Scribbles, about Alenka Zupancic’s Newest Work

Alenka Zupancic’s newest work aims to pursue something like a “philosophy” or “ontology” of sexuality within Lacanian/Freudian psychoanalysis. Some things:

(1) A brilliant/clear response to those who claim that Freudian sexuality reduces all problems to the answer of sexuality. On the contrary, Zupancic notes that Freud’s position is not that sexuality is the answer to all problems but that sexuality is itself the problem for all answers. Freud did not normalize sexuality but rather posed it as the question.

(2) Zupancic notes the primordial negativity of sexuality (in other words, she claims that sexuality is itself the primordial negation). This is a negation which is without substance but not, for that matter, is it “nothing”. She tells the following joke (who told this one first, Zizek or Zupancic?): a man goes into a cafe and asks the waiter for a cup of coffee, without cream. The waiter goes away, but returns again: “I’m sorry sir, we don’t have any cream. We have milk though. Would you like your coffee without milk instead?” The joke makes a serious point, the negativity is not nothing – it really matters.

(3) Zupancic made a point about the stage through which the onset of sexuality is typically first made apparent in infantile psychical development: when the question is asked: “where did I [where do children/babies] come from?” The child is then confronted with a number of answers, all of which are unsatisfactory. So, rather than positive knowledge, the child’s sexuality, as a negation, is introduced.

(4) I note the phrase “unsatisfactory” in the previous paragraph. It is hysterics whose desire remains unsatisfied. For this reason, I can not help but wonder why, in an hour-long presentation on sexuality, she did not once describe the differences that occur across the clinical structures (and thus, as it were, between the two central neuroses: feminine and masculine). For this reason, it seems to me, she reduces sexuality to the feminine type.

(5) Sexuality was often described as a ‘stumbling block’. I like this phrase, I heard it first from Bruce Fink. But for Bruce Fink it is the Master Signifier, S1, which is the stumbling block. In any case, it seemed to me that Zupancic often conflated the Real with Sexuality, as if the two were synonyms.

(6) This phrase – “stumbling block” – was picked up again by a theologian in the audience who informed us that the word in Hebrew, from the old testament (Psalms), means the same thing as “corner stone” or “foundation stone”. He noted that it was the “stumbling block” which allowed the builders to construct pieces of great architecture. What a profound point.

(7) Zupancic claims that her ontology discusses being and non-being (housed in the unconscious). At one point she intimated that her philosophy is not necessarily reduced to humans. Yet, this is precisely one of the problems with her work. It no doubt explains why she was critical of a negative theology (describing it as a theology of the death of god, improperly, which ensures that religion lives through other more permanent means). The problem is that this world of ‘constitutive lack’ exists only for special types of beings, and not even all human-beings (it is even more particular than this): neurotic beings.

Great talk, it was definitely worth the trip.

Why Are Bankers Killing Themselves? The Answer Might Surprise You

In late 2010 segments of the world believed themselves to be witnessing the prophetic powers of the Mayan calender. Birds began to fall from the sky. For many people, this signaled a dark warning: we must change our economic and political behaviors, in sympathy with the environment, or else all life on earth will come to an end. However naive, the sentiment was an important one – the “end times” became thinkable. A rational explanation inevitably followed when National Geographic wrote that most biologists know that mass bird deaths are normal occurrences. The lesson was that “[n]o matter how it arrives, death appears to be very much a fact of life for birds.”

I believe that the important shift that happened during the Mayan Calender and mass bird deaths debacle was the return of the question of the end. Indeed, during the optimistic age of post-structuralism it seemed that, as Katerina Kolozova might put it, there was an impossibility of thinking about limits. Language and discourse marked the indefinite horizon of thinking – the infinite snuggled up with human finitude. An unfortunate biproduct of ‘infinite thought’ was that it became impossible to think ‘the end’ of capitalism. Even the world of radical politics and philosophy became Fukuyamaian: capitalism itself became infinite. But the limit imposed itself in the popular imagination through the fantastical Mayan speculation, global warming science, and so on.

In early 2012, reports circulated around the globe that there were mysterious mass fish deaths, bodies washing up off the coast of a lake in Nanjing, China. This time a rational explanation for these occurrences was precluded by an interesting and rather brilliant activist strategy: activists no longer discussed isolated occurrences (as in the mass deaths of birds) but rather tallied occurrences of all sorts of mass animal deaths happening across the globe. One report listed dozens of isolated mass fish deaths and asked the question: “Why are  millions of fish suddenly dying in mass death events all over the planet?”

In different ways the question of the end insists on being asked.

On February 3rd, 2014, another mass animal death sung out for our attention. Within the span of a week, as many as 5 suicides occurred by former employees of J.P. Morgan Chase & Company. These were high impact employees: a senior risk manager, vice president, chief economist, executive director, finance professional, CEO, and so on. Before jumping ahead by speculating as to what all of these mass deaths have in common, lets focus on these, our closest animal ancestors, bankers. Some reports have indicated that bankers suffer from high levels of anxiety, provoked by long hours, difficult work, and lack of respect from the public. Reports have also focused on the fact that bankers are moved toward suicide because they naturally feel guilt about their role in the global economic crisis and the economic burdens of the 99%.

No doubt, a certain level of anxiety and guilt may have played a part in these suicides. Guilt is itself a type of anxiety. Psychoanalysis teaches us that guilt is conditioned by giving ground to one’s desires. Traditionally, the superego is thought to function as a mechanism of prohibition: “No! You can not have what you desire.” And so, if one gives ground to one’s desire, one might feel the overpowering anxiety of guilt.

Contrary to popular opinion, it does not matter whether or not the banker is actually guilty. It does not matter – especially – if he is guilty for the economic crisis or for the impoverishment of millions of people. What matters, with respect to his guilt, is that he himself believes himself to be guilty. Those who immediately conclude otherwise simply miss the point about guilt: guilt exists as a response to the superego injunction/prohibition and not as it were by some transcendental moral system outside of the banker’s mind.

To complicate matters a little more, it will prove difficult to get to the root of this guilt. When one feels an overpowering sense of guilt, typically the source of this guilt is absent or concealed. Recall the stereotypical husband who abuses his wife – as he slaps her he yells, “look at what you made me do!” The point is that he feels guilty for what she made him do, not for what he is in fact doing. Guilt functions in a similar way. The person who feels guilt may consciously describe the source of his guilt, but clinical practice demonstrates that this is a false front, a way of absolving oneself of responsibility for the true source of one’s guilt. Those who feel an intense sense of guilt more often do not even know how to articulate its source.

And so it is not as if the banker actually knows, consciously, the source of his guilt, that it is, for example, guilt for his role in the suffering of so many. It is much more paradoxical: the banker is not guilty for the suffering of others but rather for his own failure to enjoy. Failure to enjoy what? Perhaps the riches he and others have earned. The superego injunction is to “Enjoy!” It is your duty to enjoy, to transgress the superego’s own prohibitions, precisely so that you will be immobilized by guilt. Under contemporary capitalism, the superego injunction seems to make too much sense: you must be happy, you must love your career, you must enjoy and never be upset, critical, angry, etc.

Under contemporary capitalism, the superego injunction is also to enjoy your “fun” job. The “fun” job is rapidly coming to the fore. Most of us can not imagine working for a job that does not have regular outings, appreciation days, contests, teams, and so on. When I first met my wife, she shared a funny commercial with me. It was an advertisement for an educational program in refrigerator repair. The repairman said, in the commercial: “I always wanted a COOL job!” This is the framework of capitalism today. We all want to have cool jobs, and we feel guilty if we do not have one. Many of us even openly claim to already have a cool job. I presume that many of us say this in public so that the Other, the external manifestation of the superego, can see that we are in fact enjoying as we should.

All of us are enjoying our jobs. All of us, except for the bankers. The banker’s job is a part of the older framework. The banker’s job is advertised as a place of “prestige” or “status”.  You get the yacht, you get to wear the nice suits, and so on. So – if the banker felt guilty, it had nothing to do with his responsibility for our suffering. The bankers are killing themselves because they want to be held accountable for their failure to enjoy like the rest of us. As for the rest of us: we want to believe that the bankers enjoy and are responsible to us – as if we are all they think about. 

The Act of Killing (Fiction)

Joshua Oppenheimer’s new documentary film The Act of Killing is yet another confrontation with the central philosophical problem of our recent history. Immediately, we are seduced by the content of the film: former gangsters for the government of Indonesia, after describing their story, reenact the murder of hundreds of communists using traditional cinematic techniques (and they appear to get off on it). Already, the content of the film has divided film critics, most of whom have resorted to normative frameworks for their assessment. Some critics have even called for a boycott of the film at film festivals and awards ceremonies.

We should not join the ranks of the moralists and call for a boycott of the film. Perhaps there is something much more profound about the film that is worth examining. It is not that the content (the story) is not important. Indeed it is, but the normative question is simply not the correct grounding for philosophical meditation. The question we are asking here is the wrong question: it ought not be ‘is this film ethical?’ but rather, ‘from where does this film obtain its ambiguous ethical grounding?’

Enough about content, what have we to write about the form of the film?

It is the form of the film which presents a revolution of film-making within the world of documentary cinema. Consider the traditional Hollywood form: the narrative is presented as such, that is, the narrative is presented as pure fiction. The seduction of the fiction of Hollywood cinema appeals to us precisely because we are capable of being absorbed by it. Moreover, fictional cinema works us over completely – within the grand fictions of Hollywood we fight to find some reality in it all. Within the theatre, who among us has not heard the question shot from the back row: “they expect us to believe this horseshit?” This is the subjective struggle of Hollywood cinema. The power of Hollywood cinema comes as a result of its ability to suspend our disbelief: when we find reality within the cinema form, we have been won over by the narrative.

But documentary cinema functions different. The power of the documentary form reverses the power of cinema. The genius of The Art of Killing comes as a consequence of its momentary lapses into fiction. Indeed, I would even claim that it is precisely because of its lapse into fiction that it rescues a dieing cinematic form of expression (i.e., the documentary, by now is for aging middle-class liberal do-gooders). In other words, we begin with the raw reality of the situation. The main characters are really murderers, they really get off on staging their murders. This horseshit really happened. The grip that the documentary form has on us is to engage us at the level of our cynicism over the fictional lapses. There is always some wise guy who, after watching the film, writes on their facebook wall: “how can they even think about fictionalizing this brutal reality?” Is this not a variation of the question: “How can they break from the reality of the situation?”

I think that it is hardly coincidental that The Act of Killing screens during the time of the philosophical preoccupation with realism. Today’s challenge is similar to the challenge we all face when we watch the film: not to succumb to the temptation toward spectacular narrative but to remain at the level of reality as such. Indeed, the film forcibly returns us to the real. But this is not enough. The radical position is not to stage a confrontation between this film and the spectacular fictional films of Hollywood — that is, to debate the centrality of reality within the narrative itself via the suspension of disbelief — but rather to remain within the Borromean orientation by asserting the mutuality of positions: Hollywood’s Real (Imaginary-Real) is not the same as The Act of Killing‘s Real (Real-Imaginary), even while they are part of a shared topology.

Levi Bryant has argued that Lacanians typically place the entire borromean knot within the symbolic ring alone, as if the other rings have no influence. Is it any wonder that many Lacanians focus on discourse analysis – or are found in literature departments? The borromean clinic, as Levi Bryant explains it, forces us to consider other possibilities.

Naively, we could suggest that the imaginary real occurs when the real is exposed in its image-form. Alternatively, could we not suggest that the real imaginary occurs when the imaginary is exposed within its the real form? Similarly, Zizek has claimed:

There are three modalities of the Real: the “real Real” (the horrifying Thing, the primordial object, from Irma’s throat to the Alien), the “imaginary Real” (the mysterious je ne sais quoi, the unfathomable “something” on account of which the sublime dimension shines through an ordinary object), and the “symbolic Real” (the real as consistency: the signifier reduced to a senseless formula, like the quantum physics formulas which can no longer be translated back into—or related to— the everyday experience of our life-world). The Real is thus effectively all three dimensions at the same time: the abyssal vortex which ruins every consistent structure; the mathematized consistent structure of reality; the fragile pure appearance. And, in a strictly homologous way, there are three modalities of the Symbolic (the real—the signifier reduced to a senseless formula; the imaginary—the Jungian “symbols”; and the symbolic—speech, meaningful language) and three modalities of the Imaginary (the real— fantasy, which is precisely an imaginary scenario occupying the place of the Real; the imaginary—image as such in its fundamental function of a decoy; and the symbolic— again, the Jungian “symbols” or New Age archetypes).

This is the genius of the Borromean position. And this is the genius of The Act of Killing. Like the new philosophical realisms, documentary realism reminds us to also think from the real toward the imaginary and not just from the imaginary toward the real.

Alain Badiou: Two Names for Infinity

What follows is a hyper-transcription of a lecture that Alain Badiou gave at the European Graduate School in 2010, called “Infinity and Set Theory: Repetition and Succession.” Until today, I have produced dozens of hyper-transcriptions, some of which are below.

Badiou begins his lecture with a diagram which looks something like the following:

Nothingness | 0, 1, 2, 3, … | Infinity

We can read the diagram from left to right in the following way: nothingness comes before the series of finite numbers which comes before infinity. At this stage of our understanding, that which is finite is always sandwiched between two negative forms of being (nothingness and infinity). On the one side there is nothingness. Nothingness can be thought of as that which is purely negative. On the other hand, infinity can be thought of as that which is without limit. In any case, there is currently, within this traditional understanding, no affirmative or positive definition of infinity. And, finally, we have the finite in the middle. The entire lecture is dedicated to exploring this understanding of numbers. If we like, we can also draw the following diagram:

Nothingness | The Finite (0, 1, 2, 3 …) | Infinity

The finite is a form of positive existence which is composed through the name of nothingness itself. To begin with, we know that 1 is not the same number as 2, and 2 is not the same number as 3. There are real differences between each unique number: there is something within the number 2 which is not within the number 1, there is something within the number 3 which is not within the number 2, and so on. This all concerns the realm of the finite, which is also the realm of differences and movement. We can describe the realm of the finite as the realm of differences and movement because what we notice is that the passage from 1 to 2 and from 2 to 3, and so on, implies that there is a continuation. This continuation manifests itself as a repetition which is without limit.

The infinite is not something which can be affirmed, rather it is the absence of limits upon something else. So this is how we can come to understand the negativity of infinity. Infinity itself has no being. It is not being, but limitation. It is not being itself but that which is the absence of a limit for a process. The infinite is the very possibility of the continuation of a process, the infinite ensures that the process continues without interruption. This is why we can refer to it as a negative determination. So, to revise our main argument: the finite is always between the negation of being (nothingness) and the negation of the limit (the infinite).

This leaves unanswered the question, how is it that finite numbers continue along their process? What is the process of this continuation? How is it that finite numbers can continue along their process without stopping? How is there an absence of limits? In other words, how is it that there is an absence of limits on the continuation of the process of finite numbers? To make sense of this, we must begin with a formalization of the question: how do we pass from the number, N, to the number, N+1?

Let be the number of terms. For example, = {0, 1, 2, 3}. Here, N = 4 because we have four numbers (0, 1, 2, and 3). A successor of is N1:

N = { 0, 1, 2, 3 }

N1 = { 0, 1, 2, 3, N }

When we want the successor of as N1 then we must take the entire set of elements from and add the previous name of that set itself. Thus, to pass from the number to the number after, N1, we must take the contents of the first as well as the name of the predecessor (where is the name of the first set of numbers). So, in the final instance, we always add the name to that which came before. For this reason, our writing is composed uniquely of names. We introduce a new unique name (N1) as a substitute for the old name (N). The operation for passing from one unique name of a number to another unique name of number is very simple: you place one element after all of the others within the new set which is uniquely the name of the set which came before.

And what is this name, in the first instance? It is a name of nothingness. In the end, the only material that we have at our disposal is a list of names. We have as our first name the proper name of nothingness and after that we have a composition of new names. For example we can decide that the following is the name of nothingness:


And we can give this a new name:

1 = { Ø }

 Here, the new name is 1. After that we can construct another new name as follows:

2 = {Ø, { Ø }}

Here, the new name is 2. Finally, we arrive at the point: only names exist, as well as nothingness. Only names and nothingness exist. The previous example looks more like this then:

Name “Two” equals Nothingness and One as the Name of Nothingness

Arithmetics is perhaps the complete understanding of the world: the world is composed of only names and nothingness. We must not forget that we give the name one only because the one is composed of nothingness {Ø}, and that we give the name two as the composition of the name of nothingness plus nothingness, and so on. So, when we pass from one number to another number we by necessity take the first number (which is a collection of names from 0 to N+1) and we put it inside of the new numbers as one of its elements. The successor is thus always, by definition, one element more. 

We can summarize this in two ways: first, we have a “primitive name” such that a name is absolutely primitive if it is the name of nothingness itself (but there is nothing before the name), and; second we have an operation (which is to succeed).

  • Primitive Name
  • Operation, S.

The operation which concerns us is an operation which moves the continuation or the process along. It is identified as an ‘S‘ because it ‘succeeds’ the line of numbers, it ensures that something comes after. So we have:

{Ø} and S

With both of these we have all of the processes required for the construction of the finite. The successor of a number is composed exactly of the contents of that number plus the previous number: S(n) = ... ].

All of this is possible because the name of ‘something’ is not the same ‘thing’ as the ‘something’ itself. This is a point of contingency. For example, the name of the void is not identical to the void. If the name of the void were identical to the void then the thing would be nothing rather than something which exists. The name of a number is not identical to the number itself. The name, N, for N = { 0, 1, 2, 3 }, which is a set of names, is different from the set itself. We know this because the set does not include itself. For example, where 4 = { 0, 1, 2, 3 }, there is no number 4 within the set at all. So we must always have a name for the number which is not within the set itself. Interestingly, at this point Badiou draws a diagonal line across the right side of N, as if to “bar” the name from the set of elements inside of it.

Finally, the name introduces something new. This is an important point because it answers the question: why is the set of finite numbers not a pure repetition? The name of a set is a creation which results from an operation and introduces something new into the chain of numbers. The number two is not reducible to the number one even though the number one is within the set of the number two. And the number one is not within the set of the number one.

When we place the name of something inside of its own set of elements we are performing the operation of succession. By doing so we produce something new which is the successor of the set. It is what comes after the set: what succeeds the set and what names the new set.

Counting is a basic operation of thinking and yet we are generally not reflexive about how the operation functions. Only a philosopher is truly reflexive about all of this. We always function by putting the name of something inside of a set in order to construct something new. For example, when we write a novel we often decide on the name of a character by included all of those characteristics of this character (his hair color, eye color, personality, etc) under the novelty of a name. It is thus the collection of all of the characteristics of the person as well as his name.

So, we have the following as the name of the void:


And we have the process of succession as follows:

 Ø, S(Ø, S(Ø,S(Ø)), ….

This can be read in the following way: the name of the void, the successor of the name of the void, and the successor of the successor of the name of the void, and so on. For those who are interested, you can find a full explanation of all of this on page 160 of the newest English edition of Being & Event.

All of this is really a presentation of numbers via the operation of succession:

Ø, S(Ø), S,(S(Ø)) = 0, 1, 2

What is two? Two is the operation to ‘succeed’ twice. There are two successors for the number two. A number is therefore always the result of a repetition. But it is not the result of a pure repetition of the number itself. Rather, it is the repetition of the operation of succession. It is the successor which repeats. Three is always three times the same operation, it is three successions: the name of the void, the successor of the name of the void, the successor of the successor of the name of the void, and the successor of the successor of the successor of the name of the void. If we do this operation five times then you will have the number five as a result.

creative repetition is always a succession of numbers within the finite. It is a paradox of sorts. The new number is really different from the number which came before it – we have proof that 4 is not 3, and so on – but it is also another composition of the void which gives it a unique name. The number or the name of the number itself changes even where the operation remains the same. You go from one to two to three to four, and so on, using the exact same operation. This is why it can be annoying to count because even though the numbers change you inevitably get bored of the repetition of the operation itself.

We have a new definition: the finite is a mixture between novelty and repetition. This is why we can describe succession as creative repetition. But, we should also note that the finite is the insistence of succession. It is the succession, without limit, of repetition. The numbers always continue and this is the insistence of the repetition. As such, the finite is under the law of repetition: ‘one more, once more again, again once more again, etc’.

In French we describe this using the word Encore, which means, to succeed. This is also the title of one of Lacan’s seminars, seminar XX. In fact, within that seminar there is an entire meditation concerning the very concept of repetition. What we notice is that within concrete life, repetition exists. And this is why we are finite beings: we are always in the field of repetition. Very often, we must do the same things. There is an insistence, which is not always part of our conscious agency, to repeat. And so the subjective repetition is very often also a creative repetition. It is the same with numbers. There is something profoundly similar with respect to subjectivity and number.

Perhaps we can approach a definition of the subject in this way: the subject is always known by his repetitions. We know somebody by noting their repetitions. When we claim to know somebody we often make that claim in full awareness that there will be some creative repetitions. A person seems to always have the same behaviors or opinions, even if there is a creative element to those behaviors or opinions – even if they change a little bit here or there. The operation nonetheless insists. Finally, this finite structure can produce many differences, novelties, surprises, complexities, within the entire world. This is precisely why we can claim that the finite is under the law of encore … continue, continue…

We approach our first definition of the infinite: the infinite is the space of repetition itself. In this respect, it is logical to conclude that the space of repetition must be infinite if we can continue within it without limit. If we can endlessly repeat the operation of succession then we can say that the space of the infinite is without limits. In other words, if we know that repetition is without limits then there must be a space for that repetition which is itself without limits. And so we can not know the creative nature of repetition without claiming that there is something which is without limits. If repetition were within limits then we would think of it like a circle, or a loop. In fact, it seems to me that this was Lacan’s conception of the repetition of the drive:

Badiou claims that our understanding of the finite realm necessitates a thinking which does not close in upon itself like a boomerang. We do not always return to the same. Conversely, with number, we always have a linear continuation. We have an obligation to assume that there is something without limits, without closure, within the realm of repetition itself. This is qualified in a very precise sense by the operation of succession. The space of repetition, then, is infinite, and it is linear. It is not, like the traditional understanding of the Lacanian drive, closed in upon itself like a boomerang and circular. If there is no limit point to numbers then there is something infinite which keeps moving as if in a chain and it is this chain which is the result of a creative repetition. We never arrive at the limit point precisely because this negative notion of infinity is that there is an absence of limits. And it is this absence of limits which permits the repetition of succession to continue, infinitely.

The first name of infinity is thus virtual infinity. Virtual infinity names the position that the infinite does not exist except as an absence of limits to the finite. So the infinite exists alongside the possibility for the continuation of the finite. What exists is always finite and so the infinite, if it were to exist, would fall into the finite realm of numbers. What exists is the unlimited process of the finite. The point is that virtual infinity reduces the infinite to the absence of limits for the finite. So, finally, the infinite is always at the service of the finite and is not an affirmation of something which exists itself.

Most mathematicians do not admit that there is something like an actual or real infinite. They typically only admit the virtual infinite as that which has no limit and which is never finished within the finite realm. Badiou describes the position of virtual infinity as a compromise situation: it is a compromise between the finite and the infinite. This compromise operates in the service of the finite precisely because the infinite does not exist as a separate being. Rather, the infinite exists inside the finite as its negative necessity via the law of succession.

The infinite is an internal law of the finite.

According to this view the infinite is itself a part of nothingness. Whereas the finite is sandwiched between two forms of nothingness we can claim that the first form is pure nothingness (nothing at all) and the other form is infinity as that which does not exist. Thus, the infinite is really “No Thing” because it is not a Thing. So we have Nothing and No-Thing. The infinite is a virtual law of the finite but it is No-Thing.

If we decide that we want to go beyond this understanding of infinity then we must allow ourselves to realize that the infinite comes also in the form of a thing. There is no other possibility to overcome the problem. We must affirm the existence of something infinite and not only the infinite as the pure absence of limits in the service of the insistence of repetition within the finite realm. And so the infinite must therefore exist as a point which is beyond repetition itself – it can not be inside of the repetition. It is the repetition which is without limit. If we want to go beyond virtual infinity then we must propose something which is not a form of a law which exists inside of the repetition. The new infinity must itself be infinite. But how can we propose something like that?

We had the following:

Ø, S(Ø), S,S(Ø)), etc

0, 1, 2, N+1 …

We must begin by affirming the existence of a term which does not succeed and which is therefore not inscribed within the repetition. This term must exist after one term, like all whole numbers (N+1), but it must also exist after all numbers. But we immediately run into the problem of thinking a set of all numbers.

If we were to think about all numbers then it can not be as a consequence of the operation of succession. We can not simply at N+1 to the chain of finite numbers. There is no point where the succession produces something which is beyond succession. And so this is the paradox. We can not produce a term for infinity by using the internal law of succession because this would immediately place us back within the finite realm. So, we can not produce something infinite using succession as such.

Repetition as such can not produce any term which is infinite. That is impossible. Consequently, we must affirm the existence of something completely new: a term which does not succeed. A term which is outside the scope of the repetition. Badiou proposes the following matheme for the affirmation of a term for infinity:

¬ E(x) [(Infinite = S(x)]

There does not exist one x where the infinite is the successor of x. In other words, the infinite does not succeed at all. We shall name the infinite, “omega” using the following symbol: ω.

¬ E(x) [ω = S(x)]

Not Exist X, omega is the successor of x. This is our first possible concept of a positive infinite. However, by the use of the symbol of negation (¬) placed as it is on the existential quantifier we note immediately that this is another negative definition of infinity. However, this time our negation is not the negation of a limit. What we are dealing with this time is the negation of succession itself – a negation of the operation which sustains the creative repetition.

There is no x for which omega is the successor of x.

So it is not the without limit of the space of the succession, of the space of the repetition. But it is the negation of the repetition itself. We can claim that if something infinite exists then the first infinite – or the beginning of the infinite – is always in the form of an interruption of repetition. It is a rejection of continuation and therefore finds itself radically outside of the continuation of the operation of succession. This is omega, then: the first infinite outside of repetition. What we have with our matheme is a reversal of the first negative definition of infinity – it is a reversal of virtual infinity.

  1. Definition One: NO LIMITS AT ALL
  2. Definition To: NO SUCCESSION AT ALL

And we have the following:

  1. Virtual infinity is the name of the strength of repetition: repetition can continue without limits. It is the strength of the finite, then. The finite is stronger precisely because it can continue as virtual infinity.
  2. Real infinity is not inside of repetition and is not the result of succession. It is the weakness of the finite. It is beyond the possibility of the finite.

The point is now to examine our decision for real infinite: can we rationally accept the existence of something which is beyond the repetition? Something which is beyond the successive construction of the finite numbers? How can we do that? How rationally can we do something like that? Cantor’s greatness was to answer this question. Cantor is the father of the modern conception of the infinite. Before Cantor we only had access to the virtual form of infinity, it was the dominant conception. Cantor affirmed the existence of something entirely new: the omega which exists beyond all finite numbers, ω. How can we be beyond all finite numbers? Cantor’s idea was to claim that we can take all finite numbers and presume that they are a set (as if the repetition was finished). The idea is that we can put the set of that which is without limits as a new limitation. 

So we are between two names:

Ø & ω

We can write that omega is the name for the space of the repetition as such. The space where all numbers are defined by successive repetition.

ω = { 0, 1, 2, 3, … }

There is in fact a limit, and this limit is omega itself as the complete recollection as the total process of the collection of numbers. We have here a very obvious problem which is the notion that somehow we can close the set to produce a set of all sets. But we must understand that when we speak of the closure of the set in this instance we are actually speaking about the closure of a set which remains unlimited in terms of the operation of succession. The closure we are discussion is therefore something which is perhaps better described as a pure interruption of the operation of succession. We are simply affirming something which does not succeed. And so there is no clear contradiction then between the non-limit of succession and the name of the set which is outside the scope of the succession.

A succession operates on the name which came before it but omega deals with a ‘before’ which is not in the same sense as the ‘before’ of succession. For succession, two is before three. We know exactly what is before 3, it is 2. But with omega what comes before is the operation itself. 

For Lacan, feminine jouissance is something which is infinite. Why is it that the infinite is so often associated with the feminine? Often, woman is represented as the point where man does not understand his own limitations. Woman, according to Lacan’s graph of sexuation, is represented as being without limits of the male process. Classically, the man is on the side of the process of numbers – there is a succession. The male is the being of succession. And, classically, woman is represented as without limits according to the total space of repetition. She is an interruption of repetition itself and exists outside of the succession of numbers. This is why we sometimes claim that man is a finite number and woman is an infinite number, or that man is quantitative and woman is qualitative.

The Anarchist’s Passion

Man has subdued bodies, but all the power on earth has been unable to subdue love. Man has conquered whole nations, but all his armies could not conquer love. Man has chained and fettered the spirit, but he has been utterly helpless before love. [...] All the laws on the statutes, all the courts in the universe, cannot tear it from the soil, once love has taken root -Emma Goldman.

Within the last few decades there has been a growing awareness of the import of anarchist political philosophy. This suggests that anarchist political philosophy is not really a political philosophy at all – it is something else. At the very least, it is considerably flexible, interdisciplinary, and open to multiple (often divergent) procedures for accessing truth. Anarchist political philosophy, it has been recently claimed, was always a form of “Cultural Studies.” I accept this thesis with some minor reservations. Increasingly, I’m moved to consider anarchism as a poetry of the political. Anarchism fabricates, from the political situation, an ethical poetry which is, in the final analysis, poetry as such. What does this mean? It means that the real foundation of anarchist political philosophy has always been its contribution to meta-ethics (as well as normative ethics). However, the general form in which this contribution has been transmitted has always been in the manner of a poet – the anarchist struggles to say something new and so is forced, more often than not, toward posturing and pretension.

Let me make my point in as direct a way as I’m capable: today anarchism has been better capable of expressing its original struggle; namely, that anarchism is always a struggle with language. American scholars have noted this with exceptional clarity (from Roger Farr to Sandra Jeppesen) but the point has always been this: anarchism, in the final analysis, views language as its prison-house. And so anarchists resort to rhetoric and impassioned judgement, to staunch irrationality and to tautological precepts; the point, in every case, is to seduce the other into accepting or rejecting the moral axioms which are, in the final analysis, nevertheless entirely ungrounded. Those who have read and understood my book from 2007 (After Post-Anarchism) will understand the source of this claim. Anarchism, as a meta-ethical position, essentially grounds itself on nothing. And it is from nothing that anarchism stammers, stutters, works at beginning, .. only ever a beginning …, and attempts to not only speak but to finally say something new. And yet this is precisely what anarchism is incapable of doing. Why, one might ask, is anarchism incapable of saying something new? It is because if anarchism said something new (1) nobody would accept it, and (2) the anarchist wouldn’t know it to be new. In both cases we are dealing with a temporal matter: the anarchist acts too soon, with too much passion, and without time enough to sustain the moment of the initial eruption of novelty.

I hope that readers will forgive me for my critique of the tradition which has housed me for the greater part of my life. My point for now is rather to sort out what anarchism still offers the revolutionary milieu and, moreover, what we should always remember about it. We should never turn our backs on anarchism precisely because of its faults. Anarchism ignites a fire – anarchism ignites passion, entices the cultural libido, and encourages the heart to beat a little faster. Such passion is worthy of stimulating thought and action. We could have a billion committed revolutionaries, but they may not yet be ignited with the passion required to act. Yet, of course, passion is also counter-revolutionary. Anybody who has been in love knows this – some people kill you with their love. They love you too much. Great wars and mass slaughters are the result of passion and love. And so we must always have passience, and this, precisely, is what the anarchist is incapable of having. Passience requires the passionate revolutionary to be patient – to posture at something else. Perhaps, to posture at the white picket fence, the church leader, and so on. Power corrupts, always. And so only those who have revolutionary passience are capable of repelling the juggernaut of conformity that comes with power.

Of course, I am not urging anarchists to obtain positions of power within the system they find morally deplorable. Those who find such a system morally deplorable would do better to remain outside of it; this is the posturing of which anarchism finds itself to be at fault. Those who are most incapable of ruling rule with relative ease precisely because they have shed themselves of the posturing which holds them back. Similarly, those whose rule has become a joke – and we are increasingly in the presence of such rulers – use the joke as the rule. And why shouldn’t we? Isn’t it the case that those most unfit to rule are often best exchanged for those who are best fit to rule but refuse to do so on moral principles?

Everything You Want to Know About Kierkegaard, Badiou, and Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Arcade Fire)

Trapped in a prism, in a prism of light; Alone in the darkness, darkness of white

Unfortunately, there is a profound truth to Jodi Dean’s argument about contemporary politics. She claimed that “democracy organizes enjoyment via a multiplicity of stagings, of making oneself visible in one’s lack.” Isn’t it the case, then, that contemporary democratic politics engages in a politics of being seen. Dean continued, “Contemporary protests in the United States, whether as marches, vigils, Facebook pages, or internet petitions aim at visibility, awareness, being seen. It’s as if instead of looking at our opponents and working out ways to defeat them, we get off on imagining them looking at us.” This is an example of what, long before Dean, Kierkegaard referred to as the main characteristic of the present, reflective, age. Kierkegaard wrote that, within the present age, we all act within the public – that is, we all act within view:

Nothing ever happens but there is immediate publicity everywhere. In the present age, a rebellion is, of all things, the most unthinkable. [...] a political virtuoso might [...] write a manifesto suggesting a general assembly at which people should decide upon a rebellion, and it would be so carefully worded that even the censor would let it pass. At the meeting itself he would be able to create the impression that his audience had rebelled, after which they would all go quietly home — having spent a very pleasant evening.

This is the point – everything today which is an action appears within public view. And it is the publicity and advertisement which matters before the action, and so, by all standards, it is not an action at all. One can state this another way: the image of rebellion is what matters – and not the rebellion itself. In fact, as long as the image of rebellion lives there is, within the present age, no need for authentic rebellion. Why? Because the image is something which provides a certain degree of satisfaction, or, if we like, the image is what provides a certain type of enjoyment for us under democratic capitalism. If we are trapped in an image, it is a dark image – an image which is illuminated, that is, which is there for us to see and view, but which is nonetheless dark inasmuch as it is devoid of anything authentic or real. There is lightness in the present age, but it is not an enlightenment – it is not an illumination, it is just empty light.

It is publicity, then, which largely defines the time in which we live. So here is the darkness of the time: every time that we think we’ve found a way out of the spectacle of the present age, we seem to be recuperated ever more. Today’s most rebellious models seem to operate purely within the world of empty light. Indeed, those models which bring us the most profound hope for the future – models of alternative higher education, models of alternative distribution, models of alternative economic exchange, etc – always seem to begin from the image. Will we ever see what is on the other side of the image?

I’d Lose My Heart, If I’d Turn Away From You

I want to ask readers to pause for a moment to think about the question I just asked: will we ever see what is on the other side of the image? This is an important question. If it is true that we live during a reflective age, and if it is true that we are constantly putting the image before the act – i.e., the cart before the horse – then how is it possible to act in such a way that our actions make it through to the other side? Put differently: is it possible to have an authentic rebellion? Perhaps we need to get our bearings from something obscure, something outside of the image. And yet, once again, we are met with the problem that there is nothing outside of the image. So, we can say that that which does not live within the image does not exist within the world. There are no authentic acts within the world because there is nothing that exists outside of the world of the image.

But Alain Badiou has taught us that this is precisely where we can locate our hope. An authentic rebellion occurs when a being which does not exist within the world makes itself exist within the world. In other words, by all accounts the world in which we live denies the existence of something which is outside of it. When existence is denied by the world then it is the task of that which does not exist to make itself exist. Thus, Badiou claims that “[a]n event, a political event, a revolution, can be defined by the transformation of ‘no existence’ into ‘real existence’ in a world.” This is what Arcade Fire explains, in their own way. There is something authentic about the affirmation of the existence of something within the world which was previously thought to not exist. In other words, if an element of an object inexists in a world, then it is only minimally identical to another element of the same object. What does this mean? It means that the world in which we find ourselves measures the relationship that occurs between elements of the world. If some element is not very similar to some other element then it inexists. A revolution occurs when some element within the world which once had a minimal value – which once was not entirely similar/identical to some other element in the world – attempts to obtain a maximal value.

All of this is to state: the revolutionary subject is the one who decides not to turn his back on the affirmation of this existence. Revolutionaries – don’t lose heart!

What if the Camera Really Do Take Your Soul?

We are absolutely terrified by the camera. And yet we seem to be ever more driven toward the products of the camera. We do not like being watched, but we enjoy being watched at the same time. How do we account for this which at first appears to be a paradox? The point is that we enjoy pretending that we do not know that we are being watched. If somebody points out that we are being watched we will act shocked! “Oh no!, How can they be watching me? How dare they!?” This is all a part of the game that we play with ourselves under democratic capitalism: watch me but please don’t tell me that you are watching me. Doesn’t this explain, in part, why it is that we only seem to get angry at Facebook (as a company) when they explicitly point out that they have the right sell our photographs, demographics, etc., to companies? Moreover, does this not explain why it is that we all hate facebook and yet we are all on facebook? This is the point: we want to be hit with the flashbulb eyes, we want to be watched, and yet we do not want to be told that we are being watched.

How do we overcome all of this? It seems to me that part of the solution is to paradoxically assert the spirit of the time: “go ahead, watch me!” Arcade Fire asserts this principle so as to affirm the inexistent dimension of the photograph: “I’ve got nothing to hide.” Isn’t this the most dangerous part of the photograph, the part which affirms itself as ‘nothing’? This was the victory of modern painting – the black background behind the brutal foreground. Slavoj Zizek describes this affirmation of the nothing of modern art as the “space for thinking.”

When Love is Gone, Where Does it Go?

All of this makes up a nice equation for thinking about revolutionary philosophy. We began with a question about the image and moved on to ask if an authentic act is even possible today. Is it possible to see something other than the image? We then asked if, within the inexistent darkness of the image we can begin to see a new light, a new love, a new heart. Finally, we ask a question about love and fidelity. If I ask you, as a revolutionary, not to lose heart, what I really mean is: did you turn away from the event which provoked you? Surely, there is a lot of pain involved when we remain on the path of the affirmation of the inexistent. It could even imply the loss of love. Many revolutionaries are forced to give up lasting relationships with their friends and families. The point is that we are forced to finally ask a question about love, about fidelity to the revolutionary event.

Traditionally, within Lacanian psychoanalysis, we conflate love with the transference. In other words, love is typically thought of as love for the image. It is a false type of love. Arcade Fire asks if it is possible that there is life after love-transference. In the clinical situation it is very often after much screaming and shouting, after much hatred – which is itself a form of love, that the analysand can finally ask the question: “when love is gone, where does it go?” This is the question we must now ask ourselves: is it possible to reinvent the concept of love? Is it possible that there are many versions of love, of which the love of the image is only one. Along the way, we must always be wary of the love of the image – we must always recognize that there are different modalities of love.

I Know Your Living in my Mind

There is a profound novelty in coming to understand the truth of one’s love. We should ask ourselves if we are really in love with the revolutionary situation, our sexual partners, our families, and so on, or if we are in love with the image of the revolutionary situation, and so on. Arcade Fire urges us to find the limit of the old modality of love, to awaken the desire for a new season of love. If we can finally come to grasp the love we have for the image then we can also finally prepare ourselves for the spring.