Review of Badiou’s Being and Event: Too Theological?

As anybody that reads this blog in even a less than cursory way, it’s clear that I have some problems with Badiou’s work, particularly methodological and interpretative ones. That said, there’s something in Badiou that keeps me coming back for more. Regardless, the NDPR has a fine review of Badiou’s Being and Event by Peter Dews, who concludes by noting:

As we saw at the beginning of this review, it is not easy — even for proclaimed philosophical atheists ­– to avoid recycling religious and theological tropes in their very effort to break with the past. But Badiou goes one step further than this, since his philosophy plays deliberately and provocatively with religious language (not just the language of fidelity, but of ‘conversion’, and even of ‘grace’). Some of his most admired militants of the event belong to the religious sphere, such as Pascal and Saint Paul. And on some occasions, in Being and Event, he admits the possibility of religious truth (e.g., p. 399) — even though this disrupts his own categorization of truths. The problem is that Badiou’s transposition of the notion of fidelity from the sphere of love (to which he concedes that it directly refers (p. 232)), the misdirection of his passion for the unconditional towards happenings in the mutable socio-historical world, brings with it the dangers of dogmatism and exclusivism, if not worse. And it also raises one final issue. Badiou repeatedly declares that God ‘does not exist’ (e.g., p. 277). But the whole of Being and Event is an intense and intricate exploration of what does not exist — namely the event, for which there is ‘no acceptable ontological matrix’ (p. 190). Furthermore, Badiou’s own thinking cannot help but lead towards the question: why ought we to become subjects, why should we commit ourselves to a life of fidelity? Indeed, Badiou himself later poses this question in terms of the ‘fidelity to fidelity that defines ethical consistency’ (Ethics, pp. 49-50). And although this may not be Badiou’s answer, it is not clear what aspect of his system would rule it out as a response: because we are called by God, who is the event of events.

This seems to be particularly ironic, because it resembles Badiou’s criticism of Levinas in Ethics, namely, that Levinas is a theologian masquerading as a philosopher. The whole review nicely contextualizes Badiou’s work in light of the controversies in the 19th century about the superseding of religion, esp. Feuerbach. Read the full review here.

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