Zizek and Badiou, Where are You

by Kieran Healy on March 10, 2006

Today I was wondering whether it was worth buying Slavoj Zizek’s new book, “The Parallax View”:http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=10762 and reading it, even in a spirit of ironic detachment or what have you. Reasons to Buy: 1. Some smart people I know like him. Selected Reason Not to Buy: 1. Life’s too short to deal with bullshit, even if it’s high-quality, triple-sifted, quintessence of ironic Lacanian crunchy-frog bullshit like this: “Zizek is interested in the “parallax gap” separating two points between which no synthesis or mediation is possible, linked by an “impossible short circuit” of levels that can never meet. … Modes of parallax can be seen in different domains of today’s theory, from the wave-particle duality in quantum physics [I assume he put this in just to irritate people — KH] to the parallax of the unconscious in Freudian psychoanalysis between interpretations of the formation of the unconscious and theories of drives. … Philosophical and theological analysis, detailed readings of literature, cinema, and music coexist with lively anecdotes and obscene jokes.” From this — especially the last bit — it’s clear to me that it’s not the Mainstream Media that has anything to fear from the blogosphere, but rather Slavoj Zizek — he will shortly be rendered obsolete by the universe of pop-culture enriched slacker grad-student/ABD bloggers. Even Zizek can’t write fast enough to keep up with them all.

Anyway, here’s “another slightly breathless example”:http://chronicle.com/temp/email2.php?id=rs6ZjbSWsvgFHx6bhccDzTtjYNwYhggx, this time from the _Chronicle_ about the philosopher Alain Badiou:

bq. Monday’s discussion celebrated the publication of a long-awaited English translation of Mr. Badiou’s 1988 book, _Being and Event_ … First, he dissects “being” with the aid of set theory, the mathematical study of abstract groups of objects (sets) and their relations to one another. … Indeed, Being and Event makes the striking claim that “mathematics is ontology.” And chunks of the book are studded with equations and theorems that may frighten off the scholar who fled to the humanities to escape mathematics.

The idea that set theory might be useful to philosophy is not exactly new, nor are claims about the relationship between math and ontology. (Maybe “Kenny”:http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~easwaran/blog/ will show up in the comments with the relevant reading list.) On the other hand, although often ignored in English-speaking countries, it is nevertheless an important fact that an elite French education can entail learning quite a lot of math in addition to ploughing through the great philosophers. So your typical Next Big French Intellectual often has the wherewithal to bug the shite out of technoids _and_ comp-litters, although only one of these constituencies is typically targeted. Badiou looks like he might be a rare double-header. He can alienate the humanities people with the set theory and simultaneously annoy the technoids with stuff like this:

bq. “Love is an event in the form of an encounter,” said Mr. Badiou, and it has the effect of forming “a new relation to the world.” … In response to one question that asked Mr. Badiou to link his philosophy to contemporary politics, he noted that “names in politics are impoverished. … The weakness of politics today is a weakness of poetry.” The fall of communism, he continued, also influenced that impoverishment. “Marxism,” he said, “had a constellation of names” for political concepts. “It was a sky of names. We lost the sky.”

Lovely. The other great thing about French academic culture, by the way, is that in addition to producing high theorists like Badiou it also produces the “best theory of the theorists”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0804717982/kieranhealysw-20/. The cafés at the Collège de France sell bottled reflexivity instead of Evian.

A favorable citation of my arguments at Tech Central Station. Normally, I’d be pretty concerned about this, but it’s from Tim Worstall, the sole exception, AFAIK, to the otherwise uniform hackishness of that site[1].

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Against Schmidtz — for equality

by Chris Bertram on March 10, 2006

[This post is co-written by Harry and Chris and is an extended follow up to Chris’s “initial response”:https://crookedtimber.org/2006/03/06/cato-on-inequality/ to David Schmidtz’s Cato Unbound piece “When Equality Matters”:http://www.cato-unbound.org/2006/03/06/david-schmidtz/when-equality-matters/ .]

We live in a highly unequal world and in strikingly unequal societies. The income discrepancies between the global poor and those in wealthy societies are enormous, with around one quarter of the world’s population living on less than $1 US per day, and many suffering from acute malnourishment, disease and premature death.[1] (For some further details see articles by Thomas Pogge “here”:http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=3717 and “here”:http://portal.unesco.org/shs/es/file_download.php/9c2318f24653a2a4655347d827f144acPogge+29+August.pdf .) But even within the very wealthiest societies great wealth coexists with severe poverty. Moreover, this is not simply an inequality in outcomes. Whilst the United States, for example, likes to imagine itself as a land of opportunity, social mobility is extremely low and in recent years the benefits of economic growth have been ever more concentrated in the very richest sectors of the population. According to one study, only 1.3 per cent of children born to parents in the bottom 10 per cent of income earners end up in the top 10 per cent. By contrast, almost a quarter of children born into the top 10 per cent stay there, and almost half stay in the top 20 per cent. Children born into the richest tenth of households are 18 times more likely than children born into the poorest tenth to end up in the top tenth. (Further see the “Economist”:http://www.economist.com/world/na/displayStory.cfm?story_id=3518560 and “Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis”:http://www.umass.edu/preferen/gintis/intergen.pdf .)

David Schmidtz’s recent piece for Cato Unbound, “When Inequality Matters”:http://www.cato-unbound.org/2006/03/06/david-schmidtz/when-equality-matters/ is an artful and unnerving attempt to make use of some recent work within egalitarian political philosophy to argue against what we what we think of as the core of egalitarianism: the demands for greater equality of condition and opportunity. We are not convinced. In our view Schmidtz’s case neglects the impact that relative inequalities have on absolute levels of flourishing and depends at crucial points on dubious analogies and on muddying important distinctions. But it would be churlish not to acknowledge that he gets some things right. For instance, he is correct to emphasize that we must identify the dimensions in which equality matters, for the basic reason that making people equal on one dimension will often have the simple effect of making them unequal on another. Equalizing incomes, for example, would leave people unequal in well-being, because different people have different capacities to convert their income into well-being.

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Cheap Reads

by John Holbo on March 10, 2006

Crooked Timber is going boingboing with all the ‘cool stuff!’ links. On we go. Amazon has piles of books slashed up to 75%. Mostly utter depths of crap, like you’d expect. But: The Locus Awards is a bargain. $4.99 for 30 years of the best, including Wolfe, LeGuin, Ellison, Varley, Russ, Butler, Tiptree, Bisson, Crowley, Chiang, couple others.

I’ll tell you a secret about Belle. She’s loves Hornblower. Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis? (Was it really bad? That’s what I heard.) This looks good: The War Against Cliche, 500 pages worth of essays and reviews by Martin Amis. (Yes, I’m serious.) For the kids: Neil Gaiman, The Day I Swapped My Dad  For Two Goldfish; Daniel Pinkwater, The Picture of Morty and Ray; and for the kid in all of us, Peter Bagge, Buddy’s Got Three Mom’s. Maybe there’s something else good in there. I missed it, apparently.