PRINT November 2006


Alain Badiou has arrived at what is perhaps the crowning moment of his career. His magnum opus of 1988, Being and Event, was finally published in English this year. His much-anticipated sequel, Logiques des mondes (Logics of Worlds)—his first major philosophical work in eighteen years—appeared in France in March. And in February, Century, transcriptions of the seminar Badiou gave at the Collège International de Philosophie between 1998 and 2001, will be published in English translation. Taking advantage of the occasion to revisit his ideas and their evolution, we invited Badiou once again to join in conversation with Lauren Sedofsky, who interviewed him in these pages more than a decade ago (“Being by Numbers,” Artforum, October 1994).

Everything that’s abysmal in the present political situation somehow conspired to make the recent publication in France of Alain Badiou’s long-awaited Logiques des mondes seem like an urgent message to pick up our conversation of twelve years ago exactly where we left off.

Philosophy, Badiou had said, can lead to disaster when it seizes truths in the form of identity or fusion. Indeed, according to Badiou’s “protocol of distinction,” it is not at all the vocation of philosophy to posit truth but only to provide the conceptual framework for grasping the “conditions” in which truths, truths in the making, manifest themselves—politics, science, art, and love—the resuscitated Platonic conditions, which are strictly nonphilosophical. Yet the demonstration in Badiou’s seminal text Being and Event (L’Être et l’événement, 1988) reposed entirely on science (in its paradigmatic form, mathematics), while its elaboration, one might contend, had been inspired by politics. And now here was the second magnum opus, a sequel to the first, eighteen years in the making, which once again presented the same ambiguous conjugation of what is intrinsic and what is extrinsic to philosophy. But how could it not? Fundamental to Badiou’s project from its inception in Le Concept de modèle (The Concept of Model, 1969) was the recourse to mathematical formalization as the preeminently contemporary (and ancient) alternative to the concurrent reduction of the world to écriture but within a speculative account of how formalization progresses—remarkable, therefore, as a rather ingenious yoking of Platonism and materialism, mathematics and dialectic, or, to put a further slant on it, as an intrepid attempt to affix the truths of a particular politics to the thoroughly demonstrable ones of mathematics. Small wonder then that Logiques des mondes, basically a work that treats the philosophical problem of “appearance” by means of an area of mathematics known as category theory, manages to emit the last wild howl of emancipatory politics and a craving for the new on a very grand scale. But it is also ironic that Badiou should have chosen to address democracy directly and declare himself its internal adversary (as if anyone had ever doubted it) at precisely the moment when democracy finds itself with other far more efficient internal adversaries—those of the neoconservative persuasion. How could one resist offering him the controlled forum of the interview format?

What had been truly startling about Being and Event was not its thesis—that ontology (the science of being) and mathematics are the same thing, and therefore being is nothing other than pure multiplicity—no, it was the thoroughly compelling argumentation, the seemingly incontrovertible evidence for it, once the axioms of set theory had been elucidated in an entirely accessible way and paired with meditations on what philosophers had actually said about being ever since Plato turned his attention to Parmenides (“For it is the same thing,” the latter had written, “to think and to be”). Even if it is universally acknowledged that set theory failed to provide a foundation for mathematics, Badiou proved to have uncovered something else in it: a veritable anthology of ontology, which permitted him to divorce philosophy from the age-old problem of being (and put a stop, as he saw it, to Heidegger’s interminable questioning) by assigning it in toto to the incontestable intelligibility of mathematics. The protocol of distinction, in this sense, had been enforced.

For the former Maoist and soixante-huitard under the triple influence of Sartre, Althusser, and Lacan, though, there was a rub: If “what is” is merely a secularized infinity, teeming with multiplicities, then how can anything new happen? To accommodate change, Badiou elaborated a “theory of the event”—no doubt the aspect of his thinking most congenial to those involved in the arts and those of a particular political disposition. In the wake of Heidegger’s Ereignis (the dynamic emergence of meaning), though, what French philosopher could dispense with having such a theory? But Badiou’s presented a kind of double drama (after all, he is also a novelist, playwright, and adept of Mallarmé): How were heretofore undetectable elements going to emerge, disappear, reemerge, and coalesce to become truths, the always provisional, procedural, multiple truths of politics, science, art, and love? And how, at the very same time, was the generic subset, the set without particularities, somehow going to allow this intrusion of dialectical thinking into mathematics?

Paleolithic painting from the Chauvet Grotto, Vallon-Pont-D’Arc, France. Photo: Carole Fritz and Gilles Tosello.

What is positively astonishing about Logiques des mondes is not the unsurprising parallel thesis—that appearance and logic are the same thing, and therefore appearance is nothing other than a particular branch of mathematics—no, it is the curiously discreet passage of category theory in and around a massive application of the excursus. Through pages upon pages, Badiou summons up or projects disparate worlds, each exemplary of various traits of his logic: Spartacus and the slave uprising; Rousseau’s La Nouvelle Héloïse; Oscar Niemeyer’s Brasília; Mao and the Chinese peasants; Valéry’s “Le Cimetière marin”; the Quebec separatists and the Mohawks; Virgil’s Dido and Aeneas; Sartre’s Le Diable et le Bon Dieu; Berlioz’s Les Troyens; Kierkegaard’s Either/Or; Schönberg’s oeuvre; the Paris Commune; and Dukas’s Ariane et Barbe-Bleue, among others. Nor does the overwhelming didactic component end there: Studded with scholia, the work comprises, in addition to the seven books of formal and conceptual exposition, a highly revealing section of notes, “Information, Commentaries, and Digressions”; a synopsis in the form of “66 Statements”; dictionaries of concepts and symbols; an unusually personal bibliography; and, most pointedly, a concluding chapter titled “What Is It to Live?”—a set of repeated exhortations to “be incorporated” into a truth process or, in an explicit retort to the book’s epigraph from Malraux lamenting the generalized inability to believe in anything, to live for an idea.

The idiosyncratic flavor should not, however, obscure either the real philosophical work or the polemics embedded in Logiques des mondes. What Badiou is advancing is an objective transcendental, an a priori configuration of categories—wrested from Kant’s subject, from his finitude, his relativism, his rectitude (everything that Badiou abhors)—with sufficient descriptive power to account for the “appearance” of a multiplicity of worlds and their respective constituents. The consequent reformulation of Badiou’s “doctrine of truths” and his “theory of the event” does raise an issue deleted from the interview but worth mentioning here: For all of the philosopher’s exhortations to “be incorporated,” it is abundantly clear to anyone thinking through his thought, as it appears in Logiques des mondes, that we are in a “world” of pure thought and the “Immortality” or the “Inhumanity” that he proffers belongs only to the few engaged in the unraveling of “Eternal Truths.” To my question as to whether this was not, in the final analysis, an aristocratic idealism, Badiou replied, “We must always think our world not only as the present situation but as the general availability of all the orders of eternal truths, what we can resuscitate, reactualize, and remake in this world from the heritage of these truths and their unending consequences. Nothing is ever lost.” —LS

Lauren Sedofsky: To pick up where we left off twelve years ago—the question was how philosophy itself might lead to disaster, to which you replied, When it seizes truths in the form of identity or fusion. Can’t your philosophy be identified, if not fused, with the truths it seizes?

Alain Badiou: That’s a very deep and difficult question. But I will defend myself on this point. In the final analysis, my philosophy provides the set of forms necessary to identify, locate, distinguish, and submit truths, in particular the truths of our time, because all philosophy attempts to be contemporary with its time or even to think its time. But between the conceptual and formal means for seizing the particular nature of today’s truths and an identification or even fusion with them, there is a definite divergence. The contingence of truths, their singular emergence, their individual history, is not at all what I am engaged with in my work. The point is to determine: What are the formalizations inside of which one can think or approach these truths? The best proof is that, in Logiques des mondes, to avoid any possible identification, I deliberately took examples from the past or minor, marginal ones.

LS: Your philosophical project is such that I feel tempted to characterize you as someone for whom a love for formalization is surpassed only by a passion for a certain political thought, or is it the reverse?

AB: No, your expression is correct. But, obviously, the philosophical project, strictly speaking, is a matter of asking oneself how the two might fit together, how this love is compatible with this passion, or how this passion can sometimes find itself, I won’t say limited, but under the rule of this love.

LS: Nonetheless, with the return of Mao’s prescriptions in Logiques des mondes and your take on the last century in Le Siècle [The Century, 2005], you posit an equivalence between formalization and the political.

AB: Yes, in part, since what I call the “passion for the real,” which I consider to have been the dominant passion of the twentieth century, is also a passion, precisely, for form. Thus, formalization and the political very clearly advance in tandem during the twentieth century. The problem is recognizing that we are no longer in the twentieth century.

LS: And determining to what moment you belong.

AB: Absolutely.

LS: In view of your own comparison of Logiques des mondes with Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind, one can’t help but make the observation that Hegel’s Phenomenology unfolds organically, ineluctably, teleologically, whereas Logiques leaves the impression of a curious amount of illustrative discursivity thrashing around inside a blockhouse of formalism. How did a work of logic become so unruly?

AB: Just to remain within the unruliness, I’ll give you an answer on several different levels. From the point of view of the overall construction, the unruliness is limited. If you take the seven successive books, the order is significant: You go from the general laws of what constitutes the appearance of things in a world to the figure of the exception to this appearance, in the form of the event, and then to how in the consequences of this exception a body of a specific kind appears, a new body, the body of truth. The general construction remains faithful to Hegel—from the most abstract to the most determined, from pure presentation to truth. Within this classicism there is an unruliness organized on a stable stage. And this unruliness is probably, at bottom, a literary impulse on my part, the will to introduce into the matter of a book that deals with appearance something of its proliferation and its consistency as a world—not just many worlds, but a world in itself. Unlike Being and Event, which treated multiplicity in the mathematized form of pure multiplicity, here we confront multiplicity as what appears, the contingent and literally imprescriptible profusion of the multiplicity of worlds. Choosing an example or making a cut in appearance is inevitably arbitrary, and I wanted this arbitrariness to be apparent. And perhaps, in the end, these contingent choices also provide a personal portrait.

LS: The book takes off with an indictment of what you call “democratic materialism.” What exactly is hidden behind this term?

AB: It’s something obviously that gives to the book an initial élan of an ideologico-political nature. Democratic materialism means: There are bodies and languages; there are individuals and communities—and nothing else. Thus, the world is its organization under the law of circulation. The term is an abstract philosophical formalization of what I believe to be the dominant ideology today: democratic in that it makes claims for multiplicity, liberty, and rights; materialist in that it considers what exists to be objects and cultures absorbed into their market dimension.

LS: I tend to think that hidden behind the term there are a certain number of philosophical adversaries, other than the two you mention: the French formerly left-wing, turncoat “new philosophers” and the Anglo-American analytic ones.

AB: Perhaps . . . Yes. . . Who do you think is hidden there?

LS: . . . Foucault . . . Derrida . . . Deleuze . . . that great export, French theory, which I should think, in your eyes, in many ways instantiates what you designate as “democratic materialism.”

AB: What do you say we compromise? There are immediate adversaries and, perhaps, in effect, deep ones. The immediate adversaries fall into two principal groups: all those aligned with the tradition of the “new philosophers” in France and the analytic philosophers, where the coupling of philosophy and democracy is flagrant. You say that French philosophy of the ’60s and ’70s is in this affair. I don’t want to seem too defensive but I will be cautious. Philosophically, I have from the beginning been totally opposed to Foucault. But Foucault was a leftist. Foucauldism, on the other hand, provides a sufficiently critical approach to history for it to be used by anyone, left or right, as it is in the United States. It doesn’t constitute a current that could be assigned to revolution or subversion. Indisputably, Derrida’s was a democratic deconstruction, without any connection to a proposition of what might constitute a new subjectivity. What’s more, I have nothing to do with the theme of the end of metaphysics or the theme of deconstruction. In the end, I’m opposed to the totality of Derrida’s conceptions. I’m not trying to object to your idea that my work represents a protocol for a break with this philosophical group. In fact, I agree with you. But the break is really quite complex. In terms of heritage, the two with whom I am in dialogue are Deleuze and Lacan, who were on the extreme internal edge, the border between democratic materialism and the materialist dialectic I propose.

LS: But even the label you use to characterize postindustrial liberal democratic societies in general, “bodies and languages,” would be inconceivable without the line of Merleau-Ponty, Lacan, Barthes, Tel Quel, and so forth.

AB: It is French philosophy at the moment when the affirmation “there are only bodies and languages,” which originally involved a break with existential- ism and phenomenology, became a settled matter.

LS: What is the case, then, against democracy?

AB: What is the point of force, politically and subjectively, in present dominant societies, or what we sometimes call the West? This domination is democracy, a theme introduced long ago and placed in a dialectical relationship with totalitarianism since the founding of the Soviet system. This theme has no adversaries, except me, perhaps, and except, of course, those of the Islamic-terrorist type—but certainly no internal philosophical adversaries. And it is simply not serious to claim to be in a position of breach or dissent or revolution or creation of the new in relation to this dominant order without proceeding to a thorough analysis of its principal concept, which is not capitalism.

LS: Are you making a case against democracy or against the state?

AB: Against the state insofar as I remain ideally a communist in the generic sense of the word: withering away of the state; self-organized society. But democracy designates the figure of the representative state as a state that is superior to all others. It is democracy in its normative usage that interests me, not its structural one. What is the power of the word “democracy” now insofar as it constitutes the point of consensus in contemporary capitalist society?

LS: “Consensus” has a strange ring to it in the context of the overtly illiberal neoconservative movement, which has taken hold in the US and spread its tentacles elsewhere.

AB: But Bush does nothing but make use of democracy . . .

LS: Purely as propaganda.

AB: Why is “democracy” the word that Bush uses, that’s the question. The reactionary camp has no other efficient words besides that one. It’s impossible for it to declare itself nondemocratic. The general state structure is homogeneous with the idea that the democratic government, even if it offers an opportunity to all sorts of adventurers, is the consensual framework for the development of politics. People like Bush and [French Minister of the Interior Nicolas] Sarkozy are accepted and tolerated because they are in the general element of democratic representivity. They were elected.

LS: Well, actually, neither one was elected to his present office . . . In your considerations of democracy and in the pages of Logiques, you evoke the necessary passage of revolutionary or newly formed democratic groups through phases of authoritarian rule and terror.

AB: There’s no clause of necessity. The dominant contemporary political theme for the past century seems to be that of equality, following the theme of liberty. The combat against equality is carried out in the name of ordinary political liberties, with which equality would be contradictory or incompatible. It’s possible that there are phases that require an authoritarian, dictatorial sequence to break the resistance and establish equality. I continue to defend this idea, although obviously you have to take responsibility for the consequences. But let’s not make it an insurmountable argument against an egalitarian orientation or a generic communist one. If we do, we are defeated in advance because the perpetuation of regimes of civil liberties is a perpetuation of the economic regime that supports it.

LS: Logiques des mondes is framed, so to speak, on one side by a new doctrine of eternal truths and, on the other, by a reformulation of your doctrine of the event; between the two, the logic of appearance as such. Obviously, you’ve retained the four Platonic conditions of philosophy—science, politics, art, and love—that informed Being and Event. Why has the multiplicity of truths under each condition now been further consolidated in yet another Platonic formulation: transtemporal, eternal truths?

AB: In Being and Event, I’d come to the conclusion that the ontological composition of truths was a type of singular multiplicity, a generic one [a set with no ascertainable common property among its elements]. The fact that they were generic multiplicities showed that they weren’t completely dissolved in the situation in which they appeared, which gave them a certain universality, but said nothing more about them. In Logiques, from the point of view of appearance, I have to account for the singularity of their genesis, the fact that they appear and are rooted in a particular world, composed with the elements of that world, and submitted to the laws or transcendental of that world. In addition, I have to show how it happens that, though completely assigned to a world, they conserve their universality. The temporal figure provides the most vivid way to express that there is a moment when truths manifest themselves. In this way, we can say they are the creation of the singularity of a world, but also that they are perceptible, appropriable, and utilizable in any other world; they don’t repose on a defined temporality. “Eternal” simply means that truths are created in and dependent on a singular world, and yet available transtemporally, independent of temporal sequences. In other words, their genesis doesn’t coincide with their existence; once instituted in this genesis, they are available forever.

LS: Take the example of a political truth like state revolution. Interestingly, you’ve said elsewhere that the concept of revolution is saturated.

AB: When I say that the revolution is saturated, I take “revolution” in the sense that the word had between the French Revolution and the Cultural Revolution. And it is not to be confused with radical change as such. It’s more precise: substitution of one social class for another in conducting a country’s affairs, change in the nature of the state, destruction of the state machine, the figure of insurrection, a war of the people—a set of articulated notions that can no longer indicate what politics might be now. But we also have to accept that the multiplicities of eternal truths don’t necessarily emerge in a linear order.

LS:The Platonic aspect of eternal truths is probably most apparent in your comparison of the depiction of horses found in the Chauvet Grotto with Picasso’s, though the invariant here somewhat eludes me.

AB:We’re in an intermediate region between Plato and Hegel. If an eternal truth can be appropriated by any world, including a world totally different from the one in which it was instituted, you have necessarily to think simultaneously something that is invariant and something that constitutes a break. We know next to nothing about the Chauvet Grotto. But it is often the case that we construct worlds from eternal truths. Many worlds are known only because we continue to understand them. And what we continue to understand of them is what they were able to create that has eternal value. Picasso is an artist at the beginning of the twentieth century engaged in a break: His horses are neither the figurative horses of pompier military art, nor exactly pure abstractions, either. Nonetheless, something in them communicates, visibly resuscitates the Chauvet Grotto horses, belonging to a world thirty thousand years ago that has vanished. Picasso’s horses belong to the eternal truths of the twentieth century, but within the creative process something can be resuscitated, reappropriated, reintroduced that, although not the same at all, remains recognizable as having been created in a different world. When Rosa Luxemburg and her friends take the name Spartacist Group, in order for them to refer to themselves as Spartacist, they must fully understand that Spartacus and his movement had nothing to do with what they are doing. The same and not the same.

LS: This particular transtemporal conception summons up Aby Warburg’s project but also the thorny issue of what Panofsky referred to as pseudomorphisms, thereby raising the question of your view of historicism.

AB: Yes, Warburg might be interpreted this way. But be careful: I’m not saying that there is a set matrix. For me, what subsists of historicism is the manner of its approach: The configuration of a truth is made only with the materials of a world. Thus, the body of truth is entirely internal to that world. If you want worlds to be sequences of history, this body is internal to a sequence of history, and not only in the temporal sense. The body is made only with elements of a world; therefore, the materiality of a truth is a worldly materiality, historical as soon as we call it “world.” My antihistoricism pertains uniquely to the impossibility of integrating things into an overall history, declaring that sequences of worlds, the disparate of worlds, can be reconciled with or organized in a general dynamic.

LS: The genealogy you offer for the event of Galois’s algebra, for example, which passes through Lagrange and Cauchy, would then constitute this kind of internal worldly history.

AB: The world that saw the birth of algebra is an internal world. Geneses exist absolutely because the body of truth itself is a genetic composition that occurs in the world. Its genesis can certainly be thought.

LS: How does the eternal-truth model of art cohere with the other model that you propose: the tension between the sensible and the clarity of form or, as you state it more generally, the tension between formlessness and form?

AB: In both cases, it is a matter of introducing into form something that wasn’t there. Artistic eventality in the order of drawing or painting invariably occurs at the edge between formlessness and form; something that wasn’t there will be presented as internal to the painting, that is, as pictorial form. A century earlier, Picasso’s re-marking of a horse’s head wouldn’t even have been recognizable as a horse.

LS: In contradistinction to democratic materialism, you advance a materialist dialectic. To situate the logic of appearance proper, what I want to know is whether the materialist dialectic and the logic are the same project, or whether they aren’t, in fact, two distinct projects.

AB: No, they’re two interlinked projects. The complete process of materialist dialectic involves a sequence dominated by materialism, which is the logic of appearance, and then a sequence dominated by dialectic, which is the theory of the event and subjectivable bodies. That’s because I agree that “there are only bodies and languages,” but I add, “except insofar as there is something else.” My position is that there is a shared materialism.

LS: The central pillar of the book is the “science of logic,” which advances the thesis that appearance and logic are the same thing, thereby engaging in speculative metaphysics. Why, then, do you qualify materialist dialectic as an “ideology of immanence”? Why an ideology?

AB: It would have been Althusserian to say, It’s ideology, and I will provide the science. That’s not my position. There’s an ideology, democratic materialism, and I accept it, except that I denature it completely by introducing an exception: eternal truths, events, etc. Metaphysics and ideology are really two entries in the same intellectual field rather than two contradictory attributes. Engaging in a speculative metaphysics of appearance is the realization of a position. A first ideological decision is necessary, which consists in not accepting the limitations of democratic materialism. To think the “something else,” a metaphysical intuition must be developed.

LS: Given the necessary inter-reference between a logic of appearance and its ontological basis, as provided in Being and Event, should one imagine—forgive the pedagogical imagery—a superimposition of being and appearance, that is, a generalized material inconsistency on which a local consistency is superimposed? And why do you, yourself, make reference to the “fiction of appearance”?

AB: You’re posing the Kantian question of schematization, the quasi-spatial figure for the imagination that one might have of being and appearance. It could be superimposition, or also the space of presentation. In other words, pure multiplicities, which can’t be laid out in any space because they are in the pure intelligibility of their mathematicity, necessarily manifest themselves in a place. My principal image, though, is localization. Appearance is being plus its place. That’s why it’s rather close to Hegel: being and being-there, or being and being in its place, a world. “World” is the name that designates the superimposed set of being and its place. We can call this a “fiction” or “fixion,” in the sense that it fixes a place which, after all, is only an image. But you need a fiction or a vectorial scheme.

LS: It’s imperative to bear in mind that there are two registers.

AB: Exactly, the two registers and their articulation require a presentative fiction. If not, we fall back on pure logic.

LS: Intuitively, one might say that, for philosophy, appearance can be nothing other than the logic attributed to it. But you make a far stronger claim in advancing the identity of appearance and logic as such. What are the implications of equating them?

AB: The relation of identity between appearance and logic is supported principally by the conviction that appearance “consists.” The thesis opposes the idea that the essence of the real is chaos. If the essence of the real, the effective appearance of being, were chaos, then being would not appear. It would be coextensive with its inconsistency; its appearance would itself be this inconsistency. Consequently, what I’ve undertaken to show is that there really is something that permits us to think being as such in its nonchaotic inconsistency, which is the pure multiplicities of mathematics. And then there is appearance, which isn’t going to enter into the disorder of inconsistency but will instead be a figure of the order of intensities, what I call the “transcendental order.” You’re right to say that the philosophical construction is that which attributes a logic to appearance, because if you don’t support that, you support the complete reduction of appearance to being in the figure of chaos. Fundamentally, my position comes down to the nonadmission of chaos as the ultimate referential figure of the universe.

LS: How did you set the project or find the means to construct a logic that would subsume formal, propositional, and modal logic or, to put it crudely, gobble up analytic philosophy?

AB: The point of departure comes from [philosopher of mathematics Jean-Toussaint] Desanti. Before writing Logiques I wrote a long work on logic itself, which I sent him. He said the didactic was perfect but it was an intrinsic anthology, and that perhaps what accounts for the logical distribution of things is not set theory but rather category theory. For years, I was plunged into category theory. At first, I thought that category theory and classical propositional logic were two different approaches to the same thing, until I realized that, no, category theory absorbed propositional logic in a totally different arrangement, which is a theory of the coherence of worlds.

LS: Here’s the inevitable question: Isn’t logic a language?

AB: My thesis is that it’s not reducible to a language. From the point of view of logic, you always have to make linguistic suppositions; there’s a linguistic manipulation. What I try to demonstrate philosophically, though, is that the essence of logic is not linguistic, no more so than that of mathematics or a scientific discipline. Like any discipline of thought, logic must finally settle in a language, but its essence concerns what the general form of a world is, which is the question I pose.

LS: To grasp the world of a “world” concisely and accurately, I’m going to have to place the burden on you. Describe for me, if you will, a world populated by its logical constituents, without examples, in an entirely abstract manner. For, after all, it is in the abstract that it has been formulated.

AB: Écoutez . . . A world is a set of multiplicities, a set of sets. These sets appear with variable degrees of intensity: more or less. They appear with a greater or lesser force. From the point of view of its being, a world is a collection of multiplicities; from that of appearance, these multiplicities have a coefficient of presence; they are more or less present there. There are other generalized features, but let’s leave infinity aside . . . Now, inside a world, the multiples insofar as they are in that world can be considered objects of this world. Thus, an object is a multiple—but only insofar as it is in a world, because a pure multiple is thought within the framework of the mathematics of multiplicity, and is not an object. We can say of a multiple that it is an object only to the extent that we specify the world in which it is an object. Thus, the appearance of a multiplicity also constitutes an objectification: It is the moment when the multiple becomes an object. Now, up to this point, there are no subjects at all, only objects. And since there are only objects and logic, if you transpose this in a slightly anthropological way, you can say that there are only bodies and languages, an entirely flat level. We will call the “event” a local disruption in a world such that a term that appeared with a minimal degree of appearance comes to appear with a maximal degree of appearance. Basically, it’s a local mutation of the power of appearance of one of the world’s elements. Here I make reference to an event’s effect rather than to the event itself. What happens in a world when an event affects it is essentially that an unapparent object in this world appears there. Every event manifests itself as a sudden appearance, which we will call the “trace of the event.” The trace of the event is this sudden appearance in the form of an abrupt intensification of something that had been, in a certain sense, invisible. “Invisible” is a metaphor in that there is no eye. We suppose that there is this trace of the event. And it is around this trace of the event that the subjectivable body is going to constitute itself, little by little in a genesis, in what agglomerates around the trace, to use an image. The subject, then, is the set of axioms, geneses, and processes of this body insofar as it is composed in the world, point by point or obstacle by obstacle. This is the material process that is the process of truth. Thus, the subject is the body seized in its creative capacity, deploying itself in material axioms and geneses in a world. The subject is the oriented, creative name of a new body, which suddenly appears in the world around the trace of the event. There it is. It’s clear.

LS: Remarkably clear, all things considered. Let me just review some worlds examined in the book: Paris at the end of the Franco-Prussian War, a political demonstration at the Place de la Bastille, Quebec, Hubert Robert’s La Baignade, Valéry’s “Le Cimetière marin,” democratic materialism, and mathematics. In fact, you focus on very few objects: civil rights; the temple represented in Hubert Robert’s painting; political capacity; March 18, 1871 [formation of the Paris Commune]. Apart from the fairly abstract character of these worlds and objects, their circumscription seems rather mobile—an object could become a world and vice versa.

AB: To circumscribe a world, you have to be able to situate objects in it, to identify a transcendental; that is, identify a space and ask, What is a classical world? Secondly, the multiplicity taken into account must be infinite, in the extensive and in the immanent sense. In other words, from inside we cannot perceive its limits. And, yes, an object can become a world; we see it in the sciences. What I call “object” is pretty much anything. In Robert’s painting, the temple’s columns, the fountain. In the world of the Commune, any element that participates in the situation. You don’t find many objects in the book because they’re really anything at all that appears.

LS: In this scheme, a human being has become an object.

AB: Of course, if you situate it in an anthropologically determined world. You have to specify the world in which it appears. I must insist on this point. To say that a human being in and of itself is an object doesn’t mean anything.

LS: It’s worth underscoring that the subject is not a person, not an interiority, not the vessel of lived experience, not the arbiter of knowledge, but rather an abstract set of relations, a series of consequences.

AB: A series of consequences for which the point of stability—which itself is always in transformation—is a body. And, of course, the body is not the body . . .

LS: Why did you do that? It’s extremely disturbing . . . Seriously, you could have invented other terms for these constructions, although that wouldn’t have permitted you to remain in and subvert the great philosophical tradition.

AB: For one thing. But the most difficult part—you’re right to pose your questions in this regard—is the subject and the body. After all, that the world should be the place of appearance, that’s totally traditional. That the object should be what appears, not troublesome. That truth should be an eternal production is nothing more than a synthesis of Plato. On the other hand, the subject is rather more complicated because it obviously instates a complete break with the subject as the concept of conscious immanence, intentionality, praxis, morality, and so forth.

LS: There’s a dose of Hegel in the mix.

AB: Yes, there’s some Hegel in it, and also Lacan. Lacan always said that the subject, at bottom, was not exactly the ego, and therefore we were already oriented toward the idea of a logical process. You might imagine as well that the subject I propose could be construed as a positive result of the Heideggerian critique of subjectivity in its metaphysical sense. In any case, something of the more common subject is maintained in the polarity of creation, the work, the new. It is what names the effective support of novation, which has always been one of the meanings of the subject. Body is more complicated. I maintained body, first, in order to inscribe the subject in a materialism: It’s true that there are only bodies and languages. If truth is something, then it must be a body, or it will be outside the world. I wanted to materialize the subjective truth process in the figure of the body. Secondly, the singular stability of a truth in the world must be a material process, which presents in the form of material compositions, whether a political group, a system of works of art, or a theoretical scientific system.

LS: Among the bodies: Galois’s algebra, the Chinese peasants around Mao, the slaves around Spartacus, and certain configurations of works of art. But why did you choose Malevich rather than Duchamp?

AB: [wild burst of laughter] Because I prefer Malevich . . . I understand that you’re terribly sorry. What’s more, I could easily argue against myself. But, didactically, Malevich is more vivid for me, even if Duchamp in certain respects is more profound. The dissolutive part of Duchamp, the gesture, remains for me in the foreground, whereas with Malevich it’s the construction.

LS: But if the question is one of the body’s subjectivability or consequences, the corpus derived or extrapolated from Duchamp is surely unequaled.

AB: I agree, but in that case Duchamp should be chosen as the figure of an event, to name the evental dimension of that period, not as an exemplary figure of the body.

LS: For you, Schönberg constitutes an incontestable event. In music, where is the subjectivable body located? In the composition’s conceptual notation—I’m thinking here of the correlation with logic—or in the phenomenal sound construction? And then, how are the consequences derived?

AB: Event, yes, in that Schönberg replaces the transcendental regime of tonality with the transcendental regime of the series. For serial or dodecaphonic music, the resultant body consists in a system of compositions. An individual work is a complex: a written stratum and a sound stratum, each the virtuality of the other. And the body of works is subjectivable to the extent that it treats, point by point, a whole series of problems: For example, what happens to the issue of rhythm when there’s a series of tones? The body is traversed by internal compositions, which means that, though they are compatible, they are not necessarily identical. Berg, Webern—each is something else.

LS: Parenthetically, you’ve qualified atonal music as the only contemporary music.

AB: Between 1920 and now, absolutely. Right now, serialism is saturated and we’re in an exploratory phase.

LS: Cage and noise?

AB: It’s the reexperimentation with chance at the moment when serialism is saturated, which cannot constitute in itself a system of coherent consequences. When you say “noise,” you create a freedom comparable to the one Duchamp declared: Any aggregate can be erected in presentation.

LS: Surely the only way to measure the consequences is to look at the artists who take Cage as a point of departure.

AB: Yes, to look at the body, that’s my thesis.

LS: Short of the exceptional event, how do you present the changes that otherwise naturally occur in appearance?

AB: The simple becoming of appearance is coextensive with appearance, with a variability of intensities. I provide a complete formal theory of these changes. Modification, a simple structural variability in transcendental degrees; Fact, a change of a greater amplitude, requiring an overall evaluation, but of low intensity in terms of consequences; Weak Singularity, a change of maximal intensity but with few consequences; Event, a maximal degree of intensity that affects not only the term in question but involves fundamental consequences.

LS: In purely logical terms, these four possibilities would seem coherent and fully integrated. But the event constitutes a perturbation of an entirely different order. How would an artistic event disrupt the logic of appearance itself?

AB: Technically, the effective disruption of the logic of a world involves a fundamental change in the attribution of transcendental intensities. What this means is that appearance itself has been modified, and the sign or trace of this transformation is always a passage to being: Something that didn’t appear, appears; something that had being, but with a very low indexation, suddenly appears in full view. This disruption can also be interpreted as an eruption of being into appearance, even though according to the laws of that world, it does not appear. In art, this occurs when something totally unapparent in the sphere of one of the arts, because it was considered informe and therefore outside the sphere of the art, suddenly is formalized. Obviously, this disrupts the logic of the art in question insofar as the logic is the distribution of what appears with intensity, with little intensity, or not at all.

LS: Now, appearance as such is neither materialist nor dialectical—nor is being.

AB: Nor is being. Yes, obviously, because appearance as such is a category that simply designates the necessity for being to be assigned a place, being-there. It is prior to the distinction between materialism and dialectic.

LS: In order for an event to take place on the ontological level, set theory’s axiom of foundation [a set cannot belong to itself] must be violated.

AB: Absolutely.

LS: Do the laws of being admit of violation?

AB: You have to reason inversely: The event is precisely the effective character of the violation of the axiom of foundation, the circumstantial and momentaneous exceeding of the limits of the axiom, before they are restored. That’s its definition. As is obvious from the title Being and Event, the event is something that is already an exception to the laws of being, that which is not “being qua being” in the space of presentation. It was obviously necessary that something occur which is an exception to the axiom. But, of course, it cannot be demonstrated mathematically. It’s merely the technical elaboration of the fact that there is a dialectic between being and event.

LS: What I want to clarify is just how you’ve introduced dialectic and materialism into the respective formal constructs being=mathematics and appearance=logic. In Logiques, materialism is introduced as a postulate; dialectic emerges only in the site where a choice must be made. Everyone knows that Badiou is a materialist dialectician, and yet both the materialism and the dialectic appear to have been appended to a neutral metaphysics.

AB: Yes, here you’re quite right to pose the question. If a philosophy presents itself as a materialist dialectic, it must situate the dialectic and the materialist within its development. If not, materialist dialectic remains an ideology. As I told you, I accept that it’s an ideology. But once you’ve opened the philosophical possibility, you have to resituate this ideological prescription within the corpus itself. It doesn’t mean much that a philosophical corpus is dialectical or materialist. It is what it is: a doctrine of being, a doctrine of appearance. Simply, inside that doctrine, you’re going to say, voilà, that point there is where I make a decision of a materialist character. I tell you my ideology; it is effective on that point. There’s no absolute logical constraint to say that in existent worlds every atom [an element of an object] is real, I say so because I’m convinced it’s true.

LS: To be clear: real, not substantial.

AB: Exactly. It has nothing to do with substantial. When you decompose appearance into unities, they are also unities of being. There exists a moment when being and appearance are joined, or, to use Lacan’s word, which I find very convincing on this point, “sutured.” It’s very clearly materialist in that the separation of being and appearance is not everywhere generalized. There is a point where they are tied. That’s the postulate of materialism. And it’s rather the same for dialectic. At a certain point, I say, Look, it’s dialectical because we are really faced with the figure of an exception and its trace, the moment when what was without appearance suddenly appears maximally, which transcendentally runs counter to the general laws of appearance. And so I say it’s dialectical. If you think that all worlds are worlds in which that cannot occur, what I call lifeless or atonic worlds and which I think are fundamental to democratic thinking, then there are the laws that govern what merely happens—and you can’t really do very much. In fact, deciding that this is not true is the dialectical choice.

LS: But how do we know that we’re faced with an exception of that order? From what does the necessity to exit the formal structure and advance a concept like that of the event derive?

AB: It derives from the observation that there are events. A world is a place of incessant transformations, and some of them are absolutely particular.

LS: Simple observation?

AB: Not only. It’s also an experience. Had I not myself experienced the incorporation into an event [May ’68], no doubt I would never have spoken of it.

LS: That’s exactly what I thought . . . With what you call the “point,” a kind of existential Boolean moment when the subjectivable body needs to decide, so to speak, “yes/no,” haven’t you rather simplified the way bodies evolve along their logico-subjective lines?

AB: Not all decisions take the form of a point. But there are points, moments when the set of a body’s situation is confronted with an alternative. That was Kierkegaard’s profound intuition, as it was Sartre’s: The truth exacts a “yes”—no matter how complex and nuanced the world, as democratic materialism thematizes it. My theory of the object offers a complete account of the complexity of appearance. Yes, the reduction to a choice is a simplification, one that corresponds to a moment when the truth process, which was in a phase of experimentation, confronts a stylization of the situation, and it’s that, or else the body will be undone.

LS: In a note, you express your irritation at your fellow Althusserian Étienne Balibar’s choice of law as the critical issue for philosophy at this time.

AB: The fundamental principles that rule any politics of emancipation cannot be juridical in their true nature. In the end, law rules a system of determined relations within a representation of the power relations it is supposed to provide. Balibar’s choice is the way philosophy obeys the injunctions of democratic materialism, or circumstances, in an exaggerated manner.

LS: Exaggerated? At a moment when something of a conservative revolution is taking place? After all, it isn’t to Locke or the Enlightenment philosophes that one can turn for a contemporary refounding of law’s authority. . . .

AB: What interests me is your analysis. I’m struck that you call it a “conservative revolution.” You attribute that amplitude to it. . . .

LS: As you’ve now refined the concept of fidelity, the phenomenon would surely constitute an example of a decades-long reactive fidelity on the part of the neoconservative body, cunningly allied with a Judeo-Christian obscurantist one, which has been subjectivized in a vast circuit of organizations reaching to the highest echelons of governmental, judicial, and media power. The legitimacy of liberal democratic institutions and their underlying judicial principles don’t appear to have incorporated themselves into this body. What is to be done?

AB: To organize the political forces against a conservative revolution, you do as much as can be done—indeed, even use the democratic theme of law. But saying that a new political formulation of law and democracy is necessary for a specific combat is not at all the same as saying that law is the central philosophical issue now. And even in this combat, law is too narrow a conception. You have to imagine a progressive counterrevolution of a certain scale, which cannot simply be defensive. The lever would be a renewed formulation of the principles of political emancipation.

LS: But the left that once was no longer exists. There’s nothing.

AB: For the most part, I’m of your opinion: There is nothing. The problem is doing something, but not on a basis as narrow as the defense of law.

LS: You’ve turned to Saint Paul to establish the egalitarian universal, now to Kierkegaard to model the choice. You’ve erected an ambitious mathematical and logical construction, ultimately, to accommodate the rare, unsuspected exception. I’m not alone in discerning a quasi-religious structure.

AB: Frankly, I don’t think so. Everyone has had the experience of a point, outside of religion, that permits them to bring it to bear on a truth process. Putting it this way is, of course, simply part of a necessary philosophical didactics for the human animals that we are, who incorporate themselves into that process.

LS: Your choice has been to take philosophy onto the terrain of logico-mathematical thought with a view toward a doctrine of the embodiment of thought for thought. What, then, is thought and, more specifically, philosophical thought?

AB: Thought is the existence of a possible relation to truth, and nothing else. There are two kinds of relation: first, a relation of incorporation, a relation immediately internal to the subjectivable body; secondly, a relation of appropriation, that is, a relation to an eternal truth, or the specific mode by which identifiable truths in one world are incorporated into another. Both are thought in action, creative thought, leaving no reason to ask, The thought of whom? Philosophical thought is a specific disposition with regard to truths at work, a second-level incorporation, incorporation into incorporation. It’s an old idea, thought is anonymous.

LS: Apparently, you intend to devote yourself now to an elaboration of your reflections on film.

AB: No. Now that I consider my philosophical works to have been completed—

LS: What???

AB: I’ve begun work on a big feature film. It will be called The Life of Plato.

Translated from French by Lauren Sedofsky.