praise to love

Image: Cátia Matos


Alain Badiou's vision of love does not aim to reinforce any belief in monogamy, much less in the traditional family or other normative regime of romantic arrangement.

I often come across people who, upon learning that I study Alain Badiou's philosophy, tell me: “ah, he's cool but I think his view of love is very traditional/monogamous” and variations of the genre.

It is something that probably arises from the fact that his most accessible and well-known book (at least in Brazil) is “Elogio ao amor”. This is an understandable view, after all, no one is obliged to read long philosophical treatises or know the complete context of the author's work to make simple judgments. However, this opinion is no less wrong.

Let's start from the beginning: Badiou's vision of love does not aim to reinforce any belief in monogamy, much less in the traditional family or other normative regime of romantic arrangement – ​​whether traditional or counter-traditional. Here are some brief notes about this.

i) The historical-biographical context: the French philosopher is the son of two typically left-wing French intellectuals, who lived in a non-monogamous regime. His father had lovers, as did his mother, who was a feminist follower of Simone de Beauvoir. Alain Badiou himself had Jean-Paul Sartre as a teacher in his youth and considers him responsible for his conversion to philosophy. As we know, he had a non-traditional relationship with Simone.

Later, Badiou had children with three different women (Françoise Badiou, Cécile Winter, Judith Balso), which implies that his life was never guided by any type of monogamy. His concept of “fidelity” – which also applies to politics, science and art – has nothing to do with traditional conjugality, therefore. It is simply an operator of continuity and consistency over time: true love is the one that lasts, it is the “hard desire to last”, as the poet Paul Éluard says, overcoming challenges and impasses, creating a new life.

ii) Theory: many cling to Badiou's supposed conservatism because he states that love is the record of Two (that is, he would not tolerate more numerous arrangements) and because he maintains the idea of ​​masculine and feminine positions (thus he would belittle the issue of different transgressive sexualities).

The point is that Two here does not have the meaning of a banal numerical count, but rather of a Mallarménean conceptual cipher — in the same way that politics, for him, would lead to the One of equality and fraternity, but this obviously does not mean that politics is made by a single person, just the opposite. For this, I recommend his theoretical treatise on the concept of number (“Le nombre e les nombres”), one of his best and most forgotten books.

Two would simply mean the mark of difference, or rather the experience constructed from difference and not identity. Obviously such a broad definition would allow for any kind of difference, including polyamory and whatever you wanted to imagine.

The male-female thing is a little more complicated, however. Here Badiou sees himself simply as a follower of Lacan, who conceptualized these positions through a logical-predicative writing in the well-known and somewhat esoteric “sexuation formulas”, a way of dealing with the impossibility of sexual intercourse. It has nothing to do with two essential entities inscribed in some form of immutable tradition or Jungian cultural archetype, on the contrary. With these formulas, Lacan was precisely trying to deny the complementarity of masculine and feminine poles present in traditional cosmologies, in the yin-yang style.

There is no point in delving into this here, but Badiou fully embraces this spirit. It is not about “essentializing” anything, but about inscribing difference within the sexual relationship, the impossibility of any perspective outside of sexuation (a variation of the Lacanian saying “there is no metalanguage”), any “third sex” or being asexual (by style of the traditional figure of the angel) capable of unifying the sexual impasse. Man and woman, in this case, do not imply empirical descriptions, but different subjective positions, also present in homosexual relationships or any conceivable type. I recommend an engagement with Lacan from the XX seminar – one of his most famous, but least read – to understand at least the background from which Badiou starts.

Finally, if Badiou can be accused of something, it is, yes, of seeing love in a platonic way, if we understand this in a non-vulgar way: love is thought, as Fernando Pessoa would say. Therefore, it is not limited to – despite incorporating, which differs from friendship – the voluptuous furies of sexual desire. For him – and this sounds more “idealistic” in relation to a certain contemporary cynicism – it is wrong to understand love simply from sexual desire. In reality, the intricate dialectic between desire and love is one of the most central problems of any loving process.

It is also worth remembering Badioune's fight against jealousy, seen as a means of “fascistizing” the love relationship, an operator of the “dark subject”, using his jargon. It's the reason for him to fight Marcel Proust's vision of love.

iii) anti-conservatism and anti-identitarianism: finally, I would like to present where, yes, certain criticisms of Badiou's positions could be concentrated.

The philosopher has made it clear countless times that he does not have the slightest appreciation for the figure of marriage in its legal and convivial sense (for him, the family is yet another problem to be dealt with, a type of status quo that is practically inexorable, but which must be seen as something reactive to true loving subjectivity), having already used André Gide's well-known phrase (“families, I hate you!”) to indicate his hostility to the basic core of all particularism and rootedness of privileges. This is something that has already been present since Plato, in fact — against which Badiou does not even sound so radical, as he finds his vision of a total communist collectivity extreme in this aspect (see his “hypertranslation” of the Platonic Republic).

However, this does not mean that it celebrates, in symmetrical counterpart, sexual transgression and varied dissident sexual identities. In this regard, it is useful to read the beginning of your book about São Paulo, when you make a kind of diagnosis of contemporary culture, criticizing both reactive and traditional views (restrictive forms of conjugality) and the celebration of “free” sexuality. So let me explain this point better.

Since the second half of the 70s, Badiou has criticized theorists and activists who believe they base a policy on a mere sexual minority identity. This does not mean that these movements are harmful. We should just remember that politics, for Badiou, is not limited to “social struggles” and movements. It implies a political organization and a strategy that is antagonistic to the current world.

In this sense, he always criticized, on the one hand, those who thought that politics is a mere summation or federalization of segmented struggles (sexualities, women, black people, etc.) or investment of individual categories of existence (such as “life”, “our lives ”) in political action. This is one of the reasons for the harsh criticism he made of Deleuze and Guattari in the 70s, but also, more generally, for the fight against tendencies that saw sexual transgression as forms of political combat (such as the magazine Tel Quel and its theorists, such as Julia Kristeva). For him, this would be amplifying the role of sex and our miserable lives in political and ideological action. Your organization went so far as to coin the expression “sex-fascism” to deal with this tendency that was very present in the decadent phase of the events of May 68 – that is, from 1976 or 1977 onwards. Basically, this is due to a deeper reason: Badiou is a radical anti-identitarian and anti-individualist.

This, in my opinion – but I can understand anyone who might make this criticism, which is much more precise than the traditional generic accusations – does not imply moralism, after all Badiou is strictly concerned about the idiosyncrasies and pleasures of each person. His motto is that taken from his reading of São Paulo: universality implies indifference to differences. Pretending that something as broad as politics be based on identity categories or personal experiences is to distort its universal purpose and confine it to tribal ghettos or lobbies of unrepresented minorities (possibly co-opted by capitalism, as we see more and more every day).

In my opinion, it is a view that is current, despite sounding “conservative”. Think about the countless little boxes that are increasingly created to confine this or that sexuality, forming identity stereotypes claimed as unique and exceptional personality traits. This generates clumsy phenomena such as the Globo actor who calls himself “ecosexual”, because he is horny for ecological people. These are forms of individualistic seals typically made for the era of social networks, reinforcing what is the basic ideology of capitalism: the lack of collective and broad vision, the cult of particularities, starting with the first of all – the Self.

This is something, however, that can generate real debates, much more than poorly focused controversies about its supposed (and false) support for monogamy or hetero and cis sexuality.

Clarifying things, we can finally discuss the differences, mainly with that tradition (Bataille, Kristeva, even the last Foucault, the “minorities” policy of D & G, perhaps even going back to Max Stirner, who Badiou treats with disdain as someone proto-Deleuzean…) that give sexuality and, more broadly, individuality, a predominant role in collective action.

* Diogo Fagundes he is studying for a master's degree in law and is studying philosophy at USP.

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