes or no of ideology to the yes or no of contradiction or antagonism and ultimately to the true affirmation of the death drive. Ruda asks whether Zizek’s system fall sway to a sublation of all forms of non-philosophical conditions into philosophy, i.e. in Zizek philosophy sutures (retroactive) ontology of the drive (77). The problem with this is that it relies on philosophy to condition itself. The in-itself is what becomes the determining basis for the other half–the less than nothing is the entire process of determination. So you have: first process of determination, first retroaction, splitting of the in-itself, second retroaction (79). Only in the second retroaction do we have drive. The first retroaction is a split, the second is a drive.

One can therefore say that for Zizek, nothing qua nothing is the same as being qua being for Badiou. From a Badiousian perspective, this amounts to the same thing. Is there a retroactive force, a real real, of the posited presupposition, and can it be depicted in terms of symbolic determinations or not? Positing presuppositions implies movements, the presuppositions themselves do not.

Zizek seems to suggest that there is movement independent from pure repetition and from absolute non-movement. While Zizek and Badiou both affirm a split in the beginning, a primacy of the Two, Zizek opens philosophy to non-philosophical practices in order to re-affirm philosophy, while Badiou opens non-philosophical practices to philosophy so as to hold open the space for the exception.

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