In the introduction of her recent book "Between Gaia and Ground", Elizabeth Povinelli says:

This book examines four axioms of existence that have emerged in recent years across a significant section of critical theory. They are: the entanglement of existence, the unequal distribution of power to affect the local and transversal terrains of this entanglement, the multiplicity and collapse of the event as the sine qua non of political thought, and the racial and colonial history that informed liberal Western ontologies and epistemologies and the concept of the West.

I don’t understand the third axiom. What does it mean? I couldn’t get its clear meaning all across the book.

  • 1
    "multiplicity and collapse of the event" - a significant happening Apr 9, 2022 at 12:05
  • It sounds like Badiou maybe?
    – J Kusin
    Apr 9, 2022 at 14:30
  • @JKusin the term ‘event’ sounds to me to be related to Badiou, but how exactly?
    – Sasan
    Apr 9, 2022 at 20:46
  • I think my edits did a bit more harm than good. Sorry, everyone. Apr 10, 2022 at 22:15

1 Answer 1


Without having read the book I can only speculate, but within the context of critical theory I would expect this to refer to what lay people call 'spin'. Political thought used to be driven by significant events: e.g. (in no particular order, and from an unfortunately American perspective), the assassination of Prince Ferdinand, the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Watergate break-in, the Reichstag bombing, the Boston Tea Party, the Battle of Waterloo, 9/11, etc, etc. These events served to galvanize public opinion and unify disparate groups of people around some particular course of action. In part, this is merely politics leveraging human nature; we tend to think in terms of narratives driven by significant events, and so significant events were used to guide people into politically necessary (or at least politically expedient) narratives.

However, the competing information monopolies of the modern era have turned this principle inside-out. Politics is no longer driven by significant events; politics tries to drive events into (in)significance. Events that actually occur are attached to multiple narratives aimed at particular political outcomes, without much concern over whether the narratives are consistent with each other or with the 'facts' of the event. This includes the meta-narrative of merely ignoring or distracting from a significant event in order to keep it from being politically motivating. And then there are the events that do not actually occur — nonsense such as the Q-cabal conspiracy crap, the 'yellow cake' lie from the W Bush administration, the recent GOP disinformation meant to cast Ketanji Brown Jackson as pro-pedophile — that are manufactured specifically to generate a political moment that political actors can use.

In other words, where politics used to latch on to significant historical events in order to drive political thought, it now latches on to the capacity to create confusion and counter-narratives in order to fortify political goals against the occurrence of significant events. The universe of information tends to collapse under the pressure.

But again, this is my assessment of the axiom from my experience with Critical Theory, not an analysis of Povinelli's (or anyone else's) work. Take as intended...

  • So does the axiom say for there to be political thought there should be multiplicity and collapse of event?
    – Sasan
    Apr 9, 2022 at 20:44
  • @Sasan: No, the axiom isn't an evaluative claim; it's an assessment of the current state of affairs. Basically it says that we can't talk about modern politics without recognizing that modern political actors are constantly trying to redirect, confound, or collapse the significance of events. I mean, how else can we understand Republicans drumming up 'soft on pedophiles' arguments against Ketanji Brown Jackson while studiously refusing to notice Matt Gaetz' actual involvement in an underage sex case. Apr 9, 2022 at 21:32

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