Philosophers and their Animals No. 1: Alain Badiou

According to Alain Badiou’s theory of the subject, nonhuman animals are necessarily condemned to an eternal oppression for which redress is to be neither sought nor is it possible. This follows from Badiou’s claim that oppression should never be fought against because oppression is only ever a consequence of an appearing of a subject of truth. In other words, oppression is merely the reactive negation of the appearing of an immortal Truth (be it in the form of denial [π] or occultation [C]). As a result, insofar as Badiou’s subject of a truth is always and only a human subject [¢], there can be no possibility of a new present [π] ever emerging for nonhuman animals, thus equating continuous oppression with their ways of being at the ontological level. Eternal animal oppression is, in short, the correlate of the a priori reservation—at least on this planet—of eternal Truths for human subjects alone or, more precisely, for a human body bearing (and thus subordinated to) its subjective formalism that is the trace of the event [ε]. On this, see “Formal Theory of the Subject (Meta-physics)” in Logics of Worlds, pp.43-78.

Indeed, this is already figured in Badiou’s Ethics, not explicitly in relation to oppression but rather in terms of good and evil. In short, suffering for Badiou only follows and never causes a truth event. This repeats his argument that “animal” human life (everything not subject to truth but rather to private interests and subsistence) is beneath good and evil, and thus there is no evil other than that which follows the betrayal (in whatever form) of a truth event, in contrast to the “good” which is the subject’s fidelity to its truth. “Animal oppression”—with “animal” understood in the sense given to it by Badiou as well as in the sense of nonhuman beings—can therefore never be evil, but nor can it be good as it cannot invoke a subject to truth. And again, in The Communist Hypothesis: the bounds of individualism (selfishness, competition, finitude) are “one and the same thing” as the bounds of “animality” (234) and the incorporation that is being-subject to truth is its overcoming (237).

Who or what then, are Badiou’s animals? Or what, rather, are they for? They are, Badiou writes in Polemics, merely something to draw our human attention, existing amid their oppression simply to “intrigue and charm us” (106). This, I would say in response to Badiou’s “homage” to Derrida in Logics of Worlds in which he writes “Will we say that ØA = inexistence = différance? Why not?” (545), provides one very clear reason why not.


Still to come in this occasional series of “Philosophers and their Animals in 500 words or less …”: Blanchot, Derrida, Heidegger, Agamben, Ranciere, Lyotard, and more …

Next up though, Gil Scott-Heron on King Alfred.

About Richard Iveson

Postdoctoral Research Fellow I have a PhD from Goldsmiths College, University of London; my teaching and research interests include animal studies; Continental philosophy; posthumanism; cultural studies; biotechnology and cyberculture; post-Marxism. Books; Being and Not Being: On Posthuman Temporarily (London & Washington: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016), forthcoming. Zoogenesis: Thinking Encounter with Animals ( London: Pavement Books, 2014). View all posts by Richard Iveson

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