Reading Badiou’s METAPHYSICS OF REAL HAPPINESS (1): system, chance and anti-philosophy

“I will speak about anti-philosophy … Pascal, Rousseau, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Lacan. My thesis is that these antiphilosophers … are necessary for us, so that our classicism will not be transformed into academicism, which is the principal enemy of philosophy, and so of happiness: In effect, the affect by which academic discourse can infallibly be recognised is boredom”. (Métaphysique du Bonheur Réel, 8-9, my translation).

This passage takes up Badiou’s critique of atonal worlds, those worlds that are without affective tonality, and reiterates Deleuze and Guattari’s critique of reflection as turning its back on intensity. It is interesting to see Badiou hard at work becoming a philosopher of desire, affect, becoming, and intensity, forty years after Deleuze and Lyotard.

Badiou in his wisdom of life formulations tries to absorb the teachings of the so-called “anti-philosophers”, who are the philosopher’s educators, and who “teach us that all that has true value is gained … by the effect, existentially experienced, of a rupture with the course of the world” (9). No doubt he is trying to absorb Deleuze as well. But this antiphilosophical impulse, which Deleuze and Guattari call “stopping the world”, is immediately counter-balanced in Badiou’s system by the imperative of universality: “The fundamental desire of philosophy is to think and to realise the universal … because a happiness that is not universal … is not real happiness”, 12). No argument is given to justify this primacy given to universality, it is just imported at the moment that Badiou talks about Truths.

“In this commitment of thought, the share of chance remains ineffaceable” (12). It would seem that Feyerabend, like Deleuze, gives an even greater role to chance and accident. In an article ironically called “Not a Philosopher” Feyerabend decries the systematic approach and declares: “I did not invent the opinions I have. I accidentally picked them up, from newspapers, plays, novels, political debates, and even from a philosophy book now and then”. Deleuze uses this same idea , and the same term, of “picking up” one’s ideas by chance encounter. Both, however, refuse the primacy of “universality”.

Nonetheless, Badiou is close to Deleuze and Feyerabend on these points, and can also be seen as giving his reply to François Laruelle’s non-philosophy. Badiou is claiming not to be an “academic” philosopher in a fundamental sense. Yet Laruelle in fact goes farther, and frees us from this universalism.

Badiou calls “antiphilosophers” thinkers who have a more open and ample thought, and reassures himself by incorporating them. This is Badiou’s technique of non-engagement, he excludes them from philosophy, and then reabsorbs them. Yet he is learning from them. Some philosophers do not even do that.


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