BADIOU’S REDUCTIONS (3): the suture of inventive procedures to truth

Badiou postulates, as usual he has no real argument, four « truth procedures » that provide the conditions for any philosophy worthy of the name. Once again his intellectual practice goes against the stated aim of elaborating a pluralism capable of illuminating our modes of existence, their struggles and inventions – in brief, a thought faithful to the multiple. The selection of truth procedures out of many possible candidates, the description of each procedure, and even their unification under the denomination « truth procedure », all go against the proclaimed fidelity to the multiple.

I think that Levi Bryant has usefully described this situation with his distinction between theory and meta-theory: « The meta-theory of a theory– here one should think of De Man’s model of reading –consists of the thinkers theory of his or her theory or account of what they are trying to do in the theory ». A thinker’s meta-theory may well, as in the case of Althusser, propound a vision of his or her theory as radically democratic and egalitarian, the theory itself may contain authoritarian and élitist elements that favorise a practice in contradiction to the meta-theory. I argue that the same discordance can be found between Badiou’s pluralist pronouncements and the concrete architecture of his theory. Thus I have no quarrel with Levi’s recent post on Badiou, with the proviso that here he is expressing his conceptual-affective response to the meta-theory. I myself read « L’être et l’événement » when it came out in 1988, at a time when I was feeling glum about the intellectual scene in France and regretting my decision not to return to Australia but to make France my home. I remember being wildly excited and telling everyone that they had to read this amazing book, admiring the intellectual passion, the conceptual power, the synthetic beauty of his prose. Here was a new pluralist (I had read his other books before, and had not been impressed). But I was also aware from the beginning of the many discordant notes to this purported pluralism, and the dogmatic posing and treatment of the four « truth procedures » was one of my bugbears from the start.

Does ethical invention exist? Can internal tensions and contradictions, experimentation and creative possibilities lead us to invent new ethical responses? Can profound social, psychic, cognitive and technological change induce a transformation in our ethical sensibility and practice? If so, can the same be said in the domain of spirituality, does spiritual invention exist? What about philosophical invention? Or even ontological invention? Badiou does not want to consider these questions on the same level as his treatment of the matheme, the poem, invented politics, and love.

This re-commensuration of incommensurable evental procedures under the unifying category of truth (eternal truths, universal truths) is correlated with the posing of philosophy as a different sort of practice, over and above the evental procedures, and naming their truths, as « the four truth procedures do not make use of the category of truth to produce their truths » (Badiou, L’ENTRETIEN DE BRUXELLES, Les Temps Modernes 526, p11). This transcendent role of philosophy more than compensates for the destitution of its capacity to produce truths (this may seem evident to some, however we must remember that love produces truths but philosophy doesn’t). Philosophy declares that mathematics is ontology, declares that there are four and only four truth procedures, declares that these procedures produce eternal and universal truths, declares that science is reducible to the matheme, art to the poem, politics to its willful invention, and the psyche to love as explained by Freud and Lacan (dogmatic monist thinkers of the idealist unconscious).

This betrayal of both pluralism and immanence and the restoration of the superiority of philosophy is the objection that Deleuze and Guattari make in « WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? », when they diagnose « under the appearance of the multiple the return to an antiquated conception of superior philosophy ». They remark that philosophy is not only conditioned by the four truth procedures but that it imposes its own conditions on the procedures, i.e. « that art is fundamentally « poem », and science set-theoretic, and that love is Lacan’s unconscious, and that politics escapes doxa-opinion ».

This is also the objection of Lyotard, who prefers to talk of different régimes of phrase rather than of Badiou’s different régimes of truth, taking the example of ethics (but applying it to art and politics as well): « One does not judge what is just in the same way one judges what is true. And scientists themselves know this, when they are not mad, i.e. when they do not try to extend a procedure which is valid for their stake, stating what is true, to other stakes » (Témoigner du différend, p115-116). The different régimes are not different régimes, or procedures, of truth – each régime has its own stake. Once again, for Lyotard as for Deleuze and Guattari, philosophy is not over and above the evental procedures, but is one procedure amongst many:

« And thus once again one finds multiplicity, and it cannot be reduced to the diversity of regional ontologies » (ibid, p116).

Science, on this account is the régime of regional ontologies, and not just that of the matheme. Pluralism requires further that the plurality of procedures embody a plurality of stakes, such that only one régime is subject to the stake of truth. As the hegemony of truth cannot be maintained, Badiou no longer has any argument why ethics or religion or sport cannot be conditioning procedures for philosophy, nor why philosophy should be assigned the superior role of declaring the truth of the truths produced by the other inventive evental régimes.

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  1. Ping : BADIOU’S REDUCTIONS (4): the suture of Being to one (specification of) Being | AGENT SWARM

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