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Manifesto of Affirmationism

Alain Badiou
translated by Barbara P. Fulks
I delivered a version of this text that was much longer, and in a different vein, in 2001 in Venice at the conference The
Question of Art in the Third Millennium, organized by GERMS (Groupe dtude et de Recherche des Mdias
Symboliques), under the direction of Ciro Bruni. An even longer version, in a style probably verging on sarcasm, was
published in 2002 by GERMS in the proceedings of the colloquium in question, proceedings titled Utopia 3. The
present version, tempered, shedding the rhetoric of Empire (overly influenced at that time by Negris best-seller), is
comprised of the essentials of an intervention at the Drawing Center in New York, made at the invitation of its director,
Catherine de Zegher, for the launch of issue 22 of lacanian ink, directed by Josefina Ayerza, in which appeared the
translation into English of my small book, Of an Obscure Disaster (Dun dsastre obscur), published in French in
1991 by Aube. There will probably be still more versions. Work in progress.

Our power of resistance and invention requires that we renounce our delights in the margins, in
obliqueness, in infinite deconstruction, in the fragment, in the trembling exposition of mortality, in
finitude, and the body. For the sake of the poor century which is opening, we must, and thus we
will, declare the existence of what no longer exists in art: the monumental construction, the project,
the creative force of the weak, the destruction of established powers.
We should oppose all those who only want the end, those cohorts of the burned-out and parasitical
last men. The end of art, of metaphysics, of representation, of imitation, of transcendence, of the
oeuvre, of spirit: enough! Let us declare at once the End of all the ends and the possible beginning
of all that is, of all that was and will be.
Against its present decline into inconsistent multiplicity and an energy which is immoral,
uncontrolled, and if it succeeds fundamentally non-human, the vocation of art, in all its forms, is
to reaffirm affirmation.
Let us declare again, on behalf of humanity, the artistic rights of the truly non-human. Let us again
accept being transfixed by a truth (or a beauty: its the same thing), rather than calculating to the
nearest penny the minor modes of our expression.
Its a matter of affirming. And this is why this draft is a manifesto of Affirmationism.
Let us call post-modern why not? any representation of artistic production made under the
sign of the spectacular exposition of desires, phantasms and terrors. Under the sign of an abolition
of the universal. Under the sign of the total exposition of particularisms. Under the sign of the
historic equality of formal methods.
Yes, this is so: one can call post-modern whatever displays a capricious and unlimited ascendancy
of particularities: the communitarian, ethnic, linguistic, religious, sexual, and any other particularity.
And the biographical particularity, the me, as one imagines it can and should be expressed. I
posit that these post-modern products represent the last form of enslavement of art to particularity.
We can distinguish thus, if you will, the ethnic and communitarian products by their sexual
underpinning and me-ist products.
The products most sought after by the gourmets of commerce are those which easily combine the
two varieties: in a recognizable ethnic and sexual category, they are, however, of a quite ludic meism.

Let us not denounce anyone; to each their own.

Here is our diagnosis: revisited in a long historical perspective, the post-modern products, pegged to
the idea of the expressive value of the body, for which posture and gesture give it consistency, are
the material form, one might say, of a pure and simple plunge into Romanticism.
This question is of the greatest importance to us. From the vast quantity of references which the
Affirmationists of the future will assemble and publish, let me isolate narcissistically one of my
own texts. In the first chapter of Petit manuel dinesthtique, I propose the distinction, in regard to
the relationship between art and philosophy, between three essential systems. The first, which I call
Didactic, claims, in a Platonic or Stalinist manner, to submit artistic activity to the external
imperative of the Idea. The second, Classical, puts art under the natural rule of pleasing forms and
confers upon it, in the manner of Aristotle or Louis XIV, the practical virtue of temperance of
passion rather than a mission of truth. The third, the Romantic, on the contrary, sees in art the
only free form of descent of the infinite Idea into the sensory, and asks thus that philosophy bow
down before art, in the manner of Heidegger and of certain fascisms.
I hold that the 20th century was not really innovative in respect to the decisive connection between
material gesture and ideality; that it did not really propose any new figure of art as independent
thought. Here is the text:
The avant-gardes have only been the desperate and unstable search for a
mediative schema, a Didactic-Romantic schema. They were Didactic, through
their desire to put an end to art, through their denunciation of its inauthentic and
alienated character. And also Romantic, through their conviction that art should be
reborn immediately as absolutist, as integrally conscious of its own operation, as
truth immediately capable of reading itself. Considered as proposition of a
Didactic-Romantic schema, the avant-gardes were above all anti-Classical.
I concluded, a bit further on:
The global situation is finally the following: paralysis of the three inherited
schemas (Didacticism, Classicism and Romanticism), and the closure of every
effect of the only schema tried in this century, which was in fact a synthetic
schema, Didactic-Romanticism.
I am convinced that the we to come, that of the Affirmationists of the beginning of this century,
will hardly be tempted to return to this conception. Starting from it, it will design its proper and
definitive affirmation in the arts.
The Affirmationists will, of course, defend the totality of contemporary artistic production against
the current reactionary attacks. We will distrust all those who try to use provisional theoretical
weaknesses in order to impose the restoration of our pompous heritage, or even worse. But we
should not be blind to the problem we have in common: the domination in the arts of all the figures
of me-ist or communitarian expressivity, which is nothing but degraded Didactic-Romanticism, a
kind of avant-gardism without avant-garde. In a certain way, it combines with a recurring
pomposity. Pomposity proposed violent technologized and grandiose decoration as affect, and it
dominates Hollywood cinema and even certain sectors of architecture or multimedia design. But the
artists of the post-modern circuit merely oppose it with a poor anti-Classicism whose single
resource is Spinozas phrase: We do not know what a body can do. With this meager viaticum, a
number of them (a majority?) continue to search in a paroxystic particularity, be it ethnic or meist, for something to affirm the ruin of both the Classical conception of art and the absolutist

affirmation of subjective expression, private or public. Now, the motif of the expression, whatever
its modalities might be, saturates the artistic gesture with a Romanticism whose only known
variants are funereal Romanticism or ludic Romanticism, depending on whether one pronounces the
morose end of the human race or one pretends to celebrate it.
We cannot understand what is gripping us and causing us to despair if we do not return again and
again to the fact that our world is not at all a democracy, but rather an imperial conservatism under
the guise of democratic phraseology.
What to say of todays world? A solitary power whose army is terrorizing the entire planet dictates
its law of the circulation of capital and images and proclaims everywhere, with the most extreme
violence, the Duties and Rights of everyone. Behind it run valets and rivals, Europeans, Russians,
Chinese Often disagreeing on means, they never cease testifying to their basic agreement.
Because they have no other idea of how to give value to the world.
Under the imposed name of terrorism, those most violently opposed to this hegemony of the
brutal West, for which democracy is spiritual ornament, are in reality part of it. Some nihilist
criminals killed at random thousands of inhabitants of New York. This mass crime is evidently an
avatar of a contemporary pathology. It is a cold mise en scne of a hackneyed motif: the fury of
inspired barbarism against sated imperialism. The American army and the terrorists replay the old
and bloody historical scene of civilization encircled by brutes. Its enough to remind us of Rome: a
solitary power, which in its own eyes incarnates civilization, disposes art in two directions. On the
one hand, a sort of flashy celebration of its own power, a morbid and repetitive drunkenness,
proposed to the people as an opiate for its passivity. These are circus games, of which today
professional sports and the culture industry, be it musical or filmic, give us the exact equivalent.
This kind of entertainment works on a grand scale. To the names of victim and gladiator correspond
today the commerce of colossal media budgets and doping in sports. This art is the art of pomp
which makes of the funereal power of the Empire the material of games and fictions increasingly
more allegorical and bombastic. The natural hero of this art is the Killer, the torturing serial killer.
In short, the perverse gladiator.
In the other direction, a meager sophistication, itself finely wrought through a kind of formalist
excess, tries to oppose to pompous massiveness the unctuous discernment and subtle perversity of
people who can, without suffering too much from it, pretend to retire from general circulation. This
art is Romantically morose: it expresses impotence and portrays it as nihilistic delectation. It freely
reclaims great forests, eternal snowfalls, softened bodies through a native or oriental wisdom. But
this art is all the while bound up with the twilight of pompous art, like the pairing of circus horns
with Martials deliciously obscene epigrams. Or the flamboyant rhetoric of the generals with the
ascetic sermon of the Christians in catacombs.
The multiform desolation of entire sections of contemporary art comes from what is, in complete
symmetry with the pompous art of commerce full of massive imagery, a Romantic formalism.
Formalism, in that a single formal idea, a single gesture, a single humble craft are considered to
support a differentiation from the commercial category. Romantic, in that each time one plays the
trade, even in increasing anonymity, the motif of unprecedented expression, of the mise en scne,
supposedly sublimely singular, assumes ethnic or me-ist particularities. Romantic, in that the
energy of the body is supposedly the saving grace of the conceptual disembodiment. By means of
which, in the ennui of precise gestures but this time without miracle, either the linkage of art with
redemptive purpose or art as suffering and radiant exposition of the Flesh art returns as carnal
construction of finitude.
To be specific, Romantic formalism has always been an artistic orientation of ensconced and

terminal dominations. And it is thus in our time: that of a unique and multiform doctrine (economic
liberalism and political electoralism), integrating for the first time the quasi-totality of human
species in the distribution and constraint of its fortune. Yes, our time is that of the unique doctrine
and of the consensus which is created around it under the strange name of democracy. Any unique
doctrine of this type is desperate, nihilist, because it only proposes to the human multiplicity the
absurd perpetuation of its obscene order. And the artistic subjectivity that it leads to is that of this
nihilism and of this obscenity. It is a matter of formalizing the sublime desperation of the body
delivered to the jouissance of the Unique. Lenin himself observed that, in the periods when critical
and revolutionary political activity are very weak, the sad arrogance of imperialisms produces a
combination of mysticism and pornography. This is exactly what, in the form of Romantic formal
vitalism, is happening to us today. We have universal sex, and we have Oriental wisdom. A Tibetan
pornography this is what the hope of this age, which has yet to discover a dawn, has
Some artists have long thought that the persistent destruction of the Romantic schema and of all its
naturalist and vitalist paraphernalia was the imperative of the moment. The Affirmationists demand
the singularity of a critical genealogy. In all the arts in the 20th century, great artists have tried to
undo the enterprise of Romantic expressivity and to give art its necessary indifference (froideur), in
the same sense in which Mallarm reclaimed for the poetic Idea that it should arise, indifferent to
neglect and to obsolescence, like a Constellation. These artists, often isolated, have slowly
composed configurations comprehensible only today. They have maintained the will of an artconcept which tolerates neither finitude, nor flesh, nor redemption. An art completely allergic to
obscurantist hypnosis as well as to the pornographic stupidities of festive performances. An art
which is not that of Buddha, nor that of a desire torn between the festival and the morgue. An art
effectively divorced from Romanticism. An art which could be the equivalent of what the poet
Alvaro de Campos, Fernando Pessoas heteronym, called a mathematics of being.
The tautest and truest art of the 20th century has tried to show, as Alvaro de Campos says, that
Newtons binomial is as beautiful as the Venus de Milo. Which means: it has tried to grasp the
real with the same impersonal rigor as that of mathematics. We could name some heroes of this
attempt, constantly opposed to the succession of neo-Romanticisms, such as that of the Surrealists,
and, worse yet, that of the Situationists, to say nothing of the contemporary Corporealists and
Vitalists. The list we will limit it to the disappeared is arbitrary; it only indicates the apparent
absence of contour in what outlines, in the dead heavens of the century, our constellation. The
Affirmative constellation. There are the great Affirmationists, the best, not needing to know they
were: those who developed by themselves, through their art, an entire configuration, in principle as
well as in execution. Fernando Pessoa for poetry, Picasso for painting, Arnold Schoenberg for
music, Bertolt Brecht for the theater, Ossip Zadkine for sculpture, Charles Chaplin for the cinema,
William Faulkner for the novel, Merce Cunningham for dance
But we cant forget Wallace Stevens, who affirms the poems possibility of capturing being from
appearing; Osip Mandelstam, grasping all the sacred signs in the immensity of the cadaver of Time;
Paul Celan, who affirms the transpoetic possibility with the poem After Auschwitz. We celebrate
Alban Berg, who affirms the integral possibility of opera beyond its evident death; and Bela Bartok,
who perpetuates the experimental force, contrapuntal and rhythmic, of the string quartet. Or Olivier
Messiaen, affirming the incorporation of a sort of sonorous lentitude, through subtle masses and
temporal tangles, of the innocent contemplative life, while Anton Webern constructs the mystical
value of sophisticated silences.
We will praise Affirmation: of Malevitch or Mondrian, for the ontological certitude of geometries;

of Frantisek Kupka or Mark Rothko, for their power oh, draperies of the soul! of the great and
pure contrasts of sufficient color. We will say: Kandinsky, legitimator of the connection of signs!
Jackson Pollock, enclosed effervescence of the infinite gesture! We salute you, Pirandello, fecund
decision of duplicity, aptitude for the truth of the illusion! And Claudel equally, wagging tongue of
conservative dissatisfaction to the summit of the heavens.
Germaine Richiers idolatrous insects, Henry Moores colossal maternities, Brancusis pure signs!
Still other Affirmations: Woolfs enveloped vision of ephemeral totalizations, Katherine Mansfields
morning benediction, Becketts ascetic perseverance of the desire to exist. And you, brother
Malraux, you who took History to the limits of its rhetorical celebration.
Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, revelation of the force of dream detained by the joining of setting and
lights. Orson Welles, design of tortuous poetics of visibility Lets end this exercise, seemingly
absurd, which shows that nothing in this list is inscribed under a recognized designation by schools.
Its only that the singularity of the works shows desire, in disparate directions, against all
Romanticism, and, in the eyes of the tenebrous century, for what might at last take the form of a
terrestrial Affirmation.
By naming what we are examining and what may be of use to us, we do not intend to distribute
value. We intend to make perceptible the genealogy of an axiomatic. An axiomatic which poses the
following: at the dawn of the century, we should restore artistic value to its incorporeal rigor, to its
anti-Romantic dispassion, to a subtractive operation through which it holds closest to the real
without image, which is the only cause of art. Subtraction through which it deletes any enterprise of
particularity, for the real it encounters is intended for all. Subtraction which is the modern method
of integral affirmation of the universal.
Axiomatic, thus, of an art which is neither ethnic nor me-ist. An unlocalized art, as ambitious as it
is impersonal, as naked for universal thought as the line depicting the timeless sign of a bison and a
tiger drawn thirty thousand years ago in the shadow of a cave. And which, in this same nakedness,
affirms forever the non-humanity of the Beautiful. The Affirmationist axiomatic states only minimal
conditions, still completely abstract, but largely and actively distributed by the constellation not yet
designed by artists of this century; conditions such that art may rebel against imperial power at the
same time that it surmounts the Romantic duplicity of the funereal and the ludic. A duplicity that
Victor Hugo used in order to reclaim the sublime and the grotesque. For if he was not pompous, the
art of today is completely so: the sublime obtained by force through means of the grotesque. The
sterile grimace of an absent sacralization. The insipid gesticulation of Me.
It is against these hasty colorings of an insufficient devotion to the non-humanity of the true that we
attempt to restore the rights of an independent Affirmation.
1. Art is not the sublime descent from the infinite into the finite abjection of the body and sexuality.
It is, on the contrary, the production of an infinite subjective series through the finite means of a
material subtraction.
We affirm that there are only works in art. And that a work is always finite, finished, as finished as
possible. The myth of unworking is post-Romantic, it is the ennui of the finite in the name of the
vague infinite. The distinctive feature of art is to lead to an infinite subjective possibility attached to
the finitude of the work. Whatever makes us still think about Aeschylus or Lucretia, using a
recreated subjectivity, is good. The idea of the ephemeral is believed to be new, but it is only the

alignment of art with the circulation of consumable commodities and with the usury of products,
which is the material basis of Empire. To resist Empire is to affirm the work, all the while avoiding
the pompous praise of its power. To affirm the powerful impotence of the work, its fragile and
implacable singularity.
2. Art cannot be the expression of mere particularity, whether it be ethnic or me-ist. It is the
impersonal production of a truth addressed to all.
The schema of the expression supposes that each one, as artist, is a kind of ineffable singularity. As
they say today: I want to be myself or, the tribal version: We want to create, to recreate, our
own culture. Unfortunately, this wish is predetermined, and the myself which appears cannot be
distinguished at all from the everyone. And cultures are nothing but restored products, recycled
old things. All this is desperately average. Established powers only love statistics and polls because
they know that nothing is more innocent and incapable than the average. They know that each one,
anyone, is only an interchangeable animal. We affirm that this animal, through artistic labor,
provides the transfixed foundation for a universal address. The human animal is not at all the
source, but only the locus, or one of the loci. The artist as individual is only living matter lent to a
subject which, because it is a sensory subject, in the form of the work of art, needs such matter. But
once the work-subject is completed, we can forget entirely his individual transitory support. Only
the work is affirmative. The artist is the neutral element of this affirmation.
3. The truth of which art is the process is always the truth of the sensory, as sensory. Which means:
transformation of the sensory into event of the Idea.
What, among the processes of truth, is singular to art, is that the subject of truth is brought there by
the sensory. While the subject of truth in science is deduced by the power of the letter, in politics by
the infinite resources of the collective, and in love by sex as differentiation. Art makes event of that
which is the epitome of the given, sensory indistinction, and this is how art is Idea: through the
changing of what is there into what should happen to its own finiteness. The Idea, in art, is imposed
by the transformation of the manifest into an improbable imperative. One is constrained to see, as if
it were almost impossible, what otherwise is obviously visible this is, for example, painting. Art
affirms that at the very point of an impossible-to-feel, the Idea takes place, is felt again, in the
sensory effect of the work.
4. There is a necessary plurality of the arts, and whatever the imaginable intersections might be, no
totalization of this plurality is, itself, imaginable.
This applies only to the way in which the manifestation is required to be distributed in the sensory.
Nothing unifies the sensory except the individual animal subject and its organs. But this empirical
unification is indifferent to art, which deals with the sensory region by region and produces its own
universal non-empirical and non-organic subject. It cannot thus have sensorily indistinct art in it.
We affirm that the multimedia motif of a multisensorial art is a motif without true destiny. It only
projects in art the obscene uniqueness of commerce, the monetary equivalence of all products.
5. All art comes from impure form, and the purification of this impurity shapes the history and
extent of its artistic truth.
Form is what gives sensible manifestation a new tremor, so that it dissipates its manifestness and
changes it to a fragile ought-to-be. It is always at first impure, because it is suspended between the
initial manifestness and its tremor, between recognition and misrecognition. For a long time, this is
the way figuration was: this is a bullock, but not quite, and whats more, it was necessary to see in
order to believe. After which, art will strive to purify the impure, to dedicate itself more and more
entirely to its duty to make visible, against all visible evidence.
6. The subjects of an artistic truth are the works which compose it.
Otherwise there would be the authors and their manifestations or their expressions. And thus there

would not be any duty, any universality. There would only be the reflection of me-ist or ethnic
particularities. The only true subject is what appears: the work, after which the manifest is
suspended. The affirmative subject of the non-manifestation is the work, and it alone.
7. This composition is an infinite configuration which, in the artistic context of the moment, is a
generic totality.
We are speaking here of subjects initiated by an historical event of art, or the complex which
comprises works of an innovative series. Like serial works in music, or the classical style between
Haydn and Beethoven, or the years in which cubism was alive, or the post-Romantic poem and
thousands of other things. There are subjective collections, or constellations of works that we call
configurations, which are the real figure of artistic truths. A configuration is that which was neither
nameable nor calculable in the situation anterior to the art under consideration. It is what happens
unexpectedly, unpredicted. This is why the totality thus produced is generic: it affirms, in a given
moment, art as pure universal genre, exempted from any preliminary classification.
8. The real of art is ideal impurity as immanent process of its purification. In other words: art has as
its first material the purely descriptive contingence of a form. Art is the second formalization of the
advent of an unformed form.
This statement only restates the preceding from another angle. At first there is a formally impure
idea which changes a manifestation of the perception or of the interior intuition into a problem, an
imperative. Then, there is the refinement of the impurity, a detachment, wider and wider, of the
form. This is why one can say that the future of an artistic configuration, or of a truth, is made by a
second formalization, eliminating its impurity in the impure form, eliminating the unformed, or
making form of the unformed itself. Until the moment in which nothing of the real is retained, lack
of the manifest, lack of impurity. When a configuration loses its affirmative power, it succeeds.
9. The only maxim of contemporary art is to not be Western. Which means also that it should not
be democratic, if democratic means: conforming to the Western idea of political liberty.
Here we enter the present situation. Yes, the only problem is to know if the artistic imperative can
be detached from the Western imperative, which is that of marketing and communication. Western
democracy, in effect, is marketing and communication. Thus true art is that which interrupts
marketing, that which communicates nothing. Immobile and incommunicable, this is the art we
need, the only one that addresses everyone, not circulating according to any pre-established network
and not communicating with anyone in particular. Art should augment in everyone the nondemocratic strength of ones liberty. HOW?
10. A non-Western art is necessarily an abstract art, in the following sense: it abstracts from all
particularity and formalizes this gesture of abstraction.
In order to combat expressivity, to combat Romantic formalism, there is only the dynamic of
abstraction. This is a very old rule, but it is especially required in our situation. It all comes to this:
to invent a new sensory abstraction. It is true that we hardly know how. The work of science, and
particularly of mathematics, may instruct us. It is, after all, this route that those of the Renaissance
took, as well as the painters from the beginning of the century: they turned toward geometry. And
we also should turn toward geometry, which has changed a lot. Because it is less a matter of
substitution for the forms of its schema than for the logic of the invariants hidden in their complete
distortion. We should affirm, in art, the idea of intelligible distortions.
11. The abstraction in art which is and which is to come does not consider any particular public.
This art is tied to a proletarian aristocracy: it does what it says, without needing acceptance from
We affirm that all sociological and institutional speculations about the audience for the arts must be
abandoned. Sociology, and criticism itself, is only and always the auxiliary of Western democracy.

Art should not have to worry about its clientele. It is inflexibly addressed to all, and this address has
no empirical meaning. Art is made, says what it makes, makes what it says, according to its own
discipline, and without consideration for the interests of anyone. This is what I call its proletarian
aristocracy: an aristocracy exposed to the judgement of all. The great French director Antoine Vitez
had a lovely expression to designate the art of the theatre. He said: elitist for all. Proletarian
designates what, in each, through the discipline of work, belongs to generic humanity.
Aristocratic designates what is protected, in each, from any evaluation by the average, the
majority, similarity, or imitation.
12. The art which is and which is to come should be as solidly united as a demonstration, as
surprising as a night attack, and as elevated as a star. Here is what these three images as abstractions
The work to come should be as solidly united as a demonstration, because it should oppose to the
perpetual market mobility of the imperial world an inflexible principle of consequence. The work to
come spurns relativisms and suspects doubt. It explores its affirmation to the very end.
The work to come should be as surprising as a night attack because it makes an event of the ignored
real. It imposes this real violently, this piece of the real on whatever it seizes. It does not make it
circulate, it does not communicate it. It imposes it, with a necessary small touch of terror.
The work to come should be as elevated as a star because it desires non-temporal indifference to its
invented form. It is not fraternal, corporeal, it does not install itself in the lukewarmness of sharing.
The work of art to come is detached from imperial commerce.
The difficulty of art today is that there are three imperatives, not just one. There is the imperative of
consequence, the logical imperative, that of the mathematics of being. There is the imperative of
surprise, the imperative of the real, or of the exception. And there is the imperative of elevation, the
imperative of the symbol, or of distance. Often, works are received according to one or two of the
three imperatives. But the great problem of form today is to join the three. This is what will decide
the work to come. We leave the three last sentences in their conclusive nakedness.
13. Art can only be made today about what, for Communication (the medium and commerce), does
not exist, or hardly exists. Art constructs abstractly the visibility of this non-existence. It is what
orders, in all the arts, the formal principle: the capacity to render visible for everyone what, for the
medium and for commerce, and thus also for everyone, though from a different point of view, does
not exist.
14. Convinced of controlling the entire extent of the visible and of the audible through commercial
laws of marketing and the democratic laws of communication, contemporary power no longer needs
censorship. It says: Everything is possible. Which also might mean that nothing is. Abandoning
itself to this authorization to jouir is the ruin of all art, as well as all thought. We should be our own
pitiless censors.
15. It is better to do nothing than to work officially in the visibility of what the West declares to