13 March 2008

Badiou on the Void

Filed under: Ktismata — ktismatics @ 8:10 am

[From “Meditation Four” of Alain Badiou’s Being and Event]

It must certainly be assumed that the effect of structure is complete, that what subtracts itself from the latter is nothing, and that the law does not encounter singular islands in presentation which obstruct its passage. In an indeterminate situation there is no rebel or subtractive presentation of the pure multiple upon which the empire of the one is exercised… The logic of the lacuna, of what the count-as-one would have ‘forgotten’, of the excluded which may be positively located as a sign of real or pure multiplicity, is an impasse — an illusion — of thought, as it is of practice…

And yet, the correlate thesis also imposes itself: that there is a being of nothing, as form of the unpresentable. The ‘nothing’ is what names the unperceivable gap, cancelled then renewed, between presentation as structure and presentation as structured-presentation, between the one as result and the one as operation, between presented consistency and inconsistency as what-will-have-been-presented… By itself, the nothing is no more than the name of unpresentation in presentation…

It would already be inexact to speak of this nothing as a point because it is neither local nor global, but scattered all over, nowhere and everywhere: it is such that no encounter would authorize it to be held as presentable.

I term void of a situation this suture to its being. Moreover, I state that every structured presentation unpresents ‘its’ void, in the mode of this non-one which is merely the subtractive face of the count.

I say ‘void’ rather than ‘nothing’, because the ‘nothing’ is the name of the void correlative to the global effect of structure (everything is counted)… Void indicates the failure of the one, the not-one, in a more primordial sense than the not-of-the-whole… The name I have chosen, the void, indicates precisely that nothing is presented, no term, and also that the designation of that nothing occurs ’emptily’, it does not locate it structurally…

But for the moment we must hold that in a situation there is no conceivable encounter with the void. The normal regime of structured situations is that of the imposition of an absolute ‘unconscious’ of the void…

One of the acts of this annulment is precisely to posit that the void is multiple, that it is the first multiple, the very being from which any multiple presentation, when presented, is woven and numbered.



  1. Looks like I’ve got some more homework.


    Comment by Seyfried — 13 March 2008 @ 2:28 pm

  2. I wasn’t originally thinking about Badiou’s discourse on the void in the context of cinema, but why not? I’m interested in disjunctures between realities. A portal serves as gateway between already-existing realities, by virtue of being a thing that occupies different places in two different symbolic orders. By allowing the portal’s signifier in one reality to connect to its signified, then sliding from the signified to the signifier in the other reality, one is able make the transition from one reality to the other.

    Dejan likes to talk about the Moebius, whereby one reality turns into its inverse. In the Moebius the transition between realities occurs at the interface: by riding along the surface it’s possible to move from one side to the other without being aware of having made the transition.

    The void is the locus of transition from an existing reality to a non-reality. But where is the void if a reality is able to account for everything as part of itself, as embedded in its unifying structure? Is it a point on the structure that can also become the basis for a new reality centered around itself? Is it in the spaces between the elements of the structure? Is it the ether in which every reality is embedded? I’m not quite sure.

    Here’s something I read today in The Cinematic Mode of Production by Beller, regarding the experimental Soviet filmmaker Vertov: “What Vertov calls the interval, that is, the negative space between the montage fragments, emphasizes not so much the shock or the conflict between elements, as in Sergei M. Eisenstein’s ‘montage of attractions,’ but rather, the connections between elements. Thus the interval creates what we might call a montage of abstractions… This unconscious scene of formation, emerging through the structure of the gap that Vertov calls the interval, is made of connections that dismantle the phenomenological (reificatory) effects of capital circulation and create a new relation to the social product at once collective and personal. With the proper discernment of the resultant vector of a given theme, the objectively repressed content of social interaction appears.”

    So, if the structure of the cinematic reality is built inside or on top of the void, but you run the reality in real time as a film, then the observer experiences this reality as a continuous whole, as a count-as-one unity. But if you freeze-frame the movie and/or advance it step-by-step and/or jump cut, you still don’t see the void that gapes between every frame but you become aware of it. You realize that the totalizing continuity of a reality hides the ghost of the void within itself. Or something.


    Comment by ktismatics — 13 March 2008 @ 5:07 pm

  3. Vertov says this: “Intervals (the transmission from one movement to another} are the material, the elements in the art of movement, and by no means the movements themselves. It is they (the intervals) which draw the movement to a kinetic resolution.” Says Beller: “The question of the intervals between movements here is precisely the question of the circulation of production, the connective tissue of each filmed instance that cumulatively constitutes the totality of social relations”

    Beller argues that a movie is constructed like any other commodity, by assembling pieces together. The intervals between frames in a movie correspond to the labor that goes into constructing a commodity. The structure results from a work process; it is the result of human labor. It’s the spaces between frames that create movement in the image, that animate the structure. And it’s in the spaces that it’s possible to glimpse the ghost in the machine, the traces of human work that generates the smoothly functioning image.

    Maybe in a Badiouan perspective, the intervals reveal both the void within which a structured reality emerges and, more importantly, the processes by which the structured reality came into being and are sustained. Structure is a singular image that’s actually composed mostly of components suspended in the void by virtue of human activity — similar to the way in which solid physical objects consist mostly of widely-spaced particles and energy.


    Comment by ktismatics — 13 March 2008 @ 9:06 pm

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