Building Education for the Commons
GCAS Interview with Daniel Tutt on Badiou and Philosophy–To register and study with Alain Badiou & Daniel Tutt please follow this link: https://globalcenterforadvancedstudies.org/gcas-badiou-and-philosophy-series/
January 11, 2015
Q: What is your relationship with Alain Badiou?
Daniel Tutt: I am a student of Alain Badiou. After attending a couple of his seminars at the European Graduate School, I asked if he would advise my dissertation and he agreed. During the process of working on my dissertation, which looked at the question of community and subjectivity in contemporary thought, I put together the idea of making a film about philosophy, inspired largely by Badiou’s thought. Film is a really long and often-brutal process of discovery, and this film is still ongoing, but Badiou agreed early on to be interviewed for the film. This film is looking at what philosophers have to say about the return of massive social struggles, riots and protests around the world, from Occupy and Ferguson to movements in China, the Middle East and South America. If philosophy cannot speak to these struggles, what is it good for? Badiou’s thought certainly provides a formidable system for thinking these struggles.
Q: What do you find most compelling about Badiou’s work?
DT: I was first drawn to Badiou’s work through my reading of Lacan. Lacan helped me understand how desire and enjoyment operate at the social level and this helped me to see the world in a way that was much more dynamic than many of the liberal philosophy I was exposed to as an undergraduate. Lacan’s thought also gave me a framework for examining my own subjectivity in a way that has always felt deeply real and challenging. I became interested in psychoanalysis and began to read Freud and Lacan and as much secondary literature I could get my hands on. I joined the Lacanian forum where I live in Washington, DC. I started and failed my own psychoanalysis. But through this failure I realized that for me psychoanalysis is something that is deeply woven into my theoretical account of the world and it has since really been a part of who I am.
Badiou has a maxim that says one must pass through Lacan (if such a thing is possible) to arrive at the significance of philosophy. This is something I really resonated with. Implicit in this maxim is that Lacan performs a deep interrogation of philosophy such that the contemporary philosopher will never think ontology, truth and being quite the same after having taken Lacan seriously. I believe this is true but I also believe that Lacan is too often seen as being surpassable. Many thinkers today aren’t willing to give Lacan’s seminars, and particularly some of his more obscure late work, the time that it warrants. I’m not claiming that I have reached a resolution on certain questions in Lacan’s work. I think the best Lacanians will always see certain things that Lacan opened up as ongoing and subject to shifts based on the social link in a given time. For example, the question of the capitalist discourse is clearly at a new level of functionality in today’s neoliberalism, despite the fact that Lacan was always wary of invoking it. Similarly, the question of jouissance is another major concept that never quite gets resolution in Lacan.
Badiou’s reading of Lacan, ever since Theory of the Subject, has been refreshing and singular. Badiou expands upon many of the political and ethical weak points in Lacan’s vision. I once asked Badiou how he would characterize the difference between his theory of the subject and Lacan’s idea. He stated that in Lacan’s idea of the subject, you still have a theory of the individual at work. Whereas for Badiou, the subject is always a becoming subject composed of the material of the individual but always beyond the individual. So where the subject ends in psychoanalysis – at the end of the psychoanalytic cure – the Badiouian subject in fidelity to the event begins.
I’m particularly interested in understanding this post evental subject at the level of affect and fidelity to the truth. How is our relation to a particular truth that seized us at a certain moment sustained in a procedure over time? This is where Badiou’s thought becomes incredibly useful for a range of questions. We have all had truths seize us. As David Foster Wallace said, “the truth will set you free, but not until it is finished with you.” In his book on St. Paul, Badiou demonstrates that the truth is what made St. Paul and it’s not that St. Paul made the truth. If it were the latter then truth would be an object and hence it would be a type of knowledge, but Badiou’s conception of truth is different than that. A subject is caught in fidelity to an event and is dependent on the truth and the subject inside this procedure, inside this world, approximates the truth, he or she does not invent the truth. I find this framework for thinking truth and the subject extremely helpful, and the elaboration of the four conditions of art, science, politics and love present us with four concrete sites of interpretive intervention into history and the contemporary world. I think some of the most interesting work that will be done on Badiou will be historiographies that incorporate his system of thinking. Since Theory of the Subject to his more present work in The Rebirth of History, Badiou has been very interested in Marxist periodization and there is a lot of work to be done from an historical perspective using his framework of thinking.
Q: How would you describe the impact Badiou has made on philosophy?
DT: At the moment, I think Badiou’s contribution to the field of philosophy is twofold. First, I think Badiou opens up thinking and philosophy for many young philosophers today. Particularly for people who have affinity to the continental tradition, but not only here, his thought is often seen as a necessary passageway to thinking independently and to gaining some access point to contemporary philosophy. Many thinkers today find relief from the stale and vapid nature of academic philosophy in his thought. Despite the systematic nature of Badiou’s thought and the way that many of his concepts are presented as mathematical proofs, there are many open and ongoing areas of Badiouian research and philosophy. His thought feels highly collaborative. For example, many people that study with Badiou will ask him which areas of his work that he sees as under-developed, and he will often respond with an invitation to pursue different areas of thinking. I think many Badiouian thinkers have begun to move from his thought in novel ways and even invent new approaches to thinking, Meillasoux, Ray Brassier and Peter Hallward are all good examples of young philosophers who have now begun to really make significant philosophical marks and they have moved beyond writing chiefly about Badiou. This tells me that there is something very democratic and open about his teaching. There is a counter-democratic trend occurring in regards to Badiou’s thought with three to four published anti-Badiou books, some from contemporaries and some from disciples of Badiou. I think these books are interesting such as Mehdi Belhaj Kacem’s work, despite its highly Oedipal and almost violent break with Badiou. Perhaps we can say that Badiou’s thought, like any system of thought, lends itself to mis-readings and even misunderstanding and that this is a consequence of the originality of his work.
Secondly, I think that Badiou’s contribution to post-Leninism and leftist thought will be seen as very significant in the future. We often forget how central his reading of Marx and his engagement with the wider Marxist radical tradition really is. Since the early 200’0s, Badiou has maintained a very well established reputation in Anglo-American continental and activist philosophy circles and I believe that it is within this wider community of scholars where his thought is taken most seriously. However, because Badiou is a militant and remains committed to the political truth of May 68 and its consequences, his reputation in analytic departments in Anglo-American philosophy is often misunderstood or intentionally ignored. As is well known, most academic philosophy is in fact very conservative today and sees political interventions as somehow anathema to what philosophy is about.
Many analytic philosophers, and even some in continental departments, dismiss or don’t take the time to read Badiou’s work due to the formidable time and care that it often demands. But in the future I think his thought will begin to seep into disciplines outside of philosophy including literature, which was where Badiou himself got his start as a novelist. His creative interventions into cinema, theater, contemporary art, political events and even music all indicate that his influence will be read widely in these fields outside of philosophy. Similar to what happened with Lacan’s popularity in comparative literature, it is possible that the long-term influence of Badiou may be felt more in these disciplines outside of academic philosophy. There have been countless philosophers whose reputations within the often-conservative field of philosophy were only felt after their death. Nietzsche and Spinoza come to mind.
Q: Your doing a Philosophy Series with The Global Center for Advanced Studies (GCAS), what is that about?
DT: Yes, the course is entitled “Badiou and Philosophy.” It is a three part series that started last fall, 2014. We are offering a certificate in Badiou Studies for students that take part. We began with a course that looked closely at Badiou’s first major philosophical text, Theory of the Subject and on through his more recent political thought and his ethics. This winter we will have a lecture and Q and A by Badiou followed by a few follow-up discussion sessions. In the spring we will look at the topic of philosophy and anti-philosophy and read the great antiphilosophers Nietzsche, Pascal, Kierkegaard and Lacan and try to gain a better understanding of this field.
Q: Will Badiou be part of the series?
DT: Yes, in fact he will offer his first lecture for the series this January 25th and then will follow it up with a Q and A on February 8th.
Q: What are the qualifications a student needs to take part in the series?
DT: The course is open to undergraduates and graduate students as well as students interested in learning about Badiou’s work and critical theory more generally. We have a goal of making this an accessible course but also a course where students are serious and committed enough to do very close readings of his texts and examine and apply his thought to a number of fields today.
Q: What courses will you be teaching at GCAS in the future?
DT: This winter I will also offer a symposium on “Understanding Social Struggles Today” that will feature lectures from Joshua Clover on the return of riots. The philosopher Farhang Erfani will also lecture on the legacy of Ernesto Laclau and how Laclau’s theories apply to social struggles today. The symposium will have a number of other thinkers and activists lecture. It will be free and open to the larger GCAS community. I will also teach media studies courses in the future and I am very interested in offering a course on the philosophy of community.
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Daniel Tutt is a philosopher, filmmaker and interfaith activist. Daniel received his Ph.D. from the European Graduate School in August 2014, where he studied continental philosophy, media studies, and psychoanalysis. His dissertation invokes the concept of community in contemporary continental philosophy through a comparative analysis of four influential thinkers including Alain Badiou (advisor and chair of dissertation), Slavoj Žižek, Ernesto Laclau and Jean-Luc Nancy. He is the Director and Co-Producer of a documentary film in the making entitled “Insurrections” that explores the role of philosophy and thinking since the period of intensified rioting and protests beginning in August of 2010 in London and then continuing to Arab regions, before igniting in the Occupy Wall Street movements globally. The film will feature interviews with important thinkers in philosophy today, including Jodi Dean, Alain Badiou, Cornel West and Farhang Erfani. It will additionally interview leading activists from different parts of the world who played prominent roles in insurrections.