I have only begun to think this through, so maybe it will turn out to be entirely wrong — but I think that Badiou essentially belongs in the series of “left Heideggerians” that includes Agamben and Nancy. As far as I understand it, the big point that supposedly separates Badiou from Heidegger is that Badiou embraces the infinite while Heidegger is stuck with the pathos of finitude. Yet I think there are nonetheless very significant structural similarities and that this distinction isn’t doing as much work to distance Badiou from Heidegger as he thinks.
Obviously there’s the Event. More importantly — and it took Agamben to really make me see this as I was rereading Being and Time this summer — there is the emphasis on potentiality over actuality. Badiou claims that set theory allows us to grasp the infinite (and hence the infinite potentiality the Event brings in its train) and secularize it, but Heidegger was already thinking in terms of grasping pure potentiality as such in being-toward-death. And the seemingly inevitable betrayal of the Event, along with its emergence out of what is present without being represented, seems to bear strong structural affinities with the primordial “forgetting of Being” and truth as “un-concealment,” etc.
One might also risk an analogy with Heidegger’s political judgment. Just as Heidegger can gesture toward an “inner truth and greatness of National Socialism” that was betrayed, it seems that Badiou is comfortable embracing his chosen political Truth-Events in almost a perverse denial of their practical outcome. His piece in The Idea of Communism is a case in point, where he bizarrely denounces Khrushchev for not remaining faithful to Stalin’s terrorist violence and claims that Mao was developing the more authentic critique of the cult of personality [sic!]. Similarly, the moment of austere revolutionary truth in the Cultural Revolution seems much more important than the seemingly total nihilism of how the “event” actually unfolded.
Two considerations, given my philosophical sympathies:
- I know someone is going to come along and say, “But isn’t Zizek the exact same way?” — but I make the case in Zizek and Theology that this kind of empty revolution for revolution’s sake is exactly what he’s trying to get past through his encounter with Badiou and his rereading of Christian origins. In general, as long as I’ve been writing about Zizek I’ve been concerned to demonstrate his distance from Badiou, to whom he seems to me to stand in a Derrida-to-Levinas type of relationship.
- How can I have such sympathy for Agamben but such an allergy (I must confess!) to Badiou, though both stand within the same basic trajectory according to this post? I think it’s Agamben’s reticence with regard to proposing solutions, his focus on critique. Certainly there’s a sense in which his project is hugely arrogant, etc., but he does show a countervailing humility in not proposing that he knows (in anything more than the most formal terms) how to solve the problems he diagnoses and in not insisting that he can isolate some kind of pure authenticity in any of the “positive” examples he investigates (he evinces no anxiety about finding some kind “pure Paul” that then gets abused in the development of the economy of salvation in early Catholicism, for instance, and he’s quite happy to admit that the Franciscans were probably doomed to sell out from day one).
Of course, plenty of people read Agamben as proposing all kinds of solutions, just as they read Zizek as all but a popularizer of Badiou, so who knows?