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The Supreme

The Birth of
the Intimate

Jews, Christians,
and other

A Conversation
with Alain Badiou

Fifteen Theses on
Contemporary Art

Katy Grannan



A Conversation with Alain Badiou

Mario Goldenberg

MG: I would like to consider two statements of yours. One deals with the death of God in Court Traité d'ontologie transitoire, the other, in "Of An Obscure Disaster...," published in lacanian ink 22, refers to the death of Communism. You argue that death is not an event, and nevertheless both the death of God and the death of Communism have consequences. What are these consequences?

AB: The consequences of the two deaths? I think the consequence of the death of God is a conclusive difference between meaning and truth. When Lacan says that meaning is a religious perception, he speaks within the logic of the death of God where truth and meaning are severed. Actually, I think that the simplest definition of God and of religion lies in the idea that truth and meaning are one and the same thing. The death of God is the end of the idea that posits truth and meaning as the same thing. And I would add that the death of Communism also implies the separation between meaning and truth as far as history is concerned. "The meaning of history" had two meanings: on the one hand "orientation," history goes somewhere; and then history has a meaning, which is the history of human emancipation by way of the proletariat, etc. In fact, the entire age of Communism was a period where the conviction that it was possible to take rightful political decisions existed; we were, at that moment, driven by the meaning of history. Thence a coincidence between political truth and the truth of political action and the meaning of history. Then the death of Communism becomes the second death of God but in the territory of history. There is a connection between the two events and the consequence is, so to speak, that we should be aware that to produce truthful effects that are primarily local (be them psychoanalytical, scientific, etc.) is always an effect of local truth, never global or total truth. On the other hand, this does not imply that it may produce an effect of meaning and still less a global meaningful effect. Thus, we should manage with this, make do with it.

MG: Could you elaborate on this?

AB: I can think of a given political situation, that there is a rightful orientation and a false orientation. You can have this thought. It well serves the question and it's not linked to a general meaning of history and neither it is linked to a representation of a political totality. In my view, in the psychoanalytical cure you can produce effects of truth, but this doesn't mean you are going to change the global meaning of the subject. They are separated. Today we may call "obscurantism" the intention of keeping them harnessed together‹meaning and truth. This is why, as Jacques-Alain Miller says, we need more light!

MG: Is there any pragmatic bias in this?

AB: A pragmatic, or a practical one? If we envisage pragmatic in the philosophical sense, I would say no. In true pragmatism the category of truth disappears and only meaning is left. There are regions of meaning.

MG: Pragmatism states what is useful, what is real.

AB: Yes, utility is a notion that is relative to meaning. Utility in a pragmatic sense refers to meaning. It's Wittgenstein's viewpoint. There are meaning games he calls language games and what counts is the ability to perform. But in this way he constrains the separation of meaning and truth and thus causes the disappearance of truth. I think it is the big philosophical divide in contemporary theory. We may work with the death of God in mind. However, you only have two possibilities: either you consider the separation of truth and meaning or you decide that there is no truth at all.

MG: Lacan says "truth is not-all."

AB: To say that "it is not-all" and to say "it's nothing" are not the same thing.

MG: I guess the death of Communism is a surer thing than the death of God. Because the death of God may be an event that lasts for many years.

AB: God is older than Communism. Therefore he dies slower.

MG: But we could be dealing here with agony, Miguel de Unamuno used to talk about the agony of Christianity. Thence the agony of God. The death of God may be a lengthy agony.

AB: Yes, I think it's a lengthy agony.

MG: In your Court Traité d'ontologie transitoire you state that God is already dead.

AB: He is dead for me. Then he is dead.

MG: Not for George W. Bush and Osama Bin Laden.

AB: I think that even for them He is dead. It's a dead God's action, He is dead and still acts. A dead God is being removed.

MG: I like the difference you make between the living God of Pascal and the conceptual God of Descartes. The formulation of Pascal's bet is quite interesting.

AB: Pascal's God is more contemporary, more subjective.

MG: The bet is a non discursive operation.

AB: It's a subjective decision, not a logical one.

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