Nina Power on Protest and Alain Badiou

Radio Free Everybody talks to philosopher and activist Nina Power
Nina Power
Stir to Action has posted a new edition of its interview series, Radio Free Everybody (RFE). In the second episode, which includes a transcript, Matt Callahan talks to philosopher and activist Nina Power about the work of Alain Badiou, her thoughts on Defend the Right to Protest, and her book One-Dimensional Woman:
Matt Callahan: Ok, that’s sufficient. Well then, let’s go right into this, the first question that I wanted to ask you is how do you distinguish philosophy from science, art and politics?

Nina Power: Ok, well I think, well the way you pose the question is obviously very Badiouian, in the sense that these are his distinctions, although you missed out love. [Laughs]

Matt Callahan: That’s true.

Nina Power: But yeah, in that sense I would say to Badiou when he says that philosophy in a sense is empty, and actually what distinguishes philosophy is not it’s particular subject matter or its content, but its function in the way that it sort of weaves all these other disciplines and talks about them in a certain kind of meta-way. You know, that it can hold together certain kinds of abstractions or truths that are generated by these other disciplines, but it doesn’t generate any truths of its own. So in a way, for me, philosophy is not a particular method or a particular set of questions as you might be taught as an undergraduate, you know, let’s say it’s all these different ways of thinking about ethics or politics or epistemology or metaphysics or something like that. I think it seems to be more humble or more interesting to say that philosophy has no content of its own, it generates no questions that are specific to it, but it can, nevertheless, have this sort of capturing or compossibilizing function, you know, that it can draw things out of other disciplines.

Matt Callahan: How does that relate to Marx’s famous statement that philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point however it is to change it? Is Badiou’s use of the term or what you are referring to as the Badiouian view of philosophy related to that?

Nina Power: You can’t force something, you can’t say, well alright, we’ve got to stop thinking, let’s just do something, ok, without knowing what you’re doing. Obviously there’s lots of kind of wasted action, if you like, there’s no sense in wasting time either, thinking through problems that are irrelevant, but at the same time it’s also, you’ve got to know what you are doing, you’ve got to understand enough of the situation in order to be able to act. When Badiou talks about the event and there are lots of questions that follow from this but it’s about saying something happened that you may not be able to exactly describe in the political situation but what truth might be is your fidelity to whatever’s happened. So, let’s say you’re involved in a political action and something is revealed about the relationship between the state and the way in which, people figured in this state and you see something and you don’t know what to call it, you see something that seems to you true, but isn’t what the state generally tells you is true and you hold true to this so you think about the way in which immigrants are excluded from the way in which the state figures itself or a certain way of seeing the world differently in terms of how you can organise it or maybe without money or something and you hold true to that.

Matt Callahan: I was asking it more, you might say, rhetorically it seems that Badiou is responding to a number of different contradictions. One of which is the original critique of philosophy as such by in Marx’s thesis on Feurbach and on the other hand, he was referring to the fact that all through the 20th century he talks about the destitution of philosophy, referring to Heidegger’s The End of Philosophy of 1969, where he’s offering over philosophy to science on the one hand, and the poet on the other. I mean you can look as these figures as just philosophers or whatever name you want to give them, but there’s really a question of well, does philosophy really have a role at all?

Nina Power: Yeah, I mean this is why the emptiness of philosophy’s really important. So, with ontology, Badiou basically hands over ontological questions concerning multiplicity and so on to mathematics. He says, look, I mean why is philosophy still trying to answer these with this useless language, that mathematics does far better? And that’s to say, well if we can pass that over to mathematics then philosophy has more time, if you like, to think about how we combine events, how we discuss subjects, so what are the subjects of these events? So, instead of spending all of our time coming up with yet another ontology you actually try to think much more about precisely the more practical questions. So what are the truths that are generated in these other areas, in politics, in love, you know, and what philosophy do to put them together to think through different kinds of subjects: the faithful subjects, the loyal subjects, the loving subject, the scientific subject, the collective subject. So in that way, I think he’s paring down philosophy, so although there’s something rather grandiose about Badiou’s system, I think at the end of the day it’s actually really minimal in a certain sense and quite humble, oddly.

Matt Callahan: The last few years, renewed inquiry into what Badiou called the communist hypothesis and really whether or not this was just because of the financial crisis. Is this only amongst philosophers and what does it have to do with communist parties and so on and so forth?

Nina Power: Well, I guess that I think the communist hypothesis idea and the return of it was actually floated before the economic crisis so I don’t think it was really responding to that just chronologically. But, I think there is something slightly problematic about it for me because it retains this kind of idealist element. I think on the one hand it’s very brave how people want to be talking about communism again-”have we left enough time after the horrors etc.” But, I think that it’s a very interesting kind of project, let’s say there’s this idea of invariance so that certain kinds of movements and certain kinds of political situations retain or maintain a kind of similarity that you can point to across the ages. Say, this is where in the Paris commune, May ’68, there’s something similar about that kind of… [Read More]
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