Philosophy as Biography?

It’s fairly well-known (I think??) that when asked about the life of Aristotle, Heidegger retorted that all we need to know is that Aristotle was born, he thought, he died.  That is to say, who cares about the life of Aristotle, it’s irrelevant to understanding what he wrote down on paper.  Derrida suggested (somewhere) that the “official” biography of anyone is problematic because it serves to freeze that person’s image, and in turn, produces a truth that give rise to a predominant perception of that particular person for, well, who knows how long.  Derrida counters such a view of biography (however successful) with a more fragmentary and “novel/radical/interesting” (whatever that means) reading of a philosopher’s writings that may actually contain and “reveal” a more more accurate biography than the “official-minded” biographies.  Yet, there may be a better way.  Osip Mandelstam wrote something to the effect that, “It is enough for us to tell of the books one has read, and his biography is done.” Emmanuel Levinas provides us with some sparse details–an “inventory” as he calls it– of his biography in “Signature,” and pauses to note that his biography was “dominated by the presentiment and the memory of the Nazi horror.” This business about philosophy and biography isn’t really new, Diogenes wrote a biography of a bunch of philosophers, and that was a while ago after all.  I recall some biography of Nietzsche suggesting he was a closeted homosexual and that’s why he was so filled with vitriol against Christianity and the conventional morality that goes along with it.  I don’t know, how much should we pay attention to philosophers lives as a way to illuminate their writing?  Here’s a rather odd answer in the form of a biographical reflection by Alain Badiou,”Philosophy as Biography,” which appears in the latest issue of The Symptom:

Nietzsche wrote that a philosophy is always the biography of the philosopher. Maybe a biography of the philosopher by the philosopher himself is a piece of philosophy. So I shall tell you nine stories taken of my private life, with their philosophical morality… Continue reading


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.

Badiou CFP


Here’s your chance (and mine) to do our academic duty and contribute to the piles of craptastic academic drek out there!  Today’s announcement is a CFP on the work of living philosopher Alain Badiou from Symposium: Canadian Journal of Continental Philosophy!  


Badiou represents an important point in contemporary Continental thought. He employs set theory, historical analysis of traditional Continental thinkers, including Rousseau, Marx, Heidegger, and Deleuze, and his own theoretical meditations in order to think through some of the foundational concepts of multiplicity, “the one” or “counting as one,” the world, subjectivity, and the event. He believes that philosophy is possible only when it is de-sutured from the events of mathematics, poetry, politics, and love. We welcome papers around these various aspects of Badiou’s work. Also, we welcome papers attempting to answer some of the following questions: What is the significance of Badiou’s work for the Continental/analytic divide in contemporary philosophy? What is the relation between subjects and events, and is Badiou’s account sufficient? Are there worlds that can resist Badiou’s logic or counting? Can one think of events on micro and macro levels? These questions are meant to stimulate ideas, but they are by no means comprehensive. All papers focused on Badiou’s work are welcome. 

Continue reading

Every One Loves Alain: More Badiou Resources (UPDATED)

There are a number of interesting resources available on the website of the Colloque Autour de Logiques des Mondes de Alain Badiou, including a couple of 2006 lectures by usual suspects Oliver Felthman and Peter Hallward:

Via the comments to this post, Moses Boudourides was kind enough to alert us to some other lectures Badiou gave in Greece:

Alain Badiou’s Lecture “La méditation philosophique sur la guerre autrefois et aujourd’hui” (”Philosophical Meditation on War in the Past and Presently”) at the Institut Francais d’Athenes on 29 Jan 2008 (5 videos)

Alain Badiou’s Lecture “Introduction à L’Etre et l’événement et aux Logiques des mondes” at the National Technical University of Athens on 30 Jan 2008 (10 videos)

Badiou and Critchley: Best Friends Forever

Continuing on with my monotonous, but oddly rewarding Badiou kick (well over 100 pages into Being and Event, I fear I may be wasting my time…see Alexei’s (Now Times) cogent response to Badiou here).

From the Slought Foundation in Philadelphia a few weeks ago: a public conversation between Alain Badiou and Simon Critchley called “Democracy and Dissapointment: Alain Badiou/Simon Critchley on the Politics of Resistance.” This event features a 30 minute presentation by Simon Critchley about his recent quasi-Levinasian/Badiouan/Lacanian/Kantian, but somehow readable Infinitely Demanding, followed by remarks and public conversation with Alain Badiou on metapolitics and the politics of resistance and dissensus. You can hear the audio here. And now for some quotes and bonus material: Continue reading

Badiou and Performance Art: Some Notes

Since some on this blog have been on a “Badiou kick” recently (ahem…Shahar), I thought I’d post some thoughts on an article Alain Badiou wrote a while back for Lacanian Ink. In “Fifteen Theses for Contemporary Art,” Badiou suggests that contemporary art must embrace the slogan “something else is possible.” This position mediates what at first appears as the two extremes that drive art, “everything is possible” and “everything is impossible.” Badiou ultimately decides that the two are the same thing, or at the very least, two sides of the same coin; the desire for endless variation within a closed operative system. As Nico Baumbach explains in his essay in Polygraph (17:2005), “To say that everything is possible—there is no end to novelty, variation, the realization of latent consumer fantasies—means only that everything is impossible—there is no new thing that is not made up of a series of effects that cannot be calculated or assimilated to a certain conception of the world that remains fundamentally unaltered.” This assimilation of both positions is also clear in terms of the body, the first position, “everything is possible,” gestures to experimentation with the utmost limits of the body. Such experimentation includes body modification, such as piercing and tattoos, but also extends to the extremes of Chris Burden’s performance and conceptual art. Burden often used his own body as an art object in sometimes shocking acts such as being shot, crucified and electrocuted, in order to confront and destabilize both the artist-observer relationship and the very production of art. Burden’s performance pieces confront the limits of the possible by risking death; the limit of the body is the exhibition itself.

In the second position, the phrase “everything is impossible,” appears as consolation, it is a resignation towards death. From the Levinasian perspective, each position characterizes a “being-towards-death” that has the effect of constituting a subject not unlike Heidegger’s Dasein. In Badiou’s more precise vocabulary, the aggressive inventiveness of an artist like Chris Burden is nothing less than “formalism,” whereas the latter position, which posits death as the decisive statement of our experience, is “romanticism.” Beyond pathos, outside of formalistic novelty, “something else is possible.” Continue reading

Concept of the Model, Silly Blurbs

Continuing with my Badiou kick, I noticed that Badiou’s The Concept of the Model was just recently published in English. Here is the book description from Amazon:

The Concept of Model is the first of Alain Badiou’s early books to be translated fully into English. With this publication English readers finally have access to a crucial work by one of the world’s greatest living philosophers. Written on the eve of the events of May 1968, The Concept of Model provides a solid mathematical basis for a rationalist materialism. Badiou’s concept of model distinguishes itself from both logical positivism and empiricism by introducing a new form of break into the hitherto implicated realms of science and ideology, and establishing a new way to understand their disjunctive relation. Readers coming to Badiou for the first time will be struck by the clarity and force of his presentation, and the key place that The Concept of Model enjoys in the overall development of Badiou’s thought will enable readers already familiar with his work to discern the lineaments of his later radical developments. This translation is accompanied by a stunning new interview with Badiou in which he elaborates on the connections between his early and most recent thought. “This book is indispensable for those seeking to understand Alain Badiou’s philosophical project, and for anyone interested in investigating real points of contact between the analytic and continental traditions.” – Ray Brassier, Middlesex University

Does that phrase in bold not seem like it was simply stuck in there at random? What, I naively ask, does May 1968 have to do with this particular text? Nothing on the face of it. I look forward to the next generation of French thinkers, to whom May ’68 is not such a “watershed” moment. It’s getting a bit monotonous.