What is a Political Event?
One of the central, and well understood, tasks of political theory is to debate the meaning of political events by incorporating them within competing interpretive frameworks. This implies a more fundamental, though not well understood, task; namely, establishing the nature of political events.1 It is more fundamental on two grounds: a) if we do not understand the nature of political events then we can not be sure that the phenomena we are interpreting are, in fact, political events and, b) there is a danger of misconstruing the relationship between political events and the meanings they generate if we do not understand the nature of the former. What is required, in other words, is an account of political events qua events. This account demands that the analytical light is shone, initially at least, on the ‘event-ness’ of political events rather than on the epiphenomenal meanings that such events acquire by virtue of being interpreted. There is good reason, therefore, to ask: ‘what is a political event?’
Given this, it is intriguing that it is a question that has not preoccupied political theorists, at least not until very recently.2 One reason for the neglect of such a fundamental question may be that for many political theorists the discussion of political events qua events is treated, implicitly, as a subset of debates regarding the nature of ‘the political’. The presumption is that a political event is simply something that happens in the political realm such that we must prioritize our analyses of the political qua political if we are to understand what happens within it and why certain events should count as political or not.3 In the following, this presumption is not questioned as such; rather, it is extended. Accepting that analyses that prioritize ‘the political’ over ‘the event’ are indispensable to the study of the nature of political events it is further presumed that if this is the only way that political theorists approach the study of political events then their analyses will be hampered by virtue of being partial. Although it is only the argument itself that can justify this additional presumption, one can see its force by considering that definitions of ‘political authority’ are greatly enriched both by discussion of ‘the political’ and by discussion of ‘the nature of authority’. Without both aspects, in other words, our grasp of political authority would indeed be a partial one. The argument below, therefore, is seeking to establish a broader, richer analysis of ‘political events’ by considering their nature from the perspective of the event.4
How is the analysis of the ‘evental’ nature of political events to be carried out? Given the paucity of resources within political theory itself, we need to turn to cognate disciplines that have considered ‘the event’ to be a foundational concept. While one could profitably turn to literature, sociology or perhaps some theology in this regard, by far the most obvious discipline to turn to is philosophy. However, the idea of an event is so intricately entwined with some of the fundamental and timeless questions of philosophy – ‘why do things happen?’, ‘what is the nature of change?’ and so on – that any attempt at a full survey of the role played by the event in philosophy would almost be tantamount to a history of philosophy itself. That said, recent philosophy has seen an upsurge of interest in the nature of events, in both the analytical and the continental traditions. Since the 1960’s, Anglo-American analytical metaphysics and post-Heideggerian, especially French, speculative ontology have both witnessed the return or re-emergence of the event to the centre stage of philosophical discussion. So, while accepting that one could delve more deeply into the Western philosophical tradition5 and into contemporary debates themselves,6 there have been a number of important recent contributions that allow for the construction of an argument concerning the general nature of events; an argument that can be used to shed light on the particular nature of political events. Although the list is by no means exhaustive, these contributions can be associated with four very different philosophers: Donald Davidson, Paul Ricoeur, Alain Badiou and Gilles Deleuze.
Beginning with Davidson’s account of events the discussion below will follow Ricoeur in arguing that Davidson’s ‘neutral theory’ does not meet the demand of understanding how events come to have meaning for agents. Amending and extending Ricoeur’s criticisms of Davidson, it will be argued that events can be generally understood as significant occurrences; that is, as occurrences that have significance as an intrinsic feature of their constitution. That said, it will be argued that Ricoeur’s agentcentric account of significance raises problems when applied to the idea of political events; in particular, the problem of how we differentiate a political event from a political non-event. In this light, the event-oriented philosophies of Badiou and Deleuze will be introduced as particularly pertinent in that they both establish significance as the core defining feature of events while also offering rigorous ways of demarcating what counts as an event. It will be shown that what separates them is their competing accounts of the ‘emergence’ of the significance that attaches to occurrences in the constitution of events. It will be argued that Deleuze’s ‘pre-occurrence’ approach is more persuasive than Badiou’s ‘post-occurrence’ theorisation. By the end of the discussion, a definition of the nature of political events will be proposed. The concluding remarks will address the relationship between political events and political theory. Rather than view the latter as the distanced reflection upon, or interpretation of the former it will be concluded that the arguments presented here lead to the view that political theory is irrevocably implicated in the actual production of the political events it seeks to interpret.
The Ontological Equivalence of Events and Things: Davidson7
For Davidson, a host of related philosophical problems can be untangled by thinking in terms of events and things rather than thinking solely in terms of things.8 His route into untangling such philosophical problems as the relationship between mind and body, causation, explanation and, crucially, our understanding of the ontological commitments required by ‘action sentences’ is the semantic analysis of ordinary language.9 For example, if we take the simple action sentence, ‘In response to the attacks of 9/11, the United States Congress quickly passed a law to support the American airline industry’, we can see what is at stake for Davidson. Davidson would claim that this sentence can not be unpacked by traditional semantic analysis without invoking the existence of events: in this case, the event of ‘a law being passed’ which itself refers to a more general event which we can call the event of ‘passing laws’ or, more simply, ‘legislating’.10 This seemingly trivial point has important ramifications. Granting that the sentence, and others like it, can only be understood by calling upon the idea of events is to admit that ordinary language requires us to take seriously the claim that events exist. Ordinary language, in other words, would seem to require a metaphysical grasp of non-thing-like entities called events, at least as a compliment to the metaphysics of things. As Davidson was acutely aware, however, an analysis of ordinary language on its own does not prove the existence of events; that is, it does not establish that events must be included as part of our basic ontological commitments. Given this, Davidson appeals to both an account of the relation between semantics and ontology and, in conjunction, a theory or ontology of events and things.
For Davidson, both events and things are ontologically basic and non-reducible to each other; a position that Lowe neatly sums up with the label ‘non-reductive pluralism’. 11 This ontological commitment to a world that consists of both events and things seems intuitively very plausible but it is in stark contrast to what is often taken to be one of the main pillars of the analytical tradition. For many analytical philosophers the semantic analysis of ordinary language establishes a monistic thing-ontology on the basis of either the reduction or the elimination of events from our basic ontology of the world.12 The arguments within the analytical philosophical tradition in support of a thing-ontology tend to revolve around the claim that events are best understood as changes in the properties of things, and as such there is no need for an ontological commitment to events. Rather, what is required is a nuanced understanding of how things change. Davidson’s position, in contrast, was to establish, by way of semantics, that action sentences were true if and only if events did indeed constitute a basic part of our ontological view of the world and given that there was overwhelming empirical evidence to support the claim that action sentences were true then the ontological commitment to events must also be inferred.13 Of course, this still left untouched the question of what exactly events, as non-thing-like concrete particulars actually are. In the analytical tradition, broadly speaking, this required Davidson to provide an account of events as entities. Moreover, for an entity to count as part of our basic ontology, most analytical philosophers (including Davidson) thought that the test to be met was that set by Quine and summed up in the phrase, ‘no entity without identity’.14 As such, Davidson tackled the identity of events by arguing that events could be proved to have an identity equivalent to that of things, that they could be individuated for example, implying that they are as ontologically basic and as plausible as the things that are imputed as part of the ontological fabric of the world. 15 In short, we can say that events and things are ontologically equivalent, non-reducible to each other but of the same ontological standing.
Davidson’s arguments against a monistic thing-ontology imply that the study of political events should be on a par with the study of political ‘things’ and that we must study both if we are to grasp the nature of the political as a whole. Returning to the example used above, we might say that political studies should concern itself as much with the ‘event of legislating’ as with the ‘thing’ that legislates; the United States Congress in this case. Within political studies this may come across as platitudinous, or at best a metaphysical clarification that merely upholds common practice within the discipline. The general point, however, is rather more demanding. If we assume a ‘thing-like’ understanding of ‘the political’, and its constituent elements, then the language of debate within the discipline will fail to express political events as events because the grammatical – and thereby logical and ontological – commitments within the discipline would inexorably lead to an understanding of political events as mere changes in the ‘thing’ we call ‘the political’. Put like this, Davidson’s arguments could be useful in a number of different methodological and theoretical discussions regarding the political; useful in that they would help to question definitions of the political that tended towards a reductive objectification of this domain. More straightforwardly, and in the context of this discussion, Davidson’s non-reductive pluralism provides support for the intuition that an inquiry into political events qua events is an area worthy of more sustained study within political theory.
Ricoeur’s Criticism of Davidson and the Introduction of Significance
While Davidson’s semantic analyses could provide a way of gauging the ontological commitments operative within political studies and while they support the idea that the ‘event-ness’ of political events is a matter for further investigation they do not provide a convincing account of the nature of political events. In the first instance, Ricoeur’s critique of Davidson illustrates why this is the case.16 For Ricoeur, Davidson’s reflections on the nature of events do not pay sufficient attention to the ways in which certain events are incorporated into the narratives that agents construct to account for their own action and, ultimately, their own sense of identity. Davidson’s ‘search for symmetry between the incident nature of events and the permanence of substance’17 creates, according to Riceour, ‘an ontology of the impersonal event’. 18 This impersonal or neutral theory, signified by Davidson’s repeated treatment of the event as something which has already happened (Ricoeur notes that Davidson always discusses events in the past tense), neglects, what Ricoeur calls, the ‘mineness’ of events.19 He summarises his position as follows:
I am not contesting...that, as occurrences, events have an ontological status at least equal to that of substance, nor do I contest that they can be the object of an impersonal description. I am saying that, by entering into the movement of a narrative which relates character to plot, the event loses its impersonal neutrality.20
Ricoeur disputes that treating events as equivalent to things provides a useful way of analysing the action of agents, on the grounds that it neglects or neutralises the agent’s sense that events belong within his or her life-story. It is not that an action merely is an event, though it can be open to that description, it is that a particular act may come to be viewed as an event by the agent on the grounds that it has become a significant part of a personal narrative. Such life-events are significant because they are intrinsically bound to the agent through the individual’s narratological understanding of why certain actions were, are and will be taken, why some have greater priority over others and so on.
Thinking about political events this is a plausible manoeuvre. It seems intuitively correct to assert that many political events can and should be understood as events for the agents that act in the political world. If we return to post-9/11 legislation, for example, then there seems little doubt that purely neutral descriptions of ‘legislatings’ would miss crucial elements of what actually constituted any given legislative event itself. Not least of these, perhaps, would be how the legislators of the United States Congress incorporated their actions within a series of overlapping, maybe even conflicting, narratives. The point is that a full and rich account of the act of legislating requires an examination of how the agent(s) involved construed the significance of their actions. ‘To legislate’ may express neutral ‘legislatings’, in the manner of Davidson, but it also expresses a significant act on the part of a legislator that is an intrinsic feature of the event itself: intrinsic because to dismiss this element would be to fail to grasp the essential nature of the event. In this way, Ricoeur’s introduction of the ‘mineness’ of events deepens our grasp of the nature of political events.
However, this does not necessarily entail that Ricoeur’s discussion on its own is sufficient to understand political events qua events. While his analysis can help us understand political events from an agent-centric perspective it is not clear that agents (where agents are people capable of intentional action) are the only subjects of politics.21 If, as is common within political research, the subjects of political discourse are typically thought to include groups, peoples, nations, institutions, states, structures and perhaps even discourse itself, as well as individual agents, then ‘mineness’ is not an appropriate way of articulating how all political subjects incorporate or embody political events. This problem is momentarily alleviated by using the more technical term ‘significance’ instead of ‘mineness’.
The benefit is that it makes, at least, prima facie sense to talk about political events being significant from the point of view of institutions, states and other subjects of political discourse without having to import intentionality into our analyses of political organisations, institutions, processes and so on (without losing the agent-centric sense of ‘mineness’ as this would simply become ‘significance for the agent’).
Introducing the idea of significance in this way we can give credence to an ordinary language use of ‘event’ that Davidson does not emphasise; namely, its sense of being something new that has happened rather than a mere occurrence. Certainly the phrase ‘political events’ usually implies this sense of novelty: a breach with the ordinary political processes and structures. Importantly, Ricoeur’s analysis allows us to grasp this sense of novelty in terms of the significant affect an occurrence has upon the subjects of political discourse. Generalising Ricoeur’s understanding of the event we can say that: an event occurs if and only if something significant happens, such that a political event occurs if and only if something significant happens ‘from the perspective of’ a political subject.
For all that this helps to incorporate Ricoeur’s insight into the broad domain of political research, a fundamental problem remains. The significance that is a constitutive feature of political events is clearly not a simple matter given that, empirically speaking, it is not something that is necessarily the same for all who participate in or are affected by the event. Continuing the example of post-9/11 legislation, it is reasonable to assume that the many different agents involved did not attach the same significance to the act of legislating. While some in Congress may have understood the legislation in terms of the emergent ‘war on terror’, others may have situated the legislation in narratives of ‘protectionism’ and employment, while others still may have understood the acts as significant because of the unifying effect they had on the different branches of government and so on. Indeed, it may well be the case that some of those ‘involved’ in post-9/11 legislation did not view the acts of Congress as significant at all. From the perspective of this kind of agent, the act of legislating in the wake of 9-11 may not be a political event at all, as they attach no significance to it as a novel change in the political landscape. Of course, one can go through a similar process with regard to political subjects more broadly understood, as well as individual agents. Where one state, for example, may have radically reconfigured its operations, structures, relationships with other states and so on because of 9/11 generally and 9/11 legislation in particular, another may have incorporated the implications differently and yet another may have (implicitly) treated these actions as insignificant occurrences rather than as a political event. Significance, from an empirical perspective, depends upon the agent/subject. But it is here where the problem lies.
If a political event ought to be differentiated from a ‘mere occurrence’ in the political world (from a political non-event, we could say) in terms of the significance it has for political agents and subjects but the manner in which political events may be said to incorporate significance seems to be so subjective as to allow for an ‘occurrence’ to be both a political event and a political non-event (to be both significant and not significant to the agents and subjects affected by it) then it seems obvious that clarification is required. This is not resolved by simply resorting to the kind of neutral description envisaged by Davidson. Such a description would allow us to say that ‘something happened’ but it would not enable an analysis of the ‘significance of what happened’, which we have established (via Ricoeur) is an intrinsic feature of the ‘event-ness’ of political events.
The solution lies in the other direction; namely a more rigorous rendering of the idea of significance. The question that will guide the rest of this argument can now be stated: Is it possible to retain the insight Ricoeur’s analysis brings – that significance is intrinsic to events - while establishing a way to differentiate mere political occurrences from political events? Alain Badiou, as we shall see in the next section, proposes to resolve the problem by arguing that there is only one universal subject of politics. Gilles Deleuze, we may say, goes in the other direction; as we will see in later sections, he proposes an impersonal or non-subjective account of the emergence of significance.
Badiou: Political Events and the Militant Subject22
In a manner initially reminiscent of Ricoeur’s analysis, Badiou argues that one feature of a political event that constitutes its ‘eventness’ is whether or not the individuals involved in an occurrence claim it as an event. 23 For example, the French Revolution was not merely ‘something that happened’, something that could be grasped by a series of neutral descriptions, rather it was the subjective moment when those involved in the destruction of the Ancien Régime laid claim to the idea that it was the break with the past and the possibility of a new political future that was the focus of their activity; when the consciousness of revolution became the defining feature of the revolution itself.24 To the extent that the individual activists defined themselves as revolutionaries, when they claimed allegiance to the strictly revolutionary nature of their activity, we no longer say that something merely happened but that a political event occurred. As with Ricoeur, therefore, an occurrence becomes an event for Badiou to the extent that it is injected with a subjective significance. Beyond this general point of comparison, however, Badiou’s understanding of the nature of events departs radically from Ricoeur’s. Although a full treatment would require the reconstruction of his philosophical system,25 we can unpack the crucial features of Badiou’s understanding of the significance intrinsic to political events in the following overlapping ways: in terms of a subject’s fidelity to a universalizable significance and as the construction of a universal form of political subjectivity.26
If an occurrence inspires subjects to ‘wager on its existence’, to say that what has happened is significant, then one can say, according to Badiou, that an event has occurred. Strictly speaking, though, Badiou argues for a more intricate relationship between the subject and the event than this might suggest. Thinking from a political perspective, an individual member of a political situation becomes a political subject through the process of naming the event: one becomes a republican revolutionary by claiming ‘fidelity’ to the event of the French Revolution, for example.27 That said, this position would appear to be open to the criticism made of Ricoeur in the previous section; namely, that understanding events in this way is too strictly and rigorously subjective. Indeed, it is an argument that has been succinctly articulated by Critchley: ‘[i]f the event is the consequence of a decision, namely the decision to define one’s subjectivity in terms of a fidelity to the event, then this event is true only in the sense that it is true for a subject that has taken this decision (true = true for a subject). Now, if that argument is valid, then how and in virtue of what is one to distinguish a true event from a false event’.28 In reply to this charge, Hallward stresses the universal nature of the commitment or fidelity to an event that Badiou envisions: ‘an individual only becomes a subject in Badiou’s sense through commitment to a truth that is universal or disinterested by definition’.29 Accepting this as a more accurate reading of Badiou, the criterion for demarcating political events from political non-events comes to rest not solely upon significance but upon the universalizable nature of this significance. In the context of this discussion, this is the first decisive move beyond Ricoeur’s analysis of the ‘mine-ness’ of events.
This criterion of universalizability requires clarification. The first clarification is that Badiou’s criterion is to be understood as one that operates in principle. Clearly not everybody involved in, say, a revolutionary occurrence will actually seek to claim it as an event; not everybody will become a revolutionary, in that sense. Nonetheless, an occurrence can be grasped as a true event, if everybody could in principle claim fidelity to the significance of the occurrence. To see what this means we can draw out a second point of clarification. By universalizable, Badiou means that the significance of the event is capable of being equally claimed by all. In this way he distinguishes pseudo-revolutionary events, such as the rise of Nazism, from real political events, such as the French Revolution, on the grounds that the ideals of Nazism could not be claimed equally by all. As he argues, the meaning of ‘Jew’ enshrined in Nazi ideology is a ‘meaning no one can share with the Nazis...hence the absolute singularity of Nazism as a political sequence’.30 The rise of Nazism, indeed, is described as a ‘simulacrum’ of a political event, one that mimics the structure of truly universal events but that remains tied to particular, ‘communal’ interests rather than universal ideals. For Badiou, it is only if fidelity to an event can be universalised in principle as ‘the address to all’ and when that ‘address’ addresses all as equals that one can talk of a true event.31
While a true political event is distinguished from a false one in terms of the universalizability of the significance given to it by political subjects, Badiou also argues that by claiming fidelity to a political event subjects assume a universal form of political subjectivity: a form he calls, the militant. In Metapolitics, he summarises his position succinctly: ‘Those that are constituted as subject of a politics are called the militants of the procedure’.32 In other words, it is only if the political event engenders a genuinely militant subjectivity that one can properly talk of an occurrence being a political event and those involved as being subjects of the political at all. We can therefore say that the individuals, movements, groups and so on, that may claim fidelity to a political event, but only to the aspects of it that serve their particular interests, are not constituted as political militants in the process; they are not, therefore, subjects of the political, in the strict sense Badiou would give to this phrase. They are, rather, merely elements of the political ‘situation’: cogs in the wheels of the political status quo.33 A political event is only a political event, in this sense, if it engenders a truly universal and militant political subject. It is clear, therefore, that Badiou treats (what he views as) egalitarian revolutions and political events as coextensive categories. The French Revolution, the Soviet Revolution, The Cultural Revolution in China and, perhaps more contentiously, the ‘events of May ‘68’ are the examples that he returns to most frequently throughout his work. Everyday political occurrences, those that are defined by the competition of particular political interests, are excluded from the category of political events. As this might suggest, however, while Badiou brings clarity to the definition of political events he may sacrifice plausibility in the process.
This can be seen in three different but related ways. Firstly, and in agreement with Egyed, Badiou’s examples of political events are ‘too obvious’.34 Caught between the need for examples to support his analysis and a strict demarcation of what might count as a political event, Badiou faces a dilemma; ‘he either has a theory of the event that relies on commonly received opinions, or one that is highly esoteric’.35 The result in either case is that his approach imposes an uncompromising burden on our understanding of political events. Either they are revolutionary embodiments of the universal ideal of equality or, what we often take to be political events are, in fact, merely inconsequential ‘happenings’ that actually change nothing fundamental within ‘the political’. In other words, only the exceptional, epochal and revolutionary egalitarian occurrences actually count as political events, while others are relegated to the category of ‘the situation’. Second, while Badiou is correct to emphasise the ways in which individuals become political subjects through the embodiment of significance, by then claiming that a political subject is only truly created if that subjectivity rests upon a universalizable ‘fidelity’ to the event Badiou robs political subjectivity of all but the most revolutionary content. As shown above, there are only militant political subjects for Badiou and the vast array of other possible political ‘subjects’ – we could think of the groups that make up ‘identity politics’ (civil rights groups, women’s groups, disability groups etc) – are simply elements within a political situation rather than agents of change, or of a truly political event. This evacuates what we ordinarily think of as politics from contemporary political life because on Badiou’s criteria there are only militant political subjects, bound together by a shared fidelity to universal equality, and as such there can be no way of conceiving of contestation, dissensus and consensus among these political subjects. As such, and thirdly, Badiou’s understanding of the political event implies a conception of ‘the political’ that is verging perilously close to being an empty formalism. Bensaïd captures this well when he says that Badiou’s theory of the ‘pure diamond of truth, the event’ creates ‘a politics without politics [that] is akin to a negative theology. The preoccupation with purity reduces politics to a grand refusal’.36 While Badiou is one of the few philosophers of his generation to integrate political events into his systematic philosophy, his account of political events is in such stark contrast to everyday understandings of political life that it has to be noted, at least, that it lacks plausibility.
Badiou is aware of this: ‘What I call political is something that can be discerned only in a few, fairly brief, sequences, often quickly overturned, crushed, or diluted by the return of business as usual’.37 More to the point, for Badiou, the judgement of implausibility is entirely irrelevant in the face of the rigours of consistency. Indeed, any critique of his position which resorts to a casual appeal to plausible conceptions of the political, according to Badiou, is precisely the kind of political philosophy that he is most resolutely opposed to, resting as it does upon the appeal to common sense opinions over truth. As he says: ‘what counts is never the plurality of opinions regulated by a common norm, but the plurality of instances of politics which have no common norm’.38 However, Badiou’s insistence upon a strict definition of the political event and his critique of normatively driven political philosophy are not as complimentary as Badiou envisages, as we can see when we pursue the problem of how to distinguish political events from non-events.
As noted already, Badiou can be said to resolve, initially at least, the problem of how to introduce the idea of significance into the internal constitution of political events (while maintaining an apparatus to identify what counts as a political event) by way of the criteria of universalisability understood as a form of address that equally applies to all and to which all individuals can be faithful to in equal measure. Clarifying this, Badiou says that equality ‘means that the political actor is represented under the sole sign of the uniquely human capacity’ and that ‘thought is the one and only uniquely human capacity’.39 This would appear to mean that a true political event engenders an ‘equality of thought’ whereas a political non-event always privileges a particular perspective on thought (perhaps, the thinking, rational man over and against the unthinking, irrational woman) in the service of maintaining the status quo of the political situation. Yet, a few lines later, Badiou says that equality ‘signifies nothing objective...political equality is not what we desire or plan; it is that which we declare to be, here and now, in the heat of the moment, and not something that should be’.40 At this point it would seem that Badiou is eschewing any conception of equality that can be understood as ‘equality of x’ - ‘it is not a question of the equality of social status, income, function and still less of the supposedly egalitarian dynamics of contracts or reforms’41 – thereby seeming to embrace what we could call a purely formal conception of equality. This formal conception, one devoid of particular referents, can be unpacked as the claim that ‘like cases should be treated alike’.
It seems clear that these two claims regarding equality are in conflict with each other: the former being a version of a human capacity argument for equality (because we are all equally capable of thought we should only aspire to political ideals that recognise this fact); whereas the latter would seem to deny any validity to arguments in support of any particular version of equality at all. The vacillation on this point has its source in the fact that a purely formal conception of equality – treat like cases alike – can sanction deep and profound inequality if one simply assumes that the cases are not alike. Unless it is filled out by a conception of why it is that all humans are intrinsically equal then a purely formal conception of equality will be no more than an empty tautology. On a purely formal understanding, it would mean that the Nazis could indeed be said to have embraced equality while simply adding that some individuals (Jews, gays, gypsies and so on) were not really human at all and therefore not to be treated like people. As such, Badiou’s attempt to dismiss Nazism as a ‘simulacrum’ of a true political event begins to look like a value-laden judgement, a matter of political opinion rather than an axiomatic principle of the political itself.
The general problem Badiou faces is that his ideas push in two different directions at once. If he understands equality in a purely formal way then he cannot distinguish a true political event from a false one. If he understands equality more substantively as ‘equality of thought’ then this introduces a normative dimension into his analysis that erodes his claim to be establishing an axiomatic of true political events. The problem in this latter case resides in the value-laden and thereby contestable claims he is making about equality. In particular: a) it is not clear that the capacity for thought is ‘uniquely human’; b) it is not beyond dispute that this capacity, even if it is uniquely human, is shared equally by all humans, and; c) if it is the case that all humans have this capacity in equal measure then this is only pertinent to political life if it is given value, at which point the question of how this value is to be treated would emerge. Without deciding these issues, it is clear that by relying upon a rather traditional ‘human nature’ argument, Badiou unwittingly finds himself in the realm of opinions, values and debate; that is, in the realm of the political as it is more traditionally conceived. In sum, Badiou’s addition of the criteria of universalizability to the idea of significance, for all its provocative qualities, does little to either sustain a rigorous distinction between political events and mere occurrences in the political situation or to clarify or change our grasp of the political itself.
Is it possible to bring consistency and clarity to the idea of political events as significant occurrences? It will be argued in the sections that follow that Deleuze’s philosophy of events provides just such an account. The next section will present an outline of the general theory of events articulated by Deleuze so that in the following sections this can be developed with specific reference to political events.
Deleuze: The Incorporeal Event42
Initially, Deleuze’s contribution can be situated between the neutral theory of events that drives analytical work in this area and Badiou’s subjective-universal account. According to Davidson’s analytical treatment, events are occurrences that are non-reducible to things but of equivalent ontological status. This approach is fruitful but only to a degree because it treats all events as simply occurrences thereby failing to differentiate significant from insignificant occurrences. Badiou, as has been shown, turns this around almost completely such that only very rare occurrences actually count as events and even these only exist momentarily before ‘the return of business as usual’.43 Whereas Davidson represents the pole of event philosophy that sees all occurrences as events, Badiou is situated at the (almost) opposite pole where only very rare occurrences are events. But at this pole, Badiou’s theory is also found wanting in that his subjective-universal criterion for demarcating events from occurrences is unsustainable once it is cached out in terms of ‘equality’. The result, therefore, is not only an implausible account of politics but a failure to provide any meaningful way to differentiate political events from their ‘simulacra’. In contrast, Deleuze’s philosophy of the event marks an advance on Davidson as it treats events as significant occurrences rather than simple ‘happenings’. It is also an advance on Badiou’s approach because Deleuze invokes an impersonal-singular criterion to assess the emergence of significance as opposed to the subjective-universal account given by Badiou. One important outcome of this approach is that Deleuze’s arguments result in a philosophy of plural events that nonetheless maintains a strong distinction between events and occurrences (in contrast to Davidson’s treatment of all occurrences as events and Badiou’s treatment of one very specific type of occurrence as a political event). How is this possible?
The answer is to be found in the way that Deleuze conceives of events as the incorporeal effects of corporeal relations between things. The philosophical lineage he draws upon to support his position is the Stoic distinction between corporeal ‘things’ (here used in such a way as to include ‘bodies’ and ‘states of affairs’) and incorporeal entities which do not ‘exist’ in the same way things do, but rather ‘subsist’ or ‘inhere’ within these things.44 These incorporeal entities are events and they emerge when things come into contact with each other. However, not every combination of things constitutes an event. For Deleuze, in fact, most combinations of things would fall under the category of mere occurrences, in a manner reminiscent of Badiou’s understanding of the ‘situation’. For an incorporeal event-effect to be produced, the combination of things must constitute a turning point in the material constitution of those things.45 An event occurs, then, when the causal series that constitute things come into contact with each other to produce a turning point in one, some or all of the series. In general terms, and in stark contrast to Ricoeur and Badiou, an event is the product of an objective materiality rather than a subjective imposition upon it. But what is produced and how?
It is not that some ‘thing’ is suddenly produced it is that some ‘non-thing’, some incorporeal, is produced as an effect of the turning point. At its most general, Deleuze argues that it is a change in intensity that is produced; which is to say, a change in the ‘relations between things’.46 Moreover, for Deleuze, when the serial constitution of things reaches a turning point the difference intrinsic to the intensive relations between things is expressed such that there is a change in ‘the reality of things’. Deleuze argues that the actual corporeal existence of things – ‘already constituted individuals’ that are ‘ordinarily determined’47 - only partly captures the reality of the things themselves. In making a case for a full account of the reality of things Deleuze’s main claims can be summarised as follows: a) that the relations between things are a constitutive part of things themselves;48 b) that these relations are fundamentally intensive not extensive relations;49 c) that intensive relations are relations of ‘pure difference’ – self-differing variations rather than the difference between things; 50 d) that such variations are subject to a principle of indetermination;51 e) that, as fundamentally indeterminate, intensive relations are an ideal but nonetheless real component of actual – determinable - things;52 f) that the ideal-real component of a thing is not equivalent to the telos of a thing, rather that intensive relations exist as virtual aspects of actual things.53 Summarily, what we may call, the first task of Deleuze’s metaphysics was aimed at justifying the claim that every real thing has both extensive and intensive components: actual extensive features and virtual intensive relations.
While the division of reality into actual and virtual provides some foundation to the claim that events are the product of impersonal or material interactions, rather than imposed upon things by persons or subjects, there is a further clarification required before it is possible to understand Deleuze’s criterion for demarcating events from non-events; namely, we must understand the relationship between the actual and the virtual themselves. As it has been described so far, Deleuze’s arguments in support of a two-fold construction of the real are likely to give the impression that there are two distinct orders of reality. In fact, the second and dominant thrust of Deleuze’s metaphysical work was to account for the relationship of ‘reciprocal determination’ between the actual and the virtual.54 While the virtual relations of intensity condition our experience of things, the appearance of actual things themselves, the conditioned, also determines how we experience the relations of intensity. This ‘reciprocal determination’, however, is precisely not symmetrical, Deleuze argues, because the virtual conditions of every actual thing are specific to the thing itself.55 The virtual, therefore, is not expressed in the same way for every actual: actual things are individuals, in Deleuze’s terms. Putting it the other way around, every actual thing expresses the virtuality intrinsic to it, singularly: every virtual turning point is a singularity.
In The Logic of Sense, Deleuze distinguishes between events that are ‘ideal by nature’ and the ‘spatiotemporal realization’ of this ideal nature in ‘a state of affairs’ (thing).56 He cautions against assuming that events are the perfect form of something that is imperfectly manifest in actuality, that events provide the underlying essence of the thing. He argues instead that virtual events are manifest as actual ‘accidents’, where the notion of an ‘accident’ captures the singular nature of the actualisation of a virtual event. However, he also cautions against treating the accident as the essence of the event, claiming that the ‘double battle’ is to ‘thwart all dogmatic confusion between event and essence, and also every empiricist confusion between event and accident’.57 While ‘accident’ represents the novel, singular, occurrence it should not represent the nature of events as events. It is, rather, the actual marker that an event has already been produced at the level of the material constitution of things. With these clarifications in mind, Deleuze’s conception of the event can be summarised as follows: an event is a virtual but nonetheless real product of an actual and real transformation in the materiality of things that subsists within novel or ‘accidental’ occurrences as entirely singular expressions of the ideal event itself. As summarised above; Deleuze proposes an impersonal-singular conception of the event.
A political example, the attacks of ‘9/11’, may help clarify matters both in terms of Deleuze’s understanding of the event and how it improves upon Badiou’s subjective-universal account. This is also the appropriate point at which to introduce the relationship between the significance intrinsic to an event and the plural meanings that it creates.
Was 9/11 a Political Event?
The attacks that have come to be known as ‘9/11’ may seem to be unquestionably a political event.58 However, the matter is not as straightforward as it may at first appear. To say that what happened on September 11th 2001 must be a political event simply because something ‘happened’ is clearly insufficient because it doesn’t allow any means to differentiate ‘9/11’ from any number of other political occurrences that day. Nor is it enough to appeal to the scale of what happened, by reference to extrinsic factors such as the number of deaths, given that these elements in themselves do not make an occurrence an event. Derrida puts it well when he argues that a quantitative approach to defining 9/11 as a ‘major event’ must be replaced by ‘other explanations – meaningful and qualitative explanations’.59 In the terms used above, for 9/11 to count as a political event it must be understood in terms of its significance. But in what sense, if any, was 9/11 significant such that we can talk of it as a political event?
If we follow Badiou’s analysis then it is clear that 9/11 is not a political event. The attacks of 9/11 could not be the creative impetus of a subjective universalization of their significance as they were mere fluctuations in the already existing political situation, rather than a truly revolutionary rethinking of the political itself on genuinely egalitarian terms. Hallward sums up Badiou’s position clearly: ‘Despite appearances to the contrary, 9/11 did not compel its subjects to stop carrying on as before. Instead it confirmed, in the most dramatic terms, the basic principle which has long governed the global order, whereby the only lives that count are the lives of those who own the dominant means of exploitation and control the military resources required to preserve them’.60
Interestingly, the actual 9/11 attacks do not constitute a political event in Deleuzean terms either; but they do carry within them the traces of an event or events that give what happened its many different significances where these significations are the product, the effect of the ‘turning points’ that set a course towards the occurrences of 9/11. The Deleuzean approach, therefore, is not to presume that the occurrences of 9/11 constitute a unique event, as this ultimately relies upon a logic of creation ex nihilo. Rather than treat 9/11 as an event in itself, the Deleuzean perspective is to treat the occurrences of 9/11 as those which actualised events virtually embedded within them.61 Putting it simply, 9/11 was not the political event, 9/11 is what alerted us to the fact that political events had already taken place. Something significant had already happened, some turning points had already occurred in the material constitution of the political and it was 9/11 that made us aware, that gave us the ‘sense’ (in Deleuzean terminology), that things had already changed. We can say, for example, that it is not that the political sphere changed as a result of 9/11, but that 9/11 ‘brought us to our senses’ such that we are now aware that the political had already undergone these changes. The real political events have already happened and 9/11 is an occurrence that carries within it the traces of these events. Or, in other words, it is not that 9/11 itself was significant, but that it revealed the significant effects already produced by a changing political order.
In a case as multifaceted as 9/11, the process of trying to recover even some of the events, the turning points, that led to the actual attacks is bound to be complex. Nor is this the place to try to recover these but it is plausible that such a list might include the following: the ‘end of the cold war’; the moments when U.S. intelligence officials passed over the possibility of an al-Qaeda attack using hijacked civilian airplanes; budgetary debates within the Bush administration; the roots of internal conflict within the House of Saud; decisions surrounding American energy policy, and so on. The point here is not whether one, some or all of these constituted the turning point(s) that transformed the political sphere before 9/11 but that a Deleuzean theory of events enables the kind of inquiries that can legitimately research into the changes in political life before 9/11 that we only became aware of after the attacks. Lecercle draws out an important contrast between Badiou and Deleuze on just this point.62 Lecercle argues that while Badiou’s conception of the event rightly eschews Marxist historicism he has wrongly thrown the historical baby out with the historicist bathwater by over-emphasising the ahistorical role of subjects in naming the event. Deleuze’s treatment of events makes the historical recovery of these events possible, argues Lecercle, without resort to over-determination within an historicist framework.63 While clearly there is too much at stake in Lecercle’s discussion to be explored fully, it does help to establish the difference between what could be called a post-occurrence theory of the event (Badiou) and a pre-occurrence theory of the event (Deleuze).
Continuing the example of 9/11 it is possible to illustrate some of what is at stake in this preoccurrence theory of the event. It can be argued that the possible occurrences mentioned above, apparently insignificant as they actually occurred (certainly from the point of view of an attack on U.S soil), both constituted the turning points in a series of occurrences that resulted in 9/11 and triggered the production of the significances inherent within 9/11 itself; that is, they made 9/11 meaningful or, better yet, full of meaning. From a Deleuzean perspective, and in stark contrast to Badiou’s emphasis upon the revolutionary event, events usually occur when we are least aware of them. Yet, it is as an effect of these apparently insignificant moments that significance is produced; the possibility of meaning enters the world, we might say, behind our backs. Continuing the example, that the intelligence community ‘knew’ of the al-Qaeda attacks but that this knowledge did not fit within established paradigms and was therefore ignored clearly made 9/11 significant or ‘full of meaning’ for that community. When the many other turning points in the evental series leading up to 9/11 are factored in, it is possible to understand how the material interaction of people, planes and buildings carries within it a complex web of significances. The significance of 9/11 as a political occurrence, in other words, is not something attached to it ‘after the event’ by subjects. Rather, its significances subsist within the occurrence such that the different responses to 9/11 – that it was a ‘horrifying’, ‘salutary’, ‘glorious’, etc. occurrence – are to be thought of as expressions of incorporeal effects inherent within the occurrence itself. In other words, the different meanings people attach to 9/11 are not subjectively generated and then imposed upon the occurrence by individuals; rather, 9/11 was pregnant with impersonal significances that conditioned the very possibility of a variety of subjective meanings being assigned to it.64 The significances of 9/11, the ‘event-effects’ that had already transformed the political, were intrinsic or immanent to the occurrence itself.
It is precisely this unmediated relation of significance/sense to the event, unmediated by a subject that is, that Badiou finds objectionable. The next section will address this critique with a view to showing how Badiou’s omission of a central feature of Deleuze’s theory leads him to misunderstand the relationship between significance and the event that Deleuze elaborates. This will not only serve to clarify Deleuze’s theory of events in general, it will lead into the concluding discussion of the, now Deleuzean, answer to the guiding question: what is a political event?
A Note on Badiou’s Critique of Deleuze
Badiou’s critique of the Deleuzean ‘sense-event’ is most clearly articulated in a recent article, ‘The Event in Deleuze’. 65 Badiou contrasts four axioms of Deleuze’s theory of the event with four ‘inversions’ of these axioms, ‘in order to obtain a quite good axiomatic of what I call “event”‘.66 In summarising what he thinks is at stake in these four contrasting axioms of the event, Badiou employs Lyotard’s notion of ‘the differend’ to express the divergent ‘fundamental semantic connection’ that each thinker makes to the event: sense for Deleuze, truth for Badiou. Badiou’s argument is that, in forging the semantic unity of sense and the event, Deleuze’s theorisation is strained between two poles. On the one hand, Deleuze continually stresses the sense inherent within particular occurrences, the singularities that can only ever be accounted for in an empirical manner. On the other hand, he stresses the events that underlie sense which, Badiou claims, can only ever be recovered dogmatically. Badiou concludes that Deleuze’s theory of the event fails to break through both empiricist and dogmatic renderings of the event such that, what Badiou theorises as, the truth of an event (the universality it retroactively expresses) is lost between a plurality of empirical examples and the unity of dogmatic thought. He concludes with a summary of his own resolution of this problem: ‘To break with empiricism, the event must be thought as the advent of what is subtracted from all experience: the ontologically un-founded and the transcendentally discontinuous. To break with dogmatism, the event must be released from every tie to the One. It must be subtracted from Life in order to be released to the stars’. 67 From Badiou’s perspective, Deleuze fails to win the ‘double-battle’ of warding off empiricism and dogmatism because he subsumes the event within an ultimately harmonious and unified conception of experience and its transcendental condition, Life.68 If this is indeed the case, then Deleuze’s philosophy of the event will have little to offer our understanding of political events because all political events will be reduced to being expressions of a grand cosmological event that will make it impossible to demarcate political events from non-political events and from political non-events.
In a certain sense, Badiou’s critique of Deleuze is correct, as we shall see. However, for all Badiou’s undoubted subtlety in reading Deleuze, he has failed to grasp the centrality of Deleuze’s arguments regarding the ‘asymmetrical synthesis of the sensible’, and to this extent fails to grasp the truly political insight of Deleuze’s philosophy of the event. We can recall that, for Deleuze, actual extensive things (states of affairs and bodies) are individuals that express singular, virtual intensities as relations of difference irreducible to conceptions of identity. One consequence of this is that every attempt to access the virtual, the realm of intensities, is conditioned by the actual itself. The two ‘odd halves’ of reality, therefore, are never situated in a symmetrical relation to each other because the attempt to join the transcendental condition and the experiential conditioned is curtailed by the continual oscillation between the two. Yet, the actual and the virtual are also two halves of the same reality, so in this sense they are irrevocably fused together. It is for this reason that Deleuze talks of a ‘disjunctive synthesis’ between the virtual and actual, and why it is that he coins the neologism different/ciation to theorise the analytical movement from actual to virtual and virtual to actual.69 Expressing the same point in the terms Badiou adopts from Deleuze, the singularity of experience is conditioned by a transcendental conception of Life but Life itself can only be accessed through particular experiences such that each rendering of the transcendental field is itself conditioned by the particularity of that which it ‘conditions’.70 Or, returning to the example of 9/11, we can say that the occurrence of the actual attacks indicated that an event, or events, had already taken place (that this actual experience was ‘conditioned by’ a transformation in the political itself) but we must also say that our grasp of the political, as having been transformed was, and continues to be, conditioned by the actual occurrence of 9/11. In other words, it is not that 9/11 transformed politics; rather 9/11 is indicative of a transformation that had already happened albeit one that we can only access by thinking through 9/11 itself. It is this reciprocal determination of the conditioned and the condition that makes symmetry between them impossible and that, thereby, forecloses the possibility of an ultimate harmony between experience and Life, occurrence and event, meaning and sense.71
Nonetheless, two further aspects of Deleuze’s theory of the event must be clarified to fully respond to Badiou’s critique. First, it is precisely the asymmetry between ‘what happens’ and ‘that which is expressed in what happens’ that engenders the sensation of significance within an occurrence. If the actual occurrence and the virtual event were symmetrical, one the same as the other, then this complete lack of difference would mean that there was literally nothing to sense. It is one of Deleuze’s key metaphysical insights that sensation is always the experience of a difference; that without difference there would be no sensation. The asymmetry that results from the reciprocal determination of the virtual-real and the actual-real, however, means that every actual thing (state of affairs and body) is expressive of relations of difference and it is these which we sense in our experience of the world. From a metaphysical perspective, therefore, Badiou is correct to argue that, for Deleuze, every (actual) thing expresses (virtual) differences such that everything (as virtual-actual) is potentially significant. As such, from this metaphysical point of view, to recover the event that subsists within 9/11 is potentially to connect the attacks to everything, not just in the political sense but, one might say, in the natural and the cosmological senses of this as well. However, this fails to account for Deleuze’s analysis of the virtual-actual relationship of sense to meaning; that is, Badiou has correctly identified the ontological bedrock of Deleuze’s philosophy of the event but he has failed to grasp that Deleuze conceptualises the analysis itself through the lens of the virtual-real and actual-real. A brief explanation of this will constitute the second and, in this discussion, final clarification of Deleuze’s theory of the event.
The second clarification that is required, therefore, is that the significance engendered by an event is not passively received by individuals but actively constructed in and through the individual that senses it. What we can provisionally call, the ‘interpretation’ of the event subsisting within the occurrence is an actualisation of the virtual differences contained within it. As such, the interpretation itself is subject to the demands of reciprocal determination and the asymmetrical synthesis that conditions our experience of the world. Every interpretation, therefore, implies a two-way process of seeking the conditions behind the conditioned and the conditional nature of the condition itself. The first process is the search for meaning, the second is the search for sense. It is Deleuze’s insight that these two processes are irrevocably joined, though they can never be harmonised, such that interpretation is always already marked by a disjunctive synthesis of meaning and sense. It is for this reason that Deleuze ultimately rejects the idea of interpretation, because it carries with it the connotation of unifying what we sense and what we mean.72 Rather than interpretation, Deleuze speaks of experimentation, connection and construction; every attempt to understand an occurrence engenders the construction of an event that can be made meaningful but that also can not fully account for the sense of the event that has occurred. In fact, any attempt to deny the disjunctive nature of meaning and sense will amount to an imposition of meaning upon sense. We might, for example, consider the interlocking connotations of ‘the war on terror’ as just such an attempt to create a meaningful symmetry between the occurrence of 9/11 and its significance. The critical task that emerges from this characterisation of the imposition of meaning upon significance and sense, according to Deleuze, is that of counter-actualisation: ‘to release “the part of the event which its accomplishment cannot realise”‘.73 Importantly, though, and in contrast to Badiou’s reading of Deleuze, this does not mean restoring the occurrence to its virtual unity with the cosmological event of Life; rather it refers to the reconstruction of the asymmetry between the actual and virtual in the name of maintaining the essentially disjunctive relationship between the two. Given that the process of counter-actualisation is just that – a process of countering the actual meaning assigned to occurrences – it will always be conditioned by the actual in question. Moreover, as the search is undertaken for the singular moment when the relations of intensity changed, as one delves into the virtual realm of the political in this case, one has to make it meaningful, i.e. one has to construct a new sense of the meaning of the occurrence. In turn, this new meaning must itself be subject to a counter-actualisation and so on. Whereas Badiou’s understanding of the event required a militant subjectivity that remained faithful to its decision to name the event, Deleuze’s analysis requires the on-going creation of sense and meaning, of event and occurrence, not in the name of unity or even of fidelity but in the name of the irreducible plurality of events.
Why an irreducible plurality of events? Given that significance is never fully actualised within an occurrence, that it can always be counter-actualised in different ways, the pure event within the occurrence is always plural because its significance can only ever be actualised partially. There is, on this Deleuzean theory of events, no ultimate or final interpretation that can be assigned to 9/11; rather, and in a terminology more familiar within political theory, there are a series of ‘essentially contested’ conceptual constructions of the relationship between the occurrence and the event it embodies. They are essentially contested not as a result of semantic disagreements (or, indeed, as a result of the structure of political discourse) but because the singular event always exceeds its actualisation in and through individual occurrences and also because individual occurrences are the only perspective we have on the singular event.74 ‘Interpretation’ in political theory can never be final because of the asymmetrical relationship between political occurrences and the significance they express: as such, ‘interpretation’ will always be a form of conceptual construction.
Thinking from the perspective of the kind of individual we call a person or self,75 Deleuze argues that we are similarly constituted in terms of the two-fold construction of the real. Just as with things and interpretations, the self must be situated firmly within the two-fold logic of virtual intensities and actual extensities. In short, the self must also be seen to have a disjunctive synthesis at its heart. As such, a person involved in constructing the connections between event and occurrence, significance and meaning, if motivated by the need to reflect the analysis upon her own situation (rather than being motivated by the need to obscure asymmetry in the name of establishing a privileged meaning), must recognise her own status as an event: ‘It would be necessary for the individual to grasp herself as event; and that she grasp the event actualised within her as another individual grafted onto her...This is the ultimate sense of counter-actualisation’.76 Again, in contrast to Badiou’s delimitation of the political subject, Deleuze’s theory of events enjoins us to a creative exploration of (political) subjectivity, and its necessary disjunctions, against any attempt to universalise a particular form of self-identity and in the name of a counter-actualisation of any attempt to fix the meaning of the (political) world.
It is notable, nonetheless, that there is always the need to bracket the political when talking about Deleuze’s philosophy of the event.77 As is well known, Deleuze did not give an explicit theorisation of the nature of politics or the political realm, certainly not in the manner that we find in Badiou (a fact that, in part, accounts for the recent surge of interest in the latter’s ideas in the English speaking world). Is it the case, therefore, that while Badiou has an implausible conception of politics, Deleuze doesn’t have one at all? While there is much that could be said on this issue, it is possible to lay out the general terrain of, what we can call Deleuze’s general theory of the political relatively straightforwardly within the context of his theory of events. As a theorist motivated by an empiricist desire to engage with experience, Deleuze takes it for granted that our experience of political life is a real experience. As evidenced by his entire body of work, Deleuze assumes that there are political things, states of affairs or bodies (institutions, political parties, roles, bureaucracies, movements, individuals, structures and the like). However, in line with his general approach, Deleuze considers all things, political ones included, to be composed of virtual intensities as much as actual extensities and, on this basis, we could trace the different elements of the arguments mentioned in previous sections to the conclusion that there exists a disjunctive synthesis between the actual body politic and the virtual political events it expresses. The upshot of this is that novel occurrences within the body politic can be shown to express the actualisation of significant transformations in the political itself, such that we can say a political event has occurred. From a metaphysical point of view, of course, every occurrence within the body politic could, in principle, be creatively connected to a political event. However, a consequence of having to actualise this metaphysical point of view is that every attempt at doing so will only partly express the event that is sought. As such, every occurrence is potentially capable of being politicised, but a political event is distinguished by virtue being a counter-actualisation of established meanings. We might say, for example, that a political event occurred that conditioned the arrival of feminist political theory but also say that the arrival of feminist political theory is the counter-actualisation of the event that determined our sense of the event itself. Moreover, by virtue of the intrinsic partiality of the significance all counter-actualisations express, feminism must necessarily reconstitute, recreate, the event of which it speaks. This can account for the fragmentation of feminist political theory but it also accounts for the necessity, one that many feminists proclaim, to creatively engage with the political world in a variety of different ways.78 Aside from the particularities of this example, the general point is that while there is no explicit rendering of the political in Deleuze’s work, there is a subtle grasp of the political as a changing domain of experience, where everything can potentially become politicised, as well as a nuanced explanation of the intrinsic plurality of political perspectives within the political and the immanent relationship of political theory itself to that plurality. In contrast to Badiou’s explicit but implausible and dogmatic rendering of the political, Deleuze’s is plausible, explanatory and sensitive to the reciprocal determination of political theory and critical practice. At the heart of this sensitivity is his philosophy of the (political) event.
At the beginning of this discussion, political theory was characterised as a discipline that involves, in part at least, the interpretation of political events. As such, it was claimed that an inquiry into the nature of political events qua events should form an important element in the discipline’s self-understanding. Surprisingly, this inquiry has been relatively neglected within the discipline, in favour of the presumption that political events are simply things that happen within the political domain. The preceding analysis of the nature of events, drawn as it was from different strains of contemporary philosophies of the event, has shown that political theorists should be wary of resting easily upon that presumption. Generally speaking, political theorists should pay considerably more attention to the ‘evental’ status of political events because it is far from clear what actually constitutes a political event, how they are to be distinguished from other events and from political occurrences that do not have an event-like status. If ‘we political theorists’ do pay more attention to the event then the pay-off would surely be a raft of interesting ontological, epistemological and methodological reconsiderations of the guiding principles of all the ‘traditions of inquiry’ within the discipline. It is hoped that this discussion constitutes a small contribution to this process to the extent that it has surveyed some of the main philosophies of the event available to political theory.
More particularly, it has been argued that Davidson’s neutral account of events and the respectively agent-and subject-centred accounts of Ricoeur and Badiou, although progressively more consistent are ultimately unsatisfactory. Deleuze’s philosophy of the impersonal-singular event has been shown to have greater consistency, to sustain itself against the critique of its main rival conception – that of Badiou – and, to encapsulate a plausible but not trivial conception of the political. At which point it is appropriate to give a (now, Deleuzean) answer to the guiding question: what is a political event?
A political event is a counter-actualisation of a turning point in the virtual but nonetheless real domain of intensive political relations; a domain which political theorists usually refer to as ‘the political’. Consequently, a political non-event is any occurrence that is assigned meaning which merely accepts, or possibly reinforces, established conceptions of the political. Political theory itself becomes a nonevent to the extent that it simply accepts or reinforces established and dominant conceptions of the political. It can become an event itself, political theory can engage in the world that it inhabits, when it creatively experiments with conceptions of the political. At which point, political theory is not a reflection upon, or interpretation of political events; rather, political theory is that which produces political events, that which has the capacity to produce real change in the actual material constitution of things, bodies and states of affairs.
1. The task is ‘more fundamental’ to the extent that any inquiry into the meaning of political events that does not pay attention to the event-ness of events is ill-equipped to justify its own presuppositions. However, this does not commit the following argument to defending, what we may call, a foundationalist approach to events, where foundations are deemed to be transcendental conditions determining the abstract nature of events. Nonetheless, the language of fundamentals and foundations is retained because the ultimately Deleuzean position adopted at the end does rest upon foundations, where these are viewed as immanent determinations of real events. This distinction is neatly summed up in Michael Hardt, Gilles Deleuze: An Apprenticeship in Philosophy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), xv. Similarly, when I talk of ‘the nature of events’, and use related terms, it is with the aim of expressing the essence of events but this does not commit the argument to essentialism: see Bruce Baugh, ‘Real Essences without Essentialism’ in C. Boundas (ed.), Deleuze and Philosophy (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006). I am grateful to an anonymous referee from Theory and Event for encouraging this clarification.
2. Theory and Event is a notable exception in that it has included a number of articles that address political themes with a sensitivity to the evental status of political events.
3. Arguably, Agnes Heller’s, ‘The Concept of the Political Revisited’, in Political Theory Today, ed. David Held (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991), 330–43, is paradigmatic in this respect.
4. Of course, the full ramifications of an event-oriented discussion such as this for our grasp of the political per se would require a further series of clarifications, beyond the scope of this piece.
5. See, for example, Andrew Benjamin’s, The Plural Event (London: Routledge, 1993).
6. See, for example, Luiz Rueda’s, ‘Ontology of Events vs. Ontology of Facts: About the Current Fissures between the Continental and Analytic Traditions’, Journal of the British Society of Phenomenology, 37:2 (2006): 120–37.
7. The classic statements of Davidson’s arguments in support of the category of events can be found in the essays collected in Donald Davidson, Essays on Actions and Events (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980). An extensive bibliography of Davidson’s work can be found in Kirk Ludwig (ed.), Donald Davidson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 207–13.
8. In this context, a ‘thing’ is a particular and concrete entity. We shall see how Davidson argues for the existence of events as similarly particular and concrete entities that are nonetheless not things.
9. This list is taken from Ernest LePore, ‘The Semantics of Action, Event and Singular Causal Sentences’, in Actions and Events: Perspectives on the Philosophy of Donald Davidson, eds. Ernest LePore and Brian P. McLaughlin (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985), 151–61.
10. I have tried to distil, in a non-technical way, the essence of Davidson’s argument about the need for the inclusion of events in our ontological landscape. The rather more technical discussion can be found in Donald Davidson, ‘The Logical Form of Action Sentences’, in Essays on Actions and Events. Distilling the technical discussion, the argument is (broadly) as follows: it is clear that the sentence entails other simpler sentences, such as, a) ‘the United States Congress quickly passed a law’ and, b) ‘the United States Congress passed a law’. The problem is that traditional first order predicate logic does not allow for these entailments because it does not recognise the grammatical phenomenon of adverbial qualification, the ‘quickly’ of the sentence. That is, the simpler sentences a) and b) would be treated as distinct sentences by such logic, or similar only by virtue of sharing the same subject, the United States Congress. Davidson argued that to get beyond this problem we need to invoke an implicit logical form within the explicit grammar of the sentence. He argues we should unpack the original sentence as follows: ‘there was a passing of a law and this was passed by the United States Congress and it was passed quickly’, a logical form which implies simpler sentences including ‘there was a passing of a law’ which in turn entails ‘the passing of law’ or, we might say, of ‘legislating’. The point is that these simpler reductions of the sentence are predicates of a subject that is not a thing but an event, the event of legislating; or, putting it in the ungrammatical but logical form that Davidson uses, ‘legislatings are events’. I accept that this more technical discussion leaves many issues to be discussed but at least it gives a flavour of the argumentative strategy Davidson deploys. For a clarification and extension of his analysis of adverbial qualifiers see Davidson, ‘Adverbs of Action’, in Essays on Davidson: Action and Events, eds. Bruce Vermazen and Merrill B. Hintikka (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985), 230–41.
11. E.J. Lowe, A Survey of Metaphysics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 244.
12. Irving Thalberg’s, ‘A World Without Events?’, in Essays on Davidson, 137–55, is a good survey of and a persuasive response to those analytical philosophers who seek to eliminate or reduce the ontological status of events.
13. In short, Davidson argues that events can be said to exist because truth conditional semantics (in English) requires that these entities be quantified. His classic statement of the truth conditions required for natural languages is in Davidson, ‘Truth and Meaning’, Synthese, 17 (1967): 304–23. This essay and related discussions have been collected in Davidson, Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation, 2nd Edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2001).
14. See, amongst other sources, W.V. Quine, Ontological Relativity and Other Essays (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969), 23. One critic of this ‘slogan’ is P. F. Strawson, Entity and Identity: And Other Essays (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).
15. Davidson’s theoretical conjecture is that events have the same ontological status as things in that they are both concrete particulars. Much of his work on events, therefore, tried to establish that they could be treated as datable and locatable individual entities. If established, argues Davidson, then events would have as much ontological security as things and we would not be able to do away with the category of event without doing away with our commitment to things: Davidson, ‘The Individuation of Events’ in Essays in Honour of Carl G. Hempel, ed. Nicholas Rescher (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1969), 216–34, reprinted in Essays on Actions and Events. A useful discussion of issues raised by Davidson’s approach can be found in LePore, ‘The Semantics of Action, Event and Singular Causal Sentences’, 159–61.
16. See, Paul Ricoeur, Oneself as Another, trans. Kathleen Blamey (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 73–87.
17. Ricoeur, Oneself as Another, 86.
18. Ricoeur, Oneself as Another, 74.
19. Ricoeur, Oneself as Another, 129–32.
20. Rocoeur, Oneself as Another, 142, n1.
21. Subject, in this context, is being used in the logical sense of something to which a quality or relation or such like may be attributed. It is not being used in the anthropological sense of someone, as in a human being, nor in the political sense of a person that is dominated by an authority.
22. Although an important figure in French philosophical and political circles since the 1970’s, Alain Badiou is still relatively unknown amongst Anglo-American philosophers and political theorists. Many of his works have recently been translated into English, however, and there is growing interest in his ideas amongst philosophers and political theorists in the English speaking world influenced by the ‘continental’, especially ‘French-continental’, tradition. His distinctive philosophical system is developed in Being and Event, trans. Oliver Feltham (London: Continuum Press, 2005). Other works published in English include: Manifesto for Philosophy, trans. Norman Madarasz (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999); Deleuze: The Clamour of Being, trans. Louise Burchill (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000); Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, trans. Peter Hallward ((London: Verso, 2001); Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, trans. Ray Brassier (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2003); Briefings on Existence: A Transitory Ontology, trans. Norman Madarasz (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003). Two collections of his writings have also been published in English: Infinite Thought: Truth and the Return of Philosophy, trans. and eds. Oliver Feltham and Justin Clemens (London: Continuum Press, 2003); Theoretical Writings: Alain Badiou, trans. and eds. Ray Brassier and Alberto Toscano (London: Continuum Press, 2004). The secondary literature in English is growing rapidly. Key secondary sources include: Peter Hallward, Badiou: A Subject to Truth (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003); Peter Hallward, ed., Think Again: Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy (London: Continuum Press, 2004); Jason Barker, Alain Badiou: A Critical Introduction (London: Pluto Press, 2002).
23. The emphasis in the following discussion is on Badiou’s understanding of political events. From the point of view of his systematic philosophy, however, political events are only one of four evental conditions of philosophy (mathematics, poetry and love being the others) that bring truths into the world. For a clear discussion of his overall position, see Badiou, Manifesto for Philosophy, 79–88.
24. See, for example, Badiou’s discussion in Being and Event, ‘Meditation Twenty: The Intervention: Illegal choice of a name of the event, logic of the two, temporal foundation’, esp. 203. A very useful gloss on these and related themes can be found in Hallward, Badiou: Subject to Truth, 110–12.
25. For an excellent account and sympathetic critique of the relationship between the event and mathematical ontology in Badiou see; Ray Brassier, ‘Presentation as anti-phenomenon in Alain Badiou’s Being and Event’, Continental Philosophy Review 39 (2006): 59–77.
26. This interpretation of Badiou’s account of political events does not follow exactly his own summary in ‘Politics as Truth Procedure’, Metapolitics, 141–52. There, Badiou stresses the political dimension of political events, whereas this discussion is focussed on the evental nature of political events under the motif of significance.
27. It is beyond the remit of this discussion to expand upon all of the terms in this sentence but it is important to know that ‘situation’, ‘naming’ and ‘fidelity’ all have technical meanings in Badiou’s philosophical system. These terms can be found throughout his works but for his formal definitions see the ‘Dictionary’ at the end of Being and Event, 498–526.
28. Simon Critchley, ‘Demanding Approval: On the Ethics of Alain Badiou’, Radical Philosophy 100 (2000): 16–27, 23. The use of the language of truth and falsity in this quote and the following discussion is clearly philosophically loaded. As Hallward explains: ‘The fundamental and immediately striking move in Badiou’s philosophy...is his affirmation of the strict, uncompromising universality of truth, and his subsequent subtraction of this truth from the legislation of judgement or interpretation’ (Badiou: Subject to Truth, xxiii). Despite this centrality, it is beyond the remit of this discussion to delve into Badiou’s conception of truth, save to use it in a rather untechnical way to help distinguish political events from political nonevents. Etienne Balibar’s ‘The History of Truth: Alain Badiou in French Philosophy’, in Think Again, Hallward (ed), 21–38, provides an excellent overview of and critical commentary upon Badiou’s understanding of truth.
29. Peter Hallward, ‘Ethics without Others: A Reply to Simon Critchley’, Radical Philosophy 102 (2000): 27–30, 28.
30. Badiou, Ethics, 75.
31. Ibid., 76.
32. Badiou, Metapolitics, 142. He clarifies this by arguing that the militant is a ‘subjective determinant without identity’ so that we do not confuse the universal militant subject of politics with our conceptualisation of particular militants.
33. This is why Badiou is ‘Against Political Philosophy’ as a chapter title in Metapolitics puts it; 10–25. Here he argues against the view that politics is the task of negotiating opinions and he concludes that, ‘the essence of politics is not the plurality of opinions. It is the prescription of a possibility in rupture with what exists’, 24.
34. Bela Egyed, ‘Counter-Actualisation and the Method of Intuition’, in Deleuze and Philosophy, ed. Constantin V. Boundas (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006): 74–84.
35. Ibid., 81.
36. Daniel Bensaid, ‘Alain Badiou and the Miracle of the Event’, in Think Again: Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy, ed. Peter Hallward (London: Continuum, 2004): 94–105, 101. See also, Hallward, Badiou: A Subject to Truth, 284–91, for a revealing discussion of Badiou’s ‘absolutism’.
37. Badiou, ‘Nous pouvons redéployer la philosophie’ [interview with Rober-Pol Droit], Le Monde, Aug 31, 1993, quoted in and translated by Hallward, Badiou: A Subject to Truth, 45.
38. Badiou, Metapolitics, 23.
39. Ibid., 97.
40. Ibid., 98.
42. Reflecting upon his own philosophy, in conversation with Raymond Bellour and François Ewald in 1988, Deleuze said, ‘I’ve tried in all my books to discover the nature of events; it’s a philosophical concept, the only one capable of ousting the verb “to be” and attributes’; ‘On Philosophy’, in Negotiations: 1972–1990, trans. M. Joughin (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 135–55, 141. Nonetheless, the key primary single-authored sources with regard to his philosophy of the event are: Difference and Repetition, trans. P. Patton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994); The Logic of Sense, trans. M. Lester with C. Stivale (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990); The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, trans. T. Conley (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993). It is useful, though, to supplement these with selections from his other texts. Of particular note are the following: Cinema 1: The movement-image, trans. H. Tomlinson and B. Habberjam (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986) and Cinema 2: The time-image, trans. H. Tomlinson and R. Galeta (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989). The event also features throughout his collaborative work with Guattari, especially: A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. B. Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987) and What is Philosophy?, trans. H. Tomlinosn and G. Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994). Given the centrality of the event to the work of Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari, the secondary literature is peppered with discussions of the role it plays in his and their work. Cutting a swathe through this vast literature, Paul Patton’s contributions to our understanding of Deleuze (and Guattari’s) deployment of the category of events are arguably the most pertinent in this particular context: Deleuze and the Political (New York: Routledge, 2000); ‘Future Politics’ in P. Patton and J. Protevi (eds) Between Deleuze and Derrida (New York: Continuum, 2003) 15–29; ‘The Event of Colonisation’ in I. Buchanan and A. Parr (eds) Deleuze and the Contemporary World (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006) 108–24.
43. Badiou, ‘Nous pouvons redéployer la philosophie’ [interview with Rober-Pol Droit], Le Monde, Aug 31, 1993, quoted in and translated by Hallward, Badiou: A Subject to Truth, 45.
44. Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, 4–11. Twenty years after The Logic of Sense, Deleuze writes of three great logics of the event associated with the Stoics, Leibniz and Whitehead: see, The Fold, 54. While each ‘logic’ raises its own particular questions and theses regarding the event, it is the first of these that will be the focus of this discussion as it is the most pertinent regarding significance and political events.
45. The idea of an event as a turning point is from Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, where he clarifies that the ideal event, as opposed to an actual occurrence, is always a singularity, ‘a turning point or point of inflection’ (52). The event as a ‘turning point’ also features in J. Williams, Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition: A Critical Introduction and Guide (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2003), 153–7. The idea of a turning point is not to be read metaphorically. It implies, rather, that the existence of actual, corporeal things (bodies and states of affairs) is determined in a linear and serial way such that we can talk of occurrences between things – the lines of causation that give things their materiality - as partly constitutive of ‘the reality of things’; but only partly, according to Deleuze, as the reality of things must also include the relations between the things themselves, such that the reality of a thing is in part also defined by its relations.
46. There is clearly a danger in such simplification of the idea of intensity. Deleuze gives a technical rendering of intensity in many different texts but the locus classicus is in Difference and Repetition, especially pp. 232–39, where he argues that intensity has three characteristics: a) it is ‘the quality which belongs to quantity’; b) ‘it affirms difference’; c) ‘it is primarily implicated in itself’. As the discussion progresses he argues that intensity is (obscurely) expressed in and through all relations between things but nonetheless ‘intensity clearly expresses only certain relations or certain degrees of variation’ (252). For an interpretation and development of Deleuze’s use of ‘intensity’ see; Manuel DeLanda, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy (New York: Continuum, 2002).
47. Deleuze, ‘The Actual and the Virtual’, trans. E. R. Albert, in G. Deleuze and C. Parnet, Dialogues II, trans. H. Tomlinson and B. Habberjam (New York: Continuum, 2002); 148–52, 152.
48. This claim clearly situates Deleuze’s metaphysics in a post-Hegelian terrain. It is interesting to note, however, that Deleuze subverts Hegel’s synthesis of relations through the dialectics of the concept by invoking the pre-Kantian empiricism of Hume in the name of an analysis that prioritizes real relations of difference over and above differences that become unified through the concept; an analysis he identifies as empiricism. Non-conceptual relational difference is summed up in the phrase, ‘relations are external to their terms’. But, as Deleuze goes on: ‘One must go further: one must make the encounter with relations penetrate and corrupt everything, undermine being, make it topple over. Substitute the AND for IS’; ‘On the Superiority of Anglo-American Literature’ in Dialogues II, pp55–7. See also; Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity: An Essay on Hume’s Theory of Human Nature, trans. C. Boundas (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991) and ‘Hume’ in Pure Immanence: Essays on A Life, trans. A. Boyman (New York: Zone Books, 2001).
49. Deleuze argues that all relations of quantity and quality are conditioned by intensity; ‘In short, there would no more be qualitative differences or differences in kind than there would be quantitative differences or differences of degree, if intensity were not capable of constituting the former in qualities and the later in extensity, even at the risk of appearing to extinguish itself in both’, Difference and Repetition, 239.
50. Deleuze argues throughout his work that intensive relations are not subsumable within models of difference that presume the pre-given identity of the things being related; for example, throughout Difference and Repetition. He argues that identity oriented definitions of difference (that view difference as opposition or contradiction, for example) always compare things against ‘the same’ and thereby nullify difference. A non-identity oriented model of difference is one that can account for pure difference without the ‘return of the same’. Summarising rather dramatically, he concludes that in order to grasp the reality of the relations between things as differences between things we must view these as intensive differences.
51. Indeterminacy is not something to be avoided in Deleuze’s metaphysics; on the contrary, there is a necessity to recognising it as a condition of that which differs from itself. At the opening of ‘Difference in Itself’, the first chapter of Difference and Repetition, Deleuze uses the example of lightning to explain his interest in a different kind of difference: ‘...instead of something distinguished form something else, imagine something which distinguishes itself – and yet that from which it distinguishes itself does not distinguish itself from it. Lightning, for example, distinguishes itself from the black sky but must also trail it behind, as though it were distinguishing itself from that which does not distinguish itself from it’, 28.
52. Ideal, here, refers to Deleuze’s concept of the idea rather than to imply any conception of perfection. An idea, for Deleuze, is a diagram of intensive relations. As such, it is not the property of a subject: be it an individual person or a trans-historical spirit. An idea, on this account, is better conceived of as a real problem, where real refers to the virtual-real and where problem refers to real intensive differences without a single resolution. ‘Ideas and the Synthesis of Difference’, chapter 4 of Difference and Repetition clarifies, defends and expands upon this notion of the idea.
53. Although central to the argument of Difference and Repetition, the best source for Deleuze’s arguments as to why the virtualactual couple is not to be subsumed within the intrinsically teleological real-possible couple is in Bergsonism, trans. B. Habberjam and H. Tomlinson (New York: Zone Books, 1990). This Bergson-Deleuze distinction has spawned a lot of secondary commentary. Book length studies include: Charles Stivale, The Two-Fold Thought of Deleuze and Guattari: Intersections and Animations (New York: Guilford Press, 1998); Keith Ansell Pearson, Philosophy and the Adventure of the Virtual (New York: Routledge, 2002; Delanda, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy; Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002).
54. Williams calls this ‘Deleuze’s greatest metaphysical innovation and the key to understanding the power of his philosophy’, Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition, 176.
55. Extending an example Deleuze uses in The Logic of Sense (21), while a given tree, an actual organic individual, is conditioned by intensive relations of difference that mean that it is, in part, defined as a variety of tree to the extent that it produces green leaves, each particular tree produces different shades of green that express this ‘tree-ness’ differently. It is also important to note that different species and different individuals within species will sense these differences differently.
56. Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, 53. Patton’s gloss on this distinction is helpful; “Events are not ideal forms abstracted from the specific features of any one occasion. They are not universals but singular incorporeal entities’, ‘The Event of Colonization’, 112.
57. Ibid., 53–4.
58. It may be more appropriate to speak of political events but for the purpose of this discussion there is no need to disentangle whether or not 9/11 was one event, two or more as what is at stake is whether or not what happened can be considered event-like.
59. Jacques Derrida, ‘Autoimmunity: Real and Symbolic Suicides: A Dialogue with Jacques Derrida’ in Giovanna Borradori, Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), p.92. If we follow Derrida’s analysis then it is not clear whether 9/11 is an event or not. Suspending judgement, for Derrida, is an important part of the philosophical task of trying to separate the direct impression of 9/11, felt by people worldwide, from the mediated impression distributed world-wide by the ‘organised information machine’ (89). Derrida recognises just how difficult such a separation is to enact, but he argues that 9/11 has an event-like status because it fractured the very economic, legal, political, military and discursive structures (those given by the ‘end of the cold war’) that would explain what it meant. As such, ‘9/11’ is the discursive marker of an unnameable – the name that tries to heal the trauma of the unnameable event but that will always fail because there is in all likelihood another 9/11, or worse, ‘to come’ (94–96). ‘9/11’ (with the quotation marks) is the mediated event, the attempt to control the future by giving the occurrence a fixed date. 9/11 (without the quotation marks) is the unmediated event it is impossible to define because it presages what is ‘to come’. This is consistent with Derrida’s earlier remarks on events: ‘The event only happens under the aegis of the impossible. When an event, efficiency or anything is deemed possible, it means that we have already mastered, anticipated, pre-understood and reduced the eventhood of the event’; ‘Politics and Friendship’ in Elizabeth Rottenberg (ed. and trans.) Negotiations: Interventions and Interviews (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), 194. Unfortunately, this does little to clarify if 9/11 actually was a political event or not as this judgement is left to the (open-ended, never foreclosed) future.
60. Hallward, ‘Introduction’, Think Again, 7.
61. Deleuze: ‘With every event, there is indeed the present moment of its actualisation...But, on the other hand, there is the future and past of the event considered in itself, sidestepping each present, being free of the limitations of a state of affairs’, The Logic of Sense, 151.
62. Jean-Jacques Lecercle, ‘Cantor, Lacan, Mao, Beckett, même combat: The Philosophy of Alain Badiou’, Radical Philosophy, 93 (1999) 6–13.
63. On this point, one can invoke Foucault’s genealogical work as that which recovers events without subsuming them within an over-determined historical narrative. See, Deleuze, Foucault, trans. Sean Hand (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988).
64. What is described rather briefly here is argued for extensively throughout The Logic of Sense; in summary, however, the conclusion is that sense conditions meaning.
65. Badiou, ‘The Event in Deleuze’, trans. Jon Roffe, Parrhesia, 2 (2007) 37–44. This is a translated extract from Badiou’s, Logiques des mondes (Paris: Editions de Seuil, 2006). The ‘nonrelationship’ between Badiou and Deleuze is recounted by Badiou in Deleuze, 1–6. As well as this book on Deleuze, the key primary sources for the ‘nonrelationship’ include: Badiou, ‘Gilles Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque’, trans. Thelma Sowley, in Constantin V. Boundas and Dororthea Olkowski (eds), Gilles Deleuze and the Theater of Philosophy (New York: Routledge, 1994) 51–69; Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy?, 151–3; Badiou, Briefings on Existence, esp. 63–76.
66. Ibid., 39. In the context of this discussion it is not necessary to recount the details of what Badiou sees as Deleuze’s four axioms of the event nor his inversions of them as the essential contrast on the relationship between sense, truth and the event is what is at stake. Moreover, it would not be productive in this context to reconstruct the details of the axiomatic differences Badiou lays out as it would require a more complete account of their rival philosophical systems than can be given here.
67. Ibid., 42.
68. Hallward, Out of this World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation (London: Verso, 2006) makes a similar charge against Deleuze’s concept of the event. For example: ‘Thus abstracted from the actual complications of causality, virtual events figure as aspects of that one-all which we already know to be the true dimension of reality itself’ (45). Nonetheless, it is worth noting that Hallward does offer a critical and subtle account of Badiou’s claims against Deleuze’s philosophical system in Badiou: A Subject to Truth, 174–80. For a similar critique of Deleuze see: Slavoj Zizek, Organs Without Bodies: Deleuze and Consequences (London: Routledge, 2004).
69. Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, 209. The process whereby virtual intensive differences become actual extensive, diverse, things is labelled differenciation, whereas the process whereby an actual thing may be understood as expressive of real but virtual intensities Deleuze calls differentiation.
70. Which explains why it is that Deleuze characterises the transcendental field as ‘a life’ rather than life itself; see, Deleuze, ‘Immanence: A Life’ in Pure Immanence, 25–33.
71. In What is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari account for this asymmetry in terms of the activity of philosophical conceptualisation itself when they argue that every concept inaugurates it’s own ‘plane of immanence’ and every relationship between concept and plane is characterised by the perspectivism of a conceptual personae that brings the relationship ‘to life’; see, ‘Part One: Philosophy’. For a discussion of the ramifications of this position see MacKenzie, ‘Creativity as Criticism: The Philosophical Constructivism of Deleuze and Guattari’, Radical Philosophy, 86 (1997) 7–18. Similar claims can be traced through a number of critical rebuttals to Badiou’s reading of Deleuze, including: Nathan Widder, ‘The Rights of Simulacra: Deleuze and the Univocity of Being’, Continental Philosophy Review, vol. 34, no. 4 (2001), 437–53 ; and, Egyed, ‘Counter-Actualisation and the Method of Intuition’
72. See, for example, Deleuze, ‘On the Superiority of Anglo-American Literature’ in Deleuze and Parnet, Dialogues II, esp. pp. 47–9.
73. Deleuze quoting Blanchot; ibid., 73.
74. The reference is to the idea of ‘essentially contested concepts’ developed by W. Gallie in ‘Essentially Contested Concepts’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 56, 1956: 167–98. This idea was picked up by Connolly and developed through an analysis of discourse: W. Connolly, The Terms of Political Discourse (Oxford: Blackwell, 1974). Although it can not be developed here, the implication I am making is that the idea of ‘essential contestability’ has an ontological root in an eventcentred account of political theory.
75. This rather clumsy construction is necessary because Deleuze uses the term individual in the classically metaphysical sense – to include all manner of individuals – rather than restrict it to mean an individual person.
76. Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, 178.
77. See Patton’s, Deleuze and the Political, for a good account of the difficulties of reading Deleuze as a political philosopher.
78. This example is merely illustrative of a general conception of the political in Deleuze; there is no need to engage with feminism per se or with the large of body of literature on Deleuze (and Guattari) and feminism.