On a Finally Objectless Subject
Alain Badiou

Author’s Bio


What does our era enjoin us to do? Are we equal to the task? It seems to me too easy to claim that the imperative of the times is one of completion, and that, as modem Narratives linking subject, science and History are foreclosed, we must either explore the formless dis-covered this foreclosure bequeaths us or sustain turning back towards the Greek origin of thinking – a pure question. I propose instead the following hypothesis: what is demanded of us is an additional step in the modem, and not a veering towards the limit, whether it be termed “post-modem” or whatever. We know, thanks in particular to mathematics, that the making of an additional step represents a singularly complex task as the local status of problems is often more difficult and muddled than their global status. The predication of an “end” is a hurdling lacking in resolution value when one is unaware of how to proceed on to the next step. Rather than ask “what is there beyond?”, because of methodical distrust of the beyond, I will formulate the question as follows, on the basis of the hypothesis that modem thinking requires its continuation: what concept of the subject succeeds the one whose trajectory can be traced out from Descartes to Husserl, and which wore thin and fell into ruin between Nietzsche and Heidegger, as well as throughout the whole of what should be called “the age of the poets” (Hölderlin, Hopkins, Mallarmé, Rimbaud, Trakl, Pessoa, Mandelstam, Celan)?

Which amounts to asking: can we think an objectless subject? In the twofold sense in which, concerning such a subject, one can neither designate his correlate in presentation, nor suppose that he answers to any of thought’s objectives. I would argue that the process of the destitution of the subject has, over the course of a complex history going back at least as far as Kant, been confused with the ineluctable process of the destitution of the object. From within the modem imperative – to which the predication of an “end” opposes but a dissipated torment – we must base what succeeds on the fact that the form of the object cannot in any way sustain the enterprise of truth. This imperative thus raises the following question: is it possible to de-objectify the space of the subject?

If it is possible, what is thus beyond the subject if not the very same subject dissociated or subtracted from reflexive jurisdiction, un- constituting, untied from all supports unrelated to the process of a truth – of which the subject would be but a finite fragment?

I call subject the local or finite status of a truth. A subject is what is locally born out.

The “subject” thus ceases to be the inaugural or conditioning point of legitimate statements. He is no longer – and here we see the cancellation of the object, as objective this time – that for which there is truth, nor even the desirous eclipse of its surrection. A truth always precedes him. Not that a truth exists “before” him, for a truth is forever suspended upon an indiscernible future. The subject is woven out of a truth, he is what exists of truth in limited fragments. A subject is what a truth transits, or this finite point through which, in its infinite being, truth itself passes or transits. This transit excludes every interior moment.

This is what allows me to deny that it is necessary “truth” henceforth being disjoined or dissociated from “knowledge” – to suppress the category “subject”. While it is impossible in our era to identify “truth” with a status of cognitive statements, it cannot be inferred that we can thereby go beyond what modem thought (post-Galilean or post- Cartesian) has designated as its own locus using the term “subject”. Granted: the meaning of the word “truth” may hang on the question of being; still it seems more apposite to make this meaning depend on the supplementation or exceeding-of-being which I term “event”. Does it follow that the “subject” is obsolete? That would be to confuse the classical function of the subject (as transparent punctuality on the basis of which the true or its limit is established) and being which props up this function (i.e. the finite which, since Galileo, must endure truth’s infinite nature).

Let us make a forward pass with this being, dissociating it from its hereditary function.

1. Axiomatic provision

An irrevocable step forward has been made through the critique of earlier concepts of the subject, which is thoroughly based on the notion that truth is neither a qualification of knowledge nor an intuition of the intelligible. One must come to conceive of truth as making a hole in knowledge. Lacan is paradigmatic on this point. The subject is thus convoked as a border-effect or a delimiting fragment of such a hole-piercing.

To conceptualize the subject outside of any object position makes no sense except from the point of view of a doctrine of truth which has been so completely recast as to go well beyond the critique of correspondence theories of truth, and to out-radicalize hermeneutics of unveiling. Such a doctrine cannot be laid out here in its ontological complexity. I will simply summarize it in four theses, fully aware though I am that in philosophy summary is impracticable; one would better conceive of it as an axiomatic shortcut. The four theses which follow must thus be solidly founded as everything else depends upon them.

(1) A truth is always post-eventual. Its process begins when a supernumerary name has been put into circulation – extracted from the very void which reduces every situation to its being (”sutures” every situation as being) – by which it has been decided that an event has supplemented the situation.

(2) The process of a truth is fidelity (to the event), i.e. the evaluation, using a specific operator (that of fidelity), of the degree of connection between the terms of the situation and the supernumerary name of the event.

(3) The terms of the situation that are declared positively connected to the supernumerary name form an infinite part of the situation, which is suspended upon a future, as this infinity only comes into being through a succession of finite evaluations, and is thus never presented.

(4) If this infinite part will have avoided (we have here the future anterior as truth’s own temporal regime or register) coinciding with what knowledge determines as known, consistent or discerned sets in the situation if, thus, the part in question is indiscernible for knowledge, i.e. absolutely indistinguishable or generic – then we will say the post-eventual procedure produces a truth. A truth is therefore, in substance, a procedure of post-eventual fidelity which will have been generic. In this sense, a truth (indiscernible within knowledge), is the metonymy of the situation’s very being – i.e. of a pure or unnamed multiple into which this being is resolved.

Let us call “subject” every finite state of a generic procedure.

2. Negative delimitation of the concept of the subject

From the preceding definition, we can infer a whole series of negative consequences which make it clear that we are proceeding (through discontinuous continuity) forward from the classical concept of the subject.

(a) A subject is not a substance. If the word substance has a meaning, it designates a multiple which is counted as one in a situation. The intrinsic indiscernibility into which a generic procedure resolves excludes a subject’s being substantial.

(b) Nor is a subject an empty point. The void, which is a proper name of being, is inhuman and a-subjective. It is an ontological concept. In addition, it is clear that a truth is realized as multiplicity and not as punctuality.

(c) A subject is in no sense the organizing of a meaning of experience. He is not a transcendental function. If the word “experience” means anything, it designates presentation as such. Now a generic procedure, hinged as it is on the event which a supernumerary name qualifies, in no way coincides with presentation. We should also differentiate meaning and truth. A generic procedure realizes the post-eventual truth of a situation, but this indiscernible multiple in which a truth consists yields up no meaning.

(d) A subject is not an invariant of presentation. The subject is scarce in that the generic procedure runs diagonally to the situation. One could add that each subject is rigorously singular, being the generic procedure of a situation which is itself singular. The statement “there is subject” (il y a du sujet) is uncertain or haphazard: it is not transitive with respect to being.

(e) A subject is neither a result nor an origin. He is the local status of the procedure, a configuration which exceeds the situation.

Let us now examine the twists and turns of the subject.

3. Subjectivization: intervention and the faithful connection operator

The subject is at the core of a problem of twofold origin concerning fidelity procedures. We have the name of the event, which I say results from an intervention, as well as a faithful connection operator which regulates the procedure and institutes truth. To what extent does this operator depend upon the name? And doesn’t the emergence of this operator constitute a second event? Let us take an example. In Christianity, the Church is that through which connections to and disconnections from the Christ-event, originally called the “death of God”, are evaluated. As Pascal says, the Church is thus verily “truth’s history”, as it is the faithful connection operator sustaining “religious” generic procedures. But what is the link between the Church and Christ? Or between the Church and the death of God? This point is continually under debate and has given rise (like that concerning the link between the Party and the Revolution) to all kinds of schisms and heresy. One suspects the faithful connection operator itself of being originally unfaithful to the event in which it takes pride.

I will call subjectivization the emergence of an operator which is consecutive to the interventional naming that decides the event. Subjectivization takes the form of the Two. It is oriented towards the intervention in the vicinity of the eventual site. But is also oriented towards the situation by its coincidence with the rule of evaluation and proximity which grounds the generic procedure. SUbjectivization is the interventional naming from the point of view of the situation, i.e. the rule governing the intra-situational effects of putting a supernumerary name into circulation.

Subjectivization, i.e. the singular configuration of a rule, subsumes the Two of which it consists in the absence of meaning of a proper name. St. Paul for the Church, Lenin for the Party, Cantor for ontology, Schoenberg for music, but also Simon or Claire, should they declare their love, are all designations – made by the “one” of a proper name – of the subjectivizing scission between the name of an event (the death of God, the revolution, infinite multiples, the destruction of the tonal system, or an encounter) and the setting into motion of a generic procedure (the Catholic Church, Bolshevism, set theory, serialism, or singular love). The proper name here designates that the subject, qua situated and local configuration, is neither the intervention nor the fidelity operator, but rather the advent of their Two, i.e. the incorporation of the event into the situation in the form of a generic procedure. The absolute singularity of this Two, dissociated as it is from its meaning, is shown by the un-signifying nature of the proper name. But this un-signifying nature also dearly recalls that what the interventional naming convoked was the void which is itself the proper name of being. Subjectivization is the proper name in situ of this general proper name. It is a manifestation of the void.

The commencement of a generic procedure grounds, as its horizon, the collecting of a truth. Subjectivization is thus that which makes a truth possible. It turns the event towards the situation’s truth for which this event is an event. Thus the proper name bears the trace of both the event and the situation, being that by which one comes to be for the other, qua generic trajectory of a truth. “Lenin” is at once the October Revolution (the eventual component) and Leninism – true-multiplicity of revolutionary politics for half a century. Similarly, “Cantor” is at once the madness which requires the conceptualization of pure multiples and articulates and relates the infinite prodigality of being-as-being to its void, and the process of total reconstruction of mathematical discursivity (up until Bourbaki and even beyond). The fact is that the proper name contains both the interventional naming and the faithful connection rule.

Subjectivization – as the aporetic nexus of a name-too-many and an un-known operation – is what traces in situ the multiple becoming of the true, starting from the non-existent point at which the event has convoked the void and interpolated itself between the void and itself.

4. Randomness, from which every truth is woven, is the subject’s material

If we consider the local status of a generic procedure, we notice that it depends on simple encounters. The faithful connection operator prescribes if one or another term of the situation is linked or not to the supernumerary name of the event. It in no way prescribes, however, that we examine one term before, or rather than, another. Thus the procedure is regulated in terms of its effects, but entirely random in its trajectory. The only empirical evidence in this respect is that the trajectory begins just at the outskirts of the eventual site. Everything else is lawless. There is thus an essential randomness in the procedure’s itinerary. This randomness is not visible in its result, viz. a truth, for a truth is an ideal collecting of “all” the evaluations: it is a complete part of the situation. But the subject does not coincide with this result. Locally there are only illegal encounters, for nothing ordains – neither in the name of the event nor in the connection operator – that one term be evaluated at a certain moment and in a certain place. If one considers the subject’s material to be the terms submitted to the fidelity operator, this material – as multiple – has no assignable relationship with the rule dividing the positive results (where connection is established) from the negative ones (where disconnection is. established). Conceived of in his operation, the subject is qualifiable though singular: he breaks down into a name (of the event) and an operator (of fidelity). Conceived of in his multiple being, i.e. in the terms which figure in the actual evaluations, the subject is unqualifiable in that these terms are arbitrary with respect to his twofold qualification.

Of course, a finite series of evaluations of terms encountered by the fidelity procedure is a possible object of knowledge. But the active element of the evaluation – its evaluating – is not, as it is only accidental that the terms evaluated therein by the faithful connection operator turn out to be presented in the finite multiple of the evaluations. Knowledge can retroactively enumerate the components of this multiple, as they are finite in number. As knowledge cannot, at that very moment, anticipate any meaning whatsoever of their singular regrouping, it cannot coincide with the subject whose whole being is in the encounter with terms within a random trajectory. Knowledge never encounters anything. It presupposes presentation, representing it in language by discernment and judgment. What, on the contrary, constitutes the subject is the encounter with his material, though nothing in its form (viz. the name of the event and the fidelity operator) orders this material. If the subject has no other being-in-situ than the multiple terms he encounters and evaluates, his essence – having to include the randomness of these encounters – is rather the trajectory which links them. Now this incalculable trajectory comes under no determination within knowledge.

There is, between the knowledge of finite regroupings, their principled discernibility, and the subject of the fidelity procedure, this indifferent-difference which distinguishes the result (some of the finite multiples of the situation) from the partial trajectory of which this result is a local configuration. The subject is “between” the terms the procedure.

The subject is neatly separated from knowledge by randomness. He is randomness vanquished term by term, but this victory, subtracted from language, is accomplished only as truth.

5. Subject and truth: indiscernibility and nomination

I axiomatically stated above that “a-truth” – infinitely gathering the terms positively evaluated by the fidelity procedure – is indiscernible in the language of the situation. It is a generic part of the situation.

As the subject is a local configuration of the procedure, it is clear that truth is equally indiscernible “for him”. For truth is global. “For him” means exactly that a subject who effectuates a truth is nonetheless incommensurate to it, he being finite, truth being infinite. Moreover, the subject, being within the situation, can only know (i.e. encounter) terms or multiples presented (counted as one) in this situation. And finally, the subject can only construct his idiom (langue) out of combinations between the supernumerary name of the event and the language (langage) of the situation. It is in no way assured that this idiom will suffice to discern a truth, a truth being in any case indiscernible by the resources of the language of the situation alone. One must absolutely abandon every definition of the subject which would assume that he knows the truth or is adjusted to it. Being the local moment of the truth, the subject fails to sustain its global adjunction. Every truth transcends the subject precisely because his whole being consists in supporting the effectuation of that truth. The subject is neither consciousness nor unconsciousness of the true.

The singular relationship of a subject to the truth whose procedure he supports is the following: the subject believes that there is a truth, and this belief takes the form of knowledge. I term this educated belief “confidence”.

What does confidence mean? The fidelity operator locally discerns connections and disconnections of multiples of the situation with or from the name of the event. This discerning is an approximative truth, for the terms positively connected are yet to come – in a truth. This “yet to come” is the distinctive characteristic of the subject who judges. Belief here is the yet-to-come which goes by the name of truth. Its legitimacy derives from the fact that the name of the event, having supplemented the situation with a paradoxical multiple, circulates in the evaluations’ as that on the basis of which the void as latent and wandering being of the situation – has been convoked. A finite series of evaluations thus possesses, in a manner at once effective and fragmentary, the being-in-situ of the situation itself. This fragment materially pronounces the yet-to-come for, though it is locatable by knowledge, it is the fragment of an indiscernible trajectory. Belief consists merely in the fact that the encounters’ randomness is not vainly gathered up by the faithful connection operator. Held out as a promise by the event alone, belief represents the genericalness of the true as possessed in the local finitude of the stages of its trajectory. In this sense the subject is self-confidence, in that he does not coincide with the retroactive discernibility of these fragmentary results. A truth is posited as the infinite determination of an indiscernible of the situation, the latter being the intra-situational global result of the event.

That this belief may take the form of knowledge results from the fact that every subject generates namings. Empirically, this point is born out. What one can the most explicitly connect up with proper names that designate a subjectivization is an arsenal of words which make up the deployed matrix of fidelity marks. Consider “faith”, “charity”, “sacrifice”, and “health” (St. Paul), or “party”, “revolution”, and “politics” (Lenin), or “’sets”, “ordinal numbers”, and “cardinal numbers” (Cantor), and everything which then articulates, ramifies and stratifies these words. What is their particular function? Do they simply designate terms presented in the situation? In that case they would be redundant as concerns the established language of the situation. One can in fact distinguish ideological sects from truth’s generic procedures on the basis of the fact that whereas the words used by such sects only replace – through meaningless shifts – those declared appropriate by the situation, the names used by a subject in supporting a generic truth’s local configuration generally have no referent in the situation. They do not thus double over the established language. But what purpose do they then serve? They are words which clearly designate terms, but terms which “will have been” presented in a new situation, one which results from the adjunction of an (indiscernible) truth of the situation to that same situation.

Belief is sustained by the fact that with the resources of the situation – its multiples and its language – a subject generates names whose referents are in the future anterior. Such names will have been assigned referents or meanings when the situation will have come to be in which the indiscernible which is only represented (or included) is finally presented, as a truth of the former situation.

At the situation’s surface, a generic procedure draws attention to itself above all by the nominal aura which surrounds its finite configurations: the subject. He who is not involved in extending the procedure’s finite trajectory – who was not assessed positively regarding his connection to the event – generally considers the names to be empty. He obviously recognizes them, as these names are fabricated on the basis of terms of the situation. The names with which a subject surrounds himself are not indiscernible. But the outside observer, noticing that the names are mostly lacking in referents in the situation as it is, considers that they make up an arbitrary and contentless language. Which explains why revolutionary politics are always thought to involve utopian (i.e. unrealistic) elements, scientific revolutions are greeted with skepticism or viewed as non-experimentally continued abstractions, and lovers’ babble is cast aside as infantile madness by prudent people. Now these observers are, in a certain sense, right. The names generated – or rather composed – by a subject are suspended, as concerns their meaning, upon the yet-to-come of a truth. Their local use is to sustain the belief that the terms positively polled designate or describe the approximation of a new situation in which the truth of the actual situation will have been presented. Every subject is thus locatable by the emergence of a language inside the situation, whose multiple-referents are, however, conditioned by an as yet uncompleted generic part.

Now a subject is separated from this generic part (of this truth) by an infinite series of random encounters. It is entirely impossible to anticipate or to represent a truth, as it comes to be only in the course of evaluations or connections which are incalculable, their succession being solely ruled by encounters with the terms of the situation. It follows that, from the subject’s point of view, the referentiality of the names remains forever suspended upon the uncompletable condition of a truth. It is only possible to say that if such and such a term, when it will have been encountered, turns out to be positively connected to the name of the event, then such and such a name will be likely to have a certain referent, for the generic pan which remains indiscernible in the situation will have such and such a configuration or partial property. A subject is that which uses names to make hypotheses about truth. But as he is himself a finite configuration of the generic procedure from which a truth results, one can equally sustain that a subject uses names to make hypotheses about himself, “himself” meaning the infinite of which he is the finite. An idiom (la langue) here is the fixed order in which a finitude attempts to postulate – within the condition of the finite effectuated by the finite – a referentiality yet-to-come. Finitude is the very being of truth in the combination of current finite evaluations and the future anterior of a generic infinity.

One can easily show that this is the status of names such as “‘faith”, health”, “communism”, “transfinite”, “serialism”, or names/nouns used in a declaration of love. Let us note that these names can support the future anterior of a truth (be it religious, political, mathematical, musical or existential) as they combine local evaluations (predications, statements, works, addresses) and (re)appropriated or recast names already available in the situation. They slightly shift the established meanings so as to leave the referent empty, the referent which will have been filled if the truth comes to be as a new situation (the reign of God, the emancipated society, absolute mathematics, a new musical order with a range comparable to that of the tonal order, a thoroughly amorous life, etc.).

A subject is that which fends off the generic indiscernibility of a truth – a truth he effectuates in discernible finitude by an act of naming which leaves its referent in the future anterior of a condition. A subject is thus, through names’ good graces, at once the real of the procedure (the assessor of the assessments) and the hypothesis of the novelty the procedure’s uncompletable result would introduce into presentation. A subject emptily names the universe yet-to-come which is obtained from the fact that an indiscernible truth supplements the situation. He is concurrently the finite real, the local stage of this supplementation. Naming is only empty insofar as it is pregnant with what sketches out its own possibility. A subject is the autonym of an empty idiom (langue).