Why Communism Anyway? 3: Existence Is Inadequate to Living, Research Time, 25/02/2014

Badiou’s ontology doesn’t tell the whole story of ontology’s entire domain. If you take set theory as the basic and comprehensive language of ontology, the framework of the nature of existence itself, then it leads you to the conclusions Badiou reaches (at least in that ontological context). A body is, as regards fundamental ontology, a member of a set, so only exists insofar as it is always already enfolded in a collective, even if that collective only has one member. I don’t actually disagree with him when considering ontology from its fundamental perspective.

Why do you have to complicate my simple ontological principles with all this proliferation of difference, nebula?
The difference between myself and Badiou, philosophically, is ultimately a difference of emphasis. He emphasizes the fundamental, and I emphasize complication and complexity. At the most fundamental level of any ontology, being is univocal, and there is no real difference among bodies in terms of their existence. But actual bodies proliferate and develop in directions far more complex than their most fundamental dimension. Subjectivity is one direction of this tendency of existence to complicate itself, but it's far from the only one, and not necessarily the highest one. All ranking is relative to a purpose anyway. The distribution of energy in the universe was uneven, and so clumps into stars and galaxies. As matter/energy clumps together, tendencies to motion that never existed in less dense arrangements begin. The arrangements of molecules become increasingly complex, and the most complex arrangements, assemblies, and relationships occur on biospheric planets.

My mother always said I liked to make things complicated. Well, I’m not just being obstreperous; I’m following a natural tendency of existence itself.

All the elaborate conceptual mechanics in pure ontology that concern Being and Event is an elaboration on only the most simple, universal aspect of any being: its mere existence, that it exists. Now, if you’re of a philosophical disposition that privileges the fundamental as the most important aspect of a domain (e.g. existence considered as such, the epistemic problems of skepticism, the categorically necessary principles to make a system of rules a morality), then good for you. We can have some great conversations. 

Under our masks that allow us to act collectively, we have
faces that strain against being anonymous.
But I don’t share your disposition. I’m more inclined to the styles of ontology that concentrate on these complicating movements that make existence as it is lived categorically different than existence as such. Philosophy about existence as such focusses on the ways in which all bodies are ultimately the same, the nature of being. A focus on existence as it’s lived sends you searching after all the ways that bodies and fields can differ from each other, mapping those differences, and conceptualizing the principles of their emergence. This is why I affiliate myself with thinkers like Friedrich Nietzsche, Henri Bergson, Gilles Deleuze, Margaret Urban Walker, Bruno Latour, John Dewey, and schools of philosophy like STS. Their ontological eye is on the creation of difference, so can encompass the myriad variations that Badiou’s fundamentally univocal ontology passes over.

Just as Badiou’s fundamental ontology of the collective implies a politics of communism, my own ontological focus on differentiation implies a politics where emancipation is along anarchist lines. Zizek concluded Living in the End Times with reflections on what a new utopian vision for the world could be, because the versions of statist communism failed. Badiou’s essay on failure in The Communist Hypothesis is similar, but appears to be more of a cop-out than Zizek. Badiou sees no flaw in communism itself, but only in the struggle for a new order: for Badiou, failure of emancipatory revolution lies in the intensity of the war unconsciously shifting revolutionary priorities from destroying the state infrastructure itself to replacing the leadership of state infrastructure with yourself. Zizek’s exasperation is more profound, that of a man searching for a new model for emancipation itself. I don’t have all the answers either, but Badiou still has too many answers for my taste.

I admire Badiou because he really is a systematic philosopher, having derived political and social principles from an ontology. But I don’t think he’ll ultimately play a major role in the Utopias project, because of this fundamental philosophical difference between us. Even though you can definitely call him a utopian thinker, on this very basic level, he’s incompatible with the underlying philosophical priorities of the project. The Utopias project ultimately is about articulating a relationship with time, one’s personal and social temporality, that encourages the proliferation of difference, the multiplication of singularities. 
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I think if I was on a more historically conventional employment track in academia, I’d spin this argument into a book-length polemic against Badiou’s philosophy. After all, it connects his ontological with his political principles, and takes their integration seriously, just as Badiou’s own thought does. I think it would be the kind of book that could solidify the reputation of a young scholar. 

But that’s not my career path anymore, because the likelihood of my securing any permanent academic work in future is minimal. Union rules for sessional work in this region of Ontario lock virtually all new labour market entrants out of employment, and no one in their right mind would move provinces or countries for a four-month contract worth less than $7000 (and most of the American adjunct contracts are half that pay scale). Although I’ve seen it done, I have little expectation that I’ll ever land a tenure-track university position without spending a long time drifting from gig to gig four months at a time. My life just isn’t compatible with that itinerant lifestyle anymore. 

I, and a lot of other young scholars, likely won’t get a university position despite our qualifications and skills. So we have to hustle ourselves as writers and editors and publish as independents. Frankly, I have to hit more ambitious ideas than devoting years of work to a single book that would still be in the shadow of an already-successful and near-legendary philosopher. 

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