Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Badiou: Sokal Style Spoof (Canular) of Badiou Studies Hits Le Monde.

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Badiou: raves against ‘Machinations’ Behind Spoof of his Oeuvre. 

Alain Badiou et le réveil de la farce (1) was published over a full page in Le Monde des ideés yesterday (full article only available on-line to subscribers)

It explores the amusing – we are still laughing – hoax carried out on the prestigious Badiou Studies by two genial pranksters  Philippe Huneman and Anouk Barberousse (see:  Un « philosophe français » label rouge. Relecture tripodienne d’Alain Badiou).

Mediapart, reports Badiou being struck by  « l’ignorance totale de [son] œuvre que révèlent les manœuvres de deux ratés de la philosophie qui s’égarent dans leurs minuscules machinations » – the complete ignorance displayed in this work, which revealed the manoeuvres of two philosophical failures engaged in nanoscopic machinations.

The Le Monde article cites one reaction: that the jape was a way of avoiding a serious debate on Badiou’s august philosophy.

It would indeed be a mighty task to do so, but the parody was targeted at the respectful attention ‘cultural studies’ (as Le Monde puts it) gives to anything spread with enough of Badiou’s speculations.

We will simply ask: by what ‘truth procedure” can  anybody impose as a “grid” this ontology, as cited by the admirable Retraction Watch)?

Sets are what gendering processes by reactionary institutions intend to hold, in contradiction to the status of the multiplicities proper to each subject qua subject. This tension between subjectivity and gender comes to the fore through the lens of the ‘count-as-one’, the ontological operator identified by Badiou as the fluid mediator between set-belonging and set-existence. After having specified these ontological preliminaries, this paper will show that the genuine subject of feminism is the “many” that is negatively referred to through the “count-as-one” posited by the gendering of “the” woman.

Badiou is said to have originated his ideas in Althusser’s anti-humanism.

So, regardless of his later use of set-theory (rather than, say Athusser’s ‘Spinozist’ monist ontology of substance) it is “useful” (quotation marks) to ask in what sense is there a “theoretical practice” at work? What  raw material do Badiou and his acolytes employ? Or to put is more clearly: what are their ’empirical’ (more quotation marks) material – their data?

The underlying impression is that Badiou uses a picture of who the world is structured – the ground of existence – which comes from his own head. Assuming that he is not a new Pythagoras and sees numbers in stones and stars (and perhaps refuses to eat beans) one would like to know how this theory relates to the central aspect of Badiou’s politics: not the structures of Events (though we would like to know how their uniqueness is more unforeseeable hapexes, (that is wholly new occurrences, from apparently ‘nowhere’) that is Humean aetiology), but how set theory operates in history, and in the Idea.

Badiou’s “‘pure doctrine of the multiple” (with very obvious echoes of Mao-Tse-Tung’s writings on ‘Dialectics’) presents exactly the problems – that it can be simply imposed on material – that the parody of  Ontology, Neutrality and the Strive for (non) Being (Benedetta Tripodi) was designed to illustrate.

That is, a group of ideas that can be spread without any rigour or regard to reality, in an academic text which ‘consecrates’ the authority of the Master, Badiou.

In case anybody does not believe that  Badiou’s ideas are deeply problematic see the Wikipedia entry.

Badiou uses the axioms of Zermelo–Fraenkel set theory to identify the relationship of being to history, Nature, the State, and God. Most significantly this use means that (as with set theory) there is a strict prohibition on self-belonging; a set cannot contain or belong to itself. This results from the axiom of foundation – or the axiom of regularity – which enacts such a prohibition (cf. p. 190 in Being and Event).


These sets are, in line with constructible ontology, relative to one’s being-in-the-world and one’s being in language (where sets and concepts, such as the concept ‘humanity’, get their names). However, he continues, the dominations themselves are, whilst being relative concepts, not necessarily intrinsic to language and constructible thought; rather one can axiomatically define a domination – in the terms of mathematical ontology – as a set of conditions such that any condition outside the domination is dominated by at least one term inside the domination. One does not necessarily need to refer to constructible language to conceive of a ‘set of dominations’, which he refers to as the indiscernible set, or the generic set. It is therefore, he continues, possible to think beyond the strictures of the relativistic constructible universe of language, by a process Cohen calls forcing. And he concludes in following that while ontology can mark out a space for an inhabitant of the constructible situation to decide upon the indiscernible, it falls to the subject – about which the ontological situation cannot comment – to nominate this indiscernible, this generic point; and thus nominate, and give name to, the undecidable event. Badiou thereby marks out a philosophy by which to refute the apparent relativism or apoliticism in post-structuralist thought.

Let us jump from this can ask: how can we ‘decide upon the undecidable event’, tied by a kind of Sartrean commitment (fidelity)  to the supreme Events of Communism?  What indeed are the Events in question, their concrete structures which leave such deep traces that the furnish the material for his “hypotheses” – of Communism?

In the extremely clear dialogue in Que faire ? Dialogue sur le communisme, le capitalisme et l’avenir de la démocratie, d’Alain Badiou et Marcel Gauchet, (Philosophie Editions 2014) All the set theory, all the set of dominations, all the generic sets, fall away. Badiou simply repeats that, er well, the Revolution and specifically the Chinese Cultural Revolution (given or take some minor quibbles about this or that decision taken at the time), remains a fixed point of reference and hope for Communism.

Since many would strongly dispute that the Cultural Revolution was a Communist Event, the basis on which he elaborates his “communist hypothesis”.  That by contrast it was created by a faction fight between various  nationalist and Stalinist bureaucrats , and the highly dubious ‘communist’ Mao, Badiou has to answer on the terrain of History. As illustrated at length in the writings of  Pierre Ryckmans (28 September 1935 – 11 August 2014), who also used the pen-name Simon Leys, and who had an enormous effect on the European radical left in the 1970s, though apparently not on Badiou. (1)

A settling of accounts with that blood-stained History is something Badiou has never done.

All he can do is to repeat, when presented with these and other facts, is  that, “la démocratie, sous sa forme parlementaire, interdit tout changement d’ampleur ” – parliamentary democracy banishes all form of substantive change.”

Many leftists would not see the commands of the Great Helmsman as an alternative to democracy tout court.

Anouk Barberousse and  Philippe Huneman are therefore right to highlight the abstract absurdity of a system based on a system based on an ontological  system.

If anything they are too kind about Badiou’s groupuscule’s past.

The second comment in the article comes from le Monde’s  Julie Clarini. She asks whether the hoax is not part of a fight within the radical left (gauche radicale).

Indeed it is – here. Badiou decides on the ‘Event’ of the cultural revolution. His practice (which Wikipedia registers only in his ephemeral L’organisation politique) goes back to the subject of this Blog post below – not to mention the Tendance’s own political background as a Marxist and leftist opponent of the kind of ‘Maoism’ Badiou stood for.


(1) Laurent Joffrin, (Libération) with whom we do not always agree, probably almost never agree with,  makes this salient summary of this appalling position,

On se permettra donc de rappeler, sur le même ton de légèreté, que cet amusant «bond en avant», lancé par Mao pour mettre en œuvre son «hypothèse communiste», a déclenché l’une des plus terribles famines que la Chine ait jamais connues, pendant laquelle, sans doute pour se donner un air d’anticonformisme révolutionnaire, les familles affamées mangeaient des écorces, des rideaux ou des excréments et, dans certains cas, encore plus distrayants, mangeaient leurs jeunes enfants pour survivre. Au total, on estime que la politique de Mao à cette époque a causé la mort de plus de vingt millions de personnes, sur lesquelles on passera rapidement dans le souci de ne pas gâcher l’ambiance. Comme le dit Badiou en parlant de Mao et de son régime, «les caricatures sont tellement faciles».

Put briefly Laurent remarks that the jolly old Great Leap Forward alone resulted in intense suffering and countless millions of deaths.

 So here is a look at the ‘Marxist-Leninist’ past of Badiou:

Badiou: Deleuze, Guattari and the ‘fascisme de la pomme de terre’.

Guattari and the ‘fascisme de la pomme de terre’.

Alain Badiou’s political philosophy is, apparently, grounded on singular situated truths and potential revolutions. Fidelity to the invariant truth is a matter of procedure. What he calls an ‘Idea’’ has three basic elements, “a truth procedure, a belonging to history and individual subjectivation”. Authenticity, we might say were we admirers of Sartre’s philosophy, hangs in there.

This has a range (to put it as its most modest) of applications. But Badiou is best known for his politics (which are not renowned for their modesty).

On the Chinese ‘Cultural Revolution’, the professor has aroused controversy time and time again by giving a positive, glowing, account (“at any rate from 1965 to 1968” although he does not give the exact day of the week in this time-span) of this “political truth”. (1) These have had local, indeed spatial, moorings, no doubt, for example, in Maoist re-education camps as well as some time in Shanghai. There is the also the possibility of becoming a “militant for the truth”, perhaps, one might hazard, exemplified in the acts of the Union des communistes de France (marxiste-léninistes), the UJM (M-L) founded in 1969 by Alain Badiou and others whose names, sadly or not, few can recall or care about.

On the issue of Communism the professor has declaimed that the “Idea of communism, subjectivation constituted the link between the local belonging to a political procedure and the huge forward march towards its collective emancipation. To give out a flyer in a marketplace was also to mount the stage of History” (2) In the light of, er, recent and not so recent events, Badiou is not enthusiastic about the State’s ability to deliver Communism. A True Communist Event occurs only when it is “subtracted from the power of the State. “ Yet he notes with pleasure that Mao “had begun” to deal with this issue, incarnated by Stalin, “in a number of his writings” – which Badiou has commented on “guided by the eternity of the True.” (3)

Alain Badiou is perhaps reticent, for reasons which will become apparent,  to mention that he too has mounted History’s stage. He too has experience of the “vigorous subjective existence of the communist hypothesis.” Indeed as Francis Dosse’s biography Gilles Deleuze Félix Guattari. Biographie Croisée (2009) illustrates in a fascinating snapshot, it was indeed “vigorous”.

In the journal of the UJM (M-L) Cahier Yénan (No 4. 1977) Badiou attacked the celebrated joint work of Deleuze and Guattari, L’anti-Œdipe as “vulgar moralisers”, and for ignoring the scientific teachings of Marxism-Leninism. The second piece under the pseudonym of Georges Peyrol, was titled, Le fascime de la pomme de terre. Badiou observed that the pair were “pre-fascists”. Badiou frothed at the metaphor of the “rhizome”, to grasp the tentacles of multiple being, the proliferation of social shoots (most celebrated in their Mille plateaux1980). The Ontologist detected a parallel with Lin Biao’s revisionism, the One that dived into Two, had subtly become the One that symbolised the Tyrant. (4)

Revisionists!Pre-Fascists! During the 1970s these words did not just hang in the air in the Vincennes campus where both Badiou and Deleuze taught. Tendance Coatesy has already recorded the history of the oh-so-sage Professor’s Maoist troops during that period. Their efforts to imitate the Shanghai Commune included their assaults on another ‘revisionist’, Maria Antonitta Macciocchi. In this instance a colleague ran the intimidation from the same department of philosophy.

At the beginning the hostile M-L claque’s presence ensured that the lectures ended early. Later they would try to disrupt Deleuze’s lectures by claiming that a student union meeting to back a workers’ struggle was being held; other times the more erudite mentioned the bogey-name of Nietzsche (Deleuze’s 1963 study on whom no doubt proving by its title alone proof of serious pre-fascism). The admirers of the Little Red Book also assailed others, Jean-François Lyotard, and François Châtelet.

The stunts of the little band of Badiou’s Marxist-Leninists petered out as the decade proceeded. That has its own history, one which awaits Badiou to tell with anything resembling the truth.

When Deleuze passed away in 1995, Badiou, Dosse recounts, gave him a “vibrant homage.” He considered himself a “worthy successor” of Deleuze in his present Chair, on condition that one read him in the light of the “bonne philosophie” (the right philosophy). According to Dosse Badiou revealed that in 1991 he had proposed to Delueze to hold a public exchange of views (at the time when one of the Deleuze’s best-known works, What is Philosophy, was published). This was refused but as the resulting correspondence, giving reasons for this refusal, was apparently important. He equally refused to let this be published, which left Badiou with material he could not render public.

The book which did get to the printers, is Badiou’s, Delueze. La Clameur de l’Être (1997). It no doubt interests those fascinated by the obscurity of a (until very recent) apologist for the Khmer Rouge, and a conformed admirer of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. What rankles Dosse is that Badiou baldly repeats a much earlier idea: that Deleuze’s philosophy centres on the ONE, “C’est la venue de l’Un, renommé par Delueze l’Un-tout, que se consacre, dans sa plus haute destination, la pensée.” (5) In other words, he repeated, at the core of this ‘study’  the ridiculous claims he made back in the days of Cahier Yénan dressed up in more elliptical and pretentious language. He further – we note ourselves –  charged that Deleuze was something of a Stoic – which to many people has more than w whiff of his old ‘cultural revolution’ or more exactly Gang of Four  thinking about attacking ‘Confucius’.

Still, at least he didn’t call him once more a ‘pre-fascist’.

That’s Badiou for fidelity, hein?


(1) Page 2. The Idea of Communism. Alain Badiou. In The Idea of Communism. Edited Costas Douzinas & Slavoj Žižek. Verso. 2010. (2) Page 4. Badiou. Op cit. (3) Page 10.  Badiou. Op cit. (4) Pages 432 – 434. Francis Dosse Gilles Deleuze Félix Guattari. Biographie Croisée La Découverte. 2009 (5) Page 435. Dosse Op cit.

Everything (mostly) that you wanted to know about the politics of the fraud Badiou here: Révolution culturelle : Alain Badiou, le Grand Prestidigitateur.CLAUDE HUDELOT

This is worth noting, although it includes a link to Badiou’s evasive responses, Editor Calls Badiou a “Frozen Dinosaur”

Badiou is no stranger to Maoist militancy of his own. When he worked at the same university as Gilles Deleuze, he declared Deleuze an “enemy of the people” and would bring groups of fellow Maoists to disrupt the class.

About 12 years ago I wrote a lengthy critique of Badiou’s Ethics and his tendentious claims about the universalism of Saint Paul.  Unfortunately it’s in a format I can’t Blog with. But believe me, there is a more, a lot more, to say…


Written by Andrew Coates

April 10, 2016 at 11:15 am

3 Responses

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  1. I arrived at your site from a generally apolitical direction – my starting point was science, scepticism and rationalism. As a result, when I read about people like this I find it difficult to take them seriously. My view of ‘the academic left’; of the specialists in ‘theory’, the structuralists, the deconstructionists, the Marxist philosophers, is of a tightly-contained, solipsistic group of professional sophists, who’ve constructed an entire epistemic framework specifically so as to absolve them of the responsibility of verifying their claims or ensuring their consonance with reality.
    Arguments are adopted then tossed away like cheap clothing, the language of more rigorous subjects is co-opted for purely aesthetic or rhetorical purposes. Ideas are purposely vague and convoluted, open to vastly different interpretations – they have no consequences whatsoever and make no predictions. No systematic effort is made to preclude self-deception on the part of the theorists.
    It boils down to an intellectual game. The only lasting significance this style of thought seems to have had is in its pernicious relativism and aggressive anti-Enlightenment attitude; it’s contemptuous and fearful of genuine rationalism, science and empirical reasoning in general. Its actual conclusions and arguments are like fashions – intellectual flim-flam. They are built with no real commitment to their truth value and are sustained by rhetoric and force of personality. The idea that they should be tested in the real world and discarded if they fail is regarded as gauche, clunky and unsophisticated. It is a world where even the most basic rules of epistemology are frequently turned on their head, and I take it seriously only insofar as its worldview has been allowed to attain almost total dominance in universities across the world.

    I remember vividly reading a collection by Chris Hitchens – a collection of writing by religious non-believers; agnostics, deists, atheists. It was all interesting, readable – some of it less so than others, but it was all at least committed to clarity and precision of argument. Then there was a piece of writing by Marx(The Future Of An Illusion?)… I’d never read anything by him before and it was absolutely astonishing how unlike the rest of the writing it was – dreadful, vacuous epigrams; meaningless clouds of words, painfully written and pretentious; most tellingly of all, the inverse relationship between wordcount and amount of intellectually worthwhile statements; a relationship that characterises so much of modern left-wing writing(I see a great deal of overlap between Marx’s work and the work of the postmodernists – not necessarily in substance but in approach).

    I don’t know what I’m trying to say here – I think I’m baffled by the political left’s lingering reliance on the epistemic framework of postmodernism. I’d like to know what it is I’m missing here. I’m not arrogant enough to believe that my reading of the situation is particularly fair or balanced, and this blog – which I like – seems to take people like Deleuze seriously. I don’t understand it, and coming from my direction it seems counterproductive to engage with relativists and sophists; postmodernist japesters whose commitment to their own arguments flits between ferociously dogmatic and light-footedly ironic.

    Saul Sorrell-Till

    April 11, 2016 at 3:53 pm

  2. Thank you for your comments, most of which I agree with, except that I take some of these people ( Deleuze his book on Foucault is excellent as are his works on Films, for example, though his efforts at the history of philosophy…er) seriously as social and literary critics and often I really like them.

    Sorrell-Till, I do not consider the views of Badiou on science and epistemology worth thinking in depth about – one of the reasons I centre on his politics.

    More widely I – like yourself – regard post-modernist efforts to cope with the philosophy and reality of science as a joke, but then I know something, not a lot, but enough, about the subject, from Popper, Quine, Imre Lakatos, Feyerabend, Kuhn, Georges Canguilhem, Donald Davidson, and so on.

    In fact the anti-postmodernist left – probably only visible in a few academic outposts and journals like Historical Materialism and Radical Philosophy – derived a lot from rationalist epistemology (Althusser for example) and there remains a stream of thought that looks to such sources.

    More widely the liberal or social democratic pragmatism of the late Richard Rorty – who wrote lucidly and accessibly – is a lot more intelligible as well as more informed about epistemology than Badiou.

    Andrew Coates

    April 11, 2016 at 5:37 pm

  3. Published today:

    Le 1er avril, deux d’entre nous (Barberousse et Huneman) révélaient comment ils étaient parvenus à publier un article au titre pompeux, «Ontologie, neutralité et désir de (ne pas) être queer», dans un numéro de la revue Badiou Studies tout entier consacré à la recherche d’un «féminisme queer badiousien». Signée par une philosophe imaginaire, Benedetta Tripodi, cette prose déroule, sur 23 pages dénuées de sens, des variations sur le lexique et les thèmes du philosophe français Alain Badiou. Et cela a suffi à convaincre le comité éditorial… dont Badiou fait partie.


    Andrew Coates

    June 1, 2016 at 12:01 pm

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