Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Badiou in NLR

I have read a little about Badiou’s new book, De quoi Sarkozy est-il le nom?, mostly not good things. I’m not going to read the whole thing in the near future—certainly not in the next month—so I was pleased to see the New Left Review print a translated selection.

After Being and Event, I wanted to know a great deal more about the kind of philosophy of history that might come out of Badiou’s ideas. Metapolitics didn’t exactly answer the question. This little selection has, I think. For Badiou, history is a resolutely presentist and cyclical. This is easy to swallow (hard to avoid) speaking about the Revolution, but the ‘transcendental Pétainism’ of Sarkozy is a good example (Badiou cites 1815 as the first modern example of this political form). Match this to the cycles of ‘the communist hypothesis,’ in modern times—from 1792 to 1871, then again from 1917 to 1976, putting us, hopefully, at the beginning of a new period—and you’ve got a nice, weaving, repeating history, structured always by the regulative power of courageous fidelity, or, in the case of Pétanism, by fear.

Badiou is here advocating something he calls performative unity. I’m not convinced that this is a terribly useful idea. It does have a trifle more content than Zizek’s politics of refusal, but it seems to me born of the same kind of critical despair.

Most of what I read about this little book talked about Badiou calling various people rats. No doubt the whole book is different, perhaps more aggressive in tone. But from this selection, accusations of crypto-exterminationist leftism were greatly exaggerated.

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