Pete, over at Philosophy in a Time of Error, has an interesting, albeit brief, post up on Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason. Pete writes:
My point on Sartre was simply that I think he explains the pre-evental in a way that I find Adrian Johnston and others (Nick S. has written on this, too, as has Peter Hallward) have all wrestled with in Badiou’s work. Adrian Johnston in his new work points out that Badiou doesn’t really have an account of desire that would be a condition within a given set such that one would act for the event in question. Now, I think one could in a sense use the language of scarcity in Sartre, much derided, as but another way of speaking of lack, and thus I actually think in this way Zizek is more of Sartrean than Badiou, since he sides with Sartre on history, the void of the subject, and a certain freedom at the heart of any given structure. That’s a bit broad, of course, but I figure for a blog post, it’s better to be simplistic and provoke more than subtle and dusty about it. Of course, in Sartre, organizations such as the group in fusion are post-evental, too, and I think Badiou was wrong to stipulate in his move away from Sartre that for him the political was reducible to the historical. And in any case, Badiou never satisfactorally bridges the metapolitical and the situated worlds in Logic of Worlds and Being and Event. It’s a subtraction procedure, to be sure, but in the end I find Sartre tells me more about, say, hunger, than set theory does. That’s simplistic, but again, the first thing one thinks when one reads Badiou is something just this snarky, and I don’t know if that’s really ever answered, except through a lot of steps wind in too many circles up to an air too rarified.
Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason is, I think, one of the most unjustly neglected works in political theory. I’m really not sure why this is or what happened here. There is, of course, the infamous Levi-Strauss review. And the language of the text is barbarous (but what text in Continental philosophy isn’t?). And I’m certainly aware that the work is prized highly by Jameson, Badiou, Bourdieu, and Deleuze and Guattari. Nonetheless, it seems like a text that somehow fell through the cracks, never having the impact or hearing it deserved. With any luck there will be a resurgence of interest in the work.
My love of it has always been because of the manner in which it conceptualizes groups in fusion and the practico-inert. With neo-Marxist theory, especially that coming out of the Althusserian school, I’ve always felt that there’s too little focus on group formation and too much emphasis on critical breaks and whatnot. I’m not sure how social structures are to be changed without flourishing group formations or the formation of subject-groups. But if you begin paying attention to questions of group formation, then all sorts of questions arise as to how groups are formed and maintain themselves. I don’t see these questions really being posed at all in contemporary theory. As a result, what you get is a critique of reigning social conditions, how capital functions, ideology, and whatnot, but you don’t really get much in the way of an account of praxis as to how these “structures” might be changed. This is, in part, exactly what Sartre is trying to do in The Critique of Dialectical Reason. While he certainly develops a critique of the contemporary world, his mode of analysis is squarely focused on questions of praxis or how group formations (what he calls “subject-groups”, think Marx’s thesis that the proletariat is the “subject”) come into being and take of the force of transforming “structures”. This is a very different sort of question than the critical question or the question of ideology. Deleuze and Guattari try to complete this project in Anti-Oedipus, yet their nods at Sartre and his subject-groups are far too impressionistic to really provide much in the way of a well developed theory of praxis.