When (and if) they celebrated Easter this week-end, most people did not have its religious significance at the back of their head. Easter is now more an opportunity to get together with one’s family and relatives, its religious meaning blurred and hazy, rather than a moment when Christianity should be celebrated. Yet it seems that David Cameron seized this calendar opportunity to present the UK as a “Christian country”. More than 50 prominent public figures including novelist, diplomats, Nobel prize winners and playwrights have immediately accused David Cameron of fostering divisions in the UK by making this unnecessary, irrelevant point.
Rather than promoting a fantasized vision of this country’s religious history and “status” (sic), Verso has published for many years critical accounts of Christianity and the broader issues of religion, belief and faith. Contrary to what Cameron is saying, religion can have far-reaching revolutionary implications.
I will say once again that I think that the fundamental figure of contemporary oppression is finitude. The strategic axis of this seminar is to provide the means for a critique of the contemporary world by identifying something within its propaganda, activity etc. at whose centre is the imposition of finitude, that is to say, the exclusion of the infinite from humanity’s possible set of horizons. At each session, from now up until the end of the year, I want to give you an example of the way in which something taking place today, or some commonplace or constantly used category, can be represented as a figure or operation of reduction to finitude. As such, each of these things can be encapsulated in terms of the general oppressive vision of finitude.
Today I would like to take the example of Ukraine, the way in which the historic events in Ukraine serve the propagandist consensus that both constitutes and envelops it (at our next sessions I will address two connected notions, which are similarly hegemonic and bask in consensus: the notions of the republic and of secularism – and what I call false invariants: what is assumed to be an invariant, a commonplace of thought, and even a proof of what it is that unites us).
It would be a mistake to see the philosopher Alain Badiou as only being a political activist – having long been a Maoist – or a polemicist – his short book The Meaning of Sarkozy having made his name among the general public. A philosopher but also a mathematician, novelist and playwright, he is clearly above all a man of encounters. The wealth of his output bears witness to it. It has led to him theorising In Praise of Love and very recently debating Alain Finkielkraut in his L’Explication. With Alain Badiou, the encounter does not come just by itself – it is rich with promise…
What is an encounter?
It is a contingent, chance element of existence. Something happens to you that nothing among your existing world’s points of reference made likely or necessary. You encounter someone who you do not know and yet who strikes you, attracts you, enters into your life.