NOTES ON THE BADIOU STUDIES HOAX
Like many people I think that hoaxes can be a sign of intellectual vitality and social health. In Maoist terms: Let a thousand hoaxes bloom!
I would argue further that many philosophers, including Badiou, provide us with unconscious self-hoaxes. Badiou, when he is not at his best, reads like an involuntary parody of his own jargon and theses. But this is not incompatible with his being a very interesting and creative philosopher.
Any philosophy can become banalised into mere combinatory playing with its own stereotypes of expression and argument. On these occasions we could say that Badiou is just « doing Badiou », doing his Badiou act. I have no problem with critiquing such descent into stereotype when it occurs in Badiou or in his disciples. But I don’t think it proves much.
Badiou himself analyses this sort of banalisation, under the term « covering over » (in French « recouvrement »). It happens to all of us, people reduce us, our personality or our ideas to a narrow set of stereotypes, or we do it to ourselves. Huneman and Barberousse are certainly not free of such stereotypes.
My problem is with the supposed target of Huneman and Barberousse’s hoax. I find they slide rather too easily between four different targets: Badiou himself, his philosophy, his anglophone reception, one particular issue of Badiou Studies.
1) Ergo Proxy: Their target cannot be Badiou’s philosophy: this would involve a lot more work and argument than they have provided. Huneman and Barberousse claim that Badiou’s philosophical practice does not respect scholarly standards of argumentation. Yet they commit the totally unscholarly mistake of trying to discuss a philosopher by talking about everything else but his philosophy.
2) Selection bias: Nor can the target be Badiou’s anglophone reception in general: here Huneman and Barberousse are content to talk in terms of vague impressions, and do not consider the many serious anglophone Badiou scholars. Huneman and Barberousse should have submitted their nonsense for example to THE BADIOU DICTIONARY, where it would have been rejected.
3) Guilt by association: If the target is one particular issue of Badiou Studies, why do Huneman and Barberousse single out an insignificant and unrepresentative Badiousian production? Unless by picking on an easy target they think they can remount the whole chain and attack Badiou’s philosophy without first doing the hard interpretative and argumentative work.
4) Fan (philo-)fiction: This leaves the fourth target, Badiou himself. There is a striking disproportion in the implied scope of the hoax and its ostensible target. Why would a director of research at the CNRS (Huneman) and a Sorbonne Professor (Barberousse) undertake a criticism of a major contemporary philosopher by spoofing a very minor journal of Badiousian philosophastery?
Huneman and Barberousse accuse Badiou of being incapable of engaging in argument, yet his reply is well-argued. Their analysis and explication of their hoax is full of ad hominem arguments, assertions without supporting evidence, and appeals to authority.
In conclusion: just as FIFTY SHADES OF GREY began as fan fiction in the wake of the TWILIGHT SAGA, we can assign both the journal BADIOU STUDIES and Huneman and Barberousse’s hoax + analysis to the same genre of Badiousian fan philo-fiction.
« they commit the totally unscholarly mistake of trying to discuss a philosopher by talking about everything else but his philosophy » – and if his arguments don’t hold up generally, so that it would be pointless to discuss them seriously? Just as devil’s advocate here, parody and ridicule may be appropriate.
« Huneman and Barberousse should have submitted their nonsense to THE BADIOU DICTIONARY, where it would have been rejected » – speaking for myself now, when Badiou says that ‘infinite alterity is just what there is’, he isn’t really entitled to say anything else. I don’t know anything about H & B, and I’m sure theirs may not be a good critique, but I’m also a little bit suspicious that any shoddy critique of Badiou could be considered well placed.
Badiou’s philosophy as expressed in his books BEING AND EVENT and LOGICS OF WORLD is an impressive work in progress. There are some major points that I disagree with, but the work as a whole is full of inspiring ideas, analyses and arguments. One of Badiou’s strong points is his ability to take philosophies that are very difficult to argue with, notably those of Heidegger and Deleuze, and bring them into an argumentative field by elaborating another philosophy of comparable scope and depth. You can’t just extract a-conceptual theses and « argue » about them.
As to the sentence « infinite alterity is just what there is », I see no problem with it. This is part of his idea that the pluralism of the postmoderns is no big new final discovery, but a starting point for new analyses. Huneman and Barberousse group Badiou with the postmoderns without arguing their point. I think, as on several other points, that this is partially true. But to prove their point they would have to analyse Badiou’s theory of truths, which is one point where he claims to radically differ from the postmoderns. Mounting a hoax is certainly not arguing at the right level, but taking the easy way out.
Thanks Terence. I’m very suspicious of Badiou. It’s not in the sense that he is ‘a postmodern’, like H&B, or like others that quickly classify thought as relativistic and so on, but in his own terms the notion of ‘fidelity to a truth’ irks me something terrible. In his Ethics he gives (four concepts I think) details of when we go against fidelity, and it strikes me that those things are perfectly reasonable and, moreover, healthy and pretty helpful if you get caught in one of these truth-traps.