Enjoy your symptom… on the edge of the void (I)

For Badiou, Saint Paul is instrumental in understanding our contemporary situation/world

Our world is not complex but perfectly simple. So claims Alain Badiou in his “Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universality”, (1997, Stanford University Press, 2003). On the one side, the rule of abstract homogeneization imposed by capital has finally configured the world as a vast, extended market (world-market). On the other side, a culturalist and relativist ideology accompanies the ongoing process of fragmentation into a myriad of closed identities. This affirmation of identity always refers back to language, race, religion or gender, and demands the respect and recognition of one’s own communitarian-cultural singularities (pp. 9-13).

For my own purposes here, the first central point by Badiou is that both processes, i.e: financial globalization, absolute sovereignty of capital’s empty universality and identitarian protest/celebration of particularist differences are perfectly intertwined: the two components of this articulated whole are in a relation of reciprocal maintenance and mirroring. The second point is that, as the contemporary world is thus doubly hostile to truth procedures, Badiou also stands firm on his own subjective, and solitary, militant conviction. This conviction (or belief/faith) prevents him, here, now and forever (p30), from relinquishing the concrete universal singularity of truths to the economic logic and the political structures that support the generalised circulation of capital:

No, we will not allow the rights of true-thought to have as their only instance monetarist free exchange and its mediocre political appendage, capitalist-parliamentarianism, whose squalor is ever more poorly dissimulated behind the fine word “democracy” (p. 7)

Ouch!…Yes, I know: by favouring the polemical side in Badiou’s intervention I fail miserably to properly honour the highly structured philosophical doctrine he has developed over a long and productive intellectual life. But nevertheless: what’s Saint Paul to do with all of this? And in any case, by mobilising Paul’s celebrated and lapidary statement in the epistle to the Galatians (3.28) (“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female”) is Badiou claiming that there are NO differences?

1-For Badiou, Saint Paul is instrumental in understanding our contemporary situation/world. This is so not only because Paul’s radical universalist stance constitutes an “unprecedented gesture (which) consists in substracting truth from the communitarian grasp” (p5); but also because he “provoked -entirely alone- a cultural revolution upon which we still depend” (p.15). Important here is to note the less than innocent maoist reference because, more explicitly…

2- the concrete universality of truth does not collapse the empirical existence of differences. In fact, according to Badiou “there are differences. One can even maintain that there is nothing else” (p.98). In this respect, Paul’s approach becomes “an instance of what Chinese communists will call ‘the mass line’, pushed to its ultimate expression in ‘serving the people'”(p.99). In other words, by “becom(ing) all things to all men” Paul does not stigmatise differences, customs, opinions… Instead he appropriates diversity and particularity and accommodates difference to the immutability of the principles he holds dear.

To summarise: on the one side, the concrete universality of the militant, solitary, nomadic poet-thinker of the truth(-event) requires “indifference to difference” . Simultaneously, however, for the universal itself to verify its own reality, universality must expose itself to all differences. Universality must show that differences are capable of welcoming the truth that traverses and transcends them. (p.106)

On the other side, the false universality of monetary abstraction and homogeneity has absolutely no difficulty in accomodating the kaleidoscope of communitarianisms – of women, homosexuals, the disabled, Arabs! Moreover, through infinite combinations of predicative traits, communitarian identities are turned into advertsing selling points -Black homosexuals, disable Serbs, moderate Muslims, ecologist yuppies… (pp.10-11).

Hence this also applies to the nomadic peoples in the Mongol steppe, the Sahara Dessert, the Arctic, or urban and rural India as well as the two Basque musicians who brings them together in the clip below.

But what is there to be done when Saint Paul himself asks “If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is being played on the flute or the harp? (Cor. I.14.7). As Badiou continues: “Differences, like instrumental tones, provide us with the recognizable univocity that makes up the melody of the True” (p. 106)

The subaltern do not speak but perform. Let us enjoy our symptom, hey!

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