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On revolutionary subjectivities

Mihalis Mentinis, Manchester Metropolitan University

"Our position is that of combatants between two worlds - one that we don’t acknowledge, the other that does not yet exist." Raoul Vaneigem, Situationist International, 1961

Fidelity to an Event

In a book first published in French in 1998 and then in English in 2001 titled Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, Alain Badiou attacked the dominant ethical ideology for lacking any emancipatory political project, any genuinely collective vision for social and political transformation. This ethical ideology can be seen as having two philosophical axes. On the one hand, a Kantian universalizing axis grounded in the abstract universality of general human attributes and rights. And on the other hand, a vaguely Levinasian axis based on recognition of the Other and expressed mainly in a respect for cultural differences. In either case, Badiou argues, there is a tacit reference to theology, a static and inert representation of life, and both paradigms conceive of man as mortal, fragile and passive, accompanying, in this way, right from the first moment in its constitution, an apathetic contemporary subjectivity. Badiou is concerned with an ethic derived from "our positive capacity for Good, and thus from our boundary-breaking treatment of possibilities and our refusal of conservativism" (Badiou 2001: 16). This is an ethic of processes by which we treat the possibilities of a situation that opens up thought, and affirms truths against the desire for nothingness; an ethic that has its roots in the rupture of the constituted order of things, and the opening up of possibilities instigated by an ‘event’.

The idea of the event is central in Badiou’s understanding of ethical action. [Read more].