Here is a special treat for those of you who follow my blog. I’ve received numerous emails requesting the book The Subject of Change by Alain Badiou, and I’ve consistently refused to send it. However, there have been significant problems with the distribution of the book (which are, admittedly, no fault of the publisher). I believe that the book should be available for everybody – philosophy is for everybody, as Badiou claims. It has been a year since the book has been published. To celebrate this anniversary, here is the book for free (an earlier version of it). Please, if you like it, support Atropos Press by buying books from them.
I delivered these notes at a seminar at Trent University two years ago.
The question posed to us concerns the possibility of drawing lines of connection from our own research toward other points within the academic world. There is the point in space occupied by my research and there is another point in space occupied by the current state of the academic world; and so, two unities in space. The exercise consists of merely drawing the straight line and producing the map. The academic order, or public, is structured by the measure of relationship between our own research and other bodies of research within the market place of ideas. If the measure of identity between these two points is strong then there is a strong and coherent image, and that is good for the repetition of the order. If the measure between these two points is weak then the research is, to some extent, absent from the world. The paradox is that if the measure of identity between these two points turns out to be a measure of difference, as it is in the latter case, then the opportunity exists for the research to harbor the possibility for an encounter with singular change.
I believe that part of the problem is that our commitment today is necessitated in loco parentis. In other words, we have before us the complicated problem of the relationship between desire and knowledge. On this topic, Renata Salecl has written the following: “In the discourse of the university […] the teacher is bound to the knowledge [that exists] outside of himself; the teacher is in the role of an intermediary who transfers this outer order to the pupils through his teaching […] The teacher’s speech is obligatory for the pupils insofar as it is bound to the teacher’s position as an authority mediating knowledge.” As student researchers, we are initially on the outside of this topology of the academic order, and we find that our teachers are somewhere in between the order and our own research. And so there is a relationship of transference between all of us as colleagues and this relationship hinders our ability to make a singular change in our own research.
My supposition is that all of this occurs as a consequence of the emergence of the sujet suppose savoir; a supposed subject of knowledge in and around us in the classroom. The problem of the supposed subject of knowledge is that it is a subject constructed by students and projected onto their teachers and colleagues as inter-mediators of knowledge; but it is also a subject that is embraced and assumed by our teachers and colleagues. For example, as students, we seek validation for our research from our teachers, and our teachers seek to be validated by the advice that they give to their students. But it is possible that the validation that we receive traps all of us into believing that the results of our research are singular when they are really quite regular for the academic order. If we allow ourselves to be duped by the sujet suppose savoir then we by necessity do not allow ourselves the possibility to produce a singular change within – and through the transmission of – our research. In fact, the imperative of university discourse is to reduce this knowledge into the regular change of the academic world through the function of rationalization and legitimation that are granted to us by the market place of ideas or by the telos of academic life. With a little bit of help from the sujet suppose savoir, university discourse compels students to reduce any possibility for singular change into the mere possibility of regular change.
There are looming questions at hand. Within a program which is itself a novelty within the academic world, amidst the anxiety of its future, is there not an imperative to rationalize and legitimize its own position in relation to the market place of ideas within the order of the academic world? Perhaps what students are here experiencing is the translocation of university discourse – there may be something like a passing of responsibility from the program onto the student. It is not the program which must prove itself as a player in the overall market place of ideas, it is the student who must prove himself on behalf of the program. In other words, the student must do the program’s work. The student must rationalize and legitimize his research to the benefit of the program inasmuch as the program itself remains singular within the order of the academic world. The image of the good research project – mapped as it is by the line connecting it to the regular change of the academic order – demands that the student know his research without thinking or understanding his research. The student works to keep up appearances rather than to disrupt the appearances. Under such conditions, the student’s only recourse is to have the revolutionary content of his research domesticated or gentrified by the savage desires of the academic order in which the student is localized.
Inasmuch as the research project does not stand on its own, does not restrict itself to an evaluation of its own intrinsic worth, or does not stand as a means to its own ends, then the knowledge of this project stands as the justification of the scholars very existence vis-a-vis the market. The student’s only recourse for justifying his research project is to appeal to its contribution to a field of knowledge. The image we are invited to draw for ourselves is an image of exploitation in its most basic sense. The burden is on the student to not only prove himself and his research worthy within the market place of ideas, but it is also to prove himself capable of reproducing the discourse through which his exploitation has been made manifest. And to reproduce this exploitation, it is first necessary to produce an image or a blueprint. The aspiring professional must clearly draw the lines of connection within the academic world and demonstrate that these are strong rather than weak connections, that the image is coherent rather than fuzzy. The student must demonstrate, through an evaluation of the measure of his research, that he himself is capable of transmitting regular change within the context of a professional career.
My belief is that this is precisely the ideological super-structure of the neo-liberal university. Against this trend, we have the opportunity to defend and to be proud of our colleagues’ research. We do not have to flee from the anxiety of a program that struggles to legitimize itself, nor do we need to fall back onto banal forms of legitimacy within the order of the academic market place. We ought to defend the absolute autonomy and singularity of our colleagues’ work. We have the opportunity to transform the sujet suppose savoir of the university into an analytical subject. It is only with a basic protection for the autonomy of our research that singular change can not only remain a possibility – but it can also remain transmittable within the academic order, if only for the shortest period of time.
There are possibilities to produce new orders within the academic world. We can produce new publications, and fundamentally new research projects. With that possibility comes the anxiety of producing meaningless or non-productive research. What we have here – no matter how weak the lines or how fuzzy the image of the research project – is an opportunity to defend the notion of pantry. With the notion of pantry, we ought not begin with the expectation that a use for the research might arise. That is, the anxiety of pantry is precisely the anxiety of not having any guarantees. And so it is a risk, and with this risk there are real anxieties.
I know this in my personal experience. I’ve already published … And yet all of these publications were on topics traditionally excluded from, and resistant to, university discourse. I have consistently refused to map my research in relation to the world around me. Instead, I have participated in the production of new orders within the academic world. My claim is perhaps even a bit naïve: if we do good research, and if we have colleagues with whom we can regularly discuss the nuances of our research, and if we can make our research compelling by demonstrating conviction – it will be published and it will find its audience. Singular change is not a marketing exercise, it is an exercise in conviction and truth. And so to be a good student requires that we focus on our work, and on our conviction, and less on the images and blueprints that reduce our work to another product within the market place of ideas.
Let us suppose that our education here today is not strictly teleological. Perhaps we came to the university to finance, protect, and encourage research of singular quality. In this case, the university offers a haven of sorts, and we should thus hope to widen the freedoms offered to us by this haven. The university is also a place wherein we build character, virtues, precisely through our research practices, and then we are released into other worlds to make changes in those worlds. However, perhaps there really is a goal to obtain a position within the academic world or to get published; I am not convinced that this goal should come before the consequences of good research. To confuse the order of these operations is to encourage the sort of superficiality that is a standard for the neo-liberal order surrounding and penetrating into our haven.
I do not know where I position my current research in relation to all of this. I have never known. Moreover, I do not believe that there is a sujet suppose savoir capable of knowing on my behalf. Rather, I remain committed to the possibility for truth, for singular change, and insofar as I remain committed to these projects I also, as a consequence, remain committed to my research first and foremost and not to the superficial measurements of the academic order.
Against the New Communists: I maintain that singular change is fundamentally different than the regular change of the vanguard party. The subject of singular change can be an individual person in a battle against himself, it can be a student in an argument with his teacher, an analysand with his analyst, or a social movement in a battle with the state. The subject has various scales, and so does the change. Against the position of Traditional Anarchists, I maintain that there is an outside to power, that the state is not the center of power, and that power does not operate uni-directionally to repress an otherwise creative human nature. This is the political conception of the line which constitutes the image and it can only operate within the image of regular change, via the naïve blueprint of revolution (i.e., if we remove the state then the naturally benign human nature will be free to flourish and create). Against the post-anarchists and the psychoanalysts, I maintain that the outside to power is an ontological outside. It is a rupture in a world but from the provocation of objects and things. The outside is not reducible to the residue of the real within the symbolic. In other words, I offer an ontological point of departure rather than an epistemological point of departure. I maintain the primacy of the inanimate thing rather than the recuperable object of desire. I maintain that there are two orders of the real and that we must shift our focus to the first order of the real and dislodge the subject from its place of privilege. Finally, against the readings of Einstein within humanities scholarship, I maintain that the theories of relativity are not theories of epistemological relativism or subjectivism. They are theories of truth.
All of that constitutes my field, and I proudly call my field Cultural Studies [note: I no longer proudly call my field Cultural Studies]. It also has many sub-fields: continental philosophy, post-continental philosophy, Lacanian psychoanalysis, political philosophy, the philosophy of physics and science, anarchist studies, and meta-ethics. It also opens up the possibility to be its own area of specialization. It is not uncommon. In the 2000s, I helped to pioneer an entirely new area of specialization within the academy called post-anarchism. I did this by publishing some books, establishing some research networks, writing some articles, and beginning the world’s first post-anarchist scholarly journal. If I would have begun by calling my area of specialization Lacanian studies, anarchist studies, social movement studies, or anything similar, I would not have been able to envision the singularity of my work. If I would have begun by mapping my research rather than understanding my research, I would not have been able to envision the singularity of my work. My journal, my books, my articles would have never made an impact on the academic world. Finally, I have contributed to the establishment of a new order of academic publishing – para-academic publishing. We have a large network of publishers involved, many journals and book publishers, and we encourage and promote real innovations in research.
All of this leads me to my claim: against the drawing of maps, I advocate the discovery of ever new territories. I advocate the possibility for the establishment of new publics, new orders, within and against the academic order. And I advocate that this is the first step for the possibility of an encounter with singular change in our own research and within the academic world in which we find ourselves. This first step begins with the quiet space of thinking and not with the public presentation and mapping of research. If we confuse the order of operations then we are destined to map territories that have already been discovered.
What follows is a presentation that I gave two years ago at Trent University. It provoked some incredible hostility in the audience – notably among older professors – and I was forced to abandon the project.
I want to begin by posing five crucial questions to you; crucial, because they are pertinent to our situation here today.
First, what is an Audience?
Key: A for Audience
We take this for granted in our experience here today, that there is an audience, but what are you as an audience? Can you be collectively defined by any precise property that will indicate, for me, a shared point of reference? Of course, if there is a shared point of reference then it will be easier for me to transmit something meaningful to all of you because we will have a foundation upon which we can rely. In this case, are you all, collectively, something like a unified object, uniquely situated in space and defined by some precise property of your being here together?
Key: A for Audience, (a) for the audience as a unified object
(a) ——- A
This is the first group of questions.
Second, what is a Presentation? I presume that it is something that I give to you. Is the presentation then something that comes from me and moves toward you?
Key: A for Audience, (a) for the audience as a unified object, (a’) for myself as a unified object, // for diagonal line connecting (a) and (a’)
(a) ——- A
Is it a relation, emanating as if from another uniquely situated object in space; an object which for the moment goes by the name “Duane”? If a presentation is a relation then can I draw a line from my mouth to all of your ears; a line, such that, if we can visualize it, an image is produced?
Third, what is a Speaker?
Key: A for Audience, (a) for the audience as a unified object, (a’) for myself as a unified object, // for diagonal line connecting (a) and (a’), S for Speaker
S ——- (a’)
(a) ——- A
In other words, what am I in all of this besides the point that begins the line segment from mouth to ears? Am I also a unified object, uniquely situated in space, armed with particular knowledge acquired through careful study? Am I a supposed subject of knowledge? A subject supposed to demonstrate certain competencies for the university and for all of you here today?
Fourth, what is a Place? Is it the room within which we sit? Or is it the University, conditioned as it is by the rules that govern our original contribution to knowledge? We know that a Speaker always Presents something toward an Audience from within a particular Place. Is a Place the sum total of tacit symbolic rules that furnish the materials that make a presentation possible?
S ——- (a’)
(a) ——- A
Finally, what is the Effect of a Presentation? In other words, what sort of Encounter is there when these words hit those ears of yours? Will you feel moved by what I have to say? Will you fall in love with what I have to say? Will your prior research be affirmed by what I have to say such that you will achieve a more perfect consistency in your own thinking. Will you feel provoked by an Encounter of change?
In fact, these five groups of questions are not entirely divorced from my research. I do not address them in this particular way, but it wouldn’t be entirely wrong to argue that I’ve constructed, in my paper, the following formula for analyzing a change: I am here as a Speaker, giving a Presentation, to an Audience, in a Place, with the intention of provoking an Encounter.
So, I will admit something to you. I came here today with four different presentations. I wasn’t at all certain which one I would give. I was interested in understanding what kind of Relation would provoke the possibility for a change in the Audience. At one point I simply resolved that I would entertain you. I jotted down several obscene jokes and hoped for the best. If I couldn’t change you then I would at least entertain you. You should know that the sort of entertainment I had in mind was perfectly within the Relation that I originally asked you about – the presentation. To entertain is to keep up appearances, to maintain consistency in thought. Moreover, if we hyphenate the word we find that it is the tain, stretched across the hard surface of the wood, that produces a mirror. I would have entered the tain and perhaps I would have felt quite satisfied with myself. And maybe you would have been satisfied too.
When our goal is to enter the tain we are really partaking in a simple exercise. You can imagine yourselves as objects uniquely situated in space. We can call these objects, collectively, point B. And then there is the other object, me, situated uniquely in space. We can all this object, point A. So now we have the tain – but we must enter it. How do you do this? You take out your favorite colored crayon and draw a line from point A to point B. [At this point I connected (a) to (a') using a colored marker.] And then you give your image to your mother for her approval. She’ll tell you that you’ve painted the picture that you were supposed to paint and you will feel like the pink panther for having painted the world in your colors. It sounds geometrical, and it is – it is what I’ve called the geometrical relation. [I wrote the word tain and image across the colored line.]
Step outside of our world here tonight and you’ll find this sort of geometry everywhere. In conversations with friends and fellow students, in conversations between activists and governments, in discussions between you and your supervisor or professors, you and your partner, you and your parents, and, most importantly, between you and yourself. When we believe ourselves to be pink panthers of the change, that is, when we believe ourselves to be the masters of change, we begin to notice that change happens. Certainly, change happens but not for a moment will a change of the form of change happen. One hopes that we will stop playing the pink panther and begin to think more like black panthers. Revolutionaries. But we are not masters of the revolution. Too much blood has been spilled pretending that we have been. Yet this geometrical world is the only one that we know, it maintains the consistency of our thinking. It is who we believe ourselves to be: we are Lacanians, Spinozians, Nietzscheans, Marxists, Deleuzians, etc – nobody can break us, we’ll bend our theories to overcome their gaps, lapses, limitations, etc! A philosopher named Laurelle has even gone so far as to claim that Philosophy begins with this sort of primordial decision. To be sure, we are absolutely blind to this decision insofar as it maintains the consistency of our thought.
We have an Object in a Place that shines a Relation to Provoke an Encounter. We know that the transmission or relation that maintains consistency of thinking is the one that shines a relation from one object in space toward another object in space – in other words, it is the one that draws an image and produces a mirror. There are changes that are made within the geometry of our thinking that nonetheless validate our prior decisional structures. This is a transmission that changes the audience, but only to the extent that the audience is changed into a more rigorous validation of the deeper consistency of their thinking. It is always a validation of the primordial decisional structure that hides in our blindspot.
There is a change of the question of change itself – a change of the very consistency of thinking about change. My claim is that Things have a power for the change of the consistency of thinking change. Things can provoke a Revolutionary Encounter. Moreover, my claim is that there are more masters than we have been capable of dreaming about in our philosophies. Certainly, there is the father of the primal horde, there is god, and so on. These are the masters whom set into motion the contradiction of non-castration, which, in turn, gave us our castration. Lacan had a great way of formalizing this. He wrote: there exists an x which is not submitted to castration. On account of this non-castrated master, every x is submitted to castration. So, to summarize, it was because the master was not castrated that the rest of us were castrated. This was Lacan’s description of masculine sexuation.
There are also those who, according to Lacan’s reading of Freud, are not entirely castrated. These people are not entirely castrated because there are not those who are not submitted to castration. It is because not everybody is not submitted to castration that not every x is submitted to castration. This was Lacan’s description of feminine sexuation.
So here we have our basic understanding of the phallic function in the Lacanian field. It is important because it precisely outlines the basic way in which the objet petit a, the object cause of our desire, is situated in relation to human animals. It is only after passing through the phallic function, being castrated, that we can have language. It is a language that is always cut by a shadow, or a trace, that we call objet petit a. The most difficult question you can ask right now is: what is objet petit a? I can’t answer that question today – it is something you can jot down and research yourself later if you are at all interested. The objet petit a undergoes several mutations in Lacan’s work. Yet, I maintain that its place never changes and that is what truly matters. For our purposes what matters is the place that the objet petit a occupies in Lacan’s formulae of the phallic function. To summarize: it is only after passing through the phallic function that the human animal has language; but this language is always cut by objet petit a.
So, some of you are probably beginning to scratch your heads a bit right about now – asking yourself, what does the phallic function have to do with an audience, a presentation, and so on. It has everything to do with it! – without castration, without objet petit a, there could be no transmission of anything from me to you. Moreover, without castration, none of you could be fantasizing about the sex you are or are not going to have after these presentations are finished. This is the point – the phallic function produces the possibility of fantasy. And it is, strictly speaking, the fantasy that there is a geometrical relation from me onto you in the form of this presentation.
Under the phallic function, one of the more promising and yet also more troublesome fantasies always comes from hysterics (promising for the purposes of change). Hysterics are those who ask their Symbolic master [S1] to account for himself in the way of his knowledge. You can imagine a young activist on the street with a sign on hand that reads: “Why so much money for bombs and so little money for education?” Here, his question begs a response. And a response will certainly come from his master. Whether or not that response does come matters very little because in the end it is the relationship that the hysteric paints toward his master that matters – it is his truthful expectation of a knowledgeable response from his master, incarnated in the state, for example. Lacan claims that the hysteric’s real question is: “What am I for the Other?” This is because the hysteric actually desires to be the answer for the enigma of the master’s desire.
In relation to the formulae of the phallic function, the hysteric wants to know: “Am I entirely submitted to castration or am I not entirely submitted to castration?” Traditionally, this has been read as: “Am I a man or am I a woman [other]?” The hysteric is so caught up with trying to satisfy the master, the man, and so on, that he finds himself identifying with him. However, he identifies with the master only because he wants to be desired as his other, as his woman. He identifies with him, as a man, only so that he can remain the object of his desire, his woman.
These traditional hysterical questions are important. The whole point of analysis is to hystericize the analysand into asking, or recognizing that he asks, these types of questions.
Now – I will need to jump ahead to my real argument, which I can not develop at all for you today.
I want to return to my original group of questions. Today I don’t want to assume the position of a point or an object in the game of connect the dots. I want to be more like the analyst who hystericizes the audience into asking the fundamental questions. This is the properly Lacanian position. Rather than shining a geometrical relation I could shine an obscure relation. And I have done thus with my cohort in the seminar room. Numerous times. I’ve learned that this alone doesn’t guarantee a change of the consistency of change. Sometimes you just sound like a psychotic. The problem is that the real analyst doesn’t usually speak that much – he is not a Speaker, not an S. He occupies the place of objet petit a and lets the analysand speak – his biggest challenge is to get the analyst to work. The analyst is the A.
I will put all my cards on the table now.
The new hysterical question, which is not original by any means, but is nonetheless a new question that has been opened up by the revolutionary philosophers of our day, is: “What am I for the Thing?” Again, it is not: “What am I for the [Symbolic] Other?” but “What am I for the [Real] Thing?” This strikes me as being implicated in a mastery that has nothing at all to do with the phallic function or the father of the primal horde, god, etc. Moreover, it is a mastery that is actually quite strange because it is involves the mastery that a Thing has over itself rather than a mastery that we have over objet petit a.
Certainly, the phallic function pulls us into its spell – even those of us whom are not entirely submitted to it. It is on this condition that we can speak – that we can string a few words together and transmit them meaningfully to an audience. The problem is that once the phallic function is set into motion it can not be entirely refused. By foreclosing the pull of the phallic function we also lose the possibility of any meaningful transmission or relation. We become rambling psychotics. People don’t understand us – even if we sound awfully smart! I pass no judgment: a schizophrenic out for a walk is better than one sitting on the analyst’s couch.
But what about a Thing? A Thing is its own master – it withdraws from our mastery. A Thing doesn’t pull, like the object of our phallic function, it withdraws. The Thing is not psychotic because it has not yet been pulled into the phallic function. The Thing withdraws from the phallic function, leaves a trace in our language as objet petit a.
Now I will shine an obscure relation for you: There exists a Thing which is not submitted to the phallic function and yet every x is submitted to the phallic function. It is on this condition that we can speak of Things and Subjects. The Conjunction. Or, rather, Subjects as Things.
I’ll give you a childish example. We know that chairs are for sitting on. This is what they are for us. But what are we for the chair? This is a very different question than what the chair is for us. Moreover, what is a chair for the floor below it? You can imagine a chair, quite like the one I use in my seminar room, which forces me to arch my back and place my arms on the table (or else let them dangle beside me). The chairs in this room force us to sit at a certain distance from one another, and so on. So there are relationships that emanate from the Thing, to us, from the Thing to another Thing, and from the Thing to us as another Thing.
Finally, instead of “Am I a Man or a Woman [Other]?,” we ask: “Am I a Subject or a Thing?” “Am I a Subject with my own little objet petit a, or, am I a Thing with my own little Subject?”
The new hysterical question changes the priority of the phallic function, pushing it to a secondary operation. Do we live in a world where there is a subject whom is the master, who has objects that are like little holes in his being, like objet petit a‘s, that allow him to put language to productive use? Or, do we live in reality where subjects are just particular types of Things among other Things?
Then we must ask how a change is possible between Things and also from a Thing toward a Subject. What is their Encounter with one another?
Can revolutions be built this way?
I heard a rumor that the French Revolution began because there was a diamond necklace, worth several million dollars, that seduced Marie Antoinette so much that she had to have it (even while the people of France had to save up for a month just to afford a loaf of bread). Apparently, the American revolution started over a bunch of tea. A revolution in northeastern Italy began in 49BC because of a river named the Rubicon. According to some research, the path of the 1917 Oklahoma rebellion was entirely dictated by the geographical availability of green corn. Imagine that – the availability of green corn dictating the fate of your uprising? It was salt that provoked a change in Gandhi and the people of colonized India.
Without a doubt, all of these are examples of man’s valuation of Things – for example, we have turned salt, bread, and tea into lost object’s of desire through taxation – however, the Things themselves, outside of taxation, outside of their status as objet petit a, certainly must have moved us as well. They moved us without at all being a product of the phallic function of taxation.
Are we prepared to write the history of Thing Revolutions? Moreover, are we prepared to begin to answer the question about whether Things in the world exist independent of us? This is about more than just chairs, salt, bread, and rivers. It is about the possibility of Things provoking an obscure relation in an effort to produce the encounter of change that answers to no human master.
These are among the many new hysterical questions.