Figure 1: Drawing of Badiou. #tupacaput
I sat in the middle of the Fisher & Paykell Appliances Auditorium, half wanting to catch the man himself, and half wanting to witness the spectacle around him. Searching the crowd, I saw artists, writers, activists and poets, all of whom had come to see “the greatest living Philosopher”, Alain Badiou.
A flurry of whispers and shrill excitement had preceded Badiou’s visit. In the metaphorical “tea cup” of Auckland’s intellectual community, a storm was brewing. Badiou had invaded my news feed and was competing with inane pictures of pugs, the two entities, momentarily taking on an equivalency.
In the Auditorium, the crowd began to hush and prepare itself for the Philosopher. When Badiou entered, he came flanked by two Professors of the University of Auckland, an honor guard for the luminary’s passage through the Owen G. Glenn Building. The silver-haired Philosopher wore a functional outfit; his polo embellished with a simple white collar. Badiou’s pants had large military-style pockets, filled presumably with the articles of academic labor. His belly was spherical, emphasized by a resting Grinch pose that protruded his center.
A stream of students trickled in late – evidently no measure of fame or renown can stop this irritating practice. With the crowd settled, Associate Professor Campbell Jones took to the podium to introduce Badiou as ‘the greatest living philosopher’, and then retreated to his chair, keeping a reverential distance from the man himself. Badiou sat unperturbed, the colossal expanse of the Fisher & Paykell Appliances Auditorium dwarfing the ageing Marxist.
Badiou’s English was spoken through a dense French accent and a worrisome cough, a form of linguistics that he described as “halfway between German and Spanish”. Though he never stood up, he was engaging and charismatic, keeping a steady pace for the allotted hour.
He began by discussing New Zealand as a paradise within the French psyche, a mythology that was today ‘threatened by demons’ – enter John Key. Referring to his notes, he described Economics’ as a discourse of constraint, a propagated ‘real’ that determined our possibilities. Later he recalled lessons from of his teacher, Jacques Lacan, and then described his own business as that of ‘corrupting youth’. A major protagonist in articulating a philosophy that is neither modern nor post-modern, Badiou spoke with the assurance you’d expect from a former chair of Philosophy as the École Normale Supérieure.
Badiou paid special attention to the binary relationship between the possible and the impossible. His proposition was humble and ultimately tinged with hope; refuse the confines of what’s possible, and demand the impossible from a world stalled at the end of Fukuyama’s history.
Sadly, the Badiou of my own heart never spoke. I’d hoped to hear the man who declared love as the point of view of two and not one, a world experienced through difference and not identity. Confronting heroes can be bittersweet, corporate lecture halls and irritating ringtones aren’t exactly what dreams are made off.
Badiou is a product of the 1968 Paris Uprisings, and the current headmaster of French Philosophy; he belongs to a world treated with reverence, and drenched in romance. I suspect I wasn’t the only one making unreasonable demands on the ageing Philosopher.