Badiou: A Subject to Truth

Peter Hallward
Foreword by Slavoj Žižek
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 512
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Badiou is the first comprehensive introduction to Alain Badiou’s thought to appear in any language; it provides a highly readable discussion of each of the basic features of his ontology. Peter Hallward demonstrates in detail and in depth why Badiou’s ongoing philosophical project should be recognized as the most resourceful and inspiring of his generation.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9084-8
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. foreword: Hallward’s Fidelity to the Badiou Event
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Slavoj Žižek

    According to Richard Dawkins’s well-known formulation, “God’s utility function” in living nature is the reproduction of genes, that is, genes (DNA) are not a means for the reproduction of living beings, but the other way round: living beings are the means for the self-reproduction of genes. Ideology should be viewed in the same way, and we should ask the following question: What is the “utility function” of an ideological state apparatus (ISA)? The materialist answer is this: The utility function of an ISA is neither the reproduction of ideology qua network of ideas, emotions, and so on, nor the reproduction...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Notes on Translation
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xix-xx)
  7. introduction: A New Philosophy of the Subject
    (pp. xxi-xxxvi)

    Badiou’s philosophy of the event is itself undoubtedly one of the great events in recent French thought. Badiou is perhaps the only serious rival of Deleuze and Derrida for that meaningless but unavoidable title of “most important contemporary French philosopher,” and his major treatise,L’Etre et l’événement(1988), is certainly the most ambitious and most compelling single philosophical work written in France since Sartre’sCritique de la raison dialectique(1960). It is only appropriate, moreover, that his work at this stage remain so emphaticallynewto English-speaking readers, since Badiou’s entire philosophy is geared to the rigorous description of innovation...

  8. part I Matters of Principle
    • chapter 1 Taking Sides
      (pp. 3-28)

      Badiou presents his enterprise as another step taken in the ancient struggle of philosophy against dogmatic prejudice ordoxa. Badiou’s philosophy is militant in its very essence. At its core, his philosophy involves taking a principled stand, distinguishing between claims for and against. He likes to quote Mao’s dictum “If you have an idea, one will have to divide into two” (E, 31; cf. TS, 131). He has no interest in a merely deliberative resolution of differences or a merely procedural concept of justice. This is not to say that he advocates a kind of generalized agonism based on the...

    • chapter 2 From Maoism to L’Organisation Politique
      (pp. 29-48)

      The question of the internal coherence of Badiou’s work is a fairly complicated one. The few published accounts of his philosophy often assume that he began writing in the mid-1980s. There is indeed a sense in which his books up to and includingThéorie du sujet(1982), the summa of his early work, have become partially obsolete by his own subsequent criteria. The break between the overtly Maoist works of the 1970s and the more serenely argued books of the 1980s and 1990s—the break in argument and priority, as much as in tone, style, and presentation—is obvious enough....

    • chapter 3 Infinite by Prescription: The Mathematical Turn
      (pp. 49-78)

      The impasse of Badiou’s early work, we saw, lay in its partial delegation of philosophical autonomy to historical development. His early conception of truth, like that of Hegel or Marx, wasultimatelycumulative, ultimately coordinated with the singular movement of History as a whole. The expression of confidence, though maintained as a militant “confidence in confidence,” was still filtered through an at least partially substantial or objective mediation. In short, Badiou had yet to develop a fully subtractive theory of the subject.

      In the wake of 1968, Badiou was determined not to repeat the mistakes of ultraleft “dogmatists” such as...

  9. part II Being and Truth
    • chapter 4 Badiou’s Ontology
      (pp. 81-106)

      The only possible ontology of the One, Badiou maintains, is theology. The only legitimately posttheological ontological attribute, by implication, is multiplicity. If God is dead, it follows that the “central problem” of philosophy today is the articulation of “thought immanent to the multiple” (D, 12). Each of the truly inventive strands of contemporary philosophy—Badiou mentions Deleuze and Lyotard in particular, along with Derrida’s “dissemination” and Lacan’s “dispersive punctuality of the real”—have thus presumed the “radical originality of the multiple,” meaning pure orinconsistentmultiplicity, multiplicity that is ontologically withdrawn from or inaccessible to every process of unification, every...

    • chapter 5 Subject and Event
      (pp. 107-152)

      We arrive now at the dynamic core of Badiou’s system, the dynamism that moves beyond the objective normality enforced by the state of a situation. “It is vain to suppose,” Badiou writes, “that we can invent anything at all—and all truth is invention—if nothing happens, if ‘nothing takes place but the place’” (PM, 24). A truth is something thathappens,something both exceptional and universal, both punctual in its origin and for all in its implication.

      With the concepts of subject and event Badiou has broken out of the merely “natural” confines of being as being. His ontology...

    • chapter 6 The Criteria of Truth
      (pp. 153-180)

      The most familiar conceptions of truth define it in terms of coherence, correspondence, or confirmation. A coherence model of truth, variously advocated by Gadamer, Davidson, Rorty, and Foucault, frames it in terms of the ultimately harmonious integration of discursive “regularities” (to use Foucault’s term) with a specific context or location. If the wordtruthmeans anything, Rorty might say, it means something like “this is how we do things around here.” Truth as coherence downplays any sharp distinction between the statement of truth and its reference—between nature and its “mirror.”

      By contrast, according to a correspondence or realist theory—...

  10. part III The Generic Procedures
    • [Part III Introduction]
      (pp. 181-184)

      Badiou holds that the production of truth operates in four fields or dimensions: “science (more precisely, the matheme), art (more precisely, the poem), politics (more precisely, . . . of emancipation), and love (more precisely, the procedure that makes truth of the disjunction of sexual positions).”¹ He calls the operation of truth in these four fields “generic procedures” or the “conditions of philosophy”—the terms are synonymous. The generic procedures condition philosophy, because philosophy works from the production of truths and not directly from itself, not from some kind of pure contemplation. Any philosopher must “practice the conditions of philosophy....

    • chapter 7 Love and Sexual Difference
      (pp. 185-192)

      Following in Plato’s footsteps, Badiou conceives of love as one of the direct conditions of philosophical thought.¹ The truth of love, like that of the other conditions of philosophy, cannot simply be deduced, abstractly, by philosophers with a romantic disposition. It must be experienced or undergone. Love involves the conversion of a “hateful self” or “dead Ego”—a being that one could not, by definition, love—into a subject. Only a subject is worthy of love, and “the subjective process of a truth is one and the same thing as the love for that truth” (SP, 95–97). In the...

    • chapter 8 Art and Poetry
      (pp. 193-208)

      If truth is a subjective composition, then of all the generic procedures, the notion of an artistic truth may for many readers be the most intuitively plausible or recognizable. Modernity has long been comfortable with versions of aesthetic defamiliarization. However, what is at issue in Badiou’s own broadly modernist conception of art is not some kind of aesthetic process or faculty, but the particular consequences of certain concrete artistic events or truths. “As opposed to aesthetic speculation,” what Badiou calls “inaesthetics describes the strictly intraphilosophical effects produced by the independent existence of some works of art” (PM, 7).

      From the...

    • chapter 9 Mathematics and Science
      (pp. 209-222)

      Scientific truth, as opposed to the body of currently accepted scientific knowledge, is not a matter of what can be verified through experimentation within assumed theoretical parameters. It concerns the invention of those parameters. Like any truth, scientific truth begins with an event or discovery, and is proclaimed, in the face of received wisdom, by the subject of that discovery—Galileo and Einstein are the most obvious of Badiou’s main examples. The site of such discoveries is in each case a real point of impasse that interruptsla puissance de la lettre,that is, the power of mathematical formalization, to...

    • chapter 10 Politics: Equality and Justice
      (pp. 223-242)

      Politics is truth in the collective, by the collective. Though all generic procedures are addressed to everyone, only in the case of politics does this universality characterize both import and operation. Badiou writes, “Politics is the only truth procedure that is generic not only in its result, but in the local composition of its subject.” Though every situation is ontologically infinite, “only politics summons up, immediately, as subjective universality, this infinity.” Hence a certain pride of place for politics in a fully generic philosophy. Badiou knows perfectly well that, just as love relates only two people, so does a mathematician,...

    • chapter 11 What Is Philosophy?
      (pp. 243-252)

      This is now a relatively simple question to answer, and it is no accident that this should be among the shortest chapters of the book. All truths are matters of thought, and thought is not the special prerogative of philosophy. Philosophy is thought thinking itself. Badiou defines philosophy as “the apprehension in thought of the conditions under which thought is exercised, in its different registers” (AM, 99). Truths occur regardless of philosophy, and “eternity” takes place without consulting a philosopher; philosophy is si0mply that discipline which “pays attention to the conditions whereby eternity comes to pass” (TA, 17.12.97). This paying...

  11. part IV Complications
    • chapter 12 Ethics, Evil, and the Unnameable
      (pp. 255-270)

      There is today no question more topical in philosophy and in the humanities generally than the question of ethics, understood as a kind of reflective sensitivity to matters of cultural difference and civic responsibility. And there is probably no assertion of Badiou’s more shocking than his summary pronouncement “The whole ethical predication based upon recognition of the other must be purely and simply abandoned.”¹ Very much against the contemporary grain, Badiou’s ethics is an ethics of the Same. Since difference or multiplicity is very literally whatis,whatshould beis a matter of how such difference is transcended in...

    • chapter 13 Generic or Specific?
      (pp. 271-292)

      In one of his recent books Badiou develops a comparison that may serve to illustrate the central dilemma of his philosophy. The comparison is between Mallarmé’s poemUn Coup de désand a pre-Islamic Arabian ode by Labîd ben Rabi’a, whose title translates asThe desert and its code.¹ In the French poem, an anonymous Master hesitates to throw the dice as he sinks slowly under the surface of the sea; reality dissolves, nothing takes place, but then suddenly, mysteriously, at the very moment of absolute dissolution, there appears the flashing glimpse of a constellation in the night sky, portent...

    • chapter 14 Being-there: The Onto-logy of Appearing
      (pp. 293-316)

      We turn now, in closing, to the matter of Badiou’s challenging and remarkable work in progress, which promises to renew, if not transform, several of his most fundamental concepts. This renewal may in time amount to a shift as considerable as that which distinguishes (without separating)L’Etre et l’événementfromThéorie du sujet.The full implications of this revision have yet to be fully integrated into the systematic order of his philosophy as a whole. Although Badiou has published much of what I will cite here, all of this material remains somewhat speculative or prospective, and should be treated as...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 317-322)

    Since there should be no need to repeat here the kind of summary of Badiou’s philosophical system provided in my introduction, I will conclude with an effort to situate this system in terms deliberately foreign to its own orientation—the terms of its limit.

    There are at least two simple limits to any philosophy, which we might call “lower” and “upper.” The lower limit would concern what philosophy conceives as beneath its dignity (what Badiou, for instance, associates with the animal, the worldly, the interested, the ephemeral, and so on); in crossing this limit, philosophy would cease to be philosophy,...

  13. appendix: On the Development of Transfinite Set Theory
    (pp. 323-348)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 349-426)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 427-452)
  16. Index
    (pp. 453-468)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 469-469)