Alain Badiou: The Subject of Art

The point is that the relation, the subjective relation between an event and the world cannot be a direct relation.
————– Alain Badiou: The Subject of Art

One often wonders what truly is going on in Badiou’s mind as he prepares for his lectures. Reading the lecture I quoted above in the link I sit back in wonderment at the childlike simplicity of his statements, as if the audience before him were all ten year old kids and he the master was trying his best to lead them through the intricate yet simple realms of Alice’s Wonderland. His voice is charming and eloquent, decisive and pure, yet one is tempted to smile and realize that the Master has gone over this track too many times, that it is all too confident, too precise and mathematical for our taste. It’s as if he is trying to convince not the audience but himself of the simplicity of his system, to make sure that each and every aspect of its labored precision still fits the measure of his tempered mind. And, does it? Is this trifold world of being qua being, being-in-the-word, and the event truly locked down in such a methodical fashion as to allow for no critical injunctions?

Badiou like Zizek always begins and ends with the Subject as that point in the world where something new happens:

The point is that the relation, the subjective relation between an event and the world cannot be a direct relation. Why? Because an event disappears on one side, and on the other side we never have a relation with the totality of the world. So when I say that the subject is a relation between an event and the world we have to understand that as an indirect relation between something of the event and something of the world. The relation, finally, is between a trace and the body. I call trace ‘what subsists in the world when the event disappears.’ It’s something of the event, but not the event as such; it is the trace, a mark, a symptom. And on the other side, the support of the subjectthe reality of the subject in the worldI call ‘a new body.’ So we can say that the subject is always a new relation between a trace and a body. It is the construction in a world, of a new body, and jurisdictionthe commitment of a trace; and the process of the relationship between the trace and the body is, properly, the new subject. (here)

When I saw that word ‘trace’ rise up in the above sentences I was reminded of another French philosopher, Jaques Derrida, for whom trace became a catch word. In the 1960s, Derrida used this word in two of his early books, namely “Writing and Difference” and “Of Grammatology”. Because the meaning of a sign is generated from the difference it has from other signs, especially the other half of its binary pairs, the sign itself contains a trace of what it does not mean. One cannot bring up the concepts of woman, normality, or speech without simultaneously evoking the concepts of man, abnormality, or writing. The trace is the nonmeaning that is inevitably brought to mind along with the meaning.” Is there a connection? I doubt it, only the connection in my own mind between two distinctly independent and intelligent philosophers that obviously with careful reading probably questioned each other to no end, yet read each other deeply and contentiously. Their thought converges and diverges on the concept of the event. I’d have to spend too much time to tease out the complexity of both philosophers conceptions to do that in a blog post so will end here. Read the above essay if you will for it lays down in a few words the basic architectural units of Badiou’s whole system of philosophy. One could do no better than read it and either follow it up with a deep reading of his major works Being and Event and The Logic of Worlds, or toss it into the trash and follow one’s own inclinations toward other climes. I leave that to the reader to choose. For me it is enough to realize that Badiou is someone you cannot pass over, but must confront with all the rigor that he brings to his own project. That there can be no direct relation between the event and the world to me seems to fit nicely into many of the strands of current philosophical speculation. This is a philosophy of movement, of happening, not of closure and stasis. The idea of indirect relation is processual in its dynamics, yet is also gathered into the net of mathematical precision as the intersection of relations defined as the movement between world and body, subject and its field of newness. Where does this take us? I’ll only leave you with one last tidbit from the lecture:

So the subject of art is not only the creation of a new process in its proper field, but it’s also a question of war and peace, because if we don’t find the new paradigm—the new subjective paradigm—the war will be endless.  And if we want peace—real peace—we have to find the possibility that subjectivity is really in infinite creation, infinite development, and not in the terrible choice between one form of the power of death (experimentation of the limits of pleasure) and another form of the power of death (which is sacrifice for an idea, for an abstract idea).  That is I think, the contemporary responsibility of artistic creation.

Transcript by Lydia Kerr – The Subject of Art

6 thoughts on “Alain Badiou: The Subject of Art

    • I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Obviously you need to read the first part of the sentence carefully which is weighed against the second half of the sentence after the comma: “And if we want peace—real peace—we have to find the possibility that subjectivity is really in infinite creation, infinite development,” … here the point being that if we are to have collective peace on a planetary scale it will be due to a new conception of our collective subjectivity as ‘infinite creativity’ and transformative processes rather than through any form of death culture built on the pursuit of pleasure or idealist pretentiousness of some ultimate utopian society. But, hey, that’s my take and commentary on it…. you’re welcome to your own. 🙂


      • well if you believe that human-beings are capable of “real” peace than I can see the appeal, but I think we are being done in by the very cognitive-biases that once served our evolution, not so much a ‘death’ driven species as blinkered and bent to be excessive.


      • No no…. peace is never some static field of some steady-state theory… peace is the war for a continuous movement or happening of process that no longer dams us to repeat but moves us into continuous creation or process of change that we need to truly not just survive but to thrive….


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