Fifty years ago, on 16 May 1966 Communist leader Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution. Badiou's apparently "unrepentant" Maoism has been one of the most controversial, if misinterpreted, elements of his thought. Badiou is interviewed on the question by an anonymous Chinese philosopher, maintaining that Mao continues to provide a model for dialectical thought, if not for a historical project. Visit LEAP to read the original piece in full.
ILLUSTRATION / Wang Buke
A Dialogue Between a Chinese Philosopher and a French Philosopher
Some time ago, French philosopher (and venerable Maoist) Alain Badiou traveled to China to speak to a Chinese philosopher. Though his or her name appears to have been lost in the ashes of time, the transcript of this alleged meeting remains, and bears a noted resemblance to a series of conversations Badiou had with Lu Xinghua, a contentious proponent of the theorization of Chinese contemporary art. A restaging of this dialogue this past December in New York, with an actress as the skeptical interlocutor, provided a window into Continental philosophy’s most ardent Orientalist fantasies—and an hour or two of solid dialectical entertainment.
This essay was first published in Ballast. Translated by David Broder.
There are three kinds of conception of the novelistic. There is what we could call the official lineage, which the academy presents as the history of the French novel, proceeding by way of Stendhal and Flaubert. Here, the novel is the narrative, the capturing of the real, in a rapid, narrative and stylised prose. Then there is the current that I would call the tendency of great totalisations: the novel has the objective of capturing the spirit and the uniformity of an era, of constructing a sort of vast universe in which the spirit of the time takes hold, like in an orchestra. I would include Balzac in this totalising current — and it was perhaps him who invented it, with his La Comédie humaine — as well as Zola, perhaps Proust, and Martin du Gard. Then there is a third current, which is rarely recognised as officially making up part of the history of the novel (more than a current in itself, it is a sort of space apart, a freak case). In this current we have a certain number of freak novels: Rousseau’s Julie, or the New Heloise, Chateaubriand’s Mémoires d’outre-tombe and Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. Three literary freaks. We don’t really know how they should be classified. We have the epistolary Julie, or the New Heloise, which is today little studied or read, whereas in the eighteenth century it was an extraordinary best-seller. We have the Mémoires d’outre-tombe, which is a novel only in that we know that Chateaubriand was just recounting what he wanted to (and with many of his wonderful stories, it is doubtful whether they are real). But we can, ultimately, take it as a magnificent historical and personal novel. And we have Les Misérables, which we will concern ourselves with here.