A unified theory — though not a theory of everything. Not philosophy of, with all its implications of dominance and omnicompetence (a philosophy of religion, of law, of fashion are all equally plausible), nor even simply philosophy and — but a unified theory of philosophy and some science. What is the status of this “theory,” this strangely undefined entity that is not a philosophy (or is it a non-philosophy?) and that seems strangely comfortable asserting the dread philosophical omnicompetence, indeed in an exaggerated form that claims not simply to account for the facts adduced by some other discipline but to provide the means precisely of unifying them?
Anthony’s book gives us a unified theory of philosophical theology (a pre-packaged combination that I won’t quibble with, given that I live it every day) and ecology. It adopts the “stance” of ecology, which is a thinking from the Real guided by the ecosystem concept. Within this unified theory, we learn that philosophies have varying degrees of biodiversity. Badiou’s particular ecosystem, for example, has room for four primary species of truth-procedures, but is dominated by mathematics. Thoughts occupy niches and respond to their environment. Sometimes the claims are very concrete and empirical, and sometimes they seem more or less metaphorical. Sometimes we are at the very physical level of needing to eat in order to think — and sometimes it turns out that the scholarly literature on given figures represent narrow niches. Yet none of these claims, we are assured, are mere metaphors. It is not a metaphor to say that books of philosophy are dead thoughts that need to be consumed to produce living thoughts, any more than it’s a metaphor to say that human thought is situated within a wider ecosystem or that the academic publishing industry produces certain over-specialized populations with narrow niches.
In a unified theory, then, we are not dealing with mere metaphor. I grant this. What I would like to ask, however, is precisely what we’re saying when we say it’s not a mere metaphor. Continue reading “A Unified Theory (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature book event)”
Readers of the blog may be interested in a philosophy symposium this summer that I have a hand in organizing. I’ve pasted the full information below the fold, but please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions. Continue reading “Call for Applications – Pittsburgh Summer School in Contemporary Philosophy – Formalism and the Real: Ontology, Politics, and the Subject”
The other day, Stephen Keating asked me what attracted me to Agamben initially, and I had to confess that at first it was simply a desire to see what the big deal was about Homo Sacer. I found the book pretty baffling, and out of stubbornness (and with some nudging from Ted Jennings), I read further to see if I could make sense of things — and the rest, as they say, is history.
Except that it isn’t actually that simple. I’ve found many books baffling, and I didn’t wind up learning to read in a foreign language in order to keep up with their authors’ work, nor have I translated them, etc. The key, I think, is my strange disciplinary position. I do a lot with philosophy and really enjoy it — and yet I very often feel like I’m stuck in an “expositional” mode, as though I can’t fully inhabit the discourse in the way necessary to do creative work with it. It’s different with theology. There I feel like a genuine internal critic, and I feel confident that I can make creative contributions to the discourse.
From this perspective, Agamben is appealling to me because he occupies a similar position with regard to the Christian tradition. His readings of the theological tradition are much more interesting and daring than the majority of confessional theologians’ — particularly in the Paul book and in his bold rewriting of the entire history of Christian thought in The Kingdom and the Glory. Despite his immersion, he is still able to approach the tradition with genuine freedom, and despite his critical stance, he is able to approach the tradition with the initial sympathy needed to detect what is at stake in theologians’ often recondite debates. Agamben can make the question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin seem as though it has urgent contemporary consequences, and yet that importance emphatically does not at all imply that we should become Christians.
This basic resonance makes Agamben at once a deep influence on my way of thinking and the philosopher that I feel most able to critique. And this weird stance toward philosophy and theology may explain my position on other philosophers. For instance, I have long had a gut feeling that delving deeper into Badiou’s work would not be the best use of my time, despite his obvious relevance for my work on Zizek — and I suspect that may finally be because his reading of Paul is deeply reactionary and anti-Jewish. Similarly, my interest in Zizek has waned as his theological work has reached a kind of dead end, where he can keep repeating the same basic point but seems unable to develop it further or fully integrate it into his system.
During my recent trips I took along Hollis Phelps’ relatively new book Alain Badiou: Between Theology and Anti-Theology. Phelps’ thesis is that “Badiou’s philosophy contains an anti-philosophical core that coincides with theology (85).” Phelps’ book enters into a debate between those who, like Badiou himself, see Badiou’s philosophy as one of radical secularization and those who think that religion, specifically Christianity, is an important part of his philosophy. These groups could be grouped into two distinct camps: those like Žižek who argue for the importance of this religion from a largely outsider perspective and those like Paul J Griffths who argue from a Christian supremacist position that “the recent interest in Christianity, particularly Paul, among certain critical theorists and philosophers is best understood as ‘a pagan yearning for Christian intellectual gold [since…] our intellectual tradition is long-lived, rich, and subtle, and any attempt by European thinkers to do without it is not likely to last” (125).’ Phelps’ contribution engages with the arguments of each of these respective interpretations but deftly avoids the pitfalls of each, arguing for a much more subtle understanding of the theological aspect of Badiou’s philosophy. Phelps clearly has very little sympathy for positions such as Giffths or the crocodile tears for Judaism deployed by Daniel W. Bell Jr. in his criticism of Badiou’s St. Paul book as Marcionite (a criticism made in a far more convincing and less supremacist way by Adam Kotsko as Phelps notes) and so his reading cannot easily be tossed aside by those, like Hallward, who want to see in Badiou a kind of secular purity. His reading instead moves forward by creating a link between Badiou’s conception of anti-philosophy and theology. As anti-philosophy is part of the dialectical construction of philosophy it is necessary and acts like an engine for Badiou’s thought. Continue reading “The Christian Engine of Badiou’s Philosophy: Some Comments on Hollis Phelps’ Alain Badiou: Between Theology and Anti-Theology“
With the generous support of Gallery 400, InterCcECT is very pleased to present “Nothing Just Isn’t (what it used to be): The Void and Structure,” a talk by Tzuchien Tho, researcher at The Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften and The Centre International d’Etude de la Philosophie Française Contemporaine. Join us Thursday 25 April at 4pm!
Alain Badiou inherited a series of concepts in the late 60’s that manifest a similar sort of argumentative strategy. From
Neo-Kantianism, French epistemologie, Hegelianism and structuralism, there were a number of different figures of the void, the nothing, indeed the “not”, all of which stood in as a reified repository for the undetermined and contingent (the virtual), the not-yet (the new in history), the horizon of determination and knowledge (regulative judgment). By looking at how Badiou refuted this construal of the problem of the void (the nothing and the like) in the late 60’s, I will demonstrate how these initial works led to his arguments concerning the void in the 1980’s provided a real alternative to those that he inherited. In turn, understanding Badiou’s rejection from this late 60’s context of treating the notion of the void sheds light on the meaning of his “mathematical ontology” through set theory and allows us to evaluate his larger philosophical project from a different historical vantage.
Hollis Phelps, whom I met when we both participated in a panel on Agamben at this year’s AAR (his paper can be found here), has written a preview of his forthcoming book Alain Badiou: Between Theology and Anti-Theology at the Political Theology blog.
Here’s an article I found [PDF]. I’m planning on reading it this weekend to try to cure my probably under-informed knee-jerk reaction that advocating the Cultural Revolution is similar to being really excited about Stalin’s purges.