It is well-known that Badiou’s philosophical system has been elaborated in a constant dialogue with, and struggle against, Heidegger’s philosophy. A very interesting aspect of this confrontation is to be found in Badiou’s proposition of what he considers to be a “new concept of death”.
In Book III of his LOGICS OF WORLDS, Section 4 “Existence and Death” (267-270), Badiou proposes his new concept of death in a polemic with all phenomenological and vitalist conceptions, more particularly those of Heidegger and Deleuze. In the thought of both these thinkers, and in the traditions that culminate with them, Badiou finds a remaining theological postulate, a secular or sublimated One, an underlying transcendental infinite that underwrites our own finitude and death.
According to Badiou, this dogma of finitude, in both its theistic and atheistic forms, is an essential component of today’s dominant ideology and of our own ideological and political enslavement. Emancipation begins with the axiomatic rejection of this dogma:
To think existence without finitude. This is the liberatory imperative, which extricates existence from its pinning to the ultimate signifier of its submission, death (LOGICS OF WORLDS, 268, translation modified by me).
This new concept of death is maintained and reaffirmed by Badiou nine years later in his seminars on THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS. One can find here a translation of Badiou’s seminar given on Monday 18th May. The French text is a transcription of notes taken by Daniel Fischer, the translation is by David Broder.
I offer here a translation of the introductory “Argument”, which is missing from the English translation:
This year we have closely studied the contemporary dominant ideology – notably in the field of philosophy -, namely the ideology of finitude. In particular, we have identified the operators which « activate » in the subjects the conviction of being irremediably finite, with nothing that exceeds this finitude, and so subjected to the “realities”, and first among these the economic substrate of contemporary domination, namely the reign of private property and of its deployment in the categories of production, exchange, and financial systems.
We have dealt with four crucial operators: identity, repetition, necessity, and God (this last operator being able to take many forms, which all come down to this: that every infinite is a transcendence that is inaccessible, except in that it humiliates in us any pride, any in-finite pretention).
In this seminar we shall deal with the oldest and most indestructible operator of finitude, whose self-evidence supports all the others, namely death. Isn’t death an absolute proof of our irremediable finite dimension finie, this death that has always been called, precisely, the “end”? We will have to critically examine the principal contemporary variations of this argument, notably Heidegger’s conception of existence (of Dasein) as “being toward death”. We shall propose a definition of death not as end and finitude, but, in a renewed phenomenological framework, as an “out of control” variation of the intensity of existence. Detaching them from their religious context, we shall give all their radical to Saint Paul’s exclamation “Death, where is your victory?, and to Spinoza’s theorem: “A free man thinks of nothing less than death, and meditates not on death but on life”.
Note: “Out of control” seems to mean outside of the necessary limits imposed by finitude. From a logical standpoint, the intensity of existence has a maximum value (self-identity) and a minimum value (non-self-identity, death) within a world. This means that death is an “uncontrolled” accident, it is not an ontological necessity intrinsic to an existence, but only a logical possibility whose effectuation depends on an external cause. For Badiou we cannot say of a being that it is “mortal” in the sense that it is an internal necessity for it to die.