Badiou, Forcing, and Politics

First of all, I know, a philosophy post? On this blog? In between the insanity of the past 6 months or so I’ve been doing little more on here than posting conference info and sharing the occasional link, but hopefully I can change that a bit.

I’m currently working on a paper I’ll be presenting at DePaul’s graduate conference next week. The title is ‘From Life to Liberation: Thinking Capital in Alain Badiou’, and while in a sense it builds on some previous work (including a paper I gave at Queen Mary last summer, and an article forthcoming in Political Theology), I am trying to do a few new things as well. A few of these ‘new things’ I hope to at least bring up are, in no particular order: Badiou’s relationship to Marx (primarily through a reading of Theory of the Subject), the lack of an axiomatic for capital is his work, and the place of the political in his ontology.

The issue I’m working on/writing on today is the problematic place of the political in his thought. I find this to be problematic not because of his inadequate theorization of the political and its relationship to the philosophical, but rather because there seems to be a fundamental politicization in Badiou’s ontology that he fails to acknowledge. While he offers four conditions of philosophy, and often notes the risk of suturing philosophy to any condition in particular, I find it fairly obvious that for Badiou philosophy, in practice, is clearly sutured to either the mathematical or the political. On a shallow level, one can see this by simply reading his books and noting how over and over all of his primary examples are political. On a deeper level, one can interrogate the mathematical terms used, and ask whether he’s more faithful to the axioms themselves, or instead to the political exemplifications they engender. One of the examples that I may explore in this paper is the case of forcing.

While my knowledge of set-theory is still pretty piss poor, here is what I find to be important. For Badiou, forcing serves as a sort of infinite subjective process, something that is tied to both temporality and the creation of a new present. This is not what forcing is in set-theory. It’s an instant mathematical process, completely formal, and not tied to any notion of temporality or process. So, in simple terms, it seems like Badiou stays faithful to set-theory up until a certain point, but then his true political fidelity seems to take over. Now, I could be reading too much into one example, but it seems clear that for Badiou the political has priority over the mathematical. But that said, I would love if someone with a more refined knowledge of set-theory could tell me that I’m wrong or push me in the right direction here.

And while I won’t go into it, if this is true then I think it brings up another important problem in Badiou’s thought (one that I’ve brought up before), and that is the issue of humanity and/or anthropology. If politics is primarily a human endeavor, and at the end of the day politics and philosophy are sutured, then I think this warrants a fuller discussion of the human in Badiou. (Supposedly this is coming in his next ‘big book’, The Immanence of Truths). If this line of thought is followed, then I think its inevitable that a return to a (certain reading of) Marx take place in the work of Badiou. The important distinction, however, would be between the Marx of Althusser and the Marx of Sartre. This is something that came up quite a bit at the conference last weekend (especially in conversation with Johnston and Hallward), and I think they key to furthering a critical evaluation of the usefulness of Badiou’s philosophy must take the role of Sartre in shaping his thought much more seriously.

Sorry if this comes of as incoherent rambling, but I’ve always utilized philosophy blogging for random ideas rather than well worked out treatises. Any thoughts on this appreciated…


5 thoughts on “Badiou, Forcing, and Politics

  1. reidkane says:

    I think we’ve talked about this before, but besides both politics and mathematics, Zizek also makes a pretty compelling argument for the priority/necessity of the position of love, understood as Pauline militant love, where love is a collective bond that makes the subjects of politics, science, and art possible. So in different ways and in different places, he sutures philosophy to all three, leaving only art relatively isolated in this regard (unsurprising given his comments on Heidegger). The whole question of cross-contamination of truth procedures, so to speak, is also obviously a huge question here…

  2. Keith says:

    Have you read *The Concept of Model*? It seems to me that there is in that little book (the ‘happily interrupted’ lectures preceding May ’68) a compelling but subtle argument that would bring politics and mathematics together in a sort of dance that doesn’t prioritize the one over the other. That’s at least explicit to a degree in the interview with Tzuchien Tho at the back of the book, although he really only provides the contours for thinking it. Probably in LOW it’s category theory rather than set-theory that lets the cross-contamination of procedures and the politics-mathematics couple appear as otherwise than a ‘suture’ given that there Badiou describes logic and ontology as topologically indiscernible. Or anyway, it’s a direction I’ve been taking. But yeah, huge problem. Zupancic’s essay “The Fifth Condition” is noteworthy. Zizek’s argument draws a lot of strength from it. Completely agree about Sartre.

  3. Alex says:

    Interesting points- Brassier had a stab at a quasi Badiouian axiomatic for capital in the article version of “Nihil Unbound” in Think Again (ed. Hallward), though it appears he has now repudiated it. The lack of analysis of capitalism within Badiou’s system appears constitutive, though he refers to it in his more journalistic pieces. We might read between the lines to find something in the axiom of democratic materialism = bodies and languages (which some read as a crude version of say, Autonomist thought, particularly in its Negrian variant, see Badiou’s piece on it- “Bodies Languages, Truths” and the intro to LOW).

  4. Keith says:

    Alex – One can of course read between the lines there, though I’m just tempted to agree with Toscano that Badiou’s critique of democratic materialism is ‘not very convincing’.

  5. michaeloneillburns says:

    Thanks for the thoughts guys.

    In one sense I do agree with Alex, and I think Badiou’s work can allow us to ‘think’ capital, but I think this would involve a few modifications that Badiou would likely disagree with, including a return to the privileged place of politics one sees in ‘Theory of the Subject’. But, as Keith brings up, the critique of democratic materialism (which he both begins AND ends LOW with) is quite shallow, and eventually depends on the identification of life with truth that he fails to flesh out.

    Thanks for reminding me about Concept of Model as well, I don’t think I ever finished that, but will look into it today. I like the idea of a sort of ‘dance’ between the political and mathematical quite a bit.

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