Archive for June, 2009

News of Insurrection…From Nowhere

June 11, 2009

Thou art a scholar; speak to it, Horatio.
-Marcellus, Hamlet (Act 1, Scene 1)

Shakespeare’s Hamlet – an early artistic defense of the Copernican infinite universe? – opens with the guards’ encounter with the ghost of King Hamlet. Marcellus, Barnardo and Horatio seem to momentarily discern the indiscernible, groping at the contours of a threshold between the imaginary and the immanent. Derrida once described the guards’ encounter in this way: “Nor does one see in flesh and blood this Thing that is not a thing, this thing that is invisible between its apparitions…”[1] The result is a “visor effect,” according to Derrida, because the Thing sees without being seen. “We do not see who looks at us…looking without being seen.”[2]

For its part, twentieth century emancipatory politics deliver the recurring theme of the ‘uprising from nowhere,’ the premise of anti-colonial theorists and black revolutionaries from Frantz Fanon to Malcolm X, and philosophers from Jean-Paul Sartre to Alain Badiou.

In his Théorie du sujet, Badiou also presents our Copernican (Shakespeare) through Hamlet. “The Universe always contains more things than it can name according to those very things,” Hamlet says to Horatio, “hence its inexistence.”[3] Readers of early Badiou might know that the Lacanian “in-existent” plays a special role for his philosophy. Since then Badiou has never withdrawn from the inexistent, the name for that site at which being is exposed to the event. For Badiou, event, subject, and truth are always beyond existence, hidden in the realm of ‘trans-being.’[4]

Frantz Fanon wrote starkly of the fact that, “[t]he black man has no ontological resistance in the eyes of the white man,” causing the colonized subject to lack an existence.[5] The colonized ‘is’ invisible. But this invisibility for being, as the site of domination, also turns out to be the unforeseen site of emancipation. Emancipation is the will of an impossible possibility. It is the freedom that draws from its own indeterminacy. From the armored perspective of mere being, such truths are invisible, literally non-existent. They are outside ordinary placements and hierarchies.

Malcolm X once answered an interviewer about Harlem in this way: “there are all kinds of movements…[that] remain almost invisible – they remain almost unknown, but yet they are there. When I say invisible I mean invisible in the sense that their existence is unknown.”[6] They sit awaiting at the edge of the void, the non-space of possible transformations; the path of unknown liberation from obscurity to maximality.


[1] Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International transl. Peggy Kamuf, (New York and London: Routledge, 1994) p. 6

[2] Ibid. p. 7

[3] Théorie du sujet, p. 235 quoted in Oliver Feltham, Alain Badiou: Live Theory (New York/London: Continuum, 2008) p. 73

[4] see Badiou, ‘The Event as Trans-being’ in Theoretical Writings: Alain Badiou transl. Ray Brassier and Alberto Toscano (London/New York: Continuum, 2004)

[5] Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks transl. Charles Lam Markmann. (New York: Grove Press, 1967) pp. 109 – 110