S’il existe une authentique Internationale, aujourd’hui, c’est bien celle des mathématiciens.
Alain Badiou, Éloge des mathématiques
When Alain Badiou, who is proud to call himself a Communist, claims that mathematicians represent the only authentic International (with a capital “I”), you know that, whatever the problem, he sees mathematics as part of the solution. Badiou has written in Éloge des mathématiques that “the fundamental relation between philosophy and mathematics is a relation of reverence, if I may say so. Something in philosophy bows down to mathematics.”
What, according to Badiou, is the purpose of philosophy?
I believe that philosophy has no other goal than this: to allow anyone to apprehend, in the field of [his or her] vital experience, what is a happy orientation. One could also say this: to place at everyone’s disposal the certainty that the true life [vraie vie], that of a Subject freely oriented according to a true idea, is possible.
Mathematics contributes to this goal because the mathematical Subject’s orientation is free but disciplined:
…by virtue of their aesthetic force and of the invention they require, mathematics forces one to become a Subject whose freedom, far from being in opposition to discipline, demands it. Indeed, when you work on a mathematical problem, the invention of the solution — and thus the creative freedom of the spirit — is not some sort of blind wandering, but is rather determined like a path always bordered in a way by the obligations of global coherence and of the rules of proof. You accomplish your desire to find the solution not against rational law, but together with its help and its prohibitions at the same time. Now that is what I began to think, in the first place with Lacan: desire and law are not in opposition, they are dialectically identical.
Badiou’s secret mathematical love formula: Desire = Law. (Maybe someone can suggest a symbol for identity that is more dialectical than =?) In a different formulation:
Is there a happiness greater than [the pleasures that one finds in commerce]? There’s the great question of philosophy. Our societies, domesticated by Capital and fetishism of goods, answer: no. But philosophy, tenaciously and since the beginning, has labored to make us think that it exists.
For Badiou, although mathematics is not for everyone, it does offer a “model, limited but convincing, of the possible dialectical relation between the finiteness of the individual who works and strays, and the infinity of the Subject who has understood a universal truth.”
I have underlined many more sentences in my copy of Éloge des mathématiques and could go on quoting them, explaining both my agreements and disagreements. But the few passages translated above should give a sense of his aims. Readers who are only familiar with philosophy of mathematics in the analytic tradition will probably find this all baffling, but you should bear in mind that Badiou sees philosophy not as a series of footnotes to science but rather, in the spirit of the ancient Greeks, as an accompaniment in the search for happiness and the vraie vie. Mathematics plays a central role because, as Badiou sees it, philosophy only became possible with the development of systematic mathematical reasoning.
Here is the list of Badiou’s New York appearances last December (and a few from previous years). Can you find the word “mathematics?”
Alain Badiou, “The Fundamental Contradictions of the Contemporary World”
Monday, December 15, 2014 – 6:00pm
Location: East Gallery, Buell Hall (Maison Francaise)
Event Category: TalksEminent French philosopher Alain Badiou will deliver a public lecture on the topic of the fundamental contradictions of the contemporary world.Alain Badiou is a philosopher, playwright, novelist and political activist. Heis professor emeritus at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris and continues to teach seminars at the Collège International de Philosophie and the European Graduate School. Trained as a mathematician, Alain Badiou is one of the most original French philosophers today. His philosophy seeks to expose and make sense of the potential of radical innovation (revolution, invention, transfiguration) in every situation. In addition to several novels, plays and political essays, he has published a number of major philosophical works, including Theory of the Subject, Being and Event, Being and Event II: Logics of Worlds and Being and Event III: The Immanence of Truths (forthcoming).
Below is his December program in NYC:
December 13th, at 6pm
He will be at the Miguel Abreu Gallery for the book launch of the English translation of Gilles Châtelet’s To Live and Think Like Pigs, for which he wrote the foreword.
Miguel Abreu Gallery, 36 Orchard Street, New York, NY 10002.
(Gilles Châtelet obtained a Ph.D. in mathematics before he went on to a career in philosophy; more about him in future posts.)
December 13th, at 7 pm:
He will participate in a lecture-performance entitled “A Dialogue Between A Chinese Philosopher And A French Philosopher” at The Educational Alliance.
The Educational Alliance, Manny Cantor Center, 197 East Broadway, New York, NY 10002.
December 15th, at 6 pm:
Badiou will give a presentation entitled “The fundamental contradictions of the contemporary world”, at the Maison Française of Columbia University.
Maison Française of Columbia University, 515 West 116th Street, New York, NY 10027
December 16th, at 6 pm:
On the occasion of the US publication of his book, The Age of the Poets: And Other Writings on Twentieth-Century Poetry and Prose, he will give a talk about “Literature and Onthology” at the Maison Française of NYU.
Maison Française of NYU, 16 Washington Mews, New York, NY 10003
December 17th, at 7 pm:
He will be at the Jack Tilton Gallery to lead a discussion entitled “Some considerations about contemporary art”.
- Radical Grace: The Role of Art in Response to Present Tragic Circumstances
- Identity and Universality: A Lecture in Light of Contemporary Tragic Events in Paris and Elsewhere
- The Fundamental Contradictions of the Contemporary World
- Panel discussion on Aloni’s What Does a Jew Want?: On Binationalism and Other Specters
Literature and Philosophy: Roman/Romanesque
Alain Badiou in dialogue
with Emily Apter
Thursday, December 10, 2015, 7:00 p.m.
A New French Philosophy Event, co-sponsored by the departments of French and Comparative Literature
ALAIN BADIOU is a philosopher, playwright, and author. His books include Logics of Worlds; Being and Event; Theory of the Subject; The Century and a host of treatises and manifestos on aesthetics, Arab Spring, love, and, most recently, mathematics.
EMILY APTER teaches in the departments of French and Comparative Literature at NYU. She co-edited a collection of Badiou’s essays on literature with Bruno Bosteels (Verso, 2014), and is currently completing a book on “unexceptional politics.”