[OPE] Alain Badiou, "Of Which Real is this Crisis the Spectacle?"

From: Gerald Levy <jerry_levy@verizon.net>
Date: Wed Oct 22 2008 - 06:03:27 EDT

> french:
> http://www.lemonde.fr/opinions/article/2008/10/17/de-quel-reel-cette-crise-est-elle-le-spectacle-par-alain-badiou_1108118_3232.html
> english:
> http://www.cinestatic.com/infinitethought/2008/10/badiou-on-financial-crisis.asp
> Of Which Real is this Crisis the Spectacle? Alain Badiou, Le Monde,
> 17/10/08.
> As it is presented to us, the planetary financial crisis resembles one of
> those bad films concocted by that factory for the production of
> pre-packaged blockbusters that today we call the "cinema". Nothing is
> missing, the spectacle of mounting disaster, the feeling of being
> suspended from enormous puppet-strings, the exoticism of the identical –
> the Bourse of Jakarta placed under the same spectacular rubric as New
> York, the diagonal from Moscow to Sao Paulo, everywhere the same fire
> ravaging the same banks – not to mention terrifying plotlines: it is
> impossible to avert Black Friday, everything is collapsing, everything
> will collapse...
> But hope abides. In the foreground, wild-eyed and focussed, like in a
> disaster movie, we see the small gang of the powerful – Sarkozy, Paulson,
> Merkel, Brown, Trichet and others – trying to extinguish the monetary
> flames, stuffing tens of billions into the central Hole. We will have time
> later to wonder (the saga will surely continue) where these billions come
> from, given that for some years, at the least demand from the poor, the
> same characters responded by turning their pockets inside out, saying they
> hadn't a cent. For the time being, it doesn't matter. "Save the banks!"
> This noble, humanist and democratic cry surges forth from the mouths of
> every journalist and politician. Save them at any price! It's worth
> pointing this out, since the price is not insignificant.
> I have to confess: given the numbers that are being bandied about, whose
> meaning, like almost everyone else, I am incapable of representing to
> myself (what exactly is one thousand four hundred billion euros?), I too
> am confident. I put my full trust in our firemen. All together, I am sure,
> I can feel it, they will succeed. The banks will be even greater than
> before, while some of the smaller or medium-sized ones, having only been
> able to survive through the benevolence of states, will be sold to the
> bigger ones for a pittance. The collapse of capitalism? You must be
> kidding. Who wants it, after all? Who even knows what it would mean? Let's
> save the banks, I tell you, and the rest will follow. For the film's
> immediate protagonists – the rich, their servants, their parasites, those
> who envy them and those who acclaim them – a happy ending, perhaps a
> slightly melancholy one, is inevitable, bearing in mind the current state
> of the world, and the kinds of politics that take place within it.
> Let us turn instead to the spectators of this show, the dumbstruck crowd
> who - vaguely unsettled, understanding little, totally disconnected from
> any active engagement in the situation - hears, like a far-off noise, the
> mort* of the cornered banks. This crowd can only guess at the exhausting
> weekends of our heroic small team of heads of government. It sees, passing
> before it, numbers as enormous as they are obscure, automatically
> comparing them to its own resources, or even, for a very considerable part
> of humanity, to the pure and simple non-resource which is the bitter and
> courageous basis of its very life. That's where the real is, and we will
> only be able to access it if we turn away from the screen of the spectacle
> in order to consider the invisible mass of those for whom this disaster
> movie, its saccharine ending included (Sarkozy kisses Merkel, and the
> whole world weeps for joy), was only ever a shadow-play.
> In these past few weeks we have heard a lot about the "real economy" (the
> production and circulation of goods) and the – how should we call it?
> unreal? – economy which is the source of all evils, in that its agents had
> become "irresponsible", "irrational" and "predatory" – fuelling, first
> rapaciously, then in a panic, the now formless mass of stocks, securities
> and currencies. This distinction is obviously absurd, and is generally
> immediately contradicted, when, by way of an opposite metaphor, financial
> circulation and speculation are presented as the 'circulatory system' of
> capitalism. Are heart and blood perhaps subtracted from the living reality
> of a body? Is a financial stroke indifferent to the health of the economy
> as a whole? As we know, financial capitalism has always – which is to say
> for the past five centuries – been a major, central component of
> capitalism in general. As for the owners and managers of this system, by
> definition they are only "responsible" for profits, their "rationality" is
> to be measured by their earnings, and it is not just that they are
> predators, but that they have to be.
> Accordingly, we do not find anything more "real" in the engine-room of
> capitalist production than on its commercial decks or in its speculative
> cabins. The last two in any case corrupt the first: in their crushing
> majority, the objects produced by this type of machinery – being aimed
> solely at profit, and at the derivative speculations which form the
> fastest and most considerable part of this profit – are ugly, cumbersome,
> inconvenient, useless, and it is necessary to spend billions to persuade
> people otherwise. This presupposes that people be transformed into spoiled
> children, eternal adolescents, whose existence merely consists in changing
> toys.
> The return to the real cannot be a movement leading from bad "irrational"
> speculation back to healthy production. It is the return to the immediate
> and reflective life of all those who inhabit this world. It is from that
> vantage-point that one can observe capitalism without flinching, including
> the disaster movie that it is currently inflicting upon us. The real is
> not this movie, but its audience.
> So what do we see, if we turn things around in this way? We see, and this
> is what it means to see, simple things that we've known for a long time:
> capitalism is nothing but robbery, irrational in its essence and
> devastating in its development. Its few short decades of savagely unequal
> prosperity have always been at the cost of crises in which astronomical
> quantities of value disappear, bloody punitive expeditions into every zone
> that capitalism judges either strategically important or threatening, and
> world wars that brought it back to health.
> Here lies the didactic force in looking at this crisis-film. Faced with
> the life of the people watching it, do we still dare to pride ourselves in
> a system which delegates the organisation of collective life to the basest
> of drives – greed, rivalry, unthinking selfishness? Can we sing the
> praises of a "democracy" whose leaders do the bidding of private financial
> appropriation with such impunity that they would shock Marx himself, who
> nevertheless already defined governments, a hundred and sixty years ago,
> as "the agents of capital"? The ordinary citizen must ‘understand’ that it
> is impossible to make up the shortfall in social security, but that it is
> imperative to stuff untold billions into the banks’ financial hole? We
> must sombrely accept that no one imagines any longer that it’s possible to
> nationalise a factory hounded by competition, a factory employing
> thousands of workers, but that it is obvious to do so for a bank made
> penniless by speculation?
> In this business, the real is to be found on the hither side of the
> crisis. For where does this entire financial phantasmagoria come from?
> Simply from the fact that, by dangling miraculous credits before their
> eyes, people devoid of the means to afford them were browbeaten into
> buying flashy houses. These people’s IOUs were then sold on, mixing them,
> as one does with sophisticated drugs, with financial securities whose
> composition was rendered as scientific as it is opaque by battalions of
> mathematicians. All of this then circulated, from sale to sale, its value
> increasing, in ever more distant banks. Yes, the material measure for this
> circulation was to be found in the houses. But it was enough for the real
> estate market to go bust and, as this measure became less valuable and the
> creditors demanded more, for the buyers to be less and less able to pay
> their debts. And when finally they couldn’t pay them at all, the drug
> injected into the financial securities poisoned them all: they were no
> longer worth anything. But this only seems to be a zero-sum game: the
> speculator loses his wager and the buyers their homes, from which they are
> politely evicted. But the real of this zero-sum game is as always on the
> side of the collective, of ordinary life: in the end, everything stems
> from the fact that there exist millions of people whose wages, or absence
> thereof, means that they are absolutely unable to house themselves. The
> real essence of the financial crisis is a housing crisis. And those who
> can’t find a home are by no means the bankers. It is always necessary to
> go back to ordinary existence.
> The only thing that we can hope for in this affair is that this didactic
> power may be found in the lessons drawn from this grim drama by people,
> and not by the bankers, the governments who serve them, and the newspapers
> who serve these governments. This return to the real has two related
> aspects. The first is clearly political. As the film has shown, the
> "democratic" fetish is merely the zealous servant of the banks. Its real
> name, its technical name, as I have argued for some time, is
> capitalist-parliamentarianism. It is advisable, as several political
> experiments have begun to do in the past twenty years, to organise a
> politics of a different nature.
> Such a politics is, and no doubt will be for a long time, at a great
> distance from state power, but no matter. It begins level with the real,
> through the practical alliance between those who are most immediately
> available to invent such a politics: the newly-arrived proletarians from
> Africa and elsewhere, and the intellectuals who have inherited the
> political battles of the last few decades. This alliance will grow on the
> basis of what it will be capable of doing, point by point. It will not
> entertain any kind of organic relationship with the existing parties and
> with the electoral and institutional system that keeps them alive. It will
> invent the new discipline of those who have nothing, their political
> capacity, the new idea of what their victory will look like.
> The second aspect is ideological. We must overthrow the old verdict
> according to which ours would be the time of "the end of ideologies".
> Today we can clearly see that the only reality of this supposed end lies
> in the slogan "save the banks". Nothing is more important than recovering
> the passion of ideas and countering the world such as it is with a general
> hypothesis, the anticipated certainty of an entirely different state of
> affairs. To the nefarious spectacle of capitalism, we oppose the real of
> peoples, of the existence of all in the proper movement of ideas. The
> theme of an emancipation of humanity has lost none of its power.
> Undoubtedly, the word "communism", which for a long time served to name
> this power, has been debased and prostituted.
> But today, its disappearance only benefits the advocates of order, the
> feverish actors of the disaster movie. But we will resuscitate communism,
> in its new-found clarity. This clarity is also its oldest virtue, as when
> Marx said of communism that it "breaks in the most radical fashion with
> traditional ideas" and that it will bring forth "an association in which
> the free development of each is the precondition for the free development
> of all".
> Total break with capitalist-parliamentarianism, the invention of a
> politics on a level with the popular real, sovereignty of the idea: it's
> all there, everything we need to turn away from the film of the crisis and
> to give ourselves over to the fusion between live thought and organised
> action (everything we need to turn away from the film of the crisis and
> rise up).
> *In French: hallali. In English, the nearest equivalent is 'mort', the
> note sounded on a hunting horn to announce the death of a deer.

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Received on Wed Oct 22 06:05:50 2008

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