Politics of Quotations: Concluding Rejoinder to Dayan Jayatilleka

Image courtesy RNW

In this concluding rejoinder to my friend Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka I shall begin by what appears to me to be the core of our dispute, i.e. Dayan’s highly problematical designation of the Sri Lankan state’s military victory as a neo-Badiouian event. Then I shall make some brief remarks concerning Dayan’s reference to Zizek, which is, like his previous reference to Agamben, symptomatic of what I call Dayan’s ‘politics of quotations’. By the latter phrase, I intend to demonstrate that Dayan’s use of quotes is something that defies the standard academic conventions and acts as a pretext to justify his positions appealing to philosophical authorities, yet distorting their ideas in order to serve Dayan’s own positions.

Naturally the most striking example I have for this is also the one at the centre of our dispute. I contested, and continue to contest, Dayan’s designation that the Sri Lankan state’s military victory against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is a neo-Badiouian event. In order to make this as clear as possible, let me point out the development of this argument.

Dayan’s initial response, after I demanded an explanation for this designation, was that he did not simply say that it was a Badiouian event but rather that it is a neo-Badiouian event. I agreed that he did not say it is a Badiouian event per se but rather a neo-Badiouian event. However, since it was still not clear what made it a neo-Badiouian event, I asked him to explain the Badiouian part of this neo-Badiouian event. Put differently, I wanted to know what similarities Dayan see in the military victory of the Sri Lankan state with regard to Badiou’s theory of events.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what Dayan has not done in his response and instead he has merely given yet another abstract quote from Badiou, which, taken out of context, does not help us clarify anything about Badiou’s notion of the event or the possibility of using it to understand the Sri Lankan state’s military victory. I simply ask the readers to consider Dayan’s concluding response to this claim, which I am quoting here in its entirety now:

“In order to evaluate whether or not I was way off the mark in describing the Sri Lankan military victory as a neo-Badiouian Event, let us examine what constitutes a Badiouian Event. What better authority than Alain Badiou himself and what better text than one he has entitled ‘Thinking the Event’?

“…Third, to throw light on the value of exception. The value of the event. The value of the break…I argue that a philosophical concept , in the sense that Deleuze speaks of it— which is to say as a creation— is always what knots together a problem of choice (or decision), a problem of distance (or gap), and a problem of the exception (or event)…” (‘Philosophy in the Present’, Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek, Polity , 2010, pp. 12-13)

“Finally, you do not have the hypothesis of a veritable event, you do not have the feeling of exception…” (Badiou, Ibid, p. 19)

Thus for Badiou, The Event is on a continuum with, clustered with, ‘the exception’‘the decision’ (which sound Schmittian to me!) and ‘the break’. To me there’s quite enough in there to warrant the description of the great victory of May 2009 as a neo-Badiouian Event than not”

Can someone explain to me how this abstract quote from Badiou is ‘quite enough’ to ‘warrant the description of the great victory of May 2009 as a neo-Badiouian Event’? Is Dayan suggesting that anything whatsoever that can be considered as an exception to the normal way of things, anything that contains a decision in its midst, anything that can be considered as a break from the existing situation, is an event? Really? Someone decides to commit suicide and jumps off a tall building (as Deleuze did, unfortunately, after struggling for many years with an illness) – now this incident contains all the above ingredients. There is a decision (to end the life), an exception (from the day to day routine of that individual) and a break (from the ordinary flow of happenings). Now can we say that a suicide is a Badiouian event, or, for that matter, a neo-Badiouian event? Take the inverse case of committing a murder and we find all the above requirements: the exception, the decision, the break. Does that warrant the description of a murder as a neo-Badiouian event? I am sorry to say this Dayan, but this is mumbo jumbo, pure and simple!

Moreover, I hoped Dayan would be a little careful after I pointed out last time that the same paragraph he quoted from Agamben (of whom Dayan has not said a word, by the way) was incomplete, in the context of this dispute, for it also contained Agamben’s explicit remark that an event, for Badiou, happens against the order of the state. Well, I am mistaken. He starts his quote, as is clear, from the ‘third’ point (“Third, to throw light…”) of a series of points Badiou makes apropos what can be designated as a ‘philosophical situation’. But Dayan, what about the ‘second’?

“Second, to throw light on the distance between thinking and power, between truths and the state. To measure this distance. To know whether or not it can be crossed.” (Badiou and Zizek, “Philosophy in the Present”, p12, my emphasis)

As is the usual pattern in this entire debate with Dayan, where he would give a quote out of context, and I would contextualize it, let me contextualize these quotes from Badiou’s essay “Thinking the Event”. Badiou begins his essay by making a distinction between philosophical situations (which are rare) and ordinary situations. Put simply, a philosophical situation has three characteristics: first, there is a choice between a truth which does not serve any practical purpose and a very useful albeit wrong opinion, and philosophy always means we choose the first and face the consequences of this choice; second, there has to be a distance between the state and thought, between those who has power and those who think; and third, there has to be a break from the existing law of the situation. Now, Dayan is completely silent about this second requirement and this has been the key question that I have repeatedly asked: for Badiou an event can never be a victory of the state. It is certainly not enough to say that Dayan disagrees with Badiou here insofar as it is he who designated the Sri Lankan state’s military victory as a neo-Badiouian event. If you disagree with Badiou on this point then why call this state victory a neo-Badiouian event? Once again, what is the Badiouian part here?

It should be clear by now that Dayan has no answer to this key question: there is nothing Badiouian about the Sri Lankan state’s military victory in 2009, ‘neo’ or otherwise. Should one require further clarification, let me dwell a little more on this essay “Thinking the Event” that Dayan himself has brought into this debate, for I find it both astonishing and amusing. In the essay, Badiou gives three examples of what he considers to be philosophical situations, and the second of those examples is extremely illuminative in the context of the current discussion.

This example is of the death of the Greek mathematician Archimedes. One day when the Archimedes was working on a mathematical problem, drawing geometrical shapes on the beach, a Roman soldier visits him carrying a message from the Roman General Marcellus. By then Rome had occupied Sicily and the Roman General, it seems, had an interest in the works of this curious set of individuals called “Greek thinkers”. The soldier demands from Archimedes to accompany him to see the General but Archimedes does not respond, occupied as he was in his mathematical problem. After repeated questionings of the soldier Archimedes simply says that he would come after finishing his mathematical problem. Naturally the soldier does not understand how someone can keep the mighty General waiting and draws the sword and kills Archimedes. Here is Badiou’s analysis of this incident:

“Why is this a philosophical situation? Because it shows that between the right of the state and creative thought, especially the pure ontological thought embodied in mathematics, there is no common measure, no real discussion. In the end, power is violence, while the only constraints creative thought recognizes are its own immanent rules. When it comes to the law of his thought, Archimedes remains outside of the action of power. The temporality proper to the demonstration cannot integrate the urgent summons of military victors. That is why violence is eventually wrought, testifying that there is no common measure and no common chronology between the power of one side and the truths of the other. Truths as creation. We can say that between power and truths there is a distance: the distance between Marcellus and Archimedes. A distance which the courier – no doubt an obtuse but disciplined soldier – does not manage to cross. Philosophy’s mission is here to shed light on this distance. It must reflect upon and think a distance without measure, or a distance whose measure philosophy itself must invent.” (Badiou, Ibid, my emphasis)

I think I have provided more than sufficient evidence from Badiou to demonstrate that the problem with Dayan’s designation of the Sri Lankan state’s military victory as a neo-Badiouian event is not merely that it is “way off the mark”, but more strongly that it is a downright abuse of the great man’s most renowned concept. Other than simply providing highly abstract quotes from Badiou, Dayan has failed give any explanation as to how he came to this shocking conclusion, when all evidence suggests that Dayan should actually consider Badiou as an opponent with regard to Dayan’s defense of the state’s military victory.

Responding to this proposition that Dayan should consider thinkers like Agamben and Badiou as his enemies, Dayan has given several instances of writers placing Dayan, allegedly, in the company of these thinkers. Since Dayan has not provided any details of Colin Wright’s summary of Dayan’s views in an essay on Badiou, I cannot say how had Collin Wright “placed” Dayan in the company of Badiou. The same is true of Nick Hewlett. I hope my learned friend would understand that simply because his ideas have been discussed within an essay on Badiou does not necessarily mean that he has been placed in the company of Badiou.

As per the two quotes by Nathan Coombs, I hope Dayan would remember that we have argued about this before. In a personal email sent to me, this is how Coombs explained this dispute:

“This citation [by Dayan] seems to speak volumes to me about the problematic relationship between Western critical theory and how it is received elsewhere in the world. I should think it enough for you to point to the fact that: (1) it was a passing reference (2) his work was framed within a problematic strain of ‘Christian essentialist’ thought by some writers on the Left, and (3) I am no authority for him to be citing as evidence.”

Instead of hiding behind quotes from the works of others, why can’t Dayan explain how his ideas can be placed with those of Badiou? When it comes to that explanation, Dayan’s argument is remarkably thin and only manages to say that he is ‘creatively applying/extending’ Badiou’s notion. What is lacking in Dayan’s writings, however, is precisely this ‘application’. Instead of making any serious attempt at engaging with the philosophical positions advanced by thinkers like Badiou, Dayan, it seems to, is hiding behind quotes taken out of context, as proof of his argument, when in fact, they actually turn out to mean the complete opposite.

Let me give one final example: Dayan’s reference to Zizek.

“As for my own view of the State in contradistinction to that of Vangeesa and his co-thinkers, I shall conclude by echoing Zizek. In the anthology ‘The Idea of Communism’ Slavoj Zizek is unambiguously explicit about the state and strategies for transformation, going on to criticise the Badiouian perspective. He declared that:

“Consequently, I want to propose two axioms concerning the relationship between the State and politics… If you do not have an idea of what you want to replace the State with, you have no right to subtract/withdraw from the State.” (‘How to Begin from the Beginning’, in ‘The Idea of Communism’, 2010: 219)”

Let us do the drill and contextualize this quote. First thing to note here is that Dayan only quotes one of the two ‘axioms’ forwarded by Zizek, i.e. the second one – concerning the unavoidability of the state unless one can propose an alternative. Here is the first axiom that Dayan has chosen to omit:

“The failure of the Communist State- Party politics is above all and primarily the failure of anti-statist politics, of the endeavor to break out of the constraints of State, to replace statal forms of organization with ‘direct’ non-representative forms of self-organization (‘councils’).”

Taken together, with these two axioms, Zizek is proposing, in contrast to much of the contemporary political philosophy which is against the idea of fighting for state power, that one should hold firm to the Marxian notion of ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. This does not mean that Zizek is defending the territorial integrity of nation states! One can, for instance, refer to Zizek’s recent piece on the Ukraine crisis (http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n09/slavoj-zizek/barbarism-with-a-human-face) where he in ‘unambiguously explicit’ terms endorses the Leninist principle on unconditional acceptance of the right to self-determination.

In the same essay quoted by Dayan, Zizek is extremely critical of the highly authoritarian states, modeled on Lee Quan Yew’s ‘capitalism with Asian values’, for which China is the most dynamic example. He further notices that with this latest development, the traditional union between capitalism and democracy is no longer guaranteed and argues that far from being a result of mere cultural differences – “Asian values” – this is caused by an inner necessity of the expansion of capitalism itself. Once again simplifying things, we can say that with the development of the internet and similar communication technologies and the hegemonic role played by intellectual or immaterial labor, it is increasingly difficult to ‘privatize’ property (anyone, for instance, with an internet connection today can download almost all the books – so called ‘pirate copies – quoted in this exchange between Dayan and me!). This is the inner necessity of paving the way to powerful authoritarian states that thrives on neo-liberal reforms. As Zizek writes:

“within this framework, exploitation in the classic Marxist sense is no longer possible — which is why it has to be enforced more and more by direct legal measures, i.e., by a non-economic force. This is why, today, the exploitation increasingly takes the form of rent: as Carlo Vercellone put it, post-industrial capitalism is characterized by the ‘becoming-rent of profit’. And this is why direct authority is needed: it is needed in order to impose the (arbitrary) legal conditions for extracting rent, conditions which are no longer ‘spontaneously’ generated by the market. Perhaps therein resides the fundamental ‘contradiction’ of today s ‘postmodern’ capitalism: while its logic is deregulatory, ‘anti-statal’, nomadic/deterritorializing, etc., its key tendency towards the ‘becoming-rent-of-profit’ signals the strengthening role of the State whose (not only) regulatory function is ever more omnipresent. Dynamic de-territorialization coexists with and relies on increasingly authoritarian interventions of the State and its legal and other apparatuses. What can be discerned at the horizon of our historical becoming is thus a society in which personal libertarianism and hedonism coexist with (and are sustained by) a complex web of regulatory state mechanisms. Far from disappearing, the State is today gaining in strength.” (Zizek, in “The Idea of Communism”, p224)

Does Dayan think that Zizek is in support of this State? And how would one understand the Sri Lankan state with regard to this analysis by Zizek? It is, once again, abundantly clear that Dayan is merely misusing a quote from Zizek, plucked out of context, and in support of the very thing actually opposed by Zizek – an authoritarian state employing neo-liberal restructuration to the Sri Lankan society.

The same can be said of the second quote – and once again, allow me to continue with the quote Dayan himself has started:

“By the way, I believe that the theory of civil society is completely mistaken. At any rate, I should say that in the break-up of Yugoslavia just as in most other conflicts between the state and civil society, I was regularly on the side of the state. Civil society meant democratic opposition; it also meant, however, violent nationalism.” (my emphasis)

What, according to Zizek, is the reason he was on the side of the Yugoslavian state during its break up? It is because the civil society was powerfully controlled by violent nationalism, and in his opposition to violent nationalism Zizek stood on the side of the state. It is far from clear how this passing remark by Zizek can be a justification of Dayan’s political positions. Once again, curiously enough, when it comes to that explication, there is virtually no argument from Dayan.

This is, in short, the troubling tendency I see in Dayan – instead of defending his own political positions with the aid of conceptual apparatuses borrowed from contemporary philosophers Dayan is using quotes from the latter thinkers to justify his own positions. When he is questioned as to the exact relationship he has to the theories of these thinkers he claims he disagrees with these thinkers. When asked on the points on which he agrees with these thinkers he simply responds with quotes, which, in themselves, appear to be compatible with Dayan’s argument, but when put in their proper context, become, almost in all instances, points in opposition to Dayan’s arguments. What is the Badiouian part in that neo-Badiouian event? What is Dayan’s position with regard to Agamben’s analysis of contemporary states? What are the Zizekian positions with which Dayan agrees? Explanations and clarifications are in need, not quotations. However, Dayan is curiously silent in this regard.

Since Dayan has begun his last rejoinder, once again, with Zizek’s quote ‘philosophy is not a dialogue’, I hope readers would pardon me for ending this debate with one final quote that has always been dear to me, from Giles Deleuze, in whose ideas the above Zizek-quote has its source.

“Negotiations sometimes last so long you don’t know whether they’re still part of the war or the beginning of peace. And philosophy’s always caught between an anger with the way things are and the serenity it brings. But philosophy isn’t a Power. Religions, states, capitalism, science, the law, public opinion, and television are powers, but not philosophy. Philosophy may have its great internal battles (between idealism and realism, and so on), but they’re mock battles. Not being a power, philosophy can’t battle with the powers that be, but it fights a war without battles, a guerrilla campaign against them. And it can’t converse with them, it’s got nothing to tell them, nothing to communicate, and can only negotiate. Since the powers aren’t just external things, but permeate each of us, philosophy throws us all into constant negotiations with, and a guerrilla campaign against, ourselves.” (Deleuze, “Negotiations”,1995, opening remarks)



This article is part of a  larger collection of articles and content commemorating five years after the end of war in Sri Lanka. An introduction to this special edition by the Editor of Groundviews can be read here. This, and all other articles in the special edition, is published under a Creative Commons license that allows for republication with attribution.

  • alex f

    Yes DJ has gotten himself a little tangled up. I think it started when he tried to espouse his ‘solution’ for the Sri Lanka problem – ‘two nations, equal but unequal and with a solution with devolution no greater than 13A (which has been proven to be inadequate)’ – he is the Sinhala nationalist intellectual poster child, but he is not doing anyone any good by getting tied up to indefensible intellectual positions and then trying to bluff his way out. As a self-proclaimed intellectual his contribution to the resolution of the sri lanka issue is to provide his sinhala nationalist position with clarity so it can be argued and rebutted. He is now quite far of the intellectual path .. time to go back to ‘realism’ and advising the rajapaksas how to get invitations back to the capitals of the world.

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Postscript in Place of a Rejoinder

    This, I am afraid, is turning into an exercise in going round and round the mulberry bush. It is all a matter of choice. We can either take Vangeesa’s and my views on these matters or we can make recourse to the philosophers themselves. I have chosen to do the latter. Then again we can choose between Vangeesa’s and my interpretations of the quotes. For instance one may choose between my answer and Vangeesa’s with regard to the Badiouan or neo-Badiouan eventual nature of the Sri Lankan military victory of May 2009 etc and can form an opinion on which one of us is closer the mark. I think that fulfilling two out of three of Badiou’s criteria of an Event, make the event in question neo-Badiouian. If it fulfilled all three I would have called it Badiouian…

    As a democrat, I leave the matter entirely to the intelligent reader.

    It is however, a little difficult for me to engage in an interminable exchange for four reasons, the fourth of which I shall leave to the last. Firstly, The Real has intervened in the form of the Modi-event (I’m half joking, but only half) and our entire context has changed in South Asia. The zenith of the Sri Lankan hawks has just been passed. I’m not only glued to the TV watching the action, I am also fielding calls from the media in Delhi and Colombo on the developments and their implications. Secondly, I find it boring and suspect that the readers do so too. Thirdly, something is making me recall Lenin’s point that “one fool can ask more questions than ten intelligent people can answer.”

    In a display of rigorous scholarly methodology, Vangeesa quotes from a personal email he received from Nathan Coombs who has devoted the entirety of a review in Radical Philosophy (Vol 155, 51, May-June 2009) to my book on Fidel. Nathan Coombs also reviewed my book in the Political Studies Review, journal of the Political Studies Association, UK (Blackwell). I have no idea if two reviews of my book in two separate journals are what Vangeesa says he calls ‘a passing reference’. Call me old fashioned but I’d rather go by printed material than private emails.

    I really didn’t want to do this, which is why I didn’t quote this in my rejoinder, but Vangeesa leaves me with no choice. Having discussed the contributions of Sorel, Fanon, Bloch, Badioou, Zizek, Waltzer, Arendt, Camus, Merleau-Ponty, Marshall Berman and Walter Benjamin in understanding Marx, Engels and the ethics of violence in revolution, Prof Nick Hewlett has the following to say:

    “In an important and concrete contribution to the debate on violence and revolt, Jayatilleka examines the ethics of violence of Fidel Castro. Via a detailed study of Castro’s writings, speeches and revolutionary practice, Jayatilleka suggests that the Cuban leader resolved the disagreement between Sartre and Camus regarding violence and morality; Sartre was critical of Camus’s disapproval of the violence of the oppressed. …However, for the sake of highlighting   Jayatilleka’s contribution we will bypass this debate… It is not necessary to endorse Castro’s views and practices, and certainly not in their entirety, in order to recognize in Jayatilleka’s argument a most welcome contribution that advances the debate on the relationship of classical Marxism and its legacy and the ethics of violence in revolt. At the very least, it defines a framework for discussion and offers highly concrete examples in an area where one is in danger of remaining either in the realm of abstractions or in the pragmatics of cases as they arise, without a middle way that offers an ethics based on both principle and practice.” ( ‘Marx, Engels and the Ethics of Violence in Revolt’,the European Legacy: Towards New Paradigms, Vol.17,No.7,pp.882–898,2012, Routledge, 2012)

    Most pertinently, in his conclusion in which he mentions Waltzer, Arendt, Sorel, Sartre, Fanon, Bloch, Marx and Engels, Prof Hewlett observes that:

    “Notwithstandingtheseremarks,Iarguethatinconstructingaframeworkforthestudyoftheethicsofviolenceinrevoltweshould lookatconcrete examples of revolt in order to temper the more idealized approach. The balance of these two elements is perhaps the greatest challenge for any ethics of violence, and is found in Jayatilleka’s fascinating examination of Castro’s thought and practice. His approach is an attempt to combine warm stream and cold stream theories of radical change, when applied to actual historical change, which is always more complex,andoftenharsherandmore unpalatable,thandebateintheabstract.” ( ‘Marx, Engels and the Ethics of Violence in Revolt’,the European Legacy: Towards New Paradigms, Vol.17,No.7,pp.882–898,2012, Routledge, 2012)

    Now for the fourth reason that I shall discontinue this exchange. Badiou agrees with Deleuze and Guattari’s definitional answer to their question ‘What is Philosophy?” .Their answer is the creation/production of concepts. Vangeesa Sumanasekara used a key concept in his critique of me—identifiable as key because it was in the caption itself— ‘Christian Essentialism’. He ‘forgot’ to source the concept. Had I not mentioned it, the reader would have thought it was his own. Since I did bring it up, he has quoted from an email in which Dr Coombs uses it. In fact Coombs had used it in his published remarks (as I have excerpted). Given that concepts are the life blood of philosophy, using one so prominently and not acknowledging its source doesn’t strike me as quite the best way of being a ‘ serious student of philosophy’ still less of ‘doing philosophy’ —or anything else for that matter. I wonder what Badiou would have said. Such a practice it also draws a line of demarcation between those I debate with and those I choose not to.

    • Fitzpatrick

      I am also fielding calls from the media in Delhi and Colombo on the developments and their implications.

      How is this relevant to the discussion except added as an addendum to promote one’s own importance?

    • http://www.groundviews.org/ Groundviews

      Posted on behalf of Vangeesa Sumanasekara

      1. Before anything else – now I am accused of plagiarism! Quite frankly, I find it quite amusing that Dayan has fallen to this level. He argues that ‘Christian Essentialism’ is a ‘key concept’ and the philosopher who has created this concept is Nathan Coombs. My crime is I have used this concept, pretending to be it is one of my own. I am sorry to say that, before understanding Badiou, Dayan must try to understand what plagiarism really is. Or, inversely, now that we know that Dayan cannot understand a rather simple concept like ‘plagiarism’, I think we should all pardon him for his inability to comprehend philosophical concepts like ‘events.

      2. When asked to provide details of how Dayan’s ideas have been ‘placed’ along with those of Badiou, Dayan has given us a yet another quote, this time from Nick Hewlett. I am so glad that Dayan’s work has received high praise; unfortunately, our dispute was not whether Dayan’s work has been praised by others or not , but whether anyone has compared his ideas to those of Badiou. I would kindly ask Dayan to explain this.

      3. Let me very briefly recap what an event, according to Badiou, minimizing the technical details as much as possible and in a simplified narrative style that would suit this format and context. In Badiouian terms ‘Sri Lanka’ is a situation. That means Sri Lanka is a collection of sets. We have Tamils, Women, Sinhalese, people, animals, trees, rivers, beaches, all of which, in turn are ‘situations’ i.e. collection of minor sets. Under ‘people’ we have individuals, and under individuals we have collections of cells, and so on. No matter how far ‘down’ we go we end up with more ‘sets’. ‘Atom’ ,for example, is something with such and such properties. No matter how small it is, it is collection of such qualities, and thus falls under the category of a set. Ultimately, at the ‘bottom’ there is the void,that is pure multiplicity, irreducible to any unification. In other words it is not ‘a one’. One of the problems faced by every situation, from ‘Sri Lanka’ to ‘atom’ is that it is clear from where this unity comes. In other words, in every situation its ‘stability’ is threatened by this dangerous proximity to the void. As a result, every situation has to be restructured from a another, second count. During this count, every element in the situation will be re-grouped into ‘sub-sets’ of it. Like ‘Tamil people’ in the Sri Lankan situation will be re-grouped as ‘Upcountry Tamil’, ‘Northern Tamils’, and so on.

      This second count is called the ‘State of the situation’ (and here Badiou is explicitly playing with the double sense of the state). One of the results of this second count is that some of the elements that were there in the original count of the situation are missed during the second count. That means, they do ‘belong’ to the situation but they are not ‘included’ in any of its parts. If we have one set where all the elements belonging to that set are not included in the state of the situation, Badiou calls such a set an evental site. For instance, one can think of Sri Lankan Tamils as such a set – they do belong to the situation but they are not ‘included’ in any of its parts. An event can trigger – and there is no guarantee that it would trigger – within such an evental site. An event means a very brief irruption of the pure being, the void, which challenges the authoritative orderings of the state of the situation. In other words an event can only happen in a site where the state has no complete control. Can Dayan tell us how a State’s military victory still falls under the category of a neo-Badiouian event, in spite of all these rigorous philosophical difficulties with regard to Badiou’s theory of events?

      4. Unlike Dayan, I am not a media pundit but a humble cultural activist, working far removed from postmodern media industry. So, I have time to engage on this matter – not with Dayan , with whom this exchange has now, unfortunately, ended bitterly – but with anyone who is still not convinced that Dayan has no clue about Badiou’s notion of the event. I, too, thus put this to the democratic test – is there anyone who still thinks that Dayan’s thinly argued defense has any validity?

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    A friend just passed on a hilarious tweet. In it I seem to be referred to as a Sinhala nationalist. Now this would come as quite a surprise to any Sinhala nationalist ranging from Susantha Goonetilleke to Malinda Seneviratne or Wimal Weerawansa to Champika Ranawake. Furthermore, it is alleged that I have said that Vangeesa Sumanasekara plagiarized ‘Christian Essentialism’ from Dr Coombs. Of course I have said no such thing. I have said that he plagiarized the concept because any use prominent use of a concept without acknowledgement or reference whatsoever, however tangentially or parenthetically, at any point in the text, is…plagiarism. For instance if i had used a concept from Badiou as a centrepiece of my critique of someone, featured it in the headline and yet didn’t mention its provenance, I can imagine what the reaction would have been. I did point out though, that as a criticism of my work, ‘Christian essentialism’ had already been deployed in print by Nathan Coombs– several years before Vangeesa Sumanasekara has done– and Vangeesa could hardly have been unaware of it. I also pointed out that until I mentioned that ‘Christian Essentialism’ had been deployed by Vangeesa without any acknowledgement whatsoever, he wouldn’t have even quoted (still without acknowledgment) next time around, Coombs’ critical use of the concept.

    • alex f

      I am not sure Goonetilleke, Seneviratne et al disagree with the majoritarian, triumphalist strains of your position .. they just disagree with DJ the realist – i.e. now that Sri Lanka has ‘won’ it can do what it pleases – where as DJ espouses some minimalist measures (no further than 13A) to placate India and thus keep the International Community at bay. The positions are not really that far apart.

  • Vangeesa Sumanasekara

    Let me just quote these two lines from Dayan’s last comment, here:

    “Furthermore, it is alleged that I have said that Vangeesa Sumanasekara plagiarized ‘Christian Essentialism’ from Dr Coombs. Of course I have said no such thing. I have said that he plagiarized the concept because any use prominent use of a concept without acknowledgement or reference whatsoever, however tangentially or parenthetically, at any point in the text, is…plagiarism”

    1. I have not plagiarized
    2. I have plagiarized

    Remember, Dayan’s first comment had the title “The Philosophy of Plagiarism”!

    I order to avoid falling into the trap of debating on the inconsequential, let me just plead guilty. I am sorry, I did plagiarize the ‘concept’ Christian Essentialism from Nathan Coombs. Please, pardon me for this terrible crime. Can you please respond to the questions I have asked in the main article?

  • Kalana Senaratne

    I think the more one reads the comments of the good former diplomat, the more one feels that the decision he has taken not to debate philosophy with Vangeesa is a wise idea.

    More than anything, his recent responses on this matter have helped many of us, too, to draw that line of demarcation: between those one should debate, and those one should not. Sadly.

    As for his alleged Sinhala nationalist credentials; well, those who have not read him properly and seriously in recent times (i.e. MS, SG, CR or WW, and many others) would be surprised, certainly.

    • Fitzpatrick

      Hear hear !!!!

  • http://www.groundviews.org/ Groundviews


    Just on the point of a dedicated platform, while technically a cinch to design, create and launch, content is key and curation vital. The first requires the likes of you, DJ, Vangeesa, Kalana and others to contribute and engage regularly. The second ideally requires domain specific expertise to understand the finer points and nuances of all the debates, as well as someone web and new media savvy. My hunch is that you can find someone with one of those skills, but not both? It is however a really interesting idea, and open to helping out the establishment of the platform in any way we can – a sort of Sri Lankan variant of Harper’s Ars Philosopha blog.

  • Vangeesa Sumanasekara


    I too am extremely disappointed with the way this exchange ended – but such is the nature of public debate.

    You are also correct about the ordinary use of the term ‘Event’, and in that respect it is certainly not
    inaccurate to identify the end of the war as an event. My concern, however, was in calling it a ‘neo-BADIOUIAN-event’, which gives it a completely different and much more technical meaning.

    I also agree that my focus was Dayan’s interpretation of Badiou and few other thinkers, and not so much his political positions as such. I usually try to avoid in engaging in debates about political analyses unless they have some practico-political implication. I am not denying the significance of those analyses, for I too have benefitted from them in broadening my understandings. But it is, in my opinion, futile to quarrel over these analyses, for they are always based on a combination of hypotheses, assumptions and aspirations which can never be verified. This is why, incidentally, Badiou does not use the phrase ‘political philosophy’ and prefers the word ‘metapolitics’, modeled on the Freudian word ‘metapsychology’, since ‘political philosophy’ implies that there is a superior position to the philosopher, who stands above the practical unfolding of politics but has access to the underlying truth of the latter. We all know that in politics, there is no such superior position, and that is why the question of the ‘organization’ – how to organize the youth, what is the structure of the organization, and so
    on – is at the heart of the matter. To be frank, these are the questions that I am much more interested in and they require an entirely different order of work and thought, than those of the political critic.

    However, I entirely disagree with you on one point. It is one of my strongest convictions that ‘abstract
    philosophy’ and our ‘concrete social situations’ are much closer than they appear to be. Let me, very briefly, give you one example. Lot of people may find it surprising and shocking that Nalin de Silva has written one of the best defenses of the Tamil’s right to self-determination, in early 19800s. How did
    such a remarkable turn of events happen? In late 1970s Nalin encounters an important branch of philosophy of science in the Analytic tradition, especially the works of Kuhn, Popper and, Paul Feyerabend. With their critique of the notion of scientific method and scientific rationality, Nalin came to question the ‘scientific’ status of Marxism, and eventually led to his resignation from Nawa Sama Samaja Party. Gradually his critique grew into include the very notion of scientific objectivity and culminated in his cult work ‘Mage Lokaya’ published in mid 1980s, where he denies the existence of an objective reality. Rejecting all claims for universality and truth as ultimately ‘Western’ influences he pursued an authentic form national thought, in tune with what he called the ‘chinthanaya’ of the Sinhalese. Embracing his ethnic identity as the only ‘realistic’ horizon of meaning, he was soon to become an ardent supporter of the Sinhala Buddhist nationalism and its historical destiny, leading him to
    launch a long-lasting critique of the Tamil’s right to self-determination, which he himself had defended, a decade ago. If one looks at his book on Tamil nationalist struggle, available in English as “An Introduction to Tamil Racism in Sri Lanka”, one would see how this seemingly ‘abstract’ philosophical issues concerning the existence of an objective reality led to highly ‘concrete’ political conclusions regarding the interpretation of history and nature of political emancipations. And if one considers the fact that he has been a direct mentor for figures like Champika Ranawaka, Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe and Ven. Athuraliye Rathana, and an indirect ideologue to people like Wimal Weerawansa it is easy to understand the complexity of the situation.

    These often neglected complexities are what led contemporary French philosopher Quentin Meillassoux to conclude that post-Kantian philosophy in general, with its relinquishment of the idea of the absolute reality and handing over its sole interpretation to the ethno-religious fundamentalist, has to take
    responsibility for the worldwide rise in fundamentalism. In this regard, I think the significance of these questions are much more serious that they initially appear to be, and I hope ‘Groundviews’ would continue to give space for discussions, not only on ‘political’ philosophers like Agamben, Badiou and
    Zizek, but also on ‘speculative’ philosophers like Meillassoux, Graham Harman, Tristan Garcia. For, far from being something that should NOT be discussed in a website dedicated to ‘journalism for citizens’, I think they are more and more becoming the most pressing problems of our era. In that sense at least, our era is closer to that of Greece, where philosophy first began – Socrates who was put
    on trial before the citizens of Athens, was eventually condemned for the crime of corrupting the minds of the youth in city. Time has come again to ‘corrupt the minds’ of the youth in our cities!

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    For purposes of public information, what follows is the
    penultimate paragraph of Colin Wright’s essay ‘The Violence of the New: Badiou’s Subtractive Destruction and Gandhi’s Satyagraha’, published in Subjectivity, Vol 4, 1, 9-28, 2011,
    Macmillan Publishers.

    “As Jayatilleka (2007) has argued, the vast majority of theoretical work on the ethics of political violence is on the side of just war theory, and thus on the side of established states: it is therefore incompatible with the Marxist tradition which would aim violence against the State. Moreover, all of it is further tainted both by its religious origins in the thought of Saints Augustine, Ambrose and Aquinas, and by the resurrection of these origins in the current ‘war on terror’ as a renewed doctrine of bellum justum. But the radical tradition cannot be shamed by its own bloody Jacobin history into thinking that, simply because just war theory cannot offer it an ethics of violence of its own, it must settle instead for a caricatured Gandhianism, in which unbending pacifism
    somehow transforms the world through sheer moral superiority.” (p 26)

    (The following footnote accompanies the paragraph: “Jayatilleka’s claim is that Fidel Castro invented a form of just war theory appropriate to guerrilla war, and that this Marxist ethics of the correct use of violence is what has allowed the Cuban revolution to survive while others imploded under the effects of internecine violence.”)

    The complete set of References that accompanies Wright’s essay lists the following authors in alphabetical order: Agamben, Badiou, Balibar, Fanon, Fentham, Gandhi, Godard, Hallward, Jayatilleka, Lenin,
    May, Sartre, Weber, Wright, Zizek.

    Colin Wright’s publications include ‘Badiou in Jamaica: a Philosophy of Conflict’. He is lecturer in Critical Theory at the Department of Cultural Studies at the University of Nottingham and his general areas of research interest as listed in the note that accompanies the essay are French Critical Theory, Psychoanalysis and Political and Postcolonial Theory.

    • Vangeesa Sumanasekara

      This is what I wrote in the essay above:

      “I hope my learned friend would understand that simply because his ideas have been discussed within an essay on Badiou does not necessarily mean that he has been placed in the company of Badiou.”.

      I think it should be more than clear that Colin Wright has NOT said a word about Badiou while discussing Dayan’s ideas. Dayan seems to think that simply because thinkers like Agamben and Badiou are listed as references alongside his name, that means he has been placed in the company of all of them.

      Going by the same logic, what if one were to check, to take one out of many examples, Zizek’s list of index references under the letter ‘H’ in his book “Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism”? Here is the list:

      Hegel, Heidegger, Himmler (Heinrich), Hitchcock, Hitler (Adolf), Horkheimer, Hume

      So Adolf Hitler has been placed by Zizek as a thinker on par with David Hume, Hegel and Heidegger?

      I hope Dayan would realize that he can’t hide behind quotations and big names – one day he will have to explain how HE agrees or disagrees with Agamben.

      I hope, above all, Dayan would stop make us all laugh!

  • Fitzpatrick

    Hear hear !!! I totally agree with you Alex !

  • Reader

    I knew nothing about the concept of Badiouian events. And this exchange was looking good until Dayan unfortunately started sulking and refusing to answer simple questions such as ‘How does your quote A apply to your claim B’. Instead of taking vangeesa’s challenge head on, he tries to ‘get back’ at him in schoolboy style – accusing vangeesa of plagiarism. At first I had the impression that it is a philosophical debate between two men who knew what they were talking about. But after seeing how Dayan is avoiding difficult questions, it looks more like a matter of one has simply called the other’s bluff. The whole episode looks like a very interesting ‘event’ Badiouian or not!