“When philosophy paints its grey in grey then has a shape of life grown old. By philosophy’s grey in grey it cannot be rejuvenated but only understood. The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of dusk.” – Hegel, ‘Preface’, Philosophy of Right.
Every student of philosophy studies under the condition of this declaration. Philosophers do not intervene in the world, but can only reflect upon it. They do not produce, they appraise. They do not invent, they criticize. They do not act, they contemplate the actions of others.
Despite the seemingly sterilizing consequences of this injunction, in which the work of philosophy is confined to the shadows of the illuminated sphere of immediacy, philosophy has long reveled in its darkness. And the reasons are not obscure: from the dusk of the world philosophy is able to prove its power of illumination, or its hypothesis of the shrouded nature of the apparently visible.
The question is less one of overturning this injunction than of how it succeeded in overturning Plato’s counterposed schema: as we all know, Plato claims it is the apparently real world that is in fact shrouded in the darkness of the cave, composed of vague illuminated projections controlled from above and behind us. We lie enchained in darkness, unaware, mistaking our bondage for freedom. It is the philosopher who, having managed to escape, has discovered the true light of day, and who returns to spread the unwelcome news.
Alain Badiou, despite his avowed Platonism, nonetheless writes plainly in the owl’s dusk. Philosophy follows after the illuminated world of the truth-procedure, only extracting from it what little light can remain in the gloom of the ordinary world. Now we may wish to claim that for Badiou, the truth-procedure is what the philosopher witnesses in the light of day, which he then attempts to publicize in the depths of the unevental cave. This, however, would beg the question of why this philosophical missionary is not included in the functioning of the subject-body. On the contrary, it is more consistent to consign the philosopher to the ruins of the collapsed or collapsing event, saddling him or her with the vain task of resurrecting the dead.
So, despite his rejection of anti-platonic philosophy in favor of a return to Plato, Badiou nonetheless writes under the ultimate anti-platonic sign of the owl. This is not a conceit, but structurally implied in his theory of the event. As I have remarked before, Badiou requires, as a necessary condition for an event to be named, the recurrence of a previously exhausted truth-procedure. Every event must repeat a prior ‘failed’ event. This condition is reaffirmed in the Logics of Worlds in the form of the subjective destination named ‘resurrection’. A peculiar theme, as Zizek has noted, due to Badiou’s avowed antipathy for the concepts of ‘repetition’ and ‘return’, evidenced especially in his Deleuze book.
If the traces of exhausted procedures don’t show up in an actual situation, then how can they constitute the conditions of a new event? There must be an artifact leftover by the former, which constitutes the basis of intervention (Badiou seems to imply, in Logics, that the inexistent is such an artifact). Yet if this artifact is actually the remnant of a prior truth-procedure, this would only be evident from the purview of the subject of that truth; to any other inhabitant of that world, it would only appear to be rubbish, or at best, something mysterious and alien.
So if the newly intervening subject is to discern the properly evental status of the actual artifact, there appear to be three (non-exclusive) options:
1) The subject is guessing, deciding on an undecidable, and therefore wagering the consequences of intervention on this decision. This seems to be what Badiou affirms. Yet here we have two problems. If the artifact is, as such, undecidable, then what warrants the selection of an object as even potentially artifactual? Either the subject must be lucky, or objects must generally be characterized by artifacticity. (Indeed, in Logics, Badiou claims that every object has an inexistent element.) Moreover, because there is no actual verifiability of the evental trace, who is to say it is not solipsistically projected by the intervening subject? How can we know that this condition is not hallucinated?
2) As hinted in the first option, artifacticity generally characterizes all objects, but only in a potential or virtual way. Any object can ‘virtually’ be recognized as an artifact, even if its actual presentation is devoid of any sign of this status. Badiou outwardly denies such virtuality, although he does hint at it in many places. If this option is to be viable, however, this virtual artifacticity cannot simply be a default condition of objects. Rather, objects must, in general, be derived from or marked by their prior incorporation in a now exhausted procedure. This hints at a third option.
3) All ‘potential’ subjects that are to be incorporated as such in a truth-procedure must already, in order to be so, be marked by their situation regarding prior events. They must be minimally capable of recognizing traces of exhausted procedures, which means they must have borne the impact of these procedures. We all must be the children of grandiose failures, the heirs to a ruined truth. This does not imply that we were actually ‘interpellated’ as subjects by this procedure, but only that the erasure of this procedure was a condition of the world in which we now exist, and hence that we are marked as non-subjects, and not mere human animals. This is what Zizek has been getting at with his discussion of ‘vanishing mediators’ and the politics of melancholy. In this way, the opacity of our world’s contingency (or in other words, its perceived necessity), would constitute a generalized artifacticity of that world, and hence the discerning of indiscernible traces of the event would only require our seizing upon the actual opacity of this world, not the virtual traces of vanished events.
This solution is not really satisfactory once we raise the historical problem of the ‘first event’ or ‘Ur-event’, which ultimately must have been purely virtual. I’ll go into greater detail on this point in a future post. For now, I just want to point out that Badiou’s theory of the event implies that we live within the ruins of exhausted, failed, and vanished truths, the ‘Twilight of a Truth’ so to speak. So what, then, is the task of the philosopher in this dusky ruin of a world?
Zizek suggests that it is a kind of Benjaminian melancholy, aiming to make legibile our enduring attachment to the ghost of dead subjects. While I do have a certain affinity for this approach, it can only be in a highly qualified manner that I won’t go into now. I think that Zizek’s formulation is ultimately too hauntological for his own good, and doesn’t really do justice to his Lacanianism or to Benjamin.
More practically, the Badiouvian philosopher is left sifting through the ruins, ruminating over the remains of the Truth, nostalgically recalling/fantasizing the glory of their unfolding from the dreary perspective of their dissolution. Badiou attempts to project this nostalgia forward, onto the possible futures of new events, but as Alex Williams observes, we have yet to get a Badiouvian commentary on ‘contemporary’ events. Badiou’s crypto-hauntology (to which I have long eluded but never, until now, really explained) should be supplanted with a cold focus on the ruined world as such; the nostalgic longing for ‘year zero’ should be rejected in favor of a kind of macabre revelry in the calvary of truths. It is such a non-romantic (non-)instrumentalization of the dead that makes the kind of machinism Alex mentions in passing (“It would probably be unfair to say that I hate any philosopher, strictly speaking, since I view them as technology which can be drawn upon”), and which is, moreover, the essence of schizoanalysis, possible.
To suspend the sufficiency or adequacy of Badiou’s theory, while simultaneously treating it as a reservoir of concept-machines that can be pirated, so long as they are attached to a prosthetic supplement that determines them according to the Real, rather than treating them as adequate determinations of the Real (or in other words, treating them philosophically) is precisely the operation of non-philosophy. Non-philosophy claims, in short, that the Real gives both the interior of the cave and the sunlit world outside, it gives the radiance of the day and its recollection at dusk; yet it is not itself given by any of these figures.
Non-philosophy is hence a way of using philosophy without submitting to its proprietary injunctions. It is a way of appropriating Badiou’s theoretical machines without treating them as more or less adequate to the Real than those of another. And in this light, my own non-philosophical use of schizoanalysis aims to do without the kind of “crypto-morality” and “positivity” (in other words, the implicit faith in its adequacy or appropriateness to the Real), that characterizes its proper use, as delineated, if not explicitly by Deleuze and Guattari, then by the majority of their followers.
In short, I think Alex’s avowed antipathy concerning Badiou’s philosophy is appropriate, but only insofar as it figures as an instance of a broader antipathy with the philosophical use of philosophy in general. This of course raises the question of whether philosophy must be done in bad faith, or whether we must keep “non-enlightened” philosophers around to turn out raw materials for non-philosophical piracy. I don’t think this is really a problem, however, so long as we distinguish between philosophical machines and their production, on the one hand, and their use, on the other. The real question is whether philosophical machines necessarily prescribe their philosophical use, or whether they can be produced as intrinsically useless, as already artifactual without prior significance. This latter point is certainly the wager of schizoanalysis, which aims to localize such a non-instrumental production on sites that usually leave their conceptual infrastructure and its reproduction opaque, even in reflection.
There is no ghost (virtuality) that haunts the Frankensteinian machine/zombie (actuality), but nor are we, for all that, mere monsters. Rather, we are haunted by the absence of the ghost, not its pseudo-presence. We are haunted by the lack of prescribed potential, not its undecidability. We must act without prescription, rather than acting on the uncertainty of prescription, or worse, claiming to be certain of the prescription. We must inherit the lack of a proper use of our existence, rather than the certain or uncertain prescription for proper use. Arifacts without a lost history, ruins without a lost glory.
This sort of misuse or improper use is the only betrayal: a betrayal neither of spirit in favor of letter (certain prescription), nor letter in favor of spirit (uncertain injunction), but of proper use in favor of improper use, or of proper-spirit and proper-letter in favor of impropriety. A betrayal of ‘proper philosophy’ in favor of its improper identity alone.