«Betteridge, Tom (2016) 'Yes, the century is an ashen sun': poem and subject in the philosophy of Alain Badiou. PhD thesis. ...»
Betteridge, Tom (2016) 'Yes, the century is an ashen sun': poem and
subject in the philosophy of Alain Badiou. PhD thesis.
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The content must not be changed in any way or sold commercially in any format or medium without the formal permission of the Author When referring to this work, full bibliographic details including the author, title, awarding institution and date of the thesis must be given Glasgow Theses Service http://theses.gla.ac.uk/ firstname.lastname@example.org ‘Yes, the century is an ashen sun’:
Poem and Subject in the Philosophy of Alain Badiou Tom Betteridge M.A. M.Litt.
Submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy School of Critical Studies College of Arts University of Glasgow February 2016 ii Abstract This thesis examines the relation between philosophy, the poem and the subject in the mature philosophy of Alain Badiou. It investigates Badiou’s decisive contribution to these questions primarily by means of comparison, especially to Martin Heidegger, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Theodor Adorno, as well as by analysing Badiou’s readings of poems and prose by Paul Celan and Samuel Beckett respectively as sites of potential dialogue with his immediate predecessors. The thesis stresses the importance of French philosophy’s German heritage, emphasising not only Badiou’s radical departure from Heidegger and his legacy, but also the former’s wholesale rejection of philosophies that would, in the wake of twentieth-century violence and beyond, proclaim their own end or completion. The thesis argues Badiou’s innovative readings of Celan and Beckett to be crucial to understanding this endeavour: for Badiou, both writers use the poem to affirm novel conceptions of subjectivity capable of transcending the historical conditions of their presentation. The title quotation from Badiou’s The Century, ‘Yes, the century is an ashen sun’, anticipates both the affirmative nature of these subjective figures, and their presience, beyond the bounds of a twentieth-century ‘ashen sun’ pervaded by melancholy, for the ‘new suns’ of the twenty-first.
The thesis is in four chapters. The first chapter unfolds the central concepts of Badiou’s departure from Heidegger using Paul Celan’s poems to focus the enquiry. It is guided by two of Badiou’s most condensed declarations about the poem, that, firstly, ‘the modern poem harbours a central silence’, and secondly, that ‘Celan completes Heidegger’. The second chapter exposes the political implications of Heidegger’s writings on Friedrich Hölderlin and the role of the subject therein, offering at its close some thoughts about what Badiou calls, following Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, the poem’s ‘becoming-prose’. It concludes by drawing the poem and politics into relation by way of the philosophical category of the subject. The third chapter reads Badiou’s concept of ‘anabasis’ against Heidegger’s ‘homecoming’ in order to think the possibility of a collective political subject’s formation in the wake of Auschwitz. The final chapter examines the imbrication of the Two of love and the ‘latent poem’ in Badiou’s reading of Samuel Beckett’s late prose, contrasting this ‘affirmative’ reading of Beckett to Theodor Adorno’s earlier emphases on negation. Following its investigations of subjectivity, poem and prose throughout, the thesis concludes by returning to the title quotation in order to unfold the particular relations between subject, affirmation and negation Badiou’s philosophy enacts, iii
Acknowledgements My first thanks must go to my supervisors Vassiliki Kolocotroni and Paddy Lyons to whom I am immeasurably grateful for their guidance, solidarity and friendship. This thesis is the fault of Dominic Smith who introduced me to Alain Badiou’s The Century as an impressionable undergraduate. My thanks are due to him, to the late Dudley Knowles, and to Susan Stuart for the kindness they extended to me in the years I teethed studying philosophy. I would also like to extend my thanks to staff in the Department of English Literature, University of Glasgow, my home since 2009, especially to John Coyle, Jane Goldman and Bryony Randall for their inspirational teaching, their commitment and their support, to Alex Benchimol for putting my name forward for a bursary in 2010, and to Christine Ferguson for fighting my corner with various funding bodies since. I am also grateful to Susan Howel for her efforts in assigning me study space, to Cara Berger and Rebecca DeWald, Lil Rose and Andrew Rubens for their invaluable assistance in German and French translation respectively, to Tom Eyers, Benjamin Noys, Nina Power and Ray Brassier who took the time to share their knowledge of Badiou’s work with me, to my friend Lila Matsumoto for the energy she lent to hours discussing Celan, and to Peter Manson for his help sourcing obscure Beckett references.
For their innumerable kindnesses, intellectual stimulation and generosity, I am also grateful to friends old and new. I would especially like to thank: Luke Allan, Jonathan Anderson, Emma Balkind, Amy Bromley, Georgina Bruckner, Liam Casey, Tom Coles, Fabienne Collignon, Anne Laure Coxam, Neil Davidson, Ricky Egan, Barry Esson, Sarah Hayden, Claire Healy, Hannes Hellström, Colin Herd, Amy Hillman, Anneke Kampman, Villy Karagouni, Rob Kiely, Henry King, Jow Lindsay, Michael Marshall, Lila Matsumoto, Neil McGinness, Bryony McIntyre, Nicky Melville, Iain Morrison, Lucy Nicholas, Ash Reid, Ben Reynolds, Graham Riach, Emily Roff, Calum Roger, Lil Rose, Liene Rozīte, Mike Saunders, Jo Shaw, Ollie Southall, Greg Thomas, Samantha Walton, Mark West, Gregory Williams and Tom Varley.
Abbreviations All works by Alain Badiou AP The Age of Poets: And Other Writings on Twentieth-Century Poetry and Prose BE Being and Event BOE Briefings on Existence: A Short Treatise on Transitory Ontology C Conditions E Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil FP The Adventure of French Philosophy HI Handbook of Inaesthetics IT Infinite Thought: Truth and the Return to Philosophy OB On Beckett M Metapolitics MP Manifesto for Philosophy LW Logics of Worlds: Being and Event, 2 PL In Praise of Love PM Philosophy for Militants PP Pocket Pantheon TC The Century TW Theoretical Writings W Five Lessons on Wagner WA Wittgenstein’s Antiphilosophy
Introduction: Philosophy is Possible Today
Recalling one of his early encounters with Richard Wagner’s operas, Alain Badiou offers an arresting image of cultural exchange between France and Germany in the wake of
World War Two:
As early as the summer of 1952, my father, as the Oberbürgermeister of Toulouse, was invited to the ‘New Bayreuth’ under the direction of Wieland Wagner. We travelled through a defeated, dreary Germany that was still in ruins. The sight of these big cities reduced to piles of rubble insidiously prepared us for the disasters of the Ring or the derelictions of Tannhäuser that we would be seeing on the stage. I was enthralled by Wieland’s quasi
productions, which were aimed at doing away with all the ‘Germanic’ particularism that for a time had associated Wagner with the horrors of Nazism.1 Badiou’s father, Raymond Badiou, was a mathematics professor and the mayor of Toulouse from 1944-58, the city’s first following its liberation by the French Resistance in
1944. By naming his father the ‘Oberbürgermeister of Toulouse’, Badiou prefaces his account of Wieland Wagner’s productions by expressing wariness towards this German invitation that would presume to lay claim to French territory despite the latter’s liberation.
Nonetheless, this peculiar nomination offers an interesting figure of paternal heritage:
Badiou’s father is both French leftist mayor of Toulouse and German Oberbürgermeister, and stands therefore as a figure of cultural exchange between France and Germany, a site of reciprocity from which Badiou embarks on his own process of intellectual formation.
For the young Badiou, guided by his father, there is a renewed promise in this exchange, reflected in Wieland Wagner’s ‘quasi-abstract’ productions, unsullied by ‘“Germanic” particularism’.2 Faithful to his ‘maternal heritage’ – Wagner’s operas were Badiou’s mother’s ‘great musical passion’ (W, ix-x) – Badiou’s relation to Wagner is one of reverence, but this is a Wagner ‘rid… of any references to a national mythology’. For Badiou, Wieland Wagner purges his grandfather’s work of what had only ‘for a time… Alain Badiou, Five Lessons on Wagner, trans. Susan Spitzer (London: Verso, 2010), p. ix. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the main body of the text using the abbreviation ‘W’.
Annette Michelson describes Wieland Wagner’s restaging of his grandfather’s operas in the following terms, emphasising his commitment to abstraction: ‘Wieland Wagner, literally sweeping the stage of the debris of nineteenth-century scenography, shaped the Wagnerian performance as a deliberate, ritualized progress across the naked “disc of the world,” enveloping the still, sparse, symbolic groupings of his design with perpetually shifting modulations of light. In so doing, he installed the spatiality of abstraction, its horizon of immensity, its infinite extension of optical depth, thereby confirming and intensifying Wagner’s spectacle as apparitional in character.’ Annette Michelson, ‘Bayreuth: The Centennial “Ring”’, in October, Vol. 14 (Autumn, 1980), pp. 65-70, pp. 66-67.
associated Wagner with the horrors of Nazism’ (W, 5),3 revealing something in these operas capable of persistence beyond the social and historical context of their creation – a provocation to those philosophers and theorists for whom, as Badiou begins to articulate his mature philosophical project thirty years later, the holocaust and its ruins remain a fundamental rupture for thought.4 That Badiou’s guide in the journey above is his leftist, mathematician father is not arbitrary in this respect then, for it anticipates the alternative path Badiou follows out of the ruins: the conjunction of radical politics and the rigorous abstractions of formal mathematics.
The broad context of this thesis is the relation of French philosophy to its German heritage following World War Two. It explores Alain Badiou’s intervention in twentieth-century French philosophy, taking as its focus his decisive break from the continuing importance this latter affords to the work of Martin Heidegger, notoriously a member of the Nazi party from 1933 until its disintegration after World War Two. This thesis’s specific site of enquiry is the new relation Badiou poses between philosophy and the poem, and especially its participation in his attempt to think a category of subject adequate to the demands of contemporary political resistance. Initially exploring these questions through the lens offered by the poems of Paul Celan, who lost his parents to the Holocaust yet maintained an avid interest in Heidegger’s philosophy, this thesis sustains its focus on French philosophy’s relation to Germany by considering at its close Badiou and Theodor W.
Adorno’s respective readings of Samuel Beckett.
Badiou’s philosophical output spans some sixty years, though scholarship today recognises three distinct periods in his philosophy’s development. The early Badiou’s Maoist interventions prior to and immediately following the student and worker-led protests in Paris in May 1968 comprise the first period, reaching its fulfilment and closure with the 1982 publication of Badiou’s Théorie du sujet (translated by Bruno Bosteels and appearing in 2009 as Theory of the Subject). During this period, Badiou’s philosophy is almost exclusively tethered to militant politics, though the continuing importance to Badiou’s project of both Stéphane Mallarmé’s poetry and Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic writing is It is interesting in this regard that Michelson claims Wieland Wagner’s ‘abstractive techniques’ to result in ‘the de-temporalization of the spectacle, or rather the reenforcement of the apparitional as atemporal.’ Michelson, ‘Bayreuth’, p. 67.
Two such figures, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Theodor W. Adorno, are explored at length in chapters two and four of this thesis respectively.
anticipated here too: Badiou dedicates significant portions of Theory of the Subject to Mallarmé and Lacan, ‘The two great modern French dialecticians’.5 The second period is bound to the publication of Badiou’s most influential work to date, L’être et l’événement in 1988, published in English in 2006 as Being and Event (translated by Oliver Feltham). This was followed by prolific publication and translation throughout the nineties and into the twenty-first century of texts in which Badiou sought to explore the
consequences of his magnum opus’s major claims across philosophy’s four ‘conditions’:
art, love, politics and science.6 This period features many of the most influential of his works from an Anglophone perspective,7 including the companion book to Being and Event, Manifesto for Philosophy (1992/1999), the important essay collection Conditions (1992/2008) and the ‘trilogy’ expanding on three of the four conditions (art, politics and science/mathematics), Handbook of Inaesthetics (1998/2005), Metapolitics (1998/2005), and Briefings on Existence: A Short treatise on Transitory Ontology (1998/2006). This Alain Badiou, Theory of the Subject, trans. Bruno Bosteels (London: Continuum, 2009), p. xl.