Badiou’s discussion of the link between poetry and politics implicitly contains a biographical dimension concerning the personal commitments of the poets (and more generally the artists and thinkers). Their doctrinal fidelities and their organisational engagements are to be read poetically, or symbolically, as the sign of a deeper problematic:
Can we understand this link, this assemblage [between poetry and communism] as a simple illusion? An error, or an errancy, or at best an ignorance of the indubitable ferocity and cruelty of the states that legitimate themselves in terms of socialism or communism? This explanation by illusion is the dominant discourse about this subject. I wish to argue that what animated these poets, even when they also adopted the position of explicitly supporting organisations or parties, is the conviction that there exists an essential link between poetry as they conceived it, in a transformed and radical way, and communism, if we understand ‘communism’ as close as possible to its primary sense, that we must never lose sight of, namely the concern for what is common to all. A sort of tense or paradoxical love of common life, of what in common life permits us to dilate and to express differently individual life. The desire for what ought to be common not to be appropriated outside of the common, that is the idea that we must disappropriate the common from its privatised appropriation.
Badiou argues that the link between poetry and politics is not ideological or conjunctural, but essential. Underneath the ideological illusions and the organisational ferocity there is something deeper at work, touching on the essence of poetry and of politics, involving their very nature as truth procedures.
The “communism” of the poets is not so much a matter of adhesion to a doctrine or submission to a party line as a new vision of the people:
What is quite striking is that the poets saw in communism a new figure of the people. They saw a poetic figure of the people, the possibility of poetising the people itself … It is to those who have nothing that everythin must be given. It is to the mute and the foreigner that the poem must be given. It is not made to be given to the speech-maker [Note: I read “bavard”, speech-maker, rather than “barbare”, barbarian], to the grammarian, or to the nationalist. The idea that in the poem could be found a donation that is open to somethin other than the speciality enthused the poets. Basically, it is to the proletarian – defined as those who have nothing except their own labour-power – that we must give the entire earth, all the books, all the music, all the paintings, and all the sciences, and in exemplary fashion the poem.
The crossing of poetry and revolutionary politics becomes internal to the poem, in that the communist poets discover that the most appropriate form for this crossing is the epic. Not the aristocratic epic recounting the deeds of semi-divine heroes, but the democratic epic recounting the heroism of the people collectively creating a new world:
the role of the poet in its link with the historico-political movement is to seek in the language the new resource for an epic.
This epic is woven out of compassion for the harsh conditions and the misery of the oppressed and of admiration for the new world they can create:
The figure of the misery of the world must be treated with compassion, a compassion that is inevitable and that it is just to feel. But isn’t its destiny to admire what there exists of heroic resistance and of creative greatness in the revolutionary political movement, in uprising, insurrection, revolt, etc?
The new epic means both compassion and admiration, both resistance and its transformation into heroism, both the long patience and endurance of the oppressed and their transformation into the collective force uniting the uprising of bodies and the sharing of thoughts.