Alain Badiou – the different discourse regimes

Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely, Fantastic Paradise, 1966


Considerations about the book "São Paulo: the foundation of universalism”

In 1997, Alain Badiou wrote the book São Paulo: the foundation of universalism. Vladimir Safatle, in the Afterword to the Brazilian edition, wrote “What philosophy of the event does the left need?”. Let's delve into this short afterword and then follow Badiou's controversial trails, dividing the text into two parts.


The different discourse regimes

From the experiences of May 1968, we had three developments: the multicultural politics of difference; postmodern critiques of universals; and, both psychoanalysis and Marxism, via Lacan and Althusser, resuming themes from the left that would have lost citizenship. In this last development, both Giorgio Agamben and Alain Badiou are aligned. We could mention some points in common between both, such as: the intricate relationship between violence and politics; criticism of the limits of parliamentary democracy; critique of human rights issues; politics as a field for realizing the truth of a situation; the central function of equality as an orderer of political struggles; the trap of suspending politics through a discourse on morality; and the role of universals. As a backdrop to this third unfolding of the experiences of May 68, we can situate the renewal of ontology and its impact on the political field.



In Badiou, we can visualize three different instances: the Being, the event (happening) and the situation. The event, which will be the protagonist in this text, is a-normal, unstable, removed from representation, and has the power to set situations such as politics in motion. The issue is that if politics, as a situation, is the realization of normative ideas of justice and consensus, which are no more than imperatives of conservation (values ​​resulting from limitations on life possibilities), then for Badiou it would be up to carrying out the totalizing critique, that is, the one that would invalidate values. The big problem with social criticism, linked to moral criticism, is that, turning against the extension of values, it ends up losing the ground that could support it. Thus, instead of being a totalizing criticism that invalidates values, it remains only a criticism that invalidates cases.

Hegel, when studying the productive forces of the negativity of death, in addition to placing himself in a dialectical perspective between life and death, joins an Aristotelian vitalist tradition, according to which, there is the persistence of animality in man. From there, a whole range of themes is revealed, such as the finitude of the individual, exposed to suffering and death, and, consequently, to the situation of victim. Suffering resulting from oppression and the impossibility of realizing expectations of justice. From the demand for subjective reparation to a power recognized as such, capable of satisfying demands for reparation, a whole logic that permeates modernity's ways of life begins to be glimpsed.

According to this logic, the subject is defined as individualities resulting from processes of socialization and formation of the Self, which develop in the family and in the State. This definition of the subject, as a result of a process to which he conforms and based on values ​​that are imperative for conservation (because our animality is exposed to death), goes against another conception whose purpose is to question these values. For her, what defines the subject are operations that place him beyond the state and the family. And suffering is the result, not of an injustice filed against the individual, but of the impossibility of manifesting difference, of non-conformity. From this perspective, no power is recognized with the function of reparation because the question becomes precisely to overcome this state of social protection. If humanity starts to be seen as a construction that leads us to the political condition of victims, it is necessary to establish a new conceptual field, in which the subject becomes linked to the event.



According to Safatle, following in the footsteps of Badiou, “events occur in locatable situations, but put language at an impasse by bringing processes that still have no name, which must be thought of as out of place, as nomadism of gratuitousness and that allow the advent of a subject devoid of any identity, capable of establishing an ex-centric position, indifferent to the possibilities of action posed by the legal system, indifferent to customs and habits”. The event, therefore, is the condition of possibility for universality, hence why it is not being as it is not non-being. And the new subject, instead of remaining linked to the norms of justice (legality is predicative, particular, partial – it lists, names and controls the parts of a situation), will be linked to a non-identity and equality notion.



The concept of the Real that Badiou will explore is mainly due to Lacan: a field of subjective experiences that can neither be symbolized nor colonized by images. It is always described in a negative way because they are experiences that are offered to the subject in the form of a disruptive process. Human behavior would then be guided by three instances: symbolic, imaginary and Real.

In the book The century, Alain Badiou tries to define the meaning of the historical experiences of the XNUMXth century through a passion for the Real and the search for the new man. But this passion for the Real, far from what we could understand as reality, would rather have the sense of non-conformity to reality. Therefore, the passion for the Real would indicate the passion for rupture. Because the Real would be precisely the experience offered to the subject in the form of rupture. This passion then takes place via jouissance (dissolution of the ego through the drive field), instead of pleasure, to which the ego remains connected. Under this prism, the sense of suffering regains a new value: it is not displeasure, but enjoyment (a lack of distinction between satisfaction and terror due to the dissolution of the self); affection produced by the manifestation of a horrible and exciting, deadly and creative reality, which must free us from an exhausted subjectivity.

If here we find a bond that ties Lacan and Badiou, however, both are separated by another aspect: Lacan, when fleeing interiority, elects empirical processes as determinants of the conditions of validity of all thinking; Badiou, in turn, in his theory of the subject, wants to formalize without anthropologizing – with that, he elevates the concept of drive to a transcendental concept and, with that, secondary discussions on empirical genesis.

Through the prism of the passion of the Real, the philosophy of history, instead of being cumulative and teleological, aims to provide the conditions by which a truth appears as an interruption, a radical exception. And with that, the history of the XNUMXth century starts to be seen, not in a negative way as a succession of catastrophes, but as an experience of rupture.

It is an irreducible division that Badiou will exploit to the last consequences. Because tying oneself to finitude and seeing the recent past as a succession of catastrophes ends up generating a movement more linked to morality than to politics, even generating the elimination of the latter: a consensual ethics, that is, a feeling provoked by atrocities and which replaces the old ideological discussions; an erasure of the past and its struggles, criminalizing them and raising fear to the central affect of politics (preventing something from happening, preventing it from happening again); to this reactive posture, a subjective resignation and a consent to what exists – in this sense, not only the past is erased, but the future is also erased, as new and unpredictable.



For Alain Badiou, Paulo represents both the idea of ​​rupture and practical thinking as the subjective materiality of this rupture. Therefore, it is not enough for him to be the thinker (poet of the event), without practicing and enunciating constant acts, which brings us to the figure of the militant. The idea then becomes linked to a practical thought that conditions it. And with that, it underlines the subjective intention that is structured completely differently than a historian.

Badiou's thought has this concrete ground: instead of the truth being linked to a cultural historicity, which conditions it to a law, the truth is established by a subjective gesture that declares a random and singular event, such as the resurrection of Christ, in the Paul's case.

The question then consists in studying this subjective gesture. As the statement “Jesus is risen” has an imaginary character, here begins a kind of truth torn apart from the real, real understood as an objective set or pre-constituted historical sets. Something unprecedented was declared, out of orbit, causing laughter and raising the absurd (perhaps we can refer here to the idea of ​​metaphor in Richard Rorty and the importance of this concept in his system).

This out of place is the condition of universality. Who declares it, establishes a rupture and creates a new subject. The universal is secular because it is linked to the lay – it does not concern class, is alien to power and does not belong to any order. Being is multiple and contingent precisely because it does not satisfy any need.

The important thing is that this whole process is made visible to us by the subjective statement. There is no kind of object that exists independently of the subject, which would be responsible for making a truth subject. It is a founding process that takes place: just as what is said does not correspond to what is established, whoever says it founds a new subject without identity. Everything happens in the moment, it is current. And it ceases to have the linguistic form of judgment.

This universal, established by the process of truth, is opposed by the false universal, which, contemporaneously, takes the form of economic abstractions (in Paul's time, it was Roman jurisprudence). Let's see the empty universality of capital: everything that circulates falls into a unit of account, which is homogeneous in nature. Hence the logic of the general equivalent. This kind of repetition is what the truth process comes to interrupt, because, unable to sustain itself in the abstract permanence of a unit of account, it remains linked not to an abstraction, but to a universalizable singularity.

In the identity singularity, we visualize its relationship with the deterritorialization of capital. That is why we call monetary abstraction a false universal: not only do subjective and territorial identities claim the right to be exposed to the uniform prerogatives of the market, but, following the same logic, the abstract homogenization of capital ends up allowing only what is available to circulate. can count, but not the countless infinity of a singular human life – which ends up generating closed identities. This is the complicity between world market liberal capitalism and culturalist ideology. Not only in France, the communitarianization of the public space and unemployment have more relations than our vain imagination can conceive.



According to Badiou, focusing on Paul, there are four maxims of truth as a universal singularity: (1) the theory of equality, regardless of social class and gender (the Christian subject comes into being from the event he declares, against all conditions extrinsic to its existence or identity); (2) consequently, the truth is subjective (in Paul's case, the resurrection of Christ is subject neither to Jewish law – obsolete and harmful –, nor to Greek law – subordination of destiny to the cosmic order (truth is the subjective statement referring to the event); (3) truth is a process and not enlightenment (it is constituted by conviction, love and hope); (4) truth, as subjectivity, is indifferent to the situation and established opinions).



Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus simulates the founding event, the resurrection of Christ. It was something that happened suddenly, randomly and incalculably. It was a singular event, which he himself insisted on not confirming before the apostles, remaining a subjective “surrection”. Hence his unshakable conviction regarding his destiny and his militant effectiveness, outside Jerusalem, the ancient center, confirming that true universality has no center.

Unlike the philosophical discourse, Paulo only starts to speak what he spoke from this new subject suddenly instituted – which means that the subjective position also constitutes the argument of the discourse. The enunciation of Paul's anti-philosophy, as well as of Rousseau's anti-philosophy, or of Nietzsche himself, is formed by the enunciative position and the argument. The conversion that institutes the new subject is a fulminant action, not a dialectic one, and it does not cease to be the subjective sign of the actual event that was the resurrection of Christ.

It will be from the conditions of this conversion, made from a casual intervention (it was not a conversion moved by representatives of the church), that Paul draws his consequence: one can only start from faith, from the declaration of faith. This doctrine is therefore intertwined with existence. Existential fragments, which sometimes seem like cases, are elevated to the position of guaranteeing the truth.



What Alain Badiou calls “Paul's first front line” and which will serve to establish the Jerusalem assembly of the year 50 will be his confrontation with the Jewish-Christians. This historic assembly is founding because it will endow Christianity with a double principle of openness and historicity. While for Jewish-Christians the new truth, that is, the resurrection of Christ, remains subject to its origin, that is, to the Jewish community, and, therefore, demanding the circumcision of all the faithful, for Paul the distinctive traits of communities or their ritual practices are no longer relevant.

In this sense, Paul distances himself both from pagan-Christians, for whom uncircumcision is a value, and from Jewish-Christians, who not only demand circumcision but also distinguish degrees of adherence: true Christians are not equal to sympathizers. . For Paul, circumcision and uncircumcision have lost their value: they are neither positive nor negative. With this, the degrees of adherence also disappear. The distinction is between faithful and non-faithful, as well as the aforementioned difference becomes subjective in nature, without intermediation or mediation.

In other words, what sustains the universal process of a truth is the subjective recognition of the singularity of an event, in this case, the resurrection of Christ. In this case, the being of the event, that is, the community in which it came to be realized, is not confused with the effects of truth, which occur after the event. The immanence of the situation is what will define the historical nucleus of Christianity, of which Pedro will be the main responsible. But the other core, the opening of Christianity, conquering pagans, will underline the pertinence of the event, in the face of which, everyone is equal, leaving the subjective recognition of the singular – this core of opening, fell to Paulo to manage.



Paul's second front line will take place in Athens with the philosophers. Reason for general laughter among the wise, the subjective emergence, for Paulo, could not happen as a rhetorical construction of a personal adjustment to the laws of the universe and nature. Thought, on the contrary, appears as a rupture and not as a rhetorical construction.

In this way, Paul's thought rebels against the two great historical references of the time: wisdom and law; the Greeks and the Jews.



fell to Apostles' acts, by Luke, the counterattack to the heresy of Marcion, who, in his “Antitheses”, subdivides the divine uniqueness into God the Creator and God the Father: the first, referring to the old testament, an evil god, directly revealed by the narrative of his obscure harm; and the second, revealed by the New Gospel, in a mediating way (while the 12 apostles would be under the imperative of the obscure Creator God, Paul, according to Marcion, would be the authentic apostle).

The church, through its doctors and already under the Jewish diaspora, a process that culminates in the transfer of the capital of Christianity, from Jerusalem to Rome, will undertake the construction of a centrist Paul, in obedience to the fundamental commitments of Christianity - assembly of 50. It is in this sense that the figure of the priest will stand out in Paul, shifting the focus previously centered on the figure of sanctity, that is, of those who suffer the impact of blinding chance, of the event itself.

Alain Badiou then rescues the figure of Pasolini, who came to write a film about São Paulo, never shot, rescuing all its contemporaneity. In the film, the Empire of Rome is New York, Jerusalem is Paris with the resistance and supporters of Pétain, Athens is the city of Rome, and Damascus is Barcelona (Franco's Spain). But Pasolini's fundamental idea is the internal betrayal that even explains the imposture of Apostles' acts from Lucas. In other words, the truth of this imposture lies in the subjective figure of the priest, constructed from the dialectic between sanctity and actuality: “how can authentic sanctity withstand the test of a fleeting and monumental history at the same time that this sanctity is an exception and not an operation? Hardening up, getting organized. But what was meant to preserve itself from the corruption of history, turns out to be an essential corruption (that of the saint by the priest)”.

The truth of external betrayal (Apostles' acts) would be in internal betrayal. It is when the militant, the man with the apparatus, be he the creator of the Church, or of the organization, or of the party, comes to succeed the experience of the event, in order to preserve it and culminating in corrupting it. Paulo would have lived both experiences and his epistles prove that they are militant documents, interventions, in the same way that Wittgenstein was in relation to Russel, Lenin in relation to Marx and Lacan in relation to Freud. Paul's identification with the militant is part of the process of truth, post-event, when holiness enters into relation with the present.



In Chapter IV, “Theory of Discourses”, one of the most important in the book, Alain Badiou will deal with the regimes of discourse and will bring up the figure of the quadrilateral. Already in his Logic, Hegel will refer us to this figure, showing us that the absolute Knowledge of a ternary dialectic requires a fourth term. Badiou will underline the analogy between Paulo and Lacan in this sense: just as Lacan thinks of the analytic discourse in a mobile topic from which he connects to the discourses of the master, the hysteric and the university, Paulo also proposes a plane of discourses formed by his ( Christian discourse), Greek, Jewish and mystical discourse. Such discourses are seen as subjective dispositions and do not designate neither the people (an objective human group with their beliefs, customs, language and territory) nor constituted and legalized religions.



The starting point of Jewish discourse is the exception to the whole, an exception represented by the sign. The subjective figure of this discourse is the prophet, the one who makes a sign, exposing the obscure so that it can be deciphered, attesting to transcendence. It is, therefore, a discourse of exception: the exception to the Greek cosmic order is invoked to indicate divine transcendence. Both the prophetic sign, and the miracle, and the election of a people, constitute the Jewish discourse. In this sense, history becomes governed by transcendent calculations, which is still a form of domination.

For Greek discourse, history is also governed by transcendent calculations: the difference is that, in this case, the starting point is the whole. The process of Greek discourse is to conform to the cosmic order, not to transcend it. In both discourses, the Jewish and the philosophical, the Father's discourse would prevail: in the Jewish case, communities are consolidated in a form of obedience to God; in the Greek case, a form of obedience to the cosmos. The key to salvation for both would be given in the universe, through the domination of the literal tradition and the decipherment of the sign (Jewish) or through the direct domination of the totality (Greek) – both leading to a discourse of the “master”. Greeks and Jews, in this sense, oppose each other within the same background.



Christian discourse, unlike both, has as its starting point neither the whole nor the exception to the whole. Its starting point is the event: acosmic, illegal, not integrated into any totality and not being a sign of anything. With that, history ceases to be a matter of calculations and starts to be broken in two, like that of the old and new testament. The father's speech is followed by a new speech, that of the son. This idea of ​​a break clearly indicates that the Son's speech is more a diagonal of the two previous speeches than a synthesis.

And so much so that Paul, unlike the 12 apostles who witnessed the event and thus privilege memory and historical awareness, he only supports himself when he says that he was called to be an apostle. Demanding proofs and counterproofs, which is typical of Judeo-Christian thought, is not a relevant question for Paul: more important than the fact is the subjective disposition; the relationship between the singular and the universal, the rebirth of Christ and our rebirth. In this sense, “there is always a moment when what matters is to declare, in your own name, that what happened, happened”. The perspective here is one of grace and not history. The interest of the event is not in itself, as an objective fact, but in its uniqueness and universality.



Knowing, in a certain way, is linked to the field of knowledge: it is either empirical or conceptual; or it has to do with univocal meaning, freed in signs, or with eternal truths. Now, in Paulo, who founded the foundations of universalism, the event establishes an impasse in language: it is not linked to the field of knowledge; before that, it opens up the subjective possibility.

The big difference between Pascal and Paul will come from the fact that, despite his classical anti-philosophy, Pascal is involved in convincing the modern libertine of the superiority of the Christian religion. In this sense, Pascal tries to rationally prove this given superiority. For this, it ends up appealing to three types of discourses: the Jewish discourse, with its theory of the sign and double meaning (the New Testament fulfills the prophecies of the Old Testament, just as the Old Testament derives its coherence from what it signals to the New Testament); the philosophical discourse, with its probabilistic argumentation of the wager and the dialectical reasoning about the two infinites; and the mystical discourse, which is based on the unspoken discourse, typical of the enraptured man (his person is glorified in the name of that other subject who dialogued with God and who is like an Other in himself).

When this discourse, which we call mystical, instead of remaining a mute complement, comes to legitimize Paul's Christian discourse, especially taking into account his conversion (when he hears a voice calling him to be an apostle), this ends up transforming Christian discourse itself in a Jewish discourse. And just as prophecy is the sign of what will come, the miracle, characteristic of the Judeo-Christian miraculous discourse, is the sign of the transcendence of the true.

The problem, therefore, for Badiou, is to mask the pure event in a calculation of probabilities, as Pascal proceeds, inserted as he was in the classical world and unable to renounce proofs.



This mediation, which is proper to the law, permeating both Greek and Jewish discourse, and which is part of the conditions of knowledge, ends up imprisoning the force and novelty of the event. It is in this sense that Badiou does not understand the revolution as a mediation of communism, but the self-sufficient sequence of political truth. Instead of relating God to Being and giving the first the attributes of the second, for Paul, God is different from Being. This ontological subversion is characteristic of the Christ event: neither power nor wisdom, but weakness and madness. The event is neither function nor mediation: the Christ event, for Paul, and founding the universalist discourse, is pure beginning, foundation, interruption of the previous regime of discourses: neither fact nor argumentation; didn't come to prove anything, it's just faith. Rather, what constitutes the truth is the statement and its conviction, which is rooted in weakness, in the absence of proof. The declaration is not based on the ineffable – in this sense, Paulo is less obscurantist than Pascal: there is no calculation of possibilities in the face of unspoken speech. The statement has no force other than what it declares: this is Paul's ethical, anti-obscurantist dimension. And it will not be the singularity of the subject that will make what he says count; but what he will say is that he will found his uniqueness.



One thing is the event, another is its declaration. And when we refer to the universalist Christian discourse, founded by Paul, we are referring not to the event itself, but to the process of truth that this event provides. The metaphor of the clay vessel that Paul refers to in his epistle, carrying a treasure of infinite potency, is related to this speech. It is the declaration itself, post-event, the precarious truth of the infinite event, in its rudeness, without evidence and without appealing to other instances. The bearer's precariousness is homologous to his speech or vase: this one breaking, that one breaks too.



The inversion that Paul proposes to the Greek and Jewish discourses is linked to the division of the subject, which would then be divided into two ways: that of the flesh and that of the spirit. This subjective division has nothing to do with the Greek substantial distinction between body/soul, thought/sensibility. By establishing the subjective division, Paulo displaces the division previously centered on discourse, the Greek and the Jew: the Greek discourse and its relationship with the finite cosmic totality, which has to do with the regime of places (the cosmic totality is the abode of the thought); and the Jewish discourse in its relationship with the imperative of the letter, manifestation of the exception, seen as a covenant between God and his chosen people. What will draw attention in both discourses is that the subjective discourse is linked to a cultural perspective: the subject is full and undivided, however, ethnic; it is not universal.

With Paul, ethnic and cultural difference ceases to be significant in relation to the new object of Christian discourse. This new object is no longer the natural whole or its exception, differences that pre-exist the Greek and Jewish discourse and which are traditions to be respected (in the referred discourses, we would arrive at their objects through concepts or rites). The new object of Christian discourse is the Christ event, and, as an event, it is current, promoting a subjective fracture: the way of the flesh and that of the spirit. That is why the real begins to decline under death or life, according to the subjective path through which it is learned.

The great novelty of the Christian discourse, therefore, is that, when based not on a tradition, but on an event, it establishes the insignificance of places and the excess of all prescription. It is in this sense that, for Paul, there is no difference between Greek and Jew. The subject becomes divided and universal rather than full and ethnic.



There is a difference between event and existence. The event Christ is not the subject who existed and performed miracles. Rather, it is the resurrection of Christ. It is under this fable that Christian discourse lays the foundations of universalism. And for that, it does not require privileged witnesses, such as the 12 apostles, nor is it sustained as a sign. In this sense, the figure of the master is weakened: both the one who will answer questions proposed by philosophy and the one who will claim miracles. By privileging the fable to the detriment of real existence, the Christian discourse establishes a specific verbal figure: the statement. While in the previous discourses there is a demand for a master (questioning and claiming are verbal figures of the Greek and Jewish discourses, respectively), the declaration does not demand any lack: the son is the one who lacks nothing because he is simply a beginning.

The relationship between master and servant, in the Christian discourse, then ceases to be a relationship of personal or legal dependency, and becomes that of a community of destiny, serving the process of truth. Then the relationship between disciple and master disappears, and all post-event universality equals the children in dissipating the particularities of the parents.



This whole process of the subject son, instead of the subject disciple, which the Christian discourse establishes, which makes the fact that Christ is a son even more emblematic, that is, the father took on the figure of the son, underlines the importance of declaration. Unlike Paul's epistles in relation to the synoptic gospels written twenty years later, they express the Christian subject in his two subjective ways: life and death, event and law. If Jesus has an internal communication with God, promoting miracles, walking on water… it ends up being reduced to an edifying case.

In a way it is the path from miraculous speech, from inner enlightenment, to Jewish speech. This subjective path is that of the flesh, which would have death as its object. The other route, which would come to constitute the great novelty of Christian discourse, would be in the declaration of Christ's event, which is his resurrection. Instead of internal illumination, the declaration of the event, through the subjective path of the spirit, whose object is life.

*Rogério Skylab is an essayist, singer and composer.



Alain Badiou. São Paulo: the foundation of universalism. Translation: Wanda Nogueira Caldeira Brant. São Paulo, Boitempo, 2009, 142 pages.



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