Mehdi Belhaj Kacem: A Catharsis of Pleonexia

Mehdi Belhaj Kacem is a highly enigmatic thinker: an autodidact in the history of philosophy, a well known actor in French cinema and self-proclaimed anti-philosopher who had a major public break with his former mentor Alain Badiou around the same time as the Arab spring was taking off. I just finished his first major work translated into English, Transgression and the Inexistent: A Philosophical Vocabulary, a dictionary of his philosophical position on concepts from Event, Desire, Parody, Transgression, Mathematics, Science, to Play.

Kacem’s thought is wildly creative and independent, un-sutured from philosophy proper, yet deeply concerned with surpassing philosophy. Genealogically, we might locate him along an anarchist line of influence politically speaking, yet we have to throw in a deep interest in aesthetics and libertinism into the mix. He is an artist-philosopher. He is nostalgic for the transgressive artist such as Artaud and he despises the postmodern ironism of contemporary art.

Philosophically, his master is Phillipe Lacoue-Labarthe, whose very interesting Aristotelian reading of Hegel remains very central to Kacem. He is deeply indebted to Adorno, Reiner Schürmann and Agamben as well. Badiou is the philosopher who opens all the major problematics of Kacem’s thought, however. And so my first observation is that Kacem is not somehow past Badiou, as the title of his popular work, After Badiou attests. On the contrary, I find his thought to be deeply situated within the Badiouian fold and questionably, if not problematically breaking from it.

Kacem does not reject the doctrine of the event, he re-theorizes the event as a singularity of identity, not as something that occurs along the axis of being. He argues every event is a catharsis of identity, yielding a monstrous singularity. Kacem therefore revises Badiou’s set theoretical inspired position on the event as self-belonging that exceeds any inclusion in a particular situation to focus on how identity is event. He argues that it is identity; not being, that produces a new singularity. Identity produces what he calls, “non-assumed difference that is always perceived as monstrous”—it is this monstrous difference that is the origin of nihilism, the existence of concentrated points of being: witches, subalterns, misfits, those excluded from capital, the lumpenproletariat, etc.

The event is the concentration of being, but it is not outside of being—it is a break from repetition and a surpassing of repetition. The speculative totality of his dialectic goes from suppression-preservation-surpassing, where a divergence of each singularity always remains. Kacem prides himself as a thinker of the waste that comes in the wake of an event. He is the thinker of the negative event if you like. Curiously, he says nothing of Lacan’s concept of the objet small a.

The enemy of Kacem’s evental singularization is philosophy, and more precisely, the philosopher him or herself. To quote the text:

“Philosophy nihilates the purely given difference (physis) that metaphysics unwittingly, will have created an infinity of not only “positive” (the Good, the Immortal, the Eternal, etc.) but also along accursed differences, insisting as a malediction in all the figures of deadly singularizations and transgressive incongruities that have haunted History like the nightmare it did not want to awake from…” (147).

Man is differentiated from animal species because he repeats repetition, and in his singularization: he fictionalizes his identity. This fictionalization of identity is the basis of man’s relation to mimesis and to play. Kacem argues we must go further than the Deleuzian notion that repetition produces difference – we must acknowledge that repetition is itself mimesis. What this produces is an ironic double negation that never leaves intact that which it grabs holds of. The semblance of identity, the ironic self-negation of oneself, reaches a limit point and cannot be doubled except by showing itself as purloined letter that which it is the semblance of. This inability to produce a semblance of one’s own singularity is his definition of irony (137 – 138). The post avant garde is caught in this vacuous trap of irony. Foucault understood this inherent transgressive structure to the event, he understood that difference can only affirm itself by a transgressive negativity.

As we stated above, Kacem theorizes the evental subject as a monstrous singularization, pointing to the example of sodomits during the Middle Ages, or to use an example he does not cite, the drag queen. The Platonic philosopher (Badiou) seeks to divide and organize these subjects. This is the origin of Badiou’s (and all edietic Platonic interventions) avoidance of the pleonectic in man, of Badiou’s naivety of jouissance (in Kacem’s view). More precisely, what the philosopher seeks to organize is the jouissance of the subject, or to use the Greek term that Kacem makes commensurate with jouissance, the philosopher seeks to rid the pleonexia, the internal impulse to greed and avarice in man.

It is here that Kacem falls back on a theory of jouissance influenced by Lacan that is a very tragic theory of the real and of jouissance. Like Lacoue-Labarthe, Kacem seems at times to have stopped his reading of Lacan at the ethics seminar, which Jacques Alain-Miller refers to as the paradigm of impossible jouissance, where desire finds no rapport with jouissance in the symbolic. As Kacem states,

“Sexual jouissance is a paradigm of our own pleonexia, and more essentially than alimentary necessity. This is because, unlike most other mammals, we can pervert this jouissance by all the convolutions of possible technological repetitions” (163).

The philosopher never escapes from pleonectic jouissance despite her/his obsession with questions of the universal – a concept which is rendered impossible in Kacem’s framework. The only way man escapes what Kacem calls the anthropological closure of ‘techno-mimetic expropriation of their being’ is by entering into relations of play and mimesis, i.e. through art and aesthetics.

Just as every event is a singularization that enters into a mimesis with a more positive side of singularization–a simulacra–every event also has a structure of parody. For example, agriculture is a parody of food gathering, hunting a parody of predation, etc. This mimetic structure means that all of our affects are also infused with parody–everything has a parodic structure.

Where Badiou presents a neo-Platonic framework that lifts man out of this negative singularization (through his theory of ethics and fidelity), Kacem proposes a theory of play and parody to deal with monstrous singularity. Through play and the aesthetic collective community that Kacem turns to, he argues that,

“What we need is a political representation of the pleonectic motor that is fundamental for us, which would actually be a catharsis of the following: a preservation which is a suppression, and not a suppression which is a shameful preservation” (88).

If, as this quote indicates, Kacem wants to develop a new theory of representation of jouissance, we must face the aporia of his very conflating of pleonexia with jouissance itself. This is an aporia that is in fact overcome if you follow the line of the sinthome in the work of the late Lacan. Furthermore, one could argue that Badiou himself follows this line from Lacan, which makes Kacem’s position inherently self-contradictory.

Plato, Our Comrade? Alain Badiou’s Hyper-Translation of Plato’s Republic

This article originally appeared in Berfrois.

Plato’s Republic: A Dialogue in 16 Chapters,
by Alain Badiou. Translated by Susan Spitzer,
Columbia University Press, 400 pp.

In what Alain Badiou calls his “hyper-translation” of Plato’s Republic, we are taken into the world of Plato’s classic dialogue on politics and justice, sped up to the pace of a 21st century New York street corner. Socrates and his sophist interlocutors speak a gritty street talk that is both accessible and familiar, despite the fact they invoke intellectual figures from St. Paul to Jacques Lacan to the mathematician Paul Cohen.

Amanda, a female character who didn’t exist in Plato’s original is introduced. In some ways, Amantha plays the hysteric to Socrates, always pushing him to his next insight. Susan Spitzer’s translation of Badiou’s French into English is clearly designed for an American audience, one that resonates particularly well for a post #occupy angst that is hungry for political change. Badiou has refreshed Plato in more ways than bringing his own philosophical language into it; his wager is larger than this. He manages to traverse the twentieth century’s aversion to Plato as a totalitarian philosopher, and leaves us with new ways of understanding Plato’s conception of truth, the ideal form of government, and how we must participate in politics today.

Not surprisingly, there have already been critics of Badiou’s translation. Two interrelated problems have been raised. The first is that his translation breaks the formal rules of translation to such a degree that the original meaning of the text has lost its significance. But this critique is inadequate at face value because Badiou’s hyper-translation is forthright in its intention of taking Plato’s concepts and modifying them into his own lexicon. For example, the soul becomes the Subject, God becomes the big Other, and the true life becomes Truth – all terms that comport to Badiou’s own canon. Badiou’s hyper-translation is a type of translation that used to be common amongst philosophical texts, whereby the purpose of the translation was not to preserve the static meaning of the original, but to enable the text to speak to us in the present.

The more pertinent question that Badiou’s translation leaves us with is then, how do we relate Badiou to Plato? François Laruelle, another living French philosopher and rival of Badiou, makes the claim in his book, Anti-Badiou: The Introduction of Maoism into Philosophy that Badiou’s desire is to see himself in the same way that Lacan saw himself in relation to Freud: reading the truth of Plato immanently with the tools (mathematical set theory, for example) that Badiou has at his disposal. It is true that Badiou sees himself as the heir to Plato in philosophy today. But it is also true that Badiou stands alone in remaining in fidelity to Plato. In Badiou’s 2008 seminar on Plato in Paris, much of the rationale for his translation of the Republic is made evident. In this review, I will refer to this seminar to clarify much of Badiou’s choices in his translation, which if one were to read the text in isolation, could very well go unnoticed.

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, Jan Saenredam, 1604
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, Jan Saenredam, 1604

The second and related critique against Badiou’s Republic is that it takes Plato’s notorious “fifth form of government,” and names it communism, despite the fact that Plato never gave it a name. We should read this choice of using the name communism as a decision that is not merely reducible to ideological partisanship, but one that is deeply tied to our own political situation today. It is a decision that is tied to Badiou’s entire philosophy and his politics. While Badiou certainly receives critiques for his own philosophy for relying on mathematics to ground its entire system, as well as his complicated support for Maoism, we should remember that it is Plato who is vilified in contemporary philosophy, particularly during the twentieth century.

The first form of anti-Platonism that Badiou recognizes is what he calls the vitalist philosophy of Nietzsche, Bergson and Deleuze. In this reading, Plato is pitted against a philosophy of life and becoming, and much of the impetus for the vitalist project was actually to wage something against Plato. Nietzsche said that we must, “cure the disease-Plato,” and get rid of the influence of Plato, the first “priest” who organized against life itself. The second form of anti-Platonism is more near and dear to American philosophy, and that is the analytic philosophy of Russell, Wittgenstein and Carnap. Here the complaint is that Plato is responsible for the idea that there are, separately, ideal objects whose intellectual intuition is possible, and that Plato uses mathematics to formulate the Idea, when they prefer to organize truths around linguistic concepts.

The third form of anti-Platonism is the Marxist position that sees in Plato the first separation of sensible and intelligible worlds, which ultimately corresponded in the separation between the working class and slaves. Fourthly, Kierkegaard, Sartre and the existentialist critique of Plato is grounded in Sartre’s phrase that “existence precedes essence.” This means that for Sartre, originally, there is nothing but a pure freedom of the subject thrown into existence on a background of non-being. The major criticism of Plato for the existentialists is that he is unable to discern the dimension of negative being and that he substituted sovereignty to this original non-being.

Heidegger presents the fifth form of anti-Platonism, wherein Plato is the primary culprit of concealing being, and thus leading to a forgetting of being. The last form of anti-Platonism, Badiou notes, is the democratic form that is attributed from thinkers as diverse as Habermas, Hannah Arendt and Karl Popper. This tradition sees in Plato the origin of totalitarianism, which is in part why these philosophers support a democratic society that can support the free play of opinions and interest, but they recoil at the idea of a society built around Truths, in part because they see the reign of truths as inevitably leading to tyranny.

Plato’s Fifth Form of Government: Communism?

The key move that leads Badiou to make the claim that Plato’s fifth form of government is communism is that he takes Plato’s Athenian government, at the time of writing of the text, to be in alignment with our own form of democracy today. Plato’s democracy is what Badiou calls a “democracy of opinions” unable to produce truths. The sophists of our day are the public opinion experts; the pseudo-intellectual think tank “experts” who consult us on every facet of living. But as we saw above, the sophists are also the analytic philosophers. Democracy then is not the end-point form of government as we find in Francis Fukuyama’s End of History and the Last Man, but it is what must be overcome in the creation of the Republic.

Plato’s four types of government are interrelated and presented along a spectrum with democracy serving as the end point. The first form of government is timocracy (military society organized around imperialism); the second is an oligarchy (elite government by capitalists); the third is tyranny/fascism (the government of One); and finally democracy (the Government of the People’s Assembly). Plato-s-Republic-Badiou-Alain-9780745662145Democracy is flawed because it is still ruled by private interests and democracy’s offspring is oligarchy and tyranny, whereas communism’s offspring is military rule because its establishment of the Idea of equality is one that is typically wrought with violent state-based forms of ideology as we had under twentieth century Leninism. But Badiou’s communism is not state-based, nor is it rooted in any economic collectivization program. It is rather an Idea that is abstract which is centered on the creation of a Subject that can persist in relation to the Idea that it represents.

Badiou names the only form of government able to produce justice, which is after all the primary subject of the Republic, the name “communism”. The only way in which communism can take place is not through the exercise of judgment and opinion, as we have in democracy, but through the cultivation of Thought. Throughout the text, we find long discussions for how democracy falls into oligarchy and into hedonism precisely because as a form of government it does not control the Desires and Affects (two forms of agency of the Subject) adequately. Badiou notes that Plato was very well aware of the risk of corruption in producing a society of citizens committed to Thought, and this is why Plato claims that we must abolish corruption entirely, and to do so, we must abolish private property.

To get a clearer idea of the type of communism Badiou is talking about, we should turn to another recent book, The Communist Hypothesis, wherein we find that communism is posited as “a pure Idea of equality, the communist hypothesis has no doubt existed since the beginnings of the state. As soon as mass action opposes state coercion in the name of egalitarian justice, rudiments or fragments of the hypothesis start to appear” (Badiou, 2010 p. 35). Despite the universal relevance of the name communism, Badiou chooses to remain in fidelity to this name because of the failures of state-based Communism in the 20th century, particularly under Lenin.

This form of communism is not a politics concentrated on economics and the rule of law, but as a form of government that is located at a distance from what is legal and social. Communism is like the Proletariat, something that does not exist but once it reaches existence, it fulfills its own destruction in a way.

How is such a communist society constructed? Since communism requires the philosopher to be in the position of power, precisely because the philosopher is not allured by power. All Subjects (citizens) must have the ability to take part in the party/society. Therefore every citizen must be a philosopher because philosophy is what enables the synthesis between political ability and philosophy (166). Plato’s Republic is built around the triplet worker-activist-soldier and each one must be interchangeable with another. These are the guards of the Communist Idea, and Badiou replaces the guardians with Marx’s idea of the Proletariat. But to materialize such an Idea, the state must operate without laws. Capital is gone from such a society because it prevents Subjects from participating in the light of truth, all of which comes with a new order of the three agencies of the Subject: Affect, Desire and Thought. Ultimately, the dialogue that Socrates teases out by the end of the text is one in which Thought becomes the modus operandi for the order of society.

Much of the dialogue involves the conditions for how Subjects in this hypothetical Republic ought to conduct themselves. Badiou’s Socrates passionately claims that the “guardians are the communist citizens of the Republic” and that to grasp the idea of the true, they must be well versed in number theory and geometry, both of which are made compulsory for all young people. In the famous cave allegory, the Subjects in the cave wear headphones and listen to their iPads. Once one of them leaves the “cosmic movie theater” he and enters into the sublime Alps of pure eternal forms, he enters into a world that is dictated by Thought and no longer is his passions connected to the Desire of “messy human affairs.”

Plato’s dialogue coincides with Badiou’s philosophy at the allegory of the cave because the prisoner who escapes the cosmic movie theater and enters into the Truth is faced with the problem of how they are to maintain their fidelity to the Idea(s) they discovered above ground. In many ways, this is the question that Badiou’s own philosophy ponders: how does a Subject that is exposed to an Event persist in allegiance to the truth of that event?

Justice is both objective, a part of society that must be constructed by the citizens committed to the Idea of communism, but it is also subjective, in that it comes down to controlling one’s desire. Desire is the most elusive of the three agencies because it is the real power that unites Thought and Affect (141). When these three are connected, like notes in harmony, the Subject becomes the One that it is capable of producing Justice (144 – 145).

It must be noted that Badiou’s Socrates is a forceful figure in the dialogues, a figure that takes on a position of mastery. The famous sophist Thrasymachus is presented as a diabolical figure because his power is one of rhetoric, and rhetoric is opposed to philosophy because it is able to hold fast to an opinion, but can just as easily hold tight to the other side of the opinion. The dialogue of Socrates is thus one of negation, of destruction of the sophist’s position, in a way that Badiou admits in a footnote at the beginning of the text, is reminiscent of Hegel’s Master-Slave dialectic whereby philosophy is what lives, and not opinions. As Badiou remarks, “true resolve will always abolish complaint,” and it is opinion wherein resides the space between being and non-being.

What Are Badiou’s Amendments to Plato?

There are many philosophical terms that Plato does not describe. For example, he describes the good by saying merely that “it is different and more beautiful than science and truth” and “it is the brightest of being.” This inherent ambiguity of Plato’s own core philosophical terms is what enables Badiou to perform such an immanent reading of Plato, and it is why he thinks that Plato aligns with our problems today.

Perhaps the central claim that Badiou makes is that of Plato’s idea of truth. As he clarifies in his seminar on Plato, Badiou notes that Plato sees truth as a productive process, quoting him as saying, “the truth is not in a position to say so herself.” The truth is a principle, an arche, or a point of origin for Plato, and this place is what Badiou calls the “transcendental situation” where the consequences of the truth are built. Where Badiou seriously modifies Plato’s idea of truth is around the difference between his reading of the truth as the Sun vs. the truth as Event.

For Badiou, Plato’s truth is similar to his own idea of truth; it takes place as an Event that releases a certain excessive energy. Subjects access the truth through thought, and importantly, the truth possesses a radical indifference to what it is not. This radical indifference is why the sophists’ opinion must be destroyed and it is also the source of the readings of Arendt and others that Plato is a totalitarian. But since truth is indifferent to what it is not, the key to Badiou’s reading of Plato’s text comes in his understanding that the entire text is an attempt to present, “the truth not as the order of which is exposed to thought, but the truth is the order conferred hierarchically superior and without equal.”

Badiou’s idea of truth is thus already apparent in the world and the Subjects must be in constant work and discipline around the Idea to bring the truth into existence. What Badiou’s translation of Plato leaves us with is a resounding passion for the truth. It leaves us with a rare sense that politics can once again be associated with courage and justice, and that we have an agency at our disposal that comes in the passionate work of bringing the idea of equality (communism) into existence.

As Badiou remarks, “philosophy is not worth an hour’s effort if it is not based on the idea that the true life is present” (14).

Difficult Atheism: Is Philosophy Finally Without God?

This piece was originally published by Berfrois
Like this on Facebook
Book Review: Difficult Atheism: Post-theological Thinking in Alain Badiou, Jean-Luc Nancy and Quentin Meillassoux (2011) by Christopher Watkin

Declaring oneself an “atheist” isn’t what it used to be. Growing numbers of Generation Y prefer to remain agnostic, which is why so many of them go by the “nones,” or those with no religious preference. My wife used to work at a large university and she told me that on standardized tests many of the students write in “human” in the ethnic and racial identity box. A friend of mine launched a social media campaign to have “Jedi” recognized as a religion in Great Britain. It took off like wild fire and in 2006; Jedi’s were the fourth largest religion in all of Great Britain. Occupying these undecided identities: “none,” “Jedi” and “human” make a lot of sense. In so doing, one renders no judgment upon the status quo, nor does the person negate traditional religious identities for which many of us still have some allegiance to.

The truth is, declaring oneself an atheist is a difficult process, but we’ve lost touch with this difficulty. Kierkegaard notoriously said “the biggest problem with Christians today is that no one wants to kill them anymore.” What I think he meant by this is that a healthy sense of atheism is good for religion, and lest we forget, Christianity is perhaps the most resilient religion the world has seen. This resiliency is due in part to the fact that Christianity can handle a complicated belief in God and still retain followers. Hegel saw in Christ’s utterance on the cross, “my father, why have you forsaken me” a splitting in two of the absolute itself, a splitting in two of God. What this split represented was the death of the metaphysical God. Nietzsche’s “God is dead” mostly had to do with an epistemological death of suprasensory truths, a death that ushered in a new type of nihilism.

Most atheists today that are firm in their convictions tend to be caught in a trance by the so-called “Four Horsemen of the New Atheism.” Despite news of their best-selling whirlwind and the larger discourse that has risen from it being on the decline, to the point of them now losing their followers, much of atheist identity is still intertwined with Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett and Harris. The weapons they use against religion are as tired as they are outdated: Darwinian natural selection and evolution (Richard Dawkins), naturalizing reductions of religion via general science (Daniel Dennett), brash literary humanism (Christopher Hitchens) and quite paradoxically, racist appeals to reason (Sam Harris).

For the nones and the atheists, as well as for the religious, I might add, a healthy debate about God is vital to sustaining a larger dialogue about religion, morality, and ethics in the public sphere. But we’ve been deprived of such a discourse. This is why it is a perfect time to ask: what is/can/should philosophy contribute to the question of God and atheism? Should it provide proofs of God’s existence/inexistence? Should it seek to create a philosophy that is completely without God? Something like the latter is taking place right now by three of France’s leading philosophers. The respective projects of these thinkers are surveyed in the recent book, Difficult Atheism: Post-theological Thinking in Alain Badiou, Jean-Luc Nancy and Quentin Meillassoux (2011) by Christopher Watkin.

Watkin’s book makes a major contribution to three seemingly disparate philosophical careers and identifies a common goal across each of their oeuvres, which is a desire to move beyond the religions turn in continental philosophy and enter into a new, “post-theological” thinking. Watkin possesses a deep understanding of all three thinkers and he pulls from an impressive set of rare unpublished interviews, lectures, discussions, and books not translated into English. Readers that are intimate with these philosophers will find a rewarding and deeply penetrating read, and readers less familiar with them will walk away challenged and a whole lot smarter.

difficult-atheism-post-theological-thinking-in-alain-badiou-jean-luc-nancy-and-quentin-meillassouxAt one point in time (the twentieth century) French philosophy, and by extension most philosophy didn’t have much to say about atheism. We should never forget that following the Second World War; something like a renaissance took place in France. The anti-humanism of Levi Strauss, Foucault and Lacan declared that man had died as an epistemological category, which is perhaps why the question of atheism itself wasn’t of pressing concern at least philosophically. France gave birth to many militant atheist movements in the form of Maoism and other socialisms, but none of them had the same sense of defeatism that much of the atheism today brings with it. Existentialism never felt the need to deconstruct religion or disprove God’s existence. Sartre told his followers “existentialism doesn’t wear itself out showing that God doesn’t exist. It declares even if God exists, it would change nothing.”

Unlike the New Atheists, Watkin and the philosophers he surveys have a healthy respect for the residue of theological thought on our epistemology, our culture, and our philosophy. He begins the text by developing two different types of atheism, parasitic and ascetic, and these responses to the death of God situate the entire text. Parasitic atheism brings down everything that God supported: truth, beauty, justice, and the good along with it. In this type of atheism, the worst sort of nihilism is born, one of Nietzschean resentment, and in its frustration of being tethered to an impossible finitude, it rejects any possible transcendence. In some ways, the other type of atheism, ascetic atheism is linked to parasitic atheism in so far as it seeks to move beyond a God centered cosmology so much that it re-invents a God. This accounts for much of the “religious turn” in recent continental thought, and in French phenomenology, particularly that of Derrida. In this context it is important to make note of Martin Hägglund’s recent attempt to take Derrida back, as it were, from the theological readings of his work in Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of Life (2009).

At the outset of the book, Watkin is clear that Badiou, Nancy and Meillassoux all attempt to go beyond atheism but whether they succeed in doing so is an open question. This is why their atheism is difficult, precisely because it has never effectively been done in philosophy, at least without residual atheism still clouding the ideas that underpin metaphysics, morality and ethics. Furthermore, each thinker put under study, while they may have over-lapping philosophical orientations and questions, they should not be seen as working in concert, and Watkin is careful to identify these subtleties and overlaps in their projects.

We learn very soon into the book that atheism is only one response to the death of God, and each thinker with the exception of Badiou claims that we should move entirely beyond atheism. In what follows, I will situate each thinker’s project in regards to atheism and consider whether their attempts to create what Watkin calls a “post-theological integration” in fact succeeds.

We should begin our journey into the difficult terrain of atheism with a reminder from another great French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze, who wrote, “we are always forced to think. Thinking is like a shove in our back. Thought is neither pleasant nor desired. It is a violence done to us.”

Badiou: Hidden Theologian or Atheist of Pure Multiplicity? 

Badiou is the most ambiguous of the post-theological integrationists, and perhaps the most complex. Badiou reads the death of God as an inability to think God as a prior One. The God of the metaphysical One is not possible, not merely absent, but no longer possible because a world in which God exists is a world that prevents true change from taking place. He arrives at this position of God’s impossibility through set theory and the concept of a “pure multiplicity.” Ontology, for Badiou is reduced to mathematics. It is purely predictable and being qua being can be measured according to mathematical set theory. We can understand Badiou’s project since his magnum opus, Being and Event (2005 in English) as one that involves the question of what truly constitutes a change to being qua being in a world? He names authentic change an event and locates it as a truth that remains inaccessible to the world prior to its emergence, thus truth is retroactively a pure multiplicity.

Badiou’s system of philosophy is remarkable because unlike thinkers such as Wittgenstein, Lacan and Lyotard, he has developed a system of thought where nothing is made inaccessible, which is why God must be abandoned. Where these thinkers went wrong for Badiou is in their insistence on inaccessibility, which is why he lumps them into the category of “romantic” philosophers. The Lacanian idea of the “unsymbolizable real,” the Lyotardian “phrase,” and the Wittgenstein’s of the Tractatus, “whereof one cannot speak, therefore one must be silent” all relied on this almost mystical outside impossibility of thought to ground their philosophy’s.  For Badiou, “philosophy must include, both in its conception and in its proposition, the conviction that true life can be experienced in immanence. Something must signal it from inside itself, not simply as an exterior imperative, like with Kant” (52). Watkin is careful to point out that Badiou’s entire axiomatic approach is situated historically within the situation of being in modernity, and that his major achievement for thinking atheism is that he separates the infinite from the one, and makes the infinite primary. This privileging of infinity is meant to leave behind the tyranny of the sacred finite, which had plagued philosophy since Heidegger.

Badiou is frequently accused of being a secret theologian, and Watkin brings these accusations into sharper focus, mostly debunking them. One of the most theologically heavy of terms in Badiou’s philosophy is “grace,” which he uses to describe a subject’s attachment to an event. Two other philosophers, Jacques Ranciere and the American deconstructionist philosopher-theologian John Caputo claim that Badiou’s notion of grace is parasitic of Christianity. Caputo detects a messianism in Badiou’s idea of grace, a sort of patient waiting for the event, and it is through this waiting, as if waiting for the messiah, desire is born. But Watkin points out that Badiou’s use of grace does not render it to theological categories, because an event is a moment of grace that is incalculable and as such, a new universal subset emerges (99).

As an important background, Badiou develops his entire idea of truths and universality in part from the Christian tradition and what he calls the “anti-philosophy” of St. Paul. One of Badiou’s disciples and translators, Bruno Bosteels argues that through his reading of St. Paul, Badiou develops a theory of the event that is totally a-historical and arises as an earth shattering event. Important for the question of atheism, an event is always a procedure, a choice, and an operation where subjects who name it and remain in fidelity to it nominate a truth. Watkin rightly sees in Badiou’s philosophy of the event a choice that is axiomatically situated within modernity and one that is always immanent to the world in which it is occurring. In such a world, there is no possible relation to God, but having faith in the event might very well serve to replace faith in God:

“To be prepared for an event means to be in a subjective disposition of recognizing the new possibility. Since the event is of necessity unforeseeable as it is not in the law of dominant possibilities, to prepare for the event is to be disposed to welcome it” (252).

Watkin correctly shows that Badiou harbors no secret theological desire in his philosophy and that he very well may have succeeded in overcoming atheism, but whether Badiou still occupies the place of the religious believer non-parasitically is another question entirely.

Jean Luc-Nancy’s “Singular-Plural” Atheology

Jean-Luc Nancy’s atheism is deeply tied to his larger project of thinking through an “ontological communism.” Nancy reads our contemporary world as one that is in utter moral disarray, which is caused from our inability to think values and free choice together. The world is what he calls an “ethos” that configures itself without any relation to a given principle or fixed end.  It is atheism that provides the only dignity possible in such a world. Atheism, he claims, must start by performing a parasitic excavation of metaphysics, which is divided by ontology, so what remains after metaphysics is what he calls “ethics.” Thus, most of Nancy’s thinking on atheism is an innovative thinking on ethics, which is what occupies the void left by the death of metaphysics. As a perspicacious reader of Heidegger, Nancy’s philosophy attempts to re-think being away from first philosophy.

Unlike Badiou and Meillassoux, Nancy’s ethics is grounded in a demand from an Other, what he calls “l’adoration.” This demand serves as the fundamental origin of all ethics and alterity, but it is different than Levinas’ proto-theological absolute alterity. Ethics in this vein is a behavior that is on the same place as ontology and it starts with a free decision to receive oneself. Ethics is a moment that occurs when one holds oneself as a decision, whereby the law recedes leaving being opened by freedom, and the subject arrives at “singular-plural being.”

In the last two chapters of the book, Watkin brings to light the decades long and highly nuanced debates on ethics, justice and politics between Badiou and Nancy. By translating rare primary sources: original interviews, essays and exchanges never before translated into English, Watkin provides an excellent service not only to the field of post-theology, but also to politics and ethics. In fact, by the end of the book, we have come to discover the primary motivation for all three thinkers grappling with atheism is built around re-thinking the good and justice, and not with atheism or getting rid of God outright.

The debate on justice between Badiou and Nancy is fascinating and Watkin does an excellent job deconstructing it. In general it has to do with equality and the conditions for the emergence of communism. The key difference between their ontologies is that in Badiou’s, fidelity to the event is not faithful to any ontological condition but precisely to that which inexists within a situation, whereas Nancy’s is built around a sense of recognition of our universal ontological condition. Watkin concludes that Nancy’s conception of justice, unlike Badiou’s “subtractive method” (that does not rely on ontology) is neither parasitically theo-political nor atomistically atheistic. In Nancy’s moment of adoration, which is similar to the Heideggerian call, what is demanded of the subject is an effective equality, which is the source of all fraternity and equality (26). Badiou’s ethics, on the other hand is one of hypothesis and decision. Ethics, for Badiou still grapples with the Lacanian real and it consists of courage and persistence to the universality of a truth. Many Badiouian inspired thinkers have criticized Nancy’s communism for not being able to effectively confront the real and thus unable to promote radical political change by remaining within ontology.

Where both Badiou and Nancy do align is around the primary obstacle to justice being capitalism. For Nancy, his justice is around overcoming capitalism. He defines capitalism as “any society that takes the decision that value is in equivalence” (45). Capitalism, for Nancy is made the only universal, but it is like a Hegelian bad infinity that merely perpetuates indifference, rather than the true infinite which inscribes affirmative difference. In this context, “atheism is powerless to resist capitalism” because it makes us dwell in the in-common which is a result of capitalism (14).

Nancy’s philosophy is one that searches for a new infinity of sense and ultimately it is in atheism and in what he calls “anarchic democracy” that can adequately pose a challenge to capital’s subsumption of sense and being. Of all three thinkers, Nancy’s philosophy goes the farthest in thinking the subject after politics, a post-justice politics. Surprisingly, Nancy gives this “sense beyond justice” the name God.

Meillassoux and the Limits of Ascetic Atheism

Quentin Meillassoux is perhaps the most constructive atheist philosopher writing today. Readers who are religious very well could find in his vision a definite optimism for theology and an unlikely ally. The question of atheism and nihilism filled Meillaisoux’s brilliant unpublished dissertation L’inexistence divine (which has not yet been translated into English), and Watkin uses it as a primary source in the book. Meillassoux, unlike our other thinkers is interested in showing why God does not exist but he claims this is the wrong question because to remain in this position it leads to anger and a sense of defeatism. So he does something radical and claims that one should believe in God precisely because he does not exist.

What does this even mean? His first targets are the enlightenment philosophers (Kant, Leibniz, and Pascal) who sought to grasp the existence of God based on natural laws, and he claims they failed because they relied solely on God as the necessary being of their philosophical systems. In other words, their philosophical systems were theo-centric and if one were to remove God from them, their entire philosophy would come crashing down. To fully appreciate where he is coming from, it would be essential to read his ground-breaking text, After Finitude (2010). In it, Meillassoux develops a theory that there is an absolute contingency in things themselves, and the only necessity is contingency itself. He begins with a fairly naïve question: ‘how is thought able to think what there can be when there is no thought?’ What he shows is that it is not the correlation we make with a fact of knowledge that makes it so, but it is the facticity of the correlation that constitutes the absolute of that thing. Thought experiences its knowledge through this “facticity,” and in knowing that we only know contingent facts, we know that it is necessary that there only be contingent facts.

In our world of radical contingency, thing themselves are guided not by reason, but by unreason, and it is precisely our ignorance of the reason of things that becomes the truth about things because. Laws, facts of the material universe, science are merely facts, and facts are contingent – they can change without reason. The same can be said of God. But in our world there is no compelling or valid proof of God’s existence that is not based on God not being a necessary being to that system of thought, whether that system be founded in reason or in un-reason.

Where Meillassoux is at his most exciting is around his thinking of post-secular conceptions of justice. Like Badiou, Meillassoux has a theory of the event that is, unlike Badiou’s axiomatic approach, based in sense and intuition. Humanity, he argues, will experience two “jolts,” the first consists of the human breaking into sense reality. This initial jolt is what gives rational intelligence to life and allows the person to see the eternal. The second jolt is when the individual breaks through his disgust with humanity and arrives at an active desire for immanent universality. It is here where the fourth unknown world of justice and what he calls the “Son of Man” are born. Our current religious thinking is limited because it desires a wholly Other that is “indifferent to our thirst for justice” whereas the Son of Man provides the model to go beyond this inadequacy in our theological thinking because of its immanence and relation to justice for humans, animals, and for the dead.

For Meillassoux, God is capable of being born as a pure contingency not as any transcendence. Such a God that is possible would possesses four qualities: 1. It knows the universal and is thus able to identify the good. 2. It possesses knowledge of the singular becoming of the living and the dead – and thus it knows absolute contingency. 3. It possesses the power once and for all to abolish its own omniscience and omnipotence; and 4. God divests itself of these powers once and for all, thereby submitting the power of contingency that it has received to the will to become a man among men, equal to all others (209). Thus, we have in perhaps the most radical post-theological asceticism ever performed, a re-birth of Christianity.

Watkin is appreciative of Meillassoux’s originality, but he points out many holes in thought, particularly as it relates to universal justice. Watkin asks some very pertinent questions: in Meillassoux’s world, would everyone want to have immortality, and if so, why? If everything is contingent, then why is my desire for justice not contingent? Added to Watkin’s critiques, it is also true that Meillassoux seems overly reliant on the human animal, and he has no anthropology of the jolt as Badiou does of the event. Furthermore, nothing seems to come after the jolt like we have in Badiou’s idea of the traces of the event.

Can a Post-theological Integration Think Universal Justice?

In conclusion, Watkin raises the most important post-theological integrationist question: can universal justice come prior to the abolition of capitalism? For Nancy and Badiou the answer is no, and thus their projects commence as they do. For Meillassoux, the abolition of capitalism is not required and his is it is founded through desire and sense. Universal justice is founded when humanity is worthy of the child of man and the child of man becomes the paradigm of all relations to others. While Meillassoux’s vision might be the most all-encompassing of the three, in that it applies to all, including the dead, ultimately it is not well proven and it relies on desire to come about. For Badiou, justice must not be defined because to do so makes it a part of the regime of representation (of capital) and not a part of presentation (the event). Justice is after all, a judgment on the collective being – or the subject, and ultimately, it is what we declare as part of the event as what is. Nancy’s conception of universal justice is the least conditional in that it does not require the subject to be present, but his logic of the demand is circular, and not tied to any idea of goodness.

Watkin problematizes the moments of decision we find in each of the thinkers, and refers to these moments “Event,” “Jolt,” and “adoration” as unaccountable moments meant to determine goodness, but they are ungrounded in post-theological terms. Why is inconsistent multiplicity good? Why obey the demand of singular plural being? Why is our current contingent understanding of justice good? In addition to these open questions, we are also left with the question as to whether the entire project of post-theological integration has adequately moved beyond both parasitism and asceticism to a post-theological integration that “cuts the theological root of parasitism without renouncing its fruit” (239). The good news is that Nancy, Badiou and Meillassoux are still thinking, still writing and still making philosophy’s relation to atheism a little more difficult, just as it should be.

The New Realism

How much of your work as an activist is tethered to the whims of keeping the status quo together? If we take the line of thought (which I do) that those who are seeking to preserve the status quo are the new idealists then we ought to check our so called idealism, and give ourselves more credit. Perhaps even identify our work of envisioning a new world the work of a new type of realism.

For example, it dawned on me recently, and someone could chart this empirically, that funding (from liberal charities) to promote tolerance and lessen backlash towards minorities and immigrants is directly tied to stabilizing the ebbs and flows of free range capitalism, and not towards promoting a more substantive shift in relations. i.e. How much of our work is seeking to stabilize the status quo vs. change it?

So there is a new kind of realism in one sense, not the kind of realism prevalent in international relations, but a kind of realism that operates on a theory of how social change occurs, not a realism that purports to encompass the ways in which human nature and systems ought to interact with one another. In the context of spontaneous uprisings, protests, and occupations of public spaces such as Occupy Wall Street, we frame these movements as led by dreamers and utopian.

As the French philosopher Alain Badiou argues, they are realist. The realist is the one who is continually pressing the system for a crack, a rupture, or break with the state of things as such, while the utopian idealists are the ones that insist on remaining with the status quo.

Panel at 2012 Žižek Studies Conference: “The Perverted Subject Does (not) Exist: Subjectivity and Žižek’s Ethics”

I’m very happy to announce a panel I’m putting together at the 2012 Žižek Studies Conference, “Neo-liberal Perversions: Fantasy and Gaze in Contemporary Culture” at the College at Brockport (SUNY) April 28-29, 2012.

At the recommendation of the conference director, Antonio Garcia (a great guy), I invited a few friends from the European Graduate School to present papers on Žižek’s ethics under the “Other” track. I think the papers that our team has come up with look very promising.

My own paper is based in part on a piece I wrote for the San Francisco Society for Lacanian Studies, “The Object of Proximity” when I was a graduate student at American University.

I hope that you can join us for what promises to be an incredible conference. Oh, and did I mention that Žižek will be there too?

Go here to register. The registration should be up by March 5th at the latest.

Here is what we came up with, see description of the panel and the title of each paper below.

Panel Abstract:

As Žižek reminds us, in his work on ethics, when faced with the ethical injunction “to love thy neighbor as thyself,” the postmodern multiculturalist approach keeps at bay the proximity of the neighbor, opting for an experience of the decaffeinated, “PC other”. For Lacan, a subject truly encounters the Other not when one discover her values, dreams, and wishes, but when the subject encounters the neighbor as jouissance. This encounter is characterized as monstrous, traumatic, and inhabiting the dimension of the real. It also becomes the founding of all ethics, as that which throws the subject out of joint.

Ultimately, the other of the real does not exist, and no reciprocal exchange is possible. In order to render bearable our coexistence with the thingness of the other in the real, we turn to the symbolic order that is either deprived of this monstrous thingness resulting in a flat, Habermasian lifeless and regulated sphere of communication, devoid of desire, or an excessive desire that is unable to be assimilated into the symbolic and teetering on fantasy.

Žižek does not waver in his radical call to stay true to loving the neighbor qua traumatic thing, a position he finds support for in the Old Testament and St. Paul. As one of our presenters will argue, Žižek’s subject is able to step out of the symbolic and into what German idealism called “radical negativity,” making his ethics one tied not to a lethal suicidal submersion into the thing, but one that desires a radical break with the fantasmatic coordinates of the symbolic.

This panel is the result of an ongoing debate and exchange amongst students of Žižek at the European Graduate School. We propose nothing less than a dialogue on and examination of Žižek’s ethical theory by working through his core concepts of subjectivity, otherness, and the way in which other psychoanalysts and continental thinkers inform his theory.

The paradoxical position of the subject constituted via the non-relation to the Other will orient the panel. What does the shrugging off of the big Other and fantasy imply for ethics? Does the other exist in Žižek’s ethical framework? One presenter claims that Žižek’s insistence upon Hegelian repetition is rooted in a theory of a subject that indeed exists; the perverted subject, that stems largely from a latent influence of the philosophers of life, specifically Spinoza, Nietzsche and Deleuze.

Our presenters will approach the question of the perverted subject from a number of different angles. One paper poses the notion of “distributed desire” as the emblematic feature of Badiou’s “faithful subject” emerging from the Event, putting into question Žižek’s perverted subject. Other papers will look at Žižek’s ambiguous allegiance to Paulinian militant ethics, examining the deadlock in today’s political theology, and looking towards a new conception of alterity. To complement our more theoretical presentations, the panel is excited to examine Žižek’s notions of alterity via popular culture, by asking: “Is Žižek Fanon for White People?”


Bree Wooten, PhD Candidate at European Graduate School, “Repetition in Hegel: The Perverted Subject Exists”

Am Johal, PhD Candidate at European Graduate School, “Is Žižek Fanon For White People? Reading Žižek Through Fanon”

George Elerick, Graduate Student at Exeter University, “The (dis)crete Psycho-Trauma in the Double-Return of the Other”

Panel Chair: Vincenzo Di Nicola, MPhil, MD, FRCP(C), FAPA, PhD Candidate at European Graduate School, “This Desire That Isn’t Mine: Distributed Desire and the Consciousless Subject”

Daniel Tutt, PhD Candidate at European Graduate School, “Radical Love and Žižek’s Ethics of Singularity”

Justin Joque, University of Michigan Libraries / European Graduate School, “The Third and the Other: Towards a Žižekian Ethic of Networked Life”

What is a Contradiction? Badiou’s Theory of the Subject

In a previous post on Badiou’s Theory of the Subject, I described how the subject disappears under the chain of the signifiers, and how the masses inhabit the dimension of the Lacanian real. In this post, I’m going to dig deeper into Badiou’s text by looking at his wrestling with the concept of contradiction and dialectic. The text opens with a discussion of dialectics, for which he defines as one of the four modes of philosophy.

Let me sketch out the four modes briefly, but its important to note that these paradigms change for Badiou throughout his career in philosophy. For example, his new book on the 20th century has radically altered this layout, but these remain interesting and helpful models nonetheless.

The four modes of philosophy are:

Materialist: privileges being over thinking.

Idealist: privileges thinking over being.

Dialectician: turns contradiction into the law of being

Metaphysician: turns identity into the law of being.

Yet, there is a single contradiction throughout these modes: that between being-in-itself and thinking. Philosophers have grappled with this contradiction historically by presenting five primary theses, from Berkley, Kant, Hegel, and then Marx, who is actually split in two versions of materialism. It’s also important to know Badiou’s allegiance to Marxism, as well as his willingness to surpass its laws and structures.


Thesis 1: Berkley’s metaphysical idealism – thinking has no sensible outside. All thought remains in the imaginary. Truth = coherence. This paradigm forecloses the dimension of the real.

Thesis 2: Kant’s transcendental metaphysics: the being of knowledge is excluded. Being-in-itself possesses the force of law for the transcendental subject.

Thesis 3: Hegel’s dialectic: argued that the interior produces its own exteriority. The local exteriorization is never anything but the effect of a global interiorization.

For Hegel, absolute knowledge is that moment of discourse when in a perfect non-contradiction up to and including the fact that it includes itself and explains itself. All truth in the Hegelian sphere is integral. In its Lacanian version, we find that error is the agent of truth. If Hegel makes a passage out of the local, he seeks to secure something in the whole, for which Badiou argues we must move beyond (Pg, 121).

Thesis 4: the materialist who posits truth in the realm of the imaginary. We escape truth by going beyond repetition.

Thesis 5: the materialist dialectic who argues that we must differentiate thought from sensible being. What is already there in the process of knowledge is taken from being, and not from an idea. There is a subjective essence of the true: it is never reached except by twisted pathways.

This inventory gives us four names for truth: coherence, repetition, totality, and torsion.

In this post, I want to develop a better idea of how Badious wrestles with contradiction in his development of the theory of the subject.

What is a contradiction?

1. First and foremost, it is a difference. Weak differences are that of places – and strong differences happen when one true discourse destroys another false discourse.

2. Difference is implicated qua correlation, the two are differentiated via this is the unity of the opposites that posits the one of the movement of the two, and the one of their effective divergence. Struggle then is defined as a correlation that ruins the One. The current class struggle (post May 68) is a weak struggle/contradiction, and is therefore not deducible from the weak correlation.

3. A contradiction is not the equilibrium of the two but is the law of their inequality. One term fixes the place, and one term is subjugated. The essence-in-becoming of the asymmetry is the inversion, not the invariance, of position. It is the advent, centered on the outplace, of a splace overthrown.

There are three components to a contradiction: difference, correlation, and position. We can inscribe in a dialectical bipolarity whether the contradiction is weak (structural), or strong (historical). As Badiou says, “every real dialectical process entangles a structural contradiction and a historical contradiction, affecting the same terms” (Pg, 25). The anchor point of the historical is the structural, which is the nodal point for the question of the subject.

A capitalist society is characterized by the contradiction between productive forces and social relations of production, and the contradiction results in the antagonism amongst social classes. Yet, Badiou claims, we need a Marxism beyond the contradiction of Bourgeoisie and Proletariat – i.e. beyond the law of contradiction.

Building on the master dialectician and poet Mallarme, where we find a trinity of dialectical machines: vanishing term, splitting, causality of lack — anxiety, Badiou posits that a dialectical sequence approaches its closure when the practical process carries its theory in its own wake, when it possesses in itself the active clarity of its temporal trace (Pg, 19). This concept of a “temporal trace” can be taken in two senses:

1. All that is needed is for one of the contradictions, the outplace, or splace to become the bearer of the intelligibility of the preceding sequence.

2. Everything exists based on what is lacking from it, and the logical deduction from this is that the same applies to the cause. It is only by abolishing a first causality that you give consistency to the concept of causality itself (Pg, 82).

It is the “lack of lack” (what Lacan refers to as anxiety) that brings Badiou’s work in alignment with Heidegger’s philosophy of dasein. The lack of lack is what leads to poetic emergence, to chance, and to the real. Because the real for Badiou is ‘self-inclusion by way of being an element of itself’ – the negation of negation becomes a crucial part of the subject’s position. Badiou defines negation of negation through Mallarme’s idea that, “chance having been denied the first time, the second negation produces the idea of chance itself.” As Hegel says, “the infinite emerges from chance, which you have denied”

The negation of negation for Badiou involves the real, having been denied, and then in its denial, it produces the idea of the real for which it inhabits. Put another way; chance having been denied the first time, the second negation produces the idea of chance itself.

As Hegel says, “the infinite emerges from chance, which you have denied,” and it is the “lack of lack that leads to poetic emergence.” The forced exception leads to the subject, which is a bifurcated subject. Without the gap there would only be the monotonous and infinite efficacy of the grinding of being under the law of an absence (Pg, 89).

Badiou’s point is to “remit the real to the oblivion of its oblivion from where its causal force is purified in the lack: in the alignment of the true onto the whole. This type of work requires moderation” (Pg, 143).

What we are left with is ethics – I think part of the reason why the subject is rooted in this lack of lack and anxiety is because it is a subject that made clearer. As Lacan says of anxiety – it never deceives. The subject must assume their own lack in the real, for which Badiou asks: what is the difference between psychoanalysis and the political reeducation project? Both seek to totalize the symptom, because no subject preexists anxiety or lives beyond superego.

Yet the work of staying true to the dialectic may prove too much for modern man. As Lacan commented:

“Do we extend our analytical intervention to the point of becoming one of those fundamental dialogues on justice and courage in the grand dialectical tradition? It is not easy to answer, because in truth, modern man has become singularly unused to broaching these grand themes. He prefers to resolve things in terms of conduct, of adaptation, of group morale and other twaddle” (Lacan 1954).

Art and Philosophy in Badiou’s HANDBOOK OF INAESTHETICS

The relationship between art and philosophy has centered on the linkage of truth to both fields. The work of art is always finite, and as such may be the only finite thing that exists. The problem of the linkage between the two is not philosophy, which never contains truth; the problem is the singularity of the artistic schema. In Alain Badiou’s new Handbook of Inaesthetics, he makes a clear argument for art to find a new schema and linkage to the event of truth.

How can an artistic production (which is always a finite and singular project) be linked to a philosophical schema that transcends the dominant paradigms of the twentieth century – a task the avant garde has heretofore been unable to achieve.

Let’s start by unraveling Badiou’s vocabulary and definitions of the event, the artistic schema, and truth. For Badiou, the artistic production that ruptures an event is the only way to think of an art form as singular. Every art is a thinking of the thought that it itself is, which is why the art piece is always a finite singularity. Badiou writes:

Philosophy does not produce truths; it seizes truths; shows them, exposes them, and announces they exist (Pg. 14).

You could say that the thesis of the book is centered on how we might think of an entirely new artistic schema that can link the truth of the event (more of which will be described below) to a schema of artistic production that is not reliant on the master, i.e. on the big Other.

The twentieth century represents a sort of closing of possibility in that it’s three dominant modes of artistic schema (German hermeneutical, Marxist, and psychoanalysis) failed to create a liberating linkage between art and philosophy – it is in this space that Badiou tempts us to discover new modalities and ways of revitalizing thought.

The principle challenge of contemporary thought is the following: to discover a thinking of choice and of the decision that would go from the void to truth without passing through the master, that is without invoking, or sacrificing the master (Pg. 54).

1. The truth does not exist – only truths.
2. Each truth is a process and infinite.
3. One will call the subject of a truth every finite moment within the infinite part of each truth.
4. Every truth begins with an event, and an event is unpredictable.
5. The event shows the void of the situation, because it shows that what there is now was previously devoid of truth.
6. The choice that binds the subject to the truth is either solidarity with the void, or solidarity to the event.

Badiou schema of the event

To wrestle with the void and its emergence into truth, Badiou brings the poetic thought of Mallarme into dialogue with the Arabic poet Rabi’a, whose bodies of work link truth, the master, and place.

Truth results from the fact that place – the ordeal of absence and void – first nostalgically and then actively arouses the fiction of a master that would be capable of truth (Pg. 50).

Truth results from the disappearance of the master into the anonymity of the empty place, in brief, the master has sacrificed himself so that truth may be. This is a Christian truth – that forces a situation where the master must disappear in order for truth to arise.

For Badiou, the central problem of modernity means not being able to choose reasonably in what concerns the relation between mastery and truth. When truth is disjoined from the master we have democracy. Thought must take a step back to the desert, to begin thought starting in the void without depending on the master; neither the master invoked, or sacrificed.

Alain Badiou

Three Modes of Thinking Art and Philosophy and the Failure of the Avant Garde:

The primary ism’s – or schemas that cast over the twentieth century include

1. Didactic: posits that art only produces a semblance of truth and is thus not actual truth, a semblance that belongs to the affect of art, not to its actual form. The definition of art in the didactic paradigm is to be a charm to the semblance of truth. Art in this variation is a didactics of the senses.

2. Romantic: the romantic schema is opposed to this understanding of art as intrinsically a source of truth. Art becomes what Nancy refers to as the literary absolute. In the romantic schema, the relation of truth to art is imminent. In didacticism, the relation is singular. Art itself in the romantic schema is a truth procedure. The best example of a philosophically

3. Classical: classicism places art as a sort of catharsis, or therapy. Art is not a form of thought in the classical schema.

Marxism is didactic – as we see in Brecht, the agent of the art is the philosopher. Heideggerian art is romantic as the artists hold the keys to the open. Psychoanalysis is classical, as Lacan writes, the object of desire, which is beyond symbolization, can subtractively emerge at the very peak of an act of symbolization. Art experiences a block of the symbolic by the real, and this links up to a transference. This is why the ultimate effect of art remains imaginary.

The role of the avant garde’s were to represent, and not to link these schemas, part of the reason why the failure has arisen. The avant-garde was didactic to a certain extent in their desire to put an end to art. They were above all anti-classical. The closure of the avant garde of the twentieth century, which was a hybrid of didacto-romanticism.

Poetry in the Platonic Mode

The exclusion of the city in Plato’s Republic is the poem itself. Plato says, “there is from old a quarrel between poetry and philosophy.” Any form of collective subjectivity cannot remain homogenous if its form of thought remains poetic. In Plato, the poem forbids access to the supreme truth, the truth which provides unity with the ultimate principle, which allows the Republic to maintain its transparency. The central problem rests on the fact that Plato believed mimesis was to blame for poetry’s failure to hold society together.

What poetry forbids is discursive thought. The poem is opposed to the matheme, it relies on the image, and that is why poetry becomes the most berating part of one’s education, because it breaks the confines of thought. “when what is at stake is the opening of thought to the principle of the thinkable, when thought must be absorbed in the grasp of what establishes it as thought, we witness Plato himself submitting language to the power of poetic speech” (Pgs. 19 – 20).

The Modern Wrestling with Platonic Ideals

The modern poem identifies itself as a form of thought – as a matheme in the Platonic sense, good example is Mallarme. Yet, it is not the sensible expression of the Idea, in the Platonic sense, rather, it is all based on a displacement, or even a transvaluation in the Nietzschean sense, whereby the matheme is of the sophists, and the idea is of the poetic. The sensible presents itself in the modern poem as the persisting nostalgia for the idea.

Every poetic truth leaves at its center what it does not have the power to bring into presence. Every truth dwells in a limit that proves it is a singular truth, and not the self-consciousness of the whole. The unnamable is that thing whose naming cannot be forced by a truth. That thing whose entrance into truth, truth itself cannot anticipate. Every regime of truth is grounded in the real by its own unnamable.

Every poem brings a power into language, the power of eternally fastening the disappearance of what presents itself. Through the poetic retention of its disappearance, the power of producing presence itself as Idea. We can therefore say that language as the infinite power devoted to presence is the unnamable in poetry.

The poem is an operation, not an artistic extension of the world. The world is that thing whose presence is more essential than objectivity. For Mallarme, the poem is centered on the dissolution of the object from its purity.

The modern writer must nominate himself the spiritual thespian. Celan tells us that a direction for a thinking of the modern deals with a recognition that the whole is actually nothing.

To Badiou, in order to be free to the mystery of the letters that the poem constitutes, it is enough that the reader disposes himself or herself to the operation of the poem. Literally, the reader must will his or her own transliteration.

Pessoa as a way to Understand the Twentieth Century

The Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa created over 81 heteronym’s. In his writing, he offered no interpretation of his surroundings. His poems were as if he was starring into the sun; representing a desire to create a metaphysics subtracted from metaphysics itself, that is from nature, and physics. His poems took on a mathematical code which has yet to be weaved into one, and of the over 25,000 unpublished pages, we are still wrestling with his legacy.

Each of Pessoa’s heteronym’s had distinct philosophical, poetic, and political views. The depth of understanding, especially of philosophy, that these personalities (heteronym’s) took on are so distinctive that four of them are said to still baffle many preconceptions and confuse any possibility of developing a more singular view on Pessoa’s contribution to modernity. It might be more apt to recognize his heteronym’s as seperate from himself as a writer. Nonetheless, Harold Bloom refers to Pessoa as one of the greatest poet of the twentieth century.

Pessoa’s failure to mold to any one identity, his refusal to be subjected to any regime of knowledge inflects his poetic selves with supreme mystery. He writes:

I have no ambitions nor desires.
To be a poet is not my ambition,
It’s simply my way of being alone.

Alain Badiou argues that the idea of identifying any singularity in his work almost eludes our grasp. His poems are diagonal, they are like a Cubist painting. They look directly into the light, in an anti-Platonism sense, they are opposed to any absolute idea, and his poems work as a sort of negation of negation in the Hegelian sense. Each one becomes a sort of game, a mathematical code wrapped throughout his work.

Here is an example of Pessoa’s anti-metaphysical stance, and his tarrying with the negative

To see the fields and the river
It isn’t enough to open the window.
To see the trees and the flowers
It isn’t enough not to be blind.
It is also necessary to have no philosophy.
With philosophy there are no trees, just ideas.
There is only each one of us, like a cave.
There is only a shut window, and the whole world outside,
And a dream of what could be seen if the window were opened,
Which is never what is seen when the window is opened.