Can Cinema Be Thought?: Alain Badiou and the Artistic Condition

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ABSTRACT: Alain Badiou's philosophy is generally understood to be a fundamentally mathematical enterprise, his principle categories of being, appearing, and truth being themselves thought only though specific scientific events. However the event itself is contrarily thought not through mathematics but through art. And yet despite the fundamental role art plays in his philosophy Badiou's 'inaesthetic' writings seem unduly proscriptive, allowing room principally for the expressly 'literal' arts while eschewing for the most part those manifold arts which have little recourse to the letter. Badiou's polemical writings on cinema are both symptomatic and serve as the most extreme example of this position, his cinema being one which wavers precariously on the border of art and non-art. This paper accordingly questions whether cinema can truly occupy a place in Badiou's inaesthetics. Through a consideration of Badiou's writings on cinema I argue the hegemony of the letter in his inaesthetics to be both one of convenience and symptomatic of his mathematical leanings. I further argue that if cinematic truths are to be registered Badiou's understanding of cinema as (what I interpret to be) an art of dis-appearance must be rejected. I conclude by contending the oppressive literality of Badiou's philosophy results in his regrettably neglecting by and large those manifold illiterate arts that might otherwise serve to augment his thought.

KEYWORDS: Badiou; Inaesthetics; Cinema; Idea; Letter; Matheme; Deleuze; Appearance; Movement

I. THE ART OF THE MATERIALIST DIALECTIC

In his recent Logiques des mondes: l'etre et l'evenement, 2, Alain Badiou names the tension integral to his philosophy--namely the one which runs between being and event, knowledge and truth--a 'materialist dialectic'. It is on the basis of this peculiar dialectic that he opposes his own philosophical project to the contemporary 'democratic materialism' which more and more defines our epoch (prescribed as it is by the master signifiers 'relativism', 'democracy', 'terror' and the like). In contrast to the apparent sophistry of this democratic materialism--whose principle assertion is that 'there are only bodies and languages' (1)--Badiou's materialist dialectic proclaims 'there are only bodies and languages, except that there are truths' (LM 12). Or again: there are only worlds in which beings appear (of which the pure multiple figures being qua being) except that there are truths which can come to supplement these worlds (and which are universalizable). Such is Badiou's philosophical axiom, within which we find the three principle strata comprising his thought, namely, the ontological (the thinking of the pure multiple, of being qua being), the logical (the thinking of appearance, of being-in-a-world) and the subject-ive (the thinking of truths, of thought itself). Yet these three terms alone are meaningless without an (albeit subtracted) fourth, which is of course the 'abolished flash' that is the event (LM 156). Already we can discern here a clear conditional divide between the first three terms (ontology, logic, thought) and the fourth (event), insofar as whilst the former are themselves thought mathematically by virtue of three distinct scientific events--respectively the Cantor-event (set theory), the Grothendieck-event (category theory), and the Cohen-event (genericity or forcing)--mathematics can say nothing of the event itself. On this point Badiou is unequivocal, for

   if real ontology is set up as mathematics by evading the noun of
   the One, unless this norm is reestablished globally there also
   ought to be a point wherein the ontological, hence mathematical
   field, is de-totalized or remains at a dead end. I have named this
   point the 'event'.(2)

Simply, mathematics can think the event only to the extent that it can think its own real qua impasse. Or again, mathematics thinks the event insofar as it axiomatizes its own aporetic structure (as we see for example in Godel's theory of incompletion or in the axiom of foundation). …