Badiou, Rosenzweig and the word “Jew”


Mostly a thinking out loud post based on some visceral reactions, really. I have heard the charge of antisemitism directed at both Badiou and Zizek for sometime now, and while I’m not completely unsympathetic to such claims, they do tend to misinterpret and simplify both thinkers, which of course, have the effect of missing the mark completely. Now, in particular, with regards to Badiou and the term “Jew,” this seems to me to be an old problem of particularism vs universalism rather than the typical knee jerk reactions towards the state of Israel (see here and here). In this sense, it’s hard not to think of Isaac Deutscher, who remarked in a speech he gave to the World Jewish Congress in 1958:

Religion? I am an atheist. Jewish nationalism? I am an internationalist. In neither sense am I therefore a Jew. I am, however, a Jew by force of my unconditional solidarity with the persecuted and exterminated. I am a Jew because I feel the pulse of Jewish history; because I should like to do all I can to assure the real, not spurious, security and self-respect of the Jews.

Now because I’m without shame, here’s my original comment pertaining to the above passage. This is a very interesting response, and really, a very Jewish one. This begs a number of questions: Is it ever possible to reconcile ethnic fidelities with a commitment to “universal human emancipation? ” Is the only option to simply choose sides, that is, either a nationalist (particularism) or a “non-Jewish Jew” (universalism/cosmpolitanism)? But here’s the thing, if Judaism is a particular community/ethnicity/religion with a universal aims/goals/ramifications (e.g. a light unto the nations) to begin with then there is no choice to be made, the “Jew” as such would not have to choose either/or, but then again, perhaps I’m just not very dogmatic.

I still have the same response, but I often find myself feeling somewhat uncomfortable when I hear Badiou discussing these issues. In an article I dug up on lacan.com, “The Uses of the Word “Jew,”” Badiou writes this: Continue reading

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Michel Henry Translations


Over at However Fallible there are a number of excellent translations of a number of texts by Michel Henry.

Art and the Phenomenology of Life (88Kb)
The Living Body (73Kb)
Kandinsky and the Meaning of the Work of Art (60Kb)
What is Meant by the Word “Life?” (57Kb)
What Science Doesn’t Know (40Kb)

Riera review of Meillassoux


I missed Gabriel Riera’s review of Meillassoux’s After Finitude in the NDPR a couple of weeks back. Riera sums up and contextualizes Meillassoux’s argument succinctly. Here’s his assessment, more allusive than concrete, but certainly accurate:

The book’s meticulous argumentation is not for the logically faint of heart. There are passages of logical exasperation that at times may work against its own objectives, thus reinforcing a reactive skepticism. In spite of the absence of resolution to the absolutization of mathematics, the book succeeds in articulating the problematic and in mapping a new field of inquiry. For this reason, After Finitude will certainly play a central role in ongoing debates on the status of philosophy, on questions pertaining to epistemology and, above all, to ontology. It will not only be an unavoidable point of reference for those working on the question of finitude, but also for those whose work deals with political theology, and the status of the religious turn of philosophy. After Finitude will certainly become an ideal corrosive against too rigid assumptions and will shake entrenched positions.

Although the book is written with clarity and consistency, it presupposes a familiarity not only with dogmatic metaphysics, post-Kantian critical philosophy, phenomenology and post-Heideggerian philosophy, but also and above all with Alain Badiou’s materialist ontology, and more specifically, with his ontological re-formulation of post-Cantorean set theory, as well as his conception of the event as what exceeds the grasp of an ontology of being qua being. Contingency, Meillassoux’s crucial concept, is inextricably linked to Badiou’s conception of the event.

I guess I’m not logically faint of heart because I don’t remember being too exasperated when I read it, but really sometimes logical exasperation is better than dealing with the endless equivocation of many of those deconstructionists, though such logical exasperation often results from reading some of Plato’s dialogues, at least according to my students.

Read the full review here

Foucault is just an Affectation! Rehashing Old Debates


I’ve been reading Fancois Cusset’s French Theory: How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze & Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States. Cusset talks at length about the “Americanization of French Theory” or put differently, the creation of “French” theory by American importers and contextualizes all of this quite nicely within the American social/political background. One of the things that I always find interesting, and I’m not trying to rehash old boring debates, is the utter vitriol that characterizes the backlash against what was/is perceived as “poststructuralism” or “postmodernism” or “French theory” or “deconstruction” and very often, the corresponding caricatures that both the “fans” and detractors of each thinker creates, whether Deleuze, Derrida, or Foucault. This phenomenon is well known. However, Cusset mentions Camille Pagila’s (who is someone I respect) manifesto against Foucault from 1991, “Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders,” in passing. I had totally forgotten about this 80 page diatribe against Foucault et al. It is worth reading, but only in the same type of way that I crank up the volume when I hear Steve Perry sing “Oh, Sherry” on the radio. Here’s a taste:

Lacan, Derrida and Foucault are the academic equivalents of BMW, Rolex and Cuisinart…French theory is like those how to tapes guaranteed to make you a real estate millionaire overnight. Gain power by attacking power. Make a killing. Be a master of the universe. Call this number in Paris now! Continue reading

Meillassoux, Contingency, and Kantian Catastrophes


By the end of Chapter Three of Meillassoux’s After Finitude we are left with a rendering of the world reminiscent of Monadology, expect with some rather big differences.  Meillassoux has described a world of chaos wherein each entity is at once self-contained, completely contingent and not connected to any one thing or another vis a vis a principle of reason etc.  Naturally, this leads to a chapter long consideration of Hume, but Meillassoux insists “one unavoidable consequence of the principle of factiality is that it asserts the actual contingency of the laws of nature” (83).   In the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Hume writes:

We have said that all arguments concerning existence are founded on the relation of cause and effect; that our knowledge of that relation is derived entirely from experience; and that all our experimental conclusions proceed upon the supposition that the future will be conformable to the past. To endeavour, therefore, the proof of this last supposition by probable arguments, or arguments regarding existence, must be evidently going in a circle, and taking that for granted, which is the very point in question.

…It is impossible, therefore, that any arguments from experience can prove this resemblance of the past to the future; since all these arguments are founded on the supposition of that resemblance…Let the course of things be allowed hitherto ever so regular; that alone, without some new argument or inference, proves not that, for the future, it will continue so. Continue reading

More Monotonous Musings on Meillassoux: Factiality


And now another alliteration, anyhow, to continue with my (monotonous) reading of Meillassoux’s After Finitude, I’ve just now reached the end of Chapter 3, “The Priniciple of Factiality” and have read through Ch 4 “Hume’s Problem,” but I will focus on the former for the most part. There was a section that really caught my attention towards the end of Ch. 3, in which Meillassoux writes:

Philosophy is the invention of strange forms of argumentation, necessarily bordering on sophistry.  To philosophize is always to develop an idea whose elaboration and defense require a novel kind of argumentation, the model for which lies neither in positive science–not even in logic–not in some supposedly innate faculty for proper  reasoning.  Thus it is essential that a philosophy produce internal mechanisms for regulating its own inferences (77)…

This is no more evident than in the middle chapters of After Finitude. Continue reading

Philosophical Fanaticism: Reading Meillassoux Part 2


There is a strange little section in The Star of Redemption where Rosenzweig talks a bit about the fanatic and the pagan.  Here’s Rosenzweig:

The fanatic, the sectarian, in short all the tyrants of the kingdom of heaven, far from hastening the advent of the kingdom, only delay it…The ground prematurely cultivated by the fanatic yields no fruit. It does that only when its time has come. And its time too, will come. But then all the work of cultivation will have to be undertaken afresh. The first seeding has by then rotted, and to assert that these rotten remnants are “already” or “in reality” the same as that which later ripens into fruit is but the willful foolishness of pedants. Time and the hour are the mightier the less man knows them (Star of Redemption,  272)

In the closing section of the second chapter of After Finitude, “Metaphysics, Fideism, Speculation,” Meillassoux comments:

We are trying to grasp the sense of the following paradox: the more thought arms itself against dogmatism, the more defenseless it becomes before fanaticism. Even as it forces metaphysical dogmatism to retreat, sceptico-fideism reinforces religious obscurantism (48-emphasis mine-SO).

This is quite a statement, and I do like reading the Rosenzweig and Meillassoux quotes side by side, but as well shall see, Meillassoux has a good deal to say about the rotted out seeds of metaphysics. Continue reading