BADIOU’S CROSSINGS: poetry and politics

Continuing my summary of the first class of Badiou’s “last seminar“, which took place on Monday October 19.

Badiou begins his exploration of the crossings of truth procedures with a crossing that he has already explored on several occasions: the crossing of poetry and politics, more specifically of epic poetry and communism. This is a phenomenological exploration, taking place in a specific world during a specific historical sequence, yet having universal value.

The context is a period when the conflict between the capitalist vision and the communist vision was at its height (between 1920 and 1980), when poetry and artistic creation were undergoing a crisis and an effervescence of new orientations. The crossing of these two contexts was at its most intense during the Spanish Civil War, intricating

poetry and politics, on this occasion, in an exceptional figure of crossing, which has few equivalents.

Badiou gives us a list of great poets who declared their communism:

in France, Éluard and Aragon ; in Turkey, Nazim Hikmet ; in Chili, Pablo Neruda ; in Spain : Rafael Alberti ; in Italy : Eduardo Sanguinetti ; in Greece : Yannis Ritsos ; in China : Ai Qing ; in Palestine : Mahmoud Darwich ; in Peru : Cesar Vallejo ; and in Germany: Bertold Brecht.

What animated all these poets, according to Badiou, is the shared conviction of an essential bond between poetry, in a new and transformed sense, and communism, conceived as the care for what is common to all and as the struggle to “disappropriate” the common from its privatised appropriation. Badiou remarks that there is no poetry of privatisation, whereas the poetry of communism really exists.

Badiou’s explanation of this link between poetry and communism is in terms of language. Poets are communist because their domain is language, the mother tongue that is freely given to all, common to all, and thus the support for equality. The poem is a gift to language, and as such a gift to everyone. So poets recognised in communism something similar to their own creative process and project: that the world, like language, is a gift common to all. This similarity of projects is at the source of the real and effective crossing of poetry and communist politics during that period.

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10 THESES ON NON-PHILOSOPHY: a metaphysical research programme

This blog AGENT SWARM proposes an analysis and evaluation of recent tendencies in contemporary Continental philosophy. The overall guiding heuristic hypothesis: all these seemingly incommensurable tendencies can be grouped under the rubric of metaphysical research programmes. These different philosophies can be examined as metaphysical research programmes in the sense of Karl Popper. These metaphysical research programmes contain both testable scientific components and untestable (for the moment) metaphysical components.

I wish to examine François Laruelle’s non-philosophy and non-standard philosophy as a metaphysical research programme. It is important to see how Laruelle’s philosophy fares when examined in terms of a slightly different philosophical tradition. Laruelle talks a lot about science, but his small circle of Anglophone supporters have no idea of developments in Anglophone philosophy of science.

A specific lexical problem arises for Laruelle’s “non-philosophy”: if one uses its own vocabulary, it comes out as vastly different from and superior to its rivals. Non-philosophy in this sense is a self-indulgent exercise in tautological lexical oneupmanship. Yet we are witness to mealy-mouthed pronouncements about a so-called “democracy” of thought, claiming that there is no normative prescription to be “non-philosophers”.

Philosophers like Deleuze are condemned for failing to attain the goal of immanence, whereas non-philosophy supposedly attains this goal. There is much hypocrisy and double-talk among the “non-philosophers”.

From the beginning of my blog I have defended Feyerabend’s philosophy as proposing a pluralist, diachronic, apophatic, democratic ontology.

A second major thesis of my blog is that philosophically we are traversing a period of the reconceptualisation of pluralism, to articulate its relation to realism, and to distinguish it from relativism. This is what I have called the immanentisation of Platonism. Several philosophies partake of this movement, but no one philosophy is satisfying enough to absorb all the advantages of its rivals. Laruelle’s insistence on “quantum thought” is a very important contribution to the discussion of this reconceptualised pluralism.

My two general theses are thus:

1) recent continental Philosophies are metaphysical research programmes

2) a reconceptualisation of pluralism as realism is taking place.

On the more specific question of the value of Laruellean non-philosophy, it is necessary to examine the obstacles to its diffusion in English.

1) Non-philosophy is insufficiently translated, and Laruelle’s master work PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD has yet to be transalated.

2) Most of the existing translations are seriously flawed, containing very numerous errors. The existing translators are not only not linguistically competent, but not competent in relevant epistemology and philosophy of science.

3) There is insufficient critical discussion of Laruelle’s theses. The existing discussion is mostly hagiographical. Critical discussion is stigmatised as for example “quasi-trolling”.

4) Laruelle’s style is obscure, mostly for terminological reasons: terms are undefined or very insufficiently explicated.

5) Laruelle’s self-description is problematic in that he presents himself as attaining the immanence that others aimed at without attaining.

6) Tautological validation: Laruelle’s vocabulary is designed to validate the superiority of his own philosophy compared to that of his contemporaries.

7) Ideological protective measures: ad hoc defences of Laruelle’s ideas have been elaborated, notably the notion of the “syntax of the real” and the pragmatic notion of performance. Both of these notions elude the very real semantic obscurantism. Both try to grant infallibility to Laruelle’s style.

8) Ignorance of relevant developments in Anglophone philsophy of science casts Laruelle’s scientism in a very unsatisfactory light.

9) Laruelle’s misdescription of the historical context, his “time machine”: much of what Laruellle says belongs to a 20 or 30 year old context. Many of his critiques were already anticipated and replies were elaborated decades before he advanced them.

10) Laruelle’s Anglophone presenters write each under a particular suture: religious, political, artistic, or scientific.

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Alain Badiou, Argument Seminar 2015-2017:

“This seminar will deal with the creative relation between the finite and the infinite, in the four registers where truths exist: science, art, politics, and love. This is why it will combine conceptual explanations and examples directly drawn, for example, from certain curious mathematical results, from some typical productions of contemporary art, notably the theatre, from the political situations of the moment, and from the historical state of the relation between the sexes.

Last year, we principally dealt with the operative modalities of finitude, as the dominant ideology: the different means which convince us that to live always amounts to passively settling down in the inevitable character of finitude. In other words, everything which persuades us that to live is to accept being the finite waste product of the infinity of constraints. During the year 2015-2016, we are going to get to the affirmative side, which shows that the finite as oeuvre always results from an access to two distinct infinities, whose crossing and friction engender, precisely, the universal dimension of a finite fragment. We will do this in two steps: first the critical examination of the most profound formalism of the thought of the finite, that is the theory of constructible sets. Then a first passage through the registers of the work (the “oeuvre”), from the angle of the immanence which constitutes them, namely the dialectic of truths which interlaces two infinites and their finite result : the sciences, politics, the arts and loves”. (My translation).

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Alain Badiou, Argument Seminar 2014-2015:

In the seminars of the last two years we have established the following points:

  1. The dominant ideology in the contemporary world, that of globalised imperial capitalism, reposes on the consensual acceptance of finitude. In this world the unsurpassable norm of the Subject is in effect satisfaction and its inevitable correlate: the competition to obtain this satisfaction.
  2. To oppose this ideology evidently does not amount to establishing oneself in the infinite as if it were a separate spiritual fatherland. That was, and still is, the strategy of religious spiritualism. Rather it is a matter of dividing the principal concept in play, namely that of finite reality.
  3. I propose that this division contrast two types of finite, and so of finitude, that which corresponds to the waste product, and that which corresponds to the work (oeuvre) We shall say that the finitude of the constrained consumer, the finitude of the democratic Westerner, corresponds to the passive circulation of waste, otherwise called “merchandise”, a circulation ruled by the inaccessible and unnamed infinite of Capital as such. We shall say that the finitude of the free man, egalitarian finitude, the finitude of Socrates, or of communism, corresponds to an active interruption of the circulation by the effect of a work. This interruption always takes the form of a demonstration, which ties it to science, of an action, which ties it to politics, of a passion, which ties it to love, or of a contemplation, which ties it to art.

It will be question this year of entering into the detail of the disciplined, creative, and living operations which allow us to stay as much as possible in the logic of the work, and to conquer, for the subject so engaged, the possibility of at last having the experience of true life and, as a consequence, of happiness”. (My translation).

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Alain Badiou, Argument Seminar 2013-2014:

“Last year we established these main points:

  1. That “immanence of truths” means both that truths are not transcendent, being constructions internal to determinate worlds; and that it is important, to reply to the only important philosophical question, namely “what is it to live?”, to experience what a determinate world can be when examined from the perspective of a truth, in immanence to a truth, whether it be political, amorous, scientific or artistic.
  2. Thus the formal reply to the question “what is it to live?” is that it is important to participate in a Subject immanent to the process of a truth, a process itself immanent to a determinate world.
  3. The true life is thus to be immanent to an immanence, and this is precisely why it encounters a certain form of eternity, not outside time, but on the contrary by an extremely profound excavation of time: “We experience that we are eternal” (Spinoza).
  4. We have seen that the principal obstacle encountered on this path, the nucleus of the repressive practices that constrain us to be ignorant of the replies to the question “what is it to live?”, is the multiform ideology of the finitude of life. Which is natural, as every process of truth is virtually infinite.
  5. We have thus explored the labyrinth of the different forms taken by the couple finite/infinite, making use of, in order to do this, mathematical rudiments and poetic breakthroughs.

This year we will continue this investigation by situating ourselves this time no longer on the side of the obstacles and repressions, but on the side of immanence itself. We will try to find on what resources the human animal draws to discover in himself not only the capacity whose existence the dogma of finitude denies – the capacity to go beyond the limits of the world, or again the capacity to possibilise the impossible –, but also the power to live the world, not according to the laws of the world, but according to the laws which should be those of the world once we examine it from the perspective of the immanence of an immanent truth. In other words : to live the world, not as the individual that one is, but as the Subject that one can become”. (My translation).

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Alain Badiou, Argument Seminar 2012-2013:

“In BEING AND EVENT, published in 1988, I proposed a new theory (at least I think it is…) concerning the triplet of being, the subject and truth. It was a matter of showing that, under the condition of a chance (the event), and in a determinate situation, a creative process could be deployed, a process that is both infinite and of universal value, and that we had good reasons to call a truth. I further showed that the being of a truth is not different from that which constitutes the being of the situation where this truth arises, namely a multiplicity of multiplicities, whose possible thought is always mathematical in type (this is the equation : mathematics = ontology). There is thus no dualism, a truth is constructed of the same stuff as the place where it is progressively created. Lastly, I defined what a subject is — different from the individual in that it is always the subject of a truth — as the local differential point of a process of truth.

As can be seen, my concern at that time was to guarantee the possibility of a thought of the being of truths on the basis of the particularity of situations, without having to accord to truths, and thus to the possible universality of thought, an irreducible type of being. The assemblage: multiplicities, event, subject, allowed me, thanks to the appropriate mathematics drawn from the work of Paul Cohen, to establish that a truth is universal because its being is generic, which means: as little marked as possible by the particularities of its situation. I could rationally affirm that a truth is, in a given particular world, an immanent exception.

This year I would like to return to this notion of immanence, and by a sort of reversal of perspective to examine not only what a truth is from the point of view of the world where it arises, but what the world becomes when it it is perceived and thought from the point of view of the truth. Or: not to justify that a mundane order can tolerate an exception, but to examine what happens to this order when it is worked on by an exception. The question can also be stated very simply : in what way can a truth change the perception of “its”world, or even the figure of being of this world?  And what, in this supposed transformation, is the function of the subject?

We shall see that to get to this thought (capital today, when what dominates are the conjoined motifs of the invariable world, of the non-existence of truths, and of the impotence of the subject), we will have to destroy the even more dominant thesis of the obligatory  finitude of existential or cognitive experiences. The affirmation that the finite, strictly speaking, does not exist, and that the dogma of “human finitude” is an imposture, is the beginning of all liberation”. (My translation).

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Badiou’s thought has taken a new turn in his ongoing seminar on THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS.


In the preamble to the first class for this academic year Badiou gives a brief autobiographical overview couched in terms of his philosophical system. He divides his life into four periods:

1) Childhood (1937-1953) Badiou has nothing to say here: “we are not going to get into an auto-analysis, or anything at all like one”. Analysis has to do with the truth condition of love, and Badiou does not want to explore the Oedipal “simplicities” of early love. Perhaps he has come to accept Deleuze and Guattari’s idea that Oedipus throws the mask of ifinitude on the infinity of desire. Moreover, Badiou is talking here as a systematic philosopher, and so no “Confessions” in the style of anti-philosophy are proposed.

2) Youth (1953-1968). Here Badiou is more forthcoming. He mobilises his theory of the four truth procedures to designate the “referents” of his life. Poem (the arts): Badiou has always been a “writer” as well as a militant, a lover, and an amateur of the sciences. The dominant approach to writing during that period was that of the novel. Badiou published two novels in his youth: ALMAGESTES and PORTULANS. Politics: classical democratic electoral politics. Love: traditional romantic encounter and family setting up and settling down. Matheme (the sciences: the beginning of a lifelong interest in mathematics).

This heuristic use of the truth procedures for biographical phenomenology is potentially quite fruitful. Describing his childhood and youth up to 1968 Badiou insists on its conformity to the conventional narrative of growing up, composing a classical trajectory, a Euclidean life.

3) Adulthood – the “long adult deployment” (1968-2017). This sequence is characterised by Badiou’s engagement with new forms of politics outside the space of the parliamentary State. His writing becomes more theatre-oriented. He experiences the complexity of love: “love as an adventure to support, as complex labour”. His involvement with science becomes more precise: the “truly prolonged and detailed settling into certain sectors of mathematics, in support of philosophy”. These procedures converge on the full deployment of philosophy itself,  both convoking the four truth conditions and sustained by them.

Badiou informs us that with this “last seminar” he is in the process of putting the finishing touches to this third period, of “adult deployment”, and that this third stage of life will come to an end on 17th January 2017, on his 80th birthday, and that the next day a “fourth life” will begin.

4) Old age (beginning on 18th January 2017). Badiou has decided that this date will mark a new beginning. It is a true decision, as he remarks that adult deployment could be considered to go on indefinitely, and to include old age and being-towards-death. Badiou has explained elsewhere that he refuses this Heideggerian concept (based on an intrinsic finitude), so he prefers to mark this conceptual refusal by means of a decision. Badiou’s philosophy will be completed with the publication, after THEORY OF THE SUBJECT, BEING AND EVENT, and LOGICS OF WORLDS, by a fourth and last volume: THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS, to be published on the 16th January 2017. What happens after that will be a new beginning, a decisive rupture with the previous period.

Badiou affirms there are two “methods of entry” into his philosophy.

1) The systematic approach: we can read the big four systematic books, in order.

2) The orderly voyage: ce can read the two manifestos and the seminars.

Both methods will get the student of his philosophy to the same goal in the last instance, by way of a different trajectory.

Badiou announces that he will be returning to the theory of the four truth procedures, from the point of view of “the possible crossing, the possible combination”, of two distinct truth procedures”. There is an ontological background to the question in that “a crossing of truths is ontologically a crossing of infinities of different types”. Each truth touches a specific type of infinity: “infinite of absolute proximity, inaccessible infinite, etc”. This theory of “crossings” as opposed to sutures is potentially very interesting. Bruno Latour’s position has undergone a similar re-focusing on crossings. Demarcation can only get you so far.

Next, Badiou gives an empirical survey of various crossings: love and art (poetry, novel, cinema); science and politics (including the science of the economy and politics); science and the arts (architecture, installations, quantum art, Leonardo da Vinci); politics and art (engaged art, Plato’s exclusion of the poets); love and politics (theatre, tragedy). He concludes this inventory with the affirmation that the most difficult crossing is that between love and science, because it involves “the difficulty of crossing two types of infinite that are hard to match with each other”.


Given Badiou’s distinction between the ordered system and the orderly voyage, the question of crossings between truth-procedures belongs more to the orderly voyage. The ordered system is more concerned with the conditions of possibility of these truth-procedures, and with their ordered, but abstract, inventory.

Given the periodisation of his life, Badiou’s period of “adult deployment” can be further divided into four phases, corresponding to each of his four “big books”: subject, being and event, appearance and worlds, immanence and happiness. Each of these phases or sub-periods mobilise a different type of mathematics: algebra and topology, set theory, category theory, theory of very large infinities. We can also discern more general traits that are transposable to the evolution of the other truth procedures over this same period: installation, demarcation, complexification, crossing.

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