Drawing by Mark Lombardi






LACANIAN INK 22 – Fall

Religion

ALAIN BADIOU–Fifteen Theses on Contemporary Art
The Drawing Center,
December 4/2003

David Ebony

Thank you all for coming. Thanks to Catherine de Zegher and everyone at the Drawing Center for hosting this Lacanian ink event. It's especially great to be here during the amazing and timely Mark Lombardi show, which I hope you've had a chance to look at.

My name is David Ebony. I'm an editor at Art in America and also a contributing editor of lacanian ink. I'm filling in this evening for Josefina Ayerza, our esteemed editor-in-chief of lacanian ink, who could not make it back from Buenos Aires in time to be here. For the new issue, lacanian ink 22, I've written the cover story titled "Slow Time and the Limits of Modernity," focused on a recent book by Fredric Jameson and recent photos and projects by the artist Craigie Horsfield. I am happy to see Craigie here tonight. It was a marvelous challenge for me to get to know his work by means of ideas proposed by Jameson in his book. Also in this issue are essays by Jacques-Alain Miller, Mladen Dolar, Slavoj Žižek and our honored guest this evening, Alain Badiou.

Alain Badiou

Badiou is widely regarded as one of the best writers of philosophy working today and one of Europe's most profound thinkers. He teaches at the École Normale Supérieure and at the Collège International de Philosophie in Paris. He has published several novels, plays and political essays, as well as a number of major philosophical works. I first wrote about Badiou's work in lacanian ink 16, considering his book Manifesto for Philosophy in relation to works by the Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco. Since then, many more books and articles by Badiou have become available in English, including St. Paul: the Foundation of Universalism, Infinite Thought, a collections of essays published by Continuum, and Ethics, published by Verso.

For lacanian ink 22 Badiou has contributed a very interesting essay offering a new look at the fall of the Soviet Union and the place of communism in a post-Marxist era. One of my favorite passages in it seems to reflect our current political climate:

Let's think for example about the collapse, in 1815, of the Napoleonic Empire. Wasn't it justice that the people and the nations of Europe coalesced to destroy this aberrant militaristic construction which had engulfed the world in fire and blood so that the family of a Corsican despot could enter into low-rent monarchies?

event audience

Today, for those of us involved in or interested in contemporary art, Badiou has a special treat, as he will speak tonight about his 15 theses for art in the 21st century. Yesterday, Josefina sent me a few notes for these concepts, which are available at the front desk tonight. One thesis proposes that "Every art develops from an impure form, and the progressive purification of this impurity shapes the history both of a particular artistic truth and of its exhaustion." And another one states, "Since it is sure of its ability to control the entire domain of the visible and the audible via the laws governing commercial circulation and democratic communication, Empire no longer censures anything. All art, and all thought, is ruined when we accept this permission to consume, to communicate and to enjoy. We should become the pitiless censors of ourselves."

On that note, I'll censor myself, and give you ALAIN BADIOU! Thank you very much!

Fifteen theses on contemporary art

Alain Badiou

1. Art is not the sublime descent of the infinite into the finite abjection of the body and sexuality. It is the production of an infinite subjective series through the finite means of a material subtraction.

2. Art cannot merely be the expression of a particularity (be it ethnic or personal). Art is the impersonal production of a truth that is addressed to everyone.

3. Art is the process of a truth, and this truth is always the truth of the sensible or sensual, the sensible as sensible. This means : the transformation of the sensible into a happening of the Idea.

4. There is necessarily a plurality of arts, and however we may imagine the ways in which the arts might intersect there is no imaginable way of totalizing this plurality.

5. Every art develops from an impure form, and the progressive purification of this impurity shapes the history both of a particular artistic truth and of its exhaustion.

6. The subject of an artistic truth is the set of the works which compose it.

7. This composition is an infinite configuration, which, in our own contemporary artistic context, is a generic totality.

8. The real of art is ideal impurity conceived through the immanent process of its purification. In other words, the raw material of art is determined by the contingent inception of a form. Art is the secondary formalization of the advent of a hitherto formless form.

9. The only maxim of contemporary art is not to be imperial. This also means: it does not have to be democratic, if democracy implies conformity with the imperial idea of political liberty.

10. Non-imperial art is necessarily abstract art, in this sense : it abstracts itself from all particularity, and formalizes this gesture of abstraction.

Alain Badiou

11. The abstraction of non-imperial art is not concerned with any particular public or audience. Non-imperial art is related to a kind of aristocratic-proletarian ethic : Alone, it does what it says, without distinguishing between kinds of people.

12. Non-imperial art must be as rigorous as a mathematical demonstration, as surprising as an ambush in the night, and as elevated as a star.

13. Today art can only be made from the starting point of that which, as far as Empire is concerned, doesn't exist. Through its abstraction, art renders this inexistence visible. This is what governs the formal principle of every art : the effort to render visible to everyone that which for Empire (and so by extension for everyone, though from a different point of view), doesn't exist.

14. Since it is sure of its ability to control the entire domain of the visible and the audible via the laws governing commercial circulation and democratic communication, Empire no longer censures anything. All art, and all thought, is ruined when we accept this permission to consume, to communicate and to enjoy. We should become the pitiless censors of ourselves.

15. It is better to do nothing than to contribute to the invention of formal ways of rendering visible that which Empire already recognizes as existent.

(This first attempt of translation is by Peter Hallward)

The full transcript of the Badiou's talk on his fifteen theses on contemporary art will be published in the Spring issue, lacanian ink 23.