'When I came across that Idea in Calvin I was very deeply pleased, it was one of those things where it opened a new way of looking at the world. I think one of the experiences that people have that makes them uneasy with religion often is that they know people whom they understand as ethically deficient or whatever, at the same time that they just really love them, and they have good reasons to love them, which might not have anything to do with trusting them, or benefitting from them, or anything else. They love them aesthetically, you know, in terms of the charms of the person, the way, the grace…however unconscious it might be. And the idea that God would be blind to what is in many cases the most interesting or the most beautiful encounter that you yourself have with another human being…this is disturbing…it alienates one from God in a way. And I think that the idea that God can love people aesthetically, that King David can be the apple of his eye with all the terrible stuff that he’s up to (and all the rest of it, you know); that there’s a sort of loyalty – fatherly loyalty of, you know, ‘if that kid can’t stay out of trouble – what a beautiful kid, I can’t bear the thought that he would be away from me.’ I like that, I think it’s wonderful.'
This link: Barth: What make a Christian Christian? takes you to a very interesting article in which the author discusses Barth's views on what it is that makes a Christian a Christian. Is it in being 'saved' (yes, but...); is it accepting and living by a moral code (yes, but...); is it directing one's attention towards a future in which God's kingdom has been finally established (yes, but...)? In his Church Dogmatics, Barth, according to Terry J. Wright, agrees broadly with these propositions, but adds that none of them are enough to encapsulate the being of a Christian. Primarily this is because none of them are particularly Christ-centred. They all suggest that the focus and centre of the Christian is, or should be, either individual salvation, moralism, or an other-worldly approach to the here and now. For Barth, then, the centre of the Christian life has to be as a living witness to Christ's work and lordship, which is not a work that we can do, but is rather that in which we are invited to participate, however badly.
Interestingly, at Inhabitatio Dei, Halden is also talking about what it is to be and to become a Christian. (See: To become and to be a Christian. Thoughts about such things have been on my mind recently too, partly because I have been reading chapters of Robert Letham's The Holy Trinity (2004) in which he discusses the Trinity in relation to worship and mission (chapter 4), and the second section of Zizioulas's Being and Communion. (Note to self: don't forget your totally unrelated PhD project!). These works have brought to the fore issues of what it means to be saved, how, through whom, and for what. Coming from an Anglo-Charismatic background I grew up with the vague idea that salvation was a specifically individual event, a choice that one made. Clearly more than a little of the consumerist culture of contemporary England fed this belief; though I can also see it in a highly developed and not-particularly-individualist-form in Kierkegaard. The point, though, is that I'm starting to understand that just as salvation outside of Christ is not an option, neither is salvation as an individual outside of the Church. Thinking through the idea of theosis backwards, in which the Church is invited as the Bride of Christ to enter fully by grace (not by nature) into the Trinitarian life of God, our own sanctification/divinization is only possible in and through the Church as both the Bride and the Body of Christ. Christ in us (singular), us in Christ, that Christ might be in us (plural), and us in Christ; that we might enter into the perichoretic union between the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit. To borrow from Gregory of Nyssa: whenever I think of salvation individualistically, I must also think of it collectively, and visa versa; and whenever I think of it collectively, I must also think of it intra-trinitarianly. No doubt I have expressed this cack-handedly, and am open to correction; but nonetheless, what appears to be coming into view for how I understand salvation is a thing of incredible beauty that privileges, to pilfer shamelessly from Gunton, both the One and the Many, of which we, individually and collectively, are invited to join.
Am also listening to a lot of Andrew Wommack at the moment - man that man knows how to preach! Plus, I love his accent. In fact, I'm thinking of training my mind to think in his accent, as part of the whole 'renewal of your mind' business.
Callie was chatting to me this morning about how it suddenly struck her that she has the Holy Spirit living inside her. I got thinking about this in terms of how some theologians describe the Holy Spirit as the love between the Father and the Son. So, if the Father is pure self-emptying love, and if that self-emptying love is the Son, who is the Father's radiance, and the Spirit is the love shared between Father and Son, then this means that having the Holy Spirit live inside us is having the love between the Father and the Son living within us. This is an amazing thought.
Have been thinking lately about the seeming paradoxes of Christian belief. I think that for someone like me who quite likes to be right the temptation is to confuse having or not having correct theology as the defining feature of the true Christian. Clearly, having correct theology is not identical to knowing Christ, which is both the condition for salvation and the spur to recognise Christ in the poor and dispossessed. The paradox is that correct theology is also equally essential, in that to know Christ, but not know him as God the Son is not to know him; but likewise, to know him as the Son, but to not recognise him in those he explicitly encourages us to see him in is to not actually know him and - more importantly - to not be known by him. There is a sense then in which an exhaustive knowledge of Christ theologically is structurally deficient (if not entirely spurious) insofar as that knowledge is not lived out in what can only be called 'good works'. But this does not mean that one is saved by good works, but rather entirely by placing one's trust in Christ. In fact, I would go as far as to suggest that there is something intellectually onanistic about the whole discussion so far, as though it were simply a case of striking the right balance rather than throwing oneself wholly in self-emptying trust upon the Son. The truth is that one is neither saved by good works, nor by correct theology, but in trusting the Son; but this trusting of the Son is partly a product, and the result, of both. This structural deficiency astounds me! We are not saved by correct theology nor correct behaviour, but our knowing of Christ is not independent of the love we bear towards those Christ identifies with, to the point where in the parable of the sheep and the goats Jesus makes quite plain that he knows us only through our love toward those he identifies with. Thus, to love Christ in a theologically correct way but not love the helpless with whom he identifies reveals our love to be a delusion in search of an idol, and our theology to be utterly bankrupt.
Bad Christian practice can be said in one way to be the result of bad theology, just as likewise bad theology is the result of bad practice, but focusing on either or both as an alternative to throwing oneself upon Christ is what makes them onanistic.
My paper today is speculative, utilising a model of human self-consciousness to understand a trajectory that was originally proposed by the philosopher Hegel in 1807. In this I will broadly draw upon three philosophers to make my case: Hegel, as mentioned, Michel Foucault, and Martin Heidegger. Hegel is an interesting philosopher to think through the issue because from his perspective of the self’s relation to the other surveillance could never be a case of domination of one over the other, but always contains the opposite movement. Foucault also, does not understand surveillance to be a simple top-down example of power relations, but rather analyses historical texts to reveal power as operating through surveillance at various levels of discourse. Heidegger, who I use sparingly, provides a way of linking metaphysics with the rise of technology as the last gasp of nihilism. Thus for Heidegger, the so-called death of God as a moment in metaphysics is revealed for what it is in the technological society.
In this paper I would also like to draw attention to the non-visual aspects of the way surveillance, which literally means ‘super-vision’ exceeds the visual in which it is grounded. So, surveillance is not just the continuous visual gaze directed at human affairs whether through CCTV, or the media, but also constitutes the mass of information gathering through official checks, opinion polls,Twitter, and Facebook updates, even to the very workings of democratic politics. Surveillance is the constant and total exposure of selves before a fundamentally all-pervasive gaze. In this regard,Youtube, Facebook and Twitter are merely the computerised internalisation of that gaze, to the extent that to resist such self-exposure, is felt to be a repression, as Foucault likewise pointed out about the culture of confession. Facebook, in particular, seems to provide a sort of ontological guarantee that a Good Time was had by all, with people at parties taking pictures with the express purpose of posting them on their wall. There is a kind of queasy anxiety that if the good time isn’t acknowledged through being seen then it somehow isn’t real; yet there is something equally nihilistic about a good time that is manufactured in order to be seen to be having a good time.
The idea that I want to explore is the idea of the death of God, and the Hegelian desire for recognition. ‘God is dead,’ wrote Nietzsche, ‘God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?’ Of course, Nietzsche did not mean that there was a God who had actually died; but rather that belief in both the Christian God and Christian morality was no longer possible, and that we must live out the full consequences of that impossibility. Nietzsche recognised how much colder the world now seemed shorn of any metaphysical foundation. The process that Nietzsche drew his readers attention too over a hundred years ago has undoubtedly increased with secularisation. I would tentatively suggest though that reports of God’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Indeed, if one accepts the philosopher Martin Heidegger’s thesis that modern technology is the endgame of a metaphysical nihilism that has held sway since at least Plato, then one can conclude that the surveillance society is the mechanised resurrection of the God we thought was dead. Nihilism for Heidegger is the coming to fruition of the will to power implicit in all western metaphysics, made explicit in Nietzsche, but in the modern world it is revealed most clearly in technological domination of humanity and nature, turning everything and everyone into standing reserve or resource.In psychoanalytic terms one could say that surveillance is the return of the repressed in an even more neurotic form, in this case, the return of the metaphysical God as the will to power through the technological surveillance of everything.
I am not saying that the rise of the surveillance society is directly or indirectly linked to the so-called death of God proclaimed by Nietzsche. What I want to propose, via Hegel, is that one of themany possible meanings to be discerned in the rise of surveillance is a highly technological replacement of the God who is absent. If one takes it as a given that humanity at large wants to be seen and to be seen to be being seen, then Hegel’s account of consciousness offers a perspective on both what it means to be seen and why. For my purposes I have adapted the narrative Hegel proposes in his Phenomenology of Spirit, not to be disingenuous, I hope, but to make room for what seems to me to be implicit in the text.
For Hegel, the self as a consciousness emerges only in relation to an Other. He writes, ‘Self-consciousness achieves its satisfaction only in another self-consciousness.’ Here “other-ness” is inscribed at the heart of the self. This means that without an Other the self is internally alienated, adrift in its own lack.Hypothetically, prior to such a relation the self is everything. Eventually, though, it encounters resistance in external objects, which in their otherness represent a threat, because the external object suggests a lack in the self’s own sufficiency. This lack is felt as desire. For philosopher, Judith Butler, the Hegelian concept of desire is ‘…the incessant human effort to overcome external differences, a project to become a self-sufficient subject for whom all things apparently different finally emerge as immanent features of the subject itself.’ This lack renders the self dependent upon the object, which it attempts to overcome through negating the object that it has encountered.The desire to negate, and the self-certainty it hopes to achieve in negating the object are seen to be dependent upon the object that it wants to destroy. Thus, the struggle to overcome further strengthens the otherness and lack at the heart of the self, in that to begin the process of negating and overcoming one must first encounter that which must be negated and overcome. So, one can say along with Hegel, that ‘self-certainty comes from overcoming this other: [but] in order for this overcoming to take place, there must be this other.’Once this is realised, the self attempts to claim back from the object a sufficiency through being recognised by the object as self-sufficient. Through being recognised by the object the self hopes to internalise the object’s recognition. In order for this to occur the object must also be (or become) a consciousness from whom recognition is possible.
Thus the self and the object meet one another as two separate consciousnesses in a battle for recognition. And so they fight. The movement whereby it is only through the other that the self can achieve self-certainty is devastating, leading the self to seek the other’s death.
Eventually, one must win, and through this, as Hegel says, ‘[t]hey recognise themselves as mutually recognising each other.’ Recognitionis gained by the self from the loser, he becomes the master, and the loser his slave. The twist is that the recognition the master achieves is one that comes from a loser-consciousness, which is then internalised in the master. ‘[T]he outcome,’ Hegel writes, ‘is a recognition that is one-sided and unequal.’That is, his self-sufficiency is assured through recognition, but it is assured on the basis of a servile consciousness. The truth of the master’s self-certainty is, ironically, dependency; the dependency on himself that he has imposed upon the slave and other “things”. This inversion has the same effect for the slave, for whom the truth of his self-consciousness is based upon the master, ‘having’, as Hegel writes, ‘[the master] for its essential reality; hence the truth for it is the independent consciousness that is for itself.’’ In other words, YOU ARE WHAT YOU recognise YOURSELF BEING recognised BY. The loser, meanwhile, works for the master to satisfy all his needs, while the master enjoys the benefits. It is through the work the loser does with his hands that he encounters objects in the world which are independent of both his consciousness and the consciousness of the master. Through working with these independent objects the loser achieves a new kind of independence from which the master is alienated because he is totally dependent upon the loser for all his needs. In this way, the loser achieves a more secure self-sufficiency than the master, and the process ends, says Hegel, if and when the master and the slave are able to meet one another as equals.
In the terms of this paper, one can say that central to the concept of self-consciousness as Hegel describes it is the desire to be recognised by an Other in order to provide for the self an ontological guarantee that one is in fact real. Outside of this recognition the only alternative for the self is a form of arid solipsism that knows neither lack nor desire. For Hegel it is only the existence of the other that grounds the self as real for itself. Central to this idea is that in order to have a guarantee for its own self-existence, the self must struggle for recognition from the other, which also struggles likewise for recognition. Thus, without the other, without God, the self can no longer claim self-certainty for itself, because its self-certainty was only guaranteed upon the existence of an Other to be overcome. God, in this scheme, is, as Sartre says in Being and Nothingness, the concept of the other pushed to its absolute limit; that is, an absolute other grounding the reality of the human self caught within his all-seeing gaze. The death of God can certainly be seen in this regard as part of the on-going movement whereby humanity struggles to ground itself as ontologically real; first through submitting to a metaphysical deity, then through its engagement with material reality in scientific endeavours banishing this God as a source of self-sufficiency.Because of the dilemma that the absence of God presents, the self must create a new Other to be an Other for it, and open the door for lack and desire to return. To quote Voltaire – no doubt out of context – ‘If God did not exist, we would have to invent Him.’ In the present context, one can say that if the supreme other God is dead, then another other must be invented to take his place, to guarantee human self-certainty. And so we come to the stage at which humanity finds satisfaction in its material engagement. However, objects in the world cannot return our gaze, cannot recognise us, and cannot ground us as ontologically real. Or so it at first seemed. The final part of the parable, I would suggest, needs further investigation.
An historical thread of some importance begins in 17th Century France, where the power of the French State under Louis XIV to amass for itself technologies of information gathering dramatically increased. State institutions such as army and prisons began to take on the clockwork rhythms of surveillance prevalent at the court of the Sun King. Not that information gathering was new, but rather that the depth and scope of that gathering intensified as the role of the state changed and enlarged in people’s lives. In this regard, Louis’s government, whilst relying heavily on discourses of power and knowledge within the Catholic Church, drew upon and extended the reach of that power and knowledge. For Foucault, a new type of man emerged under the auspices of the kind of gaze directed at it, one submissive and pliable to the authorities.Also, and not unrelated, forFoucault the Enlightenment project of an exalted Reason had cultural and political ramifications, creating in its wake the species of “Man-the-Machine” as an analysable man who is also a manipulable man. He writes: ‘The great book of Man-the-Machine was written simultaneously on two registers: the anatomical-metaphysical register, of which Descartes wrote the first pages and which the physicians and philosophers contrived, and the techno-political register…’ For Foucault the pinnacle of Enlightenment surveillance was epitomised by Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, a prison building designed to expose the prisoners to an ever-present gaze which could never be returned. The more such intense surveillance was internalised in society at large the less necessary it became to have displays of power as public spectacle.
This represented in part the final touches to an ancient Christian attempt to drag the secrets of men’s souls from their bodies to make them acceptable before God. Such was the power of this discourse of confession that to not expose oneself to scrutiny became felt as a burden that only more exposure could possibly overcome. In modernity, however, the rise of the State as an apparatus of power blurred the secular/ecclesiastical distinction, and then absorbed it entirely.More recently the proliferation of salacious confessions takes over from where the old Church Father’s left off.
Feeding into these developments was the incredible technical proficiency of artists from the Renaissance onwards to represent reality in precise if ideologically bound detail. Culturally and politically the centre of the visible was moving from the spiritual realm to the secular, forming what Heidegger was later to call a world picture of reality in which what could be known was categorised to the nth degree, and known only through being so categorised. Cumulatively, around the time of the enlightenment, in which an ocularcentric idea of reason as universal truth took centre stage, history entered into what Foucault called the ‘empire of the gaze’Rejecting the godlike ideal spectator of Cartesian imaginings, the new vision constituted for Foucault an epistemic field of knowledge, placing humanity in the uneasy position of ideal observer and the docile observed. Further to this, the Enlightenment break with previous modes of knowledge, in which there was an essential unity of sign and signified in language, unleashed, according to Martin Jay, vision as the principle mode of knowledge acquisition.It is not surprising to note, then, that photography was to be developed largely in early 19th Century France. If one follows the logic of the development of consciousness that has been presented here what seems to be suggested is that the next step in metaphysical nihilism to be taken in the technological realm is the coming to self-consciousness of the network of surveillance we inhabit.
There have also been developments in other areas not obviously related, but which together form a similar trajectory. I would suggest that both the development of Artificial Intelligence and the rise of technological surveillance in society are of a piece when seen through a Hegelian reading of the death of God.In this sense, AI represents avery ancient attempt to create artificial life that continues to be sought by the present day scientific successors of alchemists and magicians, fromOvid’s Pygmalion, to the Jewish golem, and Frankenstein’s monster. For Heidegger, Artificial Intelligence would almost certainly be a particularly sinister development in the technological will to power as metaphysical nihilism.
In distinction from these myths, modern AI can be defined as the attempt via sophisticated experimentation to instantiate the Cartesian cogito within a mechanised object, be it a computer or a robot. AI is, then, but one secular strand of a complex series of occult-scientific threads which increasingly viewed humanity, and the whole cosmos, in a mechanised way. Philosopher Richard Tarnas writes:
The great irony suggested here of course is that it is just when the modern mind believes it has most fully purified itself from any anthropomorphic projections, when it actively construes the world as unconscious, mechanistic, and impersonal, it is just then that the world is most completely a selective construct of the human mind. The human mind has abstracted from the whole all conscious intelligence and purpose and meaning, and claimed these exclusively for itself, and then projected onto the world a machine. As Rupert Sheldrake has pointed out, this is the ultimate anthropomorphic projection: a man-made machine, something not in fact ever found in nature. From this perspective, it is the modern mind's own impersonal soul-lessness that has been projected from within onto the world - or, to be more precise, that has been projectively elicited from the world.11
Butler’s definition of Hegelian desire as the overcoming of external differences in order to render those differences as essentially aspects of the subject can be seen to be at play here in the mechanisation of reality. The soul-lessness would itself, according to the dialectic of consciousness, be the truth of humanity as it stands without an Other to ground it, which it then projects onto reality. Humanity’s own inauthenticity before itself returns as the truth of reality. From this perspective, the only truth that can be revealed about humanity is precisely the genetically mechanistic account of biological reductionism: i.e., humanity is merely the mechanism for the replication of immortal genes that govern all our behaviour – even the belief about our own freedom. The death of God, the projection of soul-lessness onto nature, and the attempt to reinstate a totalising mechanical gaze to satisfy the desire for recognition can all be seen to be of a piece with human subjectivity once the means for this development came into being through science.In 2000 Arthur C Clarke published a story about a near future in whichreality, past, present, and future,became accessible to everybody before a technological gaze. In a world before Twitter revelations, Google Earth, Wiki-Leaks,and Facebook updates, Clarke’s novelThe Light of Others Days seems to have been prescient in its predictions. What is revealed here is the multifarious nature of surveillance in the way it disseminates power, in that neither national law nor the State are free from exposure.
Without a metaphysical foundation it is likely that Artificial intelligence would have remained at the mythical level.It is significant thoughthat insofar as humanity secures for itself an ontological guarantee in the existence of a metaphysical God AI and technological surveillance finds its feet in a philosophical tradition that gradually replaced the reality with a machine. Following Hegel’s account of self-consciousness, Foucault’s analysis of surveillance, and Heidegger’s understanding of metaphysics, through modern surveillance and the development of AI we have the flowering of nihilism and the mechanical incarnation of the God who seemed to Nietzsche to be very much dead, but who watches us now from every conceivable angle.
This article has a dual purpose, the first of which is to show how the concept of crisis undergirds and engages with the notion of subjectivity in two thinkers, Søren Kierkegaard and Alain Badiou. Both men share similarities in how they conceive an individual becomes a subject; a conception, moreover, that radically limits those who do (Hallward 2003, p. xxv).For separate reasons, both have placed considerable emphasis on Christianity, and significant figures and events within it (Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac for Kierkegaard, and the resurrection preached by Paul for Badiou), as being emblematic of the process whereby one becomes a subject. Both men, moreover, constellate the human within a framework that hinges upon a decisive moment of crisis that has been noted by theologian, John Milbank to bring the one into the theoretical orbit of the other (Žižek and Milbank 2009, p. 156). How one responds to that which the crisis instantiates decides both how and to what the life one lives is orientated, whether it is a form of Marxism (Badiou), God (Kierkegaard), a science, art, or erotic love (Badiou 2001, p. 28). Indeed, both men situate the subject within similar (if not identical) frameworks: in Kierkegaard, we have the aesthetic, ethical, and religious stages of existence; in Badiou we have aesthetic (art), ethical (love, politics, and science) as modes in which the subject enunciates truth. For both men the crisis of decision takes the form of an external challenge to the individual, and a necessary internal response; for Kierkegaard in particular, responding affirmatively opens the way to a second crisis more crushing than the first. Badiou, acknowledges the similarity between the apostle Paul and Kierkegaard when he writes that for Kierkegaard,
the key to existence is none other than absolute choice [...] which sums up all the others, into the instance through which the subject comes back to himself so that he may communicate with God (Badiou, 2009, p. 425).
The second purpose for this article is itself two-fold, in that the thought of Badiou offers a different perspective on Kierkegaard’s analysis of what he called the ‘teleological suspension of the ethical’, whilst the latter in turn offers an advance on the contradictory aporia between religion and subjectivity in the former’s theory of the event. It is hoped that through bringing Badiou into an encounter with Kierkegaard an intervention or crisis can itself be achieved in the former’s thought, not to resolve the contradiction, but to bring it to light in such a way as to make it stand more aggressively as a contradiction. Kierkegaard in turn could indeed be criticised for disallowing all of Badiou’s four domains of truth, in that for him an individual is only truly a subject in relation to one’s Christian belief (Kierkegaard, 2000, p. 369). The point for Kierkegaard is, however, precisely the degree of uncertainty involved in that which the self chooses to cling; for Badiou, Christianity is too impossible, whereas for Kierkegaard, art, science, love, and politics are not impossible enough.
The choice of Kierkegaard's reading of the story of Abraham in this endeavour makes a better example than simply arguing the case for or against the resurrection espoused by Paul because it requires a truly horrifying suspension of the ethical in the face of evental-truth, whereas the resurrection merely requires a suspension of the believable. Primarily, the contradiction that is explored through this choice relates to Badiou’s paradoxical exclusion of Christianity (which, he never tires of reminding us, is a fable) from the domains of truth. Contemporary philosopher Slavoj Žižek comments:
[Badiou’s] supreme example of a truth-procedure [...] is a kind of religious interpellation. So no wonder that the best example, it’s religious! But paradoxically there is no place for religion. You know the irony is that the supreme example of the seminal structure of truth event that he tries to articulate, and it doesn’t count as a truth-event. (Delpech-Ramey 2004, p. 32).
Žižek is speaking here about Badiou’s reading of the apostle in his Saint Paul. For Badiou, the apostle, whom he describes as ‘a poet-thinker of the event’ (Badiou 2003, p. 2) represents a paradigmatic example of the theory of the subject he has expounded since at least the publication of Being and Event in 1988. According to Bruno Besana, the notion of the subject has been central to Badiou’s entire oeuvre, being that which is neither free of material determinants nor limited to them, but constituted by how it is within and in excess of a given material situation (Bartlett and Clement 2010, p. 40). In Being and Event, Badiou draws a distinction between everything that falls within an existing knowledge-economy (the various multiplicities of Being), and the event, which is that in a given situation or knowledge-economy which cannot be accounted for or has been refused consideration (Woodard 2005, p. 29). Peter Hallward refines Badiou’s project to the asking of a set of questions which his theory sets out to answer (2003, p. xxi):
How can something entirely new come into the world? What sorts of innovation fully invite and deserve universal affirmation? How can the consequences of such innovations be sustained in the face of the world’s inevitable indifference or resistance? And how can those who affirm these consequences continue their affirmation?
Coming from a given configuration of contingencies, the event cannot be understood from within that which brought it forth, requiring a wholly new interpretation, which is the truth of the event (2010, p. 41). Distinct from knowledge of things, truth for Badiou is essentially something that takes place and is located in the conditions of the time and place it emerges (Hallward, p. xxv). Consequently, the event cannot be known within an existing knowledge-economy either as an event or as truth because it constitutes a decisive break with that regime, appearing at best opaque and at worst as a non-event (Badiou and Žižek 2009, p. 18). In order for the truth to appear within a given contingency it is necessary for someone to recognise that an event has occurred; his or her tenacity in articulating this occurrence constitutes the coming to subjectivity of the individual in evental-truth.
For Badiou, the event, be it the political, artistic, amorous, or scientific, constitutes a restructuring of an individual’s subjectivity in fidelity towards that which has brought about the new situation. If it were possible to make a decision based on current knowledge then the event would not be an event, because what makes it an event cannot be known in advance from a given situation, which is why an unprovable event requires a personal decision, an interventionist break with the current possibilities of the known. The subject is thus defined as one who ‘decides an undecidable’ (Badiou 2005, p. 407). Objectively uncertain, the event imposes the need for a response on a given individual. The choice that the individual encounters in the universality of the event (for or against fidelity) is a crisis of a very personal variety because it is undecidable; indeed, thereafter, the choice determines the whole character of that individual’s encounter with the world. Once the event has been recognised, it not only enters into the existing regime of knowledge, but re-organises it, as in the case of Galileo, whose cosmological investigations created not just new knowledge but a new type of physics (2005, p. 38). In this sense, the event requires a new way of thinking and speaking because the truth of the event cannot be enunciated from within or according to the terms of the reigning orthodoxy (Bartlett and Clement, p. 43). Galileo is a good example here, because the new physics were not just subjectively true, but were, as with all events of truth, universal in scope. The potential for universality in the evental-truth is Badiou’s criteria for one becoming a subject. Hallward writes (2003, p. xxvi):
Individuals become subjects in Badiou’s sense of the word if and only if this [event], conceived as a new criterion for action, is further consistent with a properly universal principle – that is, only if it is an [event] with which everyone can in principle identify.
Moreover, the choice for or against fidelity is one which only that individual can make, being quite literally a life-defining crisis through which they leave the world of merely animal needs and desires and, it follows, become genuinely free in everything except the continued fidelity which grounds them (2003, p. xxxi). Through fidelity the new subject enters a new way of being in the world which Badiou calls ‘immortality’. The idea of the immortal for Badiou is the transcendence of the merely animal life which constitutes not just the physical in human existence, but also the petty struggles in which we find ourselves embroiled (be it struggles for work, status, the latest gadget, etc). He writes (Badiou 2001, p. 12):
The fact that in the end we all die, that only dust remains, in no way alters Man’s identity as immortal at the instant in which he affirms himself as someone who runs counter to the temptation of wanting-to-be-an-animal to which circumstances may expose him.
In this break the critical nature reveals itself in the event as that which cannot be sought or chosen in advance by the potential subject; rather, he writes, ‘[t]o enter into the composition of a subject of truth can only be something that happens to you’ (2001, p. 51). The choice (if it can be called that) comes in the decision to be faithful to the event of truth, not in choosing how the event will arrive. For Badiou, the apostle Paul’s decision to remain faithful in enunciation to the event of the resurrection as universally true (thus breaking with all previous modes of human being), made Paul an ideal example of a subject of evental-truth; however, the undoubted impossibility of resurrection means that there has been no event or truth in which to remain in fidelity: Paul is a fraud. He writes (2001, pp. 123, 124):
What is important about Paul is that we can read the texts he left behind, quite independently of the story of his personal grace, and of the way this grace itself did or did not depend on the resurrection. Paul’s thought is a thought of the event, a thought of the truth as consecutive to an event, a thought of fidelity, and also a certain thought of the universal, and what interested me was to examine it as such.
Thus the paradox of the primary example of a subject of evental-truth being excluded from any possible truth-domain on the grounds that resurrections are outside the realm of the possible. That Pauline Christianity should have a paradoxical relationship to Badiou’s own theory is not surprising, considering that Badiou himself recognises Christianity as ‘one of the possible names for the paradox of truths’ (Badiou, 2009, p. 428) The paradox here though is not in whether or not Badiou believes in resurrections (which of course are impossible), but in the two-fold contradiction in which Paul becomes for Badiou a supreme example of the subject of evental-truth, whilst the truth he espouses is impossibly undecidable. Badiou and Žižek both insist that it is because of the rise of a scientific knowledge-economy that Paul’s claim cannot be accepted (Žižek 1999, pp. 142, 143). This remains a valid point, but surely Paul knew as well as Badiou that the event he enunciated precisely did not fit any religious or philosophical discursive system, remaining literally impossible and unnameable in those terms (Badiou 2003, p. 46). As with himself, Žižek indicates that Badiou’s interest in Christianity is tactical (Žižek 2000, p. 2). Through openly acknowledging his theoretical political debt to Christianity Badiou keeps his friends close, and his enemies closer, thus warding-off the return of Christianity in repressed form. It is because, moreover, Badiou wants to preserve both the idea of scientific truth in an age of anti-philosophical relativism and the theoretical structure of truth, which he sees in Paul, that the apostle is both admired and discredited (2003, pp. 6, 108). What we have in Badiou’s appeal to the structure of Paul’s thought in rejection of the content, to borrow from Žižek much-repeated observation, is the theo-philosophical equivalent of the arid super-ego injunction to enjoy everything as much as possible, with the malignant content of that enjoyment removed. In Žižek’s terms, this is:
[C]offee without caffeine, cream without fat, beer without alcohol [...] the list goes on. (Žižek 2003).
In the case of Badiou, what we have is the supreme subject of a truth-event (Paul) with neither a truth (Christianity) nor an event (resurrection); we have, in effect, a Christianity deprived of its mythological (and thus malignant) content, and Paul the pedlar of a fable (Badiou 2003, p. 3). The celebrated resurrection of Paul for contemporary philosophy turns out to be as fantastical and empty of content as that of Christ’s. Indeed, by including Paul within his oeuvre, Badiou strategically negates in advance any comparisons between his thought and the apostle’s, permanently ensuring Paul’s exclusion from the domains of truth. As a consequence of the impossibility of Christ’s resurrection being recognised within any knowledge-economy, even Paul’s own (2003, p. 45), no amount of proofs or counter-proofs solve anything: it is literally Paul’s word against Badiou’s. Not being provable is in any case how Badiou understands the existence of an event within a given situation (Hallward, p. 115). An intervention is required to break the dead-lock of circular thinking; and so we turn to Kierkegaard, who, theologian Marcus Pound says, himself turned to the story of Abraham as a means of traumatising his contemporaries against their neurotic quest for objective certainties and religious guarantees (Pound 2007, pp. 97, 112). An intervention in this sense follows Badiou’s own use of the word, in which what is important or interesting is not the circular debates regarding whether an event has taken place, but rather the enunciation of it (Hallward, p. 125). In the case of Kierkegaard's Abraham, there is no event to speak of; there is only fidelity to a truth that makes impossible (and immoral) demands that explicitly contradict earlier pronouncements. The implications of drawing Badiou into closer orbit around Kierkegaard is for a challenging and deepening of the theological discussion regarding his work that he has welcomed, if not encouraged (Miller, 2005, pp. 41, 42).
The form of Badiou’s concept of immortality was mirrored in a pseudonymous text by Kierkegaard called The Concept of Anxiety (1844). Briefly, in this text man is a synthesis of the psyche and, like Badiou, the animal body; just as in Badiou, for whom the evental-truth raises man above merely physical and psychological needs and desires, man becomes fully human (or ‘immortal’) through the synthesis of the spirit to the psyche and the body. The spirit’s role in this synthesis is to interrupt the easy relationship between psyche and body that the purely psycho/somatic man enjoys, and introduces the empty anxiety of future possibility: in other words, freedom (2000, p. 140).Kierkegaard sums it up through saying that ‘anxiety is freedom’s actuality’, meaning that the possibilities opened up for man by having the freedom to choose (he knows not what) a potential future induces existential anxiety in the present (2000, p. 139). For Kierkegaard, as that in man which introduces existential anxiety of the sort only humans can experience, the spirit disrupts the merely physical/psychological relations of man to world and opens him up to the possibility of genuine freedom, for which he is made rightly anxious. This crisis of anxiety over existential freedom thus introduces temporality into the subject’s experience for Kierkegaard, by opening up the way for freedom to come into the present from a future possibility. Through openness in the present to both seizing and being seized by a future unimaginable possibility, freedom is able to be approached as something not characterised by slavish adherence to objective certainties, but rather one that means something for the individual concerned. The psychosomatic unity now becomes a moment in the unfolding of freedom’s possibility, thus making room for temporality of a different order for the human, and, through this unfolding of freedom’s possibilities, this psychosomatic unity becomes genuinely human (2000, p. 140).Equally, for Badiou, rather than an indefinite physical existence, immortality is a fidelity to the event, the leaving behind of merely animal concerns (however sophisticated), and the assumption of full human subjectivity. In this sense, just as the mortal becomes immortal for Badiou through evental-fidelity, for Kierkegaard, the anxiety brought about by the possibility of freedom introduces temporality into human experience through the synthesis with spirit.In this synthesis the present and the eternal touch each other allowing for the temporal as future possibility to come into existence.The eternal, as with Badiou’s ‘immortality’, is not here defined by a quantitatively infinite duration, but rather with an external God-like relation to time.Kierkegaard (2000, p. 152) puts it thus,
The moment is that ambiguity in which time and the eternal touch each other, and with this the concept of temporality is posited, whereby time constantly intersects eternity and eternity constantly pervades time.
At this point the charge could be brought against both philosophers that this definition of truth appears individualistic to the point of solipsism. For Badiou, though, the four paradigms to which he refers the evental-truth all include a social dimension in the outworking of that which seizes the artist, the politician, the scientist, or the lover. Likewise, for Kierkegaard, the subjectivity of truth does not collapse within itself, as though the subject were capable of remaining faithful to a reality of their own private imagining. The necessarily created finitude of man for Kierkegaard always mitigates against any charge of solipsism. Thus he is not proposing that the individual creates that to which he remains faithful, but is instead subject to it, being seized as much as seizing.
From this perspective, moral dilemmas are no substitute for the decision of whether or not to cling, or to continue clinging, to that which has seized one as a truth-event and which constitutes the defining moment of one’s life. The conclusion of which, is that it is better to cling to that which has come upon one as a crisis of evental-truth than it is to worry about the universal ethical concerns of society. For Badiou, one is either true to that by which one has been seized, or one is not in a relation to the truth at all; there can be no relation to truth in general. Once more, as will be discussed below, the shadow of Kierkegaard goes before Badiou.
Abraham: Monster Or Saint?
In his Concluding Unscientific Postscript (1846), Kierkegaard works through his idea that any truth which is merely the correspondence of mind with its object is the worst kind of truth: a truth that is boring because it is true only in an objective sense. Who would die, for example, to defend the truth that 1 + 1 = 2? ‘In a mathematical proposition [...], the objectivity is given [as certain], but therefore its truth is also an indifferent truth’ (2000, p. 207). The more objectively certain we can be about a truth, the less personal stake such a truth can claim for itself. Only that which is grasped subjectively as an internal truth in which the individual has a personal stake, as with Badiou’s ‘event’, is a truth for Kierkegaard worthy of the name. Thus, to stake one’s life on what does not give certainty, security, and guarantee in an objective sense is the ‘highest truth’. He writes (2000, p. 207):
An objective uncertainty, held fast through appropriation with the most passionate inwardness, is the truth, the highest truth there is for an existing person.
To stake one’s life, therefore, on that which can be objectively guaranteed is to not stake one’s life at all; it is merely to be in possession of the existential version of a receipt. For Kierkegaard, one can be entirely correct, but still be in untruth, because the point is to take the risk even of being wrong in order to emerge as a subject of truth. The point is that such a truth is inherently risky, because one’s whole subjective orientation is directed towards that which cannot be objectively verified, but can only be grasped in and as that which is uncertain.
The angel intervening in the Sacrifice of Isaac
If this did not seem crisis-ridden enough, in an earlier pseudonymous text, Fear and Trembling, (1843) Kierkegaard, pushed the logic of this subjective, evental-truth to what looks like its murderous conclusion. As with Badiou’s assertion of evental-truth over the demands of a universalising ethic, Kierkegaard uses the example of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis to illustrate the kind of crisis one would expect from the subjectivity he espouses; he calls it the ‘teleological suspension of the ethical,’ by which he means the paradoxical rising of the singular individual above the demands of universal ethics without actually transgressing them (2000, p. 99). The story of Abraham had received philosophical treatment forty-five years earlier when Immanuel Kant insisted that Abraham, on the grounds of a rationally deduced morality should have declined to obey the (supposedly) divine voice, replying:
“That I ought not to kill my good son is quite certain. But that you, this apparition, are God – of that I am not certain [...].” (Kant 1996, p. 283).
The moral horror with which Kant views the story is not lost on Kierkegaard. Yet, it is precisely this disjuncture between the ethical duty of care for one’s son and obedience to God which propels the tension of the story; he writes (Kierkegaard 1983, p. 112), ‘I cannot understand Abraham – I can only admire him.’ More recently, the philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas, not surprisingly, recognised the possibility in Kierkegaard’s reading of the story to transcend the ethical through fidelity to the objectively uncertain (i.e. religious belief) and justify violence. He writes (Lévinas 1996, p. 72):
Harshness and aggressivity in thought [...] henceforth justify this violence and terrorism. It is not just a question of literary form. Violence emerges in Kierkegaard at the precise moment when, moving beyond the esthetic stage, existence can no longer limit itself to what it takes to be an ethical stage and enters the religious one, the domain of belief.
Kierkegaard, in this respect, is closer to Badiou than Lévinas, for whom the latter’s ethics precludes the possibility of anything breaking with the hegemony of that which is ethically certain within a given situation (Woodard, p. 35). Summing up the central dilemma, Ronald Green (Hannay and Marino 1998, p. 263) writes:
Fear and Trembling [...] produces a jarring inconsistency. [It] seems to hold up as exemplary and somehow worthy of imitation a kind of conduct that we cannot possibly encourage, defend, or understand in terms of general moral values.
As with Kant, Kierkegaard acknowledges that the ethical is universal in its claims, whereas the individual is singular; unlike Kant, he sees faith as the reversal of this order, placing the commands of ethics below his fidelity to God. From Badiou’s perspective this means that the truth by which Abraham has been seized, and which he in turn seizes, calls for him to sacrifice the son who, not incidentally, had originally come to him as a result of his prior fidelity to this truth. In Kierkegaard’s case this truth refers to the God of the Bible; for Badiou, by contrast, the religious category of evental-truth is absent. For him, while being able to see the form that the event of truth took in the writings of Paul, the suspicion remains that Christianity, or religious thinking in general, could become a means of reintroducing abstract universal ethical truths through the backdoor, so to speak. God becomes, in this case, not so much an instantiation of evental-truth as a guarantor of bourgeois morality. Badiou thus dismisses any attempt by Lévinas, to insinuate religion back into philosophical discourse, under the cover of and via investigations into the phenomenology of otherness. He writes (2001, p. 22):
The Other, as he appears to me in the order of the finite, must be the epiphany of a properly infinite distance to the other, the traversal of which is the originary ethical experience.
This means that in order to be intelligible, ethics requires that the Other be in some sense carried by a principle of alterity which transcends mere finite experience. Lévinas calls this principle the ‘Altogether-Other’, and it is quite obviously the ethical name for God.
For Badiou, Lévinas’ attempt to found an ethics on the inter-relationship between self and other, a relationship which is grounded upon an absolute Other (God), merely restates the idea in philosophically sophisticated language of the impossibility of moral goodness without a guarantee provided by the divine. It amounts to saying, he writes, that ‘[t]here can be no ethics without God the ineffable’ (2001, p. 22). Such philosophy, according to Badiou, is not philosophy, but has, rather, been ‘annulled by theology’ that is not so much a theology as an excuse to find a stable ground for ethics (2001, p. 23). As a potential category of truth religion thus occupies a highly unstable space within Badiou’s thought, bearing the formal characteristics of an event as epitomised by St Paul, whilst ostensibly moving in the opposite direction back towards an ethics of conventional morality. In drawing Kierkegaard close to Badiou one can see an opposite effect occurring. The point here, though, is not to argue for or against either Badiou or Lévinas, and certainly not for the inclusion of religion as a guarantor of universal ethics of society within the former’s categories of evental-truth. In this, no doubt, Kierkegaard and Badiou would be in complete agreement, insofar as any attempt to secure for ethics a hook in objective certainty, religious or otherwise, misses the movement that the event of truth takes within the coming to humanity of the one caught up in the crisis of it. The point here, rather, is to peel back the layers of the original crisis which precipitates the event of truth for the subject in Badiou, to an illumination of that which is a crisis for the original crisis, and for which Kierkegaard’s study of Abraham is the best example. What this means for Kierkegaard is that Abraham’s continued fidelity to the uncertain event of faith placed the subject (himself) of that event necessarily in doubt; e.g. is Abraham righteous in his faithfulness (and justified thereby) or is he simply a moral monster? It is within what Kierkegaard described as the ‘teleological suspension of the ethical’ that can here be seen a step beyond the avowedly a-religious model of evental-truth espoused by Badiou; not as a step towards a spurious objective certainty but towards a fidelity which is itself a crisis of the first order. The use of bringing Kierkegaard into a discussion of Badiou’s notion of evental-truth becomes clearer, in that the former is able to both confirm the latter’s position whilst also radicalising it and allowing for that which is the exemplar of an event to be readmitted without slipping an ethics of religious certitude into the bargain.
The crisis for Abraham consists, then, not in making the initial leap into the uncertain subjective truth to which he adheres (and for which he had shown his fidelity by submitting to the call to leave Mesopotamia, a name change, and circumcision), but in his continual submission to such a truth in the teeth of universally valid ethical demands that rightly condemn infanticide. Kierkegaard is right to point out here that for Abraham the temptation is not to some morally dubious perversion, but rather a temptation to the ethical itself, a temptation to not murder his son in the face of the demands of that which constitutes his evental-truth (2000, p. 100). The religious, or however one wants to frame that which has become the truth of Abraham, can hardly here be seen to be supporting an objectively certain ethics in the model of, say, the Kantian Categorical Imperative to make one’s actions universally valid for all people at all times (Kant 1976, p. 67).
In Badiou’s terms, by orientating himself in fidelity towards the evental-truth, Abraham faces this second crisis when that truth brazenly conflicts with universally valid ethical demands. By staking his life in fidelity to the evental-truth that had seized him, Abraham not only placed his trust in that which was objectively uncertain (God), but in that which was in direct opposition to the objectively valid demand that a father must not murder his son: his fidelity literally knew no bounds, neither good nor evil. In order to stay true, to remain a human subject of the kind Badiou describes, Abraham faced the soul-destroying possibility that this event, this God, to whom he is faithful may be either non-existent, mad or evil. Abraham’s situation represents an extreme form of the ‘personal crisis’ which beset people from time to time. In this case, the crisis does not consist so much in a transition from one sense of personhood to another (as in, for example, ‘coming out’ narratives), but rather in clinging to that which for him by constituting his horizon of truth made him who he was. Insofar as fidelity to the original event constitutes the horizon of possible subjectivity, freedom, and being ‘immortal’ the crisis encountered by Abraham consisted in being faithful to the point at which that very subjectivity, freedom and ‘immortality’ themselves are at stake. This is the chief crisis to which this essay has been aiming, the crisis of the possibility in Kierkegaard of subjective annihilation through that which has been opened up by the evental-truth described by Badiou. Through entering into fidelity Abraham attains to what Kierkegaard (2000, p. 101) describes as the
teleological suspension of the ethical. As the single individual he became higher than the universal. This is the paradox that cannot be mediated. [...] If this is not Abraham’s situation, then Abraham is not even a tragic hero but a murderer.
The stakes, indeed, are high, and in one sense, then, Abraham gets off lightly in his crisis from faith for faith because God provides a ram for the sacrifice, allowing Isaac to live. In another sense there is very little to distinguish Abraham from a murderer except his fidelity to a truth-event which posits the teleological suspension of the ethical described by Kierkegaard. The problem that Lévinas might rightly have with both the believer Kierkegaard and the atheist Badiou is that they posit the potentially terrifying possibility of a good beyond ethics, of a good not grounded in morality (conventional or otherwise) but still requiring fidelity in the absence of certainty. In this regard, Badiou also exposes the a-morality made explicit in Paul’s writings through his fidelity to the event of the resurrection (Badiou 2003, p. 101). We do not have here the certainty of religious fundamentalism (which is simply the degeneration of faith to the level of an imagined objective guarantee), but the uncertainty of fidelity; and this fidelity, as Badiou bears witness to, is as much a potential danger for each of his four secular categories as it is in the case of Abraham’s religion. This of course highlights the necessarily ambiguous nature of that which Badiou has attempted to illustrate through his idea of the event. That is, that where fidelity itself is raised to the level of the prime good, where fidelity defines that which is good, the result may well look to those under the sway of social morality as either unambiguously good or unambiguously evil: only time (which itself is opened up by this event) will tell. In the story of Abraham this was circumnavigated through the displacement of Isaac on the altar by a ram provided at the last moment (though Abraham was given no assurance that this would be so). This further underlines the point made by Badiou that the truth of such events are not necessarily known either before or during their occurrence, but rather awaken retroactively in the hole that is punched by them in the prevailing knowledge-economy (Badiou 2001, p. 43). This ambiguity is that which Lévinas justly fears, and Kierkegaard acknowledges so much when he states that, contrary to the idea that actuality is heavy and possibility light, ‘possibility is the weightiest of all categories. It is true that we often hear the opposite stated [...]’ (2000, p. 154). He continues:
[I]n possibility all things are equally possible, and whoever has truly been brought up by possibility has grasped the terrible as well as the joyful. So when such a person graduates from the school of possibility, and he knows better than a child knows his ABCs that he can demand absolutely nothing from life and that the terrible, perdition and annihilation live next door to every man [...].
What we have then is a situation in which for Lévinas ethics, being founded upon an absolute Other, is not saved from being in thrall to socially recognised morality; indeed, the absolute Other acts to guarantee the continued reign of such an ethical system. Badiou recognises this and rightly condemns Lévinas’ position as a philosophy infiltrated by a form of thinly disguised theo-ethics. For Kierkegaard, however, if one reads him following Badiou’s theory of the event, the absolute Other by no means guarantees the realm of ethics, but instead monstrously subverts that system by making ethical behaviour itself a temptation to be resisted. The monstrosity of Kierkegaard’s God is a monstrosity in the Kantian sense of the mathematically sublime, as being the inability of the imagination to apprehend that which confronts it in the demands it makes upon the fidelity of one such as Abraham to those demands. Kierkegaard would seem to agree with both Lévinas and Kant when he points out the inherent dangers of this as being the potentially terrible perdition of the one who ‘graduates from the school of possibility.’ Freedom, then, as the possibility of future potentiality both allows for the coming-to-be of who or what we are, and draws that very same fidelity-orientated subjectivity into the orbit of the philosophical/ethical version of a black hole, the centre of which provides no objective certainty. The problem with Badiou’s exclusion of Christianity from the domains of truth is not that he doesn’t believe in God, but that he too reasonably draws back from the empty abyss marked by the absence of God. By rejecting the religious category in evental-truth he makes his philosophy safe from this abyss in a way that Kierkegaard was manifestly not afraid to do.
In fidelity to the truth-event the subject is left in radical uncertainty, which only retrospectively reveals itself as being what it is. Clearly, what is not being argued for here is the idea that the principle of the event can be applied to determine any kind of socially recognised ethics, since what then would distinguish the labour of a Ghandi from the labour of a Hitler except the judgement of historians? Indeed, to argue for an ethics based on the model provided by either Kierkegaard or Badiou would be inherently antithetical to that model since any event or choice cannot be forced. One can argue that Kierkegaard both provides a way out of the theo-ethics of bourgeois morality apparently espoused by Lévinas, and beyond the contradictions of Badiou, who by tearing evental form from content in a figure like Paul effectively turns wine into water (2000, p. 95). That such a position opens the subject to terrifying possibilities is par for the course for Kierkegaard for whom certainty is no basis on which to stake one’s life.
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