Friday, July 24, 2009

Power, Nina. Review of Alain Badiou's CONDITIONS. NDPR (July 2009).

Badiou, Alain. Conditions. Trans. Steven Corcoran. London: Continuum, 2008. (1992) Conditions, originally published in France in 1992, is a collection of companion essays to what remains Alain Badiou's magnum opus and the most exhaustive exposition of his philosophical system, Being and Event (which first appeared in 1988). It is possible to treat the book as a series of engaging explorations of an extraordinarily diverse range of topics -- from Mallarmé to set-theory, sophistry to psychoanalysis, Beckett to academia -- without immersing oneself in the system proper. Nevertheless it probably helps to do so. Indeed, in his preface, François Wahl, longtime associate of Badiou, explicitly stresses that Conditions should not be read without first tackling the formidable system as a whole. Even bearing this caveat in mind, however, some of the essays -- the one on Beckett and the essay entitled "Philosophy and Politics", in particular -- are as good an introduction to Badiou's main concerns as you'll find anywhere else in his not insubstantial oeuvre. Badiou has become an increasingly central name in European thought in recent years, and it is important to note that many of these pieces have already been published elsewhere. Corcoran lists these at the beginning of the book, although he neglects to mention that the essay on Beckett, "The Writing of the Generic", was also already published in a collection from 2003 entitled On Beckett, published by Clinamen. (I mention this not merely because I co-edited the collection, but because if you've already read that book as well as Manifesto for Philosophy, Infinite Thought, Theoretical Writings and other translations in Umbr(a) and Cosmos and History, you'll have already encountered many of the texts contained here.) The essays in Conditions are based on lectures and papers of varying lengths written and presented in the years following the publication of Being and Event. Sometimes it is very clear that the texts are written with a definite audience in mind; for example, in "Philosophy and Psychoanalysis", Badiou tells the reader "I intervene among you as someone, like the Eleatic Stranger from the Sophist, neither an analyst, nor an analysand". Useful notes at the back, however, make it clear in each case who the intended recipients of the essays or talks were, so one need not get too caught up in the shifts in tone and style. The core idea that links all the essays together, however disparate their topics, is conveyed by the title of the collection. Conditions for Badiou are the four types of "truth procedure" that provide the material for philosophy, which itself produces no truths. Badiou argues, or rather, states that there are four conditions: science (in particular, mathematics), art (in particular, the poem), politics (in particular, a politics of emancipation) and love (or more precisely, "the procedure that makes the truth of the disjunction of sexuated positions" [p. 23]). This four-fold claim is laid out in a very short piece near the beginning of Conditions entitled simply "Definition of Philosophy". It is here too that Badiou makes it clear that philosophy's task is to "compossibilize" or assemble truths "on the basis of the void" (p. 24). This means that philosophy as such can generate no truths of its own, and certainly is not capable of designating a particular conception of "Truth" as the unified meaning of history or thought. (If Badiou is to be understood as a "systematic" thinker, his system lacks the drive to totalize that often accompanies such a project.) Indeed, whatever truths are generated by the four conditions (a revolution in mathematics, a political uprising in the name of equality, a poem that reconfigures the field or a love that changes the way the couple see the world), they have very little to do with meaning, and in one fell swoop Badiou waves aside all hermeneutical and phenomenological approaches to the question of truth: "I propose to call 'religion' everything that presupposes that there is a continuity between truths and the circulation of meaning" (p. 24). . . . Read the rest here:

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