During your talk in Avignon’s ‘Theatre of Ideas’ series you evoked the tensions at work within the 2,500 year-old couple of philosophy and theatre. In your view are these fruitful tensions, or, on the contrary, destructive ones? Nietzsche’s ‘The Birth of Tragedy’ offers evidence enough of this difficult relationship, while Socrates (helped by Euripides) wanted to sound the death knell of tragedy and herald the triumph of reason…
Alain Badiou: There have been two fundamental currents in philosophy ever since its origins, and not just one. What Nietzsche called philosophy is a Platonism that he had largely fabricated. So you could make a lot of objections to Nietzsche even based on Plato himself. Nietzsche counterposes a certain construct of philosophy to the original fundamental power of Tragedy, the Appollonian and Dionysian, but this is still only one definition of philosophy among many others, which he uses as a sort of war machine. It ought not be forgotten that Nietzsche went so far as to say that ‘the philosopher is the criminal of criminals’ – he did not qualify his assertions.
I think that in reality the relationship between philosophy and theatre is an ambiguous one, from its very origins.
A debate has long been raging between France’s public intellectuals regarding Israel/Palestine and the question of anti-Semitism. From Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1946 Anti-Semite and Jew to Jacques Derrida’s “Interpretations at War” to Blanchot’s The Writing of the Disaster, France—the country with the largest population of Jews and Arabs in Europe—has been fertile ground for these public debates. Even amongst philosophical allies positions have been fragmented; Deleuze expressed his support for the Palestinian cause, while Foucault held a strong pro-Israel stance.
Today, however, the debate has turned personal as well as ideological as attacks have been levelled against Alain Badiou, whose outspoken pro-Palestinian position and advocacy of a single state, along with his thoughts on anti-Semitism, have aroused much debate. Leading the charge is Éric Marty, a professor of contemporary literature at the University of Paris-7 and the author of Une querelle avec Alain Badiou, philosophe (2007). Marty had begun his querelle with Badiou as early as 2000 when he criticized Badiou for his enthusiasm for the ideas of the Cultural Revolution in China. By 2006 Marty published a full on attack with an article titled ‘Alain Badiou: the Future of a Negation’ in Les temps modernes. The ‘querelle’ continued with Badiou’s response to Marty titled ‘The Word “Jew” and the Sycophant’, in his book POLEMICS. Reflections on Anti-Semitism, a book co-authored with Eric Hazan and Ivan Segré, set out to definitively dispel all accusations of anti-Semitism against Badiou.
Still, in July, the debate heated up once more with the publication of Gérard Bensussan’s article in Libération titled, ‘The far Left has done what the far Right only dreamed of.’ There Bensussan, a professor of philosophy at the Université Marc Bloch in Strasbourg, charges Badiou and the far left critics of Israel with helping to restore anti-Semitic sentiments in France.
Below are several responses to Bensussan’s article. The first is Badiou’s retort followed by a response by Cécile Winter, the author of the essay 'The Master-Signifier of the New Aryans', which is published in Polemics. The final response comes from Ivan Segré, a Talmudic scholar and co-author with Badiou of Reflections on Anti-Semitism.
The forms anti-Semitism takes today in France are very varied, and often have little or nothing in common. Since the Second World War, anti-Semitism has no longer been supported in France by a certain abject consensus (which in the 1930s was even shared by many celebrated writers, such as Céline). It persists in the form of disparate minorities, some publicly active, others concealed.
One of the signal features of our era is the re-emergence of the 'sacred' in all its different guises, from New Age paganism to the emerging religious sensitivity within cultural and political theory.
Verso has published for many years a range of critical accounts of Christianity and the broader issues of religion, belief and faith. Here, in conjunction with the publication of Pier Paolo Pasolini's St Paul, Verso presents a Radical Christianity reading list.
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).