Politics of the One; 8.-10.4.2010, Saint Petersburg

April 8-10, 2010
Politics of the One:
The Limits of Fragmentation and the Chances for Consolidation

Centre d’amitié franco-russe, Smolny Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences, The European University at Saint Petersburg, The “Chto Delat” group


[PDF for this event can be found here]

The conference will be dedicated to the actual problems of the contemporary political
philosophy. Their focus will be the problematic of unity and multiplicity, of synthesis
and dissolution. These concepts, which may seem highly abstract, from the first sight,
have been, in the last 30 years, central for the continental philosophy, particularly for
the French tradition. Thus, the problems and paradoxes of the one and the many are
thematically discussed in the fundamental works by Gilles Deleuze, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Alain Badiou. Some of them, for example “The clamour of being” by Alain Badiou and the “Being singular plural” by Jean-Luc Nancy, were recently translated into Russian. In the last two years, in Saint-Petersburg there has been working an informal philosophical seminar dedicated to the problems of unity (coordinators: Artemy Magun and Alexey Cherniakov). In this seminar, we study the texts by Hegel, Heidegger, Deleuze, Badiou, which are dedicated to the notion of the one. The subject of the conference is not limited, of course, to these authors. Thus, at a more concrete level of analysis, the theme of the constitution of collective was actively elaborated in philosophy by Jean-Paul Sartre. The issues of the constitution of social unity through the mechanism of identification have been deeply investigated by Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. Some similar problems have been treated, in the recent years, by the philosophers of other European countries, such as Italy Slovenia, Austria, Finland, and others.

The today’s interest in the concept of uniting the multiple is motivated by the current
socio-political processes. The process of “globalization”, understood as the unification
of the world via the world market and the mass media, does not introduce any working form of unity. This unification is rather negative (in the logical sense) than positive, since it stems from the destruction of the current local socio-political units. The things and the people are united, rather, by the absence, by the disappearance of forms and principles. Simultaneously, the process of society’s atomization is underway, and a subject looses the intermediary levels of reference, finding itself one to one with the totality of the world. Unity appears today in its two modes at once - as a limitless totality and as an excluded, excepted one-as-singularity. Hence the highly popular theme of the universal “state of emergency,” of exception becoming a rule.

Unity of the world is in the process of practical realization – and this is why it reappears as a problem. Some suggest a post-metaphysical abandonment of the one in favor of the multiple: the fulfillment of unity would lead to the overcoming of the one. Some, on the contrary, suggest that the true unity requires an irreducible singularity: the singular one (understood, this time, ontologically and not as exception) should rise against the one-as-a-form. Some, like Jean-Luc Nancy, propose a synthesis (“being singular plural”).

At this juncture, the concept of the one demonstrates its polysemantic and contradictory: it simultaneously means unity as totality, singularity as exception, identity, and privative delimitation. It is this polyvocity which makes it almost indeterminate, but which also puts it into the center of philosophical questioning of the century.

The process of a negative unification brings with itself, not just the negative value of
dissolution but equally, a chance for any democratic reunion of people, beyond all existing classifications and hierarchies. Currently, when, in politics, there comes a crisis of a party-type mass organization and of the parliamentary system of representation, philosophy should elaborate, along with the empirical social sciences and the arts, forms of the possible social synthesis.

The former binary structure of political forces is currently undergoing a deep
transformation. The mutual opposition between the former historical blocks and parties disappeared or became diffuse; objective antagonisms do not disappear but they are, so to say, pulverized in the multitude of social conflicts. Social power acts not any more through the repressive forms of uniformization or exclusion of the antagonistic elements but through the “soft” forms of control and governance and through the emphasis on the plurality and diversity of various identities. In social philosophy this is reflected in the theories of “multiculturalism” and other affirmations of difference and plurality.

If, for the avant-garde philosophy of the last half of the 20th century, the principle of
multiplicity was a call to micro-analysis and an instrument of criticizing the repressive
forms of the One (the political and discursive ones), today, in the new situation, multiplicity often seems to be losing its innovative and critical potential and is
hypostasized as a positive principle which is in accord with the reigning socio-political
configuration. This is why the notion of the One, in its renewed form which expresses and affirms, rather than excludes, the disorder of the multiple, becomes an important stake in the contemporary philosophical work.

As Russian scholars, we are particularly interested in the history of the concepts ofd
unity and multiplicity in the Russian and, later, the Soviet intellectual tradition. One
of the main themes of the Russian philosophy, from the moment of its emergence in the beginning of the 19th century, was the search for the collective models of subjectivity and of the subjectless and synthetic forms of consciousness. While in the early period (the Slavophiles Ivan Kireevsky, brothers Aksakov, A. Khomyakov), this search happened in the religious and religious-philosophical context, accompanied with the critique and revision of the Western Christianity (primarily, Protestantism), in the later years, by the end of the XIX century (Vladimir Solovyev and his circle, Nikolay Fedorov and others) the interest shifted towards the ethical and epistemological problems, and in the final stage (the 1920s, time of Gustav Shpet, Mikhail Bakhtin, LEF and Proletkult) it turned to the aesthetical and political discourse, while criticizing the “bourgeois” philosophy, the Western European culture and art. This tendency found its final expression in the ideological models of the Soviet collectivity.

Thus, against the widespread hypothesis of the idiosyncratic character of the “Russian
philosophy” - of its religious, fideist, intuitive, or “sobornyi” nature, which is supposedly engaged and justified by an idea of the chosenness and of the world’s
salvation, we suggest to analyze, with the contemporary research methods, the social and anthropological experience of unity, the historically cultivated types of community in Russia, in relation to the phenomenon of the Russian power. In particular, it is
important to answer the question of the possible specificity of the idea of collectivity (the “all-unity”, “sobornost’”, “collective”) in the Russian tradition and its place in the world philosophical context.

Thus, the theme of the one and the many lies at the crossroads of the contemporary
philosophical, sociological, and politological discussions. At the conference, we suggest
discussing the philosophical logic of the one as well as the more concrete questions of
unity in the context of globalization and atomization of the society, and of the chances they bring.

The conference program:

Thursday, April 8
The European University at Saint Petersburg (Gagarinskaya, 3)

19.00 The registration

Welcoming addresses:
Artemy Magun, Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Oleg Kharkhordin, The European University at Saint Petersburg
Dmitry Vilensky (Saint-Petersburg, Group “Chto Delat”, Laboratory of critical art at the European University at Saint Petersburg).

Opening of the exposition “When one must say “we”. Art and practices of solidarity.”

Friday, April 9

The European University at Saint Petersburg (Gagarinskaya, 3)

09.00  The registration

09.15 – 11.15 Unity and the perspectives of political solidarity
Nina Power (Great Britain). Humanity, Unity and the One.
Alexey Penzin (Moscow). TBA
Gerald Raunig (Wien/Zürich). Condivision, or Towards a non-communitarian concatenation of singularities.

11.15-11.30 Coffee break

11.30-13.30 The perspectives of political solidarity (protraction)
Alberto Toscano (Great Britain). An Enthusiasm for the Abstract: Fanaticism and the
Politics of the One
Keti Chukhrov (Moscow). The Universal, the General, the Multiple in the perspective of a Political Utopia

13.30 - 14.15 Lunch

14.15 – 16.30 Unity and/or community?
Jonathan Flatley (USA). Semblables
Artemy Magun (SPb). Unity and solitude
Boyan Manchev (Bulgaria). The One: Construction or Event? For a Politics of the Becoming

16.30-16.45  Coffee break

16.45 – 19.00 E Pluribus Unum: Res Publica and Community
Oleg Kharkhordin (SPb). How does one constitute the one? Theology of the icon, theory of non-representative art and of non-representative politics
Viktor Kaploun (SPb). The Problem of the Public Sphere
Yves Sintomer (France). Drawing lots in politics: Unity and totality

19.00 -19.30 Coffee break

19.30 - 21.00 Keynote lecture
Jean-Luc Nancy, Plus d’un

10 April, Saturday
Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences (Galernaya, 58-60)

9.30-11.45 Topic TBA
Igor Tchubarov (Moscow). TBA
Dmitry Fedchuk (Saint-Petersburg). TBA
Boris Markov (Saint-Petersburg). Being and totality. Problem of unity in the German
philosophy of the early 20th century

11.45-12.00 Coffee break

12.00 – 13.30 Unity and multitude in nature
Susanna Lindberg (Finland). Elemental Nature as the Ultimate Common Ground of the World Community
Michael Marder (Canada). Vegetative democracy, or the post-metaphysics of plants

13.30-14.15 Lunch

14.15-17.45 The metaphysics of the one

Alexey Chernyakov (SPb). Truth and Infinity in Badiou and Heidegger
Jussi Backman (Finland). Complicated Presence: The Unity of Being in Parmenides and Heidegger
Marcia Cavalcante (Sweden). TBA

17.45-18.00 Coffee break.

18.00-20.30 The praxis of unity and multiplicity: Self-organization in contemporary Russia
Pavel Arsenyev (SPb). TBA
Dmitry Dubrovsky (SPb). TBA
Carine Clement (Moscow). Fighting together: the problem of solidarity

20.30 Closing comments