La Fabrique is a bold publishing house with an impressive productive rate. After having successively evoked Maintenant il faut des armes (Now We Need Weapons) by Auguste Blanqui, L’Insurrection qui vient (The Coming Insurrection) by the Invisible Committee, Paris sous tension (Paris Under Tension) by director of La Fabrique, Eric Hazan, Capitalisme, désir et servitude: Marx et Spinoza (Capitalism, Desire and Servitude: Marx and Spinoza) by Frédéric Lordon and De Canguilhem à Foucault: La Force des Normes (From Canguilhem to Foucault: The Strength of norms) by Pierre Macherey, this article is dedicated to La Fabrique’s new book Qu’est ce qu’un peuple? (What is a People?), a collection of six texts by Alain Badiou, Pierre Bourdieu, Judith Butler, Georges Didi-Huberman, Sadri Khiari and Jacques Rancière. In this article, I will only focus on the three first texts of the book.
Judith Butler’s chapter, “We, the People: Reflections on the Freedom of Assembly” is an excellent complement to her speech at Occupy Wall Street on October 23rd 2011 (see past article), in which she was insisting that such a political movement was essentially a “politics of the public body.” Butler uses the first words of the 1788 Preamble to the United States Constitution, “We the People,” and examines what this locution — Butler uses the word illocution, i.e. a phrase that provokes an action by saying it — unfolds in terms of physicality and legitimacy. For her, the political act materializes in the risk taken by the bodies that “comes down in the streets” (my translation of an already translated text, I apologize about that):
When we actively make our appearance in the street, we are vulnerable, exposed to all sorts of aggression. It is mostly true for those who demonstrate without authorization, those who go, unarmed, and confront the police, the army or other security forces, those who are transgender in a transphobic environment, those who do not have visa in countries that criminalize those who wants to become their citizens. However, not to be protected is different from being reduced to the state of “bare life.” On the contrary, not to be protected is a form of political exposition. It is to be simultaneously vulnerable, breakable even, but also potentially and actively rebel if not revolutionary. Gathered bodies that find themselves and that constitute themselves as “we the people” shake abstractions that would make us forget the body’s demands. (Judith Butler, « Nous, le peuple » : réflexions sur la liberté de réunion, dans Qu’est-ce qu’un peuple, Paris : La Fabrique, 2013, 75)
Alain Badiou’s text, “Twenty Four Notes on the Uses of the Word People“ is a questioning on the legitimacy of the claim for the notion of people by a given political group. Badiou examines the very grammar of the phrases that effectuates this claim. He distinguishes the use of identity-based or national adjective before the word People when such a use if made in an “official” context and when it is made in the context of a political process, in other words, when the very notion of people is forbid to those who claims it (in the case of colonization for example). Similarly to the notion of minor becoming elaborated by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Badiou thinks that the people always refer to a minority, not necessarily in terms of number, but rather in term of relationships of power (my translation):
6. We need to abandon to their reactionary fate phrases such as “People of France”, as well as other expression in which “people” is compromised by an identity. Currently, “people of France” only signifies “inert ensemble of those to which the State has given the right to be called French.” We should accept only this word assemblage in the case where an identity is in fact, a political process in progress, such as “People of Algeria” during the French war in Algeria, or “People of China” when this phrase is pronounced from the communist basis of Yenan. In these cases, we notice that “People of + national identity” exists only to violently oppose to another “People of + national identity”, the one that carries the colonial army, the one that claims to forbid to the insurgent any right to the word “people,” or the reactionary State’s army, the one that desires the extermination of “anti-nationalist” rebels. (Alain Badiou, « Vingt-quatre notes sur les usages du mot peuple », dans Qu’est-ce qu’un peuple, Paris : La Fabrique, 2013.)
Finally, Pierre Bourdieu, — about who I don’t remember having ever written in the past — in his text, “Did You say Popular?” explores how language is used as tool of oppression for the high educated social class — who owns what Bourdieu calls “the linguistic capital” — on the lower one, as well as an instrument of domination of men on women. Bourdieu evokes the alternative form of institutional language, in French argot (that we could incorrectly translate as slang here), considered by the higher classes as improper or vulgar, but that actually dissimulates the entire range of emotions in social interactions. Argot would therefore be a linguistic apparatus that constitutes a people. In the following excerpt Bourdieu continue to uses the model of capitalism with words like “market” or “price” in order to explain how the production of goods and the production of language are following the same schemes (my translation):
No one can fully ignore the linguistic or cultural law, and each time that they exchange with owners of the legitimate competency, and even more when they are placed in an official situation, the dominated are condemned to a practical and corporal acknowledgement of the formation laws of the least favorable price for their linguistic production. They are condemned to a more or less desperate effort towards correction or silence. […] The affirmation of a linguistic counter-legitimacy and, simultaneously, the production of a discourse based on the more or less deliberate ignorance of conventions that are characteristics of dominating markets are only possible within the limits of free markets (marchés francs), which are ruled by price formation that are specific to them. That means in spaces that are specific to dominated classes, shelters of the excluded and in which dominant classes are themselves excluded. (Pierre Bourdieu, « Vous avez dit populaire ? », in Qu’est-ce qu’un peuple, Paris : La Fabrique, 2013, 38)