Summary of a conference by Alain Badiou to high school students on TRUE LIFE.
Inside each young person there are two enemies to true life:
1) Life consists in consuming and enjoying, in having satisfactions.
True life is made of moments, bits and pieces. It is when you feel really alive, that you are truly living. True life is having as many of these intense moments as possible. The true life is the intense life, the life of pleasures. The problem with this conception is that it breaks life up, shatters it, it’s life broken up into good and bad moments.
This vision is short-term and provisional, all duration is lost. The true life is a life in pieces, that can be collected, it is the collection of intense moments. This is the idea of transgression and collection.
2) Life consists in success, in getting a good position.
This is the idea of duration, of continuity, of stability, true life is settling in. To succeed in settling you need a strategy. You need a good start in life, good initial conditions, to begin very early on.
This vision is long-term and permanent. The true life is a life that endures, that can be planned out. This is the idea of power and calculation.
cf. Queneau’s ZAZIE IN THE MÉTRO. “I want to be a school teacher…to piss the kids off”. What counts in life is power, getting even. You calculate your life.
In sum, the true life is the collection of enjoyments or the calculation of your success. The common point in both these conceptions is forgetting the other.
cf. Rimbaud, “the poet of the youth”. He explored both temptations: burn your life vs plan your life. Burn vs settle, or mage vs peasant:
“I ! I who claimed to be mage or angel, beyond all morals, I am returned to the ground, with a duty to seek, and rough reality to embrace! Peasant!” (Rimbaud, A Season in Hell, Adieu).
Rimbaud: the errant poet vs the sedentary merchant.
The youth is contradictory, because it is worked on by both temptations: burn vs settle, or romantic vs ambitious. Society is afraid of its youth, it does not know what balance will be struck between revolt and ambition.
The question is: how can one settle without losing the intensity of existence?
Will the obligation to settle prevent me from enjoying life? You have to settle, otherwise it’s a slow suicide, un-sustainable life, demolition. So you need a settling, an installation, that allows for moments of absence, of transgression, of departure and return. You need a critical installation, that admits that the world you are settled in is not necessarily good.
The true life implies the possibility of leaving the constraints of the settled life. Not of refusing them, because that is suicidal. But to be able to go outside of them.
cf. Plato, one must always be ready to go out of the cavern, to modify the balance of life, between installation and transgression.
Settle vs leave. Not a fixed installation but a navigation.
cf. ANABASIS – word which means mounting and descending – by Saint-Jean Perse.There is no necessary contradiction between intensity and installation, between building and navigating. One can settle in a moving boat instead of in a house.
The world must change to welcome its youth, the young people who will invent a new world. The world must be thought from the outset in terms of mobility. That is the true life: inside the vast world in which I am necessarily installed my thought maintains the idea of navigation, of the elsewhere, of difference, of the possibility of new intensities and of new experiences of life.
Between the two temptations, the installed life and the fragmented life, one must re-invent life, invent a new life, a life which accepts being its own movement, its own desire.