Note from some correspondence, pasted here for self-archiving purposes.

Badiou seems to me to talk about events as big, and rare, but the force of Badiou’s arguments pushes against this, because Badiou doesn’t supply much in the way of arguments or methods for identifying events, it’s mostly at an intuitive level. He doesn’t explain why or how he selects the few examples he uses. I think the force of much of Badiou’s arguments actually implies that events are much more common that Badiou seems to talk about, or at least, his work cuts against criteria for identifying events including the ones implied in Badiou’s comments on events (bigness, rarity).

For Badiou as I understand him, events matter (and exist) because of the subjects who treat them as events. As far as I can tell, Badiou offers no criteria for determining real from fake events, there seems to be no category of “mistaken-for-an-event” in Badiou’s work. One of the examples he gives of an event and a subject who treats it as an event is the crufixion of Jesus and the apostle Paul’s actions in response to it. That seems to me pretty clear that an event isn’t structurally predictable and that doesn’t have to be an immediately identifiable social rupture or upheaval, for Badiou, and that it can actually be quite small at least initially – subjects acting after events can make them become incredibly important (Paul’s great example for this, I think), but that’s different. I think this example is especially important for understanding Badiou because Badiou is clear that he’s not a believer yet he thinks Paul is a paradigm case of what he calls militant subjectivity. So, Paul the militant acts in what Badiou calls “fidelity to the event” for an event that Badiou himself doesn’t believe in, at least not in the terms that Paul believed in it.

The take-away of this for me is that “events” and breaks can happen in very small scales for small numbers of people. Among other things I think we can see this in some of the lives of African American abolitionists – small conflicts and escapes tie into lives lived in and for struggle.

A ew bits from Jason Barker’s introduction to Badiou — Barker argues that for Badiou events are “purely retroactive” (page 78). So events are not something we look forward to, they’re things we look back to, this is part of what Badiou calls fidelity. Events make subjects who act after them, it’s not that we in the present look ahead to future events/possible events and that shapes what we do now, it’s that we in the present look back to past events and they inform how we operate now. Barker also shows that events for Badiou are not really determinable. Here too Paul is a revealing example – there’s no final demonstration about the event (Christ, basically) that Paul, as a militant subject, acted in fidelity to. I mean, there are final demonstrations but they’re not shared, people’s interpretations will depend on their faiths, so to speak. For Badiou subjects don’t argue for events’ actual existence, subjects make decisions about events’ existence – subject assert events, so to speak – and events are not predictable in advance.

I think this has ramifications for a category Badiou uses. He talks about things becoming “saturated” to where they don’t have their force anymore. He says here

that “a fidelity does not really finish, but sometimes it is saturated; that is my term for it. There is a saturation; you cannot find anything new in the field of your first fidelity. Many people, when this is the case, just say, “It’s finished.” And really, a political sequence has a beginning and an end, too, an end in the form of saturation. Saturation is not a brutal rupture, but it becomes progressively more difficult to find something new in the field of the fidelity. Since the mid-80s, more and more, there has been something like a saturation of revolutionary politics in its conventional framework: class struggle, party, dictatorship of the proletariat, and so on. So we have to find something like a fidelity to the fidelity. Not a simple fidelity. For my generation, it’s a choice between saying, on the one hand, “Nothing is possible today in the political field; the reactionary tendency is too strong.” That’s the position of many people in France today; it’s the negative interpretation of saturation. When the fidelity is saturated, you have a choice. The first possibility is to say it’s finished. The second possibility is this: With the help of certain events – like the events in South America today – you find what I name a fidelity to the fidelity. Fidelity to the fidelity is not a continuation, strictly speaking, and not a pure rupture, either. We have to find something new. (…) our situation is much more similar to that of the 19th century than to that of the 20th. Nearer Marx than Lenin, if you like, metaphorically speaking. Lenin was really the thinker of the new concept of revolutionary politics, with the idea that we could be victorious, that the revolution was a possibility. That’s not exactly the situation today; the idea of revolution is obscure in itself today. But we can do as Marx did – it’s a metaphor, an image. You have to think the multiplicity of popular experiences, philosophical directions, new studies, and so on. You must do these things as Marx himself did. (…) the work today is to find a new synthesis, a new form of organization, like our predecessors of the 19th century.”

I think from the Badiou I’ve read that the fact that events mostly exist for subjects who are in fidelity to them and the idea that events become saturated is seriously in tension. There’s a major problem of how you tell the difference between a saturated event and a mistake made by a subject about an event (a subject not up to the weight of acting in fidelity to the event). This relates also to a category I’ve seen some people in the Kasama milieu use, the idea of fidelity to past fidelity. I think it’s really hard to tell what’s a past fidelity from what’s a present fidelity – that is, one person’s political historical re-enactment society is another’s project which is still relevant in the present. I think Badiou implies there are ways to tell these apart but I don’t think he offers resources for doing so from what I’ve read of his work. Also, I think it’s worth noting Badiou’s emphasis on the need for organization and organizational form here. We can see this in one other quote from Badiou that piece. I also think the bit here about Negri being “too systemic” also speaks to the idea of determining sources of events in advance – Negri thinks that particular changes in response to global politics and economics as well as changes in labor processes have this very important political significance for revolutionaries today, I think Badiou expresses some skepticism over this, placing the political questions elsewhere, much more on the subjective side.
“It’s a very complex theoretical discussion, but, in a few words, I think Negri’s perception is too systemic. Empire is a system, finally. Negri’s conviction is always that within the system there are also resources for something new on the side of revolutionary politics, or politics of emancipation. (…) It’s not possible to discuss this precisely here and now, because it’s too technical. But one consequence for Negri is that the great question in the political field is the question of the movement. Movements are certainly of great importance. But the real question today is not the relation between the movement and the state. The real question is, what is the new form of organization after the party? More generally, what is a new political discipline?
People who have nothing–no power, no money, no media–have only their discipline as a possibility of strength. Marxism and Leninism defined a first form of popular discipline, which was trade unions and party. There were many differences, but finally that was the form of popular discipline, and the possibility of real action. And today we cannot hope that this form will continue. The real situation is that we have no discipline in the popular camp, and so we have a great weakness. In fact the best situations today are ones where the state is not really in the hands of the reactionaries, for example, the situation of Chavez in Venezuela. But that’s not a complete change of the situation; it’s a chance, a local chance, nothing more. It’s something, but it’s not the solution. The solution of the problem in the long term will be the invention of a new form of immanent discipline in the popular camp.”

In The Communist Hypothesis, Badiou writes that the role of “[t]he ideological operation of the Idea of communism is (…) to support the individual’s incorporation into the discipline of a truth procedure, to authorize the individual, in his or her own eyes, to go beyond the Statist constraints of mere survival by becoming a part of the body-of-truth, or the subjectivizable body.” (252.) The point is to take the event and “project the exception” that it poses, to project this “into the ordinary life of individuals, to fill what merely exists with a measure of the extraordinary,” in order to show people the exceptions to social rules and normal expectation, to show “that we are not doomed to lives programmed by the constraints of the State.” (253.) Badiou immediately adds that “Naturally, in the final analysis, only the raw, or militant, experience of the truth procedure will compel one person or another’s entry into the body-of-truth.” (253.) This experiential component is important and speaks to my experiences personally. I’m not sure about this next bit: “But to take him or her to the place where this experience is to be found – to make him or her a spectator of, and therefore partly a participant in, what is important for a truth – the mediation of the Idea, the sharing of the Idea, are almost always required.” (253-254.) That at first sounds to me like an overemphasis on political rhetoric and overestimation of its force and I’m sure Badiou will be read this way by some people. I don’t think this is what it has to mean, though, becuase he continues, saying that “The Idea of communism (regardless of what name it might be given, which hardly matters: no Idea is definable by its name) is what enables a truth procedure” and enables shifting “the lines of force by which the State prescribes what is possible and what is impossible.” (254.) I like the emphasis on changing people’s (often intuitive) understanding of what is possible. There seems to me an ambiguity about the name of the idea of communism. I like the point that the idea doesn’t need the name (and clearly some things that have gone by that name have been opposed to the idea), but I think then there needs to be a sorting procedure to determine when the idea is really present. Maybe this is what the rest of the book is about.