Reduction or Subtraction: Jean-Luc Marion, Alain Badiou, and the Recuperation of Truth

By Miller, Adam S. | Philosophy Today, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Reduction or Subtraction: Jean-Luc Marion, Alain Badiou, and the Recuperation of Truth


Miller, Adam S., Philosophy Today


Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities.

Truth isn't.

Mark Twain, Following the Equator

At first glance, Jean-Luc Marion and Alain Badiou may appear to have little in common. However, it is my argument that their work productively converges in their unfashionable desire to recover a positively prescriptive notion of truth. Further, it is my contention that their respective attempts to recuperate truth share not only a common end but pursue remarkably similar paths. In developing an analysis of their convergence, I hope to indicate both the extent to which Marion's project distinguishes itself as other than predictably postmodern and the extent to which Badiou's project, despite its obvious differences, can be appreciated only in light of the aporias of contemporary continental thought. Most importantly, the work of developing this comparison will open the way to evaluating the relative strengths and weaknesses of their positions.

Marion and Badiou, then, agree on the following principle points: (1) contemporary continental articulations of truth as perpetually diffused, deferred, or strictly negative are inadequate to both the exigencies and possibilities of our current situation; (2) the key to recuperating a contemporary notion of truth is to uncover and render minimally intelligible an immanent but extra-ontological locus for such truths; (3) in order for such a site to be prepared, it is necessary to either radically reduce or disjunctively subtract the constitutive subject from the phenomenal field; and (4) the performance of such a reduction or subtraction of subjectivity is what enables an immanent excess to operate as an unconditioned principle of horizonal reconfiguration-that is to say, as a potent and positively prescriptive truth.

The Anterior Excess: Givenness or Absolute Multiplicity

At issue for Badiou and Marion is the possibility of an immanent, but non-ontological truth. Both attempt to think truth or revelation as an immanent excess that is non-ontological because it plays a constituting role with respect to the world's constituted ontological horizons. However, what is particularly remarkable is the way in which Badiou and Marion claim to be able to render this immanent excess intelligible as a positively constitutive truth.

Marion claims to be able to render this immanent excess phenomenologically intelligible in terms of givenness. Givenness is Marion's phenomenological name for the immanent excess that is constitutively anterior to being. Givenness gives being because givenness is, as Marion describes it, the anterior "correlation between appearing and that which appears."1 As the prior phenomenological correlation of immanence and transcendence, givenness is that which makes possible the appearance of any phenomenon. "The correlation between the two sides of the phenomenon," Marion explains, "is nothing other than givenness itself," and apart from the priority of this relation it is inconceivable that any phenomenon could ever appear.2

Givenness, then, refers to that phenomenologically prior excess that, by virtue of its anteriority, is marginalized in the appearing of the phenomena themselves. Where the correlated phenomena appear directly, the correlation of "givenness can only appear indirectly."3 Beyond their direct appearance, all "beings give to be read that which they themselves ignore, or even conceal-the mode of their entrance into presence, their very phenomenality."4 The notion of givenness marks the phenomenality of the phenomenon, the anterior correlation of the correlated appearance. It marks the upsurge of appearing in which a given gives itself, "the happening that offers it to itself."5

Moreover, it is, for Marion, essential to see that the givenness ofthat which gives itself always exceeds the given. A phenomenon's phenomenality always exceeds its appearance. This, he explains, "results from the fact that the intentionality of the object cannot (and, without doubt, must not) give meaning to all the lived experiences .

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