"Ours Is Not a Terrible Situation"

Article excerpt

Dorothea von Moltke: It is truly a great pleasure to be able to introduce Alain Badiou and Simon Critchley, eminent philosophers both and both with a host of crucial works, which I will not attempt to catalog here. Suffice it to say that-in and through philosophy-their work also centrally engages politics as well as literature. Alain Badiou has been teaching at the Ecole Normale Superieure since 1999. He was very much influenced by the events, I should say the event, of 1968 and against the grain of widespread repudiations by his own generation has remained true to its legacies. He is actively involved with L'Organisation Politique, a post-party organization concerned with direct popular intervention in the political sphere. He is also the author of several novels and plays. Simon Critchley teaches philosophy at the New School for Social Research and at the University of Essex and is author of many books, most recently Things Merely Are and Infinitely Demanding, which is forthcoming from Verso. But we are here to discuss and celebrate the newly translated, seminal work by Alain Badiou, Being and Event. In their press materials for this book, Continuum Publishers present Badiou as France's most important living philosopher and Being and Event as "accessible and actually a pleasure to read." The former claim is patently true; the second in my view bears some qualification: as most great works of philosophy, it abundantly rewards the considerable effort of reading it.

One partial way to characterize the twentieth century in philosophy and in the sciences is as a drive toward formalization in which mathematics has played a significant role as both model and method. Another preoccupation has been the persistent question of ontology or what the Being of beings is. Alain Badiou's work makes a strong claim for seeing these movements as compliementary and as leading to the "nullity of the opposition between analytic thought and continental philosophy." His concepts of the void, the multiple, the event, and truth lie at the core of this claim and will, I am sure, be part of tonight's conversation.

Simon Critchley: Thank you, Dorothea, and thanks to Labyrinth Books for having us here this evening. I am going to introduce Alain Badiou, philosopher...

Alain Badiou: yes ... (laughter)

S:... dramatist, novelist, militant. And we are here to celebrate, to mark the long awaited translation into English of L'etre et L'evenement, which appeared in 1988 in French and was translated, we should mention, by Oliver Feltham, an Australian philosopher working in Paris. And that brings me to my questions. I will say a few words and then I'll tell you the questions. I'm going to raise four questions. I've told Alain what they are. Our plan is very simple so we'll see what happens. But first I want to talk about the reception of Alain's work a little bit. Because the reception in the US is I think a little behind the reception, for example, in the UK where a lot of the work has come out in translation. This work was not done by English people, I'm happy to say, but by Peter Hallward, Alberto Toscano, and others. The reception in Australia, in the UK, in Latin America precedes that in the US. Alain has, for example, been widely discussed in Argentina for many years, without mentioning the reception of Alain's work in France and elsewhere in Europe. The publication of Being and Event will, I hope, will make a difference to the American reception of his work and I look forward to seeing how Alain's influence will grow in the coming years.

However, I think for Alain Badiou's work to be understood will require the creation of a new theoretical space or a new intellectual space where a number of things come together: a very strong and constructive idea of philosophy, which is in a certain way novel and unlike what one is used to within a certain- let's call it deconstructive-discourse. A constructive philosophy, then, combined with a radical politics, and an interest in theater, in poetry (I think what Alain and I share in particular is a militant concern for poetry), for cinema, for psychoanalysis and-mis will be one of the topics for our discussion-also for mathematics. …