Badiou [Plato] Zizek [Aristotle]?

It is something of a cliche posed into a question and framed by Raphael’s fresco “The Academy” in which you have two figures posed against each other. There is Plato whose figure points skyward that represents the grounding of all things in the Ideal and eternal Truth that grounds beings. Then, there is the other pole figured in Aristotle who points in the opposite direction–toward the Earth: the truth, on these terms, happens in the action of being in the midst of beings.

These two figures at the origins of western philospohy become for us two sides that stress a point–a metaphysical point that grounds all things. There is first the eternal transcendent ideal into which all things exist only by their participation in the Ideal that animates and forms the thing as such. And there is, in the second place, the practical world–the empirical world–a world of existent power animated by different degress of being, and different natures and potiencies.

This dualism posed between the Mind and the Aesthetic becomes the divide that splits western philosophy only to be united by Kant (albeit insufficiently) and finally by Hegel.

Today we have two dominate philosophers thinking for the world today: Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek. Both are indebted to Hegel, but in different and unique ways. For Badiou the challenge that Hegel poses to us is three-fold:

1- The only truth is that of the Whole
2- The Whole is a self-unfolding, and not an absolute-unity external to the subject.
3- The Whole is the immanent arrival of its own concept (Alain Badiou _Theoretical Writings_, page, 222).

In a strange twist, Badiou (while remaining more or less faithful to the over-arching Hegelian structure) actually addresses the challenge that Hegel poses by making an anti-Platonic move. For in the midst of Hegel’s unfolding logic of becoming through the other (by, as it were, swallowing up the ‘other’) and thereby overcoming the limits of being in becoming, Badiou perceives something of a problem. This problem is identified in Hegel opening lines in _Science of Logic_ entitled “The World of Appearance and the World-in-Itself”. Here is the exact passage:

The existent world tranquilly raises itself to the realm of laws; the null content of its varied being-there has its subsistence in an OTHER; its subsistence is therefore its dissolution. But in this other the phenomenal alos coincides with itself; thus the phenomenon in its changing is also an enduring, and its positedness is law. (_Theoretical Writings_ page, 231).

What exactly is the problem that Badiou perceives? It is a Platonic problem (or more precisely, a logic). For Hegel (appealing to a Neo-Kantian move) employs the notion of ‘the phenomenal world’ as a way to ‘lift itself up’ beyond itself to, and here is Badiou’s words “any realm whatsoever” (_Theoretical Writings, page 231). Badiou identifies something of a Platonic (Neo-Kantian) move that allows for a process that unfolds via: 1- dissolution via negating the ‘other’; and 2- through the phenomenal world; only to 3- re-appear back as something existing with/against itself. The Platonic move is the USE of the phenomenal world in order to transcend it through itself (i.e. the negation of the other etc.). Against this Badiou re-adjusts Hegel by asserting that “there [is] no separate subsistence that would represent its negative effectuation. Existence only results from the contingent logic of a world that nothing sublates, and in which, in the guise of the reverse, negation appears as pure exteriority” (Badiou, _Theoretical Writings_ page, 231).

It is with this decisive move that Badiou breaks with Hegel’s so-called “totalitarian” logic that consumes all otherness via itself as infinite becoming. By contrast, Badiou is not confident in Hegel’s belief that there is a realm called the phenomenal through which otherness is sublated and returned again (only to be sublated again). What then is Badiou’s contra-Hegel move resting on, or assuming? It is, I think, assuming that the world’s Appearing is itself a non-necessary logic of radical contingency. Further, because it is radically contingent and open, the world does not possess within itself an anti-sublational drive. Thus, Badiou’s conclusion is that negation is not the kernel core of the world’s unfolding toward the Absolute as pure transcendence. What takes place here on Badiou’s line, is that the world’s truth unfolds through a pure immanent truth (immanent only to itself) and does not rely on the “externalizing” truth of negation via the phenomenal world.

This move does strike us on the face of it as counter-intuitive only insofar as Badiou considers himself to be part of the Platonic heritage.

For Zizek, who is, on the face of it, a thinker devoted to the pure form of the phenomenal world (content really has emptied itself out into a pure form). In this sense, Zizek can clearly be put over with Aristotle. Yet, in a strange reversal Zizek’s connections (Soviet Communism & Tom and Jerry Cartoons, between Lacan and Jesus) can only be made by employing a logic of the Platonic ‘leap’ (ok so it’s more like a Kierkegaardian leap).

Thus, and in conclusion, on the surface of it all, Zizek seems to clearly side with Aristotle, whereas Badiou is with Plato. But when you crack open the surface, what we see happening below the surface of thoughts pure form is that Zizek is really with Plato and Badiou is really with Aristotle.

2 thoughts on “Badiou [Plato] Zizek [Aristotle]?

  1. Well said, I certainly agree that in Žižek’s project there is more than meets the so-called marxist eye – there is a seeking after the depth of being is more incarnational than materialist. Have you published on Žižek?

  2. Hello! Slavoj Zizek and I have just completed our second book together. It’s called _God in Revolt: Christianity in the age of global apocalypse_ forthcoming in Slavoj’s “Short Circuit” series at MIT Press.

    What’s your gig? You and I seem to have much in common.

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