I have read some Alain Badiou before, but his short book “Ethics, An Essay on the Understanding of Evil” seems to me to be a good basic introduction and I wanted to capture some basic notes on the key elements as I see them for future reference.
One caveat, I am no Badiou scholar, and my background in philosophy is ropey at best. So if a real philosophy student should stumble across this, please forgive my naivete.
A ‘situation‘ represents the world as it is now. This is the status quo – but also the ground on which radical change can take place. Within this world as it exists ‘knowledge‘ describes how we think that world works.
The ‘void‘ of a situation is the blind spot of the status quo. Something that exists as a gap or a hole that does not form part of existing knowledge. The world as it is does not see this void and cannot address it.
An ‘event‘ is the key break in a situation – in the current state of things – that opens the possibility of radical change. An ephemeral things which but one which has high impact, it
“brings to pass ‘something other’ than the situation, opinions, instituted knowledges; the event is a hazardous, unpredictable supplement, which vanishes as soon as it appears;”
(Badiou 2012, p.67)
An event ‘forces‘ knowledge to change, causes both a rapid and a radical development of what we think we know about the way the world works.
The ‘subject‘ is then not an isolated individual or some kind of subject of history. Rather subjects are ordinary individuals who are faithful to an event and to the truth it brings into being. They then cease to be ‘mortal’ individuals and instead realise their potential to be ‘immortal’. Despite the slightly opaque language I read this as reflecting the impact of the radical break represented by an event, something that changes how people see the world and react to it. For example, after the Russian Revolution, for a long time the working class outside Russia saw their struggle within capitalism in a different light. This subject therefore does not exist before the event.
‘Fidelity‘ represents the ongoing and continuing break in the situation. Subjects who stay true to the event are faithful to it, and their fidelity is what drives the truth-process.
‘Truth‘ and a ‘truth-process‘ is then a description of the complete process. That is subjects acting in the situation but faithful to an event which drives radical change. Truth is used in the sense of ‘holding true’ to something.
There are four specific categories which Badiou sees as being subject to this procedure: politics, art, love, and science, and it is possible fairly easily to think of examples of ‘events’ and the influence that they hold over subsequent history – the revolutions of 1789 and 1917 being the most obvious in the political arena where you can see their influence echoing through subsequent history well beyond the actual historic events. The influence of both revolutions on subsequent radical struggle is clear to see.
I think this way of thinking provides a powerful way of describing progressive movements and how the driving forces behind radical change are created and perpetuated. Time to re-read Badiou’s “The Communist Hypothesis“.
Badiou, Alain Ethics, An Essay on the Understanding of Evil (Verso, London, 2012)