by John Chilver
published in Schizm, issue 2, London, 2011, p16-19
The trouble with Alain Badiou’s writing, when read sympathetically, is what also cannot be disentangled from its main virtue: its doctrinal resistance towards time. Towards historical time, incremental time, the time of sedimentations. Towards all that is gradual, including learnings, grievings, processes, accumulations, mournings, piecemeal aggregations, assemblings, brick-by-brick building up, etc. Above all, it is perhaps the time of influence which Badiou’s ontology debars most fiercely. The Event is apparently without the mark of influence. It is pure and generic incommensurability. Since it does not build on what came before – since it only subtracts from it (though quite how literally or figuratively one is invited to read the verb ‘subtract’ in these books is moot) – it is not at all the marker of historical continuity, or even of historical rupture (as in, for instance, Foucault’s sense, where the rupture between historical paradigms or ‘epistemes’ is nonetheless an extension of a durational sequence). The Event has no past. It has a site – a present – from which it subtracts, and at which it names the void.
It is truth in Badiou’s texts that does for time. And in one of the more intriguing chapters of his book Deleuze: The Clamor of Being (chapter 5, ‘Time and Truth’) Badiou articulates how, in his reading, the precise inverse holds for Deleuze: for the latter, it is time that does for truth. Truth in Badiou does for time because its universality cuts a vertical line through the horizontals of the historical sequence. The Event as he says in Logics of Worlds is “implicative” for anyone at any time who encounters it and who is thereby (re-)subjectified by it, which is to say by its consequent truth. Its implicative power is unconditioned by time. Badiou tells us that “it is the category of time that is contradictory and empirical, and… it is legitimate, and indeed joyous, to suppress it in favour of truths.” The vertical cut through historical, biographical, lived or phenomenological time is identified with the trans-temporal vector(s) of truth(s); and truths for Badiou are “actual multiplicities” capable of occasioning infinite sequences. Their joys are joys of cutting through historical or durational time, of subtracting from contexts. “[T]he actuality of truths (be these scientific, political, amorous or artistic) is trans-temporal – we really are the contemporaries of Archimedes and Newton, Spartacus and Saint-Just, Dame Murasaki and Héloïse, Phidias and Tintoretto. Which means that we think with – and in – them, without the least need of a temporal synthesis.” Badiou defines time negatively relative to the measure of truth: “time (or rather a time – that of the situation) is the being-not-there of the concept. A truth is always the undoing of a time…”. Thinking, for Badiou, is a matter of wielding sufficient force to cut vertically and transtemporally through the horizontal membranes of both the phenomenological duration of mental processes themselves (thinking is not consciousness), and the historicity - formative historical situatedness - of thinking’s occasion (thinking is not the product of its context but rather the annihilation of its context).
Truth for Badiou is thus the “undoing of time”. For Deleuze it is supposedly the other way round. How does the inverse work in Deleuze? How does time undo truth for him? This is Badiou’s version of Deleuze, so beware. The theme that stands out is the fragile delicacy of Deleuze’s conception of the past. Consistent in his opposition to representation, Deleuze understood it (representation) as failure to attain to constant and immanent creative creation. Representation was denigrated as at best a model of something separately and/or antecedently created. Representation thereby violated Deleuze’s principle of the ‘univocity’ or one-ness of being – because it introduced a separation of layers of being, including a layer of creation and a layer of the models of creation. Here already there is a clue to his attitude to the past. Deleuze rejected the notion of the past as a disappeared present in order to ward off the threat of a similar division of being. “Were the past only an aftermath of the present, it would not be creation or power, but irremediable absence; it would be the production of the nothingness of the present-that-passes. Being would then have to be said, at the same point, in two different senses: according to its mobile-being and according to its absence. There would be a nostalgic division of Being. Nothing is more foreign to Deleuze than this nostalgia.” The solution for Deleuzian doctrine will require, not surprisingly, that the past be conceived not at all as the lost or absent present but as a constantly fecund positivity that is both created-creating simultaneously with the present, and is also operative and fertile as a kind of virtual whole-totality of all duration – a kind of eternal-eternity-duration-archive that is ever-active and never de-activated. “Just as every actual being has its own virtuality within itself, so within every present lies its own past.” Badiou continues, selectively quoting Deleuze along the way: “In each case, there is ‘a small internal circuit between a present and its own past’ and ‘deeper and deeper circuits which are themselves virtual, which each time mobilise the whole of the past, but in which the relative circuits bathe or plunge to trace an actual shape and bring in their provisional harvest.’ We can note in this choice of image – the ‘provisional’ harvest – an emergent opposition between the transient mobility of the actual dimension of the present and the latent eternity of the incorporation of its virtual dimension within ‘the whole of the past’.”
What has this precarious account of time to do with truth? Badiou first of all acknowledges Deleuze’s official rejection of the category of truth. There is a classical and venerable philosophical principle that says that truth is something that can only be ascribed to statements. It is obviously a principle that Badiou rejects, as when he holds, for instance, that love can be a truth procedure. The classical principle pretty well explains why Deleuze disliked the category of truth so much, since he viewed the truthful statement as “necessarily analogical or equivocal” rather than “univocal”. In other words, the notion of truth as inherently tied to statements is something that again violates the Deleuzian principle of the univocity of being. Having traced Deleuze’s rejection of the analogical conception of truth, Badiou argues that the latter nonetheless surreptitiously ushers in another notion of truth, one which he binds to time via “a sort of narration”. Here we may rework the figure of the provisional harvest. Deleuze, in his vision of cinematic narrative, ascribes a “power of the false” to the (provisionally harvested) actual or (provisionally harvested) present, which is placed in radical contrast to the infinite store of compossibilities contained in the integral virtual realm, which is (in) univocal unity with the totalised-whole-eternal past. “…[N]arration.… is a power of the false which… supersedes the form of the true, because it poses the simultaneity of incompossible presents, or the coexistence of not-necessarily true pasts…”. Badiou then argues: (1) that the analogical conception of truth that Deleuze sets up as his strategic fall guy – and pretext for fully rescinding the category of truth – is both parochial and a straw man; and (2) that “the power of the false” is just truth in Nietzschean drag. According to Badiou: “for those for whom the univocity of Being requires that it be essentially virtual, the theme of truth is necessarily given as power. From the viewpoint of this power, the actual forms of beings can be considered as… anarchic agencies of the false. For truth is coextensive with the productive capacity of the One-virtual, and does not reside as such in any particular outcome, in isolation from the rest.” So “[t]he problem posed here… is that of a true virtual totalization of the actual forms of the false.”
Deleuze’s time – as totalized-eternal-integral-duration-pool – and as a kind of self-archiving seedbed of pasts that constantly mutates to produce it own futures in the guise of provisionally harvested presents – is itself atemporal and immobile. It is, Badiou claims, indistinguishable, in this configuration, from truth. “This amounts to saying that there is no commencement, but only an abolished present (undergoing virtualization) and a memory that rises to the surface (undergoing actualization).” Under the very different configuration of the “being-not-there of the concept,” it is time, and especially the “salvaging of time” that is devalued by truth, and truth that voices commencement.
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