In philosophy, we wind up in a camp of thinkers whom we share some affinity with. When you’re in your twenties you have the freedom to decide where to start. Then you reach your thirties and all those long hours in the library reading only what moves you are a thing of the past. At some point, you just focus and become immersed. But once your desire has caught up with your work ethic, you’ve managed to form a camp of influences under a bigger tent, under a family of thought.
All of the sudden you have gone through all of these various phases. You had your Nietzsche phase, your Foucault period, and your summer working on Kant that was largely a let down but important in the long run. And then you settle into a real challenge and you spend considerable time with one figure. But these figures of yesteryear sit on your shelves haunting you in some way. Where did they come from? How did their questions intersect with your own questions? What are your questions? They yearn for some greater logic as to what ties them together? Why were they chosen? Why were you chosen?
Untying this knot of influences is something that I have been interested in. Before it leads to insufferable hysteria, anxiety, transferences, and projections, we must stay vigilant in avoiding the cliche pop wisdom that tells us to “seek the questions that our masters have sought.” Let us strive to go further in this de-knotting of the transference to our lineage of thinkers.
I started with Nietzsche. Like Goethe, Nietzsche was a seasonal philosopher, or so I thought. I was caught in the matrices of my emotional valences as a young person and Nietzsche was an authoritative voice. His resounding clarity was like a thunder bolt that somehow put me at ease. I didn’t realize it then but it was Nietzsche’s jostling with the category of truth that got me fixated onto him. Even though I was hooked on the hagiographic qualities of Nietzsche, the mythologies of his powers, the death of God and so on, I was, in a much deeper sense, hooked at the point of his relation to truth.
In Alain Badiou’s lectures on antiphilosophy, Nietzsche invents the approach in philosophy that subjective change occurs not through the formula that an idea can produce in language or in the mind, but change happens in relation to the idea at a subjective level. An idea can produce a dynamite effect on our very subjectivity. This change that an idea can produce is beyond the merely formal, logical, or conceptual formulations that involves truth as we know it in our current mode. The change that an idea can produce becomes central to what lies beyond the limits of the present. This also means that there is a part of accessing truth, and a part of reality that can’t be said.
It is in Badiou’s work on antiphilosophy that I have begun to see the lineage of philosophy that I have come to love. My book shelves have a new symmetry to them. My camp has been formed at the base of a mountain not filled with any particular theoretical approach (existentialist, psychoanalytic, deconstructionist, etc.) but formed as a bold wager towards philosophy writ large.
It is the relation towards truth that draws me into the camp of the antiphilosopher. The antiphilosopher is so called because she is no longer able to produce happiness as such. When philosophy has grown stale from its sophistry, from positivism, and the analytic love of philosophy as a thought exercise, or as a series of language games, the antiphilosopher steps in.
The antiphilosopher breaks philosophy’s dependence on the anonymous statement. That a statement’s validity does not depend on the person stating it is central to the logic of philosophy, but this does not produce happiness.
For Badiou, philosophy is not one of the four conditions (art, love, politics, and science) because it in some ways negotiates a change amongst these four. It is the antiphilosopher who facilitates this rupture, but Badiou cautions the antiphilosopher not to go too far, because he does depend upon philosophy at the end of the day.
All at once, the antiphilosopher is pregnant, eager for catharsis, suspect of language and its relation to truth, suspect of philosophy’s distancing from religion, and able to show that the philosophers love of truth is also a love of meaning which has the same features of the quest for religious meaning.
For the antiphilosopher, what is needed is an atemporal act to break with the regime of truth in its current guise. Think of Pascal’s wager, Nietzsche’s breaking history into two, Kierkegaard’s leap of faith, and of Badiou’s event, or even of Zizek’s night of the world (act). The antiphilosophers act is what holds the capacity for taking over the philosophical category of truth.