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Five Lessons on Wagner

A leading radical intellectual tackles the many controversial interpretations of Wagner’s work.
For over a century, Richard Wagner’s music has been the subject of intense debate among philosophers, many of whom have attacked its ideological—some say racist and reactionary—underpinnings. In this major new work, Alain Badiou, radical philosopher and keen Wagner enthusiast, offers a detailed reading of the critical responses to the composer’s work, which include Adorno’s writings on the composer and Wagner’s recuperation by Nazism as well as more recent readings by Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and others. Slavoj Zizek provides an afterword, and both philosophers make a passionate case for re-examining the relevance of Wagner to the contemporary world.

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  • Alain Badiou's "anti-Semitism": Badiou, Segré, and Winter respond to the current accusations in France

    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. 


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  • "A present defaults – unless the crowd declares itself": Alain Badiou on Ukraine, Egypt and finitude



    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).

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  • Fredric Jameson on Wagner, affects, and the Übermensch


    Most theorists have treaded down the road of Wagnerian analysis, most famously Theodor Adorno in In Search of Wagner, most recently Alain Badiou in Five Lessons on Wagner, and of course Slavoj Žižek. Fredric Jameson is no exception. In a talk available on Youtube and held in December 2012, Allegory and Dramaturgy in Wagner, Jameson offered a profuse analysis of Wagner’s operas, discussing the emergence of affects in World culture as well as questions of temporality, revolution, and unrepresentability through Wagner’s work.

    Jameson starts by attempting to sketch the emergence of affects on the World culture scene. Affects, Jameson reminds us, are bodily states and therefore nameless, as opposed to emotions, which are “reified states of consciousness”. As “the body [was] scarcely registered in literature” prior to the middle of 19th century, affects were not yet available to authors as a means of expression.

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Other books by Alain Badiou Translated by Susan Spitzer Afterword by Slavoj Žižek