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BadiouChapter191011

BadiouChapter191011

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Published by: Sebastian Wright on Oct 19, 2011
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03/05/2013

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§2. Badiou‘s decision
 
Giving up leadership, then taking it back 
Every truly contemporary philosophy must set out from the singular theses accordingto which Althusser identifies philosophy.
1
 Alain Badiou,
 Metapolitics
[1998]In the 1970s Alain Badiou issued furious Maoist polemics against his former teacher. Only
decades later did he come to concede the lasting significance of Althusser‘s philosophical
project for his own
 – 
or at least the corrective theses of 
 Lenin and Philosophy
.
2
In part thissoftening of stance could be put down to an inevitable mellowing which comes with age andachievement: the angry and scarcely read Maoist militant of the 1970s and early 1980stransformed into a world renowned philosopher, overshadowing his mentor and becoming
 possibly the continental tradition‘s most respected living thinker. But the world had alsochanged in the interim. Where in the 1970s targeting the limitations of Althusser‘s quietist
programme could be seen as effecting a maximal scission in theoretical practice, thepostcommunist world of the 1990s and beyond would render such antagonism anachronistic.The predominance of discourses of human rights, global governance, and perhaps more than
anything else the elevation of the master signifier of ‗democracy‘ to a position of 
unimpeachable authority
 – 
with, conversely, the assignment of communism, militancy,revolution and the will to truth to describe all that went awry in the 20
th
century
 – 
hasinestimably reconfigured the terrain. Addressing the prerogatives of Althusseriantheoreticism in a 2007 interview, Badiou conceded the role of changing historical conditionsin its reappraisal.Evidently the question of theoreticism does not have the same importancetoday, but I would say that the relation between philosophy and politics today,or the question (of the role) of theory has once again become very importantbecause the concrete situation has become very difficult and mixed. In those
years [‘69
-] we had great hope, truly massive, in the situation.
3
 
 
2
 
From this vantage point of the present we can more easily recognise Badiou‘s underlying
proximity to his teacher.
I preface with these remarks because there is another reason why Badiou‘s philosophy
is infrequently considered in even qualified continuity
with Althusser‘s. The translation of Badiou‘s books into English proceeding from his 1992
 Manifesto for Philosophy
, the 1997critique of Deleuze,
The Clamour of Being
4
, and his 1988 magnum opus,
 Being and Event 
,and only recently working backwards to encompass the works of the 60s, 70s, and early1980s, has certainly prejudiced interpretations in terms of an orientation towards comparisonswith more overly metaphysical rivals like Deleuze and Heidegger. Although the rectificationof this situation is underway thanks to the efforts of Bruno Bosteels and others in translatingearlier works such as
Theory of the Subject,
and in bringing to attention the renegotiation of 
Althusserianism across Badiou‘s philosophical trajectory, it remains an underappreciated
an
gle. To what extent Althusser‘s ‗vanishing cause‘ of structural causality persists inBadiou‘s idea of the event, and how formative can be considered Althusser‘s tendency to
privilege mathematics as the prototypical scientific practice in influencing Badio
u‘s turn
towards mathematical ontology, is often clouded by the sharp distinction wherein Althusser
maintains history as being a ―process without a subject‖ against Badiou‘s position which
could be put oppositely: there is history only insofar as there are
events
 
and subjects
. Inisolating just this inversion, however, it is possible to lose sight of their overall conceptualaffinity, and moreover the political determinations contextualising their separation. Thematter at hand therefore demands a reconstruction of the implosion of the Althusserian
movement after 1968, up to which time two of Althusser‘s prodigious students – 
JacquesRancière and Alain Badiou
 – 
remained constructive partners in the structuralist endeavour.
By tracing the genesis of Badiou‘s
ideas to their Althusserian origin it is then possible to
follow how ideas found in Badiou‘s early works re
-emerge in the mid to late 1980s after athoroughgoing purification from Althusserian doctrines. But precisely in regard touncertainty over the per
sistent question of intellectual authority in Badiou‘s philosophy
(whether construed as scientific or ontological) will this purification be put into question.Although the large and ever-
growing secondary literature on Badiou‘s philosophy has
traced his theoretical debts to Althusser, curiously little attention has been given to the
Badiou‘s rearticulation of the role for intellectual guidance of the masses. Not unsurprisingly
readings have fixated on the implication of politics occurring through sequences of unexpected events as opposed to a piecemeal or teleological emergence across drawn outtimescales. Is political change a creeping process achieved through the steady building up of 
 
3
 resources, or does it occur through spontaneous flashes that no amount of organization couldhope to engineer? Such is the binary to which Adrian Johnston has devoted a book-length
study of Badiou‘s conception of political transformation. Johnston examines in detail debatessurrounding Badiou‘s conception of the event: noti
ng a dichotomy between those, like Peter
Hallward, who see Badiou‘s conception as lending itself to ―flash politics‖, and those, like
Bosteels, who place emphasis on the laborious, disciplined work of affirmation after theevent.
5
Yet whichever way one looks at it neither perspective interrogates the question of 
intellectual authority in Badiou‘s theory of the event in much depth. This, I suspect, is because of the presumption that the event‘s aleatory being automatically undermines the role
for mass guidan
ce. Leninist readings of Badiou‘s philosophy such as Daniel Bensaïd‘s have
understandably taken objection to the apparent anti-organizational conclusions that followfrom viewing the event as a political miracle bestowed upon militants.
6
 
Badiou‘s post
-Maoist
formation of the L‘Organisation Politique in the 1980s – 
with its aim to practice politicswithout a party organization
 – 
of course only serves to reinforce to that impression. But thesource of contention only obliquely broached by this emphasis on the temporality of politicsis the part played by the intellectual. Or to put it as plainly as possible: just because themilitant sequence occurs after an event does this ipso facto imply a diminution of the role forconceptually astute philosophers? If events are necessary for subject and if to some extent the
notion of the subject in Badiou‘s mature philosophy is transitive with that of the event, who
then is the subject? Who gets to decide an event really is an event? Whose enunciation of what counts as an
event is privileged? Given Badiou‘s repeated insistence that the purpose of 
 Being and Event 
(henceforth,
 B&E 
) is to establish a new conception of the subject, andbearing in mind the highly complex formal discourse of subjectivity he establishes in the firstand second of his grand philosophy books, why not take Badiou on his word and think theimplications of his idea of the event through the question of the subject? If the hallmark of 
Althusser‘s conception of history as a ‗process without a subject‘ cou
ld be more accurately
appended with ‗except the masses and their representative institution, the PCF‘ whatdetermination is suitable for Badiou‘s conception of the subject?
 
To approach Badiou‘s philosophy from the right angle to address the above questions
,I will demonstrate the theoretical purpose played by the event in establishing a pre-reflective,egalitarian political condition wherein vanguardist ambitions are immediately disqualifiedfrom any role in deciding the right time, the right subjects, or the right issues for revolt orrevolution. By the same token, we will then see how the supernumerary, unpredictable event
is beholden to the subject‘s affirmation to seal its existence. The event‘s duality as a both an

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