The introduction poses the fundamental questions right away: What is going on? Of what are we the half-fascinated, half-devastated witnesses? The continuation, at all costs, of a weary world? A salutary crisis of that world, racked by its victorious expansion? The end of that world?
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Matthew S. Translated by Gregory Elliott. London: Verso, A man sets himself on fire in Tunisia. His self-immolation sparks a wildfire that transforms the Middle East and the world. What just happened? How are we to think and talk about these days of rage and hope, these potentially epoch-defining events? News cycles, with their commitment to reducing the most important events to little more than banal commodities, provide little help in the matter.
Academics too often fail us, offering theoretical and methodological devotion at the expense of a commitment to the realities of emergent resistance. French philosopher Alain Badiou proves an exception, bringing equal parts rage and insight to his thinking of the events transforming our world. In The Rebirth of History, Badiou provides a provocative and illuminating engagement with the events of the Arab Spring while also offering an accessible and relatively concise introduction to his larger political and philosophical project.
In it, Badiou steps away from his more commonly used anecdotes—particularly that of May In his typically provocative, polemical, and often humorous style, Badiou seizes his opportunity to dress his theoretical commitments in new clothes and in the process, unwittingly, highlights various links to the field of rhetoric and the material implications of his most abstract theorizations. Events are foundational breaks with the repetition and order of the world.
They affirm profound political change and the unfolding of a [End Page ] new potential course of action. The event is something that appears but immediately disappears, supplementing the world with a new way of thinking and acting. The early twenty-first century is a time of great potential in this regard. The increase in riots around the world, both ones that are highly visible and ones that are relatively invisible, constitutes a phenomenon that does not properly have a name in the existing order of the world.
This phenomenon lacks a name because the current configuration of epistemology fails to recognize its potential. In most cases, Badiou discusses events in abstract theoretical terms ; ; ba; ba; a; , depending heavily on his mathematical take regarding ontology.
At other times the event is applied specifically to a given truth process or field of possible evental emergence ; or case study as in the Rebirth of History and Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism.
Herein lies the value of The Rebirth of History: its ability to link the event to action and meaning in more tangible and digestible ways by using contemporary objects of analysis. In The Rebirth of History, Badiou posits the event in relationship to three types of riot: immanent, latent, and, most importantly to this text, historical. Each type of riot is discussed in terms of its potential to produce new political order and lasting material change. By articulating the event in relationship to riots that have immediate resonance, Badiou demonstrates how actions, resistance, and social unrest can produce the conditions of an event, extrapolating the relationship between communicative or rhetorical practice and his brand of thinking about change.
His undeniable Marxism is pronounced, but he distances himself from some of his Marxist contemporaries, such as Antonio Negri. In other words, communism is the organized, proper name of the disruption of the structures, assumptions, and dynamics that create the world as it is see Badiou Furthermore, capitalism is, in short, the name for the world as it is. It is the condition of our world, what dominates ideas and practices.
Various mutations of capitalism have emerged that [End Page ] have led some to identify a postmodern capitalism. Postmodern capitalism, for Badiou, can be summed up as the contention that capitalism is ever changing, ever progressing, and potentially changing and progressing in ways that create spaces for new ways of living and distributing power.
In other words, our time is marked by the same principles of governance and action that Marx foretold. The Rebirth of History demonstrates how riots, given the right circumstances, can constitute a break in the system and lead to the subsequent organization of alternative ways of being.
Chapters 2 and 3 outline immanent riots and latent riots, respectively. This allows the state to reinforce police authority and its own criminal justice system. In The Rebirth of History, Badiou is concerned with the double standards of justice and leniency that manifest themselves in response to riots as criminal acts and that simultaneously perpetuate a particular configuration of power.
This type of riot, which can give birth [End Page ] to a historical riot, has three important qualities: they are spearheaded by the youth of a given population, take place in the territory inhabited and controlled by those who are rioting, and do not distinguish the subject types they invite to rebel, because rebellion is the sole defining characteristic of the subject type involved.
This creates latency in unrest that runs parallel across various contexts, creating the conditions under which immediate riots can be disseminated without the local character of such acts having to be sacrificed. Latent riots are those acts of peaceful unrest that signal a novel form of unity among marginalized groups, traversing conventional borders and seemingly distinct populations. In other words, latent riots are the quiet conditions of possibility that have not yet overtly manifested as unrest, linking disparate groups.
The primary characteristic of a historical riot is the transition from the undirected nihilism of the immediate riot to what Badiou calls prepolitical conditions that create the grounds for new ways of being or acting as a subject to emerge.
Riots no longer rely on reactionary localization but control an enduring, secure site of protest and reappropriate that site and its significant symbols.
These protests did not spread from a central location but derived, by imitation, from latent discontent across a number of significant cities and sites, demonstrating an analogous dissatisfaction with the world in its current state. For Badiou, this constitutes the rebirth of history because historical riots introduce a new sequence of possibility into an otherwise redundant cycle of political and social conditions. Thus, Badiou dubs the historical riot as an intervallic period, that period during which an alternative and revolutionary political character has been defined but has yet to take a formalized structure.
What is still lacking is the powerful synthesizing hypothesis that move riots from the idea and its immanent manifestation of new political subjects to organized politics, that is, novel, creative, organized, and structured ways of distributing power.
It is important to realize that the achievement of a historical riot does not guarantee that political action or political organization will follow. The leap to such a different, alternative form of political thought is difficult.
Most riots are considered failures in their aftermath because it is easy to return to the already established, former structures and thus to the very relationships the riots resisted. Western countries and media outlets use the dogmatic categories of good and bad riots as a way of judging resistance under standards against which the resistance is opposed, thus encouraging a falling in line of rioters and observers. Good riots happen at a distance, away from the Western world.
They are framed as eruptions of desire for a Western lifestyle rather than an act of dissent against its influence. Bad riots are deemed irrational and are suppressed quickly because they rise up within overt Western configurations of power and thus violate the sensibilities that normalize and valorize that system.
The value of the riot is its ability to manifest the ability to overcome such obstacles. Events and what they produce are not mere abstract desires to change; they are primarily material phenomena. Events create an opening for the emergence of what Badiou calls truth, that which is manifest in the immediate and productive being of the people. That is, Badiou presents truth as the process by which the idea the kernels of aforementioned organizing principles emerges and provides a new configuration of contingency.
This configuration is derived from the universal imperative that is always present in localized resistance. The assumption here is that universals exist at the core of all ideological, political, or social programs.
This new material manifestation of existence replaces inexistence. Such was the case in Tahrir Square when Egyptians demanded political existence and seized control of Egyptian political identity on their own terms.
As the inexistent comes to exist, the arrangement of power and possibility, at least temporarily, is altered and any program that emerges from it may manifest this new arrangement. To deny a program its core imperative is to declaw it in the material and ideological struggle it must take part in. This is imperative if a [End Page ] riot is to enact long-term, meaningful change rather than taking part in the repetition of world as it is.
The emergence of existence from inexistence depends on two important, observable phenomena, both of which could be considered rhetorical. First, protestors must determine the meaning of a given site and important artifacts. Second, the minority in the street must undeniably come to represent an intense manifestation of the larger population and its discontents. This creates what Badiou calls a popular dictatorship.
This is accomplished through the construction of a will that is manifest directly in the site and that transgresses the given order of the world.
The historical riots that may arise from such transgressions create the potential for a wide and organized political movement against the existing order, but do not—obviously—guarantee it. Ultimately, the emergence of a new political order is the logical extension of a historical riot.
Three conditions must be satisfied for a historical riot to create the conditions for sustained political organization: the population must be contracted into a representative form of unrest, that unrest must be intensified in the form of political action, and a specific site and its transformation must be emphasized. If political organization emerges from an event, it faces the difficult imperative of remaining a student of this material process of the event itself.
Failure to do so results in the betrayal of the creative character that ignited the movement and prevents politics from maintaining its novel character. Truly political organizations remain loyal to the material process that breaks with the world as it is and with its order. In this way it becomes a subject in the Badiouian sense of the word. The political organization is a subject of the event insofar as it maintains this mediation through its fidelity to the material emergence of a truth.
After articulating the material process of the political organization as it emerges from an event, Badiou clarifies the role of identity and existence as imperatives to disruption. One of the primary mechanisms by which the state and the various mechanisms of global capitalism determine degrees of [End Page ] existence is the process of naming. Naming creates ideals by normalizing bonds between names and characteristics. Justice, for Badiou, is the eradication of separating names as relevant and effective terms.
By eradicating them the political burden is placed squarely on individual citizens to demonstrate their own political and social relevance and commitments. To put it another way, political truth takes from the state the function of determining existence and places it in the hands of subjects themselves; political organizations formalize the results over time. This function of political truth is vital in The Rebirth of History. In the closing pages of the chapter, Badiou identifies an important assumption that lies behind his work: the passion for the universal, the ability to manifest existence and shake the chains of separating names and other mechanisms that create inexistence, is a passion shared by most people.
For Badiou, a desire for justice is a desire for a different unfolding of the world. This requires the emergence of a universal from localization, a universal that demands a new way of being and thinking in the world. Historical riots, insofar as they are events that could potentially produce political organizations, must be affirmative.
They shift from the negative critique of the immediate riot to the affirmative creative politics necessary for sustained resistance to the world as it is. Their mode of production is material and demonstrates that what is visible or knowable in a given context should not be taken at face value.
The Rebirth of History [End Page ] closes with two popular press articles written by Badiou on the subject of resistance, the first of which deals explicitly with Egypt and the second of which addresses the legitimacy and illegitimacy of leaders in the contemporary world.
While Badiou hedges his bets with The Rebirth of History by publishing the book so quickly after the uprisings in question and thus limits his own ability to predict the political success of the riots, I believe there are at least three specific elements, of the theoretical framework Badiou utilizes that rhetorical scholars may consider drawing on and perhaps adding to.
How does the site help condense the concerns of populations into a minority of active rioters? What are the methods by which protestors can and do reconstitute the meaning of a site? What makes such reconstitution so powerful? The idea of the site and localization has been and should remain an important consideration for rhetorical scholars, and these questions may press the field in inventive directions.
Universality, here, is a theoretical imperative. The universal or generic should not be reduced to a utopian notion but should be understood as the proper name of that which is productive and radical in a given location. For rhetoricians the question becomes how we can use this concept of the universal or generic and the local to complicate and inform our treatment of local political resistance.
Alain Badiou; The Rebirth of History | Times of Riots and Uprisings
Every soi disant radical intellectual feels compelled, it seems, to answer the riddle they hear posed by the riots of the present, in Bahrain or Asturias, Chile or Britain: Why now? Why here? Why riot? These answers generally come in a few simple varieties.
The Rebirth of History
The book proved to be an unexpected hit and confirmed that Badiou has a rare talent among philosophers for making accessible political interventions in wider society. The Rebirth of History surveys the Arab revolutions, the riots in England last August, the Spanish indignados movement and much more. Badiou sees a common theme connecting all of them - a long overdue return of the masses onto the stage of history, and the stirrings of a global revolt against a criminal and murderous ruling class. Badiou also attributes a philosophical significance to these uprisings. These revolutionary breaks are what Badiou calls "events" - and was full of them. The book starts in a somewhat unusual place, analysing the youth riots in London and other English cities that followed the police slaying of Mark Duggan in Tottenham. In a refreshing contrast to the vast majority of liberal commentary, Badiou reads the riots as a political revolt by young people against a violent and racist police force.
The Rebirth of History: Times of Riots and Uprisings
Matthew S. Translated by Gregory Elliott. London: Verso, A man sets himself on fire in Tunisia. His self-immolation sparks a wildfire that transforms the Middle East and the world. What just happened? How are we to think and talk about these days of rage and hope, these potentially epoch-defining events?