notes: Alain Badiou’s UCLA lecture on the “Trump Event,” Nov 9th 2016

The following is not a transcription of Badiou’s talk, obviously, and not just because Badiou’s mic faded in and out throughout the talk, or that his occasional laughters in response to his own jokes (usually involving the Event), resounded in that indistinct space between an old man’s hiccups and crude French jokes.

Badiou began with a call to thinking beyond Affect, which for him, as a politics, makes an event like Trump’s possible – calling, instead, for a politics of ‘negative affect.’ He then went on to describe the yada yada of the failure of various socialisms and collective visions of economy as the grounds for the possibility of Affective politics, but emphasized that he sees this affective inclination as a primarily subjective problematic – at the level of the subject – and not as an altogether historical situationality. The reason being itself historical: the production of the individual as the subject of history, who, consigned to practicing politics within the folds of the ever-same political universe, finds the possibility of historical rupture impossible and so succumbs to the “democratic fascism” of Trump over the sameness of Hillary’s establishment politics – i.e. a negative individuality – a for-itself – who settles for affective languages that create false historical unities, that claim the new within the lack of the new as the place of history. These remarks took place in the context of a distinction between the old (1930s) and new fascisms: the contempoarty  lack of the former communist enemy, and the democratic structure of contemporary fascism.

This distinction itself unfolds in a fourfold “fatal” dialectics: 1. the blind violence of capitalism: its return to its uttermost sense of savage dominance 2. the decomposition of alternative establishment politics on the way to morphing into democratic fascisms with indistinct futures 3. the fissure/disorientation of public opinion in the wake of a lack of a collective vision of possible futures 4. the absence of a global strategic outside: the possiblity of transnational collective unification against global capitalism. An example of which is the aforementioned: the equally false choice between Hillary and Trump, which, in belonging to the Same world, cannot constitute a real contradiction.

Of course, the question I ask is, “whose samed world”? Badiou did confess to there being real differences between HRC & DT, but ultimately, it seems, either Badiou’s world is more subjective (in his own sense) than concrete and historical, or that the constituencies for whom HRC’s vision of the same do prevent the catastrophe of Trump are not part of or instrumental to Badiou’s global vision. This was a highly problematic moment in Badiou’s talk, demonstrating a ‘real-political’ and/or affective gap to his thinking process that finds its symptomatic expression in his identification of the ‘True’ American contradiction.

This true contradiction for Badious was Bernie Sanders (who knew Badious was a Bernie bro? Thankfully Gill Stein was never mentioned), because for him Sanders constitutes a real difference at the Symbolic level (he emphasized the symbolic register of Bernie’s opposition to sameness). Of course, the above question/problematic is already operative: opposition against who, and in which world? Bernie Sanders’s “political revolution” admittedly and straightforwardly never opted out of droning the Middle East, for example. And even with the emphasis on the Symbolic (whose register in Badiou’s thinking escapes me at the moment), it remains indistinct whether Bernie’s calls for Russian membership in the Nato constitute, truly, a populist gesture, or just more of the same (Nato, now bigger, more Western, etc.). The temptation is to blame this on Badiou’s lack of real-political knowledge of the American events, but he sharpened – perhaps absentmindedly – his emphasis on the true nature of Sanders’s True contradiction: it is rhetorically “indistinct.” Which begs the question: are we back to affective politics?

He then went on to call for a return to the true space of politics, that of the contradiction, one between this world and the one beyond it (“the exterior on the interior”). For Badiou – as has been his politics – without this an-archic beyond politics proper (as “strategy”) disappears. But the problematic from above persists: the language of re-turn is a folding language, the language of the indistinct within the same as the outside to the same (threshold): what is the ‘new’ situation of affect in this negative positivity, in Badiou’s thinking?

Badiou did go one to lay out four truth-procedures to identify the true from the affective, however: 1. the demonstration of the lack of necessity of private property 2. the institution of the polymorphous worker: the disappearance of the separation between intellectual and manual labor 3. the disappearance of the separation between racial, sexual, etc. boundaries within the fold of the Event 4. the right to free organization/association against the state (hiccups)?

Blame my possible misreadings/mistranslations on my evolving familiarity with Badiou’s oeuvre.



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