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odekolonni juues televiisorit vaadata.



When people try to “organize themselves” directly in movements, the most they can create is an egalitarian space for debate where speakers are chosen by lottery and everyone is given the same (short) time to speak, etc. But such protest movements prove inadequate the moment one has to act, to impose a new order―at this point, something like a Party is needed. Even in a radical protest movement, people do not know what they want, they demand a new Master to tell them. But if the people do not know, does the Party? Are we back at the standard topic of the Party possessing historical insight and leading the people? It is Brecht who gives us a clue here. In what is for some the most problematic song of The Measure Taken, the celebration of the Party, he proposes something much more unique and precise than it may at first appear. It looks like Brecht is simply elevating the Party into the incarnation of Absolute Knowledge, an historical agent with complete and perfect insight into the historical situation, a “subject supposed to know” if there ever was one: “You have two eyes, but the Party has a thousand eyes!” However, a close reading of the song makes it clear that something different is going on: in their reprimand to the young communist, the chorus says that the Party does not know all, that the young communist may be right in his disagreement with the predominant Party line: “Show us the way which we should take, and we / shall follow it like you, but / do not take the right way without us. / Without us, this way is / the falsest one. / Do not separate yourself from us.”This means that the authority of the Party is not that of determinate positive knowledge, but that of the form of knowledge, of a new type of knowledge linked to a collective political subject. The crucial point on which the chorus insists is simply that, if the young comrade thinks that he is right, he should fight for his position within the collective form of the Party, not outside it―to put it in a somewhat pathetic way, if he is right, then the Party needs him even more than its other members. What the Party demands is that one ground one’s “I” in the “We” of the Party’s collective identity: fight with us, fight for us, fight for your truth against the Party line, just do not do it alone, outside the Party.

There is a Jewish story about a Talmud specialist opposed to the death penalty who, embarrassed by the fact that the penalty was ordained by God himself, proposed a wonderfully practical solution: not to overturn the divine injunction directly, which would be blasphemous, but to treat it as God’s slip of the tongue, his moment of madness, and invent a complex network of sub-regulations and conditions which, while leaving the possibility of the death penalty intact, ensure that it will never be actually realized. The beauty of this procedure is that it inverts the standard procedure of prohibiting something in principle (like torture), but then slipping in enough qualifications (“except in specified extreme circumstances …”) to ensure that it can be done whenever one really wants to do it. It is thus either “In principle, yes, but in practice, never” or “In principle, no, but when exceptional circumstances demand it, yes.” Note the asymmetry between the two cases: the prohibition is much stronger when one allows torture in principle―in the first case, the principled “yes” is never allowed to realize itself, while in the other case, the principled “no” is exceptionally allowed to realize itself. Insofar as the “God who enjoins us to kill” is one of the names of the apocalyptic Thing, the strategy of the Talmud scholar is a way of practicing what Dupuy calls “enlightened catastrophism”: one accepts the final catastrophe―the obscenity of people killing their neighbors in the name of justice―as inevitable, written into our destiny, and one engages in postponing it for as long as possible, hopefully indefinitely.

The standard objection to utilitarianism is that it cannot really account for the full and unconditional ethical commitment to the Good: its ethics is only a kind of “pact of the wolves” in which individuals obey ethical rules insofar as this suits their interests. The truth is exactly the opposite: egotism or the concern for one’s well-being is not opposed to the common Good, since altruistic norms can easily be deduced from egotistic concerns. Individualism versus communitarianism, utilitarianism versus the assertion of universal norms, are false oppositions, since the two opposed options amount to the same in their results. Conservative (Catholic and other) critics who complain how, in today’s hedonistic-egotistical society, true values have disappeared totally miss the point. The true opposite of egotistical self-love is not altruism, a concern for the common Good, but envy or ressentiment, which makes me act against my own interests: evil enters in when I prefer the misfortune of my neighbor to my own fortune, so that I am ready to suffer myself just to make sure that my neighbor will suffer more.This excess of envy lies at the basis of Rousseau’s well-known, but nonetheless not fully exploited, distinction between egotism, amour-de-soi (that love of the self which is natural), and amour-propre, the perverted preference of oneself to others in which a person focuses not on achieving a goal, but on destroying the obstacle to it:The primitive passions, which all directly tend towards our happiness, make us deal only with objects which relate to them, and whose principle is only amour-de-soi, are all in their essence lovable and tender; however, when, diverted from their objects by obstacles, they are more occupied with the obstacle they try to get rid of, than with the object they try to reach, they change their nature and become irascible and hateful. This is how amour-de-soi, which is a noble and absolute feeling, becomes amour-propre, that is to say, a relative feeling by means of which one compares oneself, a feeling which demands preferences, whose enjoyment is purely negative and which does not strive to find satisfaction in our own well-being, but only in the misfortune of others.  An evil person is thus not an egotist, “thinking only about his own interests.” A true egotist is too busy taking care of his own good to have time to cause misfortune to others. The primary vice of a bad person is precisely that he is more preoccupied with others than with himself. Rousseau is describing a precise libidinal mechanism: the inversion which generates the shift of the libidinal investment from the object to the obstacle itself. Here is why egalitarianism itself should never be accepted at face value: the notion (and practice) of egalitarian justice, insofar as it is sustained by envy, relies on an inversion of the standard renunciation undertaken for the benefit of others: “I am ready to renounce it, so that others will (also) not (be able to) have it!” Far from being opposed to the spirit of sacrifice, Evil here emerges as the very spirit of sacrifice, a readiness to ignore one’s own well-being―if, through my sacrifice, I can deprive the Other of his enjoyment.

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The Interrogation of the Good

Step forward: we hear
That you are a good man.

You cannot be bought, but the lightning
Which strikes the house, also
Cannot be bought.
You hold to what you said.
But what did you say?
You are honest, you say your opinion.
Which opinion?
You are brave.
Against whom?
You are wise.
For whom?
You do not consider your personal advantages.
Whose advantages do you consider then?
You are a good friend.
Are you also a good friend of the good people?
Hear us then: we know
You are our enemy.
This is why we shall
Now put you in front of a wall.
But in consideration of your merits and good qualities
We shall put you in front of a good wall and shoot you
With a good bullet from a good gun and bury you
With a good shovel in the good earth.



/…/ viewing the present as an era of cynical non-belief, we tend to imagine the past as a time when people “really believed”―but was there ever an era when people “really believed”? As Robert Pfaller demonstrated in his Illusionen der Anderen, the direct belief in a truth which issubjectively fully assumed (“Here I stand!”) is a modern phenomenon, in contrast to traditional beliefs-at-a-distance, such as underpin conventions of politeness or other rituals. Premodern societies did not believe directly, but at a distance, which explains the misreading inherent in, for example, the Enlightenment critique of “primitive” myths―faced with a notion such as a tribe having originated from a fish or a bird, the critics first take it as a literal belief, then reject it as naïve and “fetishistic.” They thereby impose their own notion of belief on the “primitivized” Other. Pfaller is right to emphasize how, today, we believe more than ever: the most skeptical attitude, that of deconstruction, relies on the figure of an Other who “really believes.” The postmodern need for the permanent use of devices of ironic distantiation (quotation marks, etc.) betrays the underlying fear that, without these devices, belief would be direct and immediate―it is as if saying “I love you” instead of the ironic “As the poets would say, ‘I love you’,” would entail a directly assumed belief that I love you, as if a certain distance is not operative already in the statement “I love you.” We can see how the idea of an earlier age of naïve belief also follows the logic of the Fall: what it obfuscates is the fact that such belief is a retroactive fantasy generated by the cynical present. In reality, people never “really believed”: in premodern times, belief was not “literal,” it included a distance which was lost with the passage to modernity.



The paradox is that (as in the case of sexual difference) Heidegger ignores the properly ontological status of class struggle as a strife or antagonism which cannot be reduced to an ontic conflict, since it overdetermines the horizon of appearance of all ontic social entities. It is class struggle (social antagonism), not the state, which is the mode of Being of a people―the state is there to obfuscate this antagonism. Such a radicalized notion of the polemos as class struggle brings us to the second change, closely linked with the first: another way to approach the “question of the consciousness of the will of the community” as “a problem in all democracies.” Heidegger’s idea of political commitment involves the unity of a people and the leader who mobilizes them in a shared struggle against an (external) enemy, bringing them all together (“accepting” even the proletariat). If, however, we take class struggle as the polemos constitutive of political life, then the problem of the common political will appears in a radically different way: how to build the collective will of the oppressed in the class struggle, the emancipatory will which takes the class polemos to its extreme. (And was this will not at work already in Ancient Greek democracy, was it not operative at the very core of the Athenian polis?) This collective will is the crucial component of communism, whichseeks to enable the conversion of work into will. Communism aims to complete the transition, via the struggle of collective self-emancipation, from a suffered necessity to autonomous self-determination. It is the deliberate effort, on a world-historical scale, to universalize the material conditions under which free voluntary action might prevail over involuntary labour or passivity. Or rather: communism is the project through which voluntary action seeks to universalize the conditions for voluntary action. Exemplary cases of such activity can be found inpeople like Robespierre, Toussaint L’Ouverture or John Brown: confronted with an indefensible institution like slavery, when the opportunityopportunity arose they resolved to work immediately and by all available means for its elimination. Che Guevara and Paulo Freire would do the same in the face of imperialism and oppression. Today Dr. Paul Farmer and his “Partners in Health,” in Haiti, Chile and elsewhere, adopt a somewhat similar approach when confronted by indefensible inequalities in the global provision of healthcare. In each case the basic logic is as simple as could be: an idea, like the idea of communism, or equality, or justice, commands that we should strive to realize it without compromises or delay, before the means of such realization have been recognized as feasible or legitimate, or even “possible.” It is the deliberate striving towards realization itself that will convert the impossible into the possible, and explode the parameters of the feasible. Such collective activity realizes the “actuality of people and leader, where the two are one actuality, since they cannot be separated.” Along these lines, Badiou recently proposed a rehabilitation of the revolutionary communist “cult of personality”: the real of a Truth-Event is inscribed into the space of symbolic fiction through a proper name (of a leader)―Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Che Guevara. Far from signaling the corruption of a revolutionary process, the celebration of the leader’s proper name is immanent to that process: to put it in somewhat crude terms, without the mobilizing role of a proper name, the political movement remains caught in the positive order of Being rendered by the conceptual categories―it is only through the intervention of a proper name that the dimension of “demanding the impossible,” of changing the very contours of what appears as possible, arises.