BADIOU ON EVIL AND LOVE (1): innocence of the void, disaster in the real

CONTEXT

Badiou’s seminar for the academic year 1990-1991 has just been published. It bears the title: Theory of Evil, Theory of Love. It continues the reflexion on the four conditions of philosophy (art, science, love, politics) that can be traced back to Badiou’s seminar, in the year 1986-1987, devoted to a confrontation with Heidegger’s thought, and forward to his seminar on “the essence of politics” (1991-1992).

For me these seminars stretching from 1986 to 1992 are of great interest. They embody a major creative phase in Badiou’s thought on the nature of philosophy. They are followed by four years of seminars on “anti-philosophy”: Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Lacan, and Saint Paul (1992-1996). Badiou situates his two books CONDITIONS (1992) and ETHICS (1993) as providing respectively the theoretical and the practical synthesis of this period.

PLURALISM

For Badiou Heidegger was the philosopher of the “age of the poets”, in which poetry took on the task of thinking the new epoch, a task that philosophy had abandoned. One can call this new epoch the age of the multiple, and the great poetry of the twentieth century was a poetry of the multiple. On this hypothesis the age of the poets constituted a period of transition between the old metaphysics of the One (under the figure of God, then Man) and the new metaphysics of the multiple (that Badiou aims to provide in its purest form).

DISASTER

The first class of this seminar (7-11-90) starts with the discussion of an evil that is specific to philosophy and inherent to its exercise, one that can “paralyse, and destroy the very space of, philosophical thought” (page 12). Badiou calls this figure of evil philosophy’s “disaster” and his diagnostic attributes it to a “vulnerability” in the nature of truth, torn between the void of its being and the positivity of is apprehension and application.

“When one brings to presence a full philosopheme, when it circulates by suture in the state of a historical situation, it is then an active factor in the emerging of a real disaster” (page 12, my translation).

PLATO

This dialectic between plenitude and void stemming from the category of truth is thus internal to philosophy, inherent to its nature from the very beginning. Badiou makes use of this new conceptual frame to sum up the findings of his seminar of the previous year on Plato:

“what is innocently exposed according to the truth is also exposed to the risk of its disaster in the real” (12).

This duplicity in the exposition of truth, between the innocence of the void and disaster in the real, between Socratic doubt and Platonic doctrine, will be a constant theme in this seminar.

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