Those of us who work with philosophy can exult in the unparalleled rigor and logical gymnastics of Badiou's principal texts, but we can also rejoice in the fact that we can discuss these ideas with laymen, relevant as they are to our common fate as denizens of this belated world. I believe that this attests both to Badiou's belief in the universal transmissibility of truth (no flirting with the mystical aesthetics of silence and the ineffable here) and his insistence upon philosophy's universal, indiscriminate mode of address: "As a fiction of knowledge, philosophy imitates the matheme. As a fiction of art, it imitates the poem. As the intensity of an act, it is like a love without object. Addressed to all so that all may be in seizing the existence of truths, it is like a political strategy with no stakes in power." Poised upon the edge of the rancorous polemos (I would say that it is a philosopher's ETHICAL OBLIGATION to polemicize today) and erotic desire, Badiou is one of our most passionate proselytes today, an affirmative force akin to the likes of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Marx, Sartre and Deleuze.
So, what's new? I believe that Badiou's Lacanian schema of the Communist Idea supplies the clearest expression of his materialist dialectic yet. It is also interesting that Badiou explicitly raises the Althusserian subject of ideology for the first time since his earliest texts. Put simply, the Communist Idea is a Borromean Knot that interfaces the Real of politics and the Symbolic regime of history through the medium of an Imaginary, interpellative (ideological) subjectivation. Or, (the unsymbolizble Real of) truth assumes the (Symbolic) structure of (an Imaginary) fiction. The subject process enacts a historical dialectic in which the Symbolic structure of places and knowledges is dis-placed by the exertions of subjective forcing. Emerging in the wake of the evental Real, the dynamic subjective process enters into a singular temporality (that of the future anterior) wherein it is possible to 'force' new bits of knowledge and transform the existing State of the situation, reacting back upon the transcendental logic (structured by its enyclopaedia of knowledges and index of intensities) that it inhabits. It is through an Imaginary identification that the human animal- a bundle of Symbolic predicates and coordinates- enters into the Real of a truth process that takes, as its aim, the transformation of this very Symbolic space. It is this Imaginary identification that makes it possible to treat the Real of its truth through Symbolic statements, incarnating it in transmissible, discursive form. At the same time, this process has a Real of its own- exposed to the Real, it welcomes the irruption of future Events that take it by surprise, revealing new possibilities that were imperceptible from within the limits of its horizon. This simple graphic schema captures, in a very powerful way, the dialectical form of Badiou's theory of the subject. Having reduced the Communist Idea to this formal framework, Badiou proposes to break with the idea of *A* Communist Politics, which would short circuit, in a catastrophically decisive way, the gaps between the Symbolic, the Imaginary and the Real by definitively identifying them with one another.
Does this mean that Badiou unreservedly affirms the Maoist proposal to 'Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom!', a maxim that has been appropriated by 'post-Marxists' of all stripes? Can we say that Badiou has cast in his lot with Laclau and Mouffe, Hardt/Negri and Judith Butler with their affirmations of post-party, hegemonic coalitions which give shelter to a kaleidoscopic plurality of interest groups and particularities? Or is Badiou capitulating to the Derridean expulsion of Marx to the phantasmal margins of the a venir, the sanctuary of messianic daydreams? I believe that all of Badiou's work up to this point would lead us to believe that this is not at all the case. Badiou states, in no uncertain terms, that the task of communism today is to find a form of organization, a rigorous discipline that- having discarded the saturated forms of the State and the party- faces the tasks that our time demands of it. To do so would involve- contrary to post-deconstructive fixations with difference and the impossibility of translation between contexts- the collective construction of the Same, the space of a One that isn't merely a tentative aggregate, a 'network' of differences and weak relations. This is why Badiou is so careful with his theoretical vocabulary- the proper designation for a member of this One is MILITANT.
Also of tremendous interest is Badiou's treatment of the 'cult of personality', which has languished in utter obscurity since Althusser's momentous anti-humanist repudiation of it. Having suffered a prohibition on the side of both the Left and the counter-revolutionary Right (the new philosophers), the texts of Robespierre, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Ho Chi Minh, Guevara, Castro and Mao have been rendered unreadable by decades of censure. Parallel to this is the widespread 'postmodern' tendency to humble its cultural correlates, the artistic avantgardes of the 20th century. A characteristic example of this would be Deleuze and Guattari's juxtaposition of Artaud and Breton, sanctifying the irrepressible 'nomadic' singularity of the former while disparaging the Stalinist, 'paranoiac' authoritarianism of the former. What this operation, which is irreducibly MORAL in nature, obscures is
a) The object of Surrealist activity, which was ultimately to probe the interstices of art and politics without collapsing either pole into the other. Surrealism was, in my eyes, the first great attempt to create a political art that would hold fast to the irreconcilable tension between politics and aesthetics. This required the collective determination of a platform, a line and a shared orientation. All of the great 'pariahs' of Surrealism (Dali, Artaud, Bataille) have been regaled as sovereign singularities humiliated by the inevitable mediocrity of Surrealist conformity. While these figures have my unconditional admiration, and while it must be admitted that they indicated many of the aporiae latent in the Surrealist movement, to take their side without reservations would be the same as backing Kautsky instead of Trotsky, the Central Committee instead of Lenin in 1917, the Mensheviks instead of the Bolsheviks...
b) The internationalist outlook of Surrealism, that cuts transversally across cultural frontiers and gave an inexorable impetus to Negritude and Aime Cesaire...The frenzy of unprecedented collective activity that gave birth to works that, while bearing the proper names of their creators, were really products of communal experimentation (the 'surrealist objects' of Giacometti, Dali, Man Ray and the like, the ventures in automatic writing that would culminate in 'The Immaculate Conception', the paintings of Max Ernst's middle period...)
Read alongside Ranciere's 'Aesthetics and its Discontents', Verso's timely Revolutionaries series and Badiou's own 'The Century', 'The Communist Hypothesis' authorizes us to reconsider the heritage that said century has left us, retrieving it from the occlusion and mystification that generations of petit bourgeois anarchism and neo-conservative liberalism have condemned it to. Central to this re-evaluation of our history is Badiou's emphasis on SEQUENTIALITY and PERIODIZATION, two concepts that allow us to have done with postmodernity's fixation with statistical results (the number of corpses in the Holocaust, the Cultural Revolution, Stalinist collectivization, the Gulags, the insurpassable impasses and sectarianisms of the avantgardes), which always amount to the judgments of the 'neutral observer'. In order to THINK these phenomena and the points at which they led to disaster, it is necessary to reconstruct the interior subjective space that they constituted, to trace the truths that they espoused, to locate the precarious points of decision (bifurcation) that punctuate them, to assess the value of the risks that they ventured. It is only then that we have the right to levy a verdict upon their consequences (consequences that, we must add, can only be properly SEEN from within the interior of these processes).
Supplementing this is Badiou's conception of the 'eternality' of truths, the trans-temporal dimension of a truth process that contradicts the linear flow of historical time. It is this eternity that makes them compossible, susceptible to 're-activation' in the present moment. What this means is that truths can never really perish- there is a dialectic wherein later [chronologically later] truths exert a retroactive effect upon the arrangement and sense of previous truths, but in the last reckoning truths, in their inalienable openness to retrieval and re-activation, constitute a repository of virtual trajectories that can be extrapolated ad infinitum through subjective formalization. These trajectories terminate at certain points because of their betrayal or obfuscation, but they can be re-assumed. Each of these assumptions incarnates a certain SEQUENCE of its actualization. This point becomes especially interesting when we consider Badiou's discussions of the Paris Commune, which postulate a temporal paradox that illuminates all of the deadlocks of Communist politics in the 20th Century. When read chronologically, the Leninist party can be seen to be a response to the shortcomings of the Paris Commune, and the Cultural Revolution can be regarded as a sequence differentiating itself from the inertia of that party form. Three different problematics formed one after another, each taking their point of departure from the limits of the last. What confounds this analysis, Badiou proposes, is that the sequence beginning with Lenin identified the WRONG PROBLEM in the Paris Commune. In an audacious move, Badiou contends that the Paris Commune had already SOLVED a problem that the party-form would find impossible to address on ITS OWN TERMS (ie without ceding its place to the autonomous rule of communes).
This permits Badiou to say that while the Leninist can be seen as an advance in one regard, it was disastrously regressive in another- the Paris Commune had effectively enacted the 'dictatorship of the proletariat', the 'withering away of the State' that the bureaucratic Party apparatus and the Cultural Revolution (mired as it was behind the transcendental horizon of the Party as indispensable locus of revolutionary activity) had failed to accomplish. So, insofar as Badiou holds true to the Communist Idea as the indisputable telos of egalitarian politics, he can propose that we hold fast to the truth manifested/enacted by its 20th century variants, while cutting ourselves loose of their archaic forms. The Cultural Revolution, while commendable in its reinvigoration of mass dissent and autonomous organization against an ossified bureaucratic structure, confronted the immovable transcendental limits of the party form and its conservative mandates. Having exhausted the possibilities of this form, it revealed its ultimate inadequacy. The Paris Commune, having sidestepped this dead-end, deserves to be repeated, re-activated.