Matters of Appearance

By Sedofsky, Lauren | Artforum International, November 2006 | Go to article overview

Matters of Appearance


Sedofsky, Lauren, Artforum International


ALAIN BADIOU HAS ARRIVED AT WHAT IS PERHAPS THE CROWNING MOMENT OF HIS CAREER. HIS MAGNUM OPUS OF 1988, BEING AND EVENT, WAS FINALLY PUBLISHED IN ENGLISH THIS YEAR. HIS MUCH-ANTICIPATED SEQUEL, LOGIQUES DES MONDES (LOGICS OF WORLDS)--HIS FIRST MAJOR PHILOSOPHICAL WORK IN ELGHTEEN YEARS--APPEARED IN FRANCE IN MARCH. AND IN FEBRUARY, CENTURY, TRANSCRIPTIONS OF THE SEMINAR BADIOU GAVE AT THE COLLEGE INTERNATIONAL DE PHILOSOPHIE BETWEEN 1998 AND 2001, WILL BE PUBLISHED IN ENGLISH TRANSLATION. TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE OCCASION TO REVISIT HIS IDEAS AND THEIR EVOLUTION, WE INVITED BADIOU ONCE AGAIN TO JOIN IN CONVERSATION WITH LAUREN SEDOFSKY, WHO INTERVIEWED HIM IN THESE PAGES MORE THAN A DECADE AGO ("BEING BY NUMBERS," ARTFORUM, OCTOBER 1994).

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Everything that's abysmal in the present political situation somehow conspired to make the recent publication in France of Alain Badiou's long-awaited Logiques des mondes seem like an urgent message to pick up our conversation of twelve years ago exactly where we left off.

Philosophy, Badiou had said, can lead to disaster when it seizes truths in the form of identity or fusion. Indeed, according to Badiou's "protocol of distinction," it is not at all the vocation of philosophy to posit truth but only to provide the conceptual framework for grasping the "conditions" in which truths, truths in the making, manifest themselves--politics, science, art, and love--the resuscitated Platonic conditions, which are strictly nonphilosophical. Yet the demonstration in Badiou's seminal text Being and Event (L'Etre et l'evenement, 1988) reposed entirely on science (in its paradigmatic form, mathematics), while its elaboration, one might contend, had been inspired by politics. And now here was the second magnum opus, a sequel to the first, eighteen years in the making, which once again presented the same ambiguous conjugation of what is intrinsic and what is extrinsic to philosophy. But how could it not? Fundamental to Badiou's project from its inception in Le Concept de modele (The Concept of Model, 1969) was the recourse to mathematical formalization as the preeminently contemporary (and ancient) alternative to the concurrent reduction of the world to ecriture but within a speculative account of how formalization progresses--remarkable, therefore, as a rather ingenious yoking of Platonism and materialism, mathematics and dialectic, or, to put a further slant on it, as an intrepid attempt to affix the truths of a particular politics to the thoroughly demonstrable ones of mathematics. Small wonder then that Logiques des mondes, basically a work that treats the philosophical problem of "appearance" by means of an area of mathematics known as category theory, manages to emit the last wild howl of emancipatory politics and a craving for the new on a very grand scale. But it is also ironic that Badiou should have chosen to address democracy directly and declare himself its internal adversary (as if anyone had ever doubted it) at precisely the moment when democracy finds itself with other far more efficient internal adversaries--those of the neoconservative persuasion. How could one resist offering him the controlled forum of the interview format?

What had been truly startling about Being and Event was not its thesis--that ontology (the science of being) and mathematics are the same thing, and therefore being is nothing other than pure multiplicity--no, it was the thoroughly compelling argumentation, the seemingly incontrovertible evidence for it, once the axioms of set theory had been elucidated in an entirely accessible way and paired with meditations on what philosophers had actually said about being ever since Plato turned his attention to Parmenides ("For it is the same thing," the latter had written, "to think and to be"). Even if it is universally acknowledged that set theory failed to provide a foundation for mathematics, Badiou proved to have uncovered something else in it: a veritable anthology of ontology, which permitted him to divorce philosophy from the age-old problem of being (and put a stop, as he saw it, to Heidegger's interminable questioning) by assigning it in toto to the incontestable intelligibility of mathematics.

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