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badiou: reactionary modernist

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(xposted to Long Sunday….)

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We don’t do enough Radical Philosophy around here, I suppose because there’s not enough on-line for us to link to. But it really is – along with NLR and n+1 – one of the few things I’m genuinely excited to see drop through the slot in the front door.

In the new one, a particularly lucid piece by Peter Osborne on Badiou. Here are the first paragraphs, all that’s publicly available on-line:

Neo-classic Alain Badiou’s Being and Event

Peter Osborne

If anyone was in doubt about the continuing grip of French philosophy on the theoretical imagination of the anglophone humanities, the reception of the writings of Alain Badiou must surely have put paid to such reservations. The translation of his magnum opus, Being and Event, in spring 2006, brought to eleven the number of his books published in English in eight years – a period following swiftly on, not entirely contingently, from the deaths of Deleuze, Levinas and Lyotard (1995–1998), and coinciding with that of Derrida (2004).* However, it is not simply the number of translations that is remarkable (‘remarkable, but not surprising’, as Wittgenstein would say), but the fact that a philosophy such as this – for all its idiosyncratic philosophical charms – could so readily have assumed the role of ‘French philosophy of the day’ within the transnational market for theory.

Badiou’s philosophy takes a forbiddingly systematic form; it is anti-historical, technically mathematical and broadly Maoist in political persuasion. It has no interest in (in fact, denies the philosophical relevance of) ‘meaning’, and appears impervious to feminism. It takes a roguish self-satisfaction in its heterosexism.

Stylized individuality is a condition of branding, and ‘difficulty’ is a prerequisite of entry into this particular field, but there are more than market factors at work in Badiou’s successful transition to international theorist. It is a gauge of a number of things: the desire still invested in the English-language reception of French philosophy; the theoretical heresies that a new generation of the so-called ‘old’ Left will overlook in exchange for political solidarity (Žižek, master of this field, is Badiou’s mentor here); the strategic brilliance of two interventions – against Deleuze (The Clamour of Being, 1997; trans. 2000) and against the ‘delirium’ of ethics (Ethics, 1994; trans. 2001);1 the inherent brilliance of Being and Event, for all its ultimate philosophical madness; and last, but by no means least, the rhetorical power of ‘the (re)turn of philosophy itself’ – title of an essay of Badiou’s from 1992.2 It is in the profoundly contradictory character of the return of philosophy in Badiou – at once avant-garde and breathtakingly traditional – that the historical meaning of his thought is to be found.3 To anticipate my conclusion: Being and Event is a work – perhaps the great work – of philosophical neo-classicism. As such, at the level of philosophical form, it surpasses its ambivalent predecessor, Heidegger’s Being and Time, in the rigour of its reactionary modernism. The modernity of Badiou’s mathematics does not mitigate, but rather reinforces, the authoritarianism of his philosophical axiomatics and the mysticism of his conception of the event.

It really is a shame that we can’t read this together on here. There’s even a convincing bit on our perennial favorite, the history of big T little t theory, that I’m sure would produce a lovely comment thread. (The wonderful thing is, Osborne is able to 1) treat the subject “theory” while 2) never losing sight of the particulars, especially, the historical particulars of its rise and fall…)

If every one of you out there would just subscribe, we could talk a bit more about the piece. What are you waiting for?

Written by adswithoutproducts

March 1, 2007 at 12:09 am

Posted in theory

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