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Being and Event Paperback – July 15, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Two things are new in this much-anticipated translation of Badiou: the language and the preface. Both are instructive. Translator Oliver Feltham stayed "as close as possible to Badiou's syntax" but "at the price of losing fluidity." The logic behind this sacrifice being that Badiou's syntax does its own philosophical work; the unfortunate result being that many sentences, though elegant in French, are wounded in English. For example, this hop-along on Marxism: "That the dialectic of its existence is not that of the one of authority to the multiple of the subject." Thankfully, Badiou addresses such dissonance and his larger philosophical goals in an indispensable new preface-without which the 37 weighty meditations might be lost to the layperson. Even with the new preface, those reading Badiou or Continental philosophy for the first time might experience something intellectually akin to running into the ocean. (Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil is a slimmer, more accessible introduction to this novelist, and playwright and professor at Ecole Normale Superieure.) Otherwise it takes a miracle to understand the four theses of this work, organized as they are into a chevron consisting of Being, Event, Truth, Subject. Badiou is concerned with the potential for profound, transformative innovation in any situation. His approach is part mathematical (Candor's set theory), part rationalist (Anglo-American), part poetic (Continental) and part textual (11 legends of philosophy are confronted "on singular points"), but his ideas are intensely rarified. Recommended for specialists.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Two things are new in this much-anticipated translationof Badiou: the language and the preface. Both are instructive. TranslatorOliver Feltham stayed 'as close as possible to Badiou's syntax' but 'at theprice of losing fluidity.' Thankfully, Badiou addresses such dissonance and hislarger philosophical goals in an indispensable new preface—without which the 37weighty meditations might be lost to the layperson. Recommended..." — Publishers Weekly
"A variety of scholars, including philosophers, mathematicians, and intellectual historians, would do well to examine this volume and seek in it threads that warrant continued examination in an era of nanotechnology and political terrorism."- Francisca Goldsmith, Library Journal, April 1, 2006
"Badiou's approach is unique, rigorous, and interesting..." - Jill Stauffer, Theory & Event
“Two things are new in this much-anticipated translationof Badiou: the language and the preface. Both are instructive. TranslatorOliver Feltham stayed 'as close as possible to Badiou’s syntax’ but 'at theprice of losing fluidity.’ Thankfully, Badiou addresses such dissonance and hislarger philosophical goals in an indispensable new preface—without which the 37weighty meditations might be lost to the layperson. Recommended…” – Publishers Weekly
"Badiou’s approach is unique, rigorous, and interesting…" - Jill Stauffer, Theory & Event
Top customer reviews
Now I understand why Zizek holds Badiou in such high regard. It is because of this book from 2005; most assuredly. I have read approximately "8" postmodern thinkers from France and Italy thus far; and all of them begin with a fundamental presupposition: the announce that they will presume "set-theory". This preface does qualify any writer at least in the realms of externality and the unconscious. Only during re-construction do we see the differences emerge. Now I realize that Badiou Is the foundational source of all neo-left postmodern philosophy. This book is already being hailed as a Masterpiece; and a turning-point in European philosophy. I can see why. I've studied Badiou before, but this manuscript has much more logical and in-depth presentation. This manuscript presents Badiou's "set-theory", from alpha to omega. It takes set-theory to its eventual conclusions in every area of subjectivity and objectivity. Nothing is excluded. He uses triads for a few of the more difficult areas, which is helpful . You will finally understand the finer points of postmodern thought that others only touched on. This is the adventure - actually "seeing", for the first time, the thought behind the postmodern movement in France. I don't think I really need to recommend a masterpiece; but 5 stars of course.
AN IMPORTANT POSTSCRIPT: after "7" years , a philosopher is allowed to modify his position. Badiou published "the adventure of french philosophy" in 2012. In it, he offers an ethics which would have been impossible within the context of this 2005 manuscript. An "ethics of restoration" (restoring finitude to finitude), does not open the possibility of novelty. A real problem for someone who emphasizes the necessity of differentiation in positing. That is why in 2012 in introduces the concept of "hidden names", within the sub-multiple set. His thought is easier to embrace with this qualification. I recommend reading both books if you get the chance.
(A brief disclaimer. This review does not summarize or critique the arguments in this book--it would be unjust to attempt to do so in the space of a few paragraphs. I hope only to give some indication of the relevance of this work for those who are interested in Badiou's work and/or those who have heard the name "Badiou" and are trying to find a way in to what his work is all about. If my comments are elliptic or obscure because I use Badiou's terms without providing explication, this is only because I hope that I give enough indication of the direction of his ideas to promote the reading of the actual text.)
Unfortunately, I cannot comment on the quality of the translation, since I have not seen the French text. Feltham's familiarity with Badiou's work is unquestionable, however. He was, for example, one of the editors of the collection "Infinite Thought" (also published by Continuum). He has also contributed to a recent issue of `Polygraph' devoted to a discussion of Badiou's work (#17, 2005).
Until this translation, American readers were denied significant access to Badiou's philosophical method and concepts. The key sources were commentaries by people like Peter Hallward, Keith Ansell-Pearson, and Eric Alliez (and, of course, Slavoj Zizek). The closest one got to Badiou himself was the collection called "Theoretical Writings" (also published by Continuum). With the exception of "Deleuze: The Clamor of Being", it was difficult to know what Badiou's work was all about since just about all of his other translated works presuppose knowledge of the concepts and terms developed in "Being and Event".
Those who have read Badiou's "Deleuze" will have some idea of what occupies "Being and Event". The title recalls, of course, Heidegger's "Being and Time", and Badiou explicitly agrees with Heidegger that philosophy can only be done on the basis of the ontological question. In "Deleuze", Badiou argues that that great thinker was at bottom a thinker of the One and, as Keith Ansell-Pearson points out, the real quarrel between Badiou and Deleuze is over who can speak of being as pure multiplicity. For Deleuze, the concepts are those found in Bergson and the differential calculus; for Badiou one must look to post-Cantorian set theory. In both cases, one cannot approach ontology without a firm understanding of mathematics (anyone who does not have a working grasp of set theory will not be prepared for "Being and Event").
The ontological question cuts a diagonal through various trajectories. Although Badiou accepts the gauntlet Heidegger threw down to philosophy, like Deleuze he thinks that ontology has to be done post-phenomenologically. Badiou even rejects the later Heidegger's notion of "forgetting". Badiou's answer to the ontological question involves a second project in "Being and Event": the articulation of a post-Cartesian (and even a post-Lacanian) subject. If, Badiou says, mathematics is ontology (that is, only mathematics can write being as it is, even if there is no intra-mathematical sense to this writing), the question is no longer the Kantian "how is mathematics possible?" but, rather, if mathematics is the science of being, how is a *subject* possible? In accord with his notion that there are four (and only four) "truth procedures", there are only artistic, scientific, political, and amorous subjects. It is on this idea that Badiou's other works on ethics, politics, art ("inaesthetic"), and so forth, are predicated. In a sense, none of Badiou's other translated works make much sense without the doctrine of the subject laid out in "Being and Event".
(This project of a post-Cartesian subject is announced by the book itself in that it is written as a series of "meditations" that could not be more dissimilar in method to the meditations of either Descartes or Husserl. My own hunch is that any successful engagement and/or refutation of Badiou's work will have to be done on the question of method--viz., Badiou's axiomatic procedure.)
These theses on ontology and subjectivity cross the so-called analytic-continential divide in philosophy. Badiou offers readings of major thinkers throughout the history of philosophy and his readers are asked to have a similarly encyclopedic knowledge of both the post-Kantian analytic and continental traditions. This book is most certainly neither for laypersons, amateurs, or beginning students of philosophy. Throughout the introduction Badiou expresses consternation over the fact that his readers must not only be professional philosophers, but also well-trained in mathematics. One is usually well-trained in one or the other. Analytic philosophy tends to do better at this than Continental (indeed, one of Badiou's goals is to provide a way out of the aporias of the Vienna Circle), but Badiou equally draws from the continental tradition (by way of figures like Hegel, Heidegger, and Lacan) and continental readings of the history of philosophy. (And, until "Being and Event", one couldn't really find much after Quine on the philosophy of set theory except something like Mary Tiles' work from 1989.)
The ontological argument, premised on what Badiou has to say about the One and the presentation of multiplicity (i.e., the question that preoccupied the presocratics) hinges on this: "maintain the position that nothing is delivered by the law of the Ideas, but make this nothing be through the assumption of a proper name. In other words: verify, via the excedentary choice of a proper name, the unpresentable alone as existent; on its basis the Ideas will subsequently cause all admissible forms of presentation to proceed. ... It is because the one is not that the void is unique ... [which is equivalent] to saying that its mark is a proper name". This is how Badiou interprets the axiom of the null (or void) set and distills the question of the One and Many from Being and change (see, e.g., the history and development of the concepts of the calculus). The question is not simply "how does one think non-being?" but also (and Parmenides also recognized this) "how does one name non-being?" The proper name, as Badiou points out in a passage immediately following the above, is not the transcendent God or the promise of the One or presence but the "un-presentation and the un-being of the one" (cf. Derrida's comments on the possibility of a negative theology).
The payoff for working through Badiou's text is nothing less than a revitalization of philosophy (particularly for anyone who thinks philosophy in America has been boring since the waning of Rortyian pragmatism). The ontological debates surrounding Deleuze/Badiou have tended to be conducted in the margins of philosophical discourse in the US (with both thinkers more popular in circles of theory than philosophy and in the pages of journals on culture and politics than Nous or Mind), but the publication of "Being and Event" itself is precisely what Badiou means when he writes of an "event": something that disrupts the current situation. ("Event" and "situation" are, of course, technical terms for Badiou. The most succinct statement of these terms is probably "The Event as Trans-Being" in the Theoretical Writings.) Like his compatriot Ranciere (who too found his own voice after breaking with a youthful Marxism), Badiou is concerned with how it is possible that something new can be seen. "Being and Event" is compulsory for anyone who thinks ontology has been boring since Heidegger (even Millan-Puelles' ambitious "Theory of the Pure Object" fails to satisfy); and for those who weren't convinced by Deleuze that alternative ways to do ontology (viz. Bergson) were dead-ends, "Being and Event" the place to turn. (Whether one ultimately agrees with Deleuze or Badiou, however, is an open question. The basic difference is this: for Badiou, multiplicities are rigorously determined; Deleuze, obviously, denies this. In both cases being is pure multiplicity, nondenumerable, etc)
And for those who may be interested by Deleuze but are wedded to more traditionally analytic ways of writing: Badiou's writing is often praised for its clarity and in many ways it mimes the economy of analytic philosophy, avoiding the obscurity (while preserving the density) of many of his French contemporaries. Badiou has often been compared to Sartre (both being novelists and playwrights in addition to philosophers), but not only does Badiou in many ways stand apart from the French traditions of Sartre and Hyppolite, "Being and Event" is eminently more readable than "Being and Nothingness". Even if Badiou's writing lacks the brilliance of Derrida or Deleuze, this may be because he explicitly tells us that the poetic is subordinate; indeed, Badiou's writing itself is probably best described as "mathematical". While he is not immune to some amount of obscurity in some others of his writings, "Being and Event" certainly cannot be so faulted. At worst one might fault the author for demanding too much of his reader; but if this be a fault it is an admirable one to have, since it is a rare author indeed who can make such a demand.