There have been quite a few posts in the past day or so on Badiou. I figured I would toss a couple of ideas into this idea stew before it gets cold (also, I’m writing a paper on Badiou for next week, so this might help me work out some ideas). If you need to get caught up, it started with Dominic over at Poetix, re-opening an old debate with Graham, who then responded. Levi then jumped into the conversation, and then Graham wrote a couple more entries. Phew.
As I said in a comment over on Graham’s blog, I was quite excited when I started reading Badiou. I had heard interesting things about his work but found myself fairly quickly dissatisfied. First, what I had heard led me to believe that I would be reading something entirely original, when actually the whole structure of the birth of the Subject in the (Truth-)Event is lifted from Lacan’s own account of subjectivity, which is itself taken from the late Schelling (especially the Freedom essay where he outlines his concept of de-cision [literally, a cutting off] where the Subject is born of the Abyss). Reading Badiou’s account of Subjectivity grew tiring, as it simply felt done-before (I mentioned Schelling and Lacan, but there are also obvious similarities between Kierkegaard and Heidegger, as Sean pointed out to me recently).
Second, as Graham has pointed out, Badiou is entirely anthropocentric, with subjectivity as defined as taking up the Truth of the Event being limited to human beings, and with the Event only being accessible and knowable to humans. Graham asked whether
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 gets right to the point, and explains exactly why I am not a Badiouian. The seagulls I see at the habour nearby are not going to be radically transformed by the Event for Badiou. Dominic claims that there are still cosmic events in Badiou that don’t depend on human beings, but I don’t buy it. While other living things certainly change according to changes in Nature, they don’t experience the radical changes of a Saint Paul or a Lenin. No moose are going to start spreading the good news of the Truth-Event downtown tonight, no matter what happens to them.
Ultimately, I think what Badiou gives us is a potentially useful philosophical anthropology, and we shouldn’t really expect him to give us any more than that, or kid ourselves into thinking that his account of the relation between Event-Truth-Subject are somehow applicable to single-celled organisms, fungi, cephalopods, or birds of prey. While I think we need a system of thought capable of asserting such things, that all organisms can be affected in such a way or can affect each other in such a way, I don’t see it happening in Badiou. But I guess I’m just full of vitalist crap anyway!