Month: April 2011

Wallerstein on the “Great Distraction” in Libya

I guess this is better than Badiou’s claim that, you know, the Libyan people don’t exist or something and so French or British intelligence agents are those really on the ground. Wallerstein argues, essentially, that Saudi Arabia is leading this policy in order to distract would-be protesters from spreading the rage to its kingdom:

There is one thing on which Gaddafi and Western leaders of all political views are in total accord. They all want to slow down, channel, co-opt, limit the second Arab revolt and prevent it from changing the basic political realities of the Arab world and its role in the geopolitics of the world-system. …

Today, the Western powers are launched on a Libyan war, with an uncertain outcome. It will probably be a morass. Has it succeeded in distracting the world from the ongoing Arab revolt? Perhaps. We don’t know yet. Will it succeed in ousting Gaddafi? Perhaps. We don’t know yet. If Gaddafi goes, what will succeed him? Even U.S. spokesmen are worrying about the possibility that he will be replaced either with his old cronies or with al-Qaeda, or with both.

The U.S. military action in Libya is a mistake, even from the narrow point of view of the United States, and even from the point of view of being humanitarian. It won’t end soon. President Obama has explained his actions in a very complicated, subtle way. What he has said essentially is that if the president of the United States, in his careful judgment, deems an intervention in the interests of the United States and the world, he can and should do it. I do not doubt that he agonized over his decision. But that is not good enough. It’s a terrible, ominous, and ultimately self-defeating proposition.


The Event

WIlliam Connolly has a new piece up at The Contemporary Condition about “The Politics of the Event”:

Each of these moments embodies the essential characteristics of an event: it happens rather rapidly; it throws regular institutions into turmoil, uncertainty or disarray; its antecedents often seem insufficient to explain the course of its expansion and amplifications; its settlement, when underway, is uncertain; it makes a real difference in the world, for good or ill.

I’ve recently worked through Connolly’s recent A World of Becoming, which obviously fits well with my own project on re-temporalizing philosophy (hmm: I guess that “re” is too strong–rather, emphasizing the temporal movements philosophy has been witnessing at least since Nietzsche and Heidegger). And Connolly’s book is relatively good on focusing on various movements in systems theory and biology that do more than or as much to challenge previous conceptions of temporality as anything Heidegger wrote. But I would add that thinking the event is not an event itself these days (Isn’t there a TV series of that title as well?), and moreover, it’s quickly becoming indistinguishable from something like an instantaneous now-point. But of course an event, if there is such a thing, would have a horizon well beyond the 1/10 of a second, or rather, may not happen so rapidly. In fact, an event may be the most patient temporal horizon of them all.

Alain Badiou replies to Nancy’s Support for Libyan Intervention

Verso has the full text here. For context, see here.The crux:

How can you of all people fall into this trap? How can you accept any kind of ‘rescue’ mission being entrusted to those very people for whom the old situation was the good one, and who absolutely want to get back into the game, by forcible means, from motivations of oil and hegemony? Can you simply accept the ‘humanitarian’ umbrella, the obscene blackmailing in the name of victims? But our armies kill more people in more countries than the local boss Gaddafi is capable of doing in his. What is this trust suddenly extended to the major butchers of contemporary humanity, to those in charge of the mutilated world that we are familiar with? Do you believe, can you believe, that they represent ‘civilisation’, that their monstrous armies can be armies of justice? I am stupefied, I must confess. I ask myself what good is philosophy if it is not immediately the radical critique of this kind of unreflecting opinion, moulded by the propaganda of regimes such as our own, which popular uprisings in regions strategic for them have put on the defensive, and which are seeking their revenge.

Well, all that might be true. But it’s stupefying in the name of taking on imperialism that Badiou denies that a “people” exists in Libya.

Didn’t you notice right from the start the palpable difference between what is happening in Libya and what is happening elsewhere? How in both Tunisia and Egypt we really did see massive popular gatherings, whereas in Libya there is nothing of the kind?

Whatever one thinks of the Libyan intervention, to deny the events of Feb. 15-17 (the arrest of Fethi Tarbel, which trigged protests, which then resulted in a day of rage for the 17th, which resulted in Qaddafi’s forces gunning down protesters with anti-aircraft machine guns) to make this point, all to incongruously suggest that agents of France and Britain were in Libya prior to the events in Tunisia and Egypt, but were responsible for the “protests” in Libya, demonstrates a remarkable view of causation. Blame the Western powers. Hate the military bombardments done in the name of humanitarianism. But leave this stuff out.



Quick Follow-up on that last Nancy post

I just linked to Nancy’s 3/28 article on the Arab uprisings. Let me quote from the English translation:

So, yes, it is necessary to keep a close eye on the strikes that are aimed at undermining the vile assassin of the people; sure, it is necessary to strike – him, of course, not the people. We can no longer, with one hand, invoke the sovereignty that, with the other hand, we empty of substance and legitimacy through all the interconnections – the best and worst – of the globalised world [monde mondialisé]. It is up to the people in question and to all others, including us, to ensure then that the oil, financial, and arms dealing game that installed and maintained this puppet (among many others) in power does not start over. 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. That is what the Arab peoples are also signifying to us.

For another view, see Lenin’s Tomb here.  Or we can just juxtapose the above with Alain Badiou, “Tunisia, Egypt: The Universal Reach of Popular Uprisings”:

How much longer will the poor and dark West, the ‘international community’ of those who still think of themselves as masters of the world, continue to give lessons of good management and behaviour to the whole planet?… As Jean-Marie Gleize poetically puts it: ‘a revolutionary movement does not expand by contamination. But by resonance. Something emerging here resonates with the shock wave emitted by something emerging out there.’ This resonance, let’s name it ‘event.’ The event is the sudden creation, not of a new reality, but of a myriad of new possibilities. …Solving unsolvable problems without the help of the state, that is the destiny of an event. And it is what determines a people, all of a sudden and for an indeterminate period, to exist, there where it has decided to gather.

Clearly, there is something to Nancy’s claim in his article about not wanting to be beautiful souls about the situation in Libya, though one can’t help but shutter at the repetition of Iraq War-style montages and Kissinger-like figures popping on CNN and the BBC to lustfully cheer on the bombing campaign. In Wisconsin, there was a long discussion about Libya and it’s split the left in a way reminiscent of NATO’s bombing of Bosnia.

But whatever one thinks of that, let’s go back to Nancy’s quote above, because it’s mirrored in a lot of the discussions over the past several weeks. While I think the suggestion is that it’s the Western hegemony that is at issue, and thus it’s a certain Western responsibility that is at stake, the gist is that these revolts are addressed to the US/Europe, which is demonstrably not true. Or rather, reducing this simply to a problem of Western hegemony risks signifying this wholly as “for us” to deal with, which merely replicates the logic Said identified long ago in Orientalism, where Arab history is always “also” one given to and from the Arab in a geographic historical circle whose locus is in Europe.

Jean-Luc Nancy on “Ce que les peuples arabes nous signifient”

From Libération: [ADDENDUM: I found an English translation here.]

Les peuples arabes sont en train de nous signifier que la résistance et la révolte sont à nouveau au rendez-vous, et que l’histoire avance au-delà de l’Histoire. Ils le font, comme de juste, avec tous les bons et les mal-heurs de ces entreprises. Tout au moins ont-ils fait surgir un signal irréversible et dont on peut espérer quelques effets à travers l’Afrique et sur l’odieuse perpétuation du drame de l’ancien pays de Canaan. En un des lieux où on attendait le moins que cette révolte prenne, un chef de bande (officiellement, d’Etat) l’écrase, prêt à liquider tout ce qu’il faudra de son supposé peuple.

Les belles âmes de gauche et les fines bouches en stratégie de droite ont beau jeu de soupirer ou de protester, que ce soit en Europe ou dans les pays arabes : il faut savoir dans quel monde nous sommes. Nous ne sommes justement plus simplement dans le monde de l’Occident arrogant, sûr de lui et impérialiste. Oh ! ce n’est pas qu’il se soit acheté une conduite, le pauvre «Occident» : il est simplement en train de fondre de la fusion où s’engendre un autre monde, sans lever ni coucher de soleil, un monde où il fait jour et nuit partout en même temps et où il faut réinventer le vivre ensemble et d’abord le vivre tout court.


Society and Space News

1. The second issue of 2011 is available here. Here’s Stuart Elden’s description:

It includes commentaries on aid in Pakistan and the situation of the Roma people in Europe; a translation of Pierre Macherey with an introduction by the translator Susan Ruddick; and a discussion on gender and environment. There are papers on the conversion of a nuclear weapons plant to a national wildlife refuge; on fieldwork practice during the early Cold War; the ‘war on terror’; the EU and the east; recreational angling; and airport departures. There is also a review essay on recent works by Bonnie Honig and Judith Butler, and a range of book reviews.

2. As Stuart Elden notes here, there is a new Society and Space blog here, so please bookmark it. And the Facebook page for those using that is here.