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Philosophy under condition: how art “thinks” in Alain Badiou’s L'immanence des vérités

Lecturer: Caitlyn Lesiuk

Originally Taught: Winter School 2021

This course offers an introduction to the meta-philosophy of Alain Badiou, with a particular focus on the relationship between philosophy and art in the third volume of the Being and Event trilogy, L'immanence des vérités (The Immanence of Truths). Badiou claims that philosophy does not produce truths, but grasps them as they are thought under the four “truth-conditions” of art, science, love and politics. What is important, here, is to begin an English-language dialogue on Badiou's new text (English translation forthcoming) in terms of the intersection of philosophy and art.

As such, each week we will read excerpts from Badiou’s previously published work on the questions of poetry, cinema, and art more generally, before discussing how he extends this work in L'immanence des vérités. In keeping with Badiou’s method, we will encounter his philosophy alongside figures such as Samuel Beckett, Emily Dickinson, Arnold Schönberg and Jean-Luc Godard, interrogating the way his use of certain examples problematises his philosophical system.

Badiou claims that “justice is done to philosophy only if philosophy itself does justice to its conditions and accepts being exposed to their inventive violence”. The question of how philosophy contends with its “outsides” is, indeed, a pertinent one for philosophy today. 

Week 1: Inaesthetics

In week one, we will introduce Badiou’s meta-philosophy via his concept of “inaesthetics”, which suggests that art produces truths of its own, distinct from those that emerge under the other conditions. As such, art is not to be taken as a mere ‘object’ for philosophy. In the course of this discussion, we will situate the aims of The Immanence of Truths in the context of Badiou’s larger philosophical project, and outline concepts which will form the foundation of our inquiry over the subsequent four weeks, that is: what it means for “truths” to emerge under the condition of art; the necessity to think these truths in “compossibility” with those of science, politics and love; the danger of philosophy becoming “sutured” to the artistic condition; and finally, how an “event” initiates such a truth procedure.

Required Reading:

  • Alain Badiou, “Art and Philosophy” in Handbook of Inaesthetics, tr. A. Toscano (California: Stanford University Press, 2005), pp. 1-15.

Recommended Reading:

  • Alain Badiou, “Conditions” in Manifesto for Philosophy, tr. N. Madarasz (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989), pp. 33-40.
  • Justin Clemens, “The conditions” in A. Bartlett & J. Clemens eds., Alain Badiou: Key Concepts (Durham: Acumen, 2010), pp. 25–37.
  • Jean-Luc Nancy, “Philosophy Without Conditions” Think Again: Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy (New York: Continuum, 2004), 39-49.

Week 2: The writing of the generic

In week two, we will turn to Badiou’s decades long engagement with the work of Irish poet, novelist and playwright Samuel Beckett. Badiou posits Beckett’s work as “the writing of the generic”. In Badiou’s ontology, “the generic” is the being-multiple of truths, thus, the question here is of what it means for truth to emerge in the context of literature. In The Immanence of Truths, Badiou implicitly responds to many criticisms that have been made of his writings on Beckett, and turns his attention to the figure of the “Beckett critic”, thus drawing our eye to a broader tension between philosophy and literary studies.

Required Reading:

  • Alain Badiou, “The Writing of the Generic” in Conditions, tr. S. Corcoran (London: Bloomsbury, 2008), pp. 249-84.

Recommended Reading:

  • Nina Power & Alberto Toscano, eds., “Editors’ Introduction – Think, pig!” in On Beckett (Manchester: Clinamen Press, 2003), pp. xi–xxxiv. 

  • Jean-Jacques Lecercle, “A Modernist Canon? Badiou and Deleuze Read Beckett”, Badiou and Deleuze Read Literature (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010), pp. 119-157.
  • Alain Badiou, “Being, Existence, Thought: Prose and Concept” in On Beckett (Manchester: Clinamen Press, 2003), pp. 79–112.

Week 3: Cinema and compossibility

In week three, we will critically examine Badiou’s claim that cinema is the seventh art, or “plus-one” of the arts, which allows us to imaginatively grasp the totality of the other six (architecture, sculpture, painting, music, literature, theatre). In The Immanence of Truths, Badiou advances this thesis through a critique of Hegel’s claim that comedy marks the final dialectical turn in the history of the arts. Badiou tasks Hegel with thinking cinema, which is to say, he finds resources in Hegel’s philosophical system that allow for such a totalisation, rather than the dissolution of the arts in the negative operations of comedy.

Required Reading:

  • Alain Badiou, “The False Movements of Cinema” in Handbook of Inaesthetics, tr. A. Toscano (California: Stanford University Press, 2005), pp. 78-88.

Recommended Reading:

  • Alex Ling, “Can Cinema be Thought?” in Badiou and Cinema (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011), pp. 32-54.
  • Alain Badiou, “Cinema Has Given Me So Much” in Cinema tr. S. Spitzer (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013), pp.1-20.
  • Alain Badiou, “Philosophy and Cinema” in Infinite Thought tr. O. Feltham & J. Clemens (London: Continuum, 2003), pp. 109-125.

Week 4: “The Age of Poets” and the problem of suture

Badiou suggests that during the nineteenth century, philosophy was sutured to its scientific and political conditions. This was succeeded by what he terms “The Age of Poets”, which began with Friedrich Hölderlin, ended with Paul Celan, and encompassed Stéphane Mallarmé, Arthur Rimbaud, Georg Trakl, Fernando Pessoa and Osip Mandelstam. Badiou suggests that a certain kind of poetry was brought about in response to this suture, such that poetry came to “think” questions of being and time in the place of philosophy. Here, we will consider how Badiou extends this reading of poetry in The Immanence of Truths through engaging with figures such as René Char, Victor Hugo, Emily Dickinson, and Alberto Caeiro and the question of classical forms of finitude.

Required Reading:

  • Alain Badiou, “The Age of Poets” in Handbook of Inaesthetics, tr. A. Toscano (California: Stanford University Press, 2005), pp. 69-78.

Recommended Reading:

  • Alain Badiou, Robert Boncardo & Christian R. Gelder, “Mallarmé Said It All” in Mallarmé: Rancière, Milner, Badiou (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), pp. 83-96.
  • Alain Badiou, “The Philosophical Recourse to the Poem” in Conditions, tr. S. Corcoran (London: Bloomsbury, 2008), pp. 35-48.
  • Jean-Jacques Lecercle, “Badiou’s Poetics” in Think Again: Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy (New York: Continuum, 2004), 208-17.

Week 5: Music and the event

In The Immanence of Truths Badiou identifies two “registers” of the artistic truth condition: one for the two “simple” arts, painting and music, and one for the other, “complex”, arts. We will unfurl this distinction through a comparison of Oliver Messiaen’s chamber work Le Merle noir and Richard Wagner’s operas. The notion of an “event” under the artistic condition will be developed using the example of the shift toward dodecaphony associated with the works of Arnold Schönberg. Central to this discussion this week will be the particular tension between a specific artwork, which is necessarily “finite”, and the “infinite” nature of the truth procedure it is caught up in.

Required Reading:

  • Alain Badiou & Fabien Tarby, “Art” in Philosophy and the Event, tr. L. Burchill (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013), pp. 66-91.

Recommended Reading:

  • Alain Badiou, “Wagner as a Philosophical Question” in Five Lessons on Wagner, tr. S. Spitzer (London: Verso, 2010), pp. 55-70.
  • Alain Badiou, “Scholium: A Musical Variant of the Metaphysics of the Subject” in Logics of Worlds, tr. A. Toscano (London: Continuum, 2009), pp. 79-89.
  • Rancière, J., “Aesthetics, Inaesthetics, Anti-Aesthetics” in P. Hallward ed. Think Again: Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy (New York: Continuum, 2004), 218–231.