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Alain Badiou's Big Books Part 2: Being and Event

Lecturer: A.J. Bartlett

Originally Taught: Evening Sem 1 2015

6.30-8.30pm 12 Tues - Starts 24 March - Room 108 (21 April will be in room 109)
Classes: 24 March, 31 March, (no class 7 April for Easter Tues), 14 April, 21 April (in room 109), 28 April, 5 May, 12 May, 19 May, 26 May, 2 June, 9 June, 16 June

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

 Being and Event, published in 1988, is the foundational work of Badiou’s oeuvre: meaning everything previous finds itself re-written in the new terms and conceptual arrangements this book deploys. His series of short books, published after this foundational work, deploy the categories and concepts of Being and Event across a variety of engagements. And subsequently, Logics of Worlds, the next ‘big book’ is subtitled Being and Event 2. Being and Event 3, The Immanence of Truths is being written as we speak.

In Being and Event Badiou seeks to refound philosophy itself, relevant to a hitherto philosophically unheralded discovery in mathematics: at the most basic, Georg Cantor’s demonstration of actual infinity and the subsequent axiomatisation of the consequences of this in Set Theory. Basically, a central referent of all philosophy, the status and conceptualisation of the infinite (and thus the finite), changes with Cantor. Mathematics, a fundamentally rational discourse, a non-linguistic discourse, demonstrates in its own terms that there are ‘infinite infinities’ and Badiou draws the consequence of this: ‘the One is not’; that what is, is pure multiplicity; thus any One is as ‘result’. On the basis of this rigorous actualization of what was hitherto consigned to the ineffable, potential or unthinkable, he builds a new philosophy of classical categories – being, truth, event, subject – which is absolutely contemporary.

In this work, conditioned by this ‘Cantor event’, Badiou makes the claim that mathematics is ontology – it thinks what is thinkable of being qua being. This, he says, frees philosophy from a certain ontological malaise, allowing philosophy think again the truths of its time. Truths, for Badiou, are evental. An event is a rare occurrence; neither historically determined or knowingly constructed. It opens a situation to what exceeds its knowledge, its rules, its judgment and so on – to what gives a situation its order, its currency. This immanent opening makes possible a new or generic construction, which Badiou names a truth. This construction is subjective: the subject is what declares for an event and takes up the work of constructing its consequences. The subject is a matter of decision and orientation, of thought and practice relevant to the event. Being is pure multiplicity for Badiou, thought as such by mathematics; truths are evental for Badiou and are the thought/practice of the subject. To think these two formulations together is the task of Being and Event, which, as he says, is really to think the possibility of real change.

Being and Event is a big book:  It is written as a series of 36 Meditations and divided into eight parts. Although in the introduction Badiou supposes various ways to read the book, each option gives rise to its own impasse. This can only be avoided by reading the whole thing, beginning to end. Accordingly, the course will work through the meditations in chronological order: if not line by line, then following closely the order of the parts. This course presupposes no knowledge of Badiou nor is the first big books course on Theory of the Subject in any way a prerequisite. A reading schedule will be posted closer to the start of the course. It will be both a wild ride and a useful introduction to this work and the work of a thinker whose philosophy will have become, despite concerted contemporary reaction, truly foundational.

Course Schedule

  • L1. Intro to Badiou/Intro to the course/Intro to BE
  • L2/3. (B1) Being: Multiple and Void. Plato/Cantor
  • L4. (B2) Being: Excess, State of the Situation, One/Multiple, Whole/Parts, or ?/??
  • L5. (B3) Being: Nature and Infinity. Heidegger/Galileo
  • L6.  (B4) The Event: History and Ultra-One
  • L7. (B5) The Event: Intervention and Fidelity. Pascal/Choice; Hölderlin/Deduction
  • L8. (B6) Quantity and Knowledge. The discernable (or constructible): Leibniz/Gödel
  • L9/10. (B7) The Generic: indiscernible and truth. The event – P.J.Cohen
  • L11. (B8) Forcing: Truth and the Subject. Beyond Lacan
  • L12. Questions!


  • Being and Event. (Alain Badiou)
  • Badiou: Key Concepts (Bartlett & Clemens)
  • Badiou: A Subject to Truth (Peter Hallward)
  • Badiou’s Being and Event: A Readers Guide (Christopher Norris)