fractalDominic has written a very nice post entitled “Who’s Counting?”, on how, precisely, Badiou’s operation of the count-as-one in the formation of consistent multiplicities is to be understood. I confess that for me this is a central question with respect to Badiou’s ontology that I feel has received scant treatment. I’m fine with the notion that it isn’t a mathematician that is performing this operation, I just wish to have a more robust account of just what these operations are and how they’re performed. While Badiou has certainly gone further in this direction in Logiques des mondes with his account of “the transcendental”, the whole thing still remains deeply mysterious to me. My worry is that Badiou still remains tied to a sort of human-centered idealism. While Badiou proclaims that he’s a materialist, whenever he begins to discuss structure, the transcendental, etc., it seems as if he’s only talking about social structures. Indeed, in one of his interviews (I’ll have to dig up the link), Badiou actually credits Foucault with being the thinker of the encyclopedia, which he equates with structure. There seems to be little room here for an object-oriented ontology that declares the reality of objects regardless of whether or not humans exist. Moreover, similar problems emerge with respect to his repeated insistence that being and thought are identical. I simply don’t see how one can call their thought realist or materialist if they also claim the identity of being and thinking.

Towards the end of his stellar post, Dominic references me (alongside Peter Hallward! I’m flattered, though I’m sure he’s only making a blogosphere reference in my case!),

Various people, notably Peter Hallward and Levi Bryant, have complained that Badiou’s set-theoretic ontology doesn’t do justice to the relationality of the world, a complaint that slightly baffles me as it certainly does accommodate such beings as pre-orders, equivalence relations, topological spaces, groups, lattices, sheaves…but it’s true that they are all given as second-order effects of presentation, particular kinds of unitary structure that the operation of the count can unfold. If the primacy of relationality is your thing, then this subordination of relation to composition will presumably not please you; but I’m not sure that I understand the wider stakes of the argument, which seems to lie at the heart of the differend between Badiou and Deleuze.

First, let me emphasize just how much I love Badiou. Part of my militance against Badiou in certain posts arises from the anxiety of influence. I read Badiou for the first time towards the end of my dissertation work. I had read his Manifesto for Philosophy a year or so earlier, but it hadn’t left much of an impression of me because I simply wasn’t able to hear or understand what he was claiming. However, when I came across The Clamor of Being, all of this changed. Here was a work that was engaging Deleuze as a philosopher, brilliantly and carefully. This led me to the Ethics, which in turn led me to hone my French skills enough so I could read Being and Event prior to its translation. This was a period of great excitement for me. Badiou dared to say “truth”. He dared to give arguments. Just like the title of Hallward’s famous edited collection, it felt as if it was possible, after Badiou, to think again. Indeed, this feeling was only confirmed by Hallward’s own study of Badiou along with his many articles. Where prior to Badiou we had a series of philosophical tribes, each engaged in their own dusty commentaries of master figures, Badiou’s ontology demanded argument. He was making substantial claims and suddenly, like the lifting of a cloud, it was possible once again to engage in something other than commentary, something other than “buggering philosophers to create a monstrous offspring”. Once again it had become possible to engage positions and worry over their claims. Hallward’s study of Badiou did precisely this wonderfully. I feel in certain ways as if Badiou cured me of a particular institutional form through which philosophy was being done. Those were happy days. Each page was filled with a sort of excitement that provoked you to learn entirely new things like set theory and where you didn’t feel as if the aim of philosophy was simply to comment on the texts of the tradition. Suddenly an entire way of doing philosophy seemed as if it had passed and was but a bad dream.

I think Dominic is right in what he says about Badiou and relation, however, perhaps an absence of relation isn’t the most precise way of describing the problem. I can’t speak for Peter, but for me the problem with Badiou’s ontology lies in its abstraction. It is not so much his position on relation that is at issue, but rather the manner in which the domain of the ontic seems to be diminished or to disappear in Badiou’s thought. Now to be clear, the issue here isn’t one of mathematics being “abstract”. That’s not the problem. I had already approached Deleuze via his engagement with differential calculus and found Badiou’s celebration of mathematics a welcome move in a world of Continental philosophy dominated by mathophobia and German romanticism. For me, rather, the issue is the manner in which the world of entities seems to disappear in Badiou’s ontologies, relegated to a place of unimportance. In my view, unless we roll up our sleeves and get down in the world of beings, of the ontic, and how they’re put together, how they’re assembled, there’s little hope for any sort of change. What interested me most in Badiou’s ontology, paradoxically, is what seems to interest people least in his philosophy: his discussions of situations as harboring infinite multiplicities and his discussions of how these situations are structured. I can’t help but feel that his account of the event is based on a false problem that arises from structuralist residues within his thought that lead to the question of how it is possible to escape overdetermination through structure. For me the theory of the event and the subject is the least interesting aspect of his thought, though I do find his notion of truth-procedures interesting because here, at least, we seem to have a very rudimentary engagement with the ontic. Badiou is improving with Logiques des mondes. Here, at least, we get some engagement with the ontic in his account of intensities. But still it strikes me as vastly underdetermined.