Badiou might seem like an odd choice for a seminar in technology and rhetoric; his thoughts on the former (at least in this reading) are restricted to bemoaning Heidegger’s critique of “the essence of technology” (which for Badiou is largely important as a critique of “science” proper) and suggesting that the real “problem” of/with technology is how it has been “bridled” by capitalism, and, as is particularly apparent in the two essays added to the English translation of Manifesto, his stance on rhetoric is less than favorable. I would suggest, however, that Badiou’s intervention into the contemporary (as of the 1980s) state of philosophy and critical theory is important, perhaps even essential, to our course itinerary, for at least two reasons.
The first has to do with Badiou’s particular mode of engaging the (long) history of philosophy and (short) history of critical theory. Although Badiou explicitly connects his own thinking here with that of Platonic metaphysics, the vintage of philosophical though that has been being slowly overturned at least since Nietzsche and that, at least for Badiou, saw its last vestiges disappear through the wholesale adoption of Heidegger as a starting point for contemporary critical inquiry, it might be equally argued that his work also harkens back to the commonplaces of structuralism, the strain of critical thought more recently challenged by “poststructuralist philosophy” and “postmodern theory,” in its attempt to posit “forms” that persist and structure processes irregardless of their content. Importantly (and perhaps somewhat ironically, given Badiou’s interest in fidelity as a concept) Badiou’s method here cannot be described as anything like a doctrinaire or homodox appropriation of these earlier modes. Rather, his work in Manifesto reads much like a series of attempts to “do” these modes differently, or, more specifically, to mix objectives and strategies that are usually exclusive to one side of the pairings of structuralism/poststructuralism, philosophy/critical theory, analytic philosophy/continental philosophy, ontology/sociality, etc.
Most generally, Badiou navigates an fairly unique course between (vulgar) versions of traditional metaphysics that would insist on stable and transhistorical notions of such categories as truth, subject(ivity), and being, and contemporary theories of contextual contingency, social construction, performativity, etc., that would emphasize the “always already” artificial nature or these items, or there existence in a constant state of flux. In many ways, Badiou reverses our traditional sequence for approaching questions of truth and the subject. The primary (as in first) question for Badiou is not whether the common vectors of philosophy (truth, subject, etc.) “exist,” but whether philosophy itself is possible. Thus, as he writes, he does not “claim that philosophy is possible at every moment” but seeks a “general examination of the conditions under which it is possible, in accordance with its destination” (31). Making philosophy itself contingent or immanent (rather than posing contingency as the enemy of a transcendental metaphysics), Badiou is able to move questions about truth from the field of the “veridical” (questions about statements of fact, the consideration of non-contradiction, or about definition of “knowledge,” etc.) and instead focus of how “truths” (about the possibility of politics, about the cosmology of the world, about the nature of love, etc.) have emerged, been maintained, and produced subjects in accordance to them.
By identifying “procedures” through which truths are created and can be tested, and, in particular, through his emphasis on mathematics as a meta-model for pursuing question of identity, consistency, and relation, Badiou “borrows” (in at least a sense) the tools more commonly associated with analytical philosophy, but uses them in pursuit of the topics (non-veridical truths) more commonly associated with contemporary continental philosophy, or, more importantly for Badiou, the metaphysical tradition running from Plato to Descartes to what he calls the “Modern Period” of philosophy wherein concerns about the subject and of subjectivity dominated. We might also remark on a strange admixture of the (method of) metaphysics and (the aims of) critical theory through which liberatory/emancipatory role usually assigned to (post-Frankfurt School) critical theory is claimed by Badiou by positioned as the outcome of the tools of the metaphysical traditions that CT was originally meant to correct. Similarly, Badiou’s method might be taken as the inverse of Heidegger’s similar attempt to reinvent metaphysics: rather than seeing Plato as the beginning of a decline in this tradition, Badiou takes him as the starting point; rather critiquing the “mathematicization” of philosophy, Badiou sees something vital in applying mathematical frames to the traditional questions of metaphysics. To give just one more example, although Badiou has harsh words for the dominance of “language” or “poetics” in contemporary (1980s) philosophy and CT (or, more precisely, the tendency to use linguistic or discursive commonplaces as interpretive models for culture, thought, etc.), his definition of “truth” ends up following one of the most popular variations on this topic: performativity. “Truth” is “performative” for Badiou in the sense that it is maintained by the active fidelity (something similar to, but perhaps also more than, belief) of individuals, but Badiou sees nothing in this situation that makes truths privative or somehow inauthentic (as is typically the case with performative theories based on linguistic models).
To sum up rather broadly, the question Badiou poses to contemporary critical thought might be not so much whether “originary” philosophy can be returned to its Platonic origins but rather philosophy can be rethought as the very thing Plato doubted it could ever be: a techne. More precisely, Badiou presses us to consider whether a “technical system” or procedures and processes can be grafted onto social and cultural practices without one somehow necessarily triumphing over the other, or, perhaps even more specifically, whether questions of ontology, ethics, and truth can be identified as well created through a praxis of procedures, determinations, and strategies. Given our interest in this course as rereading the intertwined histories of logos and techne before and after their separation in Greek Antiquity, this will also be a central question for us. Another question we might pose is whether philosophy already is, or already was before Plato, a techne, but only insofar as it was/is not philosophy and was/is rhetoric.
This, of course, brings us to the second reason Badiou’s work is relevant to the concerns of our seminar. Badiou’s disaffection for rhetoric is actually fairly mild when put in the context of other ways the discipline has been defined/treated in the philosophical tradition. For Badiou, sophistry (in its original and present day forms) is not so much the enemy of philosophy (though it does seem to be treated that way by him at times) as it is a necessary (but inferior) partner that pressures philosophy to define and defend “itself.” Although in the essays that follow the Manifesto in our edition Badiou seems to take this relationship to be an essential one, his more recently published excerpt from his “hypertranslation” of The Republic (“Silencing the Sophists”) goes rather further in suggesting that sophistry can be bade good riddance once philosophy has adequately defined itself (and guess who is going to accomplish that objective?). Overall, we might take Badiou as bring up both the earliest and most recent ways rhetoric has been put in an inferior position to philosophy, which we call, to be dramatic, “The Six Betrayals of Rhetoric,” starting with the Platonic disavowal and ending with the more contemporary moment in which contemporary critical theorists and rhetorical scholars themselves have prized rhetoric precisely for role in “undermining” philosophy (follow this link for a prezi visualization of the six waves). This tradition, and the ways in which it might be rethought by making a claim to a “first rhetoric” the same way Badiou and others have returned to the “first” philosophies of ontology and ethics will also be a concern or us this semester.
ON TAP FOR NEXT WEEK:
- ASSIGNMENTS: Read Rotman’s Becoming Beside Ourselves (and bring your response to same to class with you next week). Fun fact: before BBO was published, Rotman delivered a talk based on its first chapter right hear @ WSU as part of the DeRoy Lecture Series. You weren’t there? If only there was some way you had access to it now. But wait, you do! (Although if you’ve already read BBO you’ll realize the irony of reading this talk rather than seeing it in person.)
- STUFF TO LOOK FORWARD: What’s sexier than the parahuman? How about the TRANSHUMAN!!! And, if you think you can face it, be exposed to THE FUTURE OF FORGETTING!!
YOUR MOMENT OF ZEN:
* In (somewhat confused, perhaps) reference to Badiou’s interest in sequence, how the event disrupts that which came before it, and the emergence of the subject.