ONFRAY/BADIOU (3): Against Obscurantism

Badiou as metaphysician is a “friend of the Sphere”, a partisan of synchronic ontology. He does not like becoming, process, flow and proliferation, and much prefers points of decision, discipline, fidelity and tenacity. He cannot understand diachronic ontologies, and is not happy until he reduces them to some more manageable static stereotype.

An interesting example is his reaction to Michel Onfray’s book “Le crépuscule d’une idole” (“The Twilight of an Idol”), published in 2010, which contains a sustained critique of Freud’s version of psychoanalysis and of the fallacious legends about his life and work promulgated first by Freud himself and then by his followers. Onfray’s book is teeming with arguments and documentation, but its reception by the French intelligentsia was generally hostile: sweeping condemnation combined with character assassination.

Alain Badiou published an article in the newspaper Le Monde (7 May 2010) criticising anyone who dared to question Freud (or Marx or Darwin):

Thus we call “contemporary obscurantism” all forms without exception of denigration and eradication of the power contained, for the benefit of all humanity, in Darwin, Marx and Freud.

Speaking of “obscurity”, nowhere in this text does Badiou cite the name of Onfray, he just courageously defends Freud from an army of conservatives. So he feels no need to take into consideration, much less to reply to, the arguments that Onfray advances. He even goes so far as to compare Onfray to the American creationists who contest the teaching of evolution. But what courage is there in a former “normalien”, former student of Althusser, who absorbed Freud and Lacan as Holy Writ in his early twenties taking up the defence of Freud by simple fiat, the worst sort of argument from authority?

Just look at the first line of Badiou’s biography in Wikipedia:

“Badiou was a student at the Lycée Louis-Le-Grand and then the Ecole Normale Supérieure (1957–1961).”

To anyone who knows the French system, this means that he was part of the French intellectual élite. Contrary to the state of affairs in other countries, in France the university is for the plebs. Badiou’s father was a “normalien” too. Compare this with Onfray:

“His father was a farm labourer and his mother a cleaning-lady. He was “taken care of” from 10 to 14 years of age in a Catholic boarding school in Giel in the Orne, which served as an orphanage and which he describes as a place of suffering” (Wikipedia, French, my translation).

Where does Badiou work today? In the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, teaching the élite. And Onfray? In the free-of-charge Popular University that he founded in Caen. If Badiou were really a Marxist communist radical intent on changing society, he should have welcomed Onfray’s work and contributed to its acceptance and diffusion. If Badiou were really a self-critical philosopher he would have called into question his youthful ideas, and not be proclaiming Freud as unquestionable religious dogma.

Badiou published another article “replying” to Onfray in Libération. Once again there is no consideration of Onfray’s arguments. However, this time Onfray is cited by name. It is is interesting to remark that Badiou did not write this text alone, it is signed by no less than Alain Badiou, Etienne Balibar, Michel Déguy,  and Jean-Luc Nancy. Given such a panoply (of what? of experts? these are no experts in the convoluted dossier of Freud and the argumetative status of psychoanalysis) of authorities, we note once again the irony of the title chosen for the article:

Attaques sur Freud ou la philosophie au bulldozer

(“Attacks on Freud or philosophy with a bulldozer”). The only bulldozer one can see here is the one driven by the magisterial foursome. Despite not actually advancing any arguments themselves, the four authors affirm:

“there has been no discussion or critique of Freud, no more than of Kant nor of many others nor finally of philosophy. There is a phenomenon, an ideological pruritus whose origin moreover could be traced” .

This accusation of “pruritus” parallels Badiou’s critique of  ANTI-OEDIPUS in THE FLUX AND THE PARTY , where he says it advocates “flowing like pus”. I think Onfray should be happy to be in such good company. Interestingly Badiou’s own title confirms the opposition that Onfray notes between the the diachronic friends of the River (flux) and the synchronic friends of the Sphere (party).

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