Badiou on Speculative Realism


Interview with Badiou about Speculative Realism and Laruelle. Interesting in the light of Badiou’s letter to Deleuze (translated here: Laruelle is grouped with Heidegger as thinkers of a grand narrative of forgetting, whereas Badiou groups himself with Deleuze in refusing this pathos. Badiou indicates that insofar as undoing this forgetting is tied to going beyond philosophy Laruelle’s whole project has always had an implicit religious dimension that has now become explicit. Similarly, in the “Letter” Badiou diagnoses a subjacent religious dimension in Deleuze’s work, rendering possible his occasional explicit uses of Christ as metaphor. Overall Badiou situates Laruelle in the camp of critique, nostalgia, and loss, and thus implicitly of transcendence. Despite Laruelle’s explicit talk of the Real and of science, a foreground scientism, Badiou finds that religiosity pervades and determines the project, constituting a background of religionism. Scientism as a mask for religionism.

Originally posted on Speculative Heresy:

Badiou was kind enough to have 30min one-on-one sessions with students who requested them. I decided to conduct a short interview of sorts following from his celebratory comments regarding Speculative Realism and some of the themes presented in the course thus far which has centered on the theme of negation.

Q: In class the other day you positively mentioned what you called the new Speculative Philosophy. How do you see your work in relation to the work of the Speculative Realists (Quentin Meillassoux, Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant and Graham Harman). Meillassoux sees himself as a materialist and not a realist, is this distinction pivotal for the future of metaphysics and affirmation as you see it?

A: The work of Speculative Realists, from the beginning is very interesting for me, and they refer to me sometimes too. The rupture with the idealist tradition in the field of philosophic study is…

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Towards a Comprehensive Michel Serres primary bibliography (2): prefaces, edited books and book chapters


Serres is very prolific, and this bibliography is very useful in tracking down his lesser known texts.

Originally posted on Christopher Watkin:

Here is the second instalment of the comprehensive Michel Serres primary bibliography: prefaces, edited books and book chapters/sections. As before, if you spot a mistake or an omission please let me know and I will make the change.

(1975). Comte, Auguste. Philosophie première, Cours de philosophie positive, leçons 1 à 45. Edited by François Dagonet et Mohammed Allal Sinaceur; presentation and notes by Michel Serres. Paris: Hermann.

(1981). Serres, Michel. “Préface.” In L’Etre et la relation. Avec 35 lettres de Leibniz au R. P. Des Bosses, edited by Christiane Frémont. Paris: Vrin.

(1986). —. “Préface.” In Jacques Testart, L’ Œuf transparent. Paris: Flammarion.

(1987). —. “Préface.” In Jean de Cayeux, Hubert Robert et les jardins. Paris: Herscher.

(1989). —. “Préface.” In Maurice Capul, Abandon et marginalité: les enfants placés sous l’Ancien Régime. Toulouse: Privat.

(1989). —. “Préface: l’invention algorithmique.” In Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Naissance…

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Towards a Comprehensive Michel Serres primary bibliography (1): single-authored and co-written books


Michel Serres is a very interesting pluralist thinker who deserved to be ven better known in the Anglophone world than he is at present.

Originally posted on Christopher Watkin:

I’m continuing work on the Michel Serres project and am currently compiling a primary bibliography,  filmography, and list of TV appearances. Blimey, he’s written a lot!

I have synthesized the bibliographies provided by Steven Connor, the EGS,, the Institut Michel Serres (who copy the EGS list), his Stanford page the IMDB,, the Librairie des dialogues, and the archives of Le Monde, Le Figaro, Libération, Le Point, Télérama, Le Nouvel Observateur… et j’en passe, along with all the usual academic journal databases and some pieces I found myself.

Over the coming days I will be posting the bibliography under the tag “Michel Serres bibliography“, section by section (as I tidy it up).

I’m pretty sure it’s the most complete bibliography and filmography of Michel Serres out there now (I’ve just counted up 82 interviews), and I’m…

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QUANTUM ALLEGORIES AND LEXICAL LITANIES: on some difficulties in reading François Laruelle

I find Laruelle’s non-philosophy very interesting, and his non-standard philosophy even more so, but I absolutely reject the mystique that has been thrown up around his ideas, one that he himself cultivates. Laruelle is guilty of a double standard: while practicing and demanding a charitable reading of his own work as non-philosophy, he practices an uncharitable reading of the work of rivals such as Deleuze and Guattari, and Badiou as enmeshed in philosophy’s sufficiency.

Behind ths lack of charity there may lie a methodological problem. If Laruelle is so stifled by the sufficiency of philosophy, why does he not seek fellow thinkers outside the confines of a very French nostalgic set of references? Paradoxically, there is a principle of French sufficiency at work in his writings. He does seem to refer to German idealism as well, so we could call it the principle of Franco-German sufficiency.

We are not yet in a position to fully grasp Laruelle’s “quantum” thought, as up to now he has principally been explicated either by religious or by political reductionists. I have no objection to his making a qualitative use of quantum ideas. A number of philosophers of science, including Paul Feyerabend, have highlighted and commented on the heuristic use made of qualitative considerations as a driving force in the development of quantum theory.

Laruelle is not trying to dupe us in his transfer of quantum terminology and concepts into philosophy. However, in doing so he is not at the forefront breaking new ground, but  is lagging behind other thinkers such as Deleuze and Feyerabend. Even if by his notion of “qualitative quantum” thinking all that Laruelle means is something very simple such as the impossibility of both correlation and withdrawal due to the impossibility of sharply defined untraversable boundaries, that is a very useful insight to keep in mind. Laruelle seems to have quite a few of such useful maxims, but he has inflated them into a system self-proclaimed to be new and beyond all the others.

Rejecting such sharply defined untraversable borders is an important step, that would allow us to cut through lots of the Lacanian pathos of the “trauma of the real”. Personally, I make this step for quite other reasons than Laruelle does, not for “quantum” reasons. I recognise that he is trying to make such a step in his more recent work, and he adduces quantum reasoning to justify his step. His argument seems to be based on a qualitative application of the wave/particle duality associated with the phenomenon of quantum tunneling. This is Laruelle’s way of breaking free from the “myth of the framework” and of avoiding the spectre of relativism.

I defend Laruelle’s right to make such metaphoric transfers on the grounds that we do this sort of thing all the time, and that it is necessary to use concepts loosely in order even to communicate, and even more so to get thought moving. I further defend Laruelle’s right here in that he is not doing analytic philosophy of quantum mechanics but rather trying to construct a “new” general image of thought. A further defence is that philosophy is more about conceptual exploration than about referentiality. I do not see this as a licence for a philosopher to say just anything that comes into his or her head, regardless of empirical reality. On the contrary I think philosophy, even transcendental philosophy, is far more empirical than it usually acknowledges, and should be even more so, at least in spirit. On the question of science, Laruelle’s system would be in big trouble if it could be shown that he got all the science wrong.

Yet science makes use of or presupposes philosophical concepts, and I do not accept that scientists are the sole proprietors of these concepts. So I defend Laruelle’s attempt on democratic grounds as well. I would emphasise “attempt” as there is no guarantee that he is successful in constructing a new and useful type of thought. One of the indicators would have been to explore argumentatively but charitably the relations of his thought to other recent and contemporary thinkers working on comparable endeavours, but this is vitiated by Laruelle’s continuing noetic posture of uniqueness and beyondness.

One of the major obstacles to understanding Laruelle’s texts, and so responsible for their obscurity, is the almost complete absence of proper definitions, even according to a very loose, contextual, notion of defintion. Laruelle uses a set of words in an incantatory way, agglomerating them together to form a veritable Laruelle litany. This does him a great disservice. For example one of his older, non-philosophical, incantatory words is “unilateral”. In his new non-standard philosophy phase he introduces the notion of complementarity, but he cannot stop himself from talking about “unilateral complementarity”, which is a contradiction in terms.

Some people have claimed that Laruelle’s style is obscure because its syntax is innovative, following the “syntax of the real”. But I do not see much syntaxical innovation in his texts, rather the obscurity is lexical. Further, this notion of “syntax of the real” is an expression of the very worst sort of naïve empiricism. There is no syntax of the real.

Laruelle’s qualitative use of concepts is close to Deleuze’s notion of “deterritorialised” concepts, in view of a pop-philosophy. The problem is that neither Deleuze nor Laruelle attain that pop level of expression. Only Badiou seems to have succeeded in doing that: first with his manifestos following each “difficult” book, and even more so with his series of “plays for children” (the Ahmed tetralogy).

Notwithstanding, Laruelle cannot legitimately be criticised for not helping us to learn more or to better understand quantum physics in the absolute, as he declares that this is not his objective. Relatively, however, he comes out looking bad compared to Badiou, who does help us to learn more about set theory and category theory, and to understand them better. Nor will knowing something already about quantum theory necessarily help us to understand Laruelle’s discussions. Badiou often quite effectively makes an allegorical use of mathematical language, but Laruelle’s quantum allegory remains comparatively under-developed.

Note: I am indebted to a very interesting conversation on facebook with McKenzie Wark, Dominic Fox, Matthew Landis, and Samuel Vriezen.

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In LOGICS OF WORLDS Badiou tells us:

“the traversal of the antiphilosophy of Lacan still remains a necessary exercise for those who are breaking free from the reactive convergences of religion and of scientism” (page 523, translation modified by me).

There is an unequal treatment given to religion and to scientism in this quote. Scientism is the suture of science and philosophy, whereas religion is treated as if it were in itself a case of suture. It seems preferable to talk of breaking free from scientism and from religionism, where religionism is the illegitimate suture of religion and philosophy, bending the criteria of truth of philosophy to those of religious doctrine. As Badiou tells us in his HEIDEGGER seminar: “”no doctrine is ever the condition of philosophy” (my translation). This applies not just to religion, but also to science, love, poetry, and politics.

There remains the question of the dated and parochial reference to Lacan, but I think that this philosophical maxim has more general scope. In Latourese it would read: the traversal of the beings of metamorphosis still remains a necessary trial for those who are breaking free from the illegitimate crossing of religionism and scientism. This is precisely the method proposed by Deleuze and Guattari in their book WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? A further convergence between Badiou and Deleuze and Guattari can be seen if we recall that this traversal of metamorphic beings is also called the traversal of “non-philosophy” in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY. Badiou prefers to talk in terms of “anti-philosophy”, but this is his term for what Deleuze and Guattari, and Laruelle, call “non-philosophy”.

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This is just one letter from a whole series of correspondence between the two, but Deleuze forbade the publication of his own responses, fearing the epistolary dialogue had made his thought too abstract. In DELEUZE THE CLAMOR OF BEING Badiou refers to the whole exchange as a “nonrelationship” (page 1), describing it as “a conflictual friendship that, in a certain sense, had never taken place”.

This régime of signs was theorised by Feyerabend under the name of “one-sided dialogue”, which he sees as a poor substitute for the free exchange he desired, but as superior to academic monologue. Deleuze also theorised this notion of one-sided or solitary dialogue, aptly enough in the book entitled DIALOGUES, where he emphasised that it was only in solitude that free exchange became possible, in the form of “double becoming”.

Thus we may conclude that the epistolary dialogue between Deleuze and Badiou did not have enough becoming in it, to Deleuze’s eyes. After Deleuze’sdeath Badiou continued the dialogue alone. Perhaps Deleuze was a little uptight here, unable or unwilling to exchange freely with a thinker incarnating another style. Badiou intimates that this may have been the case when he characterises the collaboration between Deleuze and Guattari as a “convergent” dialogue, and indicates that he invited Deleuze to engage with him in a “divergent” dialogue.

This letter by Badiou to Deleuze can be read in many ways. I do not read it as particularly indicative of Deleuze’s position, of his purported closeness to Heidegger and distance from Badiou, but rather against the grain. Badiou seems to be arguing that Deleuze’s ontological system is very close to Heidegger’s, only that Deleuze’s system manages to avoid repeating all the “bad” reterritorialisations that Deleuze very explicitly rejects.

Here Badiou and Deleuze are very close: there is no teleology of history. There is a “history of Being” if you will, i.e there is a history of the succession of the various understandings or hypotheses of Being, but there is no progress or decline, no progressive forgetting of Being. More generally, there is no privileged position for apprehending or comprehending Being, and the Black Forest peasant has no inherent primacy, he is rather more suspect.

Both Badiou and Deleuze attempt to “pick up” modernity, to love it and to think it, and not to condemn it as in essence nihilism. This is the possible tie in with Latour, who is trying to describe our society, “the moderns”, but cannot decide whether his account is simply descriptive, or in some unspecified sense normative. Latour claims to be doing something new that he calls “empirical metaphysics”. However, an analysis of his actual philosophical decisions reveals a partisan bias that pre-orients his “empirical” findings.

All of  these decisions and operations take place at the level of philosophical attitudes and orientations. Something more is needed if we want to give a more far-reaching critique of Heidegger’s philosophy. We need to advance a rival hypothesis of Being. There is no direct experience of Being according to Badiou, and Deleuze agrees. This is where I think Badiou is unfair, and falls short of his own requirement of a “protocol of investigation” into mere analogy, in this case of Deleuze’s hypothesis of Being and Heidegger’s.

Deleuze and Badiou have differing hypotheses of Being, but they agree that there is too much identity in Heidegger’s hypothesis. Badiou develops his ontological hypothesis of neutral multiples of multiples, to eliminate the remaining pathos in Deleuze’s philosophy of difference, and the remaining identity. In this he brings to bear a hostility to difference that is very similar to Laruelle’s. But Deleuze had already felt the same need to go beyond difference to multiplicity.

Both Badiou and Deleuze are against transcendence and mastery. If we look beneath the words, Deleuze calls transcendence and mastery “Plato” and “Descartes”, whereas Badiou calls their opposite “Plato” and “Descartes”. Conclusion: we must not be deceived by mere analogy or disanalogy of genealogy or terminology, but investigate the meaning conveyed by these terms and references in the context of the contemporary problem situation.

This is a very old article, dating from over 20 years ago. But I think that in its “protocol of investigation” there is something very useful for today. The response to Heidegger, as we are now beginning to understand his personal orientations even more than before, must be ontological as well as ethical and political. Badiou’s new ontological hypotheses are very useful for that more general response, and he manages to highlight the already existing response of a thinker such as Deleuze.

Note: here is a link to my review of Badiou’s most recent book where he comes closer than ever to Deleuze. Badiou is at his best on Deleuze, and closest to him, when he isn’t even discussing him explicitly, as in the Heidegger seminar and in “Métaphysique du bonheur réel”.

In the letter Badiou comments on Deleuze’s use of the metaphor of Christ:

This is why the figure of Christ can serve you as a metaphor, as much for Spinoza as for Bartleby the scrivener. Just as it is constantly sub-jacent to the way in which Heidegger describes the “nostos”, or the endurance of Hölderlin. It’s that your general logic of fluxes is like a version without pathos of what Heidegger describes as the liberty of the Open.

It is noteworthy that there is a rare but persistent reference to Christ throughout Deleuze’s work. One of his earliest publications (1946) was “From Christ to the Bourgeoisie“. In a late text (1989) Deleuze calls Bartleby the “new Christ”, and in their last book together, WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? (1991), Deleuze and Guattari call Spinoza “the Christ of the philosophers”. So Badiou is right to try to find a philosophical sense to Deleuze’s recourse to the figure of Christ.

In the letter Badiou ties this usage of Christ as conceptual persona to a universalisation of Heidegger’s concept of the Open, just as in DELEUZE, THE CLAMOR OF BEING” he ties it to a universalisation of Bergson’s concept of the Open. To complete Badiou’s discussion one would have to add the notion of incarnation, as actualisation of this universal. Yet his analysis is correct in tying Deleuze’s subjacent conceptual figuration of Christ to a “general logic of fluxes” and to the dimensions of universality, liberty, and the Open.

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Badiou on Deleuze and Heidegger: A letter to Gilles (July 1994)

A letter from Alain Badiou to Gilles Deleuze, first published in Libération, 07-11-95. Translation by Terence Blake.

I would like to resume, today, the parallel between you and Heidegger that I was sketching in my last letter.

1) A crucial difference seems to count against the comparison. In your work there is no “historial” set up, of the type “history of the forgetting of being”, “decline”, etc. As you say, you are certainly not tormented by the “end” of philosophy. You pick up the energy of your epoch, as must be done for each epoch. You love and think the cinema, the American novel, singular popular movements, Bacon’s paintings…The peasant from the Black Forest does not impress you. You are a man  of the imperial metropolis, a man of the bestial power of capitalism, a man of invisible subtractions, also, and of the finest of contemporary capillarities.

2) Being for you is not at at all a “question”, and moreover you do not in any way consecrate philosophy to “questioning”, any more than to “debates”, that French parliamentary form of German “questioning”.

3) Your personal philosophical genealogy (the Stoics, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, a certain Kant, Nietzsche, Bergson…) is very different from Heidegger’s (the Pre-Socratics, Aristotle, a different Leibniz, Schelling, a different Nietzsche, Husserl…).

4) Nevertheless three points strike me as the distant indication of a resonance.

­The hostility to Plato. And, in a certain sense, for the same reason as for Heidegger: Plato is the establishment of a régime of Transcendence.

­The hostility to Descartes. There too, a common motif, in almost opposite languages, can be devined: Descartes is the establishment of a régime of mastery subordinated to the Subjet.

­The conviction that Nietzsche is an essential “turning point”. You argue very finely against Heidegger’s interpretation of Nietzsche. But at stake, for you as much as for him, is a decisive question: how to give meaning to affirmation? And this donation of meaning to affirmation (this “meaning of active force”) is tied to the critique of Plato. Because Plato extenuates active (or immanent) force in the (transcendent) separation of the Idea.

5) What distances you from Plato is the conviction that the access to the real must be thought as immanent (or creative) trial, and not as inscription, or matheme. What distances you from Descartes is the conviction that this immanent trial does not have its criterion in the clarified chain of reasons, but in a descriptive finesse, of which Art is the veritable paradigm. What ties you to Nietzsche is the conviction that the Multiple must be thought as duplicity of Life (active and reactive forces), and not as inertia, or simple extension.

6) The decisive point seems to me to be your conception of Being as pure virtuality. This is not at all Heidegger’s vocabulary. Nevertheless, his “latence” and your Chaos are co-thinkable. They are co-thinkable as ultimate reserve, of which there exists no direct experience, and of which the thought is simultaneously exposing and sheltering.

There is in Heidegger a pathetic version of the trial of thought: the “height of distress”, etc. You avoid this sort of jargon. But you too come to think of thought as the “traversal”, that is at once demanding, proximate, and sheltered, of the infinite virtual. That Being is pure virtuality entails that thoughtful creation is always like a fragmentary witnessing in view of a voyage on the edge of chaos.

This is why the figure of Christ can serve you as a metaphor, as much for Spinoza as for Bartleby the scrivener. Just as it is constantly sub-jacent to the way in which Heidegger describes the “nostos”, or the endurance of Hölderlin. It’s that your general logic of fluxes is like a version without pathos of what Heidegger describes as the liberty of the Open.

Finally, the decision to think Being, not as simple unfolding, neutral, entirely actual, with no depth, but as virtuality constantly traversed by actualisations; the fact that these actualisations are like the populating of a cut (cut of the plane of immanence for you, cut of beings for Heidegger); all that entails a logic of reserved power, that I think is common, in this century, to Heidegger and to you.

My question would thus be the following: what in your view essentially distinguishes your relation virtual/ actualisations from Heidegger’s relation of Being and beings?

We are here (as when you seek to situate me as a Neo-Kantian) in a protocol of investigation of your own creation of concepts, and not in what is your most intimate enemy: Analogy.

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