Today, this configuration is in a state of total crisis. One of the symptoms of this crisis is the return of the old traditions and the seeming resurrection of old dead gods.
– Alain Badiou, Philosophy for Militants
Is this it? Is this our problem: a return of the old sacrificial gods that bespeak a disjunction between the human and the inhuman? And not an integration of the inhuman into a new sequence of the historical existence of humanity. “Within our own humanity, we must come to terms with the obscure, violent, and – at the same time – luminous and peaceful element of inhumanity within the human element itself” (41).1 Are the rights of humans also as Badiou suggests the ‘rights of the infinite’ (Lyotard)? He reminds us that humans are irreducible to ‘animality’, that the inhuman is a creative potential, the element which does not yet exist but must become. “Humanity as a natural totality does not exist, since humanity is identical to the local victories that it obtains over its immanent element of inhumanity.”(42)
In my last post on Badiou we seemed to be moving toward a politics of hope…we are moving within this next movement toward the figure of the heroic. Now he tells us that the ‘Heroic’ is properly the act of the infinite at work in human actions, while ‘Heroism’ is the luminous appearance, in a concrete situation, of something that assumes its humanity beyond the natural limits of the human animal.
To accept and support this experience of the inhuman element within ourselves, we must, all of us, human animals that we are, make use of certain immaterial means. We must create a symbolic representation of this humanity that exists beyond itself, in the fearsome and fertile element of the inhuman. I call that sort of representation a heroic figure. (42)
Badiou tells us to bid good riddance to the heroic figures of old: we can neither the return to the old figure of religious or national sacrifice nor the nihilistic figure of the last man. Then he asks: “Is there a place, in a disoriented world, for a new style of heroism?”(45) He traces the recent history of the a specific figure, the Soldier, through its lineage in historical events up to our time as typifying all that is erroneous and detrimental to our future hopes and dreams.
As Badiou explicates it the soldier has been the modern symbol of two very important features of the capacity of human animals to create something beyond their own limits, and thus to participate in the creation of a few eternal truths. First, in the figure of the soldier, we know that this creation can be immanent and collective, without depending on religious faith. Second, we know that this creation is eternal within time itself, and not after time.(57-58)
In our day this symbol or figure of the heroic is synonymous with the repetition of acts of death and resurrection (“But what happens if God is dead, as Nietzsche teaches all of us?”); as well as, the romantic figure of the survivor who transfigures death and wounds (“But what happens if war, in our days, has become one giant obscure slaughter?”). (58) He turns to the poets Hopkins and Stevens for a revisioning of this figure and discovers in the end something unexpected:
The poetic transfiguration of the soldier is also the splendid beginning of the end of this figure. We thus know our task to be a very precise one. The period of the aristocratic warrior is behind us, as is the period of the democratic soldier. So much is certain, but we do not find ourselves for this reason at the peaceful end of History. On the contrary, we live in confusion, violence and injustice. We must create new symbolic forms for our collective actions. We cannot do so in a context of global negation and ‘final war’, as was the case for much of the twentieth century. We are bound to uphold the new truths in the context of their local affirmation, encircled by endless conflicts. We must find a new sun – in other words, a new mental country. As Stevens says: ‘The sun is the country wherever he is’.(58-60)
Find a new Sun? A new mental country? Poetry? The end of this essay leaves one perplexed wanting more, wanting a definitive argument, something we can grasp and struggle with rather than the poetics of new suns and mental countries…. What is Badiou up too? Is this turn toward idealism an answer? Are we suddenly to enter some parallel realm or utopian nowhere/elsewhere and find the truth of our future coming toward us? Tell us Badiou, just what are you really up too? What symbolic forms will these collective actions take? What new truths for new local affirmations? The embattle cry of militant philosophers in the streets? Something else altogether Badiou offers:
In the end we can say that the soldier is a metaphor that contains three fundamental features of the human being when he or she is seized by a truth: First, it is an example for everybody, a universal address; second, it is the very type of what can be done by somebody when it was thought that nothing was possible – it is the creation of a new possibility; third, it is an example of what is immortal, or eternal, in an action which is at the service of a true idea – it is the creation of an immanent immortality.(52)
By universal address I assume his reading of Paul of a universal address of a truth: “So there is no body of the generic as such to be found in Paul, though there is a theory of the universal address of a truth.”(Interview) So it seems we have a universal address for a truth procedure, a course of action with hope in the optative mood, and the enduring at the heart of the immanent movement or becoming of an event-action. So through the service of a truth as truth procedure we have a figure of a new humanity, embattled in local struggles, affirming the truth of these actions and their enduring valence as pledge of a future that is immanent and pregnant with hope and emancipatory energy. A figure of humanity rising like phoenixes from the ashes of an unbound history that is neither universal nor already written but like figures in the sands of time still to be formulated as revolutionary events to be told in future tense.
1. Badiou, Alain (2012-12-03). Philosophy for Militants (Pocket Communism). Norton.