After the Event

Explosive events, like expansive cadenzas, augur.

Recent political phenomena like the Occupy movements, Assembly practices, and mobilizations of the Multitude have given new impetus to various visions of rebellion. A popular theme of these visions is Alain Badiou’s notion of the Event. Events are unpredictable and singular outbreaks of freedom, equality, and love, irruptions that interrupt linear history and redefine it as intermittency. They are not revolutions but short-lived revolts such as Athens in 508 BC, Paris in 1789, Haiti in 1791, Berlin in 1919, Kronstadt in 1921, Barcelona in 1936, Budapest in 1956, and Cairo in 2011. In occurences like these, the ecstasy of the event is quickly succeeded by grief over the death or failure of the revolt, loss of faith, and decline into, at worst, passivity and inertia and, at best, resistance to the fallacy of positivity by the melancholy of negativity.

Andrew Gibson (Intermittency: The Concept of Historical Reason in Recent French Philosophy, 2102) has argued that philosophy deals with the explosive event (the date of reason with history) while literature deals with the subsequent melancholy (the remainder of that date). Thus philosophy grapples with the positivity of the event while literature expresses the negativity of melancholy. Greek writer Z. D. Ainales (1982) has captured the melancholy over the exhausted event in a 2013 desolate poem on a landmark date of Greek history, the 3 September 1843 “revolution” of the army and people against the autocratic Bavarian Otto, King of Greece, which demanded successfully that he grant a constitution (but did not demand one of its own neither did it challenge the monarchy, which remained in power from 1832 until 1924): Days in Greece grow old fast as revolutions fade away overnight, and every other generation must start from scratch.

 

Ζ. Δ. Αϊναλής

3η Σεπτεμβρίου 1843

Γερνάνε γρήγορα οι μέρες στην Ελλάδα

σβήνει απότομα το φως

τρώνε σκυλιά τα δάκτυλα του ήλιου

παίζουν αδέσποτα παιδιά στα περιθώρια του δρόμου

έρχονται νύχτα μητρικές φωνές κραυγές

για να μαντρώσουν

 

Κι έπειτα τίποτα

σιωπή

οι μπάτσοι έφιπποι σφυρίζουν

λακέδες με λιβρέα τσακίζονται

φερέφωνα

κυρίες με κρινολίνα κι άμαξες

Νυδραίοι εφοπλιστές κι ευνούχοι Φαναριώτες

καλαμαράδες φραγκοφόρετοι και πένες πληρωμένες

 

στο Φόρο πένητες μασάνε το σκοτάδι

 

ένα φεγγάρι θάνατος

κόσα στο σβέρκο καρφωμένο

 

γενιά παρά γενιά εμφύλιος, γενιά παρά γενιά εκκαθάριση

και όλο απ’ το μηδέν ν’ αρχίζω

 

Παίζουν ακόμα, τραγουδάν, γελάν στους δρόμους τα παιδιά μας;

 

Μαζεύονται τώρ’ από παντού φωνές κραυγές

συρρέουν μπρος στ’ ανάκτορα αλαλάζουν

βάζουν φωτιά περιδεείς και δέονται

ελπίζουν

σβήνουν απότομα οι φωτιές

διαλύονται

γερνάνε γρήγορα οι μέρες στην Ελλάδα

In a recent article (“Thanks to the EU’s villainy, Greece is now under financial occupation,” New Statesman, August 17, 2015), Slavoj Žižek discusses the bankruptcy of another Greek event, namely, the apparent failure of the Greek Left to govern in summer 2015. First he admits: “The reversal of the NO of referendum to the YES to Brussels was a genuine devastating shock, a shattering painful catastrophe.” He then invokes eloquently the “work of love” in order to salvage the event of the Left government: “When Badiou talks about an emancipatory Event, he always emphasises that an occurrence is not an Event in itself – it only becomes one retroactively, through its consequences, through the hard and patient ‘work of love’ of those who fight for it, who practice fidelity to it. … [I]f we opt for the fidelity to this event, our entire life changes, we are engaged in the ‘work of love’ and endeavor to inscribe the Event into our reality; at some point, then, the evental sequence is exhausted and we return to the ‘normal’ flow of things… But what if the true power of an Event should be measured precisely by its disappearance, when the Event is erased in its result, in the change in ‘normal’ life? Let’s take a socio-political Event: what remains of it in its aftermath when its ecstatic energy is exhausted and things return to ‘normality’ – how is this ‘normality’ different from the pre-evental one?”

For writer Ainales too, love and revolt are the two cardinal events. In his Greek essay “Love and Eros, Revolt and Revolution” (2008), he proposes the two pairs of notions mentioned in his title, arguing that, while revolution, like eros, seeks to replace one regime with another, revolt, like love, seeks to turn a dream into reality. Eros demands but love offers; eros seeks the absolute but love seeks the unique. Thus while Badiou’s love is by definition erotic and sexual, Ainales’ love is not necessarily either, leaving room for the friend and the comrade as well.

The danger of political disillusionment and paralysis remains. Žižek’s ominous conclusion about current prospects merits special attention: “What one should fear is not only the prospect of the further suffering of the Greek people, but also the prospect of another fiasco which will discredit the Left for years to come, while the surviving Leftists will argue how their defeat proves yet again the perfidiousness of the capitalist system…”  This is the common sequence of Leftist defeat and despair I have discussed in recent posts of this blog.  Yet, despite the fate of the particular Greek occurrence, visions of rebellion may subside but will not disappear. The Left government may fail but fidelity to it as an event may endure and inscribe it in our “normal” reality long after the summer of 2015, a telling point of post-evental constructive convergence among Žižek, Ainales, Stathis Gourgouris, Neni Panourgia, Athena Athanasiou, Dimitris Vardoulakis and many of us.

Uncompromising fidelity to the event is an ethico-political lesson in dedication and determination that we continue to learn on a personal level as well — in my case, from my on-going “work of love” on two evental encounters in my life, namely, becoming the “other half” of Artemis Leontis and the “other self” of Pantelis Polychronidis.  You may come up with your own examples of explosive encounters listening to the expansive Grieg cadenza.

August 18, 2015

 

 

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