Thursday, October 25, 2007

Charles Bernstein, Introduction

Bernstein’s three collections of poetics statements and contributions to the important collection The L=A=N=G… Book have set the agenda for a contemporary, postmodern, experimental aesthetic

His comments on absorptive poetics have set the standard for a postmodern poetics developed from the modernist conception of estrangement to be found in Russian Formalism and of course then picked up on by Brecht amongst others.

Bernstein on absorption:
“By absorption I mean engrossing, engulfing
completely, engaging, arresting attention, reverie...:
belief, conviction, silence.
Impermeability suggests artifice, boredom,
exaggeration, attention scattering, distraction,
digression, interruptive, transgressive,
undecorous, anticonventional, unintegrated, fractured,
fragmented...: skepticism
doubt, noise, resistance “ (Charles Bernstein, A Poetics Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992) 29.

Bernstein is committed to poetry in all its possible manifestations and several impossible

Through the Buffalo Electronic Poetry Centre he is advocate of electronic poetics

Through his theoretical work he has advocated voice-based, performative work

In the variety of his collections he explores all areas of page-based work

Through his involvement with PennSounds he is also an archivist of performed verse for the future

"Thank you for saying thank you" (Girly Man)

Postmodernism has been typified by an incredulity towards metanarratives which, in Language poetry means the cultural norms of language, art and poetry

In “Thank You...” Bernstein lists these presuppositions about what a poet should do

At the same time the poem is a commentary on the poem which is (permanently) absent from the collection

Through his ironic celebration of free-verse, expressive poetics he of course gives us a primer in all that is limiting about such mainstream poetics and, by negation, what a postmodern experimentalism should be concerned with:

Accessibility through linguistic transparency vs obscurity, difficulty, alienation techniques

Anti-intellectualism in favour of emotional expression

Stability of the subject who speaks (lyrical ego) with the intention to communicate authentically undermined by radical questioning of subjectivity to be found across post-structural and psychoanalytical thought

Shared values of humanism, subsequently questioned and negated say in the debates between Lyotard and Derrida on the one hand, Habermas and Rorty on the other

The importance of craft (as if poetry were indeed a badly drawn bed cf Plato's Republic Bk X)

Direct communication with an implied readership that will forgive racism in great art (no comment needed)

It says what it is, it is real. The desire for reality at the expense of the real being, in some measure, the definition of the age of the modern reformation as Badiou calls it which we live through today. Denial of the real, in forms that pathetically mime it. Maybe Plato was right, certainly most poets ought to be expelled from the city.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Charles Bernstein and Language Poetics

Have been teaching Bernstein for some years now and last year included him on my MA in Contemporary Literature and Culture at Brunel University, West London. Thought I would post these notes as a general introduction to Charles' work. This begins in a very rudimentary style desgined for all kinds of students who have not encountered Bernstein of Language poetries before.

1. Context: Introduction to Language poetics

So-called Language poetry emerged in 70s West and East Coast USA around journal This and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E

I was ostensibly reacting to the predominant free verse, confessional mode of English language poetry to be found across the US and UK poetry scenes

As a group it looked to build on the formally innovative and socially concerned poetry of American modernism

Picking up on the postmodern innovations of New York School poetry, the groups however had a political edge

Founder poet Bon Perelman defines the Language programme as the following:

“breaking the automatism of the poetic “I” and its naturalized voice; foregrounding textuality and formal devices; using or alluding to Marxist or poststructuralist theory in order to be open to the present and to critique change” (Perelman, The Marginalization of Poetry 13)
An early central theoretical concern of language poets was: the materiality of the signifier, that language is physical material not just a medium to express ideas or describe the world “out there”

Additionally that language is subject to the material conditions of everyday life like any other object in capitalism, thus assumptions about writing are all ideological in origin.

Their confrontational, often unreadable, poetry tries to demonstrate the materiality of the signifier and undermine the ideologies of naturalised signification.

Bernstein is the leading voice of this project which Watten has encapsulated in his comments on the two founding journals of the movement, This and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E.
The deictic This refers to things quiddity, there this-ness, namely for Marxist inflected aesthetics their ideological context.
In contrast the awkward articulation of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E reveals the materiality of all language, or that it is made up of phonetic and graphematic matter.
Taken together these two positions encapsulate all that is enduring, controversial and aporetic as regards the conception of the materiality of the signifier.

Friday, October 19, 2007

PJ Harvey, White Chalk

Grow grow grow

wet toes aligned at the edge of a void
as clams
like limpets
at the rocktide's lapline

jump and make something
project out into what was not the void
until you happened and
like a waveretreat
cleaved that into empty

the hallway didn't seem so empty until we inherited this hideous armoire
an impassable thouroughfare become itself a placeless place
my kids are stranded in the lounge
we cringe and scrape the stairway's foot
stamped once in anger
now planted
then blooming

bravery comes in the lingering copse of the faithful

not to break nor fashion but
hold on there on that upturned hull
skyborne rescue is not for the likes of us

rather we stubborn we clutch
to a boat's expanding shell
while the swell below becomes continuum

no, it isn't in the throw
nor in the wreck as such
but how the swell
begins to build
to gather rise and fill
beneath our rafting doggedness
to rise, to fill and then
to grow,
grow and grow.

From "lines out of space"

fast (food) thoughts

burgerking has suffered a complete makeover fu-
cking horrible it is but then it must be hard to come second in
late monopoly capitalism as they call it now to us lot or
sometimes yes I call it globalisation but no do not know what that actually
means ends was so simple, supply the demand but in BK at KX what
exactly is the demand for fake lichtensteins on the walls? oh where is the new real? to
add insult to injury or perhaps spicen [sic.] up this hyper-real
salsa, that by the way is when the attractions of reality very
real though they are are outstripped by those re-presented by art or the
media with chilli added , the latest burger is the Mexican big spicy which not only is-
n’t Mexican (burgers aren’t) but you have to specify that you want it regular (a beat)
big regular! or big large that is an option too and it is all about that isn’t it options I

mean? and outside you can buy crack&sex fairly easily which is also
tempting but one must resist because I am tired of thinking about it supply
and demand I mean and how drugs and prostitution are indeed rather old-
fashioned in a quaint way in that they are really giving you something that you
want for which you have to pay and are probably dependant on in some way the
way we all used to be dependant on flour, milk and eggs—so Marxists thought, (happy days) pancake economics they called it but the late eighties flipped that over I
guess what I am getting at is how fucking difficult it is

these days
to stop for a quick bite
during lent
without having to work it all out I
mean the whole rotten system dammit!

but hey bubba, that’s modern life for you and
off he went, or she, or didn’t go, into the sordid city night, or country gloom, actually it was only late afternoon in the suburbs’ time of hopelessness and tedium I quite like it actually not everything is such a big deal you know if you don’t think about it and you can’t always be thinking about it then you can be like the mouse B. and I saw last night on the tube got half way along the platform actually nearly to my Italian shoes before a newspaper rattle startled it and it

scarpered actually

real events are scary like that un-
real imaginings of a desire-sick brain, in con-
trast are now fairly easy to assimilate under the general rubric don’t you find?
what I mean is that no one cares much about being sick in that 20thc European way
stained crack pipes and orgies where are thee now that we have a need for thee?
by the way I forgot to say, part one is over, will you wait for part two or would you like to go get a drink or something?
I know a really good thai/fusion place (a beat) and they do kareoke in the

mouse basement

Thursday, October 18, 2007


To be a great writer one must first learn to be a bad writer and never become a good writer. To be a great writer one must first learn to be a bad writer and never become a good writer. To be a great writer one must first learn to be a bad writer and never become a good writer. To be a great writer one must first learn to be a bad writer and never become a good writer. To be a great writer one must first learn to be a bad writer and never become a good writer. To be a great writer one must first learn to be a bad writer and never become a good writer. To be a great writer one must first learn to be a bad writer and never become a good writer. To be a great writer one must first learn to be a bad writer and never become a good writer.

Badiou on Deleuze

These are my notes on Badiou's book Deleuze: The Clamour of Being. They are more detailed than I thought and supplement the very popular notes I already have here on Deleuze.

Badiou, Alain. Deleuze: The Clamour of Being. Trans. Louise Burchill. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000

there are two paradigms that govern the manner in which the multiple is thought…the “vital” (or “animal”) paradigm of open multiplicities…/ and the mathematical paradigm of sets, which can also be qualified as “stellar” in Mallarmé’s sense of the word (Badiou, Deleuze 3-4).

· his analysis of Deleuze in the opening pages is designed to re-situate his thought in relation to the traditional metaphysic of the one, expressly so as to undermine the belief that Deleuze’s work is “devoted to the inexhaustible variety of the concrete"” (Badiou, Deleuze 14).
· thus the role of multiplicity here is to liberate being from such variety in an ascetic purification which Deleuze calls being chosen by the inorganic as an automaton. This must be in keeping with Badiou’s own position and is where I have to be careful not to see his work as just version of the mathematical sublime, unless I reconsider this sublimity somehow.

Certainly, the starting point required by Deleuze’s method is always a concrete case…/ But one starts to go wrong as soon as one imagines that constraint exercised by concrete cases makes of Deleuze’s thought a huge description or collection of the diversity characterizing the contemporary world. For one presumes then that the operation consists in thinking the case. This is not so: the case is never an object for thought; rather…the case is what forces thought and renders it impersonal. It is therefore perfectly coherent that, in starting from innumerable and seemingly disparate cases…Deleuze arrives at conceptual productions that I would unhesitatingly qualify as monotonous… (Badiou, Deleuze 14-15).

The rights of the heterogeneous are, therefore, simultaneously imperative and limited. Thinking can only begin under the violent impulsion of a case-of-thought…And each beginning, being a singular impulsion, presents also a singular case. But what begins in this way is destined to repetition… (Badiou, Deleuze 15).

· in other words each case is a case of the one concept of being, as he notes in relation to Deleuze’s work on cinema, thus Deleuze’s work is, he argues, organised around the metaphysics of the one, proposes and ethics of thought based on asceticism, and is systematic and abstract (Badiou, Deleuze 17).
· what can there be then within the proliferation of the case and what is the function of singularity here. Again there seems to be agreement with Nancy here that the multiplicity of the case merely establishes the limits of thought. Case proliferation does not open thinking up to an unbearable relativity, but in fact closes it down to an equally unbearable limited set of monolithic principles. As he says “I am convinced that principles do exist” (Badiou, Deleuze 17).

· it is central to Badiou’s project to turn ethics away from alterity, multiplicity away from diversity and philosophy away from language and his reading of Deleuze is based exactly on this. His is instead a return to a sense of being, an existential sense revealing his early debts to Sartre, which comes back to Heidegger as the central force of twentieth century philosophy. The univocity of being which he picks up on in Deleuze relates then directly to this aim, to reduce multiple voices as just examples of a limited number of cases which all testify to a very limited set of principles which all relate to the ontological certainty of being which is not reducible to identity.

· in reading Deleuze’s work as kind of updating of Plato he notes in relation to the simulacra of the real the Plato also notes…

it is necessary to affirm the rights of simulacra as so many equivocal cases of univocity that joyously attest to the univocal power of being…/ One does far more justice to the real One by thinking the egalitarian coexistence of simulacra in a positive way than by opposing simulacra to the real that they lack, in the way Plato opposes the sensible and the intelligible. For, in fact, this real lies nowhere else than in that which founds the nature of the simulacrum as simulacrum: the purely formal or modal character of the difference that constitutes it, from the viewpoint of the univocal real of Being that supports this difference within itself and distributes to it a single sense (Badiou, Deleuze 26-7).

· this is similar in some ways to Nancy’s argument that singularity reveals the edge of being through its interruption of myth only working on the opposite direction. For Badiou the singular case is only a proof of the univocity of being, for Nancy it only allows univocity by a linguistic intervention.

· he then goes on to consider the problems of giving a name to being with being itself being seen for rather dull reasons as insufficient. What is more interesting is Badiou’s reason for Deleuze must give being two names:

What emerges over the course of these experiments is that a single name is never sufficient, but that two are required. Why? The reason is that Being needs to be said in a single sense both form the viewpoint of the unity of its power and from the viewpoint if the multiplicity of the divergent simulacra that this power actualizes in itself…it is as though the univocity of being is thereby accentuated for thought through its being said, at one moment, in its immediate “matter”, and, in the next, in its forms or actualizations. In short: in order to say that there is a single sense, two names are necessary (Badiou, Deleuze 28).

· these two names for being reveal Badiou’s own opinion about the relationship of being and its event in simulacra. He also notes that Deleuze uses a wide ranges of “doublets” or double names for beings, but that this does not mean a relativistic view but an experimentation with a suitable doublet.

· what can also be said is that his concept of the multiple should not be confused with a theory of variety or categorical difference. Difference, as it exists in the multiple, resides only to confirm the singularity of being. One must also consider his sense of singularity in relation to that of Nancy and the others, for there seem to be major differences which are not apparent from the terminologies they share in common. Multiples are not different categories which pertain to the ethical code of being, and heterogeneity is not a sense of “being various” but of being in terms of an unspeakable supplement.
· His list of vital texts for Deleuze are Difference and Repetition, The Logic of Sense, Foucault, Cinema 1 & 2, and The Fold.

· it is true that it would be tempting at this stage to think of the second name as being that of categories of the first, something which one finds from Plato through Hegel to Heidegger. Badiou calls the dysymmetrical view where the names are secondary categories of being which serve to divide up being into a series of essential subdivisions such as matter, form or substance. Instead, he sees Deleuze as undermining this tradition:

The univocity of Being and the equivocity of beings (the latter being nothing other than the immanent production of the former) must be thought “together” without the mediation of genera or species, types or emblems: in short, without categories, without generalities (Badiou, Deleuze 32).

· this is the essence of Deleuze’s anti-dialectic in Difference and Repetition especially through an attack on mediation. Mediation is a passage from one being to another based on a relation that is internal to one of them, for Hegel negation. However “univocal Being is affirmative through and through” (Badiou, Deleuze 33) meaning the negative is impossible. Thus the long error of philosophy which divides ontology into being and nothingness is attacked:

There are not two ‘paths’…but a single ‘voice’ of Being which includes all its modes, including the most diverse, the most varied, the most differentiated (Badiou, Deleuze 33) quoting Difference and Repetition p. 36.

· instead of being/non-being, Deleuze goes for active/passive and all his couplets are based on this how everyone must not lose sight of the fact that while two names are needed to described being, this does not produce an ontological division which could be productive of categories. Within the violence of though one must begin somewhere and it is natural to being with categories but the aim is neutrality of a point beyond active/passive.
· interesting precisely because it is an attack on categories and their false role in dividing up the indivisible and putting a name to the unnameable. Obviously I should refer this to consciousness as well.

· he goes on to consider these doublets in terms of the double movement of thought that is typical of Deleuze from beings to Being and Being to beings for from sense to nonsense and from nonsense to sense. All thought consists of this double moments then between the singularity of beings and the univocity of Being. Badiou’s terms this in the form of descent and ascent, beings to Being and Being to beings and concludes:

when we have grasped the double movement of descent and ascent, from beings to Being, then from Being to beings, we have in fact thought the movement of Being itself, which is only the interval, of the difference, between these two movements…Univocal Being is indeed nothing other than, at one and the same time, the superficial movement of its simulacra and the ontological identity of their intensities… (Badiou, Deleuze 40).

When thought succeeds in constructing, without categories, the looped path that leads, on the surface of what is, from a case to the Ones, then from the One to the case, it intuits the movement of the One itself (Badiou, Deleuze 40).

thought is always an (ascetic, difficult) egalitarian affirmation of what is (Badiou, Deleuze 45).

· he turns his attention to the return to the importance of the ground in Deleuze’s work or the univocal Being behind each of the simulacra of beings, stressing that this is not a pictorial ground where the beings are mimetic copies of an ideal ground but in the sense of the double movement we have just considered. In turning Deleuze towards this grounding (fond) he seeks to state that they both share in common the fact of being classical philosophers:

in this context, classicism is relatively easy to define. Namely: may be qualified as classical any philosophy that does not submit to the critical injunctions of Kant…[it} upholds, against any “return to Kant,” against the critique, / moral law, and so on, that the rethinking of the univocity of ground is a necessary task for the world in which we are living today (Badiou, Deleuze 45-6).

whereas my aim is to found a Platonism of the multiple, Deleuze’s concern was with a Platonism of the virtual. Deleuze retains from Plato the univocal sovereignty of the One, but sacrifices the determination of the Idea as always actual. For him, the Idea is the virtual totality, the One is the infinite reservoir of dissimilar productions. A contrario, I uphold that the forms of the multiple are, just like the Ideas, always actual and that the virtual does not exist; I sacrifice, however, the One (Badiou, Deleuze 46).

· Badiou says then that Deleuze’s work results in transcendence while he argued that Badiou’s work failed to hold thought within immanence, resulting presumably by accidental transcendence? He raised this problem in a letter to Deleuze.

Reaffirming the integral actuality of Being, as pure dimension-multiple, I stated that, in my eyes, immanence excluded the All and that the only possible end point of the multiple, which is always the multiple of multiples (and never the multiple of Ones), was the multiple of nothing: the empty set (Badiou, Deleuze 46).

· thus they ended up in a non-resolvable controversy over what constituted the ground, multiple-actual vs. the One-virtual
· the result was an “impasse” as he says:

for me, multiplicities “were” sets, for him, they “were not” (Badiou, Deleuze 48).

· the way he presents this debate is fascinating in terms of the differend and the ethics of friendship. Here they line up in an arrangement that does not agree to disagree, does not agree, and yet which retains no hostility. Surely this is the aporia at the heart of a classical philosophical debate, the basic inability of ontological certainties of different orders to talk to each other in debate. Their argument consists of Badiou saying yes and Deleuze no.

· after critically appraising Deleuze’s theory of the virtual, he concludes:

I must therefore return…to my own song: the One is not, there are only actual multiplicities, and the ground is void (Badiou, Deleuze 53).

I have always conceived truth as a random course or as a kind of escapade, posterior to the event and free of any external law, such that the resources of narration are required simultaneously with those of mathematization for its comprehension. There is a constant circulation from fiction to argument, from image to formula, from poem to matheme… (Badiou, Deleuze 58).

· quite central for work on the avant-garde and the theory of chance encounters
· then goes on to consider the false and the true in terms of paradoxes of time to show that truth supersedes time. He agrees with this:

truths are actual multiplicities with a much higher “Dionysian” value than that accruing to any sort of phenomenological salvaging of time…I maintain that every truth is the end of memory, the unfolding of a commencement (Badiou, Deleuze 60-4).

· the section on chance, 68-76, is concerned with the throw of the dice in an opposite sense, Badiou believes, to the may it is found in Mallarmé. He ends up by summarising Deleuze's position in terms of three basic axioms: the throw of the dice is always unique, the unique cast is the “affirmation of the totality of chance” (Badiou, Deleuze 74) and what eternally returns in each event is “the original unique throw of the dice with the power of affirming chance” (Badiou, Deleuze 74).
· the importance of these axioms’ for Badiou, is to clarify Deleuze’s relation to the eternal return but there is also a second importance in determining the difference between absolute chance, the event, and the role of chance in probability. Thus the throw if the dice is not part of a series of throws which move towards a probability which is that of the dominance of the same, such as in an infinite series where eventually all six sides of the dice will occur equally. Instead, chance is the affirmation of the absolute uniqueness of the event. Thus what returns in each throw is not a movement towards probability like monkey’s typing the works of Shakespeare, but the uniqueness of the event.

With each throw of the dice (with each event), there is, no doubt, the formal distinction of numerical results. But the innermost power of the cast is the unique and univocal, it is the Event, just as it is what affirms in a unique Throw, which is the Throw of all the throws, the totality of chance. The numerical results are only the superficial stampings or simulacra of the Great Cast (Badiou, Deleuze 74).

· in contrast to this approach, he makes clear his own…

…I said to myself that the indiscernibility of casts (of events, of emissions of the virtual) was, for him, the most important of the points of the passage of the one. For me, on the other hand, the absolute ontological separation of the event, that fact that it occurs in the situation without being in anyway virtualizable, is the basis of the character of truths as irreducibly original, created, and fortuitous. And if truth is indiscernible, it is not at all so with respect to other truths (from which it is, on the contrary, doubly discernible: by the situation in which it is inscribed, and by the event that initiates it), but with respect to the resources of discernment proper to the situation in which it originates (Badiou, Deleuze 75).

Contrary to Deleuze, therefore, I think that the “event dice throws” are all absolutely distinct—not formally (on the contrary, the form of all / events is the same) but ontologically. This ontological multiplicity does not compose any series, it is sporadic (events are rare) and cannot be totalized. No count can group the events, no virtual subjects them to One (Badiou, Deleuze 76).

If, when all is said and done, chance is the affirmation, for Deleuze, of the contingency of the One in all its immanent effects, it is, for me, the predicate of the contingency of each event. For Deleuze, chance is the play of the All, always replayed as such; whereas I believe that there is the multiplicity (and rarity) of chances, such that the chance of an event happens to us already by chance, and not by the expressive univocity of the One (Badiou, Deleuze 76).

…for me, given that the void of Being only occurs at the surface of a situation by way of the event, chance is the very matter of truth. And just as truths are singular and incomparable, so the fortuitous events from which they originate must be multiple and separated by a the void (Badiou, Deleuze 76).

Chance is plural, which excludes the unicity of the dice throw. It is by chance that a particular chance happens (Badiou, Deleuze 76).

· we end up with two versions of chance, the ludic and vital (Nietzsche/Deleuze) and the stellar conception of the Chance of chance (Mallarmé/Badiou)

For me, alas!…death is not, and can never be, an event (Badiou, Deleuze 77).

· in final conclusion he states his defence against Deleuze’s accusation that he is guilty of transcendence:

…I conceptualize absolute beginnings (which requires a theory of the void) and singularities of thought that are incomparable in their constitutive gestures…Deleuze always maintained that in doing this, II fall back into transcendence and into the equivocity of analogy. But, all in all, if the only way to think a political revolution, an amorous encounter, an intervention of / the sciences, or a creation of art as distinct infinities…is by sacrificing immanence…and the univocity of being, that I would sacrifice them (Badiou, Deleuze 91-2).

· on grace…

It does occur, by interruption or by supplement, and however rare or transitory it may be, we are forced to be lastingly faithful to it (Badiou, Deleuze 97).

During this (short) period of our philosophical history, all in all there have been…two serious questions: that of the All (or the One) and that of grace (or the event). (Badiou, Deleuze 98).

Monday, October 08, 2007

Beckett and Badiou, by Andrew Gibson

Am writing a review of this great book and as usual well over the word limit so thought I would post the full text here before I have to cut half of it out and inevitably totally change it.

I am posting it because in the months to come Badiou's conception of poetic thinking will make more and more appearances here and Gibson's book is a great introduction to that.

Book Review: Andrew Gibson, Beckett & Badiou: The Pathos of Intermittency (Oxford, 2007).

This is a rare book in modern times, an academic study of unflinching seriousness, resolutely RAE unfriendly at nearly 300 pages, and one of the few examples of literary criticism that one needs to own and return to and over time. In fact it is not one book at all but at the very least two. In the introduction Gibson himself admits that “my book might be thought of as Janus-faced,” adding “it has a revolving structure, turning alternately in one direction and another.” (B&B 5).
Thus, as the title suggests at one moment the revolving eye of Gibson gazes firmly at Beckett, a familiar figure to the academia, at another at Alain Badiou, now perhaps a familiar name but still a thinker many feel the need for an introduction to before then can enter into any form of lively intercourse. These two gentlemen, Becket and Badiou, require therefore two slightly different modes of address as Gibson is aware, producing effectively two different books within one volume.

The first book is quite simply the best introduction to, and proposed development of, Badiou’s work in relation to the study of literature. The second is a sophisticated reappraisal of Beckett’s whole oeuvre. This occurs not merely through the filter of Badiou’s rosy gaze, Badiou’s great innovation being to read Beckett as an optimist of the event, but also through the diffraction of Gibson’s systematic analysis. I am less qualified to say if this is major work in Beckett studies, but I am perfectly in place to say it is an important advance in literary studies and should be made required reading for anyone still interested in the relationship between literature and philosophy that we used to call literary theory.

Or is it three books, the third being more of a parergonal outwork or project for a future monograph in the form of a complex and suggestive conclusion that expands on Gibson’s own theories on the remainder, modernity, and the temporality of intermittency? I don’t have the educational background to know who the three headed beast of yore is that could supplant Gibson’s invocation of Janus, but whomsoever they are, this book is their kin.
This being the case, and my having only a few hundred words to go up against Gibson’s 100,000 plus, it is perhaps best to proceed fairly systematically. Such a progression is in any case apt considering the patient, systematic exposition Gibson provides here of the work of Beckett and Badiou. Then there is the often clinical systematicity of Badiou’s mode of thinking and rhetoric. And finally, Badiou’s project to produce a fairly diachronic, systematic narrative of Beckett’s journey through the problems of humanism, the impasse of language and on into to a thinking of the eventhood of the event. A journey that, in the final analysis, for Badiou and Gibson makes Beckett’s work overall heroic and affirmative.

It took over 15 years before Badiou’s foundational work Being and Event (1988) appeared in English in 2005. In contrast, the follow-up La Logique Des Mondes (2006) will appear in translation in 2008. This is indicative perhaps that Badiou’s star is rising, although his reception amongst Humanities scholars will always be hampered by his reliance on mathematics, in particular set theory. Then there is his unadorned, often vituperative prose that seems cold and angular to an ear attuned to the voluble, metaphoric style of much French philosophy. If Badiou is going to find a world audience not limited to French-speaking philosophers and political theorists, then Gibson’s work in the first 140 pages will play a major role in this.

Gibson begins by defining the bi-polar universe of Badiou’s thought as contained within the concepts of actual infinity and the event. These two ideas are at odds with each other and yet also totally inter-dependant. Actual infinity is not the endless proliferation of numbers beyond human comprehension that one finds in Hegel and Romantic thought, rather it is an axiom of a determinate infinity. In set theory there is an infinity of infinities, but infinity itself can thought of as a limited number or concept, that of the fact that there is infinity.
If infinity turns out to be, in some ways, finite, the presupposed finitude of the event, the thing that happens, reveals in fact the potential for infinity. The event is an “aleatory fragment, the chance occurrence of something that had no existence beforehand”. It is an explosive movement that “destroys any illusion that the limits of the situation are the limits of the world.” (B&B 16). I find the clarity and yet also the complexity of this summary of Badiou’s work of real benefit to the study of literature, but it also explains why Badiou and Beckett form another dyad in this dualistic, yet never dialectic, study. As we go on to find out, the role of infinity is key to Beckett’s work, as is the potentiality or perhaps even threat of the event.

It is at this early stage that we also encounter Gibson’s own central thesis, which remains the most important and original element of this impressive study and, I hope, will come to stand as a key term for the development of our ideas of the relationship between literature and philosophy in the years to come. This conception which Gibson calls “the remainder” is in fact very close to a definition of the literary post-Badiou. I will leave the precise formulation of the remainder to Gibson himself:

In Badiou’s philosophy, the world of events is the sole source of value. From its point of view, the situations to which events are counterposed and into which they break constitute a negligible historical residue. I shall call this residue the remainder. (B&B 18).

The remainder is a vital development of Badiou’s work on literature. As events are so rare, and when they do occur they are often missed or only realised by a coterie of faithful militants, the bare facts state that for the majority of the time we are in the realm of the remainder and most, if not all, literature emanates from that world or temporality. As literature itself cannot constitute an event, but can only testify too or patiently wait for events, by definition literature is the remainder.

This simple logical observation is, in fact, rather devastating. It certainly takes Badiou to task over his neglect of the remainder in his relentless pursuit of intermittent events. It allows Gibson’s book to open up completely the philosophical importance of Beckett, who ceases to be a writer and instead becomes one of the great thinkers of the remainder. It raises uncomfortable questions as to what the status of literature is in relation to the radical potentialities of events. And finally, it makes this book a full-blown theory of contemporary literary value.

Having summarised Badiou’s work and established his own thought in relation to it, based on an implicit critique of Badiou’s work which simultaneously requires that we treat his work with the utmost respect and seriousness, the first two chapters then introduce Badiou’s work to a general audience. Chapter one deals with key Badiou terms: Being, Event, Subject and Truth. While the second moves more towards the issues of state, doxa and politics that fill in some of the detail of the remainder and prepare the way for the consideration of the aesthetics of waiting for the event that define Beckett’s importance to our age.
This allows Gibson, in the third chapter, to tackle specifically Badiou’s take on Beckett in relation to the current scholarship. Taken together with the introduction these first three chapters constitute probably the most accessible and certainly the most relevant introduction to Badiou’s work to a humanities audience. Not that Gibson does not pay his dues to his forbears, most notably the brilliant work of Hallward, it is just that here Gibson is able to concentrate on Badiou’s ideas on literature, apply them to literary works, and unpack their implications from the perspective of a literary critic.

These chapters alone are worth the cover price. In particular we come to understand Gibson’s main criticism of Badiou’s affirmative ethos. Central to Badiou’s metaphysics is a rejection of what he sees as a late-Romantic melancholy to be found in Heidegger’s insistence on the end of metaphysics, and the work which followed on in such an eschatological vein. In contrast, he insists that metaphysics is possible now the gods have fled the earth, placing all his faith in the existence of actual infinity and the power of intermittent events.
What Gibson notes, however, is that because events are so infrequent, so intermittent, there is an inevitable human side or cost to this. One comes to long for past events, or to desire the sudden arrival of new events. Rather than instilling a sense of militant optimism in writers and thinkers, the scarcity of the event has resulted in a pathos or melancholia. And it is precisely such a melancholia, Gibson argues, that one finds in Beckett.

Thus, in keeping with the Janus-face of this revolving study, we have two theses which are then pursued through the remainder of the seven chapters of the book. On the one hand is Badiou’s radical reappraisal of Beckett. In Chapter 2 Gibson addresses what Badiou calls in The Handbook of Inaesthetics “poetic thinking.” There are, it seems, two main types of poetic thought vis-à-vis the event. The first is exemplified by Mallarmé and is described as a patient fidelity to the fact of an event having occurred. These poets name the event and in doing so allow it to exist within the world of the remainder that we all occupy. They are the apostles if you will, acting as servants of the intermittent and demanding that we accept its occurrence.
Then there is a second type of poet, those of restricted action. These writers take as their point of interest not that there was an event, but that there is no event. They are the precursors, John the Baptist preparing the way for the possibility of the event. One can see here then that there are two alternatives for Beckett. He may testify to the event’s passing, or he might clear the ground in preparation for the event’s arrival. That it is the latter case explains for Badiou and Gibson why critics have misread Beckett’s work as pessimistic. Rather, it is a systematic admission and understanding of the fact that there is no event, Such an admission admittedly can seem negative, but it is a necessary negativity and an essential acsesis, a clearing away of the detritus of the remainder. This work must occur before the event can arrive.

This is thesis one and Gibson unpacks how Badiou is able to tell the tale of Beckett’s heroic wait across the whole of his career. In the early work Becket breaks with doxa, across The Trilogy he clears the ground taking language to a point of collapse while demonstrating that there is no event, while in the later prose he is able to establish a landscape in preparation for the possibility of some future event. To explicate and develop this thesis from limited sources, for Badiou’s work on Beckett collected in On Beckett, is both repetitious and intermittent, is a great feat. To bring it about Gibson travels far and wide within Badiou’s whole oeuvre, demonstrating remarkable levels of scholarship.
Where Gibson’s book is exceptional, however, is the way in which he is able to overlay his own critique of Badiou and put forward his own, complementary but ultimately competing theory of intermittent pathos. Taking his lead from attacks on Badiou’s overly technical almost allegorical readings of Beckett, Gibson concedes that Badiou’s reading of the author borders indeed on an allegory of reading that not only misses the detail and nuance of Beckett’s work, but misses the fact that breaking with doxa, clearing the ground and waiting on the event are all dependant on nuance, hesitation and uncertainty:

The final chapter, looking at Beckett’s plays, is effectively Gibson’s extension of Badiou. Criticising explicitly Badiou’s reading of the drama as “more consistent with his [Badiou’s] philosophy than with the plays themselves”, Gibson is free to propose instead the centrality of the remainder to Beckett’s poetic thinking. Perhaps my only criticism of the book is that the centrality of the remainder is not matched by extensive consideration of what the remainder consists of. Gibson is not unaware of this problematic when he notes, reviewing his own book:

It may sometimes have seemed as though I have defined the concept of the remainder chiefly in terms of what it is not. The remainder is what exists outside the domain of the event, truth, subject, fidelity. How can we characterize it, other than negatively?...For Badiou, the remainder is so closely associated with pure negativity that he scarcely thinks it at all as such. (B&B 235)

Gibson goes on to assert that in Beckett one comes close to an “empirical definition of the remainder” (B&B 235) as effectively an approximation or an abstraction. Gibson then sets himself the task of tracing these approximations and abstractions across the plays which he feels Badiou reads rather poorly. As to whether this will satisfy the reader as to the importance and definition of the remainder, I remain myself unconvinced, not by the conception but by the clarity of its appearance here. It is, I would humbly suggest, the topic for a future study.

Two things come from this book as very clear however. The first is that Badiou’s formulation of an atheistic, post-Romantic metaphysics of acsesis and assertion is highly significant for an understanding of poetic thinking. or how literature has taken up the reins of philosophy during the period of modernity. Second, that Badiou’s work on literature has limitations when it comes to analysing literature as such, beyond using is as simply exemplifying his system. At this stage one needs a literary critic to step in as Gibson has done. In doing so Gibson not only expands one of the four terms of contemporary, post-Badiou philosophy, but also provides a complex intervention on Badiou’s work through his criticism of the philosopher’s neglect of the remainder.

In the conclusion Gibson takes up his own theorisation of the pathos of intermittency and provides a complex and wide-ranging reading of various philosophers’ work on modernism. I can’t do justice to it here but if the reader is at all concerned with modern art then I suggest they read it. This leads Gibson to a conclusion that, while pitched locally at the way a contemporary philosopher reads one of the great writers of modernity, is in fact a provocation to all of us whose object of regard is literature:

We might finally put the point like this: for Badiou, the event is difficult insofar as it is rare and has a complex structure. But it is also simple, almost luminously clear…Because Becket thinks the event and its rarity from the vantage point of the remainder, the event appears only in second-order, muted, veiled, distorted, equivocal, or compromised forms” (B&B 290)

It was ever thus. Even when formulating poetic thinking, the philosopher cannot resist the clarity of dianoia, cannot, in fact, in approaching literature, help but obfuscate it by the very act of philosophical illumination. At the same time the writer, however philosophically rigorous, can’t help but smear the clarity of the philosophical optic with their messy insistence on thinking through poiesis, through making. Gibson’s brilliant study takes us right to the heart of this ancient and yet suddenly very relevant problem. In the future library of works on poetic thinking which thinkers like Badiou have founded, Beckett & Badiou: The Pathos of Intermittency will be a required text and I urge any colleagues with an interest in the future of our disciplines to read it with care. While the remainder may be obscure, Gibson’s mind is nothing but clarity and light.

Saturday, October 06, 2007


Every great writer must experience at least one apostasy of sense.Every great writer must experience at least one apostasy of sense.Every great writer must experience at least one apostasy of sense.Every great writer must experience at least one apostasy of sense.Every great writer must experience at least one apostasy of sense.Every great writer must experience at least one apostasy of sense.Every great writer must experience at least one apostasy of sense.

PJ Harvey, White Chalk

2. Dear Darkness

Dear darkness
we are timorous at your edge
ledged in metaphysically small
walled by our illimitable
perimeters of theme and its counter
bound to a dream of light
frightened by their shadow play

Dear darkness
we are hardly here
fear of the unknown has had us thinned
pinned to an apocalypse of sense
henceforth unable to approach
to stroke you, riotous material
feral and fecund, tattered and unwhole

Dear darkness
why is it they tell us that you fall
stalled by metaphor and the promise of relief
stolen from potential
torrents of sodden word worried leaves
returns from beyond the woods
hooded eyes and opened cheeks

Dear darkness
I am laid out on a thought of boat
floating on your bottomlessness
caressed by lapping's lapping
happy to slide beneath or 'tween your tress

trees that bear your fabric on their crown
bend low then let their old defences down
dear darkness, it is true

Friday, October 05, 2007

PJ Harvey, White Chalk

For some reason, before even listening to more than a couple of tracks, I knew I could write poems to each of the titles of PJ Harvey's lastest album. So here goes something.

1. The Devil

The devil'
sold bad boots
by farrier jones

evil is still got meaning
he spouts as
he limps to town
or anywhere really'
show he talks

The devil'
bought bad debts
by broker james

even evil got the blues
he wails as
he punishes a piana
or anyone really'
show he works

The devil'
fed bad booze
by barman jessie

even evil got to die
he chokes as
his vomit'sinhaled
not anything really'
show he joins 'n dis


one shoe shed
a sepia key plucked fingerfree
wettened words that
stink of gutsn
yeah brim
stone if you
like, oh
'nd our happiness

Lines in Space

How I imagine Michael, liking my poem not quite enough to...

It was perhaps my finest moment. PN Review, in particular Michael Scmidtt, almost published one of my poems. They liked the work but not quite enough to publish it. Like O'Hara I am too hip for the squares to square for the hipsters. Anyway, it was more than Stand could be bothered to say so in honour of meaningless honours here is my most successful work of art. It is untitled or better tri-titled:

"ein augenblick in der lichtung"

silence a fire’s percussive click cuts
the ciccada’s strum
Zum Zirm
one in the dog valley it
is night here last night to be exact all
is unwrapping in real time then
before the storm in cloud above mountain
on an off like a faulty fluorescent light
in a summer abandoned porta-cabinã
(It’s not as if I am trying to kill romanticism)
or not it does not have to be that way for you I
am not so convinced it was really that way for me
impermeable logic, all can and should be otherwise

"wo ist mein kugelschrieber?"

erm, what next oh yes! Freud
stayed here once (idle mind that seeks no particular recollection)
thermo-electric pulses across the brain’s ravines he
later wrote “all I ask is to be alone near a wood” ah, would! he
was firming up chapter one of Totem and Taboo (that great double
act) “The Horror of Incest” which is a bad book in the end
they say we all have one great novel in us we
also all have one bad anthropological generalisation
was writing in skirmish to Jung but Jung wasn’t listening said
he had heard it all before which is typical

"im haus rottensteiner"

all day walking we got nowhere damn this dim happiness smokey valley phased in blue im-
“did I tell you the story of the story that ate itself?
it began like this…”
“did I tell you the story of the story that ate itself?”
it began like this…”