Archive for Alain Badiou

This is Just a Theater for the Media

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2009 by Bonni Rambatan
The only winning move is not to play

The only winning move is not to play

Stay calm – Nothing will happen to TPB, us personally or file sharing what so ever. This is just a theater for the media.

That was Peter Sunde Kolmisoppi (a.k.a. Brokep)’s response to the conviction of The Pirate Bay. But of course, we won’t stay that calm, even if it is just a theater. Yes, hopefully it will be an epic win anyhow, but not only that — I hope it will also be an epic lost to such judgements in the future.

A quick recap of the news for those who haven’t heard. Five days ago The Pirate Bay was sentenced to a year in prison for its four defendants and some 3.5 billion USD in fines.

The sheer confidence of TPB guys upon that verdict astound me. It reminds me of the conviction of the communists of the olden days that they will finally win. Which has to do with a lot of things that I have been having in mind.

When I say communists, with the thought traditions I come from, I meant that fully as a compliment. It has been said often that the revolutionaries of today’s copyright laws are “modern-day communists”. Many defenders of copyright reformation — the supporters of Creative Commons, etc — would reject this idea. My guess is that they only know communism from its common abuses they have heard, the image of the gulag looming over them. But does not the very fact of them defending a right of a “common” whatsoever points to communist thinking?

Nor do I want to imply that pirates will become like the old communists — lost, defeated, only able to bathe in fantasmatic nostalgias of the past, the very term under which all its fights were conducted now terribly corrupted. If anything, the term “piracy” has gone through an entirely different set of fate: it began as a negative word for selfish bands of criminals, but today speak to adress heroes defending the rights of the common good, to tear down the walls of market oppression. If trajectory of terms mean anything, and we have known since structuralism that it means quite a lot, we should see something even bigger emerge from the pirates.

Between this and communism

Between this and communism?

So, does the idea of piracy mean anything for the idea of communism? Would we see, emerging from it in its totality, a global Event? They say that we are much closer to the end of the 19th century in terms of the unhealthy cynicism presented by most of the society today. One realm, however, stays incredibly strong, positive, even militant in its conviction, and there is no cynicism at all about its longevity, although (or perhaps especially because) it acts outside the state. This is the realm of the defense for the digital crowd, the commons of the posthuman era. Movements such as the very recent Blackout Europe, in fact, rings so much more bell of truth, of chance, and of undying faith in the strength of the commons than, say, the recent G 20 protest.

Indeed, in every place of today’s defense of physical political struggle, we always see an element of cynicism — we already know that the struggle will just be another lost, at best another media sensation. The Pirate Bay, on the other hand, claims that their struggle will be another win, that it is just the media masturbating themselves with a theater. In fact, I personally have never seen a struggle for a digital/Internet rights movement imbued with any dose of cynicism whatsoever.

Does this attitude, and more specifically does Brokep’s amazing confidence not point to a faithfulness of an Event, one that all Leftists today are supposed to need?

Some people I know suggest that communist conferences and otherwise Leftist ones should be taken to the streets and factories instead of being kept inside lavish college buildings. While I applaud the anti-bourgeois spirit of this kind of criticism, it also presents us with a false trap — the political spaces and topologies today is such that I remain a pessimist that doing conferences in factories would only confuse the problem further while making it look like enough of a sensation to do much more. My suggestion would be otherwise — why not do a communist conference in an exclusive cruise liner instead, so that when the conference achieves nothing, we are confronted right with that fact instead of an “academic” or even a “worker” sensation that we have done something significantly meaningful?

Perhaps we are just looking for political movements in the wrong places with the wrong issues. What Marxists need to remember today is that we are already posthumans. All that is solid has melt into air. What had been Marx’s future is our present. Boycott all media products — we have nothing to lose but our chains.

Hey, lets do a communist conference here!

Even doing a communist conference here won't matter

G 20: A Romance of the Politics of Failure?

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , on April 14, 2009 by Bonni Rambatan
Protestors photograph riot police outside a Lloyds Bank in London, on April 1, 2009. (ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Photo by Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

I should have jumped right into the foray and gave my thoughts on the G 20 protest in the beginning of this month. I take the blame and full responsibility for not doing so. Rest assured I have been following the news, including the tragic case of Ian Tomlison. I am going to comment on both.

First of all I would like to credit K-Punk (via The Kubrickian Gaze) for my title, a phrase he mentioned to conclude his excellent response on the G 20 protest. Indeed, in every protest, it is always a question of whether it is another impotent protest, a mere acting out only to “get owned by the police,” as Lenin put it, or whether it has the capability of merging into a larger protest, a new Left.

That in itself of course has no inherent answer — as a good Badiouvian I maintain that the nature of truth is always militant and never given. However, I have a question: how, exactly, can any protest merge into a larger, combustible one in this day and age? This is not skeptic cynicism but actual curiosity from my part. While we may be similar to the end of the 19th century in terms of cynicism and thinking that the world is over, we do have one major difference, which may either be a drawback or a potential: all protests today are always-already directly aimed at Empire.

In the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century we surely do not lack bloody protests everywhere. In those times, they resonate from one to the next — the commons in each new place witness the struggle in another place and appropriate the dreams as their own, then organize their own struggle, and off the chain went: Paris, Shanghai, New Delhi, Jakarta, Hanoi…

Today, we skip the appropriating part. Every struggle is always-already a struggle in the name of the global citizen. K-Punk mentioned how the environmentalist protests are meaningless, since it is a protest everyone can agree on. But is not every protest today like this? One only needs to see the placards in the G 20 protests:  Besides “Climate Emergency,” they have “Gaza: End the Blockade,” “Planet Before Profit,” “We Won’t Pay for Their Crisis,” “Jobs not Bombs”… When you get right down to it, who does not agree with those? Certain parties would come to mind, but really, are these not obvious demands already?

I think this is our real problem — that we know exactly what we want, we know exactly what is going on, but at the same time we know nothing about what we want — “of course that would be the ideal world, but we all know it’s impossible,” and so on — and we know nothing about what is going on — if we are asked why we are living in a world so far away from what we dream of, we either take it as given or blame a Bad Father. I often call today’s society “the society of perversion” not for nothing — it acknowledges and disavows castration at the same time.

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

It is as if the G 20 is expected to either deny the whole thing — we know they already know it but we know that they know that we know how our sufferings are inevitable — or to produce some sort of magical cure, that suddenly they prescribe a magical plan to cure all ailness. Curiously, this is exactly the same mental state a traditional patient has when visiting a psychotherapist of any kind — for them to either say that s/he is not sick or to shove them a magical pill that would cure the illness instantly.

Being a good Lacanian, K-Punk’s take comes off as excellent (except for the “grand philosophical system” part):

Time to withdraw from the feelgood simulation of politics. Time to give up the gratification of displaying wounds inflicted by the police as signs of grace, evidence that we are on the side of the Good. Time to relinquish the easy jouissance of impotent acting-out. Time to face the fact that organising marches isn’t the same as political organisation. […] It’s time to think, not in order to finesse some grand philosophical system, but with the goal of identifying what new forms of organisation can succeed in these conditions. Time to give up on the romance of a politics of failure and plan to win.

I mentioned I would comment on the case of Ian Tomlison. I feel really bad for Tomlison, not really because of the tragic case itself, but because his death has been turned into a spectacle to reassure the existence of the Bad Father — it is as if today we need more and more futile tragedies like this to reassure ourselves, often in vain, that those deaths mean something.

It is time to stand up and realize that the Big Other does not exist. For so long as it is taken for granted that it does, quoting Deleuze, “the people are missing“. More than anything today, we need a new figure of the analyst to, first of all, make the people appear for itself.

On The Idea of Communism

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , , , on April 1, 2009 by Bonni Rambatan

Hello hello, TPM readers! Thank you for being faithful even in these times where I am blogging much less than usual — two weeks of unexplained absence, without a drop in the reader count! Thank you for standing by! Well, I have been doing several projects, and am also writing my thesis, but here I am :-)

To start the month, why don’t we review a bit of what happened on March, an event that started on the appropriately dangerous Friday the 13th and ended on the following Sunday. I am talking, of course, about On The Idea of Communism conference, hosted by Slavoj Žižek at Birkbeck College, which included names like Alain Badiou, Terry Eagleton, Peter Hallward, Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Jacques Ranciere, Judith Balso, Bruno Bosteels, Alessandro Russo, Alberto Toscano and Gianni Vattimo. Jean-Luc Nancy I think was supposed to be there but could not attend due to Visa problems (which reminds me of my own case last year).

I would have loved it if I had actually attended and this were an actual report, but I didn’t, so for conference notes I would refer you to Andrew Osborne’s post here. I watched several videos on YouTube as well, one of which I linked above.

I want to just comment on this conference. First of all, it is a really exciting conference and perhaps could not have had better timing. We are living in times in which people have less and less faith in both world politics and economy. It is true that people in many places, including my own country, still irrationaly fear communism (the most popular response in my country being that communism is forbidden by religion — LOL?), but it nonetheless should be conceived as the perfect time to think. Žižek suggested us to take Lenin as an example: in the harsh times of 1915, he retreated to Switzerland to read Hegel.

About the times we are facing today, Alain Badiou puts it very nicely. I quote from Osborne’s blog:

Today we are nearer the 19th century than the 20th century  with the arrival of utterly cynical capitalism. We are witnessing the return of all sorts of 19th century phenomena such as pirate nationalisations, nihilistic despair and the servility of intellectuals.

Badiou then of course goes on in his usual manner mentions of the need for a strong subjectivity to change the coordinates of possibilities in order to create the Event, the rupture in existence to which we can militantly assert a new truth. This is important and stressed again by Žižek in the conclusion, that a change is not a change in actuality but a change in possibilities. Thus, our task is to think of the possibility of possibilities, to do the impossible — not the usual Kantian “we must, because we can,” but the Badiouvian “we must, because it is impossible.”

I also love what Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have to say, although the ideas they mention are nothing new if you have read their work, Empire. How can I not love it when the entire notion is similar to the original theme of this blog (I say original, because lately it has become more and more Lacanian than Marxist, I know), that is, one that interrogates the notion of cognitive capital, digital property, and the commons in this day and age of biocybernetic reproduction. Copyright conflicts are the new terrain of the struggle of the commons — now you know why I love calling myself a pirate.

Antonio Negri stressed another importance of communism, one I tweeted in three tweets. It is an importance already mentioned by Tronti and Lenin, as @semioticmonkey corrected me. Indeed, communism is opposed to socialism, and in the same way that psychoanalysis is opposed to ego psychology. There is no equal State, as there is no healthy ego. Communists must organize the decline of State, as psychoanalysts must sustain the efficacy of the ego. Both communism and psychoanalysis must act with an ethics of the Real and acknowledge the redundancy of the agent.

But all in all, in the end, we still do have a question. Is communism a program, a movement to bring back politics and its efficiency that is faithful to a continuous revolution — do we need to organize a continuous decline of the State in order to change our possibilities, as Žižek would argue? Or is it merely a philosophical idea, and what we need now are militant communists, not communism per se, acting to the fullest extent the ethics of the tragic hero, the ethics of the Real, in order to produce an Event, as Badiou maintained?

The White Bentley Chase Did Not Happen

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 2, 2009 by Bonni Rambatan

Such was Jason Quackenbush’s response #5 to the polemic that has been going on the the blogosphere about a live-tweeting event of a certain suicide last month. Yes, I know this is very much a late response, but you will forgive me for I was isolated from the blogosphere in the past two months. I knew of the story just a while ago from my good friend A.V. Flox, who blogged about it herself. Five days later Amber Rhea responded rather harshly to A.V.’s post, saying that accusations of technology being awful has always been going around for ages in virtually every era.

Simulacra by Tatchapon Lertwirojkul, which has nothing to do with our post

Tatchapon Lertwirojkul's Simulacra, which has nothing to do with our post

I agree with them. Yes, all of them. Well, I’m a Lacanian, and Lacanians like to bring seemingly contradictory things together and show how they are two sides of the same coin. This is what I’m going to do here.

But before that, a quick recap of what happened. On the eve of February 10th, there was a white Bentley chase in LA that lasted for three hours before the driver pulled over in front of a Toyota dealership and finally killed himself. Let us quote A.V., who tells it in a much more eloquent manner than I could ever do:

The white Bentley stopped in front of a Toyota dealership near Universal City after a three hour chase on Hollywood Freeway and Interstates 5, 10 and 405. The stand-off began at around 11:00PM PST, with hundreds tuning in to the FOX11ABC7 and KCAL9 live feeds online.

Before long, Twitter streams were on fire with commentary from people around the world about what was happening. People watching gave in to speculation about the identity driver, debating whether it was hip hop singer Chris Brown, charged earlier with assault—allegedly against his girlfriend, the singer Rihanna or rapper DJ Khaled, as well as the reason for his fleeing.

As time passed with no action, the public became more and more irate. Jokes followed, including the creation of the fake account @WhiteBentley, which ran a stream of comments as though he was the driver inside the car.

The jokes soon turned sinister, with many expressing someone should just shoot the driver down and save the LAPD thousands, and still others suggesting the driver end his life to avoid repercussions of the extended chase. Then, after news reports began coming in that the driver might indeed have shot himself and the ABC7 cameras zoomed out to avoid exposing the public to a gruesome scene, the disappointment was almost unanimous.

“They aren’t going to zoom in and show us the possible brains, bullshit!” a chilling tweet read.

The driver and law enforcement personnel involved were no longer human to those of us watching. Moving around inside our computer screens, they had become characters in a play put on for our entertainment.

Fascinating. Of course, I could not agree more: people inside the computer screen have become characters in a play put on for our entertainment. Let’s get back to Jason Quackenbush. The same idea, of course, underlies his post. He mentions Baudrillard, whom he likes the more “the older he gets”, and evokes Baudrillard’s famous statement that the Gulf War did not happen and applied the same idea to the suicide tragedy.

I am not a Baudrillardian. I like Baudrillard, but to me his ideas are a little simplistic, and I could never be convinced of his idea of a postmodern rupture after which all things implode into a simulacra. I do not like the technophobic tone, often with hints of a nostalgia for the past, detectable in his works, but also in most postmodern philosophers including today Paul Virilio. And this is where I agree with Amber Rhea. “What’s the current monster of the week?” she said, “The formula seems to be: pick something relatively new and use it as a scapegoat; wring hands; bemoan the direction society is heading (downward, one presumes); repeat in 2-3 months.”

In fact Amber made an excellent point, that we can always go further back in time to find this monster. As far back, I would say, as the development of language and tools itself, the very things that make us what we are today instead of cavemen. You see, mankind is a creature that is fundamentally alienated, separated from reality. Deal with it. To bemoan technology is in effect to bemoan language itself. When I said that the white Bentley chase did not happen, it is not because Twitter has created a Baudrillardian rupture of reality, but because nothing really happened. We live in a Symbolic universe, the universe of technology and language, mediated by it, and things happen, be it with drama and empathy or with sheer coldness and chilling morbid jokes, in none other than our imaginations. We always connect with Imaginary relations with other people.

That should not however be an argument to merely dismiss the live-tweeted suicide event as another day in the office. One could not deny that it was a horrible event, and one that can only happen after the invention of Twitter. Technology does change us, in major ways, and we cannot deny that. Does Twitter kill your soul? Perhaps. But let us not forget that the history of technology is a history of human souls being killed over and over and over again since the beginning of time. It is lso a history of their rebirth, of new modes of Being, as Heidegger put it.

Ultimately, the question of the inherent good or evil within technology is a personal wager. We are never sure that technology will bring us good. But let us not die in postmodern simulacra. Let us be a good Badiouvian and realize the militant nature of truth and the good. I’m rooting for Twitter all the way. Kill our souls, if only to make us grow.

For Whom is This Financial Crisis?

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
It would be cool if the disaster actually looked like this.

It would be cool if the disaster actually looked like this.

For whom is this financial crisis? For us and everyone else in this world, definitely. During this meltdown, hardly any nation is left to flourish by itself, not impacted by the crisis. Then, why ask this question? Is it not already obvious?

Surely, people are losing their jobs, prices are rising, and so on. But what does it all mean? What does it mean, a “$700 billion bailout”? What is exactly $700 billion, do we even naively understand it? Does it not, instead, belong in the same realm of hermeneutics as the distance between stars or the age of the universe — numbers too great to integrate to our stupid daily existence? I am not only speaking for us, the idiotic common people having nothing to do with all the great economic system, but also for the very players of economy themselves — do they not able to understand these numbers, the prices of their stocks, government funding, etc, only through office desks, formal letters, and computer screens?

Such is precisely the point. Do we not, today, rather consider this entire financial crisis as a marvelous tragic spectacle happening before our very eyes? A fascinating common reaction today to this news is how we struggle to relate it to our daily lives: yes, we are suffering from this crisis, yes, prices are going up, yes, people are getting fired, so this must all be a real thing. This spectacle of financial crisis takes effort to relate to, especially because not many of us understand how the economy works. The crisis today is so big and marvelous that the only way to integrate it to our symbolic existence is to take it as an awesome spectacle. There is hardly any other hermeneutics. It feels like a war without a bad guy, a natural disaster without the embarrassing trees falling down. A virtual disaster, a disaster of numbers, a real-life interactive movie.

But what does this all mean?

So many people today talk about this crisis as the so-called “end of capitalism.” Indeed, the first thing we relate to when dealing with the notion of some global system of important numeric entries we never really understand is this vague blur called capitalism. We talk of its limits, as everybody today champions Keynes over Hayek and Friedman. But at the same time, we have of course all these discussions that all the while we have never really been a true free market capitalist, we have always been state-controlled (“military-imperialistic Keynesian”), etc.

We all know perfectly well that today’s global capitalism runs precisely on its self-distantiation — the you-can-only-get-rich-if-you-do-not-want-to ideology, the spiritualization of global capitalism so trendy even for the Left today. And what better way to strengthen such ideological workings than pretending it no longer works for us, that the system no longer exists, and all that is left to do is to work out a way to do a more humanitarian and spiritual economics? Let us have no illusions: capitalism is a system that thrives on its very crisis. It will emerge stronger than ever. And we know it will.

Yes, of course we do. Is that not why we blindly trust all the government, the big companies, and the banks? Is that not why we take this whole crisis as some kind of (pseudo-)natural disaster without being able to clearly blame people? Is that not why we do not question why the government suddenly has $700 billion to save capitalism, while all these years, as Alain Badiou put it, “at the least demand from the poor, the same characters responded by turning their pockets inside out, saying they hadn’t a cent”?

What is the economic system, really? What do we understand of it? It is a giant system of non-people, of desires turned objective numbers, and that is it. It is a system of no clear bad guys and no exact scientific tools. Even the best advice Naomi Klein — today’s possibly most popular icon of the Left — gives is for us to brace ourselves as disaster comes, to be able to resist exploitation. Alain Badiou calls for a politics of grassroots economics, while Mario Tronti suggests us to focus on the problem of worker exploitation. But what to do? Do we understand anything at all? For whom is this financial crisis? Because for those who suffer most, the crisis is not a financial one — it is, first and foremost, a crisis of true democracy, a lack of a system that truly engages.

Database and the Absence of Quilting Points

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

It is interesting to note that the Lyotardian postmodern disappearance of grand narratives is celebrated during the rise of the computer age in the 1980s. As media historian Lev Manovich has pointed out (in his The Language of New Media, but also elsewhere), during that time, not only was grand narratives disappearing, but also narratives as a dominant form of media, as they are slowly but surely giving way for the more dominant form of media and culture at large — the database. In database culture, we no longer have the linearity of the cinematic narrative that guide us through. Instead, we have a series of virtually unlimited choices to structure our own experiment. Manovich himself was already very well aware of this, as he notes how the logic of the database mirrors the politically correct logic of democratic freedom and a universal equality of things.

The Lyotardian grand narratives, on the other hand, can in many ways be equated with the Master Signifier of Jacques Lacan, signifiers which open up worlds proper and fixes the other signifiers in place, acting as a means of point de capiton (“quilting points”). But these Master Signifiers work in the paternal logic of strict “yes” and “no”, without attempting to universalize (“Spinozize”, as Žižek would put it) the order. However, we today, in our noisy claims of being politically correct modern societies, reject strict “yes” and “no” answers. The fall of grand narratives is the disappearance of point de capiton.

Many contemporary psychoanalytic philosophers, most notably Alain Badiou, are very aware of this danger — the postmodern global capitalism opens up no world proper. Thus, how can you subvert an essentially worldless condition? Our history so far consists of dialectics between worlds, and we do not yet know how to oppose properly a worldless state of things. (Although, i argue, a dialectics is possible, but would involve radical idealism in which embodiment becomes the terrain of fight, a sort of posthuman-charged Hegelianism I briefly noted here.) This is precisely why capitalism is very tricky and troubling, and seem to only rejoice at its attempts of subversion, as many are already well aware.

I am not opposing capitalism because I am a romantic Left with nostalgic stories of the past and Leninist dreams of a communist future. I am only partly opposing capitalism because I am an intelligent person with a heart. I am opposing it most precisely because I personally think it won’t last long, while too many people have too much faith in it and if we do not change soon, the costs will be detrimental. Already we are in the midst of climate change, and global capitalism is thriving on its very idea.

What would be my spontaneous reaction and ultimate methodology against capitalism? Philosophers like Žižek like to point out that we can only do it by reasserting these quilting points. Here I prefer to take things into a more specific level (and perhaps differ from him in some senses). If you are at all familiar with my writings, you should know I am always researching on the problems of embodiment and subjectivization. For me, the way is not to reassert quilting points as such (points of “yes” or “no” that define the narrative plots of our life), but how to redefine the points and worlds. To me, the answer lies in studying the database logic itself, to generate what Manovich would call “info-aesthetics” (although I prefer a more political idea). What we need now is a radical new philosophy of computer semiotics and cognitive science, not only in regarding AI problems, but also in the political sphere. Do we still need to debate, now, that we have become cyborgs?