Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Mao and Manichaeism

‘The Rebel will be beyond sex or will not be at all’: this lapidary statement adorns L’Ange (1976), one of the most elusive and extreme works to issue from the political and intellectual experience of French Maoism. In the attempt to retroactively account for what they regard as the drastic separation between their own militancy and the ambient theme of liberation, whether sexual or otherwise, Christian Jambet and Guy Lardreau try to delineate what they call the forms of cultural revolution, to be sharply distinguished from the intra-systemic ideological revolution that does not target the very existence and discourse of mastery – a position they polemically ascribe to the libidinal materialism of Lyotard and the schizoanalysis of Deleuze-Guattari.

In so doing Jambet and Lardreau turn toward the monastic practices of early Christianity, to the Manichean themes of the ‘hatred of sex’, ‘hatred of work’ and ‘hatred of thought’. The question, posed against the lucid and caustic political scepticism of Lacan, is the following: Can there be a form of revolt that does not turn into mastery, i.e. that is cultural and not ideological? A real separation of the Rebel from the Master?

The dualistic ontological matrix of this concept of revolt, however, undergoes an extensive critique in their later collaboration Le Monde (1978) and particularly in Jambet’s treatment of the barbarous will to purity of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. On the basis of this short-circuit between Christian asceticism, May 1968, and the ravages of Cambodia, I will try to address the following questions: Does the barbarous issue of dualistic or ‘angelic’ revolt militate in favour of a certain fatalism concerning the eternity of mastery? Or must we instead replace the distinction between cultural and ideological revolution with a more articulated concept of resistance? Finally, can we formulate a political concept of desire that obviates the alternative between the equivocal celebrations of libidinal materialism and the horizon of a completely desexualised revolt?

The narcissism of renegades?
The spectres of recuperation, repetition and imitation have always haunted the various ideologies of resistance, at least those not all too happy to celebrate the joys of ambivalence and the hybrid, those for which resistance is not just the name of a minimal inflection – a torsion, a distance, perhaps even a perversion – in the densely articulated space of hierarchies, partitions and dominations. In order to make a contribution to specifying what resistance may mean today, whether the term is even applicable or operative, what its minimal lineaments may be, I would like to turn to a relatively minor, if, as I hope to argue, symptomatic, episode in the vicissitudes of this concept: the intellectual trajectory that led some figures emerging from the current of French Maoism, first, to formulate an ideology of pure revolt, or absolute resistance, countering the complicities of Marxist-Leninist revolutionary politics vis-à-vis the perennial mechanisms of power and oppression; second, to revise the latter theory of ‘angelic’ or non-dialectical revolt into a tragic theory of morality, separating the resistance exemplified by moral protest and the defence of human rights from any notion of revolt, now considered ‘barbaric’ – thus adopting, despite all protestations to the contrary, the key thesis of the nouvelle philosophie, as instigated and ‘produced’ by Bernard-Henri Lévy, to wit, that there is a bloody thread running straight from Das Kapital to the Gulags, and that it is philosophy’s collusion with mastery and the state that lies behind the ‘totalitarian’ disasters of the 20th century. The aforementioned trajectory is encapsulated in two works arising from the collaboration of Christian Jambet and Guy Lardreau, philosophers schooled at the École Normale at the time of the May events, and militants in the Gauche Prolétarienne, the most visible of the post-68 Maoist organisations, famously supported by Foucault and Sartre against the censorship of its newspaper, La cause du peuple. The GP disbanded in 1974 after its increasingly patent inefficacy on the shop-floor and its last-minute retreat from the option of armed struggle. It would be easy, and perhaps even useful, to reduce the two works in question, L’Ange and Le Monde, to mere effects of an exquisitely Parisian sequence, which led a few children of the elites, ‘the little princes of the University’, as Lacan sardonically noted, into a spectacular but ineffectual, and misinformed, embrace of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, through a period of inevitable disappointment, into an equally overblown and narcissistic exploitation of their personal failures for media effect, and, finally, to the collaboration with the increasingly hegemonic ideology of human rights and humanitarian interventions, still with us today – witness the pro-Bush pronouncements of André Glucksmann, ex-GP member, and author of arguably the most prominent work of the nouvelle philosophie, The Master Thinkers. Such a micro-sociology of the upper class normalien militant might have its attendant joys, especially for the Francophobe among us, but I won’t indulge in it here. Indeed, everything that needs to be said regarding the role of Jambet and Lardreau in what one might be inclined to call an ‘objectively reactionary’ ideological phenomenon, as agents of a functional anti-revolutionary doxa, is economically encapsulated in two texts from the time: Gilles Deleuze’s scathing interview ‘Concerning the new philosophers and a more general problem’, and, Dominique Lecourt’s ‘Dissidence or Revolution?’. Besides their role in stifling any philosophical and conceptual experiments by engendering a new journalism of ideas, and their participation in the Cold War theme of ‘human rights’ forwarded by the then Carter administration in the United States, the function of the nouveaux philosophes amounts to the relentless and public enunciation of two theses, which are, according to Deleuze: ‘THE revolution must be declared impossible, uniformly and always’ and ‘the only possibility of the revolution, for the nouveaux philosophes, is the pure act of the thinker that thinks it impossible’. It is easy to see how the conjunction of these two theses made the nouveaux philosophes both into a perfect and willing pawn in the stakes of the Cold War and allowed them to maintain their privileged point of enunciation as tragic renegades of communism (in a kind of farcical Parisian reprise of the ‘god that failed’ generation of Koestler et al.). Though perhaps inevitably reaching some of the same conclusions, I would like to go against the grain of Deleuze’s analysis and provisionally extricate the work of Lardreau and Jambet from its historical and ideological coordinates, in order to assay its use in reconsidering the theme of resistance. First, I would like to consider their attempt to think the ‘autonomy of revolt’. Against any dialectics of system and insurgency, power and resistance, Lardreau and Jambet try to think what an absolute form of revolt could be, one that isn’t simply the reiteration, under a different guise, of the eternal reality of mastery. This is what is encapsulated in the distinction between ideological and cultural revolution, a theme that is accompanied by a trenchant polemic against any form of sexual liberation, or of politics of desire, which is condemned as the exemplary form of a recuperable revolt. What I would like to consider is the profound ambivalence of such a ‘manichean’ notion of revolt, which both provides a potent critique of the distracting fantasies of freedom and expression forwarded by a certain kind of libidinal materialism and serves as the antechamber for a position, presented in Le Monde, which, by making the realisation of revolt into the site of absolute crime, ‘provisionally’ accepts the eternity of inequality for the sake of a politics of protestation, one which, alas, cannot but serve a certain kind of master (the Western master of human rights and liberal democracy, the master of the lesser evil, the lesser master).

Lacan against the naturalists
As I have mentioned, the wager of Lardreau and Jambet, in the first phase of their work, at the volatile cusp between Maoist extremism and resignation to the ‘world’, is that of thinking a pure revolt, a revolt that would not be a mere functional epiphenomenon quickly reabsorbed into the eternal history of domination. But this wager is profoundly determined by ‘failure’, which is why the attempt to forge an ontology of revolution, an ontology of the ‘other world’ of revolt under the sign of the Angel (we will see in a moment why the figure bears this name), is first and foremost an operation of radical doubt, of unsparing critique. Specifically, the failure of the political sequence that takes the name of ‘cultural revolution’ – in China through the re-imposition of order and reforms (marked by the opaque death of Lin Piao), as well as the cult of Mao, in the French microcosmos through the triumph of the reaction and the impasse of armed struggle – seems to leave Jambet and Lardreau with two ideological options that would take stock of 68 without simply writing off its occurrence as a non-event: (1) a radicalization of the figure of the revolt, which would found itself on an unsparing critique of all collusion with the apparatuses and discourses of domination; (2) a transformation of the Manichean event of revolt, of the hope in the elimination of all mastery, into a capillary thinking of localized resistance and desiring production, an endemic micropolitics for which 68 signals the systematic evasion of the classical alternative between equality and non-equality, domination and non-domination. The critical purification of revolt – whereby either revolt will be autonomous and non-recuperable, or it will not be – and the fierce attack on the second option are inextricably linked (see the subtitle of L’Ange: Pour une cynégetique du semblant). The missing link is Lacan. Lacan’s systematic scepticism vis-à-vis the events of 68 is thus raised to the level of a purifying filter for the ideology of revolt: in order to foreswear all collusion and all recuperation one must not only move beyond Lacan, but also go through Lacan: revealing the entirely illusory character of libidinal revolt in order to prepare the way for a real revolt. Or, to use a striking motto from L’Ange: ‘To follow Mao, one must be a Lacanian!’ The crucial element in this purification through polemic, such that the messianic wait is coextensive with the obliteration of semblance, is a certain understanding of Lacan’s formulation of the ‘discourse of the Master’. In its distilled (and wilfully impoverished) version by Jambet and Lardreau, this entails the notion that (1) a master-less society is impossible, (2) all desire is dictated by a certain relationship to signification, meaning that (2a) all desire is sustained by the lack of its object and (2b) all desire, and all enjoyment, is ultimately dictated by the master. Of course, the critical and political efficacy of this thesis, which makes no distinction between master-as-signifier and master-as-political-agency depends on the premise that reality is through and through discursive. As Lardreau writes: ‘There is no nature, there is only a discourse on nature’; ‘the real is nothing but discourse’; ‘the world is a fantasy [fantasme])’. It is the crucial error of naturalism, whether ‘trivial’ or ‘libidinal’, to deny these psychoanalytic theses and therefore deceive the subject into thinking and acting as if desire could be realised (liberated or expressed), as if the absence of mastery could be attained through a particular use of sex. What is more, the sin of such naturalism is, in bypassing Lacanian pessimism, simultaneously to evade the problem of the necessity of revolt (which is the correlate of the eternity of mastery). In other words, to dissolve the problem of domination (linguistic, political) into a flux of desire indifferent to any separation between the dominator and the dominated. It is also to evade the crucial question posed by Lacan, which is that of the complicity of philosophy with the discourse of the master, which he formulates as follows: ‘Qu’est que la philosophie désigne dans toute son evolution? C’est ceci – le vol, le rapt, la soustraction à l’esclavage, de son savoir [son savoir-faire], par l’opération du maître’. The constraints imposed upon desire by psychoanalytic discourse lead Lardreau and Jambet to a stark conclusion, the only possible path to evade the pessimistic truth of psychoanalysis (‘the discourse of the Master is eternal, since being a Master, is being a Master of discourse’), to wit, that ‘One must do exactly the opposite of what is said by the discourse of liberation, one must totally disjoin sex and rebellion.’ Sex, or more precisely sexual desire in its subjection to a form of signification which is the basis of mastery (‘la fonction de signifiant sur quoi s’appuie l’essence du maître’), is something that cannot be liberated, since it is precisely through and through constituted by discourse. The only hope for Jambet and Lardreau (to remain Maoists, in the sense of partisans of absolute revolt, of the end of domination) is thus to subtract revolt from any reference whatsoever to sex. Whence the necessity to pose three distinctions: of the body from sex, of thought from reason, of discourse from the discourse of the master. The angelism of revolt translates precisely this sexlessness, and the idea that ‘the rebel thinks’ passes over into a ‘correction’ of Lacan: in order not to reduce revolt to the mere grunting of a bestialized subject, to a grotesque theatre of victimized affect, or an unreasonable discourse, a thought of revolt must be possible. The paradoxical conclusion, to our ears, is of course that desire and revolt are incompatible. The Sadeian and libidinal naturalists (materialists) engage in the culpable obfuscation of this incompatibility, which leads to their peddling of a semblance of revolt, a perversion complementary to the maintenance or even intensification of the power of the master (for instance by creating, through the illusion of subversion, ever more sites for the extraction of surplus-value). What does the semblance of revolt (or resistance or subversion, we’ll consider the terms to be equivalent for the time being) consist in? It consists in trying to bypass the necessary but artificial closure of Mastery lucidly registered in politics by Hobbes and in the unconscious by Lacan, by introducing a link between desire and nature. Basically, the existence of nature is at the basis of the semblance of revolt. This is the reason for Jambet and Lardreau’s penchant for Hobbes and Lacan over Locke and Sade (not to mention the object of their most vicious diatribe: Lyotard): the former lucidly state both the eternity and the (discursive) artifice of mastery, without trying to fix it in any natural signs or processes. It is clear that we are here confronted with a struggle in theory against one of the effects of 68, the promotion of a libidinal materialism marked by a return to Sade, a return which attempts to discern in Sade some kind of anti-authoritarian content.

The hatred of sex
L’Ange begins in a starkly autobiographic if highly poeticized tone, as a tale of a conversion suspended between the failure of a project and the resurgence of order and new, false prophets, on the other. Quotations of Saint Peter and Beckett, a ring of desperation, mentions of sleepless nights and shattered lives. In the midst of this wave of weakness and reactions a call: ‘We will not let ourselves be Schereberianised.’ The conversion was no psychosis, something must be retained: ‘And we know that duplicity must be refused, that there are two paths and that they find one another repugnant, that we must not be apostates, but neither must we go further in our imperfect conversion: against all powers and dominations, maintain the hope that another world, despite everything is possible. To designate the possibility no other image came to us but that of the Angel.’ Why turn to Christianity at the very point when a conversion has failed, especially since the authors say that, following Lacan, ‘the fact that God ex-sists means that he is not’? Because, Jambet and Lardreau contend, to elucidate the failure and remain faithful to the possibility of a politics of non-domination, whilst eschewing the semblance of liberation provided by the libidinal materialism of the likes of Lyotard and Deleuze-Guattari, one must undertake an enquiry into the forms of cultural revolution, in order to think how the practical repudiation of authority (their baseline definition of cultural revolution) can transform itself or be transformed into another discourse of mastery and other, perhaps more brutal, forms of domination. The central essay in L’Ange, Lardreau’s wonderfully entitled ‘Lin Piao as Will and Representation,’ is thus precisely an investigation into (primitive) Christianity as a formal matrix for cultural revolution, one bearing certain crucial isomorphism with a specifically Marxist-Leninist cultural revolution and also some profound lessons about its paradoxes and limitations. In a certain sense, which we might compare with the recent work of Badiou, Žižek Zizek or Agamben, Jambet and Lardreau put forward the thesis that Christianity is the eternal model of cultural revolution. Their specific aim in this comparative exercise in forms of anti-authoritarian subjectivation is linked to a twofold relation to Lacan: one the one hand, as Lardreau writes, ‘he is the only one thinking today, the only one who never lies, le chasse-canaille’ (in other words the antidote to the semblance of liberation and reality of capitalist perversion allegedly peddled by the likes of Lyotard). On the other hand, if ‘another world’ – not a better or gentler world, but a world without a master – is possible, if an ‘angelic revolt’ is not a contradiction in terms, then Lacan’s transcendental pessimism must be punctured. The strategy is to divide revolution, to divide division itself, as it were, between cultural and ideological revolution. The will to absolute purity is the law of cultural revolution. This means of course, that from the vantage point of the order that such a revolution intends to abrogate the cultural revolution simply does not exist – in Christianity, purity in the extreme is just a cloaked prelude to an easily classifiable debauchery (as is the case with pilgrimages in which the sexes mixed), in politics, a master-less society is simply the cover or antechamber for another form of domination, so that one might as well eschew the dangers of a purification that cannot but issue into impurity. The distinction between the two is given in the difference drawn between the penchant of ideological revolution for symbolic castration, accepted inasmuch as it is a negation of the negation and thus a position of the good, and the real castration of the heretic, or cultural revolutionary, which is a pure subtraction without return and is thus theologically equated by the ‘ideological’ church with evil itself. In Jambet’s later ‘Reflection on the new state of Cambodia’ written in 1978 against Lardreau and Jambet, and Badiou’s, own paeans to the taking of Phnom Penh by the Khmer Rouge in 1975 (Badiou’s were not retracted, of course, as Jambet pointedly remarks). Jambet gives this definition of the crux of ‘cultural revolution’: ‘To have done with mastery is to abolish all its attributes, without letting even one of them subsist. There is in the very essence of rebellion, in its definition, this will to radically exhaust the ground of mastery. Among the imperatives that any social master cannot see disappear there is above all the obligation for his flock to reproduce […] furthermore, there is the obligation to produce and to respect a certain quantity of knowledge’. I shall return in a moment to the analysis of the regime of Pol Pot in terms of this characterization of revolt. Turning back to the question of Christianity, which Lardreau in L’Ange approaches in the Foucaultian terms of the practices of early heretic sects, the key elements of its cultural revolution are accordingly the refusal of sex (of pleasure, family and sexual difference) and the refusal of work, foregoing the imperative of the master, that his flock, or his cattle – Lardreau pointdely uses the word bétail – produce and reproduce, in all senses of the term, from the physiological to the economic. Having made the distinction between the cultural revolution (abolition of the master) and the ideological revolution (replacement of the master by another, dissimulation of the master), Lardreau points to the monastery as the site of conversion of cultural into ideological revolution (a conversion which is actually the shift from one history or world to another, on the basis of the dualistic matrix affirmed at the outset); from the errant, asexualised errancy of pilgrimage, into a fixation to the land, the schedules of work and the sexual division of mature monasticism; and finally, the partition between those with the vocatio and those without, against the uncontrolled contagion of the revolutionary ideal. Beyond the example of Christianity, and with specific reference to the pseudo-revolution that they espy in the liberationist themes of 68, sex-pleasure is viewed as a key operator in the transformation of cultural revolution into ideological revolution, trading in the abolition of mastery for a re-valuation of morality – whether as liberation or repression is entirely indifferent from the standpoint of revolt. For Lardreau thus, hatred of sex is viewed as an escape from this genre of systemic blackmail. It is in this light that he reads the multiple debates about the role of chastity: specifically, within cultural revolution sexual difference is to be abolished, in order for the master to have no hold, thereby producing a kind of militant indifference or indiscernibility – far more powerful than immorality – against both nature and the Church. The key is to render oneself useless to mastery. Virginity and the mixing of bodies in pilgrimage and asceticism are thus an obstacle to the control and partition of the sensible – not the kind of negation that can be easily manipulated, not a functional excess. But alas, the hatred turns into legislation, the master of reproduction cannot but localise its practice, dampening its effects. This is what happens in ideological Christianity, whose institutions are aimed at warding off the threat, indicated by Lardreau, of a sexless mass of pilgrims, without sexes, names, places, entirely improductive, a smooth sterile mass with no grip for power. Leaving aside the question of knowledge, of the revolutionary hatred of knowledge (the third target of the heretic/revolutionary), it is worth pointing out the importance of the theme of the hatred of work. In the analysis of monasticism this follows a parallel path to sex, moving from a kind of mystical otium to the obligation of work, whereby the anti-social cultural revolution of the desert monks is transformed into the ideological revolution that merely changes the ancient partition of the vita activa (manual labour) and the vita contemplativa (intellectual labour) into the convergence of spiritual probity and the obligation of work within the parameters of institutionalised monastic life.

Year zero
The theme of work becomes particularly enlightening if we turn to Jambet’s discussion of Cambodia in Le Monde, and the manner in which it links to the shift from the distinction between cultural and ideological revolution to the one between cultural revolution (or rebellion tout court) and terrorism. The Khmer are presented first as the ‘purest’ attempt in the lineage of purification, being to Marxist-Leninism what it is to Proudhonian anarchism, to wit, an accusation that its predecessor has not gone far enough in the destruction of the old, that its revolts have been mere deferrals, displacements of hierarchy that do not attack the principles of exploitation and oppression at their source. Jambet follows his statement about the essence of revolt, with a simple thesis, that had already been presented in L’Ange. In the earlier book, under Lardreau’s pen, and referring to the voluntary abjection and baleful ignorance of the disciple, the ascetic servility of the monk, it took the following form: ‘Once it is no longer commanded by the hatred of the Master, but rather to obedience, the Hatred of Thought [or the repudiation of knowledge] becomes the abject subjection to the thinking of Authority’. Such abject subjection, compounded by the terroristic obliteration of bodies, of any point of resistance, is what Jambet will glean from the witness accounts and party documents of the Kampuchean ‘organisation’, Angka, about which he writes, ‘non-knowledge becomes at once the single knowledge of the authority of Angka’. What explains this reversal of cultural revolution into the terror of authority? For Jambet, the explanation is, in the abstract, a simple one and is contained in the following theorem: When revolt conserves one of the attributes of the Master it engenders the maximal State. In other words, when cultural revolution leans on the absolutization of one element – in the case of Cambodia, the generalisation of the imperative of production, a generic work imposed upon an anonymous mass of ‘equals’ (the reversal of proletarian purity into the sombre repetition of the Asiatic mode of production), accompanied by the destruction of pleasure and the obliteration of scientific knowledge – it entails the most absolute authority, the elimination of any material support for practices of resistance, or, what’s more, for any subjectivation alternative to the subjection to the imperative of masterlessness. Or, to link Jambet’s discussion to the question of capitalism, the elimination of exploitation, working through the secret Master – Pol Pot as Brother Number One, the Angka (or Organisation) as the inapparent, anonymous entity that masters masterlessness – is converted into the most absolute and ruthless oppression imaginable. But is this alternative, between a blind fidelity to the fury of purification, and the acceptance of some variety of liberal democracy as the only material for resistance, really compelling?

Beyond the lesser evil
The question negatively posed by the trajectory that goes from the nouvelle résistance of the Gauche Proletarienne to the sexless autonomy of revolt of L’Ange to the resignation to worldly morality of Le Monde is the following: must the attempt to escape from the logics of failed revolt, in its three branches, structural repetition, specular doubling and recuperation, end up in mysticism and/or resignation to a liberal-capitalist status quo? Or, to borrow from Jacques Rancière, is it possible to move from the logics of failed revolt and the autonomy of revolt to the seemingly more nuanced, but ultimately more powerful, affirmation of the existence and intelligibility of logical revolts? Jambet and Lardreau’s work finishes with a kind of mystical realism: some Masters are better than others, in this world, and the only revolt is a spiritual revolt, an inner revolt. Irony of history whereby the Maoist Lacanian turns into the sombre cousin of the Rortyan liberal ironist (or the nephew of Koestler’s Yogi), dejectedly adjudicating the lesser evil between Kerry and Bush, and retreating into a spiritual foyer intérieur to be seized by the light of Molla Sadra or the icy depths of Lautréamont. So is this another reason to give up on the fanaticism of revolt, or on its possible autonomy? I think we can answer no, and for two reasons. The first has to do with Lacan: does his teaching really reduce to the moral evaluation of masters, the sober knowledge of the lesser evil? The second has to do with Marx. First, with Marx avec Lacan as it were: Jambet and Lardreau evade the problem of surplus value, of the plus-de-jouir as something that might affect the nature of mastery. Second with Marx the militant: in order to evade the dialectics of mastery, not only must Jambet and Lardreau sing the praises of real castration, they must obliterate the real political problem of dialectics, the one indicated by the Maoist formula ‘One divides into two’: what kind of organization, what kind of political subject, can effect a determinate separation from the capitalist order, in such a way as to constitute a generic part, a realization of non-domination? It is only by thinking the determinate subtraction, through organization, from mastery that one can actively think a way out of the moral blackmail of the ‘lesser evil’. However, to think such a subtraction, to think an ideology of revolt, a communist politics, which would be adequate to our conjuncture, it is of the greatest importance to consider the specificity of capitalism, even in terms of the theory of discourses forwarded by Lacan. Two options. The first is Lacan’s own in Seminar XVII. There, we are confronted with the specificity of capitalism (and real socialism) as variations on the discourse of the master, in Lacan’s terms as the ‘modernised discourse of the master’, which, following the originary expropriation of the ‘know-how’ of the slave effected by philosophy, puts knowledge (S2) in the place of mastery, or agency. The second can be found in Zizek’s Tarrying with the Negative, with specific reference to the Khmer Rouge. Zizek’s first point is that it is not the master-signifier per se, but rather a supposedly saturated network of knowledge, without lack and without transcendence, which is the key to contemporary capitalism. Whence the infamous thesis that Spinozism is the ideology of late capitalism (this could be well adapted to DeLanda and our belated fascination with cybernetics). So are the Khmer really, as Jambet and Lardreau argue, actually a realisation of the autonomy of the rebel, such that we would be obliged to renounce revolt for a moral attitude of ‘lesser evil’? Zizek’s answer is no. Movements like the Khmer Rouge must be understood as a brutal solution – an ‘infinite judgment’, in Hegelese – to the intrinsic antagonism that defines the political framework late capitalism, between the formal emptiness of liberal democracy (Badiou’s capitalo-parliamentarianism) and the survivances of ‘traditional elements’ (in this respect the Pol Pot’s Angka is the specular opposite of contemporary Salafism), in other words in terms of ‘the constitutive antagonism of today’s capitalism’. Apropos of the Khmer (and of their Peruvian counterparts, Sendero Luminoso), Zizek notes the following: ‘The result of this desperate endeavour to surmount the antagonism between tradition and modernity’ which paradoxically unites ‘the most radical indigenist antimodernism (the refusal of everything that defines modernity: market, money, individualism…) with the eminently modern project of effacing the entire symbolic tradition and beginning from a zero-point’ is ‘a double negation: a radically anti-capitalist movement (the refusal of integration into the world market) coupled with the systematic dissolution of all traditional hierarchical social links, beginning with the family (at the level of “micro-power”, the Khmer-Rouge functioned as an “anti-Oedipal” regime in its purest, i.e. as the ‘dictatorship of adolescents”, instigating them to denounce their parents)’. But this means that considering the Khmer as the truth of the barbarous angel – in other words, the idea that any attempt to realise and totalise the dissemination of vanishing events of revolt, is nothing but (radical) evil incarnate, and the reason for the adoption of the ‘kindest’ master – is a fundamental mistake, which ignores the systemic horizon of their emergence (just as it ignores the sequence of historical conditions: Nixon and Kissinger’s ‘secret’ bombing of the Cambodian countryside). As Zizek notes, the Khmer, like Sendero, and, in complementary respect the various forms of Islamic militancy dubiously identified under the banner of Al Qaeda, ‘are an integral part of the notion of late capitalism: if one wants to comprise capitalism as world-system, one must take into account its inherent negation, “fundamentalism”, as well as its absolute negation, the infinite judgment on it.’ The open question of course, which is no way solved by any kind of Leninism of the act, of the kind lately forwarded by Zizek, is the following: what is a subtraction from the material and discursive reality of late capitalism, which wouldn’t simply amount to a symptom? An answer to this question, I think, would lead us to conclude that the ideology of resistance as well as that of pure revolt are insufficient, to the very extent that a true subtraction demands a new thinking of organization. To end with a provocation, we might be wiser to reflect on the partisan and institutional history of the Church, as Badiou enjoins us to do in his Théorie du sujet, than to persist with the subjective logics of the act, conversion and heresy.


François Aubral and Xavier Delcourt, Contre la nouvelle philosophie, Paris, Gallimard, 1977
Alain Badiou and François Balmès, De l’idéologie, Paris, François Maspero, 1976
Gilles Deleuze, ‘À propos des nouveaux philosophes et d’un problème plus general’, originally published as a free supplement to Minuit 24, May1977, now in Deux régimes de fous et autres textes, Paris, Minuit, 2003
Peter Dews, ‘The Nouvelle Philosophie and Foucault’, Economy and Society 8.2, May 1979, pp. 127-171
Michel Foucault, ‘La grande colère des faits’ and ‘Pouvoirs et stratégies’ (interview with Jacques Rancière) in Dits et écrits II, 1976-1988, Paris, Gallimard, 2001

Jacques Lacan, Le Séminaire – Livre XVII. L’envers de la psychanalyse, Paris, Seuil, 1991

Robert Linhart, ‘Western “dissidence” ideology and the protection of the bourgeois order”, in Power and Opposition in Post-revolutionary societies, London, Ink Link, 1979

Guy Lardreau and Christian Jambet, L’Ange, Paris, Grasset, 1975
Guy Lardreau and Christian Jambet, Le Monde, Paris, Grasset, 1978
Dominique Lecourt, The Mediocracy: French Philosophy since 1968, including the essay ‘Dissidence or Revolution?’ [1978] (London: Verso, 2001)

Jacques Rancière, Les scénes du people, Lyon, Éditions Horlieu, 2003
Peter Starr, Logics of Failed Revolt: French Theory After May ’68, Stanford, CA, Stanford UP, 1995

Slavoj Zizek, Tarrying with the Negative, Durham, NC, Duke UP, 1993


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