2 thoughts on “Badiou vs. Nancy on Libya

  1. I read these pieces back in April and thought to return to them on what seems to be the eve of the next step in Libya– rebels are calling Sunday (Aug 21) “Day One.” Insofar as the troops marching on Tripoli seem not to be NATO troops, but genuinely Libyan rebels, the situation seems promising. It also seems to refute, at least in part, Badiou’s long polemic against what he calls NATO’s “rescue” mission. What is most intriguing for me, however, is to notice how active each respective author’s philosophy is in their responses here.

    Clearly, Badiou is in favor of the total-immanent break from the situation and the constituted powers-that-be. Thus, he is in favor of letting the rebels proceed without interference on their own crusade and sees a threat to the authentic possibilities of this “event”: that the participation of NATO and the West will corrupt the potential in the event. The logic of his system seems to requires this kind of response. But with Nancy, you have a much different question of the “we” that is constantly resonating throughout his work. In a word, the “we” that we all “already are” precedes any identity, any “I,” whether we construe this on terms of nation-states or individual leaders or the rebel groups. I think Nancy sees the rebellion in Libya, not as an isolated attempt to break with the situation there, but with a global attempt to break with the situation everywhere. Thus, the participation of the West is not *necessarily* a corruption, for there is the real possibility that the Western powers are playing a part in their own eventual demise. I think this is what he is talking about when he says that “[The West] is simply in the process of melting in the fusion that begets another world.” So to me, it is no surprise that Badiou is perplexed with the way that Nancy uses the word “us,” for it is in a much different sense than the one Badiou uses it (it makes me think that Badiou doesn’t reach much Nancy). There is a sense, at least for me, that it is Badiou who is too entrenched in the situation (i.e., too angry at the Sarcozy’s and the oil-barons), too committed to the partition between the “us” and “them,” to see the possibilities for a new kind of “we” that a joint action in Libya represents. For Libya is not an Iraq, I don’t think. In a word, Badiou seems to impute to Nancy the view that “we [the West] have to remain in control of everything,” whereas what Nancy really seems to be saying is this: “we [all of us] are in control, and we [the West] have never really been in total control.” I think he says this when he says “history is moving beyond History,” and it seems that Badiou is almost too stuck in the confines of this capital “H” to notice how the powers that be are participating in this new history with a lower-case “h.”

    Of course, we will have to see what happens as time goes on, after (probably) Kadaffi falls and the question of the organization of a new Libyan state manifests itself in full force. For I don’t think that Badiou is wrong on any of his points, necessarily, and both of these authors warn against the possibility of Libya being re-territorialized, to so speak, by the very Western puppet show they sought to rebel against. Personally, I am more partial to Nancy’s approach, which doesn’t immediately pin all of the Western power structure as inherently corrupt (or at least, he sees glimmers or chances of hope still there, even if these chances run contrary to the West’s own conscious intentions). Insofar as Nancy clearly says, “Political responsibility means weighing up and dealing with such circumstances,” and later, “It is the responsibility of the peoples, yes: and it is also of course to us, the peoples of Europe or America, that this is addressed. It is a delicate task. But at stake is what we want to live and how we want to live it, with an acuteness that we are not accustomed to,” I’m led to believe that Badiou doesn’t really know how to read Nancy– or maybe doesn’t even want to.

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