In this third post in the “what is a theological concept?” series I focus for the first time on a specific philosophical moment: Alain Badiou’s account of the interruption of the mytheme by the matheme. I am particularly interested in Jean-Luc Nancy’s reading of this Badiouian move, for Nancy sees in the interruption of the mytheme by the matheme a quintessentially theological moment in Badiou’s thought. Our analysis of Nancy’s reading of Badiou here will provide us with the first example—and perhaps also the first model—of what it can mean to call a philosophical move “theological”.
The birth of philosophy for Badiou relies on the difference between what, in Conditions, he calls the matheme and the mytheme. The mytheme trades in opinion and narrative, in cosmogony and poetic richness. For the matheme, by contrast, it is a question not of opinion but of truth. The matheme is non-narrative, non-hermeneutic, and abstract.
The philosophical miracle of Greece, Badiou insists, is to be ascribed not to the mythic and poetic richness of that culture, nor to its poetry’s grasp of the sacred, but rather to the interruption, chiefly by Plato, of sacred cosmogonies and opinion by secularised and abstract mathematical thought (Manifeste de la philosophie 14/Manifesto of philosophy 34): ‘mathematics is the only point of rupture with doxa that is given as existent or constituted. The absolute singularity of mathematics is basically its existence’ (Conditions 102).
Although this Platonic interruption of the mytheme by the matheme took place within a given historico-cultural context, Badiou insists that it must not be viewed in a historicist perspective. In fact, in the essay ‘Le (re)tour de la philosophie elle-même’ (Conditions French 57-78/Conditions English 3-22), he expands on five propositions concerning the relation of philosophy to history, five propositions that will help us understand both his claim to be non-theological and Nancy’s counter-claim that he imitates the theological after all. The five propositions amount to an attack on what Badiou sees as the danger of inscribing philosophy within a finite historical horizon.
- Philosophy today is paralysed by its relation to its own history (proposition 1) because it no longer knows whether it has a place of its own, scattered and subordinated as it is in a host of disciplines including art, poetry, science, political action and psychoanalysis, with the desultory consequence that philosophy has become little more than its own museum (C 57/Con 3).
- It therefore becomes imperative for philosophy to break decisively with historicism (proposition 2), which means that philosophy’s self-presentation must in the first instance make no reference to its history; its concepts must be presented without having to appear before the tribunal of their historical moment, for it is philosophy which judges history, and not the reverse (C 58/Con 5).
- If philosophy is thus to be freed from the vicissitudes of historicism it must be defined in a historically invariable way (proposition 3),
- and in a way that distinguishes it from sophism (proposition 4)
- So philosophy as understood by Plato is both possible and necessary (proposition 5) in the face of the modern sophism of Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Vattimo and Rorty.
Guest Post: Albert Camus and Shaun Tan’s The Red Tree
By Jess Phillips, Honours Candidate in Literary Studies, Monash University. Jess’s thesis explores the use of … Continue reading Guest Post: Albert Camus and Shaun Tan’s The Red Tree
French Philosophy Today paperback now on Amazon pre-order
I am delighted to announce that the paperback edition of French Philosophy Today is now … Continue reading French Philosophy Today paperback now on Amazon pre-order
Research hacks #21: One to-do list to rule them all
In a previous post I commended the virtues of planning your research, but one problem … Continue reading Research hacks #21: One to-do list to rule them all
What is a theological concept? Part 5: Quentin Meillassoux, reason, and hyperchaos
This is the final post summarizing some conclusions from Difficult Atheism, before this series launches … Continue reading What is a theological concept? Part 5: Quentin Meillassoux, reason, and hyperchaos
What is a theological concept? Part 4: Jean-Luc Nancy’s “something in Christianity deeper than Christianity”
In the previous post I explored Nancy’s reading of Badiou’s interruption of the mytheme by … Continue reading What is a theological concept? Part 4: Jean-Luc Nancy’s “something in Christianity deeper than Christianity”
What is a theological concept? Part 2: A schema for distinguishing between different atheisms
In Difficult Atheism I offered a schema for understanding varieties of contemporary French philosophical atheism. … Continue reading What is a theological concept? Part 2: A schema for distinguishing between different atheisms
How art can create a new future: Stephen Zepke’s Sublime Art forthcoming in the Crosscurrents series
I am delighted to report that Stephen Zepke’s Sublime Art is nearing publication, with the cover … Continue reading How art can create a new future: Stephen Zepke’s Sublime Art forthcoming in the Crosscurrents series
New chapter. Michel Serres: From Restricted to General Ecology
My project to write a critical introduction to the thought of Michel Serres continues to … Continue reading New chapter. Michel Serres: From Restricted to General Ecology
What is a theological concept? Part 1: Introduction
In this new series of posts I want to ask a question that is simple … Continue reading What is a theological concept? Part 1: Introduction
Research hacks #20: Why it pays to plan your ideal week, and an Excel workbook to help you
In my last post I pointed out how time logging can help you build an accurate … Continue reading Research hacks #20: Why it pays to plan your ideal week, and an Excel workbook to help you
Research hacks #19: Three benefits of time logging for academics, and one easy-to-use time logging app
Time logging is for executives, not academics, right? It’s for lawyers with billable hours, not … Continue reading Research hacks #19: Three benefits of time logging for academics, and one easy-to-use time logging app
Research hacks #18: 20 further tips on fielding questions after a conference paper
This is the second of two posts on how to field questions after your paper … Continue reading Research hacks #18: 20 further tips on fielding questions after a conference paper