Alain Badiou has published in the 100th issue (June 2016) of PHILOSOPHIE MAGAZINE a summary of his philosophy in the form of a diagramme and a three page commentary. It is interesting to examine it in the light of Badiou’s general critique of philosophies of withdrawal. Badiou’s diagramme is one of evental emergence rather than of objectal withdrawal.
Description: we pass from the multiplicities and multiple worlds of ontology and phenomenology (or being and existence) on the left across the membrane of emergence into the domain of events and of truths and conclude in the circle of happiness on the right, which contains the subject, the truth procedures, the absolute, and the domain of philosophy. As we shall see, Badiou considers that this movement of reading the diagramme corresponds to a real philosophical trajectory:
Here, the trajectory leads from being to the circle of real happiness (Badiou, Philomag 100, page 72).
Separating the domain of being and appearance from the domain of events and truth procedures is what Badiou calls a « double bar »:
One will have noticed that the whole part on the left of the diagramme is very formal. But then a sort of dramatic development occurs, represented by the double bar. This caesura is that of the event. This concerns a pure emergence, an unpredictable rupture (page 72).
Badiou’s bar of emergence is the opposite of Harman’s veil of withdrawal. As events do not only emerge from being but act back on it we could also call this bar the membrane of emergence.
Badiou distinguishes between several senses of system:
1) a strong sense, where the aim is to embrace the totality of thought and the universe. Badiou rejects this sort of system as it implies a totality, and thus a unity closed in on itself. Badiou tells us that his enemy in metaphysics is the One, and that he replaces its primacy with that of difference and multiplicity.
2) a weak sense, where the aim is to cover ever vaster domains in starting from a set of principles and constrains, by means of rational demonstrations and arguments. Badiou’s system is no longer a synchronic totality but a trajectory constituted by the rule-governed unfolding of thought.
Badiou concludes by emphasising that the whole movement is not a simple one-way linear progression, but a circle, a sort of feedback loop:
« there is in fact a loop, a great circular movement: the system teaches us that being, given in its pure neutrality, is susceptible, under condition of the event, to sustain the absolute: but the absolute, this cipher of true life, emerges from being and flows back onto it » (page 73).
Badiou’s « absolute » is not that of a speculative totality or of a religious transcendence. The Badiousian absolute qualifies the universality of a Truth, the fact that although it is active in a particular world it is not reducible to that world and can be re-activated in a different world. This is why it transports with it a sort of eternity.
It is interesting to note that this theme of « eternity » is tied to a reconciliation with Spinoza:
« As Spinoza says, the human animals that we are can experience they are eternal, here and now » (page 73).
This is of a piece with Badiou’s increasing reconciliation with Deleuze’s thought and with his re-working of Deleuzian themes. Happiness, for Badiou, is a sort of beatitude, the product of the experience of our eternity and infinity within a finite and temporal life.
One can only welcome the speculative intensity that Badiou continues to bring to the pursuit of his project, as he extends it now into an account of the « immanence of truths » (this is also the title of his forthcoming book). The danger is that sometimes it sinks from the summits of philosophy to the platitudes of the « wisdom of life ».