People who read this blog will no doubt be aware of my fascination with Badiou’s theorisation of the ‘Event’, and while I am still grappling with the nuances, it is clear that it holds certain truisms with social theory. For me however, its conflation with excess of reality’ (form Baudrillard’s writings) is an issue. An event, Badiou argues is an irruptive force, the multiple of multiples coming to the fore; or the ‘what-is-not-one’ being exposed for what is it, pure multiplicity. Baudrillard states that 9/11 was an ‘absolute event‘, that in the hours (and perhaps) days after the twin towers fell, the world was in a state of shock. But more than that, society’s computation of the event into the realm of consciousness via information was halted, in other words, there was a disparity between the reality of the event and the understanding of the event. As the news channels continually showed Hollywood-style images of the unfolding attacks, society (as a collective of individuals at least) failed to keep pace with the amount of information available and as a result, there existed a state of ‘raw event’, with a gap between what was known and a constructed narrative (perhaps suggesting the proliferation of conspiracy theories?).
Fast forward from September 11th 2001, to 26th November 2008. The Mumbai attacks have been plastered all over the news websites and 24 hour news channels, and the stream of information has been constant. In the 7 years between 9/11 and these attacks (in no way am I comparing the attacks themselves, just the take up of them) the ‘plugged-in’ nature of our virtual society has increased beyond anything seemed possible initially. Facebook, Twitter, blogs like this, they have all increased the information flow and as a result, further intensified the speed, amount and variety of information that could be received. In the morning of the 27th, Twitter updates offered me Google Maps of the attacks; Sky News was telling me that the England cricket team were canceling their trip, only to then tell me that they would wait 24 hours before making a decision; the speed in which the Wikipedia page is developing is almost beyond belief; my Google Reader ticker went through the roof; and even the people.co.uk was running the story (only joking, it is currently telling me about John Seargant’s phone votes).
The shear amount of information available overwhelms the senses, and only serves to increase the uncertainty and the ‘excess of reality’. If, as Badiou states that an Event is an irruptive force, bringing the mutliplicity to the fore, then surely in a time like this, the connectedness and democratic way in which people receive information these days only increases this irruptiveness? The ‘gap’ between reality and understanding, which Baudrillard takes of, is furthered by the amount of information that has to be processed, and so the narrative (or story) which constructs the event retrospectively, will be more complex and will intertwine further with more marginalised news sources that were made more visible through our more connected information sources.
Badiou, in his book Being and Event, discusses at length the French Revolution as an archetypal Event, and the Chinese leader, Zhou Enlai, in 1950 was asked about the impact of the French Revolution, and his reply was “it’s too early to tell”. Events such as the Mumbai attacks of 26th November 2008, are quite clearly shocking, and lines such as “it’s all very confusing at this stage”, and “details are sketchy” are common on the news channels. Sources such as Twitter (which has been particularly rapid in the pick up and dissemination of information) will no doubt help in the clarification of some points, but aid in the complexity of others – which is the price we have to pay for the connected and democratic nature of news and information dissemination today.