With Deleuze the Cartesian mind-body dualism has been replaced by body-language dualism. Without being too insistent about it at this initial stage I would like to hint at where the relationship between these dualisms is heading. I propose, therefore, what Deleuze has already pointed out, namely a new possibility of investigating the nature of dialectics... Continue Reading →
Alain Badiou’s Philosophy in a Nutshell before the Immanence of Truths
We can apply to existence the formal remarks of the previous part of my lecture. If, for instance, the degree of identity of a thing to itself is the maximal degree, we can say that the thing exists in the world without any limitation. The multiplicity, in this world, completely affirms its own identity. Symmetrically, if the degree of identity of a thing to itself is the minimal degree, we can say that this thing does not exist in this world. The thing is in the world, but with an intensity which is equal to zero. So we can say that its existence is a non-existence. We have here a striking example of the distinction between being and existence. The thing is in the world, but its appearance in the world is the destruction of its identity. So the being-there of this being is to be the inexistent of the world. The theory of the inexistent of a world is very important. I have shown that the situation of the inexistent is fundamental in Jacques Derrida’s work.
Often, the existence of a multiplicity in a world is neither maximal nor minimal. The multiplicity exists to some extent.
To conclude I would summarize this abstract theory with a question linked to the concept of existence: the question of death.
To understand the question of death, it is essential to remember that it is only by its being-there that a being exists, and that this existence is that of a degree of existence, situated between inexistence and absolute existence. Existence is both a logical concept and an intensive concept. It is this duel status that permits us to rethink death.
We are first tempted to say that a thing is dead when, in the world of reference, its degree of existence is minimal, or when it inexists in this world. Asserting that a thing is dead would be tantamount to concluding that identity of the thing to itself is equal to the minimal degree. This would also means that death is the absolute non-identity to self. But absolute non-identity to self defines inexistence, and not death. Death must be something other as inexistence, because death happens, and this « happening » necessarily concerns an existent, and not the inexistent of the world. We define death as the coming of a minimal value of existence for a thing endowed with a positive evaluation of its identity, and not the minimal value as such. All that can be asserted of “dying” is that it is a change in appearing, the effect of which is that a thing passes from an existence with a positive intensity—even if it is not maximal—to an existence that is minimal, that is to say null relatively to the world. The whole problem is what does such a passage consist of? We limit ourselves to two remarks.
1) The passage from one identity or existence value to another cannot be an immanent effect of the multiplicity concerned. For this being has precisely no other immanence to the situation, and consequently to its own identity, as its degree of existence. The passage is necessarily the result of an exterior cause, which affects, locally or globally, the logical evaluations, or the laws of the Being-there-in-the-world. In other words, what occurs in death is a change in the identity function of a given multiple. This change is always imposed on the dying thing, and this imposition comes from outside the thing. The precise proposition is Spinoza’s: “No thing whatever can be destroyed, except by an exterior cause.” So it is impossible to say of a multiple that it is “mortal”.
2) It follows that the meditation of death is in itself vain, as Spinoza also declares: “The free man thinks of nothing less than of his death, and his wisdom is a meditation on life, and not a meditation on death.” It is because death is only a consequence. What thought must turn towards is the event which locally transforms the identity function.
All of this indicates why we cannot agree with a philosophy of mortality and finitude. There is no ontological status of death. Of no existent we can say that it is a “being-for-death”. Because existence is a transcendental degree and nothing else, we must ask with Saint Paul: “Death, where is thy victory?” Dying, exactly like existing, is a mode of being-there, and therefore a purely logical correlation. The philosophy of death is included in one sentence: Do not be afraid by the logic of a world, or by the games of existence. We are living and dying in many different worlds.
This piece originally appeared in lacanian ink 29, which is now sold out.
Tonight I am not going to engage in any kind of criticism. Instead, I intend to propose a new concept of existence. And I shall be as abstract as this intention forces me to be. You can find a less arid but not complete exposition in a chapter of my “Briefings on Existence,” and a complete one in my last book, Logiques des mondes, which is out in French and will be published in English at the end of next year, I hope.
As all of you know perfectly well, the fundamental problem is to distinguish on the one hand, being as such, being qua being, and, on the other hand, existence, as a category which precisely is not reducible to that of being. It is the heart of the matter. This difference between being and existence is often the result of the consideration of a special type of…
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DOWNLOAD “Adorno’s lectures on ontology and dialectics from 1960-61 comprise his most sustained and systematic analysis of Heidegger’s philosophy. They also represent a continuation of a project that Adorno shared with Walter Benjamin – ‘to annihilate Heidegger’. Following the publication of Heidegger’s magnum opus, Being and Time,and long before his notorious endorsement of Nazism at... Continue Reading →
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There are two main philosophical targets of Badiou as he puts in The Subject of Art: Those who identify the body and the subject, in which case creativity can only take the form of experimentation with the limits of the body, an experience of the finitude and complete unity of the body. Death being the limit... Continue Reading →
To celebrate National Poetry Day in the UK, we present an extract from Alain Badiou‘s illuminating work revisiting the age-old problem of the relation between literature and philosophy, The Age of the Poets, looking at literature’s unique position between science and ideology. Badiou proposes the essential link between poetry and communism in the twentieth century, through the common good of language, and gives reason to both the writing and reading of poetry in a time of revolution.
Poetry and Communism
In the last century, some truly great poets, in almost all languages on earth, have been communists. In an explicit or formal way, for example, the following poets were committed to communism: in Turkey, Nâzim Hikmet; in Chile, Pablo Neruda; in Spain, Rafael Alberti; in Italy, Edoardo Sanguineti; in Greece, Yannis Ritsos; in China, Ai Qing; in Palestine, Mahmoud Darwish; in Peru, César Vallejo; and in Germany, the shining example is above all Bertolt Brecht. But we could cite a very large number of other names in other languages, throughout the world.
Can we understand this link between poetic commitment and communist commitment as a simple illusion? An error, or an errancy? An ignorance of the ferocity of states ruled by communist parties? I do not believe so. I wish to argue, on the contrary, that there exists an essential link between poetry and communism, if we understand ‘communism’ closely in its primary sense: the concern for what is common to all. A tense, paradoxical, violent love of life in common; the desire that what ought to be common and accessible to all should not be appropriated by the servants of Capital. The poetic desire that the things of life would be like the sky and the earth, like the water of the oceans and the brush res on a summer night – that is to say, would belong by right to the whole world.
Poets are communist for a primary reason, which is absolutely essential: their domain is language, most often their native tongue. Now, language is what is given to all from birth as an absolutely common good. Poets are those who try to make a language say what it seems incapable of saying. Poets are those who seek to create in language new names to name that which, before the poem, has no name. And it is essential for poetry that these inventions, these creations, which are internal to language, have the same destiny as the mother tongue itself: for them to be given to all without exception. The poem is a gift of the poet to language. But this gift, like language itself, is destined to the common – that is, to this anonymous point where what matters is not one person in particular but all, in the singular.
Thus, the great poets of the twentieth century recognized in the grandiose revolutionary project of communism something that was familiar to them – namely that, as the poem gives its inventions to language and as language is given to all, the material world and the world of thought must be given integrally to all, becoming no longer the property of a few but the common good of humanity as a whole.
That is why one moment – a singular historic moment – has been sung by all the communist poets who wrote between the 1920s and 1940s: the moment of the civil war in Spain, which as you know ran from 1936 to 1939.
By PICASSO, la exposición del Reina-Prado. Guernica is in the collection of Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid. Source
Let us observe that the Spanish civil war is certainly the historic event that has most intensely mobilized all the artists and intellectuals of the world. On one hand, the personal commitment of writers from all ideological tendencies on the side of the republicans, including therefore the communists, is remarkable: whether we are dealing with organized communists, social democrats, mere liberals, or even fervent Catholics, such as the French writer Georges Bernanos, the list is extraordinary if we gather all those who publicly spoke out, who went to Spain in the midst of the war, or even entered into combat on the side of the republican forces. On the other hand, the number of masterpieces produced on this occasion is no less astonishing. I have already noted as much for poetry. But let us also think of the splendid painting by Pablo Picasso that is titled Guernica; let us think of two of the greatest novels in their genre: Man’s Hope by André Malraux and For Whom the Bell Tolls by the American Ernest Hemingway. The frightening and bloody civil war in Spain has illuminated the art of the world for several years.
Finish the chapter, and read more, in The Age of the Poets
César Vallejo’s ‘Hymn to the Volunteers of the Republic’
Pablo Neruda’s ‘Arrival in Madrid of the International Brigade’
Works by Nâzim Hikmet and Bertolt Brecht
Full book as PDF here
“If the factory oscillates between pre-inscription and the unsayable, this is because it is caught in the trappings of its function as a machine and subtracted from its true essence, which is to be a political place, a production of truths.” – Alain Badiou
Kant’s initial project was to explicate the difference between “knowing-what” (pure reason) and “knowing-how” (practical reason) in the way of laying the foundations of a scientific metaphysics. Counter to Descartes and Hume he aimed at situating the subject within the limits of what can be known by rational human beings. The Kantian subject is embodied,... Continue Reading →