The Chiasm of Revolution: Badiou, Lacan, and Lefèbvre
Allan Pero

In summer 1968, Henri Lefèbvre hastily composed a text to address, in part, the event of May 1968 called L’irruption de Nanterre au sommet. (Unlike much of his other work, which still awaits translation, this text was just as hastily translated into English under the title The Explosion: Marxism and the French Upheaval/Revolution and was published in 1969). One of the interesting elements of this text is that he begins with a discussion of the relation of situation to event. He contends that “Events belie forecasts; to the extent that events are historic, they upset calculations. The may even overturn strategies that provided for their possible occurrence. Because of their conjectural nature, events upset the structures which made them possible” (Explosion 7).

Although Events can be “reabsorbed into the general situation” they also work to “reactivate the movement of both thought and practice”(Explosion 8). In reading this statement, I was struck by the theoretical consistency of this aspect of Lefèbvre’s thought with that of Alain Badiou; both thinkers are on the Left, both have an ambivalent relationship to the French Communist Party, and both were taken for a time with Maoist activism. [1] But perhaps most importantly, both figures are fascinated by the relation of situation to the event. As is becoming well-known (since Badiou is now himself the figure of a translation-cathexis), the relation of event to situation is a complex one. The event, for Lefèbvre and Badiou, has the effect of a singularity; that is to say, the event has no “ordinary” ontological status, while the situation, in its facticity, is ontological precisely because it is structured. As Lefèbvre reminds us, “events upset the structures that made them possible”; thus, because of the “upset,” an event cannot be counted as part of the structure or set that makes up the situation. How Badiou goes on to explain this in Being and Event is that “there are in situation evental sites (sites événementiels), but there is no evental situation” (176). The implications of this contention point toward a spatial problem of inclusion/exclusion. An event, then, has a paradoxical nature. It is composed of the elements of the site, even as it is composed of something outside the count of elements that make up the site; it is composed, in other words, of itself (Being and Event 179). An event is, for Badiou (and I would say, Lefèbvre) a moment or point that resists incorporation or inclusion in the set we could call “situation.” The event is a point of undecidability, since it is both part of the situation, yet is supernumerary to it at the same time. It is a excess that we look at, but cannot see.

This undecidability is, for Lefèbvre, governed by a form of agency in relation to the event of its happening; as he puts it in of Critique of Everyday Life: Volume II, “we will call ‘Moment’ the attempt to achieve the total realization of a possibility. Possibility offers itself; and it reveals itself. It is determined and consequently it is limited and partial …. The Moment wants to be freely total; it exhausts itself in the act of being lived” (Critique 348). Such Moments are here figured as exhibiting desire, and is “perceived, situated, and distanced” (Critique 350). In the argument that follows, I want now to focus more fully on the somatic and visual, as well as the spatial and political dimensions of this problematic. For now, one can say this: the event is perceived, but through a glass darkly; an event is a site, but not counted by the situation; and finally, it is distanced insofar as it is located “on-the-edge-of-the-void” as Badiou puts it. It does not exist, if I can refer to it in Lacanian terms, but “ex-sists” (stands apart) from the situation. The event interposes itself between the void of non-being and the being of the situation. It functions, in the Lacanian sense, as a kind of gaze, disrupting the “stupidity” [2] of the fantasy of absolute perspective offered by the technologies of the eye. The event is a kind of uncanny double of being, or is the “being of non-being” that reveals the gaps and inconsistencies of the situation. Badiou himself points to the French Revolution as an example; like Lefèbvre, Badiou admits that the event can be subsumed into the situation only insofar as we mistakenly insist upon say, the French Revolution or May 1968 for that matter, simply as a signifier of the set of everything that happened during a particular epoch, or, on the other hand, deny its status as excess, and transform it into a discernible, decidable objet. In order to retain the theoretical and material inflections of the event as standing apart from the situation, Lefèbvre ascribes to the Moment a kind of enigmatic desire; the Moment wants to be realized, but the task of the witness is: How? If we ignore this problem, we simply become revolutionaries in the banal sense of the term–a perilous and paranoiac proposition (the annoying alliteration of this phrase should be enough of a warning). This is of course part of the danger lurking in all discourses of revolution; revolution ceases to be a point of undecidability on which we wager, and becomes instead the path of the situation, a highway to freedom (and how often, even now, have people been paved over in the name of the Freedom Expressway)?

We see then that signifiers like revolution, democracy, truth, and love are sites of contestation. But for the purposes of this argument, I will focus largely on Love and its relation to revolution. For Badiou, Love, like revolution, is an event in the sense that it disrupts the situation of the Two who find themselves in this singular edge-of- the-void evental site. Love prompts a shift in the discursive formation of the Subject; for Lacan, in its blindness, “love is a sign that one is changing discourses”(Seminar XX 16). He makes this remark in the context of his exploration of love in Encore, as he extends his discussion of the four discourses he began a few years before in 1969-70, in Seminar XVII L’Envers de la psychanalyse. What are the discourses to which Lacan refers? They are, briefly, the discourses of the Master, the Hysteric, the University, and the Analyst. In the wake of May 1968, Lacan is thinking in this seminar about revolution, the role of analysis in the knowledge of contestation, or how to contest discourses of knowledge (or science, in the French) in the name of enjoyment; indeed, his own seminar was famously disrupted and required a hysterical showdown with several students. [3] The mathemes of the discourses are structured by revolution; love, that “sign that one is changing discourses” is a revolution in the specific way in which the discourses literally turn.

The structure of the discourses is:

agent other truth production

Here are the Lacanian algebraic symbols at work in this structure:

S1 – Master Signifier
S2 – Knowledge (le savoir)
$ – Barred Subject (the bar represents the desire or lack in the subject)
a – Surplus jouissance
⌉ – Impossibility
⌈ – Impotence

Let’s look at some examples:

Master’s Discourse:
S1 ⌉ S2
The Master’s discourse can be summarized in the phrase: “Just do it.”

With a quarter clockwise turn of the formula, it becomes:

The Hysteric’s Discourse:
$ ⌉ S1
a ⌈ S2
The Hysteric’s discourse can be summarized in the phrase “Show me the money!”

With another quarter clockwise turn, it becomes:

The Analyst’s Discourse:
S2 ⌈ S1
The Analyst’s discourse can be captured by two reactions: the Analyst’s Silence; or, “What do you think?”

Finally, a quarter counterclockwise turn of the Master’s Discourse, the formula becomes:

The University Discourse:
S2 ⌉ a
S1 ⌈ $
An aphorism that captures this discourse are edu-corporate slogans like “Leading. Thinking.”

All of these discourses circulate around a point, an event, or what Lacan calls, but does not develop mathematically, as a chiasm, or an X, I hope to take up the problem of the X, what I will here call the engine of the revolution that produces the clockwise or counterclockwise shifts in discourse: Love.

Love is an intersection, a Chiasm, an intertwining, a revolution in the history of what is the Two to-come; in terms of revolution, Merleau- Ponty remarks, in The Visible and the Invisible, that the opening of the body to the affect of colour, (one of his examples is the red of the Revolutionary flag), is an encounter with the resistance or “thickness” of what he calls “the flesh,” which points both to the distinction not only between colour and transparency, between the visible and the invisible, between the tangible and the visible, but also between subject and object (134-35). The flesh is both the medium for encountering the other, but is simultaneously a site of resistance to getting to the “heart of things” and the “sole means” by which to make the attempt. The limit of the body as a visible object and the seeing body are themselves intertwined, but Merleau-Ponty is clear that, in terms of touch, there exists a gap not just between subject and other, but also between subject and himself in touching and being touched. A handy example of this phenomenon is the difference between tearing a band-aid from your wounded body, and having someone else tear it off for you. You feel, in a relative sense, that you can measure the extent of the pain this particular touch will yield, yet you feel, or fear to feel, the pain of that touch much more when the other determines how/when to remove the bandage. This phenomenon is the anxiety of touch. If one could superimpose touching and touched, Merleau-Ponty contends, the subjective experience of touching vanishes. Lacan recognized this gap even as he was teaching Seminar XI, when The Visible and the Invisible was posthumously published. The chiastic intertwining of bodies, the distinction of touching and touched, is mapped onto the split between the eye and the gaze. The relation or non-relation of eye and the gaze follows the same logic; if one were to “see” from the perspective of the gaze, one’s subjective experience of the world disappears. One can only see from one perspective at a time; as his famous example of anamorphosis, Holbein’s The Ambassadors tells us, the eye opens us to the desire of the other, to the fantasy of seeing ourselves from the perspective of the other, since the other gives itself to us as an object of vision that inevitably blinds us (The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis 79-90). That is to say, the gaze of the other is a scotoma, a blind spot or plough cutting into the field of vision; the gaze looks, but does not see us. Or, more precisely, because what the gaze sees remains a mystery to us, our anxiety about the other’s desire is predicated on this obscure patch, on not being able to see oneself seeing–we cannot see the other and see the other as we see ourselves at the same time. Lacan’s deft use of Holbein’s painting theorizes the complex ways in which technologies of vision like perpsectival space have a blind spot, a point which Holbein seizes in the production of the double portrait; he combines two vanishing points, two perspectives, in order to suggest that death itself (here figured as the anamorphic skull) is not just a subjective vanishing point, but the point at which the subject vanishes.

The optics of the split between the eye and the gaze, like the optics of the eye itself, is structured by a chiasm. However, the function of the chiasm is not the same in these two economies. In terms of the physiology of the eye, the optic chiasm is the part of the brain where the optic nerves partially cross. Specifically, the nerves that are connected to the right eye that attend to the right visual field intersect with the nerves from the left eye that attend to the left visual field. The parts of both eyes that attend to the right visual field are processed in the left visual system in the brain, and vice versa; in effect, the optic chasm relieves us of the necessity (and the embarrassment) of walking around cross-eyed. But in the chiasm of the eye and the gaze, the crossing of the visual fields does not occur between left and right, but between the subject and the other. They meet at the point of the screen or image that the eye mistakes for the gaze. The gaze is not “inside the scopic field”; rather, the image of the other, produced by the eye’s fantasy of vision, places the subject in the visual field, in a state of visual captation. As a result, the subject is captured, transfixed by the screen that, as Merleau-Ponty tells us, makes vision possible at all (Visible and the Invisible 150). Indeed, the non-relation of eye to gaze is a kind of blinded chiasm; the crossing produces a misrecognition of the screen for the gaze; it is a kind of visual antanaclasis, in which an image is produced in the repetitious desire to see from the perspective of the other as one sees oneself; the gaze of the other is a symptom in that “breaks up” this particular possibility of a relation between the subject and the other. What the subject is then fascinated by is his own blind spot, or the anamorphic inscription of his desire in the gaze. One misrecognizes the screen or image for the gaze of the other, much like a man who, cloaked in a polyester leisure suit, and soaked in Old Spice, sucks in his gut, looks in the mirror, and says “Looking Good!” It reveals the difference, in other words, between an Imaginary Identification and a Symbolic One. It’s rather like Barney’s encounter with David Crosby in an episode of The Simpsons: “David Crosby? I love you! You’re my hero!” Crosby: “Oh, you like my music?” Barney: “You’re a musician??” In this particular example, we see that Barney does not identify with David Crosby the singer and lyricist, the participant in Woodstock’s historic “Three Days of Peace and Love,” but instead as a notorious, yet successful, drunk. True Love, if I can dare call it that, is the hideous recognition of the emptiness of this fantasy; hence the renewed anxiety about one’s “look,” the sudden attention paid to the seen body, when one falls in love. Suddenly, a phalanx of products are brought to bear on the body, scrubbing, polishing, cutting and ex-foliating, in hope of producing another kind of intertwining; one is no longer content with the blandishments of the image, the screen, the mirror, the porn; one surrenders oneself to the event of Love.

But of course, it is not that simple. We have narcissistic reassurance of the image, we have the violence of Love, but is there not a third term? The third term is–lust. One of the differences between lust and love can be captured in Judith Viorst’s chiastic phrase: “Lust is what makes you keep wanting to do it, even when you have no desire to be with each other. Love is what makes you keep wanting to be with each other, even when you have no desire to do it” (Grown-Up Marriage, 37). Another way of coming at the problem is to recall the lyrics to a song by a Canadian band of the mid-1980s called Images in Vogue. Here, in the song Lust for Love, the accusatory stance usually taken by the aggrieved lover is here reversed:

You mistook my lust for love, didn’t you? Didn’t you?
How could you?
Why would you?

Love, in this context, is figured as a hideous, absurd refuge of the parvenu, and lust is its reserved, level-headed counterpart, shocked at the vulgarity of the confession. What this inversion reveals is the perversion of being in love when the other does not acknowledge or feel the event of love. In this regard, it is rather like the sinister perversity of Dido’s song White Flag: “There is no White Flag above my door. I’m in love, and always will be….” Love, in this instance, has become not a confession, but a threat of violence. The declaration of love in the form of a threat occurs in the aftermath of a failed relationship (and what the relation itself unconsciously masks); it is the moment when the other rejects the pressure to enact the fidelity to the event of love. The lover says “I love you” and the other does not happily buckle, does not shyly, joyfully, or cheerfully admit, “I love you, too,” but instead says “What’s that smell?” or “I know (heavy sigh).” Remarks such as these are examples of what Badiou calls illusory love. Love is not merely an imaginary illusion, nor is it the result of the “follies and torments of those in love” (What is Love? 39) that one’s identity as a loving subject is conferred. Why? As Badiou contends, such an assumption would merely reduce love to one of the three definitions of love that will not be retained: fusional or Romantic love (1+1=1); ablative love (1+1=3); or the anamorphosis of Courtly love (1+1=1+1). Instead, Badiou reverses the logic of “follies and torments” that confer the identity of love on the subject, averring, on the contrary, that the identity of the subject is dependent upon the consequence of becoming a subject of love.

Love, like Revolution then, would seem to be a process of becoming, or more specifically, an “amorous consciousness” of the l’avènement or the coming-to of the Two (What is Love? 44), in which the experience of love is not governed by a knowable “Law.” Instead, love throws the subject into the paradox that Lacan insists is crucial to understanding the Cartesian cogito not as “cogito ergo sum,” but rather that the cogito is the subject of the unconscious. In this regard, the cogito experiences a disjunction between thought (knowledge) and being, which Lacan captures in his chiastic phrase “I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think” (Écrits 166). If we turn back to love, one can say that it is necessary to keep the detritus of love, its passions, jealousies, its imbrication in sex as a relation, even death itself at bay. For Badiou, love, in order to be theorized, needs the space of “pure logic”–a rhetorical and conceptual mode that informs his allegiance to set theory, to the event, and to the situation.

So let me now return to Revolution as a turning that transforms discourses; love is a form of revolution that suggests a re-imagining of one’s encounter with the other. Of course, love is ambivalent; this is not the love of Failure to Launch or Maid in Manhattan. Thinking of love as an event belies its subsumption into reassuring pabulum about “liking Pina Coladas, and gettin’ caught in the rain.” The re- imagining of love as an event brings us to a particular juncture; the chiasm can help us think through the problems of impotence and impossibility in Lacan’s discourses. As a rhetorical figure, chiasm is a form of inverted parallelism, which can reveal radical turns of events at the point of its crossing. The torsion of the chiasm is analogous to the kind of torsion one finds in a joke or surprise ending. The chiasm’s function then is to bring into relief an element which falls outside, for which we cannot account. As Christian Bök explains in his reading of chiasm as syzygia, one of the effects of the inversion is that it maintains the tension between conjoining and disjoining to bring into focus the “neglected part of the pair” that constitutes a binary (‘Pataphysics, 41). The void that ex-sists in the intertwining, in the chiasm, is one way of thinking about the event which, in Badiou’s phrase, is “something which had its own identity beyond the count, which was not taken account of” (Ethics 134). The utility of this figure as a means of thinking through the site of the edge-of- the-void occurs in the clash between discourses; whereas Lacan thinks of the subject as an “empty set,” Badiou prefers to figure the subject as a consequence of an event (Badiou: A Subject to Truth 144). What is crucial to understanding the implications of the empty set as consequence emerges in the paradox that the chiasm plays with; Lorenzo Chiesa usefully theorizes that the real is structured by the enunciation of the nothing in order to think or “originate” as the affirmation of a something, or that the impossible can either precede or institute the possible (“Count-as-one, Forming-into-one, Unary trait, S1,”164). By constructing and interrogating how these discourses grind against each other, Lacan, in my view, is attempting to think, in broader terms, about the connections between and among love, revolution, and surplus enjoyment to work out the subject’s knotty, yet partial, relation to truth.

By way of explanation, I want to turn to a film version of a Jean Giraudoux play called The Madwoman of Chaillot. One of the interesting things about this version (starring Katharine Hepburn, Charles Boyer, Yul Brynner, Giulietta Masina, Edith Evans and Danny Kaye) is that it was filmed in Paris in the fateful spring of 1968. Bryan Forbes, the self-confessed reactionary director, incorporated footage taken from the marches and demonstrations that took place that May into this text about toppling capitalism in the name of love and beauty. This footage functions as a kind of “hole” in the film, an event “on-the-edge-of-the-void” that is both singular and incongruous in the context of the rest of the film; the dialogue itself is brittle and artificial, evoking a campy re-imagining of Art Nouveau, while the demonstration footage is more akin to the visual logic of that generic darling of the 1960s, cinéma vérité. The film is a kind of camp allegory, which places these two scopic regimes together without permitting them to coalesce into a whole; for me, it is the radical collision of these regimes, the uncanniness of their conjoined disjuncture as montage, that constitutes the event of the film, while their discourses constitute the situation of the narrative. The film simultaneously refuses to be seduced by the discourse of truth attendant to cinéma vérité, even as it fragments the discourse of realism ideologically produced by Hollywood cinema. It transforms the event of May 1968 into an allegory that does not sanctify this historical moment, but ironizes its energy as profane illumination, in Walter Benjamin’s use of the term. In his complex reading of allegory, Benjamin theorizes the profane as a site of expression that tarries with the excesses of convention; allegory stages, through ruin and decay, the gap or eventual site left open with the collapse of the sacred. The expression of allegory, its truth, can only appear in a particular interpretative relation to the destruction and collision of conventions (Origin 175-85). In the film, the Countess Aurelia, Madwoman of Chaillot (Hepburn), living in a naïve, contented fantasy that she moves through the Paris of 1900, abruptly discovers that the world she inhabits is no longer happy, beautiful, and free. Freedom has been usurped by free enterprise, by the entrepreneurial spirit (contra Bush–who says the French don’t know what the word means?). She learns that a consortium is planning to blow up Paris in order to drill for oil. Significantly, her dreamworld is simultaneously shattered and strangely buoyed by this news. The appropriation of happiness in the name of the agent knowledge (capitalism, as we know, embodies the discourse of “Leading. Thinking” since it imagines leading is thinking) in turn leads the Countess to the very revolutionary, Badiouesque conclusion that one must act from the position of knowing the place “from where politics prescribes the state” (qtd. in Hallward 227) and proceed accordingly. Having heard that a cabal of businessmen want to extract the oil that apparently runs under Paris, she hatches a revolutionary plot; claiming to be a prospector who has discovered a rich deposit of crude oil under her house, she decides to invite all the capitalists:

My dear Mr. President: I have personally verified the existence of a spontaneous outcrop of oil in the cellar of Number 21 Rue de Chaillot, which is at present occupied by a dignified person of unstable mentality. This explains why, fortunately for us, the discovery has so long been kept secret. If you should wish to verify the existence of this outcrop for yourself, you may call at the above address at 3 P.M. today.

On the surface, her reaction would appear to be that of the hysteric; she points the way toward knowledge. Her discourse, which is that of the Hysteric, is in conflict with capitalism, a version of the discourse of the University. If you turn back to Lacan’s mathemes, you will notice that they are, of course, inversions of each other, grinding against each other in the spaces of clock-and-counter-clockwise. If in the Hepburn character, “the chiasm reveals a cleavage ‘not for Itself for the Other’ but rather it is more exactly that between someone who goes into the world and who from the exterior, seems to remain in [her] own ‘dream’” (Visible and the Invisible 214), then the chiastic clash of discourses suggests two constructions. These two discourses attempt to occupy the same discursive plane at the same time; if we read them chiastically, we arrive at the following conclusions:

University Discourse + Hysteric’s Discourse = S2 ⌉ a $ ⌉ S1

S1 ⌈ $ a ⌈ S2
1. Mastery of Surplus Enjoyment is the Surplus Enjoyment of Mastery

2. Subject’s Knowledge is that Knowledge is the Subject

These are not, I hope, Heideggerian tautologies, but paradoxes that point to the minimal difference for which the Analyst’s Discourse (which attempts to occupy the space of surplus enjoyment, the space of revolution) has a way out. As Alenka Zupancic has recently theorized, the notion of tautology is disrupted by the very minimal difference that emerges in the placement on the sides of both the subject and the other. [4] The chiastic shift provokes, by way of being the non-being of an event, but does not guarantee the following: The Surplus Enjoyment of Language (nonsense) produces the truth/knowledge of the Subject; this “truth” is what Lacan insists can only be taught as a form of reading, not as a form of writing (Encore, 37). If you look again at the Analyst’s discourse, the agency of residing in the position of Analyst (of surplus jouissance) is that which exceeds the production of mastery. It is the truth of this knowledge, or truth as process, that permits the subject to recognize the torsion and torture of the gap in subjectivity as possibility or a chance on which to gamble. The structure of this knowledge is perforce subjective; it is not nonsensical in the usual sense of the term. Rather, analytic truth must “speak” to the analysand, but, from the analysand’s perspective, appear enigmatically nonsensical to the analyst. In order to claim this truth as one’s own, it must somehow remain opaque or blind to the analyst. If the analyst appears to have this truth “ready to hand,” that this truth is already a constituted object, then the analytic truth loses its enjoyment. The axis of this revelation is the revolution produced by the event of love. Love, as Lacan tells us, is “giving what you don’t have” (Seminar VIII 147). In her loving shift from Hysteric to Analyst, the Countess functions as the agent of surplus enjoyment, the objet petit a, who gives the capitalists, the prospectors, and the public relations men exactly what she does not have (the desire for the precious knowledge/possession of the oil). She gives them what she lacks–her desire. In a twist worthy of Poe, she leads them to the cellar, to the edge of a void, to the empty labyrinth that lies behind the vaulted door to the Paris sewers; she leads them toward the knowledge of pure enjoyment–the path they’ve been on all along–the path of the death drive:

Countess: You don’t suppose, by any chance, there is oil down there?
Sewer Man: There’s only death down there (Madwoman of Chaillot 41).

What to make of this particular ending? What seems bizarre is that it requires so much psychic production, so much work, to justify the jouissance of the Other, or as Lacan puts it, knowledge (knowledge is the jouissance of the Other). The “madness” of the Countess’s discourse, that is, that she hystericizes the discourse of capitalism, produces the nonsensical truth of the capitalist’s desire (which of course, is only partial, half-said). But the question remains: the truth for whom? Clearly not the capitalists, who cheerfully get themselves out of the way with dispatch. The truth lies elsewhere, in its relation to revolution. As Lacan contends in L’Envers de la psychanalyse, he has been trying to get analysts (here he singles out women analysts, specifically) “à confondre la vérité avec la révolution” (Seminar XVII 62) or, in English, “to confuse [analytic] truth with revolution.” Revolution then, like truth, is a process; for Lacan, they are intertwined by love. Of course, the Countess plays a joke on them, a dangerous, killing joke; but this joke is precisely that of the chiastic logic of the event. The joke is that which escapes being by standing on-the-edge-of-the-void; the capitalists encounter the “being of non- being,” but, in keeping their appointment, they miss it. They choose the repetition of death drive, and death, (neither of which should not be confused with an event in Badiou’s sense), over the event of revolution as a form of intervention. The capitalists and their ilk have misidentified the object of the drive (capital itself) with the aim of the drive (repetition). The absence of the object, the fact that there is no oil to be plundered, disrupts what Lacan, in an awkward pun, calls “la pulsion en fait le tour” (Seminar XI 168). In other words, the purpose of the drive (pulsion) is not only to go around the object (fait le tour), but also to “trick” (tour) the object into thinking that the goal and the aim of the drive are coterminous. As the film version of Giraudoux’s play shows, the men are stopped in the very circuit of the drive. They have tricked themselves into a fantasy of direct access to the object of the drive. We see performed, allegorically, wittily, a “politics of the impossible,” as if one could enact a political revolution simply by getting rid of a few capitalists (a fantasy similar to the conclusion of the film Fight Club, which stages the fantasy of blowing up the debts accrued through credit). The Countess, I would argue, does not discern what is to be done about the unhappiness of the world; rather, she decides what to do by making herself both an actor and a target of the event, which by definition is itself undecidable. She stages what Badiou calls an “intervention” that is active, not reactive. It is, in a political sense, a leap of faith, recognizing that the circumstance of the greed for oil under Paris has presented itself as the Moment, as Lefèbvre would put it, when action has presented itself to be taken. The leap of faith the Countess takes is in the name of love. She is not the disinterested onlooker, gazing passively at the revolution, but is a participant in the way an analyst must be in the analytic session. The analyst’s function is to intercept a moment in the analysis when one can speak not to the ego, but to the unconscious of the analysand. In political terms, the Countess chooses the moment when intervention is necessary, not the moment when circumstances dictate themselves to the participants. [5] The moment appears, as Slavoj Žižek contends in The Sublime Object of Ideology, at the moment when the lost or failed attempts at revolution come together and crystallize in the future (141-42). This future is now. In recognizing and articulating that she had missed her appointment with love so many years ago, the Countess meditates upon the ruin of her life, and offers a young couple a chance to redeem what she has lost. At the close of the play, she brings a young man and woman (Roderick and Irma) together, pushing them not toward a discernment of their love for each other, but toward a fidelity of the event of love:

It’s three hours since you’ve met and known and loved each other. Kiss each other quickly. Look at him. He hesitates. He trembles. Happiness frightens him….How like a man! Oh, Irma, kiss him! Kiss him! If two people who love each other let a single instant wedge itself between them, it grows–it becomes a month, a year, a century; it becomes too late. Kiss him, Irma, kiss him while there is time, or in a moment his hair will be white and there will be another madwoman in Paris. [They kiss.] Bravo! Oh, if only you’d had the courage to do that thirty years ago, how different I would be today! …. Well, there we are. The world is saved. And you see how simple it all was? Nothing is ever so wrong in this world that a sensible woman can’t set it right in the course of an afternoon. Only, next time, don’t wait until things begin to look black. The minute you notice anything, tell me at once…. Well let’s go on to more important things…. My poor cats must be starved. What a bore for them if humanity had to be saved every afternoon. They don’t think much of it, as it is (72).

In this bizarre speech, she transforms the couple into allegorical doubles, standing in nostalgically and nonsensically for the Countess and her lover decades ago. Their love redeems the past by negating its melancholy by proxy; in her role as analyst, the Countess reveals their desire to them by pointing to her own ruination. If we can return one last time to Lacan’s discourses, you may have noticed that the encounter of a (surplus enjoyment) and $ (subject) in the Analyst’s discourse bears a striking similarity to the fantasy of perversion (a $); what distinguishes them is that, unlike the pervert or sadist, the analyst does not attempt to effect have a direct relation to the analysand. The truth that the analysand comes to is itself through an indirect torsion, and is a function of the chiasm I described previously: the Surplus Enjoyment of Language (nonsense) is one bar of the X; this nonsense produces the truth/knowledge of the Subject, or, the Other bar of the X. The fact that this truth cannot be fully said or seen is a function of the gaze, the scotoma that appears in the crossing of these two bars. That is to say, the psychoanalytic act functions as a recognition that the “hystericizations” of the patient’s discourse (the silences, the provocations lurking in such phrases as “What do you think?,” “How do you feel about that?,” “That’s all for today,” “Why do you want to be happy?,” or “Why do you love your depression?,” etc.) are interventions prompting the analysand to enunciate the possible from the impossible, to let it, the analysand’s Truth, speak. The problem psychoanalysis confronts in its attempts to work through a relation to history is that it must produce a distinction of relation between, for example, the traumatic event and what would seem to be its “situation.” The rehearsal of the situation does not speak merely to the “repression” of the event; rather, the confusion of situation and event by the analysand is the repeated search for precisely this distinction–a distinction for which the situation cannot account. If event and situation are indeed separated, then the analysis is not engaged in a flight from history, but in a fidelity to the event as truth-procedure by the investigating the gap produced by the minimal differences produced by the chiastic relation of analyst to analysand. [6] In other words, the successful analysis relieves the analysand of the paranoiac burden of forcing the event to be reconciled, or to be accounted for, by the situation. The fulfillment of this fantasy of vision, that truth can be made transparent by the situation, is an attempt to give a narrative texture to the void in the subject. This gesture ignores the chiastic torsion, the intertwining, that produces this void or knot in the subject. [7] In psychoanalytic terms, the hysteric must refuse it, insist that the fulfillment is not it, because it would mean that the question of her desire had been adequately answered; the problem or limit that informs the hysteric’s insight is that she perpetually reads each new iteration of the situation as yet another traumatic event–an even which must be avoided at all costs. In such a relation, the hysteric insists that there is no distance between herself and her desire. As a result, the blind chance that informs the hysterical symptom arising from the evental site, that informs its “falling together,” is too easily transformed into a symbol that can be adequately accounted for and anticipated by the situation. As a site of resistance, her body would calm and transform what Henri Lefèbvre calls the “blind field,” a space that is lived, into a determined point on the grid of ideology (Urban Revolution 31). By way of comparison, one could say that the political hysteric persistently reads the situation as the event, while the political conservative reads the event as another element of the situation. Ultimately, both conceits suggest a fidelity not to the event, but to witting or unwitting preservation of the status quo. As both Lefèbvre and Badiou insist, these impulses must be resisted. Instead, the analytic truth is the event that one can call “the end of the analysis.” If we return to The Madwoman of Chaillot, what becomes apparent in the text is that the Madwoman’s patient is not capitalism or capitalists; it is everyone else in the play! She functions allegorically in the sense that she brings the revolution full circle; it is crucial that she does not have any revolutionary aspirations. If she did, then she would simply be another Hysteric, hectically seeking a Master. She does not promise utopia, she does not make any telic claims about knowing what History has in store; rather, she operates locally, specifically, acting only when circumstances look ominous. She retains a fidelity to the event as a process that has been, as Walter Benjamin famously put it, “singled out at a moment of danger … Where thinking suddenly stops in a configuration pregnant with tensions, it gives this configuration a shock” (Illuminations 262). This moment of danger, this “tarrying with the excess,” as Alenka Zupancic puts it, [8] provides the trembling subject with an agency that is governed by taking responsibility for one’s desire in the gap produced in the structure of the situation. Knowing that Roderick cannot be her lover (in a nice irony, Roderick is played by Richard Chamberlain), that this transference is a fantasy, the Countess instead points toward a truth that comes in the impossible that precedes the possible: the intertwining, the kiss of two lovers. Her act initiates a revolution that does not end, but continues to turn, and the engine of that turning is the event of love.

Like Truth, revolution is thus marked by chance — the gap between the event on the edge of the void, or that the impossible has happened, and its articulation in action. But let us think briefly about the relation between these two words: aleatory and event. Modernity is not contingency, Lefèbvre contends (contradicting Baudelaire); it is aleatory. It is dependent on a throw of the dice, on “a dialectical unity between necessity and chance, where chance expresses a necessity and necessity expresses itself via a network of chances” (Introduction to Modernity 202-03). What do we make of this particular chiasm? In this text, Lefèbvre avers that gaps exist in the spaces set up by this intertwining, which inverts through repetition. The aleatory is, for Lefèbvre, Modernity’s continuing potential for revolutionary praxis. Capitalism, like Modernity, has the fantasy of producing a completely abstract space, a space in which counter- space, an uncanny opposition, cannot be permitted to exist. But as the chiastic figure deployed suggests, Modernity is not a “structure” in some overarching sense. It is chiastic in that the figure of intertwining reveals an inherent instability that is produced by the relation of need to chance. Need produces the situation that cannot be accounted for by the appearance of the evental site, but, in response, the situation then fetishizes that which persists or remains beyond need; need is the process of repetition that fails to account for chance, that which disrupts “business-as-usual.” Intervention is a kind of wager on the space produced by the event; as Badiou says, reminding us of Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un Coup de dés, “wagering that something has taken place cannot abolish the chance of it having- taken-place” (Being and Event 201). The moment of intervention is thus unconscious; it is not working toward a taxonomy of the event, but deciding how to be faithful to its undecidability. It is the decision itself, made in the name of process, not progress, that alters our relation to the situation, and being prepared to accept responsibility for its consequences; and one of those consequences is the emergence of the subject itself.


[1] See Daniel Bensaid, “Alain Badiou and the Miracle of the Event” Think Again: Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy. Ed. Peter Hallward. New York: Continuum, 2004, 94-105 and Rob Shields, Lefèbvre, Love and Struggle: Spatial Dialectics. New York: Routledge, 1999, 106-07, 90. Of course, it must be said that Badiou’s politics are leftist in scope, but not aligned with a parliamentary party. See Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil. Trans. Peter Hallward. London: Verso, 2001, 98-100.
[2] See Lacan’s discussion of stupidity as revealing a necessary limit to discourse, a limit that must be “nourished” in order to be put “in its rightful place” through analysis in Seminar XX: Encore – On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge, 1972-1973. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Trans. Bruce Fink. New York: W. W. Norton, 1998, 14.
[3] For a provocative reading of this encounter, see Joan Copjec, “May ‘68, The Emotional Month” Lacan: The Silent Partners. Ed. Slavoj Žižek. London: Verso, 2006, 90-114.
[4] Alenka Zupancic, The Shortest Shadow: Nietzsche’s Philosophy of the Two. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2003, 167.
[5] In this respect, the Countess can be thought of as a camp version of Lenin. See Vladimir Lenin, “The Crisis Has Matured (29 Sept. 1917),” Selected Works, 348-50.
[6] Badiou’s rigorous distinction between situation and event has been described as an attempt to “refuse” history and render politics an “unthinkable” concept. See Bensaid, “Alain Badiou and the Miracle of the Event,” 100-06. Yet it preserves a space for action by any subject to break away from the situation and re-imagine a political relation to the event, not the situation.\
[7] Bruno Bosteels, “On the Subject of the Dialectic” Think Again: Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy, 159-61.
[8] Alenka Zupancic, “The Fifth Condition” Think Again: Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy, 196-97.