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  • After the EventToward a Post-Capitalist Conception of Structure and Habit
  • Christopher Breu

on the limits of the event

Habit, Structure, Event: recent theory would privilege the later concept over the former two. As concepts, habit and structure suggest fixity, rigidity, inattentiveness, unconsciousness—certainly not the stuff of which radical political transformation is usually made. If anything, habit and structure are typically understood to be akin to ideology. Thus, Pierre Bourdieu articulates his concept of habitus as an embodied conception of ideology in which a person’s class position is marked by a series of unconscious dispositions, habits, and beliefs. Similarly, Althusser invokes the idea of structure to theorize the workings of capitalism and the reproduction of its conditions of production. Event, as a concept, on the other hand is transformational, sexy, revolutionary. It is the unpredictable, the new, the contingent, that which gives us hope in the face of capitalism’s overwhelming systematicity. Certainly this is how the concept has functioned in the work of Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek.1 Yet, what are the conceptual limitations that structure the concept of the event itself? What if its alterity to all structure, which makes it excellent for negating the present, also limits its ability to imagine the future. What if the emphasis on the event’s novelty suggests that the concept is haunted by the very forms of capitalist innovation and novelty that it is designed to negate? What if our refusal to think beyond the event is symptomatic of the capitalist colonization of the future that Maurizio Lazzarato argues is central to the logic of financialization and debt?

If the answer to these questions is affirmative, it does not negate the event so much as mark its limits as a concept. The event is thus both necessary and insufficient. A genuine left alternative will need to think what the anti-capitalist or post-capitalist future holds after the dynamic negation produced by the eruption of the event. In doing so, we may find ourselves returning to those very unsexy terms that the theory of the event seemed to negate: habit and structure. Such is the gambit of the following essay. Rather than merely figurations of containment, ideology, and constraint, habit and structure can also be concepts around which we can organize a post-capitalist or anti-capitalist future. [End Page 56]

in search of an exit

Empire and multitude; capitalism and schizophrenia; reification and Utopia; fundamental fantasy and its traversal; the virtual and the actual; being and event; one and zero: much radical theory seems to be caught in a binary logic. This binary logic is absolutely necessary even as it is regularly eschewed. While perhaps only Jameson and Žižek are honest enough to locate the generation of such a logic at its Hegelian source, theory seems, at its most radical, to require a negative force powerful enough for, as Benjamin Noys puts it, “a practice of the necessary destruction of existent positivities” (Persistence 14).2 Given the way in which capitalism, and its attendant aesthetic and philosophical mode, what Mark Fisher terms “capitalist realism,” works to colonize the present and the future, such a negation (conceptual or actual, violent or, hopefully, non-violent) seems fundamental to imagining, and more importantly, producing a different, just, and sustainable future (7). Thus we have the proliferation of theories of the event in the present.

There are any number of ways we can read this proliferation. At its most dispiriting, theories of the event seem willfully counterfactual. They are a way of holding on to the possibility of a radical break, a locus of unpredictable possibility and revolutionary change in a period (whether we call it capitalist realism, post-postmodernism, neoliberalism, or just more of good old postmodernism) that seems only fixated on an ever-worsening more of the same. If dystopia, with its four horsemen, financialization, austerity, biopolitical control, and environmental devastation, seems to be the only game in town (and here is where a periodization that distinguishes our own moment from the giddiness of eighties, and nineties, postmodernism or neoliberalism makes sense), then theories of the event are a way to still hold open the possibility...


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pp. 56-70
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