Notes on Rohith Vemula’s Suicide


1. “It takes a loud voice to make the deaf hear, with these immortal words uttered on a similar occasion by Vaillant, a French anarchist martyr, do we strongly justify this action of ours.” These were the opening words of the leaflets that Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt threw after bombing the Central Legislative Assembly in New Delhi on April 8, 1929. By the massive reaction across India to the suicide committed by Rohith Vemula, a Dalit student at the Hyderabad Central University, it is not an exaggeration to say that this action of his was justified – as a loud voice or explosion that we all heard. If murder is justified as a politico-legal act (in case of executions, as legal murders), why not self-murder? It is ethically far superior or noble too as it is directed towards oneself – as a samadhi, both in brahminical and anti-brahminical traditions.

2. One might say that the revolutionary terrorism of Bhagat Singh challenged the state, by openly defying its laws. One might further admit that in revolutionary terrorism, the nobility of the cause is objective and evident. Revolutionaries are distant to their acts and their effects, which are fully under their command. It is for the emancipation of humanity, workers or nations that the revolutionary terrorists live and die – a mark of extreme selflessness. They standout among the masses, they are heroes whom we all look up to – kind of supermen. If they are democratic and responsive to people, it is their humility, which further adds to their stature.

But suicide? How can it be revolutionary? It is an act of extreme selfishness and cowardliness. It is this belief that shows up slyly even in the massive pro-Dalit and Dalit responses to Rohith’s suicide, even in their bid to disprove it. Of course, they will not call this act selfish or cowardly. They will explain it to disprove all this, but ultimately the paradigm to demonstrate its something else-ness is same, whether you sanctify it as a kind of protest, in which you must add, suicide when nothing else works or call it an “institutional murder”, or a desperate act of a depressed individual. Rohith must be either a victim (of the system or of groups/individuals) or depressed or even, at least for the status quoist forces, a desperado.

3. Marx had published a peculiar write up in 1846 on suicide, which is not much studied. Till recently it was thought to be merely a translation of a French police administrator, Jacques Peuchet’s work on suicide cases. The fact that why on earth Marx translated a piece on suicide too was not touched upon. It was its retranslation in English, its comparison with the original one by Peuchet along with short studies by Kevin Anderson and Eric A Plaut revealed the importance of the text. Marx’s omissions, commissions and editorialisation in his translation transformed it into a very significant text where Marx directly deals with women’s issues, bourgeois family and a generalised system of alienation. He twisted the text which was already very graphic and condemning with his powerful unattributed insertions. One of them is:

“Those who are most cowardly, who are least capable of resistance themselves, become unyielding as soon as they can exert absolute parental authority. The abuse of that authority also serves as a cruel substitute for all of the submissiveness and dependency people in bourgeois society acquiesce in, willing or unwillingly.”

What Marx does in the text is to show how cowardliness and impotence of people in authority and power lie in their inability to make sense of suicide. Marx thus translates Peuchet:

“What characterises courage, when one, designated as courageous, confronts death in the light of day on the battlefield, under the sway of mass excitement, is not necessarily lost, when one kills oneself in dark solitude. One does not resolve such a difficult issue by insulting the dead.”

Marx pushes the argument further by inserting:

“One condemns suicide with foregone conclusions. But, the very existence of suicide is an open protest against these unsophisticated conclusions.”

4. At least the state, as the collectivity of ruling interests, is well aware of the lethality of the self-afflicted terror, suicide. It knows how this act is a powerful means of undermining it. That’s the reason, suicide is a crime. Foucault succinctly put, suicide was a crime “since it was a way to usurp the power of death which the sovereign alone, whether the one here below or the Lord above, had the right to exercise.” He proclaims, “This determination to die, strange and yet so persistent and constant in its manifestations, and consequently so difficult to explain as being due to particular circumstances or individual accidents, was one of the first astonishments of a society in which political power had assigned itself the task of administering life.”

5. An act is not just its grammar, it is a performance – when, where, who, before/against whom etc all characterise it. Hence, the divide between revolutionary and reactionary acts. A “revolutionary suicide” is an act enmeshed in politics of experience, like any self-murder. It is a response grounded in the personal self-full experience of the perpetrator. It is devoid of the nobility and selflessness of a declassed revolutionary or a self-flagellating noble liberal, volunteering to think about them who can’t think for themselves. Only a black revolutionary could have conceptualised this concept, and a Dalit can very well understand it. When “bereft of self-respect, immobilized by fear and despair, [an individual] sinks into self-murder”, it is, according to Huey Newton, “reactionary suicide.” On the other hand, revolutionary suicide is not a result of “a death wish”, therefore, it is a suicide which is not even suicidal. “We have such a strong desire to live with hope and human dignity that existence without them is impossible.” The desire is so strong that we seek to satisfy it “even at the risk of death” – “it is better to oppose the forces that would drive me to self-murder than to endure them.”

Addendum

6. Pitting knowledge and reason against experience constitutes what can be called an arrogance of determinism and abstraction. It is immaterial if scholars are aware of this or not. Until and unless this abstraction is re-derived from experience, that is until this duality is resolved in the dialectic of practice, it will have an affinity to the brahminical Cartesian prioritisation of abstracted science. This is where many theorisations and historicisation of oppressed identities fail them. In their attempt to explain the experience of caste and race in terms of its determinations, many times they simply write off the question of the reproduction of the caste system or identitarian hierarchy in everydayness – how it is reproduced in social practice, where, let’s admit, it is nothing short of a conspiracy.

With Lenin against Foucault, with Foucault against Lenin


Unless the state, and its attendant state power, are grasped and demonstrated as the operation of the grammar of social relations –in other words, the structure of circulation of value, and exchange — all attacks on the state, whether envisaged in terms of seizure of state power or in terms of resisting the state, and withdrawal from it, will only result in its recomposition and reinforcement.

So, deregulation that capital proposes should be grasped not as the disappearance of the state, but the recomposition of the modern state-formation that is the structure (or grammar) of circulation of value, and exchange — or recomposition of the regime of capitalist class relations — that is more favourable for capital as a social totality. Deregulation is, indeed, re-regulation. It has changed (recomposed) the modern state that represented social capital (capital in its social totality) in the early capitalist conjuncture of embedded liberalism to being an agency of capital in its late, neoliberal conjuncture. [In fact, this character of the modern state was already evident, albeit merely as localised instantiations then, in the early capitalist conjuncture itself. First, with Bonapartism and then with Fascism. Marx, vis-a-vis the political form of the reign of Louis Bonaparte, and, following in his footsteps, August Thalheimer with regard to German Nazism, had sought to explicate this phenomenon in terms of the “autonomization of the executive” (Thalheimer’s term). Mario Tronti’s conception of the “autonomy of the political” can be read as an updation and reformulation of Marx and Thalheimer’s conception of “autonomization of the executive” for the late capitalist conjuncture.]

Hence, a politics that seeks to disavow the power of the modern state, whose structure is formational, cannot afford to buy into the neoliberal plea for ‘deregulation’ as providing it the means to accomplish the historical attenuation of state, its governmental functionality, and the microcapilaries of power constitutive of it. Foucault’s politics — which derives from a more rigorously articulated theory of what is arguably anarchist politics, and which is based on the ethics of care of the self and “resistances” to power in terms of withdrawal from it — falls precisely into that error.

What such an error on Foucault’s part demonstrates, among other things, is that anarchist politics as a manifestation of its radical essence would amount to nothing less than libertarianism veering to the right. That would be a political subjectivity completely in sync with the structure of capital in its neoliberal conjunctural specificity.

The libertarian political subjectivity integral to Foucault’s affirmation of the ethics of care of the self — whether it be envisaged in a hedonist manner or a radical-communitarian one — gets objectively, and unwittingly, inscribed within the neoliberal political project. For, what else is neoliberalism but the conjunctural objectivity of capital as an accelerated horizon and dynamic of expanded reproduction and actual subsumption of living labour (or creativity, Marx’s “use-value”) by dead labour (capital as a structure of valorisation) respectively? Neoliberalism is nothing but the existence and perpetuation of capital as its own terminal crisis, and yet one that is not the unravelling of capital, which is the law of value and thus fetish character of social relations.

In that sense, neoliberalism is a unique conjuncture, wherein capital as an epochality of social relations is in crisis — symptomatised by the current instability or precarity of social locations in terms of the social power they embody — even as radical working class politics is in retreat. In such circumstances, the affirmative Foucauldian conceptions of infinite proliferation of language, the jouissance of boundless productivity through perpetual ascesis or constant differing away becomes a subjective obverse of this neoliberal objectivity.

Of course, such a genealogical subject constitutive of hermeneutic recovery of various historical moments of care of the self does effect recomposition, and thus subversion, of history/capital as a horizon of valorisation and power in order for it to expandedly reproduce itself. But what the affirmationist conceptual framework of Foucault, particularly late Foucault, tends to emphasise as subjectively radical are these recompositions-subversions, not the incipience of interruption of the horizon of history/capital itself that these subjective moments of subversion/recomposition simultaneously instantiate and thwart.

Hence, radical politics in this Foucauldian key of ethicality and ascesis would amount to the acceleration of different “resistances” to different operations of power, or regimes of truth, and their accelerated subversion that would further accelerate the production of new discursive regimes of truth. Foucault, all said and done, does not have a conception of subjectivity of political radicalism as interruption and abolition of capital as the horizon of valorisation and productive power. A subjectivity that by virtue of being an embodiment of the concept of limit of the singular truth of the event (determinate presentation of the void in social relations) envisages the praxis of political radicalism not just as infinite difference but as “infinite difference and infinite deployment of infinite difference” (Badiou’s conception of revolutionary subjectivity in Metapolitics).

And if neoliberalism is, as I have tried to argue above, the conjunctural objectivity of capital as an accelerated horizon and dynamic of expanded reproduction of capital and actual subsumption of living labour (creativity, difference) by dead labour, what would such a (libertarian) conception of accelerated subversions of the horizon of power finally amount to? In that context we can see the limit of what is often called Foucault’s Kantianism. On account of his conception of ethics as the relationship that the self establishes with itself in withdrawing from the moral law, I prefer to term Foucault’s Kantianism as his anti-Kantian (because it is clearly anti-deontic) Kantianism, or radical Kantianism.

So then, does Foucault affirm the neoliberal project? My sense is he does not. But can his conceptual method, and its attendant ethics as politics, be seen as neoliberal anti-neoliberalism? I think it can be.

Be that as it may, the proposal and/or manoeuvre of deregulation cannot be effectively combated, as Leninists after Lenin imagine, in terms of seizing control of state-power. For, in a neoliberal, late capitalist situation when that is no longer objectively possible due to heightened precarity of segmentation of the working class, the Leninist political credo of seizure of state-power easily becomes no more than the basis for a politics of struggling for the preservation/restoration of the given/previous state-formation (composition of capitalist class power) that the ‘deregulatory’ (read re-regulatory) manoeuvres attempt to dismantle/have dismantled through its recomposition.

Commitment to Leninism as a politics of seizure of state-power is, in this neoliberal conjuncture, no more than a commitment to social democracy. And what can social democracy of neoliberalism be save the oppressive and chauvinist lobby politics of some segments of the working class against other segments of the same class that are relatively and relationally disempowered vis-à-vis the former? This renders social democratic politics — including the state-capitalist form of post-revolutionary Leninism (read Stalinism) — an integral politico-ideological appendage of new institutional forms of capitalist control and domination such as prisons, psychiatric institutions, the modern hospital (may we also add trade unions), and so on. On this score Foucault is indisputably right, albeit the politics of libertarian “resistances” he derives from such inferences of his is merely an obverse of the social-democratic political subject of capital. In fact, Althusser , in his seminal explication of “ideological state apparatuses”, had arguably paved the way, albeit from a strictly Marxist perspective, for Foucault’s historico-conceptual work on governmentality. That ideology is not false consciousness but is material in being the instantiation of the default tendency of lapse at the heart of the practical actuality of the science of proletarian class antagonism is what informs Althusser’s explication of ideological state apparatuses.

Fidelity to Lenin in this neoliberal conjuncture must, therefore, be a betrayal of Lenin as the proper name for Leninism. We should strive, instead, to repeat Lenin, strive, as Zizek says, in a Kierkegaardian sense. That is, repeat Lenin with a difference. And this repetition of Lenin with a difference would be constitutive of a politics that breaks with the horizon of disjunctive synthesis between anarchism on one hand and Leninist socialism on the other. And such a politics in breaking with this disjunctive synthesis would be the affirmation of a conjunctive synthesis. Communism as the real movement constitutive of the abolition of given state of affairs is the actuality of this conjunctive synthesis. The question, therefore, is not one of choice: liberty or communism? Instead, it’s one of conjunction: freedom and communism. The simultaneity of political and cultural revolutions, wherein one struggles against immediate oppression while simultaneously seeking to transform the capitalist structure of social relations that is the mediate condition of possibility of such oppression, would constitute the affirmation of this politics of conjunctive synthesis.

Rosa Luxemburg, the German and Dutch left-communists who followed her, and the GPCR’s left-Maoists, together with the Italian (Operaists) and French (Euro-Maoists such as Badiou) inheritors of those legacies (European and Chinese respectively) provide us with various loosely interrelated politico-theoretical approaches to envisage this conjunctively-synthetic politics of communism that is repetition of Lenin with a difference. And in this it bids goodbye to Mr Socialism, that Leninist hobby-horse, as the intermediate stage between capitalism and communism that stems from workers seizing state-power. Rather, it envisages communism as communisation — struggle against immediately oppressive operation of (state) power while simultaneously reorganising concrete social relations of production to determinately abolish the necessitarian character of social relations (or capital as the operation of the law of value) as an uninterruptedly continuous process. This, in the words of the Nietzsche of ‘Ecce Homo’, would be “…negating and destroying are conditions of saying Yes” in its concrete realisation.

This, not surprisingly, spells a return to the classical Marxism of Marx, who minced no words in envisaging communism as “revolution in permanence”.

What is “true metaphysics” and why materialists should embrace it?


Whether one aspires to be a militant of revolutionary action or strives to be an artist committed to a radical aesthetic, one would do well, in a certain sense, to follow Foucault in giving up the Kant of Critique of Pure Reason, and its project of theoretical philosophy as analytic of finitude, and affirming the Kant of Critique of Practical reason and its project of practical philosophy as the ontology of the present.

However, instead of conducting this operation in the Foucauldian mode, which amounts to abandonment of the Kantian project of theoretical philosophy as analytic of finitude from the standpoint of Kantian project of practical reason (or ontology of the present), which is thereby rendered ethics a la care of the self, one would do well to adopt a different modality for setting aside the Kant of the First Critique and its project of theoretical philosophy. And that modality would be thinking the Kantian project of theoretical philosophy as analytic of finitude and the Kantian project of practical reason as ontology of the present together, but in their separateness — in a dialectically articulated separateness to be precise.

That would arguably be constitutive of what Alberto Caeiro (a heteronym of Fernando Pessoa) calls “true metaphysics”. This “true metaphysics” is, pace Badiou, thought as already always the presentation of its own void or the instantiation of its absent-cause (which is non-thought) in its limit. Hence, it’s not about thought as knowledge but thinking as that which exceeds thought as knowledge by subtracting from it. It’s thinking as excess of — or, more precisely, subtraction from — its own cogitative capture. In the words of the Marx of The Holy Family, it’s matter that thinks. Not what matter is in thought, but matter as its own immanent thought in action as disavowal of matter in thought.

Thus propositional knowledge is not, in the first instance, its own limit as knowledge. Rather, it is the limit of the presentation of the impossibility of knowledge (which is ontology of the present) that therefore then amounts to propositional knowledge being its own limit. Not metaphysics but metaontology. That in Caeiro’s words is “true metaphysics”.

So, Caeiro as “the keeper of the flocks” — a witness to the emerging of thought as the instantiation and interruption of the non-thought, whose importance as such a witness lies in his vigilance that prevents thought from valorising its limit and thus become metaphysics. Here is a poem by Caeiro that acutely demonstrates that even as his “true metaphysics” is thinking the void, it is not nihilism.

“If at times I say that flowers smile
And if I should say that rivers sing,
It’s not because I think there are smiles in flowers
And songs in rivers’ running…
It’s because that way I make deluded men better sense
The truly real existence of flowers and rivers.

“Because I write for them to read me I sacrifice myself at
Times
To their stupidity of feeling…
I don’t agree with myself yet I forgive myself
Because I’m solely that serious thing—an interpreter of
Nature—
Because there are men who don’t understand its language,
Being no language at all.”

True metaphysics, a la Caeiro, is a new order of affirmation that is not productive. Badiou’s in-existing as invention (his “nothing-as-something”) is, as far as one is concerned, what Caeiro’s true metaphysics amounts to. Not for nothing does Badiou insist, “Non-thought is rather, for him, the living wisdom of thought itself, and in particular of philosophy in its entirety.” The Swiss-German writer, Robert Walsermust also be mentioned here in that context. Walser’s prose fiction both declares and seeks to enact precisely that singularity of “living wisdom” — excess as ontological subtraction amounts to that — in its inimitably peculiar minoritarian register. Here is a small tale that comprises his ‘Six Little Stories’ in his A Schoolboy’s Diary and Other Stories: “Now I’ve just remembered that once upon a time there lived a poor poet, very oppressed by dark moods, who since he had seen his fill of God’s great world, decided to put only his imagination into his poems. He sat one evening, afternoon, or morning, at eight, twelve, or two o’clock, in the dark space of his room and he said to the wall the following: Wall, I’ve got you in my head. Don’t try to trick me with your strange and placid visage! From now on, you are the prisoner of my imagination. Thereupon he said the same thing to the window and to the gloomy view it offered him day after day. After which, spurred on by wanderlust, he undertook a walk that led him through fields, forests, meadows, villages, cities, and over rivers and lakes, always under the same beautiful sky. But to these fields, forests, meadows, villages and rivers he continually repeated: Guys, I’ve got you locked tight in my head. Don’t any of you think any longer that you make an impression on me. He went home, constantly laughing to himself: I have them all, I have them all in my head. And presumably he has them there still, and they can’t (however much I want to help them do so) get out again. Isn’t this story very full of imagination???”

From Theoretical Antihumanism and Practical Humanism to Practical Antihumanism and Theoretical Humanism: Badiou After Althusser


That Badiou continues with Althusser’s terms of “practical humanism” and “theoretical antihumanism” — terms whose explication we can read in ‘Marxism and Humanism’, the last essay of Althusser’s For Marx — is there for all to see. But if we attend a little closely to how Badiou adopts those terms by having them pass through Lacan’s affirmation of the “in-human” as the basis of his “ethics of psychoanalysis (ethics being nothing but the question of practice and practical reason) we will see the radical shift that is effected in the conceptual valences of those terms in Badiou’s deployment of them. As a result, Badiou’s redeployment of the Althusserian term of practical humanism conceptually renders it a practice that articulates the non-human in its human embodiment and thereby is an affirmation of a radically new concept of generic humanity as a subtractive construction with regard to what Nietzsche critically designated “Human, All too Human”.

In Althusser, practical humanism is seen as the effect of theoretical antihumanism that is its thwarted immanence. In Badiou’s redeployment, practical humanism is meant to be the reflexive subjectivisation of its own immanent antihumanist thinking in order to be the actuality of that immanent thought in its (unthwarted, uninterrupted) action. A move that, therefore, makes it practical antihumanism precisely when it’s practical humanism. And what this would amount to in terms of theoretical fidelity to itself is a to-be-actualised generic humanity that is radically new in being a constructionist adventure.

Hence, theoretical humanism is, in this sense, conceptual fidelity to the truth of practical antihumanism that the Althusserian practical humanism has become in Badiou’s inimitable redeployment of it. Badiou’s universal-singularity as nonrelational relationality — or the human under the condition of the non-human — is what this practical antihumanism (the immanent thought of antihumanism in action in its human embodiment) as the condition of the (radically new) theoretical humanism amounts to This is clearly a philosophical manoeuvre — a thought-procedure if you will — of epistemology-ontology short-circuit that underlies Badiou’s engagement and explication of politics as prescriptive thought. A thought that, in Lacan’s words, is the thought that finds and not one that seeks itself in its own cogitative capture. This, if you will, is precisely what is at stake in Badiou’s thinking of “subjectivity without subject” from within Althusser’s “process without subject” but against and beyond it.

That Badiou is a thinker of practical antihumanism and theoretical humanism in the sense I’ve tried to argue above is most clearly evident in his Ethics and the last chapter of The Century — “The joint disappearances of Man and God’ — where he engages with Sartre’s “radical humanism” and Foucault’s “radical antihumanism” by attempting to read them in their dialectical encounter with one another. I will make two brief citations from that chapter here in the hope that they will somewhat demonstrate Badiou to be a thinker of practical antihumanism and theoretical humanism in the sense that I have tried to bring out above:

“As is the wont of the dialectical thinking of contradictions, there is a unity of the two conflicting orientations. That is because both of them treat this question: What becomes of man without God? And they are both programmatic. Sartre wishes to ground a new anthropology in the immediacy of praxis. Foucault declares that the disappearance of the figure of man is ‘the unfolding of a space in which it is once more possible to think’. Radical humanism and radical anti-humanism agree on the theme of Godless man as opening, possibility, programme of thought. That is why the two orientations will intersect in a number of situations, in particular in all the revolutionary episodes.

“In a certain sense the politics of the century or revolutionary politics more generally, creates situations that are subjectively undecidable between radical humanism and radical anti-humanism. As Merleau-Ponty saw perfectly – but only to draw from the undecidable indecisive conclusions —the general heading could very well take a conjunctive allure: ‘humanism and terror’. While the twenty-first century opens with a disjunctive morality: ‘humanism or terror. [Humanist] war against terrorism.

“This conjunctive dimension, this ‘and’, which can already be registered in the thinking of Robespierre or Saint-Just (Terror and Virtue) – a conjunction that authorizes us, forty years later, to write, without a hint of paradox, ‘Sartre and Foucault’ – does not hinder, but rather demands, in order that we may be worthy of what happens to formalize the conflict of radical orientations….”

And then again the following from the end of the same chapter:

“Through the great voices of Sartre and Foucault, the century asked: The coming man, the man who must come, in the guise of an existence or of a thought, is he a superhuman or an inhuman figure? Is the figure of man to be dialecticized, surmounted? Where else will we install ourselves? In an ‘elsewhere’ that Deleuze declared to be ‘interstellar’.

“At the century’s end, animal humanism wants to abolish the discussion itself. Its main argument, whose obstinacy we have already encountered several times, is that the political will of the overhuman (or of the new type of man, or of radical emancipation) has engendered nothing but inhumanity.

“But that’s because it was necessary to start from the inhuman: from the truths to which it may happen that we partake. And only from there can we envisage the overhuman.

“About these inhuman truths, Foucault was right to say (as was Althusser with his ‘theoretical antihumanism’ or Lacan and his radical dehumanization of the True) that they oblige us to ‘formalize without anthropologizing’.

Let call our philosophical task, on the shores of the new century, and against the animal humanism that besieges us, that of a formalized in-humanism.”

For a new aesthetic of revolutionary exhibitionism against the aestheticised politics of liberal bourgeois voeyurism


There is a need to think a new revolutionary aesthetics of exhibitionism against liberal exhibitionism — for me, the latter is basically the politics of commodity abstraction and society of spectacle a la Situationists such as Guy Debord. However, in order to do that the scopic drive will need to be rethought and re-envisaged, not in terms of contemplativeness, but contemplativeness pushed to its extreme that renders the contemplated object into a dialectical image. [Now, this is already a displacement of contemplation into practical-materiality — or, at any rate, the former being placed under the condition of the latter — in Marx’s sense of the terms as he explicates them in his Theses on Feurbach and The German Ideology.] That is crucial if desire is not to be conflated and confounded with its cathection (investment). Such cathection or investment being the interruption and concomitant distortion of desire precisely on account of its determinate instantiation. After all, as Lacan would tell us, the “petit object a” is not much more than a metonymy of desire.

And here Nietzsche’s acute poser about whether truth is not a woman can be deployed rather productively. “Woman” here in its Nietzschean articulation must, arguably, be grasped in terms of “becoming-woman”. That is, woman not as an anthropological difference (which is difference-as-identity) but as an ontological difference (difference as differing away from identity). Translating this antidialectical conception of “becoming-woman” into the conceptual framework of the asymmetrical or materialist dialectic we could say, following Lacan, that woman-as-truth or becoming-woman is to be understood as the Real that cannot be inscribed within the horizon of the symbolic even as it founds that horizon. Clearly then, ‘woman’, in “becoming-woman” or Nietzsche’s “woman-is-truth”, is now no longer thinking of even ontological difference but is, instead, a limit-conceptual figure of ontological subtraction.

This, I beleive, dovetails with what I have tried to get at above with regard to grasping the exhibitionism/voyeurism couple not simply as a dialectic, but as an asymmetrical dialectic, and thus as determinate presentation of exhibitionism-voyeurism singularity in excess of their symmetrically dialectical coupling as exhibitionism/voyeurism duality. In that context, the exhibitionist desire of revolutionary militancy is not merely exhibitionism but Dionysian exhibitionism (a la Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy, for instance). And here, therefore, the exhibitionist revolutionary-militant is not a declarative-constantive object — or a directive tribune — vis-a-vis a milieu of passive contemplators/consumers he/she subjectivates thus. Rather, he/she is a semiosis of impulse or symptom of performativity, which is the object-exceeding force in the distinct temporality of its own singularising/singular subjective-materiality. Something that renders this sign/symptom a unit of the milieu of active and continuous producers in the Brechtian sense.

In fact, that is precisely the reason why I think Marquis de Sade’s ‘pornography’ poses and articulates a revolutionary-republican aesthetic. If we attend carefully to the apparently pornographic discourse of his literary production — particularly, his ‘Philosophy in the Bedroom’ — we see that not only does it have a didactic form but one whose mode is Dionysian (performative), which this form strives to transparently reveal. Clearly, De Sade’s discourse ceaselessly registers the thinking of the ethical imperative of desire and the moral law together, but in their separateness. It’s this form and mode of what I wish to call the Dionysian didacticism of desire — and not just any form of BDSM pornography — that renders De Sade’s ‘pornographic’ discourse the index of counter-contemplative revolutionary-republican aesthetics. And it’s arguably this formal and modal dimension of De Sade’s literary discourse that Foucault misses when he critically describes the former as “the sergeant of sex”, who, in Foucault’s estimation, elevates transgression itself into a law.

After all, it’s not for nothing that Lacan impressed on us the indispensability of thinking Sade with Kant. In short, the new revolutionary aesthetic of exhibitionism-voyeurism — as a historically concrete reconstitution of the revolutionary-republican aesthetic of De Sade — will be one wherein a form of contemplation is already always a demonstration of the displacement of contemplation. That is to say, such an aesthetic will truly fulfil itself only when exhibitionism is already always the demonstration of excess of exhibitionism in its limit.

Therefore, the problem of pleasure, from the standpoint of revolutionary politics, is ineluctable. However, the question then is whether pleasure is merely subjectively interiorised experience that is grasped by way of phenomenological reduction, or, is the question really of pleasure founding its own duration and historicity. For, if it’s the latter, then it is already a post-phenomenological displacement of pleasure beyond its phenomenological experientiality, albeit necessarily in and through that experientiality and phenomenology of pleasure. Hence, what we have is pleasure as an existential experience informing the constitutivity of an austerely neutral extension, which is the historicity of suspension of history — “historicity without history” in Alain Badiou’s terms. This, to my mind, amounts to pleasure founding its own duration and historicity.

And this, as far as I understand, is the path Freud also prefigures and indicates in his engagement with the question of pleasure. For him, the problem of pleasure is not, in the final analysis, one of interiorised experience, subjective intentionality and thus joyous productivity. Rather, the problem of pleasure (read in terms of jouissance) brings to him, particularly if we read him through a Lacanian lens, the question of lack and/or trauma as the Real. This, from what I understand, is the crux of his “beyond the pleasure principle”. And this reveals why Freud is no phenomenologist of pleasure, one who would be concerned merely with the question of alternation between the reality principle and the pleasure principle. Rather, Freud’s concern — in his concerted engagement with the problem of pleasure — indicates the need to develop an approach that thinks the problem of pleasure and its politics in terms of the suspension of the horizon of this alternation of the reality principle and the pleasure principle.

To think the question of pleasure in those terms – i.e. to think pleasure as an experiential-phenomenological moment of the post-phenomenological movement of its own overcoming (beyond the pleasure principle) — is to already have pleasure-as-joyous-productivity displace and thus transfigure itself into the neutral of subtraction. An engagement with the affective experience of pleasure, if it’s rigorous, is, arguably, bound to lead one towards its post-phenomenological beyond – which, in the same movement, would also obviously be a radical break with the horizon of the reality principle. That is demonstrated, besides Freud, by Roland Barthes: a thinker of pleasure for whom the twinned-questions of “zero degree” and “the neutral” are what ultimately matter.

As for me, I have been helped quite a bit in this respect by Badiou’s critique of what he calls “democratic materialism” – the differing alternation of bodies and languages (or joyousness and its interruption) – as also his attendant critique of Deleuze’s anti-Freudian productive conception of desire (“desiring-production”).