Talbot Event

March 15, 2014

Alain Badiou describes the concept of event once again in Peut-on penser la politique?,[*]  by contrasting it to the concept of fact. The Talbot Event is the term we use to revisit this late Badiou’s concept of event in a political background and not only in the abstract terms he elaborated the concept in Being and Event. Badiou uses the fact in order to present the banality of a recordable, archivable simple action. This banality is negated by the exceptional character of an event. The fact describes the norm and the event the exception. The Talbot factory revolt in France is the example used by Badiou in order to explain this difference between triviality and exception within a concrete political background. The Talbot case becomes thus paradigmatic for illustrating the political constitution of an event. An innocent, idiosyncratic idealization of a non-hegemonic outburst guarantees the exceptional character of the event. The simple objective depiction of an action (that takes place in a particular historical moment) cannot include the dynamic of the event for Badiou. “Eventuality” shows, in this perspective, the possibility of an action to radiate a “truth”. We may lose an event in facts. He writes that for the event to transpire we must set aside all facts. Nevertheless Badiou’s rhetoric for a certain superiority of the event over a demonized fact, on many levels needs the fact in order to be defined, in order to present this symbolic hypertrophy that “immediately” and “spontaneously” constructs an action as event.
Badiou’s drives his Talbot Event to the concept of injustice; injustice structures the event. The fact is characterized by “simple objectivity”. Injustice can have a transformatory role and a constitutive power for an event to occur. Injustice allows the transcendence of a “simple fact” and leaves open the possibility of the time for an event to be inaugurated and deployed. The gap between a simple recording and an “action open to a promising future” regulates the difference between Badiou’s fact and event. The openness to decisions marking this Talbot event’s temporality is founded on an answer to injustice.
The interrelations of an action’s evolution, as Badiou describes it, form a brief genealogy (even if Badiou would not present it as such he announces a series of concepts that form a possible line in his chapter titled “Definitions and Axioms”), which begins with the structure of a situation and leads to an announcement of political faith. In this brief genealogy, we encounter in turn the structure of the situation (which always remains trapped in a “simple” representation), the event (which presents some rupture, some remnant, or some representational difficulty), the intervention (associated with its current, conventional, dominant interpretation, which produces the event as its negation), the politics (consolidating the cohesion of the event in the intervention’s status quo and spreading it), and, finally, faith and political organization (this could constitute faith in action perhaps, which results from each situation). What is interesting in this entire evolution of the concepts of politics or in this genealogy of faith, is the absence of place reserved for interpretation or reading facts. Interpretation, as Badiou describes it, is a process whose occurrence we follow externally. It transpires, or is implemented as an intervention that divides the event; the interpretation splits the event. Badiou’s concept of “intervention” resembles an internal spontaneous reaction; it does not follow the stage of a thoughtful elaboration. It happens as an explosion. The concept “intervention” (which is analyzed as an interpretive move concerning a given frame in the case of the event) simply demands a logical form to explain something that has already taken place. Badiou’s event, while presented as a concept seeking to define open time, unfolds as such only when it has already occurred as a social mishap. An injustice that affects a social space organizes the event according to Badiou’s Talbot Event’s description, because what has already taken place does not allow any more tolerance.
Resistance to injustice creates the opening towards the future. Time is characterized and counted based on resistance to this injustice. The political element is organized ontologically as outrage for what has already taken place. The interpretation is an investment of the reflexive urge to react to something that from the start is presented as unpalatable or unacceptable. The Talbot event happens as a war answer to an injustice. What Badiou calls “interpretation” or “intervention” resembles an accomplished, spontaneous diagnosis that is announced as the end of tolerance. Contrariwise, the fact, as presented in the same text about the Talbot Event, appears divested of any reading dynamic. The “transubstantiation” of an action into an “event” through an apparently obvious injustice, gives an “objective” description to the power of “becoming”.
“Becoming” could be understood as the ruling concept defining an event; it is imposed as a transformative resistance to a given constitutive injustice. A fact is simultaneously considered an accomplished narrative, a simple data addition in the archives of the given, formed by a single reading. The Talbot Event shows the idealised answer to an injustice as a paradigmatic political example. The fact is considered as having a negative aspect. However in facts described as archivable systems of remains we can save the possibility of detecting and observing hidden injustices; an archeology of traces opens different political fields of investigation; they concern an archived past or specific finds. ΑΑ

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[*] Peut-on penser la politique? Paris, Seuil, 1985.

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