Badiou and the possible

Badiou’s second criterion for how an event can be said to be political has to do with its relation to the infinite. From “Politics as Truth Procedure”:

Politics summons or exhibits the infinity of the situation. Every politics of emancipation rejects finitude, rejects ‘being towards death.’ Since a politics includes in the situation the thought of all, it is engaged in rendering explicit the subjective infinity of situations.

Of course, every situation is ontologically infinite. But only politics summons this infinity immediately, as subjective universality. […] [P]olitics treats the infinite as such according to the principle of the same, the egalitarian principle. This is its point of departure: the situation is open, never closed, and the possible affects its immanent subjective infinity. We will say that the numericality of the political procedure has the infinite as its first term; whereas for love this first term is one; for science the void; and for art a finite number. The infinite comes into play in every truth procedure, but only in politics does it take first place. This is because only in politics is deliberation about the possible (and hence about the infinity of the situation) constitutive of the process itself.

For Badiou, the event, the political event in our case, is a subtraction from the situation (also called, in other works of Badiou’s, place or structure — he uses these terms interchangeably). Subtraction creates change and novelty by interrupting the ceaseless repetition of the structure. However, subtraction is not a making autonomous or the enacting of a complete separation, as the event still has a connection to the structure, which is how it maintains access to the infinite. Without being able to summon this infinity, a political event would be impossible, since “deliberation about the possible (and hence about the infinity of the situation) [is] constitutive of the process itself.”

Badiou is more or less silent on how subtractions are enacted, that is, on how change and newness are introduced — at least from what I’ve read of him, but keep in mind I haven’t yet read Being and Event — but I think we can look at his conception of the possible to provide at least part of an answer. Or rather, we can turn to Deleuze’s counterposing of the possible and the virtual to elucidate some features of Badiou’s concept of the possible, and of his politics.

In his various discussions of the virtual — none of which I have in front of me now, unfortunately — Deleuze used the concept to describe how transformation is possible without the intervention of an active subjectivity, of consciousness. For Deleuze, the virtual, as I understand it, is a sort of shadow to the actual, a set of real but not yet existing potentialities that can combine with the actual to create new existences, new actualities that can neither be predicted nor are determined by either the virtual or the actual; that is, their combination is contingent and aleatory. The virtual allows true novelty. The possible, on the other hand, Deleuze describes as essentially empty. It can’t be credited with any creative powers because it refers merely to the identity of a thing rather than to its actuality; it can’t enact or explain novelty because it merely mirrors the real and has no existence in itself.

His assertion that the political event summons the infinite notwithstanding, Badiou’s account of transformation is of the possible not the virtual, as Deleuze sees it. I think this is so for at least a couple of reasons. For one, it remains tied to the identity of things and overlooks how they function and how these functions can change (I hope to make it clearer how this is so when I get to Badiou’s relation to the state and the party). Second, and more relevantly for now, a summoning of the infinite cannot in itself be said to be political, as a politics would need to reckon with exclusions and limits. That is, in his discussion of the “deliberation of the infinite,” Badiou often forgets the deliberation and utilizes the infinite. In this way, he shares a lot more with pluralist and tolerant liberalism than he would like to believe (again, I’ll comment on this in the future).

In sum, then, Badiou can’t account for asubjectivist, preindividualist transformation. Which is another way of saying that the only means I can see for logically describing novelty and newness is through a political subject that is, as he puts it elsewhere, charged with “deciding the undecidable.” Again, and even though Badiou specifically abjures the revolutionary, the party, and class consciousness, a heroic decisionism becomes the basis for politics.


One thought on “Badiou and the possible

  1. Hi, Im from Melbourne.

    Please find a radical assessment of the state of Western “culture” via these related references.




    Plus related references on the origins & consequences of the above.


    Plus a unique understanding of “paul” of the “new” testament.


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