Badiou and (the future of) philosophy

(To track the revolt against Badiou, these are the relevant posts: Alex, Reid, Dominic [and again], Levi, Mark, Ben, Kevin.)

Having not yet read Logic of Worlds, I realize I may be the odd man out in this discussion (it’s on my reading list, I swear!). I’m also coming at this as less of a fan of Badiou than most of those listed above. While I certainly had an early attraction to Badiou’s minimalist system, I’ve since entirely rejected any real affiliation to his thought. I think his philosophy is not only a humanism (which I am against), but also a fundamental dualism (also against), and indeed requires a sort of transcendental subjectivity in order to work (which he hasn’t y discussed as a product of the world a la Schelling, and which I must therefore also oppose). To top that off, I don’t see anything really very new or shiny in his system as it has developed. I think he takes a lot from Lacan and a lot from Heidegger and attempts to cover his tracks by replacing the Symbolic or Language with the Matheme. I’ll discuss this more when I’m satisfied with my piece on the Ur-Event in Badiou, which I argue is intimately tied to his reliance on both Lacan and Rousseau.

While I say all this, essentially quarantining Badiou from my own in-development system of thought, I still see some hope for Badiou. That isn’t to say that I can conceive of a time or situation in which I will fall to my knees and convert, or even try to work him into my own thought. No, instead, what I see is a possibility for Badiouian philosophy to develop at least into something new and interesting, so long as the right moves are made.

I think one of the best, that is most solid, critiques of Badiou is the argument against humanism. John Mullarkey makes this argument for example in his Post-Continental Philosophy (which I know people don’t like for some reason; I’ve only read the section on Badiou and thought it informative and well-written). He argues essentially that Badiou stakes his claims on subjectivity with the fundamental divide between humans and non-humans in the area of counting as the most basic form of mathematics (the count-as-One being the condition for the wager being made on the event and thus the origin of subjectivity). Mullarkey points out that if this is the case then we should at least be able to extend subjectivity to those beings which are capable of counting as it is a sign of mathematical ability. Of course Badiou doesn’t say anything of the sort, as parrots and gorillas are denied subjectivity just as much as trees and earthworms.

I share this sentiment with Mullarkey, as I have attempted to work out with my own brand of vitalist metaphysics. For me, philosophy needs to be able to talk about the non-human, but not only that, the non-existent as well (but I’ve written on that already). But it seems there is something that Badiou’s thought is ready to address besides Marxist politics and modern art, and that is cybernetics.

What I mean by this is that I think Badiouian philosophy (as I have read it, maybe he discounts this in LOW, again I don’t know yet) can deal with the future of humanity and its eventual further integration with technology. Think about it: what are computers but extremely complicated counting-devices for the purpose of manipulating and the storage of data? It seems to me that it would be very easy to manipulate Badiou’s work into a mathematical manifesto for the cybernetic revolution to come. The integration of robotics with humanity would create not only the capacity for further ontology, but through the programming of our future minds, we could birth new subjectivities that are built to be faithful to the event.

While I enjoy the speculation of Badiou and cybernetic subjectivities (indeed, I’m writing a paper on it in the future because I find it so interesting) and think it potentially a valuable contribution to philosophy, I don’t buy in to it. I guess what I’m saying is that before everyone abandon the S.S. Badiou, don’t get entirely hung up on what he has said or done, but focus on the work his thought can do. Already I’ve imagined a scenario in which Badiou’s humanism is turned on its head into a future roboticism, and I don’t even like Badiou. Imagine what someone who felt a kinship with his thought could come up with.

[ADDENDUM: I should add that this last point, on figuring out what you can do with a thinker rather than focusing on what they have said, is what I would consider one of the foundations of new and interesting philosophy. While I’m not an Object-Oriented thinker, I have true respect for Graham’s “misreading” of Heidegger. Hell, I’ve combined Schelling, Psychoanalysis, and Derrida and I call the result “realism!” One can’t be too afraid to “misread” now and then.]

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4 responses to “Badiou and (the future of) philosophy

  1. Pingback: More on the Disavowal of Badiou – The Father Who Enjoys « Frames /sing

  2. ZSDP

    I’m glad to hear advocates of “misreading” are coming out of the woodwork. I had a professor who would often speak of the fact that many of the most interesting developments in the history of philosophy were based on a philosopher’s misreading of his predecessors. Yet, whenever I would say this to people (most notably in defending Sartre’s misreading of Being and Time), they would simply tell me I was insane. Perhaps that’s just what I should’ve expected in an analytic department.

    In any case, thanks for that blurb.

  3. kvond

    A related quote (that I don’t entirely agree with), in the subject of “misreading”:

    “The necessary drying-out of everything good – What! Does one have to understand a work precisely in the way in which the age that produced it understood it? But one takes more pleasure in a work, is more astonished by it, and learns more from it, if one does not understand it in that way! Have you noticed that every new good work is at its least valuable so long as it lies exposed to the damp air of its own age? – the reason being that there still adheres to it all too much of the odour of the market-place and of its opponents and of the latest opinions and everything that changes from today to tomorrow. Later on it dries out, its “timeboundness” expires – and only then does it acquire its deep lustre and pleasant odour and, if that is what it is seeking, its quiet eye of eternity.”

    Nietzsche, Daybreak 506

    In a certain sense intentional “misreading” is a kind of quick-dry/ing out of a text.

  4. Kevin, I love that Nietzsche quote. Thanks for that.

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