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February 25, 2006


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At some point, it might be useful to open a discussion (here, elsewhere or at LS) on the convergences (and otherwise) between the different inflections of 'refusal' - deconstructivist, Lacanian-inspired, Trontian (or Autonomia), and any others I haven't noted.

Anyone up for that?

Anyway, it occurs to me, Jodi, that when you talk about "the minimal gesture of subtraction", it registers for me less as a question of the super-ego (although I'm in no way averse to a discussion of such, particularly as it might bounce into a discussion of command) than it reminds me of Franco Berardi's discussion of subtraction with regard to wage labour, Tronti's 'refusal', and perhaps even the Zerowork trajectory.


I'd definitely be up for that, except that I only know about the Italian end of those conversations. Perhaps there could be a representative reading from each camp suggested for interested neophytes (ie, me)? Also, there's a Badiouian version of subtraction as well, one which gets some play in some of the interesting Argentine circles (Colectivo Situaciones, for instance). That could be cashed out as a refusal, but I'm not sure if that's how the folks involved see it or not.


Badiou's version of subtraction does, at least in my eyes, fall in line with this kind of discussion. His meditation on Mallarme in Being and Event seems perfectly suited for it, where he considers the decision that an event has taken place in terms of "hesitation". I was very much reminded of Bartleby's refusal when I was reading that section last night.


Angela et al: I like very much the idea of reading something together. Maybe we could do it on Long Sunday? What about Tronti on refusal (as Nate suggested to me in an email)?

On super ego: this comes in because of Zizek's argument and the way it is structured in terms of Lacan's four discourses. So, at this point in my reflections on The Parallax View, I'm trying to get Zizek's argument down in his terms or in terms of what he has thought thus far. It's quite likely that there are more compelling accounts of subtraction. I'm not familiar with Berardi and am weak on Autonomia (limited to Negri and the summary in CyberMarx...)

Nate--are the Argentinian Badiouian circulations in text form in English?

Keith--I've wussed out on Being and the Event...for now. I can make a bunch of plausible excuses, but that's all they'd be...


hi Jodi,
Re: Badiou/Argentina, I'm not sure to be honest. I've just recently gotten into Badiou, so I've not followed a lot of it. Also initially I was reading stuff and not realizing that the terms were drawn from or in dialog with Badiou. It's via Argentine stuff I've read that I got interested in Ranciere and into Badiou. I think there are both Argentine Badiouians and that this kind of material is part of a larger millieu (sp?) in some circles there. In the long term a friend and I would really like to get more of this material in circulation in English but it's a slow process.

There's a journal down there called Acontecimiento (which means Event) which is a Badiouian organ, regularly includes material by Badiou in translation. This piece appeared there in Spanish -

Bosteels, Bruno "Post-Maoism: Badiou and Politics", which you may have already seen, it appeared in
positions: east asia cultures critique - Volume 13, Number 3, Winter 2005, pp. 575-634. (If anyone wants a copy who doesn't have e-journal access they should email me.)

You might also be interested in this, an extract for a public discussion with Badiou that took place in Buenos Aires, wherein he gives his take on Negri a bit -

A friend and I translated a piece by Colectivo Situaciones that, after having read more Badiou, I think has resonances with some of his work, though I don't think they'd cop to being called Badiouian. That's here - http://www.ephemeraweb.org/journal/5-4/5-4index.htm

One other piece that's at least of historical interest is the manifesto of the Alternative Resistance Network, signed by various political and theoretical folks in Argentina, Peru, France, and Belgium.

More info on that here - http://whatinthehell.blogsome.com/2005/08/24/is-the-network-of-alternative-resistance/

I'll ask around about what other material is available. A friend is going to put a translation online soon that I really like a great deal, it's the manifesto of the Malgre Tout Collective, a Franco-Argentine group who, I'm told, are influenced a lot by both Badiou and Deleuze. I'll send you the link when it's online.

take care,


PS - I meant to reiterate my enthusiasm for reading Tronti together, and to say that it sounds fun to do so via Long Sunday, but I forgot to do so. This PS apologizes for and rectifies that oversight.


Nate--thanks for the links/cites. They'll certainly keep me busy! (Z engages some Bosteels in Parallax; I haven't read the piece in positions but will now...


There is affirmation in refusal.


Matt-ok, but what is being affirmed? this is what is unclear to me at this point; or, if this is the wrong question because it requires content when what is at stake here is a form, then how exactly do we get an affirmation, how should the affirmation be understood? particularly given that Zizek is interested primarily in negativity--it could be an affirmation of the negative, but this isn't right because he emphasizes that negating the negation is a shift in perspective that turns failure into success. In a way, to assert an affirmation ends up in the wrong place, for Zizek at least. The point is the work of the negative.


This is kind of rough jumping off of Matt's comment about there being affirmation in refusal and w/r/t a "non-negating affirmation":

From what I've gleaned from your quotations of Žižek (still too knee-deep in Badiou to take on The Parallax View), his use of Bartleby seems to provoke a temporary rupture of the super-egoic function to enjoy, but this (again, just from reading the above quotations) seems less like what Tronti defines as refusal (i.e. "the point of saying 'No', the refusal must become political; therefore active; therefore subjective; therefore organized") than something akin to Derrida's différance - a radically disorganized attempt to differentiate and defer the super-egoic or juridical dictate (or to extend the Derridean notion further, to "tremble before" the Law).

I wonder, does the "minimal gesture of subtraction," momentarily unburdened by "the shift from ought to must" but, at the same time, neither confirming nor denying (but always deferring) future intent, demand or acquiescence, amount to much the same thing as the pousse-à-savoir of Lacan's hysteric's discourse? (And isn't the hysteric's discourse then the ultimate in "negating the negative", as such?) Doesn't it seem that, by perpetually preferring not to, one is simply a vessel waiting to be filled with the desire, demand or command of an Other to come - whose desire, ostensibly, one would prefer?


Jody, you need to read Zhuang-zi and I need to read Zizek.


Without for a moment making Tronti's refusal and Derrida's differance commensurate, it's more interesting when the two are combined in some way. If only because the argument for a deferral coincides (practically at least) with an argument about the non-necessity of representational politics to the very existence of class struggle, of which Tronti has some interesting things to say.

Anyway, I'll put together a more solid suggestion for reading Tronti and see how we go in terms of expressions of interest, as it were.

Amish Lovelock

What happened to building a community>?


On community:

Julian Edgoose

"Perhaps "I would prefer not to" involves the renunciation of resistance, acting, trying, struggling, that changes the very course of political/economic/social life. Or, perhaps it is rather the letting go of support for one's cause, the recognition that, really, this support is nowhere. And, once we know that we are nowhere, then we know what we must do."

Or perhaps we always just do what we do, and did what we did. I haven't finished "The Parallax View" yet but I have read the Bartleby bit at the end [I cheated!]. For what it's worth, this is my take on the matter:

Societies change and the world changes - chaos, complexity, emergence - and the discourse we call "politics" has merely been (or perhaps has recently become) a way that we were able to think we knew what was going on.

So, if we renounce politics do we "know what we must do"? There's a great essay in "Difficult Freedom" called "Place and Utopia" where Levinas contrasts the utopian view of the world with one he calls "Biblical." The latter is infused with the Lacanian Real by my reading. Levinas hints here at what we might call a "fractal" view of power that might echo Foucault's in the History of Sexuality. Levinas, Rosenzweig, Arendt... and I would claim Derrida [I love Alex Thompson's recent book] all seem to be exploring in this territory. It is all an attempt to articulate in a way that avoids the banal and hokey (e.g. "The Hundredth Monkey") how the micro and macro interact in sometimes significant ways.

So, despite Zizek's wonderully ascerbic neoMarxist critiques of Levinas et al, I think he might be hinting in that direction here. It annoys the hell out of me that he puts this at the end of a long book. Is Zizek changing? The Lenin-Bartleby shift is hardly a smooth one!


Julian, thanks for your comment. I don't know Levinas enough to respond to that angle. Here's how I think of the rest:

renouncing politics isn't exactly renouncing politics because we already in a post-political time (according to Zizek). So what we are in fact doing is 'traversing the fantasy.' How? Well, our all of out activities of resistance are in fact manifestations of a more fundamental disavowed passivity. The way out, then, is to avow this passivity, to assume it. Interestingly, in assuming it we adopt a position of subjective destitution, becoming ourselves a kind of object, objecting.

Now, I fully agree with you on the passage from Lenin to Bartleby. And, frankly, I prefer Lenin. Is it possible, though, that there isn't a choice here? I think so. First, the Bartleby position is itself an aspect of a political parallax. That is, it is the attitude that should underlie the work of bringing the new into being. Second, somewhere in the middle of the book Zizek emphasizes that revolution isn't an ought but a must. So, all this ethical crap about what we ought to do etc isn't the right perspective on revolution at all. What we have to do, then, is renounce all this ought stuff that pushes our so-called political activity, and carry on without that kind of baggage or suppplement. This way of thinking about, I think, lets us retain Lenin. We recognize that he figures the element of must.


Thanks for your reply.

On the first paragraph, sure. The question of whether this is renouncing politics is merely semantic - in a post-political world politics is a fantasy (Simone Weil once wrote that "revolution is the opiate of the masses"). The interesting question is whether there was ever anything more to it (in a pre-post-political age).

On the second paragraph, I think I am with you on the parallax as "the attitude that should underlie the work of bringing the new into being" - Zizek is engaging the challenge of thinking the incommensurability of our actions and the political. This is a challenge from a Marxist perspective because Marxist thought has tended to think this transition rather simply - Benjamin was perhaps the best exception.

On point two, I need to read the book, but let me risk another insufficiently informed comment (I guess I'll have to re-read Z on Lenin and St Paul in The Puppet too). I can't make sense of the notion that there is no choice between Lenin and Bartleby without Lenin being reduced to an accident of history - the right guy at the right time with a neurotic penchant for institutional building. Admittedly I haven't read his Lenin book either - the guy writes too much.

In your Long Sunday piece you write "What is difficult, for me at least, is to think what a kind of work of building a new community rooted in "I prefer not" would look like. To this extent, the introduction of Bartleby (where Zizek before had been discussing the Pauline work of love) makes matter more opaque."

My professional focus is on the political dimensions of teaching and my reading of Z's Pauline love talk is, in my mind, the closest this deeply [deeply!] Catholic thinker can get to the deep vein of Judaic thinking here - in Benjamin and Levinas via Rosenzweig, in Derrida via Levinas, and in Arendt and so on. There are huge differences here but there are also common threads. In Derridean terms the issue is the hestitant aporiae between droit and juste -[by the way, to the extent that these threads are "ethical" they have nothing to do with "all this ethical crap about what we ought to do etc"]. What is at stake in the instant of the just decision is the complete re-meaning [re-structuring? readjustment?] of the entire corpus of law - the world changes with every interaction with the other. That's the sense behind Arendt's "natality." Maya Angelou suggests that this is also love - this is as close as I'll get to Z's Pauline vein.

So the work we do to build on "I prefer not to" is just to get on and interact and to understand the interactional domain as one of the most complex and emergent going... but to understand that the ideological frameworks we have been working from have been impediments to what one might call "revolution" -that is the refreshing insight from Z's Bartleby to me (with all the disclaimers about not having read all I should). The other key thing Z gets to is his revulsion towards "Western Buddhism" and other gnostic elements - and this might lead him to an Arendtian Amor Mundi. There is more to be said here, of course, but I've written more than enough.

Someone else in the discussion calls this Z's Benjamin turn - I thought that was most helpful insight if one connects Benjamin's insights at the end of his life to his Rosenzweigian Judaism.

Jeff Wild

What a conversation and what a community that is already created. I just found this blog yesterday and have learned much already. In this discussion there are many names I am not familiar with (Tronti being one of them), but I thought I would mention two writers that I feel or intuit have something to add to this conversation though I am unsure.

One is Roberto Unger from Harvard -- http://www.law.harvard.edu/faculty/unger/intro.php

The other is Eric Gans from UCLA --

Both these thinkers have much to say about the current political and cultural situation, but I don't see them referenced often (particularly Gans and his theory of Generative Anthropolgy).

If any of you are familiar with them, I would love to hear your perspective.

Finally, was there ever any agreement to read something in common?



thanks for your comment. We are reading Tronti this week at Long Sunday. (My first time to read him.) I read Unger when I was in graduate school but am unfamiliar with Gans.

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