Badiou


In a gorgeously written post, Reid of Planomenology criticizes my thought (as well as Graham’s) for dehumanizing the human with respect to ontology. Since Graham has already written a lengthy response to Reid’s post with which I largely agree, I’ll content myself with a few responses. Reid writes,

Let’s be clear: object-oriented philosophy may champion the ontological equality of objects with human beings, but this equality comes at the price of the dehumanization of man, of his destitution and defacing, his reduction to (almost) nothing. And it seems that, rather than bear the horrors of confronting oneself – as a man, as a philosopher – in such a hideous state, object-oriented philosophy, as quickly as it grants liberty to objects, must imprison man: he must be punished before he can commit his crime of becoming a thing. Far from leveling the playing field, of granting the same rights to objects that we enjoy, object-oriented philosophy is rather more interested in an exchange of prisoners. This is evidenced in the reluctance, even refusal, to talk about human beings as embodied abysses, and the rapid condemnation of any philosopher who foolishly invokes man if not to ridicule and denounce him.

Right at the outset, I believe Reid mischaracterizes the aims of Object-Oriented Philosophy on three fronts. First, Object-Oriented Philosophy does not champion the ontological equality of objects with human beings, but rather the ontological equality of objects simpliciter. That is, the central thesis of any Object-Oriented Philosophy is that ontologically all objects are on equal footing or that humans do not hold a superior or privileged place within the order of the real or being. It is this that I try to get at with my Ontological Principle drawn from Deleuze. The Ontological Principle states that being is said in a single and same sense for all that is. What my Onticology or version of Object-Oriented Philosophy proposes, in part, is, following DeLanda, a flat ontology. Flat Ontology must be contrasted with Vertical Ontology. In a recent post I jokingly distinguished between two versions of Vertical Ontology organized around what I called the Big Demiurge and the Little Demiurge. This reference to the Demiurge, of course, is a reference to Plato’s Timeaus where we are told of the Demiurge giving form to formless matter. A Vertical Ontology would be any ontology that posits a single Demiurge– whether that Demiurge be God, man, the subject, or language –as the origin of form in the world. If I refer to these ontologies as “Vertical Ontologies”, then this is because one being or one type of being– whether God or the ego or the transcendental subject or the subject –functions as the exemplary reality from which all other realities flow. Like the sets of set theory where every set necessarily includes the empty set, all Vertical Ontologies share the common feature of including the Demiurge in every objectal relation.

Flat Ontology, by contrast, differs markedly from this position. For Flat Ontologies there is no exemplary reality that overdetermines or is included among all other realities, but rather there are only realities. In short, there is 1) no being that is necessarily included in relation to all other beings. Indeed, Object-Oriented Philosophy rejects the thesis that all beings are related to all other beings. And 2) Flat Ontology places all entities, all objects, on equal footing. This brings me to the second point where I believe Reid significantly mischaracterizes my position. Reid claims that in granting liberty to objects, Object-Oriented Philosophy both refuses to talk about the human and wishes to imprison, even punish man. Few things, I think, could be further from the truth for, from the standpoint of Onticology, man too is an object. The thesis of Onticology is not that the human is to be banished or excluded, but that the human is an object among other objects no more or less exemplary than any other object. In this connection, Reid’s criticism strikes me as resembling those critics of civil rights that protest that the majority group is being oppressed when the call is made for all groups to be granted equal rights. The thesis of Onticology is not that humans have no place, but rather that humans do not ontologically have a central or exemplary place within the order of being. Where anti-realisms treat all relations as necessarily involving human-to-object relations, Onticology holds that there are human-to-object relations, but also object-to-object relations that do not involve the human in any way.

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Over at Dominic’s blog Poetix, a curious character who refers to himself as “Beckett” makes the following remarks in response to recent criticisms of Badiou unfolding in the blogosphere:

Indeed, where are they going … neo-liberal defensiveness – and its irritatingly ponderous and increasingly hysterical academic apologists – moves in ‘mysterious’ ways …

[ie Between attempts to ‘neutralize’ Orientalism (so utterly defeating the point of the original defence), between attempts to re-formulate an unhinged neo-liberalism as a “weaponised non-dialectical negativity” or “Xenoeconomics”, between dissmissing Badiou (and Zizek) for all the, at this point nauseatingly, wrong reasons, between … the continuing refusal to confront ideology … it’s all getting a bit sad and passive on the blogosphere …]

Would it be amiss for me to point out this gent is profoundly confused? Presumably Beckett understands himself to be defending Badiou. Yet at the center of Badiou’s political project, and, for that matter, Zizek’s, is a critique of identity politics. There is something deeply perplexing about someone who seems to ardently support Zizek’s and Badiou’s conception of the political defending Said’s critique of Orientalism. Clearly Beckett is here referring to my recent posts on Orientalism. What Beckett seems to miss in this critique is that the object wasn’t prejudices and essentialisms directed at Eastern cultures, but bad social theory that itself performatively does the very thing it claims to be denouncing.

Apparently if one finds fault with Badiou or Zizek’s accounts of the political, they immediately fall into the category of “neo-liberalism”. It seems to me that the motivation of such critiques, however, is instead something quite different. On the one hand– and independent of questions of politics –there are genuine reasons for finding fault with the metaphysical and ontological claims of Badiou and Zizek. Both, in my view, fall into the anti-realist camp. It seems to me that there is a strong tendency within French inflected Continental philosophy to subordinate all questions of philosophy to political imperatives. As a result, one is supposed to choose their ontology, metaphysics, or epistemology on political grounds rather than grounds that directly pertain to these questions. I suspect that this suturing of the philosophical to the political has more to do with academic insecurities pertaining to the place of philosophy and cultural studies in the contemporary world (having lost a lot of ground in the last three centuries) than anything to do with these questions themselves.

On the other hand, within the domain of politics, I find it difficult not to wrinkle my nose in amusement at Beckett’s charge of an unwillingness to confront ideology. Beckett seems to be of the view that politics unfolds through critiquing ideology. However, having witnessed twenty years of critiques of ideology I’m led to wonder what critiques of ideology have ever done to really change anything. The conception of politics as ideology critique seems to largely result among bookish academics that believe it is books and discourses are the primary real and who are therefore persuaded that change takes place through books and discourses. Like the obsessional– who might this obsessional be? –who talks endlessly precisely to avoid saying what really should be said, this conception of the political endlessly dissects various narratives and cultural formations to create the illusion of acting without ever hitting the real. Indeed, there’s a very real sense in which those literary studies types so delighted by Zizek seem to be more motivated to find a justification for writing about their favorite movies and television shows rather than changing social organization in any significant way.

The critique of Badiou and Zizek on political grounds has little to do with the attempt to defend neo-liberalism, and everything to do, I think, with the manner in which both exclude the domain of political economy from the field of the political. In the case of Zizek we get the assertion of a parallax between economy and politics without ever getting any substantial analysis of economic issues. In other words, one half of the parallax always gets short shrift. In the case of Badiou we are directly told that the domain of economy falls entirely outside of politics. In both cases we get the comfortable analysis of signifying formations, meaning, etc., but never much in the way of concrete engagement with the world. In my view, time would be better spend reading Harvey but that requires paying attention to drearily boring things like actual numbers, trends, economic phenomena, etc., and lacks the narcissistic self-gratification of thinking oneself as a subject of truth procedures or engaging in a “radical act”. What we thus get is a profound contradiction between the form and content of these discourses, the subject of enunciation and the subject of the statement. At the level of content and statement there is the declaration of a certain radicality that purports to be seeking to undermine “capitalism” (whatever that might mean… as if capitalism were an “entity”). Yet at the level of form and enunciation, we instead get a form of theorization and a mode of comportment towards the social world that functions to insure that everything remains in place just as it was before. Was it a critique of ideology that led to certain recent changes in American politics? Weren’t these critiques all over the place for the last eight years? Why did things begin to give in 2006? Better to understand the workings of an assemblage or a network to target the key points or nodes in that network than to tarry with the foam that floats up from those networks at the level of discourses.

Like all forms of obsessional thought, these sorts of political theory believe in the omnipotence of thought, ignoring the manner in which forms of social organization require their telephone wires, highways, electricity, sites of exchange, etc. As a result, they perpetual miss the real infrastructures that organize bodies and render social relations impossible, instead believing that the important things are the electrical pulses that travel along those telephone lines, i.e., the messages. It is remarkable to observe, however, how quickly the content of those messages change when, for example, a shift in these infrastructural phenomena takes place, e.g., the collapse of the economy. Perhaps there is a confusion of causes and effects here.

507856202_505bd054ddAlex over at Splintering Bone’s to Ashes has an interesting post up on his developing antipathy towards Badiou. As Alex writes,

Whilst his ontological position has a certain minimalist elegance about it, everything he builds atop it is little more than a ridiculous hyper-structure of nonsense piled upon nonsense, an unsteady philosophical folly whose absurd (yet po-faced) architecture has only been exacerbated by (what I have read thus far of) Logics of Worlds. Whilst I admire Badiou’s style (an admittedly masterful mixture of crisply cumulative argument, mathematical abstraction, and poetic/polemic turn of phrase, indeed the style above all of the master, the father, the priest… in the best and worst senses) Increasingly I find his work unbearable… The whole notion of the relational body of a truth is ridiculously simplistic, and fails to resolve the chief spectre haunting Badiou (i.e.- Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason). His absolutism, exceptionalism, his rejection of management- well I think politics must always, in the end, return to that question, the issue of organisation, the issue of management… of relation- it is the political question. The question of relation sat uncomfortably over Being & Event – and it is with his relational supplement that Badiou is revealed as a pathological system-builder, but to what end- to what avail does he build his awkward tower? These fragments he shores against his ruins, a ziggurat of ruins, the ruin of a thought… (my thought, I think perhaps, rather than his own…).

I confess that after having read the first 200 pages of Logics of Worlds, I simply couldn’t read it any more. The more I read the greater my feelings of frustration and disappointment. Where I was looking for a realist theory of relations, the theory Badiou develops strikes me as inevitably wedded to the human such that we never genuinely reach the domain of objects or things. In other words, Badiou strikes me as being guilty of what Roy Bhaskar calls “the epistemic fallacy” which consists in conflating questions of epistemology with questions of ontology.

Throughout Logics of Worlds we find Badiou pre-occupied with questions of how to measure, identify, and evaluate objects. However, these are all epistemological terms that have little or nothing to do with the ontological status of an object as real. Badiou tells us that his account of the transcendental and objects makes no reference to the subject, but with the exception of a very brief discussion of galaxies, all of his examples of worlds refer to cultural phenomena.

Badiou claims that every object has an intensive degree that indexes its being-there or appearing in a world. To illustrate this thesis Badiou spends a tremendous amount of time analyzing Hubert Robert’s painting Bathing Pool (above). It is here, I think, that the difficulties of Badiou’s account of objects, from a realist standpoint, become clear. Badiou asserts, for example, that the columns to the left behind the foliage have a lower degree of intensity or being-there than those in the front. He makes similar observations about the women among the pillars compared to those bathing in the foreground and the statue to the right of the pool compared to the one on the left. These sorts of claims make me want to pull my hair out in frustration and ire. Such a thesis can only be epistemological and made from the standpoint of a viewing subject because the degree to which a being is or is not is an absolute binary such that it make not one bit of difference whether or not some appears intensely to us or not. From the realist standpoint something either is or is not, it is absolutely actual. I realize this sort of frustration or criticism sounds minor, but this type of conflation of reality with phenomenological appearing is pervasive throughout the text. One’s time is far better spent reading Zubiri’s On Essence where these sorts of conflations are carefully unpacked and where he develops a thoroughly realist account of essence that pertains to the things themselves, not whether or not the things themselves appear to us or whether we can know them.

At any rate, there’s much more to Alex’s post. Read the rest here.

DSC00265This last week I have been compiling all the notes and short pieces I’ve written for my next book which, much to my surprise, comes to about 800 hundred single spaced word pages, all written since January. I’m not sure how I’ll ever organize it all but hopefully, as I read over it, a general thematic will come into view. Right now I’m about halfway through Badiou’s Logics of Worlds. I have to say, I’m finding the second volume of Being and Event far more opaque than I found the first volume. Despite being very impressed with his revised theory of the subject in the first chapter of the book, I have very mixed feelings about the chapter on the Transcendental and Objects. As always, there is much here to provoke thought and generate new ideas, but my major problem with his discussion of objects is that it still seems too wedded– to my thinking –to cognition. Yes, yes, I know Badiou declares that the transcendental he’s developing is in no way attached to a transcendental subject and that he is attempting to think an objectless subject. The problem, however, arises in relation to his use of mathematics. Throughout his discussions he is constantly making reference to issues of how to identify, evaluate, and measure objects. In other words, his account of objects and worlds strikes me as unfolding in the register of the epistemological rather than the ontological, and, as such, seems inexorably wedded to the subject (in a Kantian or Phenomenological sense, not Badiou’s special sense). Perhaps this should come as no surprise given that Badiou continues the Parmenidean protocol of defending the identity of being and thought.

On a more positive note, I’ve been reading James Williams’ Gilles Deleuze’s Logic of Sense: A Critical Introduction and Guide and have been enjoying it immensely. For me the Logic of Sense is among Deleuze’s strangest books. On the one hand, it stylistically has a tremendous clarity that is absent in much of Deleuze’s other writing. On the other hand, despite this clarity of style I find the book deeply enigmatic and opaque. What is it, exactly, Deleuze is trying to develop? What problems is he responding to? What is his major claim? All of this remains largely unarticulated in the work. Williams book goes a long way towards responding to these issues and develops a highly interesting account of both Deleuze’s theory of the event (and its relation to matters of fact) and a Deleuzian ethics. Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to write a bit more on the major lines of his development once I finally complete the book.

At any rate, below is one of my favorite Summer pasta recipes. If I have chosen to call this pasta the “Subject of Truth” pasta, this is in honor of Badiou. For readers who are not familiar with Badiou’s conception of truth, truth, for him, is not a representation or adequation between proposition and object, but is a practice in relation to an event that evades all the categorizations of the semiotic web or web of belief characterizing a particular situation. For Badiou there are four types of truths or truth procedures: the amorous, the political, the artistic, and the scientific. These are the four domains where events or shattering encounters take place. Thus, for example, Galileo’s declaration that nature is mathematical is a sort of event and subsequent scientific practice involving the mathematization of nature would be the “truth procedure”. Those engaged in this project to this day are what Badiou refers to as “subjects”. If I refer to this pasta as a “Subject of Truth Pasta” then this is because it makes you want to keep eating even after you’ve eaten far too much.

Subject of Truth Summer Seafood Linguini in Herb and Wine Sauce

Ingredients

1/2 pound linguini
1/2 pound large sea scallops (quarter into smaller pieces)
1/2 pound peeled shrimp
Salt and Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus some more for drizzling
3 tablespoons of butter, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped
4 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves removed and chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 can (6.5 ounces) of chopped clams with juice
25 leaves of fresh basil, shredded or torn
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 lemon, zested and juiced

Place a large pot of water over high heat and bring to a boil for the pasta. Once at a boil add some salt and cook pasta to package directions. Hold off on starting the scallops until you drop your pasta. Drizzle a large skillet with olive oil and heat. Add garlic, shallots, crushed red pepper flakes, thyme, oregano, a little salt and pepper. Reduce heat a little and saute garlic and shallots 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add wine to the pan and free up any pan drippings. Reduce wine 1 minute, then add clams and juice. Continue to cook for about 1 minute. Add the basil, parsley, lemon zest and juice and the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter, stir the mixture until it has melted. Season scallops lightly with salt and pepper. Add the scallops and shrimp, lightly poaching (about 4 or five minutes). Add the cooked linguini and cook for about 30 seconds, just to combine and let the pasta soak up the sauce. Serve with Transcendental Garlic Bread and Evental Salad

Transcendental Garlic Bread

Combine a couple tablespoons of butter with a dash of dried oregano, some Hungarian paprika, and a bit of garlic powder to taste. Mix thoroughly. Slice crusty French bread so that individual pieces are still attached at the bottom. Butter each individual piece. Wrap in tin foil and heat until warm in oven at 300.

Evental Salad

Fresh garden greens such as arugula or baby romaine
Some sliced red onion
Sliced tomato
Sliced cucumber
Crumbled blue cheese
Balsamic vinegar dressing

Having now read about the first one hundred pages of Badiou’s Logics of Worlds, I confess that I’ve been pleasantly surprised. In the past I’ve remarked that I didn’t find Badiou’s theory of the event, truth-procedures, and subjects very interesting. The reason for this was that Badiou seems to entirely detach the subject and truth-procedures from the world in such a way that reigning circumstances don’t matter. In other words, Badiou’s subject sometimes looked to me like an account of the proverbial Japanese soldier on a Pacific island that refuses to acknowledge the end of the war, i.e., an attempt to maintain militant political fidelity at all costs, even when it becomes counter-productive. I was wrong.

When I first picked up the second volume of Being and Event I thought about skipping the first book and proceeding directly to his discussion of appearing, being-there, and the transcendental. That would have been a mistake. Badiou has significantly complicated his theory of the subject, developing a new category that he calls “the body”. In addition to subjects that maintain fidelity to the event we now have two additional figures of the subject: the reactive subject and the obscure subject. Badiou’s description of the obscure subject– a subject that completely tries to deny the even in the name of some “full body” of truth that has existed for all time and can never change –is absolutely inspired. Badiou writes:

Things stand different for the obscure subject. That is because it is the present which is directly its unconscious, its lethal disturbance, while it de-articulates in appearing the formal data of fidelity. The monstrous full Body to which it gives fictional shape is the atemporal filling of the abolished present. Thus, what bears this body is directly linked to the past, even if the becoming of the obscure subject also crushes this past in the name of the sacrifice of the present: veterans of lost wars, failed artists, intellectuals perverted by bitterness, dried-up matrons, illiterate muscle-bound youths, shopkeepers ruined by Capital, desperate unemployed workers, rancid couples, bachelor informants, academicians envious of the success of poets, atrabilious professors, xenophobes of all stripes, Mafiosi greedy for decorations, vicious priests and cuckolded husbands. To this hodgepodge of ordinary existence the obscure subject offers the chance of a new destiny, under the incomprehensible but salvific sign of an absolute body, whose only demand is that one serves it by nurturing everywhere and at all times the hatred of every living thought, every transparent language and every uncertain becoming. (61)

That’s a passage for the ages. I can’t say that I’ve ever encountered such figures of subjectivity. Nope, not ever once.

For those who are interested, Badiou’s Logics of Worlds is now available.

In a generous response to my post “Realism Through the Eyes of Anti-Realism“, Lee Braver writes:

Your discussion of translation is very intriguing and, when applied to mind-world interactions, it does sound a death knell for passive correspondence. This seems to be a version of Kant’s position–our mind’s activity (A5) in organizing experience rules out capturing (R2) the way the world is independently of our experience of it (R1). Then the question becomes, what sense can we attribute to the existence of this independent world (R1) if it remains forever closed off to us. Even the bits and pieces are heavily constructed and interpreted. I take your response to be something like, the existence and nature of an object consists in its interactions with other entities, something like some of Nietzsche’s musings on WTP, and this includes the mind, so that what an entity coughs up in our interactions with it is part of its very nature. Is that right? Of course, if an entity is the totality of its interactions (a la Leibniz), then it isn’t truly independent of us, since interactions with our minds make up 1 of its essential properties. Also, how do we differentiate between accurate/true/illuminating bits and pieces and false/misleading ones? Why go to all the trouble of setting up experiments if my mundane interactions with a thing are just as valid and real? But maybe I haven’t got your idea at all. BTW, Joseph Rouse is also really good on the construction of artificial environments in science.

This is an important and deeply challenging question that I am still working through myself. A couple of points are worth noting here. As I have articulated it, Latour’s Principle states that there is not transportation without translation. This is to say, there is never a transport of a difference from one entity to another entity where the target entity functions merely as a vehicle for the difference from the source entity. The first point to note with the Anti-Realist project would thus be that Anti-Realist positions consistently violate this principle. Here we get a curious inverted mirror between Anti-Realism and Realism. Where Braver rightfully criticizes a certain variant of realist positions for treating the mind as a passive locus (R5) that merely reflects the world as it is (what I would call “naive realism”), Anti-Realism falls into a similar positing of passivity, but with respect to the object. For the Naive Realist the relationship between world and mind, object and subject, is uni-directional and uni-lateral, such that the object does all the “work” and the mind merely receives and registers the object. Similarly, for the Anti-Realist, the relation between mind and world, subject and object, is uni-directional and uni-lateral, such that the object, now, is a passive vehicle of the mind’s synthetic activity, contributing nothing of its own beyond the manner in which it “affects” the mind providing it with matter for intuition.

In other words, for Anti-Realism the mind is not “translated” by the object and for Naive Realism the object is not “translated” by the mind. In both cases, these claims are based on certain assumptions about the nature of identity. In the case of Naive Realism, identity is placed “in” the object (R3), such that the object is exactly what it is and knowledge consists in discovering or reflecting this identity. Knowledge cannot change this identity in any way as to do so would be to distort the nature of the object. Identity-in-the-object is thus a sort of inert and unchanging identity. We are supposed to get to the object as it is beyond any of its shifting changes. We find a similar thesis with respect to identity asserted by the Anti-Realist position. Where it is the object that remains the same in the case of the Naive Realist position, it is the mind that remains the same in the Anti-Realist position. The mind does not become something other in its encounter with the object, but the object does become something other in its encounter with the mind.

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basic_category1One of my great frustrations is that I lack the mathematical background to understand Category Theory as I think Badiou is really on to something in his most recent work engaging with Category Theory. If someone has a recommendation for a very rudimentary introductory text (and I already have Goldblatt) I’d be eternally grateful. I am something of a peculiarity when it comes to Badiou. When I first began reading him ten years ago I was deeply invigorated by his daring to say “Truth”. Moreover, I was struck by his claim that maths are a form of thought in the context of a philosophical academic space dominated by Heideggerian romanticism and a hostility towards all things mathematical.

Nonetheless, coming from a much more network based and systems theoretical perspective, I’ve never found myself particularly intrigued by his account of the Event or Truth-Procedures, or non-relation and subtraction, being more fascinated by his discussion of situations. I think Badiou just gets it wrong here as to how change takes place. I think Badiou gets things backwards. The question isn’t how we move from non-relation of pure multiplicities qua multiplity without one to relation or being qua appearance, but rather how we move from relation to subtraction. In other words, Badiou places non-relation before relation whereas relation should have ontological primacy. The mystery is not how things come to be related as his most recent work would suggest, but of how something comes to be subtracted from a network of relations. In his most recent work with Logiques des mondes, Badiou seems to move in this direction while still maintaining the ontologically untenable thesis of the primacy of set theory where there are no intrinsic ordering relations among elements of a set and where everything is unrelated to everything else. I can get how this is powerful for thought, but nonetheless find it ontologically untenable (and here I think Badiou’s notion of Truth suffers from an implicit and unstated notion of ontological truth vis a vis the manner in which the elements of an Event reflect the situation of Being in set theory as pure multiplicities uncoded by the encyclopedia. Better had he begun his ontology with the theory of categories and sought non-relation from the relationality there.

If the work on appearance and Category Theory is so exciting, then this is because it conceives objects as pure relations or morphisms. An object’s identity, under this model– and here I’m speaking in a very thumbnail sort of way –is entirely exhausted in its status as a pure source of an action and as an action on another object as its target. In short, the identity of an object is an extended identity, like an underground assemblage spreading out to a variety of other objects, that includes its transformations on other objects in the group. Where a Derridean or Lacanian might argue, for example, that the object is subverted by its “semblable”, mirroring, or doubling in relation to another object that it requires as a prop to “make itself be”, the Category Theorist could argue that this just is (here I’m poking Graham) the identity of the object.

The object’s identity just is these functional morphisms between source and target. Now I know Graham here is having conniptions in this description of objects as it denies objects any sort of internality or withdrawal independent of their relations, but it’s at precisely this point that things become really interesting. For the relational nature of an object in Category Theory, if I’ve understood things properly, can be self-reflexive as well. In other words, we need not have arrows running from a source object to a target object, but can also have arrows or morphisms running from out of an object and back to an object in an identity function. That is, in proper autopoietic fashion, the object can be both its source and target as depicted in the three objects in the category above. In other words, here we would get the sort of “rigid designators” Graham talks about in his vacuum packed withdrawal, while still under a relational account as reflexive self-relation. I’m not sure where I’m going with all this, but it feels important. At the very least, this would be a way of thinking objects as acts rather than substances with predicates.

fractalWhatever else one might think of his ontology, two major claims animate Badiou’s conception of philosophy. On the one hand, Badiou argues that philosophy itself produces no truths. For Badiou truth always comes from elsewhere, from the domain of praxis. Where one conception of philosophy has it that philosophy is to think the ultimate nature of reality, for Badiou it is always other fields of engagement, or praxis, that think these things and produce these truths. In this connection, it is science (though science largely gets short shrift in his thought), math, love, politics, and art that produce truths. Love, for example, is the encounter of the Two. His favorite examples in this connection are the encounter between Abelard and Heloise or Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. In their encounter, it is a difference that is encountered, and an entirely new way of thinking the non-relation, the difference, between the Two; a non-relation that produces a new language. The deep ontological truth Badiou sees in the encounter of the Two or their difference is the logic of the “not-all” or that the “whole” is not, for what we find between the Two in their relation of non-relation, are incommensurable universes communicating with one another. The Two does not become a fusional One, but rather this incommensurability becomes the impetus of their relation, perpetually renewing itself not through its sameness, but through its difference.

cernIf philosophy does not produce truths, then what is the vocation of philosophy, according to Badiou? Philosophy, according to Badiou, does not produce truth, but rather thinks truth. In this thesis there is a deep connection between time or history and philosophy. Badiou contends that the vocation of philosophy is to think our present. The thinking of the present consists in the thinking of the truths that populate our world in the present and striving to think them in what Badiou calls their “compossibility”. The term “compossibility”, of course, comes from Leibniz. One way of fruitfully thinking “compossibility” would be as “co-possibility”. Leibniz argued that there are an infinity of possible worlds that could have existed. In speaking of a possible world we are talking about worlds that are “incompossible”. What Leibniz was trying to get at with his idea of compossibility was the idea of interdependence among events. Thus, for example, my existence, my possibility, is dependent upon a whole host of other possibilities. In this world I have brown hair (that is quickly turning grey). The world in which I have blond or red hair is incompossible with this world because the browness of my hair is related to a set of all sorts of other conditions such as my genetics, when my parents conceived me, the time of their meeting, the evolution of the human species, etc., all of which are necessary for me to have brown hair. For Leibniz our universe is a web of interdependencies in which all things depend upon one another.

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I’m a bit behind the curve on this, but unbeknownst to me a number of recent posts have been written jumping in on the critiques of Badiou’s ontology by Graham and me. Over at Complete Lies, Michael develops a critique of Badiou on the grounds of onto-ontology. Stellar Cartographies weighs in making its own points. Reid over at Planomenology has two excellent posts developing a critique of Badiou’s account of the event.

It seems to me that it is important to point out that any discussion of Badiou, correlationism, and whether or not Badiou’s ontology is a variant of idealism should unfold at the level of Badiou’s ontology, not his theory of the event. When Graham writes,

if I were to start saying: “I’m a Badiouian, but I think that rocks and earthworms are also capable of invoking the generic through art, politics, science and love,” what do you honestly think Badiouians would say in this case? Would they say: “Cool. Badiou never specifies that it has to be a human”? You know full well that they would dismiss such a position as vitalist crap. The whole spirit of Badiou’s philosophy is of a militant human subject disrupting given states-of-situations in truth events.

I think this misses the target. Too much attention has been paid to Badiou’s theory of the event, yet the theory of the event, truth-procedures, and subjects is, as Badiou quite clearly states, what is other or outside of being qua being or the domain of ontology. As Badiou likes to put it, events are subtracted from ontology. In this respect, there is nothing wrong, from the standpoint of realist ontologies, with Badiou’s insistence that events belong to the domain of the subject and are restricted to the human. That’s exactly what we would expect. The theory of change Badiou develops pertains to change at the level of human formations: art, science (as a body of knowledge), politics, and love.

Any discussion of whether Badiou falls into correlationism should, therefore, completely set aside any discussion of the event, truth-procedures, or subjects, treating these aspects of Badiou’s thought as an entirely distinct issue. The ontological questions instead unfold at the level of something far more mundane and much less sexy: Badiou’s account of the count-as-one, structured situations, members and parts of sets, and worlds. This is where questions of whether or not Badiou is a realist emerge and this domain is entirely distinct from Badiou’s theory of the event. Interestingly, these aspects of Badiou’s thought have received almost no significant and prolonged discussion. No doubt this is because the primary reception of Badiou’s thought has been among Continental circles that treat questions of politics as the sine qua non of philosophy as such. The question of political implications should be set aside in raising these questions as normative considerations are independent of questions of what is and how things are.

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