Graduate Theological Society

January 16, 2006

Response to Ables on Badiou and Simmons on Levinas

Filed under: Ables on Badiou, Proceedings — graduatetheology @ 11:54 pm

Please post your comments on Travis E. Ables’s paper in this forum.


  1. Travis (I’ll respond to Aaron’s–a very good and intriguing paper–and Dault’s papers when I have a bit more time),

    This was an excellent paper. Thank you for it. I think that the main thrust of the paper–which in my mind is concerned much less with Badiou or Derrida, and much more with the liminality of any given ecclesial community–is a question that must be asked and taken seriously. It is really quite interesting that you’ve managed to link a “postcolonial” notion of hybridity with Badiou’s conception of evil/simulacra–since Badiou so despises postcolonial studies, and would call it a perpetuation of the “pathetic” philosophy of “victimization.” But, I think this is absolutely right. Particularly Bhabha’s conception of hybridity–and Jimmy can help me out I hope…he has read this stuff inside and out!–places an emphasis on the liminality of the postcolonial subject…between center and margin…as Derrida might say, on the “unplaceable line of its coast.” This is the aspect of Bhabha’s theory you exploit the most and I think you are quite right for showing that hybridity is concerned not with “mixture” necessarily, but liminality. However, for Bhabha, hybridity must be understood as mutually constituting and constituted by its family resemblances, “ambiguity,” and “mimicry.” Insofar as “mimicry” doesn’t seem to fit your particular schema of the fundamentalist subject, then I’m curious how far you can go with “hybridity”–but of course, Bhabha limits hybridity to imperial-colonial relationships, so perhaps his particular notion is not applicable here at all. On a side note, it seems to me that the fundamentalist is not constituted by the repressed desire to be its Other (the homosexual), but by the necessity to keep the Other Other (this would be Zizek’s analysis of the continuity between fundamentalists and “multiculturalists”). Either way, you are absolutely right that the fundamentalist subject (in Badiou’s sense of a subject as community) is not without its Other–which of course is not limited to the homosexual, though I think this is the example par excellence.

    With all of that said, I am quite curious as to how you would (or did, I suppose) respond to Josh’s critique of Badiou in his response to Jimmy’s paper; particularly to the charge he lays against Badiou that the truth of an event lies in the form and not the content…Perhaps I’ll wait to say more until you’ve had the chance to respond. Thanks again.

    Comment by Dave Belcher — January 23, 2006 @ 12:42 pm

  2. Hey Dave,

    Thanks for this. You say a lot here, so let me take this point by point. You’re quite right that the paper is on an ecclesial question, and Badiou and Derrida function solely to get me there. I do think Badiou gives a certain vocabulary to articulate what I’m grasping at, but it’s certainly a case of a kind of Foucauldian ethos – appropriating implements from the philosopher’s toolbox that I find appropriate. Whether it is the case that this represents any given ecclesial community is a different matter – the unargued conclusion is that the oppositional structure must not be the premise of the structure of the church. But this is simply demolition before any construction can begin.

    As for everything on Bhabha, liminality, hybridity, and mimicry: very astute reading to pick up these themes. For it’s far from apparent how the notion of hybridity is functioning here for, as you say, the way I’m using the trope is precisely opposite of Bhabha’s, which rests on an imperial-colonial relationship. But what is interesting to me is the function of the beyond or liminal and how it posits a certain logic of adulteration in the constitution of frontier. In truth, I’m signalling (to myself as much as anyone) that the next step needs explicit development in this direction – the inscription of a liminal cultural hybridity upon the body of the fundamentalist subject. So I suppose it’s a pretty lame answer to a really good question, but this is the most tentative part of the paper and I’m just beginning to work in this direction.

    As for repression – you’re right, I’m not arguing the fundamentalist is characterized by a latent desire to be homosexual (although the question of the function of repressed sexuality in fundamentalism is a deliciously tantalizing prospect); but I do think there’s a quite clear mechanism whereby fundamentalism’s relationship to its cultural locale does represent a highly charged ambiguity. The irony of course is that the ultimate Other is in fact constitutive (exemplary – the ‘center’ is a mobile center here, remember) of this transformation. This process is not clear enough in the paper.

    Finally, as to Josh’s critique. I’ll keep this short and perhaps Josh can weigh in so we can discuss this a little further. As I understand Josh, he’s arguing that the universalization of the [trace of the] event abstract from the event’s singularity such that the form of the event is made infinite but the content is suppressed (I’m still chewing through Josh’s theology of subjectivity). I’m not sure that I agree with this. As I read Badiou, the universalization of the truth-process involves a negating of particularities – the specific content of community and culture, blood and soil, as it were – such that the always singular event is made accessible to all. Put another way, the universalization of the evental supplement cannot be founded upon the (self-)interest of the human animal. This is in fact integral to the question of the plenitude. I wonder if Badiou isn’t tacking close to the new perspective on Paul here – where law-gospel problem is predicated on the importance of ‘covenant boundary markers.’ Anyway, this needs to be discussed further – I’m just registering that I’m not sure I’m with Josh (and you, methinks) on this particular point of Badiou. But as I say, this needs to be worked through still.

    Thanks for some great feedback.

    Comment by Travis Ables — January 24, 2006 @ 9:02 pm

  3. On the question of Badiou, subjectivity, form, and content. I register the force of your comment, Travis, that particularities must be cleared away in order to provide a space within which the singularity of the event can then be universalizable, that is, addressed to all. But, my reason for focusing on ‘form’ and ‘content’ was to highlight the fact that what is, or what can be, universalizable in such an instance – regardles of whether or not one names it ‘singular’ or not – can only be a ‘form’ of the event. I do not think that Badiou’s Platonism, or his reliance upon mathematics is incidental here at all; we are dealing here with pure abstraction(s). I do concede that you know Badiou better than I, but I simply do not see how things could be otherwise. This is my reason for pointing to Bultmann: the assumption being that we can abstract the form of Jesus Christ from the content of his person so as to distill a singular meaning – its true meaning – from its particularity. I am quite conscious of making both a Kierkegaardian and Levinasian move in this instance. Kierkegaardian in the sense of singular relation to the absolute(ly singular); and Levinasian in the sense of being radically evacuated by the face of the other, which conversely constitutes me as myself. My reason for linking this with law is to show that, contrary to Badiou’s reading of Paul – and I care very little for the ‘new perspective on Paul’ since I think it has no real relation to the genius of the tradition’s unfolding of the ‘logic’ of grace – his real genius lies, not in articulating a universal over against the particularity of Law, but in showing that the universality of the Law is only applicable in relation to a pure singularity i.e., a particular universal, a form-content (for lack of a better way of putting it.) That is, it is not the resurrection that matters for Paul so much as “Jesus Christ.” There is nothing else for Paul – literally, no-thing. The point is that, in order to love, and thus fulfill the law, I cannot love you vis-a-vis a universal; I can only love you singularly; my desire can only be for-you, and it must be pure. Where I don’t like Levinas, and where I continue to disagree with the discourse of ethics, is that, in addition to not being universal (in any ‘universal’ sense), it is likewise not an obligation – the discourse of obligation taints the relation. And obligation and Law go hand in hand, precisely as universal to the absolute exclusion of love as a singular relation. That is, I cannot love you out of obligation to love because that negates ‘you.’

    Comment by Josh — January 24, 2006 @ 9:56 pm

  4. Travis, thanks for the reply. Great responses. I am excited at the prospect of what you are doing with hybridity…I wanted to do something similar–take it outside of an explicitly “imperial-colonial relation,” but I chickened out it seems.

    Of course the binary oppositional structure you are critiquing here should not be projected onto the structure of the Church…there is no doubt about that. And insofar that there are churches that aren’t fundamentalist–and of course I think that there are–every ecclesial community does not necessarily fall prey to this charge. However, I think that your analysis opens up a question for communities which are clearly not fundamentalist–in the sense you have given that term here–and yet still display a certain oppositional structure! So, yes, this charge should not be generalized to local communities, simply because it would be irresponsible and most likely innacurate…but, I do think we can ask this question provisionally to the Church catholic.

    As for Badiou, let me try and distill a bit better what I was trying to say in my comments to Jimmy’s paper. I think this question of the universal is extremely important for the points of contention your paper raises. If I understand you correctly, Travis, the only way to fend off the oppositional structure of the fundamentalist community is if “the truth-event” (of Jesus Christ in all his singularity) is made universal, “for all”; and this is why Badiou’s critique of “identity politics” would apply to the fundamentalists. I think Badiou is far too vicious in this respect (which is to say, I think he has never read any “identity politics” and he severelyexaggerates…his kind of rhetoric is unnecessarry), yet there is a fundamental point to be registered here that I think is at least mostly accurate (i.e., the truth event is or should be “for all”). I think the question, however, hangs on whether or not your assessment is true: “the universalization of the evental supplement cannot be founded upon the (self-)interest of the human animal.” What I was trying to say in my earlier comment (to Jimmy’s paper) is that the second abstraction that Josh highlights–the first being the voiding of particularities so as to clear out a space for the universal within the process of subjectivation–is predicated upon a “substance” if you will…Badiou’s contention that the human subject is, throughout the encounter with the event, “infinite.” And this also gets back to Josh’s point about Badiou’s platonic mathematics being a “pure abstraction” (the short essay in his Theoretical Writings on Ontology and Mathematics…Being By Numbers?…is revealing in this respect)…the so-called “laicization of the infinite” does not simply erase an entrenched transcendental dogmatism reified by neo-Kantian metaphysics, but predicates something to the human qua human. This was made clear to me when I came across a passage in Ethics on the immortality of the subject where Badiou says that to deny immortality to the subject–i.e., “to imagine the Good, to devote his collective powers to it, to work towards the realization of unkown possibilities, to think what might be in terms that break radically with what is”–is “quite simply to forbid him humanity as such.” This passage comes directly after Badiou says that the immortal subject is sustained by the “incalulable” and “un-possessed” (14). So, the predication of the infinite to the human subject is not flawed merely because it excises transcendence–per Pickstock and others more radically orthodox than I would ever hope to be–but on philosophical grounds, because it lays a condition for the supposedly unconditioned event. But, beyond this, on theological grounds, it does in fact excise any conception of transcendence–this is in fact Badiou’s entire intention, so this is not even a question–but when Badiou makes the infinite something proper to the human–he almost talks about it in rights language!–he also makes what he calls “grace” something which springs out of a wholly immanent order proper to the immanent as such. And I do think that Milbank, Pickstock and crew are most definitely correct to be concerned about this “immanentism.” However, for the theologian concerned with grace–which can be described in “immanent” terms, no doubt–Badiou’s particular “meriting,” if you will, of immortality to the human subject is thoroughly inexcusable.

    Hope this long rant helps explain where I’m coming from a bit. I may be WAY wrong. Thanks for the conversation. I’ve been needing this for a while!

    Comment by Dave Belcher — January 25, 2006 @ 10:16 am

  5. Travis, etc.

    Sorry we didn’t get to finish this conversation this week–that’s how it goes sometimes. So, perhaps we can continue soon. I’m reading through my copy of Being and Event…the introduction is not nearly as lucid as everyone is making this book out to be…but it does get clearer in the main body. Good to see you all. And sorry to use this board for personal “hi”s.

    Comment by Dave Belcher — February 6, 2006 @ 5:49 pm

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