“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 …)

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