Philosophy in the Present Paperback – 30 October 2009
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Nothing less than philosophy is at stake because, according to Badiou, philosophy is nothing but interference and commitment and will not be restrained by academic discipline. Philosophy is strange and new, and yet speaks in the name of all - as Badiou shows with his theory of universality.
Similarly, Zizek believes that the philosopher must intervene, contrary to all expectations, in the key issues of the time. He can offer no direction, but this only shows that the question has been posed incorrectly: it is valid to change the terms of the debate and settle on philosophy as abnormality and excess.
At once an invitation to philosophy and an introduction to the thinking of two of the most topical and controversial philosophers writing today, this concise volume will be of great interest to students and general readers alike.
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Some familiarity with their pointed disagreements on other questions is probably necessary to get the most out of this little book... if only to appreciate how interesting it is that here they so pointedly agree.
In contrast to this discouragement, Badiou says that philosophy, far from fading away, defines universals. We define universals exactly when we confront events that we cannot measure, like the confrontation of freedom and politics that resulted in the death of Socrates. Every universal is an "evental," a decision that originates about an undecidable. An example of such an "evental" is `illegal immigrant.' Every universal is an implication, "univocal," and incomplete or open. For instance, `revolution' became a universal in the French Revolution in the subject-thought of the acts.
Because universals are incomplete or open, they are "infinite generic multiples." Badiou offers a distinction between religion as grounded in the problem of life and philosophy as grounded in the problem of death. He offers an example: "The latent violence, the presumptuous arrogance inherent in the currently prevalent conception of human rights derives from the fact that these are actually the rights of finitude and ultimately -- as the insistent theme of democratic euthanasia indicates -- the rights of death. By way of contrast, the 'evental' concept of universal singularities...requires that human rights be thought of as the rights of the infinite" (46). This distinction is not developed, yet it portrays rather nicely how philosophy is grounded in identifying contradiction.
Zizek agrees the assertion that "we have lost belief" is a pseudo-debate because today we believe more than ever. Science is not merely a language game -- it deals with the "unschematized real." For instance, the first post-Communist Slovenian currency had no name -- just denominations. People began trading on it based on nothing but a number. Issuing a currency composed solely of denominations reveals belief. Philosophy is not critique but affirmation. [I cannot agree here since an affirmation is a form of critique.] For example, war is to be supported not for destruction (which is a naïve, positivistic evaluation of war), but for the affirmation of putting an end to evil (Badiou). Both philosophers are unembarrassed by their ideological positions and explore quite clearly the cybernetic control that philosophy exerts over ideology.
The book opens with a lecture by Badiou entitled "Thinking the Event," and there we learn just what the term means for Badiou: that an Event in his sense constitutes a rupture within an existing state of things in which novelty is announced. The Event is that which, when it appears within a situation of what Badiou terms 'encyclopedic knowledge,' comes down decisively on what is generally regarded as undecidable. Within current encyclopedic knowledge, for existence, the idea of God is undecidable: that he exists or does not exist cannot be stated with certainty either way. But a Truth Event would represent a singularity in which a decisive position on this stance, or upon any other undecidable, would be taken.
The Event constitutes and creates a subjectivity in which and through which the event is manifested as a universal singularity. The subject then demonstrates a 'fidelity' to this event which actualizes it through the performance of acts which have the effect of stabilizing and establishing the event as a new cultural horizon (although this can also occur in the spheres of love, science, politics, or art). The French Revolution would be an example of such an event; or October 1917, or May '68. Indeed, any cultural novelty which manifests and has a fundamental historical significance for the shaping of a culture would seem to be implied here.
Badiou's theory could cover, for instance, the birth of a new religion: with the advent of Islam, for instance, all the parameters would seem to be met. He is talking, in short, about not just any sort of event, but those events, specifically, which inaugurate new historical, social or cultural epochs, or the equivalent of such epochs in the life of an individual (a love encounter would be included in this, for instance). They are events which change the entire subsequent course of the system.
Badiou's philosophy is brilliant and ingenious; he provides us with nothing less than a philosophical accounting for paradigm shifts.
Zizek then responds to Badiou with a talk on how "Philosophy is Not a Dialogue," and indeed, proceeds to demonstrate this by the fact that little of what Zizek actually says in his talk seems to have any relation to Badiou's lecture. Zizek discusses the nature and role of philosophy in the world, and whether and how it should intervene in socio-political affairs. The contrast between the styles of the two thinkers is instructive, for whereas Badiou is very specific and linear, developing his argument in classical Gutenbergian first-one-point-then-another style, Zizek is all over the map, as is usually the case with him. He is completely incapable of developing a thesis, for his attention is scattershot, and he articulates himself in an everything-all-at-once barrage. His logic is not always easy to follow, but this is both his strength and his weakness, for he is never boring as a result: the reader never knows where he's going next, and is usually delightfully surprised by the result. This book is no exception.
The two conclude with a brief back and forth discussion in which they agree that the content of philosophy is not humanistic but deals with the inhuman. The capacity for the infinite--and therefore with the inhuman--is ultimately, they insist, what philosophy is concerned with.
At 104 pages, the book is short and can be read in an hour. I highly recommend that the reader acquire the book, read it, review it, write about it, digest it, or at the very least, throw it against the wall.
SEE ALSO MY YOUTUBE VIDEO "ALAIN BADIOU'S ETHICS DISCUSSED BY JOHN DAVID EBERT"
--John David Ebert, author of "The New Media Invasion" (McFarland 2011)