Beirut Institute for Critical Analysis and Research
Summer School June 2023
June 19-30, Beirut
Is There a Revolutionary Subject?
Is the absence of revolution due to the absence of a revolutionary subject? Or to the belief that revolution requires a subject? The critique of the subject–Cartesian, Kantian, Hegelian– is the cornerstone of the Nietzschean and Heideggerian critiques of modernity (and of their reactionary politics). It was subsequently given an emancipatory cast not only by Nietzschean thinkers such as Derrida, Foucault, and Deleuze but also by Marxists like Adorno, for whom the primacy of the subject forms the crux of the logic of domination. From this vantage, Lukacs’ theory of the revolutionary subject, which centers the proletariat as self-conscious commodity, is supposedly tainted not just by residual Hegelianism but by a logic of domination culminating in Stalinism. Yet perhaps the time has come to re-appraise Lukacs’ theory, given that no alternative of comparable power has come to replace it.
Psychoanalysis, for its part, develops a more nuanced critique of the subject. Where poststructuralism reduces the subject to an effect of impersonal forces–substantializing the unconscious–psychoanalysis conceives it as an irreparable tear in the fabric of being. The subject is the gap manifesting the unconscious as ‘not-fully-being’. In this regard, psychoanalysis renovates the Hegelian concept of the subject as self-relating negativity. Subjective destitution, as conceived by Lacan, is only possible via the discourse of psychoanalysis, which paves the way for a transformative act. But the destitution of the subject in contemporary critical discourse continues to be conceived in poststructuralist terms. This destitution marks the shift from the conception of revolution as total explosion to the claim that what is revolutionary is the explosion (or implosion) of totality. Disintegration and fragmentation become the new indices of social subversion. The political valence of this shift has been much debated: subversion of liberalism or liberal subversion? Both remain politically equivocal: the disintegration of totality is affirmed by fascist reactionaries as well as utopian anarchists.
History also seems to confirm the destitution of the revolutionary subject. The European working class’s post-war accommodation with capitalism (not to mention its embrace of fascism in the 1930s) casts doubt on attempts to invest it with revolutionary agency. In the fifty years since the end of the post-war boom (1973), capital’s renewed onslaught against labor has not reconsolidated the working class into a revolutionary subject. Thus communists have reaffirmed the distinction between proletariat and working class to challenge the latter’s revolutionary credentials together with the assumption that revolution requires a unitary subject. This includes not only Althusserians, for whom history is a process without a subject, but also those who propose that self-negation, rather than self-affirmation, is the motor of proletarian struggle against capital. In a related but distinct vein, Alain Badiou makes the theory of the subject central to communism while decoupling revolutionary subjectivation from the appropriation of production. Lastly, Adorno’s critique of the principle of subjectivity seeks to preserve the singularity of individual experience as a site of resistance to capitalist totality. The question is whether such singularity can be encompassed by class struggle and reconnected to collective solidarity. In all these instances, the concepts of capital, labor, totality, revolution, and subject are variously articulated with very different political consequences.
Moreover, how do the objective and subjective dimensions of race, gender, and sexuality connect with those of class? If proletarianization is an ongoing process that consists of homogenizing and commodifying subjective experience, what are the concrete mechanisms through which it occurs? The list might include capitalist ecologies, the privatization and individualization of symptoms by the therapy and wellness industries, as well as the ongoing co-optation of all potential sites of radical enunciation by the discourses of neo-liberal capitalism. How might a revolutionary subject withstand this slow emptying out of social experience? Can it be sustained against such mechanisms? What kind of militancy is required and what can psychoanalysis actually offer to militant subjects in this regard? Can psychoanalysis help resist this process of psychic hollowing? Could it help reconstruct a theory of the revolutionary subject?
This summer school will investigate the different registers and political valences of the critique of the subject and try to gauge its consequences for the understanding of revolution. Is the destitution of the subject revolutionary? Or does it ultimately dissolve revolution as idea and political practice?
Course I – Dr. Nadia Bou Ali
Psychoanalysis has one main promise for politics and it is surely not a joyful one: the experience of subjective destitution is one possible way to counter the generalized systemic enjoyment that prevails in late capitalism. What is subjective destitution really? How can it be explained if it is not experienced? The seminar will discuss this in the context of Lacan’s theory of four discourses (Seminar XVII) and ask is the discourse of the analyst a discourse of subjective destitution? If so, what is the actual use of this politically?
Dr. Nadia Bou Ali is Associate Professor and Chair of the Civilization Sequence Program at the American University of Beirut. She is the author of Hall of Mirrors: Psychoanalysis and the Love of Arabic (Edinburgh University Press 2020).
Course II – Dr. Ray Brassier
Theories of the Communist Subject
This course will consider whether the critique of Marxist programmatism and the perspective of communisation developed by Theorie Communiste (TC) dissolves or renews the question of the revolutionary subject. We will examine the theoretical presuppositions and political implications of the fundamental question guiding all of TC’s analyses, namely: “How can the proletariat, acting strictly as a class, be the class that abolishes class?” We will compare TC’s analysis to that of theorists who offer positive accounts of the communist subject, such as Lukacs and Badiou, as well as to theorists who consign the category of the subject to capital, such as Postone.
Dr. Ray Brassier is Professor of Philosophy at the American University of Beirut. He is the author of Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction (Palgrave 2007).
Course III – Dr. Sami Khatib
The Specter of Universalism: Concepts, Politics, Ideologies
This course starts from Vivek Chibber’s insight that in global capitalism at least two universalisms are at work: (1) the “universalizing drive of capital,” which stands against (2) the “universal interest of the subaltern classes to defend their wellbeing against capitals domination” (Chibber, 2013). Against culturalist framings of universalism as a trope and idea limited to “western” Enlightenment thought, this course explores conceptual and political legacies of universalisms ‘from below’. Against conventional logic, universalism is not the (oppressive) flipside of particularism. As certain strands of anticolonial Marxism have shown, a dialectical-materialist concept of universality cannot rely on a choice between pre-established opposites. Rather, universality as dialectical concept and universalism as emancipatory politics call for a third term, be it a political subject, an absent cause, a lack, a surplus, a remainder, a singular embodiment, irreducible to abstract particularities and their culturalist, liberal or fascist ideologies.
Dr. Sami Khatib is a substitute professor at the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design (HfG). His publications include a co-editorship of the volume “Critique: The Stakes of Form” (Zürich, Berlin: Diaphanes, 2020) and authorship of the book “Teleologie ohne Endzweck: Walter Benjamins Ent-stellung des Messianischen” [“Teleology without End.” Walter Benjamin’s Dislocation of the Messianic], (Marburg: Tectum, 2013).
Course IV – Dr. Ghalya Saadawi
The Founding Violence of Law and Liberal Legalism’s Plea for the Law
The founding violence of Law is covered over as the law. Law is split. This seminar will begin drawing out relations between founding repression (Freud, Marcuse etc.) and the founding violence of the Law (Zizek, Lacan, Dean etc.) to subsequently consider, from a contemporary perspective, the appeals of what some have broadly called liberalism legalism (to law, to rights, to standpoint, to human rights, to identity, and so on). This legalism seems to sideline immanent or left critique (including that of critical legal theory), represses liberation from the law that constructs its claims, and misreads the law (and superego)’s injunctions to both obey and enjoy. We try to read this alongside the once historical contention that liberating the drives was sufficient for liberation itself, misunderstanding the drives’ doubleness as both instinct and congealed forms of the social. Falling into the fiction of Law’s founding violence, and misreading itself as split, legalism thereby cannot consider the historical conditions of its emergence and splitness, and thus an emancipatory horizon beyond it. Is liberal legalism that antinomic to the work of critique? The seminar begins to explore the contradictions of founding violence and demand for the law, with the question of critique and emancipation.
Dr. Ghalya Saadawi is senior lecturer at the Centre for Research Architecture in the Department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths University of London, and theory tutor at the Dutch Art Institute, ArtEZ University. Recent articles include “Critical Incision: Hypochondria, Autotheory, and the Health-Illness Dialectic” in PhiloSOPHIA (2022), and “Vapid Virtues, Real Stakes: Diagnosis for Left Art Protocols” in Between the Material and the Possible Infrastructural Re-examination and Speculation in Art, edited by Bassam El Baroni (2022).
Course V – Dr. Angela Harutyunyan
Time and Revolution: Historicity after “the End of History”
The course investigates the historical and conceptual conditions of possibility for a temporality hegemonic in our contemporary times, namely presentism. As a quality of historical time presentism is marked by the omnipresence of the present, without a sense of a historical past, or futurity. The course diagnoses this ideologically inflicted condition as constituted in the wake of the failure of twentieth-century revolutionary projects. It moves from the neoliberal present where time stands still in the order of deadlines, fiscal “futures,” exploitation of nature and the looming planetary ecological catastrophe, to the historical experiences of revolutionary transformations and their theorization in critical theory. We will read selections from Fred Jameson’s Valences of the Dialectic (2000), Francois Hartog’s Regimes of Historicity: Presentism and the Experience of Time (2003), Henri Lefevre’s Dialectical Materialism (1938) and Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Humanism and Terror (1947), amongst other texts.
Dr. Angela Harutyunyan is Associate Professor of Art History and Theory at the American University of Beirut. She is editor of ARTMargins (MIT Press) and the author of The Political Aesthetics of the Armenian Avant-Garde: The Journey of the ‘Painterly Real,’ 1987–2004 (Manchester University Press 2017). She has co-founded the Johannissyan Institute for Research in the Humanities in Yerevan and BICAR in Beirut. Her book After Revolution: Historical Presentism and the Political Eclipse of Postmodernity co-authored with Eric Goodfield is forthcoming with Leuven University Press.
Application and Deadline:
CV/Resumé + 500 words statement of interest + 150 words statement about funding to be submitted by February 28, 2023
$500 students with institutional funding;
$300 self-funded students;
Free to local students.
Payment for funded and non-local students to be made upon successful application.
Established in 2015, the Beirut Institute for Critical Analysis and Research (BICAR) aims to promote critical thought and analysis with a special focus on studying manifestations of modernity in Lebanon and the Middle East. As a public research and educational institute, BICAR seeks to cultivate a space for rigorous research, debate, and dialogue. It intends to foster cultures of critique capable of understanding Lebanese modernity in relation to processes of modernization that are part of a global dynamic. BICAR has two fundamental commitments: to disseminate pedagogical and research oriented projects in Arabic and English to a wide audience in Beirut, Lebanon, and beyond; and to foster the relationship between intellectual inquiry, social reality, and social change. BICAR’s founding members are Dr. Nadia Bou Ali, Dr. Ray Brassier, Mr. Rohit Goel, Dr. Angela Harutyunyan, Dr. Sami Khatib, and Dr. Ghalya Saadawi.