Home > Alain Badiou, filosoofia, Quentin Meillassoux > Quentin Meillassoux “History and Event in Alain Badiou”

Quentin Meillassoux “History and Event in Alain Badiou”

Meillassoux, Quentin 2011. History and Event in Alain Badiou. – Parrhesia 12: 1-11

I will thus attempt to explain a nodal and seemingly paradoxical thesis of Badiou’s: that there is only a history of the eternal, because only the eternal proceeds from the event. In other words: there is only a history of truths insofar as all truth is strictly eternal and impossible to reduce to any relativism. (1)

To be, in the most general and fundamental sense, is to be a set, and therefore a multiplicity. Hence Badiou’s ontological thesis: being is multiplicity—and, we should add: nothing but multiplicity. In other words, being is multiple to the strict exclusion of its opposite—namely, the One. (2)

The event is thus for Badiou a multiple belonging to itself: a reflexive multiple counted among the number of its elements. (2)

Let us wager the following formulation: the event is that multiple which, presenting itself, exhibits the inconsistency underlying all situations, and in a flash throws into a panic, their constituted classifications. The novelty of an event is expressed in the fact that it interrupts the normal regime of the description of knowledge, that always rests on the classification of the well known, and imposes another kind of procedure on whomever admits that, right here in this place, something hitherto unnamed really and truly occurred. (2)

[…] the subject is thus the name of the faithful operations of an evental trace, i.e. having wagered on the existence of the event, and having decided to follow out its consequences. (3)

The subject is thus the invention of a fidelity to that which, might have, taken place, in such a way as to produce partially, by a sequence of finite operations, a truth whose being is, in relation to the subject, always infinite. (3)

A truth is such an infinite multiple, always coming and making a hole in knowledge, the result of a fidelity concerned with the unlimited consequences of an event. Emancipated society, mathematized science, love subverting sexual difference by inventing a new bond between men and women, artistic discipline calling for the revolution of a form: such are the four types of truths—produced by the four procedures of politics, science, love, and art—that may create, albeit rarely, a subject capable of making an exception to the ordinary regime of knowledge, opinion, egoism, and boredom. (3)

There is no truth, as new as it may be, which does not claim to be realizing an idea that was not already germinal in a largely unknown, or misinterpreted past. (4)

This is why truths are eternal and historical, eternal because they are historical: they insist in history, tying together temporal segments across the centuries, always unfolding more profoundly the infinity of their potential consequences, through captivated subjects, separated sometimes by distant epochs, but all equally transfixed by the urgent eventality that illuminates their present. (4)

In themselves, ontological multiples lack the order that the empirical given manifests for us: they are only multiples made of other multiples. […] It is always the count that introduces the One: a house, a brick, a molecule are one because they are counted as one. (4)

Now, according to Badiou, who is in this respect a materialist, the subject is never constitutive, but constituted. As we have seen, the subject is rare, generally non-individual (the political subject can be a party, a revolutionary army, the subject in love is the couple, etc.); it is sequential (temporally finite), and it always depends on the taking place of an event that it itself cannot produce. (5)

The central question of LW will then be to show how a truth appears in a world—and in particular how the same truth—transhistorical, transworldly, and ultimately eternal—can appear in distinct worlds. This appearance of a truth in a world, Badiou calls a subject-body: a mode of appearance in a world determined by a subject that has developed its fidelity to the trace of an event. (5)

[…] “There are only bodies and languages, except that there are truths.” These truths that Badiou always calls “eternal” are admittedly made only of bodies and languages, but regardless of what the relativists say, the infinite being of a truth always exceeds the perishable existence of material by which it is comes to light. (6)

The form of the faithful subject consists thus in the subordination of the split body to the trace of the event by which it constitutes, point by point, a new present. (7) (The term “points” should be understood as that which confronts the global situation with a choice in which4 a “yes or no” is at stake … (6))

Thus, we can see the outline of what Badiou calls the three possible “destinations” of the subject: the faithful subject organizes the production of the evental present, the reactive subject, its denial, and the obscure subject its occultation. (7)

The event in its strong sense, is what Badiou calls a singularity: the proper criteria of which is, as I said, to bring about the intense appearance of a being that up until then was invisible in the situation, though its being was already present. (7)

[…] according to Badiou, being is static: it is made up of multiples always dispersed to infinity. […] It is this eternal inconsistency of being that rises, as it were, to the surface with the event, along with its its capacity to overturn the classifications and well ordered consistent distinctions of ordinary knowledge. Appearance, on the other hand, is that which, as diffracted in an infinity of conjoined and fragile aspects, never ceases to multiply in diverse worlds where it is locally identifiable. The same being (identical in its multiple-being) can thus appear in multiple different worlds in very different and equally fragile ways. (8)

The intensity of the appearance of a being in a world is what Badiou calls existence. Contrary to being, the specificity of existence consists in the fact that it admits of infinite variations between one world and another. The same multiple will be able to exist maximally in one world and very weakly in another, where it will be practically effaced. In this way Badiou captures the fact that the same being exists in a more or less intense way as a function of the contexts where it appears. (8)

Thus, Badiou aims to show that the novel is not so much the creation of something new out of nothing, but rather the intense manifestation of something that was already there. (8)

A world without any event is not a fixed world, but a world that follows the ordinary course of things and their modification. (9)

The first type of evental change, is that of the weakest scope: the fact. This is an event whose appearance in a world is of weak intensity, and whose consequences in this world are trivial and seen as null. […] As opposed to fact, the strong singularity is an event of maximal intensity, that brings into existence the inexistent proper to the site that supports the event. […] Finally, between the two, weak singularities are events whose scope is intermediate: for example, according to Badiou, the foundation of the Third Republic, that was supported by a real popular movement, but that was rapidly arrogated by established politicians of the time in such a way that the inexistent proper to the site-object (the political capacity of the worker) was not brought to light. (9)

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