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The Last Days of the Dialectic: An Historical and Philosophical Introduction to the Early Badiou’s Politics

Lecturers: Robert Boncardo and Bryan Cooke

Originally Taught: Winter School 2020

How does political change happen? Why does it very often fail to happen? What challenges are faced by those who fight for political equality? This course will confront these inescapable questions through an historical and philosophical study of the ‘Union of French Communists’, a small political group lead by Alain Badiou, France’s most famous living philosopher, in the years 1969 to 1982. The course’s content will be drawn from archival research recently done in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and L’Institut Mémoire de l’édition contemporaine, as well as from interviews with Badiou himself. Through a close examination of the group’s tracts, pamphlets, newspapers and books, students will learn about the daily reality of political militancy for Badiou and his comrades—from engaging in strikes and factory occupations, to organising with poor farmers, supporting migrant workers, and intervening in the women’s movement. They will also discover in unprecedented detail what tactics Badiou’s group employed and the overall strategy they pursued, as well as consider the group’s various successes and failures. At each stage of the course students will engage with material from Badiou’s 1982 book Theory of the Subject, a notoriously difficult work that nevertheless comes alive when read alongside his group’s activities. We will explore Badiou’s theorisation of an historical and materialist dialectic, scrutinise his borrowings from the Lacanian psychoanalytic tradition, and contemplate the way he uses theatre and poetry to illuminate the dynamics of political action. By the end of the course students will not only have learnt about a forgotten chapter—or chapters—in French political history; they will also have developed a better understanding of the reality of politics as Badiou both practiced it and theorised it during this tumultuous decade.

(Note to students who took last year’s course ‘The Communist Hypothesis’: the present course deepens, expands and in some cases corrects that course’s content on the basis of my recent research in France and discussions with Badiou himself. You will therefore find a richer presentation of themes you are already familiar with, as well as large amounts of completely new material).

Course Outline

Lecture One: From Social Democracy to Marxism-Leninism: Badiou’s ’68 and its Afterlives

Lecture Two: Between Left and Right Deviations: the UCFML’s Maoist Politics, 1969-1973

Lecture Three: ‘The People, and the People Alone…’: Avant-gardes and Alliances, 1974-1978

Lecture Four: ‘The Situation is Frankly Disastrous’: Fragmentation and Decline, 1978-1981

Lecture Five: The End, The Eve: The Year of Living Courageously: 1982

Course Materials

  • Alain Badiou, Theory of the Subject (Bloomsbury, 2009)
  • Alain Badiou, The Adventure of French Philosophy (Verso, 2012)