Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Quote of the Day: There is no such thing as the State

(((Auden; "September 1, 1939;" Badiou should have written about this, if he didn't, because it really is about communism; I've had it with Thatcher, too.)))

From "September 1, 1939," a poem Auden was "ashamed" of, the famous stanza he struck from at least one printing of it:

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.
I have written before of Badiou's view of the state, and in particular the communist negation of the state. Thatcher might have agreed (with Auden and Badiou) that there is no such thing as the state, but Auden insists that "no one exists alone." If Thatcher's "there are only individuals" means "there are only people who exist alone," then Auden, at least, knows she is wrong, that people being people live in communities. There is, he says, a human community, a community that is not "the State" (meaning not just national governments, but even local ones), the community in which we exist with other human beings. And whether you are the individual or the representative of the state, you face the same question, the same choice -- to live in that community, with others, or to die alone. This is, I think, the "one world" Badiou takes as a political principle. Not a statement of fact, but an assertion of principle. Whereas the State always presupposes its outside, presupposes (at least) two worlds (but probably really three -- the non-state governed by the state, and the Other State, both of which are threats to the order imposed/maintained by the state).

In one printed version of this poem, Auden rewrites the last line of the above stanza to read, "We must love one another, and die." If you read the whole poem, this makes sense, since it seems so much to be about how death is always with us. So the idea that we can escape death by loving one another is kind of ridiculous, at best, and "the romantic lie in the brain," at worst. But the point is still taken -- we must indeed love one another in order for us to live with each other, and so to live longer, better lives, even if not to become immortal.

Although perhaps, in a way, we become that, too, by loving one another. But that would be another post.

I am certain that I have seen or read (or both) Badiou discussing a part of an Auden poem. I can't find this reference and don't know if it's this poem. I kind of hope it is, since it fits and would slot right into the paper I am working on, but I also hope it's not, so that I can appear momentarily to be clever by making the connection. I'll follow up if I find it, but I would also be happy to have it pointed out to me. Actually, anything where Badiou discusses Auden at all would be helpful.

1 comment:

Eric said...

I wonder if he might have mentioned Auden in Handbook of Inaesthetics, in the chapter on poetry. I don't remember, but it possible. Unfortunately, the Google Books preview doesn't include that chapter.

I've never been able to figure out how Badiou's idea that there is only one world is that different from statist ideas of the world. That is, isn't the state's job to create a world from the capital's stratification? That is, to reterritorialize capital's deterritorializations? And I can't read statements like "the overwhelming majority of the population have at best restricted access to this world. They are locked out, often literally so" other than as a plea for inclusion and development.