Thursday, January 29, 2009

Badiou interview

On Tuesday, Libération published an interview with Alain Badiou, which can be read on their website. Badiou is cast as one of Sarkozy’s three “adversaires”—he fits nicely into the prefab role of “radicalité.” So although the occasion of the interview is really only to continue the anti-Sarko circus, Badiou does manage to articulate some broad political points.

The mode in which the newspaper introduces Badiou is worth pointing out: he is a philosopher, who stands apart both from Derrida and from the nouveaux philosophes, “Il a préféré se lancer dans l’élaboration d’un système philosophique sophistiqué, d’inspiration platonicienne, où les mathématiques jouent un rôle important, et qui lui vaut une certaine renommée dans le monde universitaire anglosaxon.” Then he is also politically engaged, a practicing Maoist. The two are quite separate, and it is his philosophy, not his politics, that interests the English-speaking world; which, in my experience, is quite false. Of course, to begin with, the sectors of the US academy that are interested in Badiou would reject most formulations of a distinction between philosophy and politics. But also, anecdotally, it seems to me that the philosophy is worked through in order to get to the politics, or at least something that is supposed to be critique and therefore political.

(As an aside: I am amazed, though perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, that the French press still says ‘anglosaxon,’ when what it means is Britain and the US—the ethnic identification leaves a bad taste in my mouth.)

In the interview itself, Badiou indulges in anti-Sarko banter, which is the whole reason they asked him to do the thing in the first place. I think all that is beside the point (conjunctural?). Badiou reaffirms his commitment to the idea of changing the ‘motor’ of society to something other than self-interest, or profit. He argues that so-called democratic societies (the wealthy west) have not in fact reduced violence, but only externalized it. Although the form of this claim is compelling, and I am convinced that ‘we’ export rather than solve a great many of the problems that we solve, Badiou’s specific claim about violence is, as they says, fortement contestable. Also, perhaps, it is subject to empirical verification. The rhetorical reason for this specific claim was to contrast capitalist society with the Soviet Union and other socialist ‘experiments’ (a terrible way to refer to half the world). The capitalists export their systemic violence (one assumes from the capitalist core to the capitalist periphery, although, again, I think the spatialization of capital distribution implied here is, to be short, wrong), while the socialists fully assume it, which is to say, turn the apparatus of the state against the people it is supposed to serve.

Mostly, Badiou states (as probably he has said before) that in his opinion the major theoretical problem of our time is to arrive at an effective form of political mobilization that is not the military-party model. He says,

Le problème d’une discipline politique qui ne soit pas calqée sur le militaire est un problème ouvert, expérimental. Gardons-nous des approches théorique de la question, qui ramènent toujours à l’opposition entre le léninisme (l’organisation) et l’anarchisme (la mobilisation informelle). C’est-à-dire à l’opposition entre Etat et mouvement, qui est une impasse.

He seems to have some specific examples in mind when he rejects the ‘movement’ as a model of political activity. I’m not sure exactly what they are. But I agree that the fetishization of the state/non-state distinction is to be avoided, especially in France, where the line is sometimes hard to find.

I am off to the grève générale, where perhaps I will find some alternative to capitalism.


Anonymous said...

Is there anyway that you can translate this interview? I'd be interested in reading it, but can't read French.

Eric Brandom said...

ahh...I don't think so. sorry.

First, I'm not sufficiently committed to supporting Badiou's readership in the English-speaking world to be so pro-active about a translation. But mostly, this interview isn't so fantastic, and there are now a certain number of more substantial texts from Badiou available in English. There are also, I think, longer and more substantial interviews available online already in English. Better to do with those.