Translator’s note: “The Eclipse of Politics” is the fourth chapter of Daniel Bensaid’s Eloge de la politique profane (Albin Michel, 2008) (tr: In Praise of Secular Politics). In this chapter, the author situates the most prominent discourses of the event, as developed by Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari among others, in the political context of the 1970s.
Starting with the aftermath of May 68 and ending with the Iranian Revolution of 79; Bensaid revisits the main tenets of the philosophies of the event to underscore their inadequacy to understand the revolution as a political concept. Ironically, the philosophies of the event would have missed the two main events of the same decade that marked their rise to prominence. But how did that happen?
This series of posts is part of a work in progress as far as the translation of the Eloge is concerned. But in a wider sense, this translation is part of a bigger project which aims at making Bensaid’s work available to English-speaking readers. Far from suggesting any parallels between the Iranian Revolution and the more recent events dubbed the Arab Spring; this selected chapter should be read in the context of Bensaid’s critical reflection on the question of strategy.
My hope is that the current debate on Islam (whether political or cultural) and the Arab revolutions will ultimately shift towards a critical project that does not write off the primacy of struggle in its three-fold political, historical and economic dimension. The missed encounter of the philosophies of the event with the events of their time is primarily due to the fact that none of them had a working concept of strategy. This critical and conceptual shortcoming explains how the popular uprisings of the 70s, despite their striking differences, underscored the absence of what Bensaid calls “strategic reason.”
Strategic reason is defined as a dual program of criticism and praxis. It consists in a paradigmatic shift towards three interlinked axes: the rehabilitation of the concept of the political; a better diagnosis and understanding of the reasons which led to or may account for the demise of the State; and an urgent reconciliation with the concept of History in its material groundings.
The Eclipse of Politics
Eloge de la politique profane. (Albin Michel, 2008)
We should have the modesty to tell ourselves that the time we live in is not this unique or irruptive point in history at which everything ends and then begins again.
Although Minerva’s owl begins its flight in the gathering dusk, philosophical discourse can sometimes be a step ahead of the spirit of the time. Weren’t both Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault, to some extent, the pathfinders of the world we entered decades ago? They heralded the collapse of the political paradigm of modernity, and perhaps that’s what makes them close to us while at times arousing our impatience with ourselves.
The 1980s were the years of strategy degree zero and this was not the case with strategies of subversion only, but equally true in the case of strategies of domination, bound among themselves by a reflective relation. Subversion is the subaltern of that which it resists and fights against. This is not in the least a weakness in the stoic rhetoric of resistance, despite its praiseworthy determination to withstand the discourse of surrender to the order of things.
Each one in his own way, Deleuze, Guattari and Foucault were instrumental not just in revealing, but also in nourishing, this emerging strategy crisis; a fact which accounts for the misunderstanding associated with their success. After the politics of power, comes the time of the impolitic of counter-power! Then follows “the impatience of freedom,” the humble apprenticeship and patient labor which gave this movement its particular form (Dits & écrits, 1397).
Something was lost in this transition. Gone dormant those categories around which the politics of emancipation have been articulated, from Machiavelli to Rousseau and from Marx to Lenin. From the rhizome to the multitude, theoretic trials and errors were, in a sense, indicative of a lack rather than of attempts to make up for it. In order to do so, a slow and long maturity of foundational new experiences, so it seemed, was needed. But until then, the times seemed more auspicious to decompositions without re-composition and to crepuscular events without a sunrise.
If the beginning of the new century rekindled old controversies about the question of strategy, the debate was taking place against the background of remnants of utopian moments obscurely gearing up for the emergence of new concepts. By deciphering the traces of the possible, they predicted a time when a disillusioned gaze will at last manage to pierce the mysteries and wonders of a world in the making. Both Deleuze and Foucault were our pointers to a portended triple crisis: that of modern historicity, that of strategies of emancipation and that of critical theories. In other words, Deleuze and Foucault acted as pointers to a combined crisis of the critique of arms and the arms of critique.
This was the epoch when a disagreeable misinterpretation inspired by 68, and which had once been taken for a great leap forward, was finally exposed at the turn of the 1970s, as one that is more contradictory than it first seemed. Ironic dialectical twist: “we are deferred back to the year 1830, that is to say, we have to start all over again.” (Dits & écrits, 398) We then had to give up thinking of ourselves as the inheritors or offspring of October. We were not even heirs to the Commune or the barricaders of 1848. One had to start from further afar again, from the painful gestation period of the Republic of Enjolras and the insurgents of Saint-Méry who reenacted by themselves the Jacobean revolution in the guise of a sneak-view of the modern labor movement and of the great and bloody wound of certain days in June 1848. However, Deleuze was more cautious (or more political) than Foucault when he said repeatedly that the search for an origin is vain and that “things start living again only in the middle.” But of course, this new growth at the heart of becoming was formulated at the antipode of the great “French new beginning” and of the dream of the tabula rasa and the clean slate, or of the quest for some “primary certitude that marks a point of origin or some invariable firm point.” 1 The question was then to determine where exactly this middle passes, and how to enable it.
- Gilles Deleuze in Dialogues, p. 50. In Deleuze, la clameur de l’etre (Paris, Hachette, 1997), Alain Badiou pays Deleuze an embarrassed posthumous tribute by stating: “in the red years (in the 1970s and Vincennes) to the Maoist that I am, Deleuze, the philosophical inspiration behind what we call the desiring-anarchists is a formidable enemy and even more so because of his position inside the movement and the fact that his seminar is one of the most highly regarded sites of the university. I have never toned down my polemics, and consensus is not one of my strongest point.” Badiou in a sense takes the best part of reconciliation by finding again underneath the Deleuzean multiple a “metaphysics of the One” (p. 20) and by challenging the authority of the anarchic ideal of autonomy often attributed to him: now, what is to blame is the “equivocal role of the disciplines,” often “true only to misinterpretation” that it always ends up betraying. This is what Badiou admits to towards the end. However, Deleuze remains “diagonal” with regard to all blocs of philosophical positions, which have drawn the intellectual landscape since the 1960s. ↩