BADIOU AND SCIENCE FICTION: uncovering the infinite

Badiou’s THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS is out now in English (I almost said it exists in English, but « exist » is a technical term in Badiou’s system denoting anywhere between the minimal and the maximal intensity of appearing in a world. Does THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS exist in the sense of a high degree of appearing? I see no clear sign of this for the moment).

The customary (and necessary) work of exploration, exegesis, and application is no doubt well under way in the authorised spheres, but this is an ambiguous blessing. As an arduous work of philosophy we need all the help we can get to gain access to the « infinite intensities » that it both contains as a reservoir (the « work » for Badiou is a reservoir of infinite intensities) and speaks of as a content (the commodity, or waste product, is a covering over of such infinite intensities).

Of course, this is not to deny that to contain and to recount infinite intensities are mutually compossible, but the danger of covering over what we are trying to uncover (oropen up access to) is an ever present one. Badiou himself is no doubt doing both (uncovering and covering over) in his great book, but in differing proportions.

Pure uncovering, like pure deterritorialisation, is unrealistic, that is an empirically non-attested, non-attestable, regulatory Idea, and thus unattainable as a goal, but useful as a regulatory figuration.

I deliberately use the Deleuzian term deterritorialisation as a quasi-synonym for Badiou’s « uncovering » as I think that Badiou is far more Deleuzian than is commonly thought. Their systems considered in the abstract are very different, but as soon as Badiou’s system is to be applied it needs to rely on Deleuzian intuitions.

It is in this sense that I have argued that the four types of infinity that Badiou formally distinguishes (inaccessible, compact, immanent power, and proximity to the absolute) correspond to the four types of infinity that Deleuze intuitively makes use of (inaccessible outside, resistance to territorialisation, immanent affirmative plane of consistence, proximity to the absolute horizon).

These latter terms are scattered all through Deleuze and Guattari’s works, but it takes Badiou’s rigorous treatment in THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS to be able retroactively to see infinity as both present in Deleuze and central to his endeavour. We can then see Deleuze as lacking in rigour (systematics) but rich in intuitions (heuristics).

As I said above, when you apply Badiou in a creative fashion (i.e. without simply repeating Badiou’s own formulations and examples) you will often rely on « Deleuzian » intuitions.

Interesting examples of this systematic/heuristic overlap (Laruelle would say « superposition ») can be found in Badiou’s treatment of poetry, which quite often has a Deleuzian resonance. A striking case is to be found in Badiou’s oral discussion of Rimbaud’s prose poem « Youth » in his seminar on « The Immanence of Truths », which was unfortunately not included in the text of the book.

I translated and discussed this here: Badiou’s IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS – Arthur Rimbaud’s « Youth  | «AGENT SWARM (wordpress.com)

Rimbaud is a shared reference for Badiou and Deleuze, and they are both gifted with the power to bring to life what is part of the common culture of every French person who has been through high school (i.e. Rimbaud is not some recondite reference in France) but is perhaps because of that covered over, but on the other hand whose infinity is more proximally accessible).

All this is illuminating and moving, but my fear is that in exploring, or adopting, frames of reference found in Badiou’s work we blindly repeat his own personal and cultural particularities.

The actual examples that Badiou examines in his conceptual investigations of the truth procedures are a case in point. If we take the poetic procedure, I have benefited a lot from his discussion of Mallarmé, Rimbaud, Pessoa, etc., but my own personal culture (which includes these references) extends beyond and inclines me to give central importance to science fiction.

This is why in 2015 (long before the publication of THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS) when I was invited to give a paper on philosophy and the study of mathematics I quite naturally chose to deploy what I had learned from Badiou’s ongoing seminar on « The Immanence of Truths », available on line) in relation to Neal Stephenson’s ANATHEM: IMMANENTISE PLATO: On Neal Stephenson’s ANATHEM | AGENT SWARM (wordpress.com)

Further, when Badiou’s book THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS came out in 2018 I constantly had in mind while reading it Dante’s DIVINE COMEDY (this reference figured in the presentation I gave for the book launch event, as a framework for envisioning the poetical pathway of the book):

MY PATH THROUGH BADIOU’S “THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS”: full English text | AGENT SWARM (wordpress.com)

But I also had in mind another science fiction novel, STAR MAKER by Olaf Stapledon, often compared to THE DIVINE COMEDY for its cosmic scope:

STAR MAKER (Olaf Stapledon) – An Immanent Divine Comedy | Xeno Swarm (wordpress.com)

The imaginative pertinence and conceptual utility of this science fiction resonance as heuristic probe for exploring and expounding Badiou’s book was confirmed for me by the publication six months later of TETRALOGOS by François Laruelle, which undertook to theorise the sort of SF framework that could underlie, and not just illustrate, speculative works of philosophy of such depth and amplitude.

These two books, Badiou’s THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS and Laruelle’s TETRALOGOS literally blew my philosophical mind, and I wish to share that metanoetic explosion of joy by uncovering these works as much as possible.

Addendum – this is the rationale behind my Hyper-Book project:

HYPER-THINKING THE ABSOLUTE: Badiou, Laruelle, Deleuze, Zizek – a philosophical hyper-book-in-progress aimed at giving the first book-length commentary on Badiou’s THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS, Laruelle’s A BIOGRAPHY OF ORDINARY MAN and TETRALOGOS, and Zizek’s SEX AND THE FAILED ABSOLUTE.

The Hyper-Badiou part is an ongoing commentary on THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS, and begins here:

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