.........Spinoza, Kant, Hegel and... Badiou!

.........Slavoj Zizek

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section I: Introduction - Spinoza

section II: Kant - Hegel


What, already in a first approach, Alain Badiou shares with Gilles Deleuze is that both their philosophies focus on the notion of Event which cannot be reduced to the positive order of Being. We already saw, apropos a series of examples, from Italian neo-Realism to political revolutions, how, for Deleuze, an Event (the emergence of the New) transcends its positive causes; along the same lines, for Badiou, Event introduces a radical break into the order of Being. The difference between them is that, while Deleuze remains a vitalist who asserts the absolute immanence of the Event to Being, the Event as the One-All, the encompassing medium of the thriving differences of Life, Badiou, in a "dualist" fashion, posits Event as radically heterogeneous with regard to Being. However, instead of this difference, they both perform the same paradoxical philosophical gesture of defending, AS MATERIALISTS, the autonomy of the "immaterial" order of the Event. As a materialist, in order to be thoroughly materialist, Badiou focuses on the IDEALIST topos par excellence: How can a human animal forsake its animality and put its life in the service of a transcendent Truth? How can the "transubstantiation" from the pleasure-oriented life of an individual to the life of a subject dedicated to a Cause occur? In other words, how is a free act possible? How can one break the network of the causal connections of positive reality and conceive of an act which begins by and in itself? In short, Badiou repeats within the materialist frame the elementary gesture of idealist anti-reductionism: human Reason cannot be reduced to the result of evolutionary adaptation; art is not just a heightened procedure of providing sensual pleasures, but a medium of Truth; etc. And, against the false appearance that this gesture is aimed at also psychoanalysis (is not the point of the notion of "sublimation" that the allegedly "higher" human activities are just a roundabout "sublimated" way to realize a "lower" goal?), therein resides already the big achievement of psychoanalysis: its claim is that sexuality itself, sexual drives which pertain to the human animal, cannot be accounted for in evolutionary terms. 1 This makes clear the true stakes of Badiou's gesture: in order for materialism to truly win over idealism, it is not enough to succeed in the "reductionist" approach and demonstrate how mind, consciousness, etc., can nonetheless somehow be accounted for within the evolutionary-positivist materialist frame; on the contrary, the materialist claim should be much stronger: it is ONLY materialism which can accurately explain the very phenomena of mind, consciousness, etc.; and, conversely, it is idealism which is "vulgar," which always-already "reifies" them.

Badiou identifies four possible domains in which a Truth-Event can occur, four domains in which subjects emerge as "operators" of a truth-procedure: science, art, politics, love. This theory of the four "conditions" of philosophy allows us to approach in a new way the old problem of the "role" of philosophy. Often, other disciplines take over (at least part of) the "normal" role of philosophy: in some of the 19th century nations like Hungary or Poland, it was literature which played the role of philosophy (that of articulating the ultimate horizon of meaning of the nation in the process of its full constitution); in US today - in the conditions of the predominance of cognitivism and brain studies in philosophy departments -, most of "Continental Philosophy" takes place in Comparative Literature, Cultural Studies, English, French and German departments (as they are saying, if you analyze a rat's vertebra, you are doing philosophy; if you analyze Hegel, you belong to CompLit); in Slovenia of the 1970s, the "dissident" philosophy took place in sociology departments and institutes. There is also the other extreme of philosophy itself taking over the tasks of other academic (or even non-academic) practices and discipline: again, in the late Yugoslavia and some other Socialist countries, philosophy was one of the spaces of the first articulation of "dissident" political projects, it effectively was "politics pursued with other means" (as Althusser put it apropos Lenin). So where did philosophy play its "normal role"? One usually evokes Germany - however, is it not already a commonplace that the extraordinary role of philosophy in German history was grounded in the belatedness of the realization of the German national political project? As already Marx put it (taking the cue from Heine), Germans had their philosophical revolution (the German Idealism) because they missed the political revolution (which took place in France). Is, then, there a norm at all? The closest one can comes to it is if one looks upon the anemic established academic philosophy like the neo-Kantianism 100 years ago in Germany or the French Cartesian epistemology (Leon Brunschvicg, etc.) of the first half of the XXth century - which was precisely philosophy at its most stale, academic, "dead," irrelevant. (No wonder that, in 2002, Luc Ferry, a neo-Kantian, was nominated the Minister of Education in the new Center-Right French government.) What if, then, there is no "normal role"? What if it is exceptions themselves which retroactively create the illusion of the "norm" they allegedly violate? What if not only, in philosophy, exception is the rule, but also philosophy - the need for the authentic philosophical thought - arises precisely in those moments when (other) parts-constituents of the social edifice cannot play their "proper role"? What if the "proper" space for philosophy ARE these very gaps and interstices opened up by the "pathological" displacements in the social edifice? Along these lines, the first great merit of Badiou is that, for the first time, he systematically deployed the four modes of this reference of philosophy (to science, art, politics, and love).

Here the first critical reflection imposes itself: one is tempted to risk the hypothesis that Badiou's first three truth-procedures (science, art, politics) follow the classic logic of the triad of True-Beautiful-Good: the science of truth, the art of beauty, the politics of the good) - so what about the forth procedure, love? Is it not clear that it sticks out from the series, being somehow more fundamental and "universal," always possible to break out. There are thus not simply four truth-procedures, but three plus one - a fact perhaps not emphasized enough by Badiou (although, apropos sexual difference, he does remark that women tend to color all other truth-procedures through love). What is encompassed by this fourth procedure is not just the miracle of love, but also psychoanalysis, theology, and philosophy itself (the LOVE of wisdom). Is, then, love not Badiou's "Asiatic mode of production" - the category into which he throws all truth procedures which do not fit the other three modes? This fourth procedure also serves as a kind of underlying formal principle or matrix of all of them (which accounts for the fact that, although Badiou denies to religion the status of truth-procedure, he nonetheless claims that Paul was the first to deploy the very formal matrix of the Truth-Event). 2

Insofar as, for Badiou, the science of love - this fourth, excessive, truth-procedure - is psychoanalysis, one should not be surprised to find that Badiou's relationship with Lacan is the nodal point of his thought. How, exactly, does Badiou's philosophy relate to Lacan's theory? One should begin by unequivocally stating that Badiou is right in rejecting Lacan's "anti-philosophy." In fact, when Lacan endlessly varies the motif of how philosophy tries to "fill in the holes," to present a totalizing view of the universe, to cover up all the gaps, ruptures and inconsistencies (say, in the total self-transparency of self-consciousness), and how, against philosophy, psychoanalysis asserts the constitutive gap/rupture/inconsistency, etc.etc., he simply misses the point of what the most fundamental philosophical gesture is: not to close the gap, but, on the contrary, to OPEN UP a radical gap in the very edifice of the universe, the "ontological difference," the gap between the empirical and the transcendental, where none of the two levels can be reduced to the other (as we know from Kant, transcendental constitution is a mark of our - human - finitude and has nothing to do with "creating reality"; on the other hand, reality only appears to us within the transcendental horizon, so we cannot generate the emergence of the transcendental horizon from the ontic self-development of reality). 3

This general statement does not allow us to dispense with the work of a more detailed confrontation. It was Bruno Bosteels who provided the hitherto most detailed account of the difference between Badiou's and the Lacanian approach. 4 What the two approaches share is the focus on the shattering encounter of the Real: on the "symptomal torsion" at which the given symbolic situation breaks down. What, then, happens at this point of the intrusion of utmost negativity? According to Badiou, the opposition is here the one between impasse and passe. For Lacan, the ultimate authentic experience (the "traversing of fantasy") is that of fully confronting the fundamental impasse of the symbolic order; this tragic encounter of the impossible Real is the limit-experience of a human being: one can only sustain it, one cannot force a passage through it. The political implications of this stance are easily discernible: while Lacan enables us to gain an insight into the falsity of the existing State, this insight is already "it," there is no way to pass through it, every attempt to impose a new order is denounced as illusory: "From the point of the real as absent cause, indeed, any ordered consistency must necessarily appear to be imaginary insofar as it conceals this fundamental lack itself." Is this not the arch-conservative vision according to which, the ultimate truth of being is the nullity of every Truth, the primordial vortex which threatens to draw us into its abyss? All we can do, after this shattering insight, is to return to the semblance, to the texture of illusions which allow us to temporarily avoid the view of the terrifying abyss, humbly aware of the fragility of this texture... While, for Lacan, Truth is this shattering experience of the Void - a sudden insight into the abyss of Being, "not a process so much as a brief traumatic encounter, or illuminating shock, in the midst of common reality" -, for Badiou, Truth is what comes afterward: the long arduous work of fidelity, of enforcing a new law onto the situation. 5 The choice is thus: "whether a vanishing apparition of the real as absent cause (for Lacan) or a forceful transformation of the real into a consistent truth (for Badiou)":

the problem with this /Lacan's/ doctrine is precisely that, while never ceasing to be dialectical in pinpointing the absent cause and its divisive effects on the whole, it nevertheless remains tied to this whole itself and is thus unable to account for the latter's possible transformation. /.../ Surely anchored in the real as a lack of being, a truth procedure is that which gives being to this very lack. Pinpointing the absent cause or constitutive outside of a situation, in other words, remains a dialectical yet idealist tactic, unless this evanescent point of the real is forced, distorted, and extended, in order to give consistency to the real as a new generic truth.

Bosteels recalls here Badiou's opposition between Sophocles and Aeschylus. Not only Lacan, psychoanalysis as such in its entire history was focused on the Sophoclean topic of the Oedipus' family: from Oedipus confronting the unbearable Thing, the horror of his crime, the horror impossible to sustain - when one becomes aware what one did, one can only blind oneself -, to Antigone's fateful step into the lethal zone between the two deaths, which provokes Creon's superego rage destined to conceal the void of the Thing. To this Sophoclean couple of superego/anxiety, Badiou opposes the Aeschylean couple of courage and justice: the courage of Orestes who risks his act, the justice (re)established by the new Law of Athena. Convincing as this example is, one cannot avoid asking the obvious question: is not this new Law imposed by Athena the patriarchal Law based on the exclusion/repression of what then returns as the obscene superego fury? However, the more fundamental issue is: is Lacan really unable to think a procedure which gives being to the very lack? Is this not the work of sublimation? Does sublimation not precisely "give being to this very lack," to the lack as/of the impossible Thing, insofar as sublimation is "an object elevated to the dignity of a Thing" (Lacan's standard definition of sublimation from his Seminar VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis)? This is why Lacan links death drive and creative sublimation: death drive does the negative work of destruction, of suspending the existing order of Law, thereby as it were clearing the table, opening up the space for sublimation which can (re)starts the work of creation. Both Lacan and Badiou thus share the notion of a radical cut/rupture, "event," encounter of the Real, which opens up the space for the work of sublimation, of creating the new order; the distance which separates them is to be sought elsewhere - where? Here is how Bosteels describes the modality of the truth-procedure:

Setting out from the void which prior to the event remains indiscernible in the language of established knowledge, a subjective intervention names the event which disappears no sooner than it appears; /it/ faithfully connects as many elements of the situation as possible to this name which is the only trace of the vanished event, and subsequently forces the extended situation from the bias of the new truth as if the latter were indeed already generally applicable.

The key words in this faithful rendering of Badiou's positions are the seemingly innocent "AS IF": in order to avoid the Stalinist desastre, which is grounded in the misreading of the new truth as directly applicable to the situation, as its ontological order, one should only proceed AS IF the new truth is applicable... can one imagine a more direct application of the Kantian distinction between constitutive principles (a priori categories which directly constitute reality) and regulative ideas, which should only be applied to reality in the AS IF mode (one should act AS IF reality is sustained by a teleological order, AS IF there is a God and immortal soul, etc.). When Badiou asserts the "unnameable" as the resisting point of the Real, the "indivisible remainder" which prevents the "forceful transformation" to conclude its work, this assertion is strictly correlative to the AS IF mode of the post-evental work of forcing the real: it is because of this remainder that the work of truth cannot ever leave behind this conditional mode.

So when Bosteels claims that "there is something more than just awkward in the criticism according to which Badiou's Being and Event would later get trapped in a naive undialectical, or even pre-critical separation of these two spheres - being and event, knowledge and truth, the finite animal and the immortal subject," one can only add: yes, and that "more" is that this criticism is up to the point. Already for Kant, there is no subjective impurity (such a position is accessible only to a saint, and, due to its finitude, no human being can attain this position): the Kantian subject is the name for an interminable ethical work, and purity is just the negative measure of our everlasting impurity (when we accomplish an ethical act, we cannot ever pretend or know that we were effectively not moved by some pathological motivation). And it is Badiou who is deeply Kantian in his gap between the "eternity" of, say, the idea of justice, and the interminable work of forcing it into a situation. And what about Badiou's repeated insistence that "consequences in reality" do not matter, that - say, apropos of the passage from Leninism to Stalinism - one cannot conceive of Stalinism as the revealed truth of Leninism? What about his insistence that the process of truth is not in any way affected by what goes on at the level of being? For Badiou, a certain truth-procedure ceases for strictly inherent reasons, when its sequence is exhausted - what matters is sequence, not consequence. What this means is that the irreducible impurity has its measure in the eternity of the pure Truth as its inherent measure: although the Idea of egalitarian Justice is always realized in an impure way, through the arduous work of forcing it upon the multiplicity of the order of being, these vicissitudes do not affect the Idea itself which shines through them.

The key to Badiou's opposition of Being and Event is the preceding split, within the order of Being itself, between the pure multitude of the presence of beings (accessible to mathematical ontology) and their re-presentation in some determinate State of Being: all of the multitude of Being cannot ever be adequately represented in a State of Being, and an Event always occurs at the site of this surplus/remainder which eludes the grasp of the State. The question is therefore that of the exact status of this gap between the pure multitude of presence and its representation in State(s). Again, the hidden Kantian reference is crucial here: the gap which separates the pure multiplicity of the Real from the appearing of a "world" whose coordinates are given in a set of categories which predetermine its horizon, is the very gap which, in Kant, separates the Thing-in-itself from our phenomenal reality, i.e., from the way things appear to us as objects of our experience. The basic problem remains unsolved by Kant as well as by Badiou: how does the gap between the pure multiplicity of being and its appearance in the multitude of worlds arise? How does being appear to itself? Or, to put it in "Leninist" terms: the problem is not if there is some reality beneath the phenomenal world of our experience; the true problem is exactly the opposite one - how does the gap open up within the absolute closure of the Real, within which elements of the Real can appear? Why the need for the pure multitude to be re-presented in a State? When Bosteels writes that the state of a situation is "an imposing defense mechanism set up to guard against the perils of the void," one should therefore raise a naive, but nonetheless crucial, question: where does this need for defense come from? Why are we not able to simply dwell in the void? Is it not that there already has to be some tension/antagonism operative within the pure multitude of Being itself? In other words, is Badiou, in his overlooking of this topic, not close to Deleuze, his great opponent? Furthermore, in contrast to the pure indifferent multitude of Being, there is a conflicting multiplicity of States of Being; an Event emerges at the site of the interstices of States - the second key issue is thus the nature of the conflicting co-existence of States.

Badiou's oscillation apropos of the Event is crucial here: while linking the Event to its nomination and opposing any mystical direct access to it, any Romantic rhetorics of immersion into the Nameless Absolute Thing, Badiou is nonetheless continuously gnawed by doubts about the appropriateness of nominations (say, apropos of Marxism, he claims that we still lack the proper name for what effectively occurred in the revolutionary turbulences of the last centuries, i.e. that "class struggle" is NOT an appropriate nomination). This deadlock appears at its purest when Badiou defines the "perverse" position of those who try to behave as if there was no Event: Badiou's "official" position is that the Event is radically subjective (it exists only for those who engage themselves on its behalf); how, then, can the pervert ignore something which is not there at all for him? Is it not that the Event must then have a status which cannot be reduced to the circle of subjective recognition/nomination, so that also those who, WITHIN the situation our of which the Event emerged, ignore the Event, are affected by it? In short, what Badiou seems to miss here is the minimal structure of historicity (as opposed to mere historicism), which resides in what Adorno called die Verbindlichkeit des Neuen, "the power of the New to bind us/" 6 : when something truly New emerges, one cannot go on as if it did not happen, since the very fact of this New changes the entire coordinates. After Schoenberg, one cannot continue to write musical pieces in the old Romantic tonal mode; after Kandinsky and Picasso, one cannot paint in the old figurative way; after Kafka and Joyce, one cannot write in the old realist way. More precisely: of course, one can do it, but if one does it, these old forms are no longer the same, they have lost their innocence and now appear as a nostalgic fake. - From these remarks, we can return to Bosteels basic reproach, according to which, psychoanalysis

collapses into an instantaneous act what is in reality an ongoing and impure procedure, which from a singular event leads to a generic truth by way of a forced return upon the initial situation. Whereas for Zizek, the empty place of the real that is impossible to symbolize is somehow already the act of truth itself, for Badiou a truth comes about only by forcing the real and by displacing the empty place, so as to make the impossible possible. 'Every truth is post-evental,' Badiou writes.

The first misunderstanding to be dispelled here is that, for Lacan, the Event (or Act, or encounter of the Real) does not occur in the dimension of truth. For Lacan also, "truth is post-evental," although in a different sense than for Badiou: truth comes afterwards, as the Event's symbolization. Along the same lines, when Bosteels quotes the lines from my Sublime Object about "traversing the fantasy" as the "almost nothing" of the anamorphic shift of perspective, as the unique shattering moment of the thorough symbolic alteration in which, although nothing changed in reality, all of a sudden "nothing remains the same," one should not forget that this instantaneous reversal is not the end, but the beginning, the shift which opens up the space for the "post-evental" work; to put it in Hegelese, it is the "positing of the presupposition" which opens the actual work of positing. 7


Nowhere is the gap which separates Badiou from Lacan more clearly discernible as apropos four discourses; through a criticism of Lacan, Badiou recently (in his last seminars) proposed his own version of the four discourses. At the outset, there is the hysteric's discourse: in the hysterical subject, the new truth explodes in an event, it is articulated in the guise of an inconsistent provocation, and the subject itself is blind for the true dimension of what it stumbled upon - recall the proverbial unexpected outburst to the beloved "I love you!" which surprises even its author. It is the master's task to properly elaborate the truth into a consistent discourse, to work out its sequence. The pervert, on the contrary, works as if there was no truth-event, it categorizes the effects of this event as if they can be accounted for in the order of knowledge (say, a historian of the French Revolution like Francois Furet who explains it as the outcome of the complexity of the French situation in the late XVIII century, depriving it of its universal scope). To these three, one should add the mystical discourse, the position of clinging to the pure In-Itself of the truth beyond the grasp of any discourse.

There is a series of interconnected differences between this notion of four discourses and Lacan's matrix of four discourses; 8 the main two concern the opposition of Master and Analyst. First, in Lacan, it is not the hysteric but the Master who performs the act of nomination: he pronounces the new Master-Signifier which restructures the entire field; the Master's intervention is momentary, unique, singular, like the magic touch which shifts the perspective and all of a sudden transforms chaos into the New Order - in contrast to the discourse of University which elaborates the sequence from the new Master-Signifier (the new system of knowledge). 9 The second difference is that, in Badiou's account, there is no place for the discourse of the analyst - its place is held by the mystical discourse fixated on the unnameable Event, resisting its discursive elaboration as unauthentic. For Lacan, there is no place for an additional mystical discourse, for the simple reason that such a mystical stance is not a discourse (a social link) - and the discourse of the analyst is precisely a discourse which takes as its "agent," its structuring principle, the traumatic kernel of the real which serves as an irreducible obstacle to the discursive link, introducing in it an indelible antagonism, impossibility, destabilizing gap. Therein resides the true difference between Badiou and Lacan: what Badiou precludes is the possibility to devise a discourse which has as its structuring principle the unnameable "indivisible remainder" eluding a discursive grasp, i.e. for Badiou, when we are confronted with this remainder, we should either name it, transpose it into the master's discourse, or stare at it in the mystifying awe. What this means is that one should turn Badiou's reproach to Lacan back against Badiou himself: it is Badiou who is unable to expand the encounter of the Real into a discourse, i.e., for whom, this encounter, in order to start to function as a discourse, has to be transposed into a Master's discourse.

The ultimate difference between Badiou and Lacan thus concerns the relationship between the shattering encounter of the Real and the ensuing arduous work of transforming this explosion of negativity into a new order: for Badiou, this new order "sublates" the exploding negativity into a new consistent truth, while for Lacan, every Truth displays the structure of a (symbolic) fiction, i.e., it is unable to touch the Real. Does this mean that Badiou is right - namely in his reproach that, in a paradigmatic gesture of what Badiou calls "anti-philosophy," Lacan relativizes truth to just another narrative/symbolic fiction which forever fails to grasp the "irrational" hard kernel of the Real?

One should recall here that the Lacanian triad Real-Imaginary-Symbolic reflects itself within each of its three elements. There are three modalities of the Real: the "real Real" (the horrifying Thing, the primordial object, from Irma's throat to the Alien), the "symbolic Real" (the real as consistency: the signifier reduced to a senseless formula, like the quantum physics formulas which can no longer be translated back into - or related to - the everyday experience of our life-world), and the "imaginary Real" (the mysterious je ne sais quoi, the unfathomable "something" on account of which the sublime dimension shines through an ordinary object). The Real is thus effectively all three dimensions at the same time: the abyssal vortex which ruins every consistent structure; the mathematized consistent structure of reality; the fragile pure appearance. And, in a strictly homologous way, there are three modalities of the Symbolic (the real - the signifier reduced to a senseless formula -, the imaginary - the Jungian "symbols" - and the symbolic - speech, meaningful language), and three modalities of the Imaginary (the real - fantasy, which is precisely an imaginary scenario occupying the place of the Real -, the imaginary - image as such in its fundamental function of a decoy -, and the symbolic - again, the Jungian "symbols" or New Age archetypes). Far from being reduced to the traumatic void of the Thing which resists symbolization, the Lacanian Real thus designates also the senseless symbolic consistency (of the "mathem"), as well as the pure appearance irreducible to its causes ("the real of an illusion"). Consequently, Lacan not only does supplement the Real as the void of the absent cause with the Real as consistency; he adds a third term, that of the Real as pure appearing, which is also operative in Badiou in the guise of what he calls the "minimal difference" which arises when we subtract all fake particular difference - from the minimal "pure" difference between figure and background in Malevitch's "White square on black surface," up to the unfathomable minimal difference between Christ and other men.

In Le siècle, 10 Badiou deploys two modes of what he calls the "passion of the real" as the defining passion of the XXth century, that of "purification" (of violently discarding the deceiving layers of false reality in order to arrive at the kernel of the real) and that of "subtraction" (of isolating the minimal difference which becomes palpable in the symptomal point of the existing order of reality) - is it not, then, that we should supplement Badiou's two passions of the Real (the passion of purification and the passion of subtraction) with that of scientific-theoretical FORMALIZATION as the third approach to the Real? The Real can be isolated through violent purification, the shedding away of false layers of deceptive reality; it can be isolated as the singular universal which marks the minimal difference; and it can also be isolated in the guise of a formalization which renders the subjectless "knowledge in the Real." It is easy to discern here again the triad of Real, Imaginary, Symbolic: the Real attained through violent purification, the Imaginary of the minimal difference, the Symbolic of the pure formal matrix.

The political consequences of this deadlock are crucial. In Le siecle, Badiou seems to oscillate between the plea for a direct fidelity to the XXth century "passion of the real," and the prospect of passing from the politics of purification to the politics of subtraction - while he makes it fully clear that the horrors of the XXth century, from the holocaust to gulag, are a necessary outcome of the purification-mode of the "passion of the Real," and while he admits that protests against it are fully legitimate (see his admiration for Varlam Shalamov's Kolyma Tales), he nonetheless stops short of renouncing it - why? Because the consequent following of the logic of subtraction would have forced him to abandon the very frame of the opposition between Being and Event: within the logic of subtraction, the Event is not external to the order of Being, but located in the "minimal difference" inherent to the order of Being itself. The parallel is here strict between Badiou's two versions of the "passion of the Real" and the two main versions of the Real in Lacan: the Real as the destructive vortex, the inaccessible/impossible hard kernel which we cannot approach too much (if we get too close to it, we get burned, as in Nikita Mikhalkov's Burnt by the Sun, the movie about a Soviet hero-general caught in a Stalinist purge and "burnt by the sun" of the Revolution), and the Real as the pure Schein of a minimal difference, as another dimension which shines through in the gaps of the inconsistent reality.

If Badiou were to accomplish this step, he would, perhaps, choose to conceive of the XXIth century as the displaced repetition of the XXth century: after the (self)destructive climax of the logic of purification, the passion of the Real should be reinvented as the politics of subtraction. There is a necessity in this blunder: subtraction is possible only after the fiasco of purification, as its repetition, in which the "passion of the Real" is sublated, freed of its (self)destructive potential. In the absence of this step, Badiou is left with only two options: either to remain faithful to the destructive ethics of purification, or to take refuge in the Kantian distinction between a normative regulative Ideal and the constituted order of reality - say, to claim that the Stalinist desastre occurs, that the (self)destructive violence explodes, when the gap which forever separates the Event from the order of Being is closed, when the Truth-Event is posited as fully realized in the order of Being.

Along these lines, Badiou recently proposed as (one of) the definition(s) of Evil: the total forcing of the unnameable, the accomplished naming of it, the dream of total Nomination ("everything can be named within the field of the given generic truth procedure")- the fiction (the Kantian regulative Idea?) of the accomplished truth-procedure is taken for reality (it starts to function as constitutive). According to Badiou, what such forcing obliterates is the inherent limitation of the generic truth-procedure (its undecidability, indiscernability...): the accomplished truth destroys itself, the accomplished political truth turns into totalitarianism. The ethics of Truth is thus the ethics of the respect for the unnameable Real which cannot be forced. 11 However, the problem here is: how to avoid the Kantian reading of this limitation? Although Badiou rejects the ontological-transcendental status of finitude as the ultimate horizon of our existence, is his limitation of truth-procedure ultimately not grounded in the fact that it is the finite Significantly, Badiou, the great critic of the notion of totalitarianism, resorts here to this notion in a way very similar to the Kantian liberal critics of the "Hegelian totalitarianism." subject, the operator of the infinite truth-procedure, who, in an act of pure decision/choice, proclaims the Event as the starting point of reference of a truth-procedure (statements like "I love you," "Christ has arisen from the dead"). So, although Badiou subordinates subject to the infinite truth-procedure, the place of this procedure is silently constrained by the subject's finitude. And does Badiou, THE anti-Levinas, with this topic of the respect for the unnameable not come dangerously close precisely to the Levinasian topic of the respect for Otherness - the topic which is, against all appearances, politically totally inoperative? Recall the well-known fiasco of Levinas when, a week after the Sabra and Shatila massacres in Beirut, he participated in a radio broadcast with Shlomo Malka and Alain Finkelkraut. Malka asked him the obvious "Levinasian" question: "Emmanuel Levinas, you are the philosopher of the 'other.' Isn't history, isn't politics the very site of the encounter with the 'other,' and for the Israeli, isn't the 'other' above all the Palestinian?" To this, Levinas answered:

My definition of the other is completely different. The other is the neighbor, who is not necessary kin, but who can be. And in that sense, if you're for the other, you're for the neighbor. But if your neighbor attacks another neighbor or treats him unjustly, what can you do? Then alterity takes on another character, in alterity we can find an enemy, or at least then we are faced with the problem of knowing who is right and who is wrong, who is just and who is unjust. There are people who are wrong. 12

The problem with these lines is not their potential Zionist anti-Palestinian attitude, but, quite on the contrary, the unexpected shift from high theory to vulgar commonsensical reflections - what Levinas is basically saying is that, as a principle, respect for alterity is unconditional, the highest one, but, when faced with a concrete other, one should nonetheless see if he is a friend or an enemy... in short, in practical politics, the respect for alterity strictly means nothing. No wonder, then, that Levinas also perceived alterity also as radical strangeness which poses a threat and where hospitality is suspended, is clear from the following passage about the "yellow peril" from what is arguably his weirdest text, "The Russo-Chinese Debate and the Dialectic" (1960), a comment on the Soviet-Chinese conflict:

The yellow peril! It is not racial, it is spiritual. It does not involve inferior values; it involves a radical strangeness, a stranger to the weight of its past, from where there does not filter any familiar voice or inflection, a lunar or Martian past. 13

Does this not recall Heidegger insistence, throughout the 1930s, that the main task of the Western thought today is to defend the Greek breakthrough, the founding gesture of the "West," the overcoming of the pre-philosophical mythical "Asiatic" universe, against the renewed "Asiatic" threat - the greatest opposite of the West is "the mythical in general and the Asiatic in particular"? 14 Back to Badiou, what all this means is that there is a Kantian problem with Badiou which is grounded in his dualism of Being and Event, and which has to be surpassed. The only way out of this predicament is to assert that the unnameable Real is not an external limitation, but an ABSOLUTELY INHERENT limitation. Truth is a generic procedure which cannot comprise its own concept-name that would totalize it (as Lacan put it, "there is no meta-language," or, as Heidegger put it, "the name for a name is always lacking," and this lack, far from being a limitation of language, is its positive condition, i.e., it is only because-through this lack that we have language). So, like the Lacanian Real which is not external to the Symbolic, but makes it non-all from within (as Laclau put it: in an antagonism, the external limit coincides with the internal one), the unnameable is inherent to the domain of names. (This is why, for Badiou as for Heidegger, poetry is the experience/articulation of the limits of the potency of language, of the limits of what we can force through and with language.) THIS and only this is the proper passage from Kant to Hegel: not the passage from limited/incomplete to full/completed nomination ("absolute knowledge"), but the passage of the very limit of nomination from the exterior to the interior.

The materialist solution is thus that the Event is NOTHING BUT its own inscription into the order of Being, a cut/rupture in the order of Being on account of which Being cannot ever form a consistent All. There is no Beyond of Being which inscribes itself into the order of Being - there "is" nothing but the order of Being. One should recall here yet again the paradox of Einstein's general theory of relativity, in which matters does not curve the space, but is an effect of the space's curvature: an Event does not curve the space of Being through its inscription into it - on the contrary, an Event is NOTHING BUT this curvature of the space of Being. "All there is" is the interstice, the non-self-coincidence, of Being, i.e., the ontological non-closure of the order of Being.

Badiou's counter-argument to Lacan (formulated, among others, by Boostels) is that what really matters is not the Event as such, the encounter with the Real, but its consequences, its inscription, the consistency of the new discourse which emerges from the Event... one is tempted to turn this counter-argument against Badiou himself, against his "oppositional" stance of advocating the impossible goal of pure presence without the state of representation: one should gather the strength to Ètake overÇ and assume power, no longer just to persist in the safety of the oppositional stance. If one is not ready to do this, then one continues to rely on state power as that against which one defines one's own position. What this means at the ontological level is that, ultimately, one should reject Badiou's notion of mathematics (the theory of pure multitude) as the only consistent ontology (science of Being): if mathematics is ontology, then, in order to account for the GAP between Being and Event, one should remain stuck in dualism OR dismiss the Event as an ultimately illusory local occurrence within the encompassing order of Being. Badiou is here anti-Deleuze, but he remains within the same field: while Deleuze asserts the substantial One as the background-medium of the multitude, Badiou opposes the multitude of Being to the One-ness of the singular Event. Against this notion of multitude, one should assert as the ultimate ontological given the gap which separates the One from within.


1 This is how one should locate the shift from the biological instinct to drive: instinct is just part of the physics of animal LIFE, while drive (DEATH drive) introduces a meta-physical dimension. In Marx, we find the homologous implicit distinction between working class and proletariat: "working class" is the empirical social category, accessible to sociological knowledge, while "proletariat" is the subject-agent of revolutionary Truth. Along the same lines, Lacan claims that drive is an ETHICAL category.

2 Furthermore, is there not a key difference between love and other truth-procedures, in that, in contrast to others which try to force the unnameable, in "true love," one endorses-accepts the loved Other ON BEHALF OF THE VERY UNNAMEABLE X IN HIM/HER. In other words, "love" designates the respect of the lover for what should remain unnameable in the beloved - "whereof one cannot talk about, thereof one should remain silent" is perhaps the fundamental proscription of love.

3 Perhaps, along these lines, one should even take the risk of proposing that psychoanalysis - the subject's confrontation with its innermost fantasmatic kernel - is no longer to be accepted as the ultimate gesture of subjective authenticity

4 See Bruno Boostels, "Alain Badiou's Theory of the Subject: The Recommencement of Dialectical Materialism?" (2001), in The Warwick Journal of Philosophy.

5 Badiou's notion of subjectivization as the engagement on behalf of Truth, as the fidelity to Truth-Event, is clearly indebted to the Kierkegaardian existential commitment "experienced as gripping our whole being. Political and religious movements can grip us in this way, as can love relationships and, for certain people, such 'vocations' as science and art. When we respond to such a summons with what Kierkegaard calls infinite passion - that is, when we respond by accepting an unconditional commitment - this commitment determines what will be the significant issue for us for the rest of our life."(Hubert Dreyfus, On the Internet, London: Routledge 2001, p. 86) What Dreyfus enumerates in this resume of Kierkegaard's position are precisely Badiou's four domains of Truth (politics, love, art, science), PLUS religion as their "repressed" model.

3 See Theodor W. Adorno, "Verbindlichkeit des Neuen," Musikalische Schriften V, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag 1998, p. 832-833.

7 Not to mention the obvious fact that, in the psychoanalytic treatment, truth is not an instant insight, but the "impure" process of working-through which can last for years.

8 As to this matrix, see See Jacques Lacan, Le séminaire, livre XVII: L'envers de la psychanalyse.

9 In philosophical terms, Lacan introduces here a distinction, absent in Badiou, between symbolic truth and knowledge in the Real: Badiou clings to the difference between objective-neutral Knowledge which concerns the order of Being, and the subjectively-engaged Truth (one of the standard topoi of the modern thought from Kierkegaard onwards), while Lacan renders thematic another, unheard-of, level, that of the unbearable fantasmatic kernel. Although - or, rather, precisely because - this kernel forms the very heart of subjective identity, it cannot ever be subjectivized, subjectively assumed: it can only be retroactively reconstructed in a desubjectivized knowledge. As to this crucial distinction, see the first chapter in my The Plague of Fantasies, London: Verso Books 1997.

10 See Alain Badiou, Le siècle, Paris; Seuil, 2002.

11 It also seems problematic to conceive of "Stalinism" as a too radical "forcing" of the order of being (the existing society): the paradox of the 1928 "Stalinist revolution" was rather that, in all its brutal radicality, it was not radical enough in effectively transforming the social substance - its brutal destructiveness has to be read as an impottent passage a l'acte. Far from simply standing for a total forcing of the unnameable Real on behalf of the Truth, the Stalinist "totalitarianism" rather designates the attitude of absolutely ruthless "pragmatism," of manipulating and sacrificing all "principles" on behalf of maintaining power.

12 The Levinas Reader, Oxford: Blackwell 1989, p. 294.

13 Emmanuel Levinas, Les imprevus de l'histoire, Fata Morgana 1994, p. 172.

14 Martin Heidegger, Schelling's Treatise on Human Freedom, Athens: Ohio University Press 1985, p. 146.


Slavoj Zizek's Bibliography

Slavoj Zizek's Chronology

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1 Martin Heidegger, Schelling's Treatise on Human Freedom, Athens: Ohio University Press 1985, p. 146.