Alain Badiou

(b. 1937)

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Louis Althusser (1918—1990) French philosopher

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May 1968


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(1937– )

FrenchMarxist philosopher, novelist and playwright. Born in Rabat, Morocco, Badiou completed high school in Toulouse before moving to Paris for undergraduate studies at the prestigious École Normale Supérieure (ENS), where he worked closely with Louis Althusser, but was never one of the select group of disciples who came to be known as Althusserians. After completing his obligatory military service, Badiou taught in Reims, first at a lycée, then at the university. In 1968 he was invited by Michel Foucault to join the department of philosophy at Vincennes (University of Paris VIII), where his colleagues included Hélène Cixous, Gilles Deleuze, and Jean-François Lyotard. After spending 30 years at Vincennes, Badiou left in 1998 to return to his alma mater ENS.

Badiou is an austere, uncompromising thinker of great originality and range, whose magnum opus L'Ětre et l'événement (1988), translated as Being and Event (2005), is premised on the conviction that mathematics is an ontology—his conception of being is non-representational, but schematic: it presents structures of situations, with a view towards identifying what he calls evental sites, i.e. places where a political praxis might develop. Badiou's philosophy is primarily interested in the event, which for him is a moment of rupture in history's continuum, a shift in the very condition of things after which there is no turning back. Very few so-called events satisfy this condition in Badiou's eyes and, by the same token, history has overlooked several events it lacked the conceptual model to see. A reader-friendly example of how this notion of philosophy works in relation to history can be found in Le Siècle (2005), translated as The Century (2007).

Badiou's model of praxis is usually described as subtractive because it operates on the premise that political action can only work if it subtracts itself from the power and processes of the state. Slavoj *Žižek adopts this model in his self-styled political manifesto In Defence of Lost Causes (2008). Throughout his career, Badiou has been actively involved in politics. During the events of May '68 he was a member of highly vocal Maoist groups. In more recent times he has been involved with L'Organisation Politique, a politicized group he helped found. Because of its powerfully political texture, Badiou's philosophy is increasingly widely read today, a measure both of the volatility of the times and the lucidity of his thought.

Further Reading:

J. Barker Alain Badiou: A Critical Introduction (2001).O. Feltham Alain Badiou: Live Theory (2008).P. Hallward Badiou: A Subject to Truth (2003).

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.

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