THE BADIOU DICTIONARY: against the postmodern self-hoax

PRESENTATION

THE BADIOU DICTIONARY is an impressive achievement. Composed of over 400 pages of explication and analysis of Badiou’s philosophy, it comprises 93 entries ranging from two to ten pages, with an approximate average length of four pages. This length is necessary to give an adequate treatment of a concept: definition, evolution, and evaluation. Particularly good instances of this plan are the entries “Dialectics” and “Woman, the Feminine, Sexual Difference”, but there are many others. Such in depth treatment is all the more necessary as Badiou’s philosophising extends over fifty years of published works and is still ongoing.

It is to be noted that two of the contributors, Steven Corcoran and Louise Burchill, make extensive use of Badiou’s untranslated seminars, including some of the most recent ones.

STEREOTYPES

Badiou is a Maoist postmodern philosopher whose incomprehensible writings contain no arguments but only grandiloquent posturing and empty verbiage, where words are used as intuitive “tags” rather than as names of rational concepts. Unfamiliar with, and hostile to, the sciences, Badiou follows in the footsteps of that of the nouveaux philosophes. Preferring mediatic self-promotion to real academic work. Badiou combines the obscurantism of the postmodern intellectual with the pontifications of the media guru, thus doing untold harm to the image and role of philosophy in these anti-intellectual times.

Every single one of these frequently proferred claims and objections concerning Badiou’s philosophy is radically misguided, as even the most cursory consultation of THE BADIOU DICTIONARY shows. Unfortunately, since the publication of the dictionary in 2015, these stereotypes have been reinforced by an intervention called rather inaccurately the “Badiou Hoax”. This pseudo-event does not concern Badiou himself or his philosophy, nor is it properly speaking a hoax, but rather constitutes something new and surprising: a (meta-) self-hoax.

These clichés that prevent us from understanding Badiou’s philosophy can be grouped under two headings: Badiou the Maoist, and Badiou the post-modern. It is one of the main assets of THE BADIOU DICTIONARY that it dispels these obstacles and permits us to get an idea of the real nature, scope, and complexity of that philosophy. We cannot meaningfully disagree with or condemn a philosophy that we are a million miles from understanding.

“MAOIST” POLITICS

Huneman and Barberousse (from now on H&B), the two self-hoaxers of the Badiou hoax, have provided us with a written explanation of the motives for their hoax and a video interview repeating their reasons in even simpler form:

La place du personnage conceptuel « Alain Badiou » en 2016 est assez paradoxale : sur le plan politique, se faisant l’avocat d’une théorie éculée (le maoïsme, recyclé sous le nom d’« hypothèse communiste »), il est régulièrement pris au sérieux et invité comme un emblème de la gauche radicale d’aujourd’hui (Harneman and Barberousse, op cit.).

The place of the conceptual persona “Alain Badiou” in 2016 is quite paradoxical: on the political plane, advocating an outdated theory (Maoism, recycled under the name of the “communist hypothesis”), he is regularly taken seriously and invited as an emblem of today’s radical left (my translation).

This passage contains a number of common misapprehensions that are quickly dispelled by consulting the relevant entries in THE BADIOU DICTIONARY. In “Maoist Politics” we learn that Badiou distinguished between Mao the state figure and Maoist thought as “truth procedure”, introducing a complexity beyond mindless slogans and simplistic judgements. The next entry “Marxist Politics” analyses in what sense Badiou is Marxist, and explains in what sense his politics is best characterised as “post-Maoism”. The entry “Communism” discusses Badiou’s communism in terms of communist invariants, periodisation, and the communist hypothesis. All this complexity and evolution is only to be expected given that Badiou treats politics as a truth procedure, so perhaps H&B should have read the entry on “Truth” first. H&B seem to acknowledge this as they declare that Badiou’s metaphysics is

assez absconse puisqu’elle stipule que la théorie mathématique des ensembles est l’ontologie véritable, clame que la vérité n’est pas du tout un accord entre discours et réalité mais un événement pour nous mystérieux

quite obscure since it stipulates that mathematical set theory is the veritable ontology and proclaims that truth is not at all an agreement between discourse and reality but an event that is mysterious for us

POSTMODERN

There is no entry on “postmodernism” in THE BADIOU DICTIONARY, and the term is not mentioned much, and rightly so as Badiou has consistently condemned the “postmodern current” with even more force than H&B.. Unlike H&B Badiou actually provides analyses of the phenomenon, and arguments against it (see the entries Truth, Sophistry, Conditions, the section on “Democratic Materialism” in Democracy, Linguistic Turn, etc.  So the idea that Badiou cannot be criticised by argument fails to come to grips with Badiou’s actual text.

H&B’s idea of promoting argument is to publish a parody in an experimental issue of a shady, fly-by-night online review, BADIOU STUDIES, whose website no longer exists any more. Aside from H&B’s demonstrable ignorance of even the most elementary concepts of Badiou’s philosophy, this self-contradictory attempt at restoring argument to its rightful place is enough to show that the “Badiou Hoax” is rather H&B’s self-hoax.

Badiou has devoted a lot of time to establishing the necessity of argument in philosophy and to analysing those thinkers who attempt to dispense with argument or to mimimise its importance (see the entry Antiphilosophy). Far from rejecting the traditional mission of philosophy and having a harmful influence on its pursuit, Badiou has indefatigably tracked down the presuppositions that tend to dissolve philosophy into something else, and has proposed a return to classicism (see Platonism/Anti-Platonism).

As part of their conflation of Badiou with the “postmodern current” (this expression is used repeatedly in the video) H&B declare that Badiou is anti-science. Here they should have read the entry on Conditions, which explains that one of Badiou’s key ideas is that philosophy always depends on four outside truth procedures that condition its existence: science, politics, art, and love.

In conclusion, THE BADIOU DICTIONARY does not proceed by simple verbal tokens used to signify membership in an esoteric group devoted to Maoist mysticism and to antiscientific obscurantism, but by rational concepts. If anyone wants to understand the attraction, the dangers, and the limits of postmodern relativism, and to examine a fully worked out alternative, then THE BADIOU DICTIONARY is a useful philosophical vade mecum.

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5 Responses to THE BADIOU DICTIONARY: against the postmodern self-hoax

  1. The supposed Badiou hoax is especially disappointing given that Hunneman has done good work in philosophy of biology and is not a philosophical idiot like Sokal. He should know better than to say: I don’t understand this author after leafing through a couple of his books, therefore he must be writing post-modern nonsense.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. landzek says:

    People are just retarded. We should make no response so whatever ‘Badiou Hoax’ nonsense, address none of its concerns. I had never even heard of it but I’m sure that it is filled with nonsense based in entire misunderstanding. It’s not worth anyone’s time to defend against or address such ridiculousness. Set such comments aside and treat them as unimportant as they are.

    Terrence you’re much more tolerant and patient than I am for sure. ….

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  3. landzek says:

    … I’m a little unsure though where the entries of the dictionary are and where your commentary.

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  4. landzek says:

    …oh yeah. I do recall that there was a hoaxster. A little bit ago. Complete moron. If it was suppised to be funny, or if any humor was to come of it, you are right: it falls (fell) flat over itself; plain ignorance. I didnt remember it became ‘the’ Badiou hoax. Lol.

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  5. a says:

    Badiou’s book about “Wittgenstein’s antiphilosophy” is something that more people should read. And they should stop for a moment and ask how was it possible for an engineer without neither training nor understanding of mathematics to work on ‘foundations of mathematics’. Fifty years ago it was dismissed by experts but today there are hundreds of books and thousands of articles about this moronic verbiage. Unfortunately, some jokes are missed.

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