REVIEW OF BADIOU’S “METAPHYSICS OF REAL HAPPINESS”: individuation vs incorporation

In his new book, MÉTAPHYSIQUE DU BONHEUR RÉEL (METAPHYSICS OF REAL HAPPPINESS), Badiou recounts his philosophical voyage, beginning with his first major book THEORY OF THE SUBJECT, published in 1982, but presenting the content of his seminar from January 1975 to June 1979. His first “great” book, BEING AND EVENT (1988, 560 pages), was followed 18 years later by its second volume LOGICS OF WORLDS (2006, 630 pages). The voyage continues, and this little book of only 90 pages recounts the path already traveled and sketches out the next step. In effect, Badiou envisages publishing a third volumes L’IMMANENCE DES VÉRITÉS in January 2017, which will complete the system that he has been elaborating over his philosophical voyage and which “will amongst other things bear on everything that happens for a determinate individual when he incorporates himself in a truth-procedure, when he is taken up in the Idea” (57).

Badiou calls “antiphilosophers” thinkers who have a more open and ample thought than in a more classical approach. He reassures and strengthens himself against self-doubt and criticism by others over his own classicism by incorporating them into his system. One can praise Badiou for his readiness to take these “antiphilosophers” seriously, despite what remains classical in his own project. “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 asserted at the moment that Badiou talks about Truths.

“In this commitment of thought, the share of chance remains ineffaceable” (12). Some modern philosophers, for example Paul Feyerabend and Gilles Deleuze, give an even greater role to chance and to accident. In an article ironically called “Not a Philosopher” Feyerabend decries the standard 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. Badiou’s technique is one of non-engagement: he excludes anti-philosophers from philosophy, and then reabsorbs them. Yet he is learning from them. Some philosophers do not even do that.

Continuing in this Deleuzian vein, Badiou presents his philosophy of real happiness as a philosophy of desire. He claims to “take from poetry” the idea that philosophy “as oriented towards the universality of happiness” has four fundamental dimensions: revolt, logic, universality, and risk. According to Badiou, these four components of the desire of the philosopher are also the four components of the desire for revolution.

However, modern society places many obstacles in the way of this desire both repressing it and ideologically undermining it: “the contemporary world … exerts a strong negative pressure on the four dimensions of such a desire” (12).

1) Revolt: no need for revolt as we are already free. But for Badiou this is merely the freedom of the market, the obligation to consume in a world of merchandise.

2) Logic: no need for logic, as we are immersed in a flood of communication. But for Badiou this world is incoherent, a spectacle without memory. What it lacks most essentially is a “logic of time”.

3) Universality: no need for universality as we have money (materialised universality). But for Badiou this world is fragmentary, based on the competition of specialised interests.

4) Risk: no room for chance, we calculate the risks and insure against them. But for Badiou the felicific calculus can never succeed, as “real happiness is incalculable”.

Thus the four components of real desire, of the “philosophical desire for a revolution of existence” (revolt, logic, universality, and risk) encounter four obstacles: the rule of merchandise, communication, money, and specialisation, “the whole bound subjectively by the calculus of personal security” (15).

There is a balance to be found between the components of revolt and risk, which embody chaos, and logic and universality, which incarnate system. Despite the presence of non-academic or chaotic elements Badiou’s “classicism” gives primacy to the system, even if as we shall see his system is non-deterministic.

Badiou links the various anti-philosophical themes of chance, risk, freedom, and change to the notion of negation: “one can say that I am pursuing from one end of my philosophical enterprise to the other … a meditation on negation. I am simply trying to explain the possibility of change, the possibility of passing from a certain regime of laws of that which is to another regime, by the mediation of a protocol of a truth and of its subject. I am thus in dialectical thought, and in a dialectical theory of happiness, which is the paraconsistent negation of finitude by a complete infinite” (82). So Badiou can say that his thought embodies a dialectics without determinism: “as my dialectical thought includes a figure of hasard, it is non determinist” (82).

Hegel’s Absolute is deterministic. Badiou argues that as he incorporates an element of chance in his system, his Absolute is non-deterministic. He tells us that in the futue book THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS he will discuss Hegel’s concept of the Absolute, as he agrees with Hegel and Plato that “all real happiness is a sort of provisional access to the Absolute” (82).

Describing the role of negation in the forthcoming book: “with the presence of an aleatory element, I introduce the principle of a cut which is not exactly homogeneous to the classical principles of negation. That is why, finally, I will be using three different and interwoven logics: classical logic, intuitionist logic, and paraconsistent logic” (83).

The book will also comport a renewed approach to his Platonism of the multiple: “At the same time, I will raise to the absolute the ontological system of reference – the thought of the pure multiple – by means of the truly sensational theory of “very big infinities”. Threefold logic and infinity of infinities will be the key of a general theory of happiness, which is the goal of all philosophy” (83).

For Badiou, philosophy is based on the conviction that there are truths and on the experience of participating in them. He believes in the identity of the philosopher, but attempts to democratise it through the notion of the “desire of philosophy” that he deploys. He talks about the need for the philosopher of effectuating a “rupture with the course of the world”, and so implicitly of taking the path through solitude and suffering, but he also insists on the need to “incorporate” oneself into Truths in order to be a Subject and to know happiness.

One could call this the path of individuation (Jung) or of subjectivation (Deleuze), but this is not the sort of euphoric process that many people envisage. From Jung’s point of view, in the process of individuation one goes repeatedly through the experiences not just of difficulty and failure, but of deconstruction and of decomposition. So the “rupture” is by far primary over the incorporation. My problem with Badiou is that ultimately he gives primacy to incorporation and to the abandon of the liberty that has been acquired during the process of rupture, and to becoming a disciplined member of a movement faithful to a Truth over individuation. This is why I prefer to read Badiou without the identity that he himself requires. Read in this way his ideas and formulations can be employed more freely as raw material, extrapolated out of their limiting context, and can be used to stimulate new thought and action.

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One Response to REVIEW OF BADIOU’S “METAPHYSICS OF REAL HAPPINESS”: individuation vs incorporation

  1. Great job. That must have been hard digesting these books and making such a clear analysis. I feel like this is the most important point: “All real happiness is a sort of provisional access to the Absolute” I imagine I will be reading these books in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

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