Against all odds, I have always been concerned in a privileged way by the question of howsomething could still be called ‘subject’ within the most rigorous conditions possible of theinvestigation of structures. This question had an echo for me of an even older question, which I hadposed at the time that I was fully Sartrean, namely, the question of how to make Sartre compatiblewith the intelligibility of mathematics.
§ 1: Mathematical Existentialism
The wager of this thesis is that this question bears more fruit than might be expected, andthat, if pursued, it offers valuable insight into the structure and trajectory of Badiou’s thought,illuminating the inner workings of Sartre’s ontology in the same stroke. One effect of this pursuitis that the rubric ‘mathematical existentialism’ comes to suggest itself quite strongly as adescription of Badiou’s project, as undertaken in his landmark text,
Being and Event
. The valueof this label, though, lies more in forcing a question than in promising an adequate description. Itis for this reason I chose it as a title, as the first words of this project rather than the last. Itnevertheless threatens to cause some confusion, which I will try to dispel straightaway. To beginwith, the title suggests that we might fruitfully place both Sartre and Badiou under this rubric.We cannot. Sartre’s ontology and existentialist philosophy radically resist mathematisation, invirtue of the very structure of their concepts. This resistance, however, is as minimal as it isradical. Sartre’s concepts—particularly the notions of the for-itself, consciousness and nihilation —resist mathematisation insofar as they elude identity. As Sartre formulates it, the theory of intentionality itself, which is the bedrock of his ontology, implicates an irreducible
of non-self-identity in the very event of consciousness, which making it
recalcitrant to theself-identical literality of anything that can be thought within the formal productions of mathematics. In this respect, the non-mathematicity of Sartrean ontology is radical. Yet, as I will3