Badiou Dictionary (Form & Formalism)


For those interested in the work of Alain Badiou, I think it’s worth pointing out the recent activity at the Form and Fomalism blog:

…The Form & Formalism Working Group began in November, 2009, in the wake the first annual “Form & Formalism” conference, held at the Jan Van Eyck Academie in Maastricht, and orchestrated by Tzuchien Tho of the Versus Laboratory research project. A second conference followed in 2010, and Versus is in the process of planning a third for the coming Fall. (Programmes for both FF conferences can be found here: http://versuslaboratory.janvaneyck.nl/events/view/5 and here: http://versuslaboratory.janvaneyck.nl/events/view/11.) From the conferences formed the group, and from the group now comes the blog. Nothing else needs to be said about this just yet.

To get the ball rolling, I’ve decided to make available here a few short texts that I’ve been working on, still in a somewhat rough state, for the Badiou Dictionary that Steve Corcoran is in the process of pulling together for Edinburgh University Press. Your comments, corrections, criticism, etc. are of course welcome.

I’ll try to post an entry every day or so over the next week. Today, FORCING. Stay tuned for GENERIC, MODEL, SUTURE, IDEOLOGY, ONE, and VOID.

Read the definition drafts by Concept of the Model translator, Zachary Fraser, here

12 thoughts on “Badiou Dictionary (Form & Formalism)

  1. Pingback: Links and Such « PHILOSOPHY IN A TIME OF ERROR

  2. Badious “ideology” definition according to Fraser:

    (1) to institute the repetition of immediate givens in a ‘system of representations […] thereby produc[ing] an effect of recognition [reconnaissance] rather than cognition [connaissance]’ (RMD 449);

    A child becomes a pupil.

    (2) to establish this repetitional system within the horizon of a totalized lifeworld, ‘a normative complex that legitimates the phenomenal given (what Marx calls appearance),’ engendering ‘the feeling of the theoretical. The imaginary thus announces itself in the relation to the ‘world’ as a unifying pressure’ (RMD 450-1).

    Pupils learn something in school for life.

    (3) to interpellate both individuals and scientific concepts (crossbred with ideological notions) into the horizons of that lifeworld (RMD 450, 450 n.19).

    Teachers have to pass university exams in order to teach children at school.

    You see, it is a very mundane philosophy. Here is another example:

    A person becomes a patient.
    Patients need diagnosis and medical care.
    Physicians have to pass exams to take care of their patients.

    Easy, no?

    Not entirely sure why the author introduced science into it? I guess it was an expression of the Zeitgeist to denounce science as a critical force and emphasize its authority and authority is elitist and evil in particular when it is executed on you as a student who wants to pass an exam. How much better would the world be if we assigned power to the simple people ( himself ) without any particular qualification. There are always good reasons to become a Maoist.

  3. “(1) to institute the repetition of immediate givens in a ‘system of representations […] thereby produc[ing] an effect of recognition [reconnaissance] rather than cognition [connaissance]’”

    Isn’t this is exactly how class consciousness forms, as well as other forms of identity. Not actually much of a Marxist, is he?

    I also wonder how one rigorously assesses the difference between reconnaissance and connaisance? By running to see what one’s little red book has to say, no doubt (no reconnaisance there, to be sure).

    And do you have to do it constantly to prevent yourself being “establish[ed] this repetitional system within the horizon of a totalized lifeworld, ‘a normative complex that legitimates the phenomenal given (what Marx calls appearance),’ engendering ‘the feeling of the theoretical”?

    No wonder capital is calmly rearranging things almost unhindered in the aftermath of its latest crisis to realise surplus value (viz. the tax changes in the UK to big business funds that have been shipped via tax havens). How they must hoot with laughter into their Napoleon brandy when “radical” philosophers worry about such nonsense to shore up their own bullshit position.

    As you might’ve guessed, I’m not a fan of Alain…

    • Having given up my Napoleon brandy, I still sympathize with your comment – it seems that calling things that are obvious by various needlessly complicated words is Badiou’s general strategy. I’m yet to read one coherent piece by Badiou, except for maybe a couple from May 68 which are more or less journalistic (non-philosophical, in this sense). I thought maybe this is some strange French tradition, but I know it can’t be since there are plenty of coherent political thinkers and philosophers who write much clearer over there (consider someone like Daniel Bensaïd who has a nice critique of Badiou’s event as basically being a “miracle” dressed up in some sophisticated verbiage)…

  4. Good grief. I guess I hit a nerve! Such critiques should be addressed to Fraser, as I have little, if any stake in Badiou anymore. I simply thought, for those interested in Badiou, the drafts of definitions for the forthcoming Badiou Dictionary is a nice resource. I certainly found the entries helpful.

    • Sorry, Shahar, you’re right. And, even for Badiou’s detractors, it’s good to have this resource.

      Sometimes I get a bit carried away in a lunchtime…

  5. I always thought Badiou’s Event was so wonderful *precisely* because it is essentially a miracle. As I interpret it, Badiou is one of the few philosophers post-Althusser to really take overdetermination seriously (although Badiou himself doesn’t use the term). That is, no matter what we as militants or activists or whatever do, there are still very, very many factors beyond our control. Badiou is one of the very few to realize both the sheer contingency of history and yet “remain faithful” to the idea of revolution.

    Events are the outcome of chaos, of chance. You can be a militant your whole life and never once *really* experience politics. What makes Badiou so interesting is that he admits, “yes, there is so much going on in the world, so many contradictions and so forth, only a miracle can save you.”

    Moving outside of philosophy for a second, a perennial issue in social movement research in sociology is how activists cope with success and with failure (often success is more crippling than failure!). Social movement researchers often highlight how the difference between success and failure isn’t the outcome of the actions of activists themselves (who are stuck on a repeat loop anyway), but the outcome of changes in the rest of the world. (Such as, why is it the Berrigan brothers can make headlines in the 60s, and be utterly ignored 20 years later engaging in the same activity? And so forth.) Badiou provides the sort of resources, I think, that allow militants to “stay true”, in the face of both success and failure.

    It is unfortunate, though, that Badiou’s books are so hopelessly gnomic. The people that could benefit from his work will never read it.

    • That is, no matter what we as militants or activists or whatever do, there are still very, very many factors beyond our control.

      I was expressing a general dissatisfaction, I didn’t realize this was a Badiou thread until later. To address your point, however – there’s a difference between “event=miracle” and “there are many factors beyond our control” – event as miracle suggests that there is nothing we can do to bring it about, all this activist activity is useless. “There are many factors” idea is as old as Marxist ditcum: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.”

    • “Events are the outcome of chaos, of chance. You can be a militant your whole life and never once *really* experience politics. What makes Badiou so interesting is that he admits, ‘yes, there is so much going on in the world, so many contradictions and so forth, only a miracle can save you.'”

      Kuf, if this is an accurate depiction of Badiou’s Event, it is exactly why I disagree with him strongly. Mikhail illustrates the point perfectly. What appears to us as a miraculous Event is more likely to have concrete causes, even if they remain forever occluded to us.

      This reminds me of Ambroise Beirce’s amusing definition on logic:

      “LOGIC, n. The art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with the limitations and incapacities of the human misunderstanding. The basic of logic is the syllogism, consisting of a major and a minor premise and a conclusion – thus:

      Major Premise: Sixty men can do a piece of work sixty times as quickly as one man.

      Minor Premise: One man can dig a posthole in sixty seconds; therefore –

      Conclusion: Sixty men can dig a posthole in one second.

      This may be called the syllogism arithmetical, in which, by combining logic and mathematics, we obtain a double certainty and are twice blessed.”

  6. All this noise over here, and it’s still dead quiet over at the F&F blog? Seriously, folks, address your critiques to me, like Shahar says. (And Shahar, thanks for the link! It’s much appreciated, and I’m happy to hear you found the entries helpful.)

    @Kay: There’s something to your examples, and I like the way you’re trying to pare the components down into their simplest possible forms. I don’t know where you’re getting the idea that Badiou’s early (roughly Althusserian) theory of ideology is anti-science, though. Didn’t I make it clear enough that Badiou holds science to break away from ideology (impurely and incompletely, but still), and takes this to be precisely what he finds most interesting in science? (Same goes for art, though the way in which it separates from ideology is very different.) If I didn’t, please let me know what parts you found confusing, and I’ll try and clarify them. I must be doing a shoddy job of defining these terms if they’re giving rise to such enormous confusions.

    @NB: Your objections to Badiou’s Althusser-era theory of ideology more or less chimes with Badiou’s own backlash against Althusser (and implicit self-criticism) in OF IDEOLOGY.

    @Kuf: well put. I like your remarks about success/failure, about commitment, and so on, and I agree that Badiou has a real knack for writing about these problems. As for being gnomic, I have no objections to it, personally, and I sometimes find it useful to let ideas be systematically worked out more or less esoterically before trying to present them in a more exoteric manner. Being and Event and “Mark and Lack” and so on are certainly gnomic enough, but what’s the matter with that? Of Ideology and The Communist Hypothesis, etc. are extremely clear and accessible. Sartre’s Being and Nothingness is extraordinarily esoteric in parts, but “Is Existentialism a Humanism?” and the plays are aim to be as exoteric as possible, etc. To me, it seems like a good working model. To write exoterically, while saying anything really new or interesting, is more difficult and has to operate under more constraints than less inhibited esoteric writing, and it doesn’t seem like a reasonable or productive demand to ask philosophers to work entirely within the former.

    • I wouldn’t say that The Communist Hypothesis is “accessible” at all. In some essays, yes, but as a whole it is as gnomic as his more “philosophical” writings. This is of course the oldest conversation of them all – I personally don’t mind esoteric styles, but I find Badiou’s texts to be rather unrewarding in terms of their outcomes – all that struggle through jargon almost never really pays off. That’s my personal opinion. I commend you on your efforts and I think it’s great that you are sharing your work with the rest of us.

      • Zachary, you’re probably right, as I haven’t read Of Ideology or enough Badiou generally. Hence, your dictionary is very welcome!

        I agree that philosophy shouldn’t have to keep on the exoteric straight and narrow all the time – line of flight, anyone? – although I personally think that they should a lot of the time. My problem comes when it is very unclear even to, ahem, us philosopher kings as to what “work” such concepts are doing. Or that the esoteric may be excusing a possible lack of rigour in examining over-determination in both world and a theory.

        Marxist analysis may provoke a depressing feeling of the crushing and finally inscrutable weight of history – therefore we can treat success and/or failure subjectively as “event-miracle”. If this is right, it’s a little too close to history as God’s mysterious ways. I’m not sure this is practically useful for activism either – especially if it appears to allow militants to remain true to themselves.

        Furthermore, the Event seems slightly like a political manoeuvre to excuse a deterministic element in Marxism. The little (phenomenological?) bit of freedom in the dialectical drive of history. The “open-whole” in such concepts of history that apparently relieves the feeling of oppression. Hm. I’m just don’t know whether to thank or punch someone who has kindly parcelled out freedom in such a way. Sartre, of course, had a terrible time reconciling history with existentialism.

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