...... Bodies, Languages Truths

...........Alain Badiou

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Spanish Version

Our question will be :

What is the dominant ideology today? Or, if you want, what is, in our countries, the natural belief? There is the free market, the technology, the money, the job, the blog, the reelections, the free sexuality, and so on. But I think that all that can be concentrated in a single statement:

There are only bodies and languages.

This statement is the axiom of contemporary conviction. I propose to name this conviction democratic materialism. Why?

First : democratic materialism. In the contemporary world, the individual recognizes the objective existence of bodies alone, and, first of all, of his or her own body. In the pragmatics of desires, in the evidence of the domination of trade and business, in the formal law of sale and purchase, the individual is convinced of, and formatted by, the dogma of our finitude, of our exposition to enjoyment, suffering and death.

I speak here in a Center of Arts. So I can find a symptom of all that in artistic creation. The great majority or artists, today, choreographers, painters, videomakers, try to expose the secret of bodies, of the desiring and machinic live of bodies. It is the global trend of arts which proposes us a body art. Intimacy, nudity, violence, illness, dereliction....through all theses features of bodies the artists adjust our finite life to the fantasy, the dream and the memory. They all impose upon the visible the hart relationship of bodies to the great and indifferent noise of the universe.

A random example: a letter from Toni Negri to Raoul Sanchez, from December 15, 1999. In it, we read the following:

Today the body is not just a subject who produces and who - because it produces art - shows us the paradigm of production in general, the power of life: the body has become a machine into which production and art inscribe themselves. That is what we postmoderns know.

'Postmodern' is one of the possible names of contemporary democratic materialism. Negri is right concerning what the postmoderns 'know': the body is the only concrete instance for desolate individuals aspiring to enjoyment. Human being, in the regime of the 'power of life', is a slightly sad animal, who must be convinced that the law of the body fixes the secret of his hope.

In order to validate the equation existence = individual = body, contemporary doxa must courageously absorb humanity into a positive vision of animality. 'Human rights' are one and the same thing as the rights of the living. The rights of the living being to remain a desolate individual aspiring to enjoyment. Mortal bodies. Suffering lives. The humanist protection of all the animals, humans included: such is the norm of contemporary materialism. Its scientific name is 'bioethics'. The philosophical and political name comes from Foucault: 'biopolitics'.

This materialism is therefore a materialism of life. It is a bio-materialism.

Moreover, it is essentially a democratic materialism. That is because the contemporary ideology, recognizing the plurality of languages, presupposes their juridical equality. The absorption of humanity into animality culminates in the identification of the human animal with the diversity of its sub-species and with the democratic rights inhering in this diversity. This time, the political name comes from Deleuze: 'minoritarianism'.

Communities and cultures, colors and pigments, religions and religious orders, uses and customs, disparate sexualities, public intimacies and the publicity of the intimate: everything and everyone deserves to be recognized and protected by the law. But democratic materialism does admit of a global halting point for its tolerance. A language that does not recognize the universal juridical and normative equality of languages does not deserve to gain from this equality. A language that claims to regulate all the others, to rule all bodies, will be called dictatorial and totalitarian. Then it is no longer a matter of tolerance, but of a 'right to intervention': legal, international, and, if necessary, military. Offensive actions serve to rectify the universalistic claims, as well as the linguistic sectarianism.

Bodies will have to pay for their excesses of language.

That is how a violent Two (the war against terrorism, democracy against dictatorship - at any price!) supports the juridical promotion of the multiple. In the final analysis, war, and war alone, permits the alignment of languages.

War is the materialist essence of democracy. That is what we are already seeing, and we shall not stop doing so, in this dawning century, if we do not cut short the effects of the maxim: 'There are only bodies and languages.' No democracy for the enemies of democracy.

My goal is a complete philosophical critics of democratic materialism. But under what name? After much hesitation, I have decided to name my enterprise a materialist dialectics.

Let us agree that by "democratic" we understand the dissolution of symbolic or juridical multiplicity in real duality. For instance, the cold war of the free nations against communism ; or the semi-cold war of democracies against terrorism. So the active dualism which is summarized bu the axiom : "only bodies and languages".

Let us agree that by 'dialectic', following Hegel, one is to understand that the essence of all difference is the third term that marks the gap between the two others. It is then legitimate to counter democratic materialism with a materialist dialectic, if by 'materialist dialectic' we understand the following statement, in which the Three supplements the reality of the Two:

There are only bodies and languages, except that there are truths.

We will be attentive to the syntax that disjoins the axiom of the materialist dialectic from that of democratic materialism. Specifically to this 'except that'. This syntax indicates that we are dealing neither with an addition (truths as simple supplements of bodies and languages), nor with a synthesis (truths as the self-revelation of bodies seized by languages). Truths exist as exceptions to what there is. We admit therefore that 'what there is' - what composes the structure of worlds - is well and truly a mixture of bodies and languages. But there is not only what there is. And 'truths' is the (philosophical) name of what thus comes to interpolate itself into the continuity of the 'there is'.

In a certain sense, the materialist dialectic is identical to democratic materialism. After all, they are indeed both materialisms. Yes, there are only bodies and languages. Nothing exists which is a separable 'soul', 'life', 'spiritual principle', etc. But in another sense, the materialist dialectic differs entirely from democratic materialism.

We find in Descartes an intuition of the same order in what concerns the ontological status of truths. Descartes names 'substance' the general form of being qua really existing. What there is is substance. Every 'thing' is substance. It is figure and movement in extended substance. It is idea in thought substance. Whence the commonplace identification of Descartes's doctrine with dualism: the substantial 'there is' is divided into thought and extension, which, in human being, means: soul and body.

Nevertheless, in paragraph 48 of the Principles of Philosophy, we see that substantial dualism is subordinated to a more fundamental distinction. This distinction is precisely the one between things (what there is, that is substance, thought or extension) and truths:

I distinguish everything that falls under our knowledge into two genera: the first contains all the things endowed with some existence, and the other all the truths that are nothing outside of our thought.

What a remarkable text! It recognizes the wholly exceptional ontological and logical status of truths. Truths are without existence. Is that to say they do not exist at all? By no means. Truths have no substantial existence. That is what must be understood by they 'are nothing outside of our thought'. In paragraph 49, Descartes observes that this criterion designates the formal universality of truths, and consequently their logical existence, which nothing other than a certain kind of intensity:

For instance, when we think that we could not make something out of nothing, we do not believe that this proposition is some thing that exists or the property of some thing, but we treat it as a eternal truth that has its seat in our thought, and that is called a common notion or maxim: nevertheless, when someone tells us it is impossible for something to be and not to be at the same time, that what has been done cannot be undone, that he who thinks cannot stop being or existing whilst he thinks, and numerous other similar statements, these are only truths, and not things.

Descartes is not a dualist only because of the opposition between, on one hand,'intellectual things', and 'corporeal things' on the other hand, that is 'bodies, or rather properties belonging to these bodies.' Descartes is dualist at a more essential level, the level at which things (intellectual and/or corporeal) are distinguished. One will carefully remark that unlike 'things', be they souls, truths are immediately universal and very precisely beyond doubt. See the following passage:

There is such a great number of [truths] that it would be difficult to enumerate them; but it is also not necessary, because we could not fail to know them once the occasion presents itself to think about them.

One can see in what sense Descartes thinks the three (and not only the two). His own axiom can in fact be stated as follows: 'There are only (contingent) corporeal things and intellectual things, except that there are (eternal) truths.'

The idea that we can identify the special being of truths was one of the principal stakes, in 1988, of my book Being and Event which has been published in English last year. There I established that truths are generic multiplicities: no linguistic predicate can allow them to be discerned, no explicit proposition can designate them. I said why it is legitimate to call 'subject' the local existence of the process that develops these generic multiplicities (the formula was: 'a subject is a point of truth').

These results ground the possibility of a prospective metaphysics capable of enveloping the actions of today and to reinforce itself, tomorrow, in view of what these actions will produce. Such a metaphysics is a component of the new materialist dialectic.

Deleuze too sought to create the conditions for a contemporary metaphysics. Let us recall that he said that when the philosopher hears the words 'democratic debate', he turns and runs. That is because Deleuze's intuitive conception of the concept presupposed the survey of its components at infinite speed. Now, this infinite speed of thought is effectively incompatible with democratic debate. In a general sense, the materialist dialectic opposes the real infinity of truths to the principle of finitude that is deducible from the maxims of democracy. For example, we can say:

A truth affirms the infinite right of its consequences, with no regard to what opposes them.

That was in Being and Event, the most important result concerning the ontological nature of truths. We can say that in another form : It is true that a world is composed of bodies and languages. But every world is capable of producing within itself its own truth.

Nevertheless, the ontological break does not suffice. We must also establish that the mode of appearance of truth is singular.

What the 1988 (nineteen eighty-eight) book did at the abstract level of pure being, must be done at the level of appearing, or of being there, or of concrete worlds. It is the contents of my new book, which has been published in Paris this year, Logiques des mondes.

The clearest contemporary form of democratic materialism is:

There are only individuals and communities.

To this statement, we must oppose the maxim of materialist dialectics:

The universality of truths is supported by subjective forms that cannot be either individual or communitarian.


Inasmuch as it is the subject of a truth, this subject substracts itself from every community and destroys every individuation.

If we examine closely a truth: a scientific theory, a work of art, a sequence of emancipating politics, or a new form of life under the law of love, we find some features which determine why a truth is an exception.

Let us summarize the properties of theses productions which simultaneouly lie in the common world of bodies and languages, but are not reducible to the laws of this world.

"Truth" is the name that philosophy has always reserved for these productions. We can say that their body - the body of a truth, the new truth-body - is composed only of the elements of the world in which this body appears. And nevertheless, the truth-body exhibits a type of universality that these elements themselves have not the power to sustain. This type has seven fundamental properties.

Firstly, produced in a measurable, or counted, empirical time, a truth is nevertheless eternal. Inasmuch as from every other point of time, or from any other particular world, it remains integrally intelligible that it constitutes an exception.

Secondly, though generally inscribed in a particular language, a truth is trans-linguistic. Inasmuch as the general form of though that gives access to it is separable from every particular language.

Thirdly, a truth presupposes an organically closed set of material traces, traces that refer not to the empirical uses of a world, but to a frontal change. A change which has affected (at least) one object of this world. We could thus say that the trace presupposes that every truth is the trace of an event.

Fourthly, these traces are linked to an operative figure, which we call a new body. One could say that a new body is an operative disposition of the traces of the event.

Fifthly, a truth articulates and evaluates what it comprises on the basis of its consequences and not on the basis of a simple givenness.

Sixthly, on the basis of the articulation of consequences, a truth induces a new subjective form.

Seventhly, a truth is both infinite and generic. It is a radical exception as well as an elevation of anonymous existence to the level of the Idea.

These properties legitimate the 'except that...' which grounds, against the dominant sophistry of materialist democracy, the materialist dialectical space of a contemporary metaphysics.

We can say: Materialist dialectics promotes the correlation of truths and subjects, while democratic materialism teaches the correlation of life and individuals.

This opposition is also that of two conceptions of freedom. For democratic materialism, truth is clearly definable as the (negative) rule of what there is. One is free if no language comes to prohibit to individual bodies to deploy their own capacities. Or again: languages let bodies actualize their vital possibilities.

This is why, in democratic materialism, sexual freedom is the paradigm of every freedom. It is in effect clearly placed at the point of articulation of desires (bodies) and linguistic, prohibitive or stimulating legislations. The individual must see recognized its right to 'live his or her sexuality'. The other freedoms will necessarily follow. And it is true that they follow, if we understand every freedom from the point of view of the model it adopts with regard to sex: the non-prohibition of the uses that an individual can make, in private, of the body that inscribes it in the world.

It is nevertheless the case that, in materialist dialectics, in which freedom is defined in an entirely different manner, this paradigm is no longer tenable. It is not a matter in effect of the bond - of prohibition, tolerance or validation - that languages entertain with the virtuality of bodies. It is a matter of knowing if and how a body partakes, through languages, in the exception of a truth.

We can put it as follows: being free is not of the order of relation between bodies and languages, but, directly, of incorporation (to a truth).

That means that freedom presupposes that there appears in the world a new body, a truth-body. The subjective forms of incorporation made possible by this new body define the nuances of freedom. Freedom has nothing to do with the capacities of an ordinary body under the law of some language. Freedom is : active participation to the consequences of a new body, which is always beyond my own body. A truth-body which belongs to one of the four great figures of exception : love, politics, art and science ; so freedom is not a category of elementary life of bodies. Freedom is a category of intellectual novelty, not within, but beyond ordinary life.

The category of life is fundamental within democratic materialism, and we must critic the confusing use, today, of this word: "life".

'Life' - and its tributaries ('forms of life', 'constituent life', 'the art of life', and so on) - a major signifier of democratic materialism. At the level of pure opinion 'to have a successful life' is the only imperative that is today understood by everyone. That is because 'life' designates every empirical correlation between bodies and language. And the norm of life is, all too naturally, that the genealogy of languages be adequate to the power of bodies.

For all that, what democratic materialism calls 'knowledge', or even 'philosophy', is always a mixture of a genealogy of symbolic forms and a virtual (or desiring) theory of bodies. It is this mixture, systematized by Foucault, which can be called a linguistic anthropology, and which is the dominant form of knowledges under democratic materialism.

Is that to say that materialist dialectics must renounce any use of the word 'life'? My idea is rather to bring this word to the centre of philosophical thought, in the form of a systematic response to the question 'What is it to live?'

But in order to do this, we must obviously explore the considerable retroactive pressure exerted, on the very definition of the word 'body', by the 'except that' of truths.

The most considerable stake of philosophy today is certainly to produce a new definition of bodies, understood as bodies-of-truth, or subjectivizable bodies. This definition prohibits any capture by the hegemony of democratic materialism.

Then, and only then, will it be possible to propose a new definition of life. This definition would be more or less the following : to live is to partake, point by point, in the organization of a new body, which supports the exceptional creation of a truth.

The resolution of the problem of the body has for essence, I recall, the problem, of the appearance of truths. That's why this resolution is a terrible task. We have to completely explain the possibility of something new in an old world.

It is only by examining the general dispositions of the inscription of a multiplicity in a world, by exposing the proper category of "world", that we can hope to know what is the effectiveness of appearing, and then, to know the singularity of those phenomenal exceptions which are, in their appearing and unfolding, the new truths. After that only we shall be able to define the new possibilities of living in our desolate world.

We can set that the question on which depends the exception is that of objectivity. A truth, such as a subject formalizes its active body in a given world, is not a miracle. A truth takes place among the objects of a world. But what is an object? In a sense, what we have to do, is to find a new defintion of the object and it is in fact my most complex and innovative argument. Because, with this new conception of objectivity, it is possible to clarify the paradoxical status of the existence of a truth.

It is absolutely impossible to give here an idea of this very hard project, which has confronted me with the great attempts of Kant and Husserl. It is a synthesis of mathematical formalism and of descriptive phenomenology.

But you can understant that the path of materialist dialectics organizes the contrast between, on one hand, the complexity of materialism (logic of appearing, or theory of objectivity) an, on the other hand, the intensity of dialiectics (the living incorporation to a new truth). It is the contrast between what I name, after Hegel, a Great Logic and the answer to the question "How are we to live really." This contrast is philosophy itself.

We can here give only a poor idea of the program of this philosophical enterprise.

Once one is in possession of a great logic, of a real theory of appearing and objectivity, it is possible to examine the question of change. Particularly the question of radical change, or of the event. This new theory of change differs entirely from the theory of change in Nietzsche, Bergson or Deleuze. A real change is not a becoming, but a cut, a pure discontinuity. And its most important consequence is that a multiplicity, which did not appear in he world, appears suddenly with the maximal intensity of appearing. A new body is that sort of object which supports and give its orientation to the local consequences of that sort of change. It is a logical set of creative practices.

But what can be a general description of the potency of a truth-body?

One can intuitively grasp that a creative practice relates a subject to articulated figures of experience, so that there is a resolution of precedently unperceived difficulties. The language I propose to illuminate the process of a truth is that of the points in a world: by formalizing a new body, a subject-of-truth treats points of a world, an a truth proceeds point by point. Of course, we still need to have a clear idea of what a point is, on the basis of the rigorous data of appearing, the object and the change. A point in a world is something like a crucial decision in existence ; you have to choose between two possibilities. The first one is completely negative, and will destroy the whole process of a truth, by destroying the new body. The second one is completely affirmative, and will enforce the new body, clarify the truth, exalt the subject. But we have no certainty concerning the choice. It is a bet. A point is the moment where a truth has to pass withou guarantee.

We are in possession of everything that is needed to answer the initial question : "What is a body?" and to thus trace a decisive line of demarcation with democratic materialism. The delicate part of this construction is the one which, after having articulated body and event, opens up the problem of truths by organizing the body, and does so point by point : everything is then recapitulated and clarified. In the whole extension of the existence of worlds - and not only in political action - the incorporation to the True is a question of organization.

That is the path : From a theory of appearing and objectivity to the physics of truth-bodies ; or from the logical framework of the world to the essential drama of the subject. All that passing through the great logic and the thinking of change, in the radical form of an event.

All that defines a new future for philosophy itself. Philosophy has to expose the possibility of a true life. As Aristotle has said, our goal is to examine the question : How can we live really, that is, are immortals. And when we are incorporated within a truth-body, we are in fact as immortals. As Spinoza says, we experiment that we are eternal. But all that is always after some events, events in politics, arts, sciences or love. So, we, philosophers, are working durtng the night, after the day of the real becoming of a new truth.

I think of a beautiful poem of Wallace Stevens : Man carrying thing . Stevens writes: "We must endure our thoughts all night" . It is really the destiny of philosophers and of philosophy : to endure, after the day of creation, the small light of concepts, though the night. And Stevens continues: "Until the bright obvious stands motionless in cold." Yes, it would be the final step of philosophy, the absolute Idea, the complete revelation. The fusion of the philosophical concept of truth with the mulciplicity of truths themselves. The truth, with a small t, becoming the Truth, with a big T. It is our dream, through the night. In the morning we shall see that the brightness of Truth stands motionless in cold. But it does not happen. On the contrary, when something happens in the day of living truths, we have to start doing again the hard work of philosophy : new logic of the world, new theory of the truth-body, new points... Because we have to protect the fragile new idea of what is a truth. To protect the new truth itself. So, when the night falls, we do not sleep. Because, once more, "we must endure our thoughts all night". The philosopher is nothing else than, in the intellectual field, a poor night watch-man.

"Bodies, Languages Truths" was originally delivered at the Victoria College of Arts, University of Melbourne, on September 9th 2006.

Alain Badiou's Bibliography

Alain Badiou's Chronology

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