This is the first course in Badiou’s seminar devoted to the elaboration of a projected third volume to BEING AND EVENT, provisionally entitled THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS.
The seminar begins with a revision of Badiou’s definition of truth:
This allows me to propose a provisional definition of what a truth is. A truth is a process, risky as to its possibility, subjective in its duration, particular in its materials, universal in its address or result, infinite in its being, and deployed according to four distinct types of processes. A shorter definition, but which in its own way contains all that, is to say that: a truth is an immanent exception to the world where it arises. In this formulation is concentrated the fact that a truth is produced in immanence to the world, that it is a producton in the world, and that it is also, due to its potential universality, an exception to the world.
Badiou describes the future course of his seminar as an upward path or ascendant movement:
The general movement will be the following: we shall begin with a critique of finitude, by showing that “finitude” is the most appropriate philosophical word for the description of what is valorised today. Then we will propose a new non-theological theory of the infinite, one that will be appropriate to our objective of showing that truths are infinite and that the subject of truths that we can become is open, in an immanent way, to this infinite. That will be the first moment of imanence, that could be called subjective infinity. This is where we will undertake the description of what I call the between-two-worlds (between the world properly so called and the world of the immanent exception). This will lead us to broach the question of the violence of truths, i.e. the fact that truths themselves contain a violence which is the specific mode according to which the exception works. When this violence is appeased (or also when it is victorious), something is incarnated, it’s what I call the partial incarnation of eternity: the advent in this world of a fragment of eternity as such.
The problem of happiness is central for this projected third volume of BEING AND EVENT, which deals with the subjective moment of how truths provide us with orientation and give meaning to the world. Does being in the true make us happy? With the conviction that the life of the philosopher is far happier than the life of enjoyment (the life of the tyrant).
To give an overview of this trajectory Badiou comments two poems. First a poem by Rimbaud, called “Youth“, taken from the ILLUMINATIONS. “Youth” is a poem in four parts.
Part 1: Sunday: critique of finitude
This is a description of the ordinary world, with no element of exception or truth. The various elements compose a tableau of ordinary provincial life. Then, abruptly, it ends with an imperative: “Let us resume our studies”. According to Badiou “study” is a fundamental theme in Rimbaud designating the turn towards the deep experience of the world, the experience of the possibility of an immanent exception. “Study is going to engulf you in the truth of this world, of which we have had only the description of its superficial charm”.
Part 2: Sonnet: from the sensible to the intelligible, from the finite to the infinite
This is in fact not a sonnet, but an allusion to the fact that there could have been a sonnet. It deals with the possible relation between the immediacy of bodies (the dance and the voice) and reason (which Rimbaud calls “toil rewarded”). For Badiou it is a mistake to think of Rimbaud as the poet of immediate sensibility “Rimbaud is a great rationalist”. Rimbaud concludes: “strength and right reflect the dance and the voice only now appreciated”. For Badiou, strength and right are the components of reason that reflect the components of immediate sensibility, dance and voice, which only then can be really appreciated. “This form of happiness which consists in appreciating the sensible, and which is the most ordinary definition of happiness, can only be appreciated according to Rimbaud if it is taken up in the figure of “toil rewarded”, in “study”, i.e., in the final analysis, in the labour of truth”.
Part 3: Twenty Years: nostalgia for the sensible, nostalgia for the finite
Suddenly Rimbaud turns round again, turns back to the nostalgia of the pure sensible, of sensible immediacy. “Ah, the infinite egoism of adolescence, the studious optimism: how full the world was of flowers, that summer!”. Rimbaud has risen from the sensible to the intelligible, and then falls back into the nostalgia for the sensible. This is typical of Rimbaud’s method, which does not progress linearly but in a brutal zigzag which produces the poetic truth. This development is neither linear nor dialectic. It does not progress by successive negations but by breaks, from one excess to another.
Part 4 (no title): the new subjectivity
A new zigzag: “You are still at the temptation of Anthony”. This expresses the temptation of the world as it is, which the infinite egoism of adolescence keeps giving in to, and which Rimbaud himself keeps giving in to. This is the condemnation of the nostalgia contained in part 3 and of the pleasure of wallowing in the world as it is, instead of setting to work, to the work of “toil rewarded”, the labour of truth.
Rimbaud describes the world as it is, the world of finitude, (what Deleuze calls the world of sad affects) in four terms:
1) “the antics of curtailed zeal”: this is the busy agitation of the world, of the world of the employee, a life of broken, curtailed, activity, of agitation over nothing. The activity is always curtailed, finite. It has no infinity, not even potential.
2) “the tics of puerile pride”: this is the cult of the ego, the culture of narcissism, the reign of the individual who imagines, puerile, that he is remarkable.
3) “weakening”: this is the tired, discouraged side of contemporary subjectivity, stuck in the glue of the world, unable to rise above it.
4) “terror”: this is the constant fear we have of losing everything, of the crisis, fear of our own shadow, fear of everything that can happen.
For Badiou: “These four terms constitute the temptation to renounce all truth”.
“But you will set yourself to this work”.
This is the movement that traverses the entire work of Rimbaud, to put oneself in the disposition of not giving in to the temptations of the world and of setting to work. Begin to construct something else than what the world asks of you. Badiou calls this something else a “truth”. Rimbaud tried to do this, he sought in all directions for a way to avoid the temptation of this world and to construct something not reducible to this world.
The tense is the future, because Rimbaud is assigning himself this task and encouraging himself. But also because “the truth of every truth is in the future, since it is an infinite construction”. The labour of a truth creates new possibilities. “The great problem is not so much to realise new possibilities as to create new possibilities”.
“But you will set yourself to this work: all the harmonic and architectural possibilities will stir round your perch. Perfect unforeseen beings will offer themselves to your experience”.
If you set to work on the construction of truths, the world will no longer be the same. It is not just for yourself that you set to work, there is a power of attraction for everyone, even for “ancient multitudes and idle wealth”.
“Your memory and your senses will be simply the fodder for your creative impulse”.
The work of reason, the labour of truths will absorb memory and senses. The creative impulse will prevail over the repetitive pulsion. This is Rimbaud’s idea that we saw earlier of the subordination of sensible and memorial immediacy to the general dynamic of the labour of truths. This is important as Badiou remarks that Rimbaud is often presented as a “spontaneist”, as a sort of pseudo-Deleuzian. But Rimbaud is a rationalist who bends sensibility and memory to the creative impulse, i.e. to this labour of truths.
[In fact Badiou’s whole analysis here is perfectly Deleuzian, there is convergence between Badiou, Deleuze, and Rimbaud]
“As for the world, when you emerge, what will have become of it? Nothing, in any case, of its present seeming”.
When you emerge from what? From yourself, from the world as it is, from the current appearance of the world, from Sunday morning at Charleville, from the cavern, from the world in which your creative impulse has no sense. Inside the cavern your creative impulse has no chance. Once the world has changed, thanks to the hard work, to the labour of truths, with this new subjectivity, there will remain nothing, in any case, of its present seeming”.
Badiou reformulates this in his own terms: “if you succeed in establishing yourself in the laborious immanence of truths, then the world opens itself to possibilities that are so radically new that the appearance of the world is totally modified”. You have created new possibilities, that previously were impossible in terms of the dominant order. Or in other words: “When you go outside, and your creative impulse is liberated, the world will be absolutely withdrawn from its current appearance”.