Encore Badiou

I have said before that I need to read Alain Badiou, but now Kiita has reminded me of this once again. Check him out:

+ The present “world as it is” (and specifically the state of philosophy within it), demands a revolution in philosophical thought which, in Badiou’s view, has thoroughly given itself over to the regime of sophistry.

+ If French philosophy abandoned the pursuit of ontology and the philosophy of the subject for structuralism, Badiou, a former pupil of Sartre, can be seen as engaged in simultaneous projects of revitalization and reinvention of that forgotten philosophy. In his view, philosophy was deeply wounded when it decided to replace the question of truth with the question of meaning in the face of the horrors of the 20th century. This decision ultimately condemned all of thought to the domains of linguistics (language) and theology (transcendence), the touchstones of variously designated “anti-philosophers” (including Lacan, Levinas and Lyotard, to name a few).

+ Thus, Badiou argues that philosophy must reclaim its universal address, but not by simply reverting to Enlightenment rationalisms or logic, nor by dismissing the humbling developments of post structuralist or postmodern thought and their warnings of totalization – the regime of the One over the multiple, the Subject over the other.

+ We need to salvage reason from positivism, the subject from deconstruction, being from Heidegger, the infinite from theology, the event from Deleuze, revolution from Stalin, a critique of the state from Foucault, … and the affirmation of love from American popular culture. He asserts a philosophy of the subject without recourse to phenomenology, a philosophy of truth without recourse to adequation, a philosophy of the event without recourse to historicism.

+ In order to make a successful return to truth and reinvigorate philosophical thought against its current passivity, Badiou argues that philosophy must establish itself somewhere outside representation (language), while also resisting appeal to any mystical Other (transcendence). This is an ontological problem which demands a reconciliation of ontology with a new doctrine of the subject.

+ In his seminal work, Being and Event (1988), Badiou advances such a project, drawing on developments in mathematics and its axiomatic treatment of infinity to establish a way for philosophy to think pure multiplicity, avoiding Levinasian recourse to a mystical infinite (Other) as well as Deleuzian recourse to an empirical, pragmatic multiplicity.

+ For Badiou, ontology is mathematics, and mathematics as “pure presentation” (or “the presentation of presentation,” and hence of nothing) allows us to think “inconsistent multiplicity,” a pure multiple without recourse to the One—“without-oneness.” With this establishment, Badiou sees a way to save the subject (and philosophy) from passivity toward and slavery to the Other on the one hand, and the violent totalizing imperialism of the cogito and Being on the other.

+ Badiou’s thought can be read as an articulation of an innovative philosophy that engages three general (and classical) topics: Being, the domain of ontology (as mathematics) as the inspiration for thinking pure multiplicity and the infinity of truths; Truth, the domain of philosophy which identifies the event (of a truth) and, possibly, inducing a subject; and finally, Subject, the domain of ethics which describes the fidelity of induced subjects seized by an event of truth, and the engagement in what he calls “truth-procedures.”

+ Readers will quickly find that although Badiou’s writing is very clear, concise, structured, and aphoristic, he is also very polemic and provocative, drawing on classical terms that possibly bring with them negative connotations and simplified meanings. The danger is to oversimplify his use of classical concepts and to assume their legacy of meanings. This can always be claimed by any philosopher, but it is a particular danger in Badiou’s case given the current rhetorical “climate” of academia and philosophical discourse. In short, Badiou’s other task is to save terms like ethics, truths, and the subject, from rhetorical disavowal.

+ Badiou argues that all conceptions of subjectivity that spring from the various forms of an ethics of the Other can be read as an a priori designation of the individual as victim. This construction of the subject as victim simply “sanction the gunboats of Law.” For Badiou, the contemporary situation demands a return to the “ethics of the Same,” remarking that infinite differences and otherness is simply what there is, and the more difficult question of ethics is concerned with trying to see the Same, the truth-event in a given situation that opens it up to what is to be—to possibility. The various post-Marxisms fail, according to Badiou, because they set equality as a goal, when in fact equality is an axiom—an idea that demands fidelity from a deciding subject, one who is seized and bears a truth.

+ If, along with Badiou, we see truth as breaking from accepted knowledge, and the subject of an event of truth as breaking from the situation as such (from things as they are), we may view Badiou as a philosopher who seeks to open up and maintain a space for thought to think these breaks.

In college and graduate school I claimed truth was important and was told I was naïve, but perhaps I was just thoughtful. Badiou’s work is exciting and I want time, time, time. I must become extremely efficient.


This entry was posted in Enlightenment, Postmodernism, Subject Theory, Vallejo. Bookmark the permalink.

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