More than Nothing: Kevin Bacon’s “Bacon Number”

by Daniel Hartley

A new craze is surging across the internet: “The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”. According to Wikipedia, it is “a variation on ‘six degrees of separation’ which posits that everyone in the world is no more than six acquaintance links from anyone else on Earth…The game requires a group of players to try to connect any individual to Kevin Bacon as quickly as possible and in as few links as possible.” Google has promoted the game by allowing users to type the name of any actor or actress into its search engine followed by the tag “Bacon number”: it then calculates and displays the said number (i.e., number of degrees of separation he or she has from Bacon). Obviously – or so one might think – Kevin Bacon has a “Bacon number” of 0 because there are no degrees of separation between him and himself.

The question I would like to pose is this: what is the precise value of Bacon’s Bacon number? In other words, what exactly does 0 mean here? On the surface, the meaning is simple: since Bacon is himself, there cannot be any degree of separation between Bacon and Bacon. Yet philosophers would disagree. At the beginning of Sickness unto Death Kierkegaard claims that a “self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relation’s relating itself to itself in the relation”. A self is an active self-relation that must constantly relate itself to itself in order to endure in its selfhood. Kevin Bacon is many things: a man, an actor, a celebrity, an American, but he is not entirely reducible to any one or several of these predicates. Paradoxically, he can only continue to be those things for as long as he resists being reduced to them. As Žižek writes:

On the one hand, subject is pure negative universality; an identity-with-itself which “repels”, makes abstractions of, all its determinate content (“I” am not any one of my determinations but the universality which simultaneously encompasses and negates them); yet on the other hand, “I” is this abstract power of negativity which has come into existence in the very domain of its determinations…[1]

In other words, the subject is a ceaseless oscillation between “abstract-negative universality (abstraction of all determinate content)” and “the vanishing point of pure singularity”. A subject is not so much a thing as the process of a thing relating itself to itself; or, as Hegel has it: substance is subject, and vice versa.

Thus, Kevin Bacon’s “Bacon number” of 0 is misleading, since it implies an inert, atemporal being-in-itself, lacking all dynamic negativity. In truth, however, Zero here is in cahoots with the One. For Hegel, the “One cannot coincide with Something”:

The being of Something is therefore always a being-for-other…; one attains the One only when this other, something-other for which something is, is reflected into the (some)thing itself as its own ideal unity – that is to say, when something is no more for something-else but for itself…[T]he Void is precisely the reflection-into-self of the Otherness…[T]he Void is not external to the One, it dwells in its very heart.[2]

The self is a constant process of insistence on (One’s) unity and integrity in, through and beyond the enabling-disabling relation with and for an Other. For Kevin Bacon to be Kevin Bacon, 0 must constantly propel itself into 1. More than that, this qualitative One of self-relation is the precondition for inscription within the symbolic order as the quantitative One; the Bacon number 0 is positively charged and contains within itself the condition of possibility for all other Bacon numbers.

[1] Slavoj Žižek, For They Know Not What They Do (London: Verso, 2008), p. 47.

[2] Ibid, pp. 51-52.