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Alain Badiou's Big Books Part 1: Theory of the Subject

Lecturer: A.J. Bartlett

Originally Taught: Evening School Semester 2 2014

12 Thursdays: Aug 14, Aug 21, Aug 28, Sept 4, Sept 11, Sept 18 (cancelled), Sept 25, Oct 2, Oct 9, Oct 16, Oct 23, Oct 30, Nov 6 (Note: The last class only is in room 224)

This course is the first of three devoted to Alain Badiou’s major works of philosophy: Theory of the Subject, Being and Event, Logics of Worlds.

Theory of the Subject is the book version of a series of seminars given between 1975 and 1979. In many ways it is an incredible work, both a formidable delimitation and an astounding synthesis. It addresses itself to an equally formidable set of thinkers and thinking: Hegel, Holderlin, Mallarmé, Lacan, Marx and Marxism, mathematics, poetry, structuralism, topology, truth and knowledge etc. with the aim of re-founding the dialectic consistent with a formal theory of the subject.

At the time, for Badiou, thought had reached an impasse, theoretically and practically. Philosophically it had reached both a point of exhaustion, particularly in terms of the dialectic, and was saturated by theories of flight and de-subjectivisation. The political conjuncture was one of renegation and restoration, wherein new sophistries provided the contemporary knowledge demanded by a re-emergent parliamentary capitalism. Theory of the Subject is an attempt to force this impasse: to dialecticise the dialectic, to re-found the subject and to assign this sophistry to its proper place.

Yet, in pursuing this dialecticisation, Theory of the Subject forces its own impasse. Since Plato we have known that an impasse is not an end. Rather, it is the articulated point through which thought forces discourse to recommence. This is precisely how Theory of the Subject can be seen in both its own terms and as a key text in Badiou’s oeuvre.

 After the publication of Being and Event (1988) and Logics of Worlds (Being and Event II) (2005) and the imminent publication of The Immanence of Truths (Being and Event III), it has become difficult to place 1982’s Theory of the Subject within the oeuvre of Alain Badiou. Despite this being his first book of philosophy it is not the founding text of the oeuvre: this is Being and Event, a work published 6 years later. As a foundational text Being and Event rewrites in new terms what preceded it without loss. In other words, it breaks cleanly with the concepts and categories of Theory of the Subject but not with the elements it presents to us.

This course will address itself to Theory of the Subject as subject to this ambivalent position between two impasses: the exhaustion of the thinking of its time and relative to its oeuvre as a victorious failure. The aim is to explore this, Badiou’s first ‘big’ book of philosophy, as singular in itself, unrelated to the post-Being and Event philosophy, yet nevertheless essential to it. This is not to say that one needs prior familiarity with Badiou's oeuvre to read this work or attend this course, it’s simply to mark that Theory of the Subject cannot be understood as a beginning: its importance, which this course aims to explore, lay in the fact that it is not that.

The book is conveniently divided into 6 parts of several discrete seminars each. The course will follow the chronology of the seminar and ideally spend two weeks on each part. The form of the sessions will suppose that the auditors read ahead each week the prescribed seminars – approx. 20-25 pages per week. This will allows us to extract the best possible understanding of this difficult and rewarding text.

Course Schedule

Session 1: Introduction to Badiou – The context of the seminar – The key figures to be divided – Reading the preface.

Session 2 & 3: Part 1. The Place of the Subjective

Session 4 & 5: Part II. The Subject Under the Signifiers of Exception

Session 6 & 7: Part III. Lack and Destruction

Session 8 & 9: Part IV. A Materialist Reversal of Materialism

Session 10: Part V. Subjectivisation and Subjective Process.

Session 11 & 12: Topics of Ethics.