Comments to Maddalena Cerrato’s “A Place for Danger and Salvation” and Jaime Rodríguez Mato’s “On the Age of the Poets: Towards a Different Relation with the Sacred.” MLA Conference, January 2021.

Karl Marx famously said at some point in the Grundrisse that “all economy is an economy of time.”  I think that is intuitively graspable and finally quite accurate.  But I do not think we have come to terms with the ensuing possibility that, therefore, all politics are and must finally be a politics of time.  It is hard to think about it, in other words, it is not simple to unpack the thought, to pursue it and open it up, but it may be the most important political or metapolitical condition for any political practice geared to emancipation.  

I thought of starting my comments with that proposal because, while my aim is not at all to end them with some renewed call for another politics, for a new form of politics, for an “other” politics as the true suture of philosophy, I remain sensitive to Badiou’s understanding of politics as one of the conditions of philosophy, and not just today, but in its history.  So politics are not to be dismissed.  Which does not mean they must be given a unique status as the very vortex of thinking, the dead center of what is to be thought, etc.   I think this issue—we could call it, the issue of the proper or necessarily unstable status of politics in the task of thought—is central to Badiou’s ideas concerning both Antiphilosophy and the Age of the Poets. 

So, let me quote for you two passages from the end of Ernesto Laclau’s Emancipation(s) , the first of which is as close to the contemporary justification of the political suture of thought as any we might find elsewhere.  Here is the first quote: 

The metaphysical discourse of the West is coming to an end, and philosophy in its twilight has performed, through the great names of the century, a last service for us: the deconstruction of its own terrain and the creation of the conditions for its own impossibility.  Let us think, for instance, of Derrida’s undecidables.  Once undecidability has reached the ground itself, once the organization of a certain camp is governed by a hegemonic decision—hegemonic because it is not objectively determined, because different decisions were also possible—the realm of philosophy comes to an end and the realm of politics begins.  (123)

Well, we could say these words of Laclau are not so much a suture of philosophy to politics as they are a liquidation of philosophy, but things are not so simple.  The task of thought at the end of philosophy is still the task of thought, and it is not the task of politics.  What Laclau is actually saying is that thought is only viable today as political thought—and this is the fundamental suture.  Shared by so many figures in the contemporary public sphere. 

But the second quote introduces, within that context, an even more disquieting possibility: 

Someone who is confronted with Auschwitz and has the moral courage to admit the contingency of her own beliefs, instead of seeking refuge in religious or rationalistic myths is, I think, a profoundly heroic and tragic figure.  This will be a hero of a new type who has still not been entirely created by our culture, but one whose creation is absolutely necessary if our time is going to live up to its most radical and exhilarating possibilities.  (123)

Those are the last words of the book, which means that they are all we get.  And yet there is so much to unpack in them.  First, the reference to Auschwitz might carry within of course a reference to Theodor Adorno’s question about poetry after Auschwitz and it might also carry the totality of Paul Celan’s work.  And it might indeed carry a hidden connection to Badiou’s notion of the Age of the Poets.  Certainly in an antiphilosophical context, which is the one indicated by the first quote.   So—what is Laclau saying?  He is calling for the creation of a new type of hero, which would be a tragical hero.  The development of this ideal type, the new tragic hero, is “necessary” for our time to “live up to its most radical and exhilarating possibilities.”  This new tragic hero does not succumb to any kind of “religious or rationalistic” myths, but understands the radical contingency of “her own beliefs” in the face of the destruction of metaphysics, if that is ultimately what Auschwitz stands for.   I would say, then, that Laclau is actually calling for a poetic hero, a new poetic and antiphilosophical hero for whom politics is a field of display, a field of engagement, in a contingent, unstable, and therefore radically free, hence tragic, way.  This is a curious appeal to an existential positioning that is not frequently found in Laclau’s work. 

What would Badiou have to say about this new tragic hero whose ideal type we can only postulate in a yet undetermined way?   Let me now turn to Maddalena Cerrato and Jaime Rodríguez Matos’s papers. 

Jaime’s overall concern is ciphered in the last lines of Agamben’s words in the epigraph, namely, “metaphysics has not been surpassed, but reigns in its most absolute form.”  I take it that Jaime is not accusing either Badiou or indeed Laclau of having unwittingly fallen into that dark pit, but I also take it that Jaime wishes to raise that very question:  how is it that Badiou, or Laclau, may avoid falling into that pit?  Particularly as, Jaime says, “the return of philosophy . . . has only given way to the return of the political suture of philosophy under the guise of a heightened consciousness of historicity” (“On the Age of the Poets” 3). 

Jaime displays the conflict internal to Badiou’s work as a conflict between what he calls the need to maintain “the category of the subject” over against the “vain nostalgia for the sacred.”   Badiou “the evildoer” attacks both Heideggerianism, in the form of Jean-Luc Nancy’s work concerning the thought of the future, but also a fortiori Laclau’s notion of the new type of hero that we have not yet been able to create.  Indeed, it would seem as if “the vain nostalgia for the sacred” inspires those two options for tragic thought. 

Jaime’s move is to confront Badiou with his own limit, which is his refusal to take on the thought of the ontico-ontological difference.   For Jaime, Badiou’s affirmation of the end of the Age of the Poets, in the name of a re-affirmation of the subject of philosophy, is premised on a disavowal of the ontico-ontological difference.  But we could say that the very disavowal is then disavowed through Badiou’s notion of the “unnameable.”  It is not then Badiou but rather the Badiouans who would proceed to a third version of the disavowal, by denouncing the inconsistency of the notion of the “unnameable” in terms of a final political affirmation in fidelity to the event, which is first and last an affirmation of the subject to truth. 

Jaime brings up Heidegger’s essay from the 1950s, “The Principle of Identity,” in order to critique the too facile dismissal of a thought reduced to “a vain nostalgia for the sacred.”  Jaime of course leaves it there, suggesting that a non-metaphysical reinterpretation of Parmenides’  identification of thinking and being, their mutual co-belonging, cannot be dismissed as a mere postponement of thought.  Indeed, that the danger is on the other side of the equation: on the positing of the new subject to truth as merely the other side of the God of philosophy. 

Maddalena’s paper starts right there, by stating that both “the age of the poets” and “antiphilosophy” are conceptual operators whose mission, accomplished through a form of self-dismantiling, is helping to “organize philosophy in an ordered, that is to say, onto-theological way, as a locus of thinking or a space of thought where truths are stated” (“A Place for Danger” 1).  The conceptual operators, in Badiou’s hands, reach “significant analytical value” but only to be ultimately compromised by the overarching search for philosophical “mastery” (1). 

The context for the claim to mastery is, paradoxically, a freeing of philosophy from its conditions, which requires a fundamental de-suturing.   This call for liberation, for the liberation of philosophy, not from its conditions, but from any unilateral suturing to its conditions, is the key issue.  The question is then whether it can be done without any phantom re-suturing of the kind Jaime warns against.   Since the suture to poetry is still said to be alive in the post-Heideggerian philosophical configuration—naturally, Derrida, Lacoue-Labarthe, Nancy, and Heidegger through them if not the other way around–, then the suture to poetry must be explicitly dismantled.  The goal, as Maddalena says, is not the destruction of the poem, but the liberation of philosophy, which would then generate a new possibility for the encounter of the poet and the thinker. 

Those goals would seem unobjectionable to me.  We have had too many poets of the gato por liebre variety as we have had too many philosophers of the same brand.  Destroying that sinister equation would seem a precondition for the development of the new type of the tragic hero Laclau calls for.   The question here, however, is whether philosophy can survive the de-suturing without an immediate plunge into the suturing political condition of the kind Laclau invokes, or more than invokes. 

Maddalena’s critical move consists in showing the unavowed second-order Heideggerianism implicit in both the postulate of the Age of the Poets and the thought of antiphilosophy.  Taking her basis on Hölderlin’s verses from the Patmos Elegy, “where the danger is, there grows the power of salvation,” she shows how the reestablishment of philosophy’s mastery, which is its liberation from the suture to its conditions, is predicated on the surpassing of the Age of the Poets and the final abandonment of antiphilosophy from out of the Age of the Poets and from antiphilosophy itself.  In both cases the appeal to a subject of truth is the salvation, but in complex ways that probably remain undetermined, or under-determined, in Badiou’s own thought.  This is why, for instance, Badiou would say, as Maddalena quotes, that “the anti-philosopher Lacan is a condition of the renaissance of philosophy.  A philosophy is possible today, only if it is compossible with Lacan,” who is not just the latest and greatest anti-philosopher for Badiou, where Nietzsche was only its “poor prince,” but also “the anti-philosopher that would bring anti-philosophy to a closure.” 

To return to my own beginning: is the post-antiphilosophical philosophy, then, the place where a new philosophical hero (Badiou´s subject to truth), tragic and poetic, is to be born?   Can this be done without recourse to the final suturing of philosophy to politics Laclau asserted as the epochal condition of our time?

It seems to me these two questions are still open in Badiou, which of course accounts for his greatness.  It also seems to me that the provisional response to those questions must be found in an exploration of the possibility that all politics are ultimately a politics of time.   But this, for me the political question of our time—can it be answered from philosophy or is an answer to it possible only from the kind of antiphilosophy that assumes the risk and the challenge of its own time, of its own epochality, which first of all means that it needs to be conceived as an existential act, and an entrance into autographic inscription, into a decision of singular existence? 

I would like to finish my comments by bringing in Vincenzo Vitiello’s Oblio e memoria del Sacro, but, alas, there is no time.  I will do it soon as a note in this blog. 

“A place for danger and salvation” Notes for the MLA 2021 PANEL: ANTI-PHILOSOPHY AND THE AGE OF POETS

Both ‘the age of poets’ and ‘antiphilosophy’ are categories that refer to Badiou’s concern with the possibility and the future of philosophy, understood as “the locus of thinking wherein the ‘there are’ truths is stated” (141). There is some conceptual overlapping between the two categories, which Badiou seem not to have directly addressed (but maybe this depends on my lack of systematic knowledge of Badiou’s extensive production). Yet even more important seem to me the logical analogies in the way Badiou turns to the ‘the age of poets’ and ‘antiphilosophy’ as philosophical categories, or conceptual operators – as he says in the Manifesto – to organize philosophy in an ordered, that is to say, onto-theological way, as a locus of thinking or a space of thought where truths are stated.  Given Badiou’s topological mode of thought [beside my own], they make me think of some of those contemporary phenomena of distortions   and displacement of borders in the sense of Möbius-strip-like topological transformation. In a sense, both seem ways through which the philosopher reclaims his mastery over the territory of thinking, exercising his sovereignty in modified ways that reach out well into the border zones (externalization or borders, buffer zones, …) with other ways of thinking…that are posing a challenge to philosophical order yet also offering the locus for its salvation. In this perspective, my point is that while both categories seem to have a significant analytical value, that value seems to be lost or significantly compromised when taken in the context of Badiou’s argument for the future of philosophy, namely its mastery.

So, I am going to try to look briefly into each category and into those analogies.

In the Manifesto for Philosophy (1989), Badiou presents philosophy as an exercise of thinking  that trough a reflecting torsion intervenes to order the four procedure of truth (mathematical-scientific, political-historic, poetic-artistic, love) that are its own conditions in a unified conceptual space sui generis that is the space of truth for the thinking of its time.

Philosophy seizes truths. This seizing is its act. By this act, philosophy declares that there are truths, and works in such a way as to have thought seized by this ‘there are’. The seizure by the act testify the unity of thought. (142)

Using conceptual operators, philosophy seizes and configures the truth procedures in a historical and hierarchical organization that chooses the paradigm of one of those procedures as “main referent for the deployment of the compossibility of the conditions” (41). Each period of philosophy corresponds to one of such configurations establishing one condition as dominant, that is, transforming into a common place for its own time the singular additional-naming  that served as point of departure for that truth procedure. A free play of the compossible conditions guarantees the possibility of establishing a criterion of passage between configurations, unless it gets blocked by the suture of philosophy with one of its conditions.

Starting with Hegel (this is the ongoing problem to which his manifesto is responding), modern philosophy is dominated by different sutures. These are first and foremost the positivist suture to the scientific condition and the Marxist suture to the political (and then also scientific) condition, in opposition to which a suture with the poetic condition emerges, as a reaction, starting with Nietzsche and after Nietzsche.[1]

“What culminated with Heidegger is the anti-positivist and anti-Marxist effort to put philosophy in the hands of the poem” (68).

In this perspective, what is at stake for Badiou is the de-suturation of philosophy from its conditions through a philosophical gesture of historical configuration of a conceptual space where those conditions are gathered and ordered in “their disparate simultaneity” (37). And since the last poetic suture is the one still vital (not yet ossified in a purely institutional or academic suture), what is mostly at the stake for him is confronting the poeticizing suture and, so, confronting Heidegger.

The key of such a confrontation – Badiou seems to indicate – is understanding what has given to such a suture its power. “Who were the poets? and what did they think  when philosophy was loosing its own space, saturated as it was to the matheme and the revolutionary politics?” (67). These questions – which are asking for the situation and for the event of naming that set in place the dominion of the poetic procedure of truth – are closing the Manifesto’s chapter on “Sutures” that immediately precede the one on “The age of Poets”…

So, “The Age of Poets” is Badiou’s answer.

The age of the poets is a philosophical category. It organizes a particular way of conceiving the knot tying the poem to philosophy, which is such that this knot becomes visible from the point of view of philosophy itself. ‘Age’ refers to an epochal situation of philosophy; and ‘poets’ refers to the poem as condition, since the earliest times, of philosophy. I call ‘age of the poets’ the moment proper to the history of philosophy in which the latter is sutured–that is to say, delegated or subjected to a single one of its conditions. (“The Age of Poets” Loc. 584)

In a time of “absence of free play in philosophy,” some poets (whose work is immediately recognizable as a work of thought) felt submitted to an intellectual pressure to name the epochal contradiction between a sense of disorientation and the progressive orientation of History presented by both the scientific and the political procedures of truth to which philosophy was then sutured.

Through the conceptual operator “The Age of Poets”  and the announcement of its end, Badiou is trying to organize the locus of thinking where truths are stated as a one more step, i.e. a new period, within its modern configuration rather than “a passage through the end.” (32- difference in the ital. translation) What is at stake in the announcement of end of the age of poets is the de-suturation of philosophy from three of its conditions, is the inheritance that the age has left: 

The age of the poets bequeaths to us, in order to liberate philosophy, the imperative of a clarification without totality, a thinking of what is at once dispersed and unseparated, an inhospitable and cold reason, for want of either object or orientation. (“The Age of Poets” Loc. 832)

As Alberto has  clarified in “Alain Badiou’s Age of the Poets,” this has nothing to do with an abjuration of poetry as such, as it is rather a mutual liberation for poetry and philosophy (which is also “the kind of liberation that makes a better encounter possible” (177)).

The Age of poets brought about the suture of philosophy with poetry that “culminates with Heidegger”(66). Heidegger, on the one hand, learned[2] from the age of poets the lessons of the disorientation of history and the destitution of the object, that allows for the overcoming of both the scientific and the political sutures, yet he fell into the same mistake of suturing philosophy with one of its conditions. Badiou uses (actually misuses) as the crucial instrument for the identification of Heidegger with the poeticizing suture the famous Hölderlin’s quote “But where danger is, grows the saving power also” that Heidegger introduces in the conference about “the Question Concerning Technology.” (cfr. Manifesto for Philosophy Ch.4) Here, I would like to argue that the Hölderlin’s quote, which promotes a banalization and, more importantly, a conservative interpretation of Heidegger, actually seems to work much better to summarize Badiou’s logic of thought with respect the Age of Poets as place of thought where the danger of thinking the end of philosophy (Heideggerian common sense) – because which philosophy  today is paralyzed by its relation to its own history – coincides with a place of salvation assuming that one manages to recognize its closure and to receive “the imperative of a clarification without totality” that it bequeaths to us.

Even better than for the age of poets – which had more a temporal rather than a spatial emphasis – Hölderlin’s quote seems to capture quite accurately Badiou’s account of Anti-philosophy.  And the category of antiphilosophy – which is extremely insightful in many ways – seems to me to be undermined by the postulate of topological coincidence of danger and salvation.

At the very beginning of the preface of  Wittgenstein’s Anti-philosophy, Badiou offers to the reader a clear formulation of the teleology behind his use of the category of antiphilosophy:

Among the most interesting philosophers there are those whom I call anti-philosophers, taking my lead form Lacan…The important thing is that I take them to be the awakeners who force the other philosophers not to forget two points. 1- The conditions of philosophy, i.e., the truths to which it bears witness, are always contemporary to it[…]The anti-philosopher recalls for us that a philosopher is a political…; an aesthete…; a lover…; a savant…; […] and that it is in this effervescence, this dis-position, this rebellion, that philosophers produce their cathedrals of ideas. 2-The philosopher assumes the voice of the master… (Wittgenstein’s Anti-philosophy, Preface 67-68)

Both the philosopher and the anti-philosopher belong to philosophy, which means  they are somehow concerned with organizing the space of thought “on the breach of time,” yet their discourses are distinct and so are their acts as well as their tasks and roles. [which Badiou interprets from the perspective of rescuing philosophy from the risk of forgetting its own stakes]

For anti-philosophers what is at stake is an act that is radically different from philosophical discourse because it is not of the order of truth.  The anti-philosophical disposition of thought is marked by three main joint operations (see Wittgenstein 75): (1) – “the destitution of philosophy’s theoretical pretension” that takes the form of discrediting the category of truth (2) the exposure of the real nature of philosophical operations constituting the philosophical act which are concealed by philosophy itself. (3) and, finally, the appeal to a different kind of act, a radical new act that destroys the philosophical act.

Anti-philosophical discourse announces the new act and prepares its place.  The anti-philosopher is a philosopher whose discourse is directed to the topological task of establishing a place for a new form of thought. Unlike the philosophical act, the new anti-philosophical act (archi-political for Nietzsche; archi-aesthetic for Wittgenstein; and archi-scientific for Lacan) is meant to destroy the philosophical act and depends on an autographic inscription of the antiphilosopher in the act itself. And the act presents itself as a therapeutic treatment to cure people/humanity, i.e. someone other than the philosopher, from philosophy and the harmful philosophical category of truth. 

“A true anti-philosophy is always an apparatus of thought that is intended to tear someone – Badiou’s counter-figure – away from the philosophers, to remove him from their influence” (69)

To cure humanity from the harmful philosophical “truths,” to establish a new place of thought outside philosophy,  anti-philosophy needs to expose philosophy to its limits. This way though, the anti-philosopher awakes “the other philosophers,” forcing them to reestablish their own philosophical task.  The philosopher is called back to reassert philosophy’s sovereignty over the territory of thought and over its own conditions, over the generic procedure of truth. The philosopher is reminded he needs “assume[s] the voice of the master…”

So, Badiou the philosopher, assumes the voice of the master in that he recognizes and faces the challenge[3] coming from those philosophers drawing the boundaries and establishing a separate territory within philosophy where to confine the antiphilosopher’s heretic act. He accomplishes the task of re-configuring the order of “the locus of thinking wherein the ‘there are’ truths is stated” separating the borderlands of antiphilosophy on which, though, he still claims sovereignty through the topographical operation of establishing the place of confinement, as well as, through the determination of the parameters for its historical dialectical overcoming. As for the “Age of Poets,” Badiou turns here to a topos of historical self-closure, which is also the topos of a figurative externalization of the border understood, at the same time, as an assertion of sovereignty and as a protection from the danger and disorder of the borderland. This is Lacan, to whom Badiou dedicates the ‘94-’95 seminar. Lacan calling himself an anti-philosopher offers an additional signifier to philosophy (i.e. to Badiou) “to propose a unified conceptual space in which naming takes place of events that serve as point of departure for  truth procedures” (Manifesto 37). Yet, more importantly, Lacan is the anti-philosopher that would bring anti-philosophy to a closure.

In the Manifesto for Philosophy: “…the anti-philosopher Lacan is a condition of the renaissance of philosophy. A philosophy is possible today, only if it is compossible with Lacan” (84).

[1]  Badiou is a little ambiguous on whether the suture actually starts with Nietzsche or if he is just marking the path of the dominion of the poetic condition to which other would them try to suture philosophy

[2]  “What gave potency to Heidegger’s thinking was to have crossed the strictly philosophical critique of objectivity with its poetic destitution”(73)

[3]   It is in this perspective that Badiou dedicates three seminar to three modern “anti-philosophers” Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and Lacan, but he is consistent in repeating that the list is actually longer (including Pascal, Rousseau, Kierkegaard..) and that actually antiphilosophy can be traced back certainly to Saint Paul but maybe all the way to Diogenes and Heraclitus… [Heidegger is not explicitly listed among them – which gives margins for different interpretations (Peter Hallward says “(Heidegger himself, of course, is most easily read as an anti- philosophical thinker)” (20), while Bruno Bosteels denies it …)

On the Age of the Poets: Towards a Different Relation with the Sacred. By Jaime Rodríguez Matos

MLA: 7 January 2021

Today we live on that extreme fringe of metaphysics where it returns—as nihilism—to its own negative foundation (to its Ab-grund, its own ungroundedness). If casting the foundation into the abyss does not … reveal … the proper dwelling of humanity, but is limited to demonstrating the abyss of Sigé [silence], then metaphysics has not been surpassed, but reigns in its most absolute form …. (Agamben)

I want to start with an epigraph from Language and Death: The Place of Negativity, one of Giorgio Agamben’s early books (1982). But I want to preface it by revealing that I was reminded of this passage recently in reading an article by Matteo Mandarini, which I came across while working on a paper on Alberto Moreiras’ recent publications. In both Moreiras’ work and in Mandarini’s article the central problem is the way in which twentieth century Italian thought, in trying to grapple with the destruction of metaphysics yields to different active ways of persisting on the marginalization of the ontological difference, and the peculiarly difficult negative and positive status of being in its relational difference with beings. That is, there is a double movement which, on the one hand, entails the good faith traversal of Heideggerian and Nietzschean insights (sometimes even under the aegis of a more Heideggerian than Heidegger himself kind of militancy) which ends up producing, on the other hand, the paradoxical result of a more consummate forgetting of Being—to use Heidegger’s jargon. The issue is not limited to Italian thought by any means. Post-foundationalisms of all sorts drown in these waters. Agamben’s text reads:

Today we live on that extreme fringe of metaphysics where it returns—as nihilism—to its own negative foundation (to its Ab-grund, its own ungroundedness). If casting the foundation into the abyss does not … reveal … the proper dwelling of humanity, but is limited to demonstrating the abyss of Sigé [silence], then metaphysics has not been surpassed, but reigns in its most absolute form …. (Agamben 53; Mandarini 43)

(I leave aside the issue of nihilism for the moment.) Revealing the proper dwelling of humanity I understand, in Moreiras’ terms, as revealing a “life … without being, life without bios, which is only accessible in the abyssal relation which is itself the necessary consequence of the affirmation of the death of God,” and which would be the “the possibility and therefore the necessity of the experience of … a resacralization of life, and its remembrance” (Moreiras Infrapolítica. Instrucciones de uso 36). Here “resacralization” can mean anything but orthodox religiosity—in fact, it is a marker of the death of God. And this is very far from the passive, apolitical, silent apathy that is often ascribed to thought tracking the outside of metaphysics, but which, within Agamben’s text, can be recast as the “absolute form” of metaphysics. Elsewhere, Moreiras describes it as “the practical compromise in each case with an existential decision that would rescue our time and would prepare, in the long run, a new administration of the time that we have in common, which would merit the name of a new politics” (Sosiego siniestro 126). And I think this is not incompatible with what Badiou proposes when he writes in “Poetry and Communism” that poetic communism is “to sing the certainty that humanity is right to create a world in which the treasure of simple life will be preserved peacefully” (The Age of Poets 103). Perhaps this compatibility explains why, despite all the obvious differences, Moreiras closes a recent set of meditations undertaken during the first months of the pandemic by using Badiou’s work, and the notion of the age of the poets in particular, to argue that the post-foundational politics of Ernesto Laclau’s theory of hegemony ultimately produce a disaster as it seeks the to fill the void of the social, thus providing a ground for the groundless that would then be the sacred incarnation of the Name (124-125). Such would be the result of attempting to surpass the age of the poets via the age of politics, an age that Laclau declares explicitly in On Populist Reason (Laclau 222).

Badiou’s framing of antiphilosophy and the age of the poets remains one of the most powerful ways of broaching the issue of post-foundationalism and foundations in our time.  The idea of an oriented representation of disorientation (exactly what the poets of the age of the poets sought to undermine) remains at the heart of much of what goes by the name not only of philosophy but of theory as a whole—and the theory of hegemony is a good case in point. In fact, the return of philosophy, which has not happened in a convincing way, has only given way to the return of the political suture of philosophy under the guise of a heightened consciousness of historicity, but of a historicity that is only the prerogative to foundational claims, even if those claims have to traverse the abyss revealed by the ontological difference. Philosophy itself should have been able to “conceptualize disorientation” (Manifesto… 74). And the issues of this conditioning of philosophy by the poem will be the central concern in what followis. Without a doubt, Heidegger is one of the crucial philosophical opponents for Badiou in such a conceptualization; but it is also clear that the reach of Heidegger’s philosophical power remains palpable (for some even threatening, as we will see) within it, particularly in the work of the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s. Badiou’s philosophy proposes, in a way that is not simply dialectical, to swallow Heidegger and move beyond him while acknowledging his “success in philosophically touching an unnoticed point of thought detained in poetic language” during the age of the poets (Badiou Conditions 36). It should not be a surprise that, particularly when it comes to the relation between philosophy and poetry, Badiou seems very near to Heidegger. In an important sense, the end of the age of poets means not that we no longer take the poem seriously, but that it is not the only condition for philosophy.

Yet, we indeed inhabit that extreme fringe of metaphysics where it returns—as nihilism—to its own negative foundation (to its Ab-grund, its own ungroundedness). And Badiou’s thought is not only at its most Heideggerian when it comes to the poem, but also, and here the nearness is also the greatest distance (and not in a good way), at its most denegationist regarding his own de-suturing aims.  The aim, for me, is not to unveil this or that incoherence in Badiou’s edifice. In fact, for all of the inconsistencies I rely on work that has been well-known and well-received already (Riera, Lecercle, Macherey, Rancière, Bosteels). I will limit my offering today to sketching, barely, what remains a working hypothesis regarding the need to reconsider how we mobilize our (a-theist) militancy in the face of the death of a God that we never see in our own work but always in that of others.  By this I do not intend anything close to a return of god or making a place for theology. I simply mean to begin the exploration of a stumbling block that is everywhere in twentieth century thought. It is, for instance, registered in Mandarini’s article mentioned above as the struggle with the mystical in Italian negative thought (e.g., Cacciari).


The age of the poets, as a philosophical category, comes into play within a wider argument that seeks to declare that—despite the significance of the deconstruction of metaphysics, the end of philosophy and the dismantling of the grand narratives of Modernity—the category of the subject, however reconfigured, must be maintained. Philosophy, given over to its own defeat, had not been “in level terms with Capital, since it has left the field open, to it most intimate point, to vain nostalgia for the sacred” (Manifesto… 58). Philosophy has fallen prey to sutures. And vain nostalgia for the sacred is the most dangerous effect of the poetic suture.

At this point, it would be unnecessary to remind anyone of Badiou’s moves in orchestrating the (re)turn of philosophy itself, so I will not attempt even a cursory summary of the architecture of his doctrine. I offer instead a text that cuts to the heart of the issue with post-Heideggerian thought.  It is a passage from a text in which Badiou, in the most loving way possible praises Jean-Luc Nancy, a text in which Badiou claims that given how loved by all Nancy is within the philosophical community, he is tempted to simply be something of an evildoer. It is important to stress this respect and admiration as the context of the passage regarding their philosophical differences.

“… above all, Jean-Luc Nancy more so than many others, more so than myself, is in a refined sense the last communist. It is he and nobody else who writes, not in 1960 or 1 970 but in 1991 that “Communism, without doubt, is the archaic name of a thinking which is still entirely to come.”  Oh, how I fraternally salute this statement! I nonetheless try one last time to be an evildoer. “A thinking which is still entirely to come”! How irritating this post-Heideggerian style of the perpetual announcement, this interminable to-come, this kind of laicized propheticism which does not cease declaring that we are not yet in a position to think what there is to think, this pathos of the having-to-respond for being, this God who is lacking, this waiting in front of the abyss, this posing of the gaze that looks deep into the fog and says that the indistinct can be seen coming! How I feel like saying: ‘Listen, if this thinking is still entirely to come, come back to see us when one piece of it at least will have arrived!'” (Badiou The Adventure of French Philosophy 70).

The age of poets is the sublimated, philosophically correct, way of addressing the issue here broached in good humor but in the guise of the evildoer. The poetic suture is nothing if it isn’t also this irritating post-Heideggerian style. That we are not yet in a position to think what there is to think should be re-stated in the following terms: the age of poets is posited by Badiou in order to avoid thinking what there is to be thought: that the God of philosophy refuses to die; that the abyss is not in front of us but right under our feet …. But also, that perhaps in the militancy against any form of what the tradition has left us under the names of the mystical or the sacred can also be one of the shadows that will remain with us for millennia and that Nietzsche decried in The Gay Science when he first spoke of the death of god (Bk. III, 108). Moreover, can we really argue about communism taking on the “to come” versus the future anterior of the Idea? I simply note the displacement: not the ontological difference, but the relationship between poetry and philosophy is what is at issue with Heidegger in Badiou’s thought, and this troping of the ontological difference will have a price. “What will become of the poem after Heidegger, after the age of poets?,” Badiou asks; the answer: “The poets will tell us, and they actually already have, since to de-suture philosophy and poetry, to leave Heidegger behind without returning to aesthetics, is also to think otherwise that from which the poem proceeds, to think it in its operative distance, and not in its myth” (Conditions 40).

They will tell us or we will tell them that they have already told us, but always only what we are able to hear and that only, particularly when they have already done some of the philosophical legwork for us. One can opt for calling Heidegger’s thought poetic just as Heidegger himself opted for naming  the “poetic” Antigone’s manner of “becoming homely within being” (Heidegger Hölderlin’s Hymn “The Ister” 117). More so if we take into account that it is precisely the ontological difference and the re-casting of the relation being/thought that is at issue in that 1942 reading (see Moreiras Infrapolítica. Instrucciones de uso 68-69). But whatever one decides in that regard, it remains that Badiou’s the age of the poets is here to put an end to it. And that this task is perhaps more arduous than we thought. That there is something off in the way Badiou seems to relate condition and conditioned has been noted forcefully already by among others Gabriel Reira and Bruno Bosteels. Bosteels most radically: “the intraphilosophical apparatus seems to lead to a hypostasis of the pure event or commencement as such, thanks to the philosopheme of selftheorization—with poetry providing the theory of its own eventality” (218). Bosteels further notes that Badiou self-diagnoses dogmatism in this “rather large amount of philosophical appropriation of the condition” (218). One will get to de-stuture, but at the risk of dogmatism: one possible term Badiou will use for describing not what happens when a condition takes over the whole of thought, but for the consequences of the radical appropriation of the condition by philosophy.


The consequence of this all-too Heideggerian echo is a restriction concerning the unnamable. Bosteels: “Why should we “stand up to the test of an unnamable point to begin with? Why should thinking … recognize its impotence before this empty symbol of the pure real …?” (194). Bosteels recognizes that within Badiou’s doctrine this point is a safeguard against the deformation of fidelity to the event, or against the possibility of pseudo-events that devolve into terror and disaster. (And this is precisely the point that Moreiras was leaning on in movilizing Badiou against Laclau.) The reaction here is not strictly philosophical or theoretical. It hinges, rather, on a specific reading of the historical situation which marks how other might mis-read Badiou and prompts the following warning from Bosteels against two possible risks:

“the notion of a necessary impasse risks falling short of [Badiou’s] own thinking all the while aligning [him] with … radical thought that takes its inspiration from Heidegger and Lacan …. A second risk is that the unnameable operates only as a kind of point in reserve, from which perspective any subjective procedure of truth could be read as always already involving a disaster. … [… T]he postulate of the unnameable can always lead back to the transcendent presentation of a measure beyond measure, or of a ground without any bottom. Indeed, does assuming the unnameable in order to stop evil not mean proposing an insuperable limit to aIl generic thinking of truth? … In other words, we should look to it to make sure that the notion of the unnameable does not become the supporting base for a new nihilist definition of ethics, that is to say, a definition that would start from the avoidance of disaster as the sole reference point of truth.” (195)

This resistance to the unnamable is registered once more in the presentation to “the age of the poets” that Bosteels coauthored with Emily Apter, in which the conclusion makes the poem say what the unnamable limits: “ultimately, poetry and prose after the age of the poets testify to the possibility and even the necessity that we do not remain silent about that of which we cannot speak” (Apter and Bosteels xxxv). The reference here is obviously to the mystical in Wittgenstein’s sense. The least possible charitable way of reading this overstepping of the limit would be to decry it as a militant affirmation of the mystical experience, even if in a denegated form. The aim of the text seems to be rather to reject as nihilism any directive that may stand in the way of a world-changing fidelity by placing too much emphasis on the limits of the sayable. From the point of view of that denunciation of nihilism, the highest being annihilated is the possible new politics of communism. And it would be tempting to see in this only a political theology. But what if the issue is rather with a misdiagnosed or misunderstood notion of sacralization? And what if clearing that up moves the conversation in a different direction entirely?

Consider Heidegger at his most vulnerable when it comes to the accusation of sacralization. In Identity and Difference, in the context of re-imagining what the principle of identity might mean were we to see the ontological difference as difference, Heidegger explains that the deity enters philosophy when the difference between being and being is taken as the ground plan in the structure of metaphysics; Being then is generative ground. This ground then needs to be accounted for by that for which it accounts, which is by the causation through the supremely original matter—the cause as causa sui. “This is the right name for the god of philosophy;” and we cannot pray to or dace before this god (Identity … 72). And here it is here that Heidegger declares that: “The god-less thinking which must abandon the god of philosophy … is thus perhaps closer to the divine God. Here this means only: god-less thinking is more open to Him than onto-theo-logic would like to admit” (72).

The ontological difference is a difficult notion to pin down. It is beyond me to even begin to outline it now. But we can say, provisionally, that the co-belonging of Being and beings of god-less thinking is not a promise or yet to come, it is not a mystical experience any more than we could claim that it is mysticism to say, with Badiou that “there exists a proof of communism by way of the poem” (108). Nothing here will save us from the serious and real difficulties that ensue in thinking our radical ungroundedness, but perhaps a site is thus cleared for a different kind of listening.


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