Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Here's another gleaning, this one a bit more provocative I think. In the latest issue of C, Jacob Wren introduces philosopher Alain Badiou, who claims that current philosophy is "too strongly committed to the polyvalence of meaning and the plurality of languages" and advocates a willingness to consider truth. But don't worry, as Wren assures us,
Badiou never sees truth as unchanging verity. To the contrary, he always views it as an "infinite multiplicity." Any given truth is not the only one, contains infinite aspects, and therefore should never be rigid. If it goes too far or becomes totalizing, it betrays itself, opening the way to terror and disaster.
Badiou's truth seems to me to draw heavily on Kierkegaard. According to Badiou, to live in truth is to live in "fidelity" to an "event" that creates a rupture in the "situation," or the status quo, forming "'a hole in knowledge,' breaking open the situation, pushing at the limits of what potentially can be said." There are four types of events: "artistic invention, emancipatory politics, scientific refoundation, and love."

To me though, the most immediately interesting part of Wren's essay is the following:
More to the point, I suspect an engagement with truth (or something like it) is essentially what most artists do anyway, almost as a dirty little secret or unspoken impulse. They feel that within their work there is something true and they bear this truth, remaining loyal to early breakthroughs and realizations, continually teasing out the many complications and consequences of their ongoing endeavour. Dealing with the language of "truth-procedures" more directly has the potential to challenge the unspoken nature of this struggle, asking us to think about what art means on a more fundamental level, intensifying our engagement with our fundamental artistic concerns, allowing the multiplicity of our practice to swarm around a central point, giving us back a clear, yet still hazardous, sense of direction.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Couldn't read the whole article on account of not being a member, but this did seem interesting (I rather like Wren's idea of truth as the dirty secret of poetic practice) -- however I dislike Badiou's apparently rather categorical statement that there are exactly four kinds of relevant events, which as stated sounds an awful lot like a rigid truth. My immediate reaction is to think, what about religious/theological events (talking of dirty secrets ...)? Badiou surely knows that theologians have been discussing "truth as event" for quite a long time now. And there's nothing out there that creates a hole in knowledge quite like the apophatic mystical tradition. That's just my own immediate "yeah, but ...", I'm sure there are many others.

Well, I suppose love is such an expansive term that it can cover nearly everything, possibly even including apophatic-mystic theology. But nevertheless.

As I said, though, I am interested in exploring this idea of whether engagement with "truth" (and I note, as I write, that I myself feel compelled to put the word in scare-quotes -- you'd think that, as someone who's always trying to drag theology into discussions, I would feel less discomfort about the word "truth", but that's evidently not the case) should be explored more openly as part of our practice.

-- maggie

10:04 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Interesting. My initial reaction to Wren's characterization of Badiou's theory was, "Hmm, the dynamic he's describing seems quite religious," maybe picking up on the Kierkegaard echoes.

I'm still thinking about the idea of truth and art myself, and I'm wondering what differentiates truth and belief in Badiou's conception. I guess his truth is of the performative or pragmatic variety. But belief is a kind of dirty little secret too, isn't it?

So, yeah, as a way of testing Badiou's theory, I'm trying to think of alternatives to describe whatever it is that makes artists stick with an idea and see it through in a lived sense. Interest? Compulsion? Fear?

9:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, on reflection I think the precise reason that he doesn't mention religion is that he's drawing directly on theological thinking and trying to transfer it into a secular context.

"I'm wondering what differentiates truth and belief in Badiou's conception. I guess his truth is of the performative or pragmatic variety. "

Although belief too is, or at any rate can be, more performative than it's often thought to be.

"I'm trying to think of alternatives to describe whatever it is that makes artists stick with an idea and see it through in a lived sense. Interest? Compulsion? Fear?"

You can never underestimate the importance of compulsion.

I'm thinking at the moment that what I've been trying to do lately in poetry may be driven partly by a kind of guilt about using language at all, if that doesn't sound completely insane.

-- maggie

10:18 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

For some reason I didn't get the usual e-mail notification for your comment, Maggie. Sorry for the delay.

Ah yes, guilt. I think it's the glue that holds our society together. And no, I don't think what you're saying sounds insane, though my impulse is to ask you why you feel guilty. Isn't using language more or less what being human is? (Don’t feel compelled to answer these questions if you don't feel like it, by the way.)

On performative belief: Yeah, what I was wondering is what distinguishes truth from belief in B's system. It seems likely that for him it's the result of the fidelity to the event. Truth would likely obtain when such fidelity results a shift in understanding that takes hold and becomes meaningful to a community, whereas belief is likely what happens when there's no such result or where it hasn’t yet come about. I haven't got the essay in front of me right now, so I'm just going on what's in my post. I'll check when I can to see if there's something in C that helps. It seems to me that truth usually requires some form of external verification (is that redundant?), even if it’s pragmatic. But it’s been a while since Philos 1A1.

Yes, let’s hear it for compulsion and obsession.

I’ve been thinking more about an approach to writing Angela Rawlings seems to take at times. She sometimes uses a “what if” question as a guide (e.g., what would a poem look like if it took the form of naturally occurring phenomenon a). I suppose there might be thoughts about truth behind this sort of experiment (e.g., about the significance of form and maybe about its relationship to content), but I think the “what if” might serve as means she uses to distance herself from truth. (I think she’s away; otherwise I’d be interested to hear what she has to say about all this.)

3:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"my impulse is to ask you why you feel guilty. Isn't using language more or less what being human is?"

Well, this is a very complex question, and if I were to answer it fully it'd probably be a lengthy essay, but I'll try to at least gesture towards it.

It has something to do with my sense that there's an inherently falsifying quality to language -- which I guess presupposes the existence of some kind of "truth" beyond language, and so I guess I have to say that I do believe in some such thing. I think my discomfort with the word "truth" has partly to do with the fact that it is, precisely, a word, and therefore falsifying, and as soon as I say "truth" it is not what I intend to say.

My discomfort with language does, I think, precede my engagement with the apophatic mystical tradition, and led to it rather than the other way round, but they're very involved with each other ("apophasis" = "away from/counter to speech"). Somewhat like Zen -- not popularized Zen but the actual practice -- the apophatic tradition is about -- how to put this -- living in relationship with something which not only cannot be said but in a sense cannot even be thought about, and like Zen it tends to resort to deliberately paradoxical or contradictory language as being in fact the least falsifying, in that it makes the least claim to truth-status.

From a somewhat different angle, if you spend much time with autistic people you see that the equation of language and humanness is far less precise than we neurotypicals usually think -- but on the other hand it is true that language is, at least, the best communication tool we've got for most purposes. It's a hard life if you don't have language at all, though not necessarily a less human one.

Getting back to poetry, I have a sense in my own poetic practice -- though this is probably not at all apparent on the surface of the poems -- of a drive towards a kind of radical simplification and accuracy which would logically end up in silence, and which is partly why I wrote no poems at all for more than four years. Though as I say, I doubt that anyone would see this in the poems themselves, which are not particularly minimalist. The sort of simplification I'm looking for is not exactly that, though it's hard to define what it is.

Okay, this is very sketchy and partial, and probably misleading in parts, but it's some attempt to somewhat answer the question anyway.

"Truth would likely obtain when such fidelity results a shift in understanding that takes hold and becomes meaningful to a community, whereas belief is likely what happens when there's no such result or where it hasn’t yet come about."

Once again, difficult to say, but looking at his four types of events I'm not sure if this would work. "Emancipatory politics" tends to be nearly as faith-based as religion, in my experience. "Artistic invention" doesn't tend to produce a lot of real-world results either. And if the definition of "result" is simply in the meaningfulness to a community, again I don't see what makes religion different -- it's meaningful to a community almost by definition. (As for "love", unless he defines that a lot more clearly somewhere in the essay, then it's meaningless as it stands.)

Anyway, I gather you're away right now, but I guess you'll see this on Tuesday or whenever.

-- maggie

11:19 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Thanks for the comment, Maggie, which I'm going to think about. I feel very ignorant re: the language = human equation. In fact, I realize it doesn't even fit with my thinking about language when I take a moment.

More soon.

6:24 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Here's a question: Why do we tend to exclude language from the world?

I guess the answer is obvious: because that's what language usually asks us to do. But why are we so obedient?

12:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, I have to admit to being a dimwit and not quite understanding what you mean by that question. Could you clarify for me? Sorry.

Insofar as I think I know what you mean, it may be in part because language tends to serve a kind of mediating function which makes it difficult to classify & thus leads to its being excluded. If that makes any sense at all.

-- maggie

3:08 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:54 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Sorry, Maggie, I guess I went off on a tangent, or at least I didn't make the connections I should have. I just think it's rare that the fact that language exceeds our use of it is ackowledged (sort of thinking McCaffery). I wonder how, for instance, notions like the paragram affect truth? It seems to me that truth would become almost bodily. I'm still not sure I'm into the whole idea though. Too much pomo conditioning maybe.

12:56 PM  
Blogger Brenda Schmidt said...

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2:33 PM  

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