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The Relation of Badiou and Zizek to Derrida

Chung Chin-Yi, Independent Researcher


In this paper I will be examining the negative phenomenologies of Alain Badiou (b. 1937) and Slavoj Zizek (b.1949). I will argue that their reversals of phenomenology repeat its metaphysical structure rather than managing to escape it. In place, Derrida discovers the quasi-transcendental, or that which is neither transcendental nor empirical but the interval between these, as the condition of possibility for phenomenology. Derrida thus inscribes phenomenology in a more powerful form through discovering the quasi-transcendental as its condition of possibility as the quasi-transcendental upholds the possibility of the transcendental-empirical distinction as well as the impossibility of their separation.

The Relation of Badiou and Derrida

Derrida maintains the existence of transcendental-empirical difference though he posits it as a differance without a difference while Badiou seeks to collapse that difference in his positing of the pure multiple. Unlike Derrida who maintains the existence of the transcendental which exists though iterability in the empirical, Badiou seeks to repudiate the transcendental when he declares there is no Oneness, only multiplicity. Indeed, this translates into saying that there is no transcendental form which determines the empirical through iterability, rather all that exists according to Badiou is the presentation of presentation and the pure multiple which exists unprecedented by the One, in other words, matter is purely material which exists without the foundation of the One. An anti-foundationalist, Badiou also declares the non-existence of God or all otherworldly forms of transcendence which determine the empirical through iterability. Derrida argues that all presentation is representation, while Badiou argues that all that exists is the presentation of presentation, in other words, everything is material, and no transcendent form determines the existence of matter.

Badiou maintains that philosophy has sustained itself on the illusion that Oneness and unity or the consistent multiple has maintained precedent in phenomenology and suppressed the pure multiple that is not preceded by the One. Dividing ontology into inconsistent multiplicity and consistent multiplicity, Badiou maintains that ontology has favoured consistent multiplicity over inconsistent multiplicity, while all that truly remains in ontology is the multiplicity of multiplicity which is not preceded by the One. The One is an illusion that has served to reinforce faith in a transcendent realm or God. This according to Badiou, does not exist. Badiou claims that there is no One that unites multiplicity into its being; rather what exists is the pure multiple which exists as the presentation of presentation and does not conceal the One that is. Badiou seeks to return to ontology as being qua being rather than return to philosophy which retains the existence of a transcendent realm which determines the material realm. Describing his ontology as mathematics, Badiou argues that his ontology functions according to the law of subtraction. When the multiple comes into being, it subtracts, the One, which does not exist in the first place but only as a function of immanence which maintains the semblance of unity when this in fact does not exist because all that exists is nothingness or the Void. This differs from Derrida’s difference in that Derrida maintains the necessity of the transcendental to be repeated as the empirical to determine metaphysics, while Badiou does away entirely with the transcendent realm, maintaining it is subtracted as an illusion, which does not exist in the first place, as all that exists is the presentation of presentation and the pure multiple while the One is not. Badiou bases his phenomenology on the void and declares that all is material. The transcendent realm,or the One, does not exist. Badiou further argues that the infinite does not exist as all that exist are the numerable and countable numbers as the infinite is an abstraction that transcends and thus does not exist in the world.

Badiou highlights the precedence of the multiple over the One, and hence emphasizes materiality and finitude. However this materiality and finitude translates into empiricism which does not differ from idealism upon close examination, as the transcendental-empirical difference is an illusion. Badiou’s emphasis on materialism and finitude commits phenomenology to an empirical basis, which suppresses aporia and differance. This is because the transcendental is nothing outside the empirical, just as the empirical is just the repeated trace of the transcendental. Nothing separates the transcendental and empirical. The difference between the transcendental and empirical translates into a paradoxical sameness as the transcendental and empirical are simultaneously identical and non-identical, similar and different. The quasi-transcendental inscribes this opposition as a simultaneous sameness because nothing separates the transcendental and empirical. The quasi-transcendental is both the grounds of possibility and impossibility of the distinction between the transcendental and empirical, lending to phenomenology an aspect of heterogeneity and undecidability, because truth translates as aporia and that which is neither transcendental nor empirical. This is the quasi-transcendental, the limit, spacing and trace between the transcendental and empirical which allows the thinking of both and allows metaphysics to function. It is the quasi-transcendental or the written mark, functioning as if it was transcendental, which enables metaphysics as it is the conditionality of transcendental-empirical differentiation as well as the condition of impossibility for designating an exclusive sphrere of idealism or expressive signs, or empirical signs in converse. The quasi-transcendental relates the transcendental and empirical in simultaneous identity and difference, identity and non-identity. The necessity for the quasi-transcendental to distinguish the transcendental and empirical makes it impossible to separate transcendental and empirical as each separation depends on the other term for the distinction to be upheld. If there were no transcendental, then it would be impossible to distinguish, as Badiou does, a pure empirical situatedness and idealism from it. The transcendental thus inhabits the empirical even as it is separated from it through the written mark or quasi-transcendental. Badiou thus requires the transcendental to exclude it from his corporeality and radical empiricism. Empirical only exists in relation to transcendental through iterability and differance. Badiou thus needs to acknowledge the quasi-transcendental as a condition of possibility for his phenomenology to inscribe it more powerfully. Badiou excludes from his phenomenology that which is necessary to thinking as the transcendental needs to exist in order for the distinction between the empirical to be upheld. Badiou thus needs to acknowledge that his empirical does not exist outside its relation to the transcendental through iterability and diferance.

Badiou, by suppressing the One, lapses into privileging materiality and empirical situatedness of the number. Such a move suppresses the quasi-transcendental and iterability as the true condition of possibility of metaphysics. As transcendental-empirical difference is an illusion, an empirical idealism like Badiou’s repeats rather than diverges from metaphysics. Transcendental and empirical are repetitions, rather than anti-thetical to each other. The transcendental and empirical only exist in relation to each other through differance and iterability. The quasi-transcendental, which is the limit, spacing and trace which upholds metaphysics and allows metaphysics to function, is the true condition of metaphysics as the transcendental has to exist only in and through the empirical. An empirical idealism like Badiou’s thus suppresses aporia and differance and fails to acknowledge that it borrows entirely from the ontological structure and vocabulary of metaphysics, hence repeating metaphysics rather than truly departing or diverging from it.

Badiou in emphasizing multiplicity thus lapses into empiricism, which is nothing but idealism as the difference between the transcendental and empirical translates into sameness. The empirical is not conceivable outside the dynamic relation of iterability and differance which relate the transcendental and empirical. Truth is not to be situated as either transcendental or empirical, because such a move suppresses aporia and differance. Truth translates rather as that which is neither transcendental nor empirical, or the quasi-transcendental, the limit, spacing and trace which allows the thinking of both.

The empirical idealism of Badiou thus reinscribes metaphysics by instituting a distinction which collapses through the movement of the trace and differance, which designates the a priori distinction between the transcendental and empirical as a repetition of the same. The transcendental does not exist outside the empirical, just as the empirical is the repeated trace of the transcendental through iterability. Badiou does not differ from Husserl as transcendental and empirical are repetitions of the same through iterability. Derrida thus democratizes phenomenology in showing that Badiou does not differ essentially from Husserl despite seeking to reverse phenomenology.

In this section I have examined Badiou’s phenomenology of subtraction. Badiou argues that the multiple precedes the One. In this shift towards an emphasis on materiality and finitude Derrida would find a form of non-philosophy in its emphasis on material presence, as argued earlier, a repetition rather than a reversal of metaphysics and philosophy. Derrida locates the condition of phenomenology and philosophy as the quasi-transcendental or the difference between philosophy and non-philosophy, thus performing meta-phenomenology rather than inverting or negating phenomenology as Levinas, Ricoeur and Badiou do. Badiou’s emphasis on finitude marks his philosophy as a radical empiricism or non-philosophy, while Derrida would take pains to suggest radical empiricism is essentially the same as transcendental idealism, and the difference or differance between them is nothing. This is because the transcendental exists only through the empirical in the dynamic relation of iterability, the transcendental is nothing outside the empirical, just as the empirical is the repeated trace of the transcendental and does not exist outside of it. As transcendental-empirical difference is an illusion, truth is neither transcendental nor empirical, but quasi-transcendental, the spacing between the transcendental and empirical which enables the thinking of both. The impossibility of the distinction between Badiou’s corporeal phenomenology and Husserl’s transcendental idealism is its own possibility as transcendental and empirical are the same, separated by a difference which is not a difference, differance. The aporia between the transcendental and empirical enables the thinking of both as differance and iterability determine the distinction between the transcendental and empirical as a non-distinction. In place of a negative phenomenology for Badiou, Derrida thus performs a meta-phenomenology in discovering the conditions of possibility for phenomenology to be differance, the quasi-transcendental and iterability. Derrida thus inscribes phenomenology more powerfully as it is made reflexive of its own conditions of possibility that enable its production and functioning.

Zizek and Derrida

Zizek describes himself as anti-Hegelian, seeking to return phenomenology to the space of the real. In place of sublation, Zizek celebrates the empty signifier, the return from the Symbolic to the real, to the Other of the absolute which is the empty signifier, the void which conceals nothing and is not sublated into an absolute to return one to the idealism of Hegel. As such Zizek raises the Real to absolute, committing himself to empirical idealism. In reversing the relation to Symbolic and Real and raising the Real as absolute however, Zizek reinscribes metaphysics as a negative. The Real as absolute is no different from the self as absolute. Zizek thus reinscribes phenomenology as the oppression of the Real as absolute, but does not manage to escape metaphysics as the Real is merely a substitute for the Symbolic as absolute; reversing the relation merely reinscribes metaphysics as a negative, which is no different from the positive. The Symbolic as oppressor, thus inscribes metaphysics as a negative rather than managing to overcome metaphysics as the Real is inscribed as absolute in place of the Symbolic. Zizek’s radical empiricism is no different from transcendental idealism as transcendental-empirical difference is an illusion. Zizek inverts metaphysics only to repeat it. Radical empiricism, or an Real-directed phenomenology, does not differ essentially from transcendental idealism, as transcendental-empirical difference is an illusion. The transcendental is nothing outside the empirical, just as the empirical is but the repeated trace of the transcendental. Transcendental and empirical only exist in relation to each other in differance and iterability. Hence, an inversion of metaphysics does not escape it as it borrows entirely from its ontological structure and vocabulary. Zizek’s Real-directed phenomenology inscribes metaphysics as a negative, which is no different from the positive since transcendental-empirical difference is an illusion. It is the quasi-transcendental or the written mark, functioning as if it was transcendental, which enables metaphysics as it is the conditionality of transcendental-empirical differentiation as well as the condition of impossibility for designating an exclusive sphrere of idealism or expressive signs, or empirical signs in converse. The quasi-transcendental relates the transcendental and empirical in simultaneous identity and difference, identity and non-identity. The necessity for the quasi-transcendental to distinguish the transcendental and empirical makes it impossible to separate transcendental and empirical as each separation depends on the other term for the distinction to be upheld. If there were no transcendental, then it would be impossible to distinguish, as Zizek does, a pure empirical idealism from it. The transcendental thus inhabits the empirical even as it is separated from it through the written mark or quasi-transcendental. Zizek requires the transcendental and absolute self to distinguish it from his radical empiricism and emphasis on Real-directed phenomenology. Empirical only exists in relation to transcendental through iterability and differance. Zizek thus paradoxically excludes that which is necessary to thinking his phenomenology as his empiricism can only exist in relation to the transcendental through iterability and differance.

Zizek is thus more concerned with raising the negative to absolute, while Derrida is concerned with a meta-phenomenology and the conditions of possibility of phenomenology. Differance, or nothing, separates the transcendental and the empirical. As argued previously, the transcendental is nothing outside the empirical as repetitions of the same, or iterability. Symbolic cannot exist without a relation to Real just as the Real exists only in relation to Symbolic, Zizek’s raising of the Real to absolute in his phenomenology is but a reversal of metaphysics which repeats it rather than escaping it. Zizek’s inversion of the Symbolic-Real relation in which the Real is raised to an absolute totality repeats metaphysics by merely inverting its structure. Zizek’s radicical empiricism of Real as absolute repeats metaphysics as the transcendental and empirical are the same through iterability. Hence Zizek reverses metaphysics only to repeat it. The impossibility of the distinction between the transcendental and empicial is its site of possibility, as Zizek’s empirical Real is no different from Husserl’s transcendental idealism as differance between transcendental and empirical separates nothing. A reversal of metaphysics repeats it and hence affirms metaphysics.

In this paper I have examined the negative phenomenologies of Badiou and Zizek. Negative phenomenologies repress differance as the transcendental and the empirical are repetitions of the same through iterability. I would argue that a negative phenomenology or a reversal of phenomenology repeats it rather than managing to escape it. This is because it still proceeds within its metaphysical vocabulary and ontological structure. Badiou thus, in inverting and reversing phenomenology, only repeats it by borrowing entirely from its metaphysical vocabulary and structure. Derrida’s phenomenology in place is a meta-phenomenology in discovering the origin of phenomenology as differance, or the difference between philosophy and non-philosophy, transcendental and empirical. Derrida discovers the condition of possibility for phenomenology as the quasi-transcendental, or the interval between the transcendental and empirical which conditions phenomenology in its entirety. The transcendental and empirical are paradoxically identical and non-identical because the difference translates into sameness. The trace, which distinguishes the transcendental and empirical, translates into a difference which is paradoxically not a difference but sameness.

As this paper has argued, the transcendental and empirical distinction is an illusion. The impossibility of the distinction between the transcendental and empirical is its own possibility as transcendental and empirical are the same. It is the aporia between the transcendental and empirical which enables the thinking of both as transcendental is nothing outside the empirical through differance and iterability. The empirical idealisms of Badiou and Zizek thus reinscribe metaphysics by instituting a distinction which collapses through the movement of the trace and differance, which designates the a priori distinction between the transcendental and empirical as a repetition of the same. The transcendental does not exist outside the empirical, just as the empirical is the repeated trace of the transcendental through iterability. Badiou and Zizek thus do not differ from Husserl as transcendental and empirical are repetitions of the same through iterability. Derrida thus democratizes phenomenology in showing that Badiou does not differ essentially from Husserl despite seeking to reverse phenomenology. It is the quasi-transcendental or the written mark, functioning as if it was transcendental, which enables metaphysics as it is the conditionality of transcendental-empirical differentiation as well as the condition of impossibility for designating an exclusive sphrere of idealism or expressive signs, or empirical signs in converse. The quasi-transcendental relates the transcendental and empirical in simultaneous identity and difference, identity and non-identity. The necessity for the quasi-transcendental to distinguish the transcendental and empirical makes it impossible to separate transcendental and empirical as each separation depends on the other term for the distinction to be upheld. If there were no transcendental, then it would be impossible to distinguish, as Badiou does, a pure empirical situatedness and idealism from it. The transcendental thus inhabits the empirical even as it is separated from it through the written mark or quasi-transcendental. Transcendental and empirical exist only in and through each other through a dynamic relation of iterability, repetition with a difference and differance. Badiou requires the transcendental to exclude it from his radical empiricism. He thus needs to acknowledge that their empiricisms can only exist in relation to the transcendental that they need to exclude from their philosophies in order to define their empiricisms. Truth is then localizable to neither transcendental nor empirical as these exist only in dynamic relation to each other through differance and iterability, but is situated in the paradoxical space between as quasi-transcendental, the limit between the transcendental and empirical that allows the thinking of both. Derrida thus inscribes phenomenology in a more powerful form through his discovery of the quasi-transcendental as its condition of possibility as it would be impossible to distinguish the transcendental and empirical without it and phenomenology would not function without the quasi-transcendental as the transcendental is simultaneously the empirical, coming into being only through iterability. Derrida thus brings phenomenology to terms with its own condition of possibility through his positing of the quasi-transcendental, the interval or the between of the transcendental and empirical that enables the thinking of both.

References

Badiou, Alain. Being and Event. Continuum: London. 2005. Print.

Zizek, Slavoj. Interrogating the Real. Continuum: London. 2005. Print.

Chung Chin-Yi has completed a doctorate in English literature at the National University of Singapore. She has published widely on deconstruction in international journals.