miércoles, 7 de enero de 2009

Alain Badiou - What is Freedom?


In this post I offer a short and simplified elucidation of what Badiou opposes against the notion of freedom in 'expressive dialectics'. Against the relativization of truth, subjectivity and freedom to the sphere of individuals and cultures, bodies and languages, Badiou relates freedom to his doctrine of the event. An event for Badiou is an occurance which exceeds and resists its appropriation by the state in the situation where it happens, and which thereby opens the possibility for a new process of truth. A subject is the one who maintains fidelity to the event of truth, and which carries forth its consequences in a series of enquiries. The subject is thus always local; there are some subjects at some moments in the process of the unfolding of a truth. It is essentially distinguished from the traditional subject qua individual, or substance. For Badiou a subject is always creative in the sense that it opens new possibilities, and gradually works to develop them creating new situations.

Truth procedures are of four kinds (as a matter of historical fact, not in principle): scientific, political, artistic and amorous. An event is the emergence of a new scientific theory, a sequence of revolutionary politics, a new artistic school or a new love. Analogously, a subject would be the radical decision to remain faithful to the consequences opened by the event: Newton, Schoenenberg, Lenin, and Proust all become subjects insofar as they produce a new situation by remaining faithful to an event which disrupts the normality of the state, and begin a process which ultimately creates a new situation. That being said, we can offer the following clarificatory remarks to Badiou's exposition on the freedom of the subject, and its distinction from expressive dialectics:

1) Freedom cannot be expression in the sense of a harmony between the individual and the state of the situation: this means that freedom does not emergesin the possibility of merely reconlicing the desire of the self with the demands of state, or in the expressivity of the first within the possibilities offered by the latter. It is not a dialog between the body which makes up an individual and the social sphere to which he belongs. Rather, freedom emerges in carrying out the consequences of an event that, as a process, produces a new situation. This procedure is the action of a millitant subject of truth; the subject does not express itself, but essentially exists as a moment in the creation of a new subject (of science, politics, art or love). The subject of truth is exactly that: the local moment committed to chance in an specific enquiry, within the generic procedure which constitutes the unfolding of a truth inside the situation.

2) Freedom is not the expression of the individual self; it is always a choice against ourselves: Since we are imbedded into a situation which is regulated by the state, the expression of the individual will inside a culture is the direct expression of its prescriptions and what is admitted as knowledge inside of it- it is not an act of freedom, since by expressing itself it is already constituted by what the state determines. The imperative of enjoyment, of self creation, the roles and classes which an individual can adopt as expressive gestures of his freedom are already incorporated by the state. The gesture of expression and of recognition remains thus within that which is identifiable by the state .The subject of truth is on the other hand a fragment in an specific moment of fidelity within a truth procedure, which is fundamentally outside the objectivity of the situation where it happens. We can say, to use another of Badious's terms, that a truth is subtracted from the objectivity of situation. It is not a mere negation of the state, it is essentially a new framework for the organization of the multplicities which conform the situation.

Given that we are never simply spontaneously free in expression, and since we are subjected to the injuctions of the State (properly the unconscious of ideology) freedom cannot be the expression of a body or culture (say, of class struggle, or the working class, of the party, of african americans, homosexuals, and so on). Those names are already a part of the situation and not, as in traditional revolutionary politics, something which emerges as the possibility of expressing that which was until then impossible. Classes are, in the battlefield of contemporaneity, already part of the democratic state, and not the potency for freedom.
3) Summary and Overview: The expressive attempt to seek a harmony between social expression and individual desire is tantamount to a continuation of the normality of the state, and not of freedom. As we said, freedom is a production in that in does not coincide with the possible of the state, and so it is not achieved by seeking a harmony with it. It is not merely the subjective pronounciation in the social field, but the creation of something which opens a new field for expression, a new possibility previously impossible or unthought.

To summarize: freedom is in the side of the subject, of truth, of the event, of struggle and novelty.

Non-freedom is in the side of the individual, of knowledge, and of the state, of submission to the norm, whether explicit or implicit, and fundamentally included (represented) in the situation.

4) Finally, this is why we can say that both:

a) 'There are only individuals and cultures...': inside any particular situation what appears are bodies and cultures, individuals and the states which regulate them.

b) '...but there are universal truths': a truth bores a hole in established knowledge; something happens which is not under the regulation of the state, a subject emerges in fidelity to an event and its consequences, which are not relative to any given bodies or languages in the situation, even if the situation is strictly only composed of them. It is an 'inventile exception' to the state of the situation, and so outside the sphere of knowledge.