Badiou — where is agency?

It’s ironic that Badiou criticizes Delueze for having a subject with no agency when Being and Event is written almost entirely in the passive voice. Furthermore, he seems to be doing more phenomenology than he would like to admit. He describes the event, but, paradoxically, by describing the event and it’s conditions, he may be inadvertently giving those subjects, who read his book and would like an event, the poison and not the cure.

For Badiou, it would appear that event has far more agency than the subject; the subject only carries out what the event has prescribed. Now, given this, is a subject’s awareness of evental conditions something that hinders or facilitates an event? I can see a few options.

  1. Badiou might say that the event is so powerful that it won’t matter whether a subject is ready or not.
  2. The awareness of these conditions facilitate the event because one can try and organize multiples accordingly.
  3. Trying to calculate and manipulate multiples is antithetical to the production of an event because an event cannot be calculated. For instance, I’m told that there are many revolutionaries who try to calculate the perfect time for an event, but because they are so intentional in their readyness for the event, they are never sure whether “this is it!” until the revolution had already taken place. To put it differently, those who were grabbed by an event were not thinking “make an event happen” but “make X happen.”
  4. Badiou might say that these calculative revolutionaries might have just had the wrong calculative apparatus.
  5. On 219, Badiou praises Pascal for saying that the “miracles (events beyond proof)” are what founds a subject’s belief.  Badiou condemns, in the name of Pascal, those nihilist libertines/pessimistic French Moralists who try and produce a Christian subject — that is, produce an event in a subject — by presenting a chaotic and desolate picture of the world. The subject has two choices: ultimate despair (atheism) or life (Christianity). In this sense, a subject can try and push themselves to an extreme, engaging in self-destructive activities until they are either pushed over the edge or until they experience an event. One could almost say that this is the real meaning of “the cast of the die” in  Mallarmé’s poem. If one wants to push it further, one could say that participating in “only a little bit of self-destructive behavior” is only carried out because the subject wants to feel like they have control over their mortality: “I can push myself off the edge if I want to. See! Look at me! I’ve done this little bit of self-destructive behavior.” Once this activity is completed, they go back to their normal lives, and occasionally flirt with their mortality. But it there is never a true interaction with death and finitude. One might say that because they are not faithful enough to their nihilistic event (say, a day or two of utter despair which resulted from a few unfortunate encounters, death of a loved one, etc.) their fidelity is only spontaneous. In this sense, to provoke a conversion via nihilism is always a failed enterprise because an event names something positive and self-referential, which does not exist because one sees the evil in the alternative.
    Anyone have thoughts on whether a subject has more agency than an event, if so, in what way?
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About JoeL

I completed a Master of Music degree from McGill University. I am currently working towards an Artist Diploma also at McGill. I like to do philosophy as a hobby.

One thought on “Badiou — where is agency?

  1. I like this line of inquiry – a lot. Seems to me these are the questions we need to ask of Badiou. I guess another way to put it is that if the event is what founds the subject, to what extent does the subject exceed its own founding? Unfortunately I am not the person to be able to answer this question in Badiouian terms

    – “he may be inadvertently giving those subjects, who read his book and would like an event, the poison and not the cure.” Can you say a bit more about this? What’s the poison?

    – I realize that you’re compiling a list, not making arguments, but the classic counter-example to #3 would be the Bolshevik revolution, which (I believe) Badiou holds up as a positive example.

    Like

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