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“France’s greatest export”: Alain Badiou and The Adventure of French Philosophy

Tessa Morrison 5 July 2012

In his review for Prospect of The Adventure of French Philosophy by Alain Badiou, Jonathan Rée poses the question as to whether French philosophy is the country’s greatest export. Rée briefly details the rich history of what Badiou calls the “French moment” in contemporary thought. Focusing on Jean-Paul Sartre, Rée suggests that his and the work of other French theorists has always been received by the English speaking world with “a certain streak of madness.” Whilst the article locates Badiou as ‘the latest in the line of French philosophy professors who have had global greatness thrust upon them,’ Rée also states:

… in one respect at least, he defies the stereotype: he is a Mr Valiant-for-Truth, a believer in invariant external verities, and a born-again Platonist, committed to philosophy as “the discipline of the concept,” and mathematics as the revelation of reality.

Certainly, Badiou’s thinking is extraordinary, the kind that makes others sit up and take notice – so much so that Rée deems it necessary to warn readers:

No doubt about it: French philosophy still has a kick in it, and it can still turn heads. You have been warned.

Visit Prospect to read the review in full.

Referring to his new book, The Adventure of French Philosophy, in an interview with the Guardian’s Stuart Jeffries, Alain Badiou also identifies philosophy as the country’s greatest export. Jeffries writes:

In a new book of essays entitled The Adventure of French Philosophy, Badiou argues that between the appearance of Sartre's Being and Nothingness in 1943 and the publication of Deleuze and Guattari's What Is Philosophy? in 1991, French philosophy enjoyed a golden age akin to classical Greece or Enlightenment Germany. Badiou's great fortune was to be part of that adventure. Like wine and cheese, French philosophy should, he says, be considered part of France's glory. "I tell our ambassadors you have with us philosophers the greatest export product."

Badiou also discusses love as a changing concept, which, as he considers many other aspects of modern life to have done so too, has become a “consumer product.” Jeffries explains:

Love is, in many respects, the opposite of sex. Love, for Badiou, is what follows a deranging chance eruption in one's life. He puts it philosophically: "The absolute contingency of the encounter takes on the appearance of destiny. The declaration of love marks the transition from chance to destiny and that's why it is so perilous and so burdened with a kind of horrifying stage fright." Love's work consists in conquering that fright. Badiou cites Mallarmé, who saw poetry as "chance defeated word by word". A loving relationship is similar. "In love, fidelity signifies this extended victory: the randomness of an encounter defeated day after day through the invention of what will endure," writes Badiou.

But this encomium to creative fidelity surely shows Badiou to be
a man out of his time. "In Paris now half of couples don't stay together more than five years," he says. "I think it's sad because I don't think many of these people know the joy of love. They know sexual pleasure – but we all know what Lacan said about sexual pleasure." 

Also detailed in the interview are Badiou’s theories on the subject and his outré conception of truth, which led Slavoj Žižek to hail him as a great philosopher, writing that “a figure like Plato or Hegel walks here among us.” Badiou discusses with Jeffries his “overwhelming ambition,” which he states has been to change the relationship between workers and intellectuals:

"For me what was especially important from May 1968 to 1980 was that we created new political forms of organisations linking intellectuals and workers. Those links helped me reinvent myself as a human subject. One could say that attempt failed, but I keep dazzling memories of that time." Badiou's eyes gleam as if he's recalling an old love affair he can never forget, still less disown. Perhaps politics and love are not, if you're a French Maoist, so very different.

Visit the Guardian to read the interview in full.


Filed under: interviews, reviews