(source: seminar IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS, academic year 2012-2013, class December 12, 2012, my translation)
Badiou’s strategy in THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS involves beginning with a critique of the dominant ideology of modern society, one which is no longer based on the traditional form of finitude, one of stability and repetition, but on a new (modern and post-modern) form of finitude, one of movement and innovation. The critique of the dogma of human finitude will lead Badiou to elaborate a new theory of the infinite. This new theory of the infinite allows him to concur with the postmodern critique of the messianism normally associated with grand narratives (e.g. waiting for the revolution) without accepting the concomitant rejection of grand narratives themselves.
Badiou criticises the « postmodern » as an attempt to make one’s peace with the finitude of capitalist circulation, to inhabit it playfully and cynically, i.e. to accept it as a given albeit without being duped by it, to « accelerate » it, perhaps to take pleasure in the invention of new rules.
Lyotard spoke of the « end of the grand narratives ». In fact, when there is no more narrative there are only rules. Personally, I am absolutely for their being grand narratives, because they always assume an unfolding and a resolution, while the « post-modern » is a pessimism concerning finitude, i..e. a pessimism concerning the possibility of exiting it. It is better to seek for good « grand narratives » than for new rules.
Lyotard himself always opposed this version of the postmodern, the cynical acceptance of and detachment from the play of complexification. Lyotard’s own postmodern added something else to this relativist tableau of bodies and their pleasures, of language games and their moves. One of his names for this something else was « anamnesis », the recalling of an otherness that opens us to another way, and the living within this openness
Badiou accuses Lyotard’s post-modernism of being a form of pessimism and resignation, of accepting that there is no exit from the finitude of the modern world. According to Badiou, Lyotard is right to give up the notion of waiting for a better world tomorrow, but he is wrong to conflate the grand narrative with messianism and prophetic expectations:
one must have done with prophetic waiting, for good. We have conflated « grand narrative » and « prophetic waiting » (cf. the banality of drawing a parallel between the communist narrative and the religious narrative).
Against this postmodern “pessimism over finitude” Badiou insists that we need a grand narrative without the messianic wait. We can have a grand narrative based on openness rather than on waiting. We need to find elements of the infinite already there inside the finite world we live in and “release” them:
To release the infinite is to live in the world in such a way that the present is so intense that there is no need to wait for tomorrow; in reality tomorrow must be here.
There must be points of infinite intensity already there, as points of infinity immanent to the world of mediocre intensities.
The immanent activation of the possibility that tomorrow is present as effective promise is not a prophecy. I understand the need to attack the notion of waiting, which is ultimately only the primacy of receptivity (simply, you wait for not what you are given, but for what you will be given). The primacy of practice, in contrast, requires that the representation that one has of tomorrow be validated in finitude’s opening from the inside, i.e. in points within finitude that nevertheless are also the bearers of its opening.