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Revolution of the Mind – Subject of Nothing



Reading and writing for the blog last month was characterized by rather divergent aspects. The writing aspect was focused on Alain Badiou‘s ideas on St. Paul as a revolutionary figure, an appropriation of his Christian radicalism as exemplary of Badiou’s theory of the Event and the creation of new subjectivity, novelty that emerges in individuals acting in fidelity to the virtual Truth of the Event, verifying it, actualizing that Truth. This is expressed in the future anterior sense, the grammar of that tense. The commentary and poetry offered on the topic has been provided in the three part series beginning with The Stupid Christ (Part 1).

While the writing was going on about St. Paul, along with analysis of the articles from which I found segue, I started reading Sam Gillespie’s book on Badiou’s ontology=mathematics. One of the articles on Badiou’s St. Paul made deep reference to Badiou’s ideas on set-theory as was discussed. This exemplifies how Badiou uses set-theory to clarify, or at least to avoid verbal confusions about, his concept of the Event. From Gillespie’s The Mathematics of Novelty I hope to get a much better grasp on the logic of set theory, founded in the axiom of the empty set, and the distinguishing unique qualities of Badiou’s philosophical application of mathmatics. Here is an early exerpt from the book to illustrate what I want to get at:

".. Badiou will pose the mathematical empty set as the single term from which the most complex infinities are generated. Where we depart from then, is not an assumption that being exists as a creative power, but rather that to think being, we need nothing more than a formal assertion that nothing – that is, the empty set or zero – exists. If the empty set is a pure formalization of being – having in itself no descriptive properties or content of any kind – then the being it formalizes is simply nothing, void. As Badiou puts it.. ‘the sole term from which ontology’s compositions without concept are woven is inevitably the void’."

Perhaps it is clear why this month’s recap of the blog state is subtitled "On the Subject of Nothing". Nor do I have a lot to say about it. The exposition of Badiou’s philosophy in description of his minimalist mathematics by Sam Gillespie is 175 pages of dense and exacting reading. I find as I continue to read and re-read I hear what is said differently and my confusion evolves, not from incomprehension to understanding but from understanding to understanding that clearly subsumes the incomplete yet not wrong understanding of the earlier phase. Logically there is no right or wrong understanding of the void, as I get it, it is a matter of clearly resolving illogical comprehension of a formal description of being which is at stake.

To say anything clearly, I sense one may not speak really of the void, but only from the void. Formally, one can speak of the subject who speaks, but in regard to the Subject of Nothing, an individual could be said to know more than she knows – the unknown known. So this duel aspect of inquiry is where I find myself. The "Nothing" I am learning about in a formal sense by the discussion of the empty set and the subsequent axioms and mathematical concepts derived therefrom (the axiom of extension, the power set axiom, the axiom of choice – the mathematical concepts involved, such as the continuum hypothesis, the distinctions of membership vs inclusion, then the issue of decidability vs undecidable sets – infinity and the positing of zero as a number, etc.). This is the presented focus in Sam Gillespie’s book. But of course, the "Subject" and the apprehension about that is also very much at stake.

I did last month also provide some commentary on Savoj Zizek as he his perceived and misperceived as a cultural theorist. In our daily life we are not (for the average normal person) at all concerned with ontology as mathematics. Our subjective life is in the cultural melieu, in our relationships wherein we see reflections of ourself. If we are proactive in cultural relationships we might therein be said to be participating politically, facing that way we are extending our experience of subjectivity to include others. Looking inwardly we may also understand something more of our subjectivity, perhaps this is the domain of psychoanalysis. For many of us, Zizek is a powerful resource for examining daily life, the predominating cultural and political events of our world today.

In the commentary I wrote, In Defense of the Deadly Jester, some speculation was provided concerning the nature of his close alignment yet difference with the philosophy of Badiou. Both Badiou and Zizek have deep association with Marxist-Leninist-Maoist lines; certain affinities also with Cantor, Frege, Godel mathematical thought; some affinities in their appreciations and interpretations of Plato, Decartes, Kant, Hegel and other major philiosphers; and perhaps most significantly they are both deeply influenced by the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. Now, it is from study of Lacan that one may begin to explore deeply inner subjectivity. Again, in this is another daunting but important personal goal – to begin to understand much more deeply what psychoanalysis is and isn’t. Recently some study in this direction has also come to the fore.

Badiou and Zizek both make reference to Lacan often in their writings on political and social issues. Zizek has authored "How to Read Lacan" which I have been through a couple of times so far. Lacan himself it seems mainly wrote for psychoanalytic clinicians. He employed French in what is reputed to be at a very sophisticated level. Even in translation, what I have read of him is very interestingly and provocatively written, full of puns and allusions and of course rather obtuse to me having no training as a clinical analyst. I am not a scholar, an academic or a scientist – I stand guilty of getting my education as it is from secondary sources, like Zizek and Badiou. One thing is very clear about Lacan: truth is found in relationship to the Void. I think it is on this point that we see convergence of Zizek and Badiou – though of course we can find plenty of divergence from there. Another important secondary source on Lacan is Jacques-Alain Miller, a contemporary psychoanalyst – but also a very tough read. Miller is the son-in-law of Lacan and actually it was Miller who served as analyst to Zizek in Zizek’s psychoanalytic training. Some taste on Lacan from Miller published in the major online organ Lacanian Ink – The Symptom:

"Relation of Subject and Signifier In effect, what in Lacanian algebra is called the relation of the subject to the field of the Other (as the locus of truth) can be identified with the relation which the zero entertains with the identity of the unique as the support of truth. This relation, in so far as it is matrical, cannot be integrated into any definition of objectivity – this being the doctrine of Lacan. The engendering of the zero, from this not-identical with itself under which no thing of the world falls, illustrates this to you."

I am writing here about Lacan, because it is at the first of the month I try to recap some of the themes of my own study and writing and what has been the nexus of this in the recent period. I can hardly hope to provide any more than some hint of the directions being explored. So I mentioned about Badiou and St. Paul, Gillespie and Badiou on the empty set, Zizek and cultural theory and finally Lacan because these have been recent things in the reading and writing. To close I just want to inform you that the quarterly edition of articles has not too long ago come online at The International Journal of Zizek Studies. The edition is comprised of six very interesting articles on the topic of Zizek and Lacan. I have made a first reading. Oh boy, more secondary sources on Lacan. Obviously there are a lot of different takes on Lacan and Lacan according to Zizek.

Perhaps someday soon I will venture trying to put some overview of what I have been learning about Badiou’s mathematics of novelty and Lacanian psychoanalysis. These are difficult, but the theoretical struggle is part of what I need to engage with my praxis – revolution of the mind as I engage the political and social/cultural world in which I function. This is foundational to analyzing and contributing to the exchange of ideas and actions in social revolutions ongoing in many domains – Nepal is a primary example.

For convenience here are the links to all the blog entries to date:

Blog Guide: A discussion of blog features and primary topic content may be found at the initial entry. The first few entries give a good idea of how best to use the blog, especially for the tagging and social bookmarking at my external Delicious site, and for instructions regarding the Stefandav TV widget.

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