Badiou on Fidelity

Keep Going!

Keep Going!

The last of these XX on YY posts (as I’ve now finished the book!) is Badiou on Fidelity. It is linked to his notion of the Event, and his idea of ethics which are for me, extremely useful way of theoretically configuring subversion and how to engage in Deleuzian lines of flight. The call to ‘keep going’ is more than simply to defy the pressures of the system (as Marge is attempting to do above), but to continually resist becoming-subject, and the ‘opinions’ and ‘interests’ that constantly attempt to manipulate it into simulacra. Fidelity to the truth-event takes an extraordinary amount of effort, but who ever said flying was easy?

“Under pressure from the demands of interest – or, on the contrary, because of different new demands within the subjective continuation of fidelity – there is a breakdown of the fiction I use to maintain, as an image of myself, the confusion between my ordinary interests and disinterested-interest, between human animal and subject, between mortal and immortal. And at this point, I am confronted with a pure choice between the ‘Keep going!’ proposed by the ethic of this truth, and the logic of the ‘perseverance in being’ of the mere mortal that I am. A crisis of fidelity is always what puts to the test, following the collapse of an image, the sole maxim of consistency (and thus ethics): ‘Keep going!’ Keep going when you have lost the thread, when you no longer feel ‘caught up’ in the process, when the event itself has become obscure, when its name is lost or when it seems that it may have named a mistake, if not simulacrum.

“For the well-known existence of simulacra is a powerful stimulus to the crystallisation of crises. Opinion tell me… that my fidelity may well be terror exerted against myself and that the fidelity to which I am faithful looks very much like – too much like – this or that certified Evil. It is always a possibility, since the formal characteristics of this Evil (as simulacrum) are exactly those of a truth.

“What I am then exposed to is the temptation to betray a truth. Betrayal is not mere renunciation. Unfortunately, one cannot simply ‘renounce’ a truth. The denial of the Immortal in myself is something quite different from an abandonment, a cessation: I must always convince myself that the Immortal in question never existed, and thus rally to opinion’s perception of this point – opinion, whose whole purpose, in the service of interests, is precisely this negation. For the immortal, if I recognise it’s existence, calls on me to continue; it has the eternal power of the truths that induce it. Consequently, I must betray the becoming-subject in myself, I must become the enemy of that truth whose subject the some-one’ that I am (accompanied, perhaps, by others) composed”.

(Badiou, 2001: 79-80, original emphasis)

What now for Actor-Network Theory with the advent of Web 2.0?

Actor-Network Theory (or simply, ANT) has been my staple diet of social theory, methodology and research direction for the last 6 years now, with my PhD thesis revolving around the tenant of ANT and Bruno Latour‘s writings. Adding a temporal dimension, one could say that it was in the late 90s to early 2000s that ANT had its main usage in the social science, with geographers among them; the late great Jonathan Murdoch was a major factor in this usage. The nuances of ANT, if you are not familiar, are fascinating and if you are interested, read Latour’s fantastic book, Reassembling the Social, or take a tour around this excellent resource, ANTHEM.

Other authors (Michelle Callon and John Law to name but 2) have contributed, but Bruno Latour can be considered the ‘godfather’ of ANT and at a recent talk he gave at the LSE, he offered much of the theoretical background to ANT through the lens of the recent technological advances in computer software. Since completing my thesis, I have been content with ANT’s place in my theoretical/methodological armoury, knowing it’s place and it’s limitations. At the time of the talk, I was interested in ANT’s properties for social innovation, but now with my foray into the topologies of Web 2.0, ANT has reared it’s linguistical head once more.

The associative ontology offered by ANT is one which speaks to the networked nature of Web 2.0 connectivity, for a number of different reasons. But primarily, ANT’s focus on practice and action as the formulating power of the network aligns with the performative aspects of Web 2.o. If we take the example of Twitter, the networks formed by people following each other only surface when those people actually contribute, i.e. write something! There are lots spam followers and people who set up an account just to see what it’s all about, but then soon lose interest and stop contributing. These ‘dead links’ create a ‘hinternet’ of defunct (or dormant) connections which are not acted upon and hence cannot be considered part of the networks (from a performativity point of view). This can be applied to a whole host of digital graveyards – webpages not updated since 2002, blogs going untouched, Facebook groups which are now defunct – they all exist (in terms of wasted memory on some dusty server somewhere) but are not doing anything, and therefore do not ‘effect’ the constitution of the network.

Also, ANT talks of translation, which is the power of actors to influence the network connectivity properties. This is particularly noticeable with web 2.0 with the ease at which people can get across their point of view. My previous blog entry focused on how information is readily available and how this has the possibility to shape public opinion, and it is this ‘power’ which is effected through the generation of heterogeneous (or Web 2.0) connections.

The advent of Web 2.0 and the advancements in the semantic web mean that we will be become increasingly connected. While this is a cliché, its truth holds precisely because of the fact that this technology is allowing for more communication and therefore action to these connections. Whereas a link between you and me can be said to exist, unless that connection is acted upon (by talking to each other – which Web 2.0 facilitates) then it remains simply a metaphysical link without any real tangible meaning. Technological change and the link with ANT is now the subject of a specialized journal, and so it is not just me and my ramblings which puport to the fact that ANT has a place in the increasingly connected virtual world.

As I constantly remind people (and myself), ANT works best as a language for describing the world in which we live (well, also as a methodological tool – but that is for the social scientists out there) and it seems tailor-made for Web 2.0. Latour gives frequent talks around the world and if anybody can make it to them, I strongly recommend them, as he gives a very compelling (and always witty) account of technology which is infused with his ANT-inspired lexicon. Web 2.0, more accurately, the multiplicity of apps that seem to be related to it, increase our embroilment with each other, and therefore, as our actor-networks increase, we would do well to increase our understanding of how to best describe and articulate it – and we have a ready made blueprint with ANT.

Mumbai attacks: Information of the Event

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 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.