matter where we place the ‘break’ that marks the conclusion
of or the shift within the modern period – whether with Nietzsche,
Heidegger, Wittgenstein, or whoever – the question of the subject
has remained as crucial for us as it was for Descartes.
More than epistemology, axiology, or even the content
or status of metaphysics, the question of the subject is at
the very heart of contemporary philosophy. I raise this issue
here because, while philosophy in general has not ignored
the question of the subject, it has also largely avoided
the project of an answer or a resolution – and particularly
in the case of what is coming to be called the Continental philosophy
religious appropriations of Continental European philosophy
have focused mostly on questions about God: God’s being or being
otherwise than being, God’s non-temporal advent, God’s impossible
hiddenness, and so on. Work that derives primarily from post-Heideggerian
sources such as Derrida or Levinas takes its primary task to
be the “decentering” of the subject, such that if the subject has an explicit
function at all, it is to exhibit some kind of “radical passivity”
or unlimited hospitality: in short, the subject as receptor
or even receptacle. Removed of its capacity for creation, construction,
and agency, the subject naturally becomes far less interesting
than concerns about the divine excess, the absolute Other, and
the aporias that they entail.
contrast to the disciples of Derrida and Levinas, the Radical
Orthodoxy movement has engaged in some form or another every
relevant thinker in history from Avicenna to Deleuze. As far as anyone can tell, however, the impetus
of the movement is to establish dominance over every contemporary
thought in order to enable a return to premodern theological
and political foundations.
In its most intensive forms, Radical Orthodoxy is the
studied assertion that Christian theology is the necessary foundation
of any cogent philosophy. Working toward a philosophy of subjectivity
that is informed by religion is impossible when one’s religion
explicitly annuls the independence of philosophy.
contrast to these factions within the philosophy of religion,
Alain Badiou has emerged as a strikingly relevant, if unlikely,
figure. Trained in mathematics and adept in psychoanalysis,
his highly original and inherently polemical theory of the subject
marks a divergence from every major theoretical school at work
in contemporary philosophy.
The arguments we will consider a broad approach to the
field “philosophy of religion”: rather than employing philosophical
techniques to address the content or possibility of religious
concepts, Badiou assigns religion a paradigmatic or archetypal
role in relation to the rest of his work, and thereby expounds
a philosophy of religion as such.
In this essay, I will narrate Badiou’s account of the
emergence of subjectivity as he explains it in the context of
the Pauline epistles. First,
I’ll briefly describe Badiou’s theory of being and of the event
that induces the subject. Then I will examine his rereading of the theological
virtues – faith, hope, and love – as crucial modalities of the
subject. Finally, by
situating the Pauline subject within Badiou’s theory of discourses,
I suggest that Badiou has envisioned a subjectivity which is
responsive to both the deconstructive and Radical Orthodox philosophies
of religion. In contrast
to deconstruction, the Pauline figure is a subjectivity which
is not “totalizing” or totalitarian yet emerges precisely as
the generic militant agent of a universal truth.
And against the premodern reactionaries, it is a subjectivity
which can be expressed in Christian concepts without being determined
enable a discussion of the subject, I must address very briefly
a few other key concepts from Badiou’s philosophy.
Among these are: being and event; knowledge and truth;
multiplicity and void. “Being” and “event” are philosophical terms that correspond to what
axiomatic set theory identifies as “multiplicity” and “void”. For Badiou, being is the established order
of what is, and what “is” is not a unified one but an unending
multiplicity. Multiplicities are organized in sets, which
in turn compose a “situation”.
A situation can be anything from the type of cloud cover
in Beijing last Friday to the state of affairs immediately preceding
the French Revolution. An event is an unexpected occurrence that exposes
an element of a given situation that that situation had previously
refused to consider. More specifically, by exposing the void
on which every situation (and indeed all of being) is founded,
the event reasserts those elements which being had previously
consigned to the void. Badiou
also uses the language of counting: if the situation is the
aggregate of elements that each count as one, the event is supernumerary
– it exceeds the count.1
knowledge is opposed to truth.
The term “knowledge” really functions in a commonsensical
manner: it is the collection of facts and opinions that obtain
in reference to the various elements of a given situation.
Truth, on the other hand, is reserved for a wholly different
function. If the event reveals the void of the situation, a
truth “proceeds as the collecting together of all those elements...
that respond or ‘connect’ positively to this revelation.”2
This procedural, accruing aspect means that truth is
not a matter of denying all existing knowledge as false, but
of showing the uncounted, unacknowledged void on which every
situation depends. As Badiou says: “a truth is not in a simple
regime of opposition to knowledge; as a generic subset, it’s
really a gap or break in the encyclopedic organization of knowledge.
It constitutes the void specific to this encyclopedia....[A]
truth is a truth about the whole situation, not simply a truth
about this or that.”3
subject, which is our primary concern, is related to the truth-event
as “both its actor and its target.”4
Badiou writes that “the process of truth induces a subject.”5 This fact of induction, of creation, means that the
subject does not pre-exist the truth-event that enables it.
The simplest definition we get is: “I shall call subject
the local or finite status of a truth.”6 So this inducement also means, from the standpoint
of a human life, that subjectivity as such is not coterminous
with any kind of being – human or otherwise.
Rather than a unit within the order of being or knowledge,
the subject is on the side of a truth-event.
Badiou is unequivocal on this point, that for him ‘the
subject’ does not correspond to any of the classical notions
in the history of philosophy. Here are some conceptions of the subject against
which his work proceeds:7
neither the reflexive, thinking substance of Descartes nor the
simple animality of everyday embodiment, the subject does not
begin with doubt or with dinner, but with engagement.
(ii) transcendental function: the subject is neither an epistemological
nor a phenomenological operator. In Badiou’s words: “a subject
is in no sense the organizing principle of a meaning of experience.”8
(iii) an invariant of presentation: if the subject does
not belong to the order of meaning and of being, it is rare,
“rigorously singular,” and always appears as a chance occurrence
from the perspective of the situation.
(iv)autonomous, indifferent agent: simultaneously the initial
product of and advocate for the truth-event, the subject’s activity
has above all the characteristic of fidelity to the event.
Already some of the Pauline themes we will consider are
coming into relief. The
subject’s lack of autonomy, for example, does not entail an
opposing heteronomy. To borrow the Kantian language, the subject
is neither a “law unto himself” or herself, nor submitted to
the law of another: the event – or insinuation of the void –
induces the subject instead as the subtraction from and violation
of the law of the given situation. As we turn to Badiou’s text on Paul, we will
focus on those aspects of his reading which enhance this philosophical
concept of subject.
Paul: The Foundation of Universalism is not a piece of historical
or theological work; it is Badiou’s explicit attempt to align
certain elements of his own philosophy with Pauline doctrine.
He introduces the book thus: “For me, Paul is a poet-thinker
of the event, as well as one who practices and states the invariant
traits of what can be called the militant figure.
He brings forth the entirely human connection... between
the general idea of a rupture, an overturning, and that of a
thought-practice that is this rupture’s subjective materiality....I
am not the first to risk the comparison that makes of him a
Lenin for whom Christ will have been the equivocal Marx.”9
chief characteristic of the subject is that of fidelity to its
declaration of the truth-event. To attain this concept, we cannot ignore the
two senses of the word itself: both our English “fidelity” and
“faithfulness” translate as fidélité in French. The
subjective sense – our “faithfulness” – may be more apparent,
and as we have said the subject cannot be understood apart from
its advocacy of the event that induces it.
The objective sense – “fidelity” – means that the subject’s
activity consists of conforming itself to and enabling the creation
of the effects of the event (think of a high fidelity stereo
that accurately reproduces the original). These two senses of the term fidélité confirm that the subject is neither indifferent to its
event nor autistic in its concern.
Again, the subject is both agent and target.
Distinguishing these two senses of fidelity is vitally
important, since faith, hope, and love are all too easily rendered
exclusively as moods or personal attitudes, when in fact the
objective sense of correspondence to the requirements of the
event is equally germane. It
is this objective sense that defeats the criticism which would
find in Badiou a kind of ex nihilo decisionism.
With this distinction in mind, we turn now to Badiou’s
analysis of the theological virtues.
As he says:
to think [fidelity], one requires three concepts: one that names
the subject at the point of declaration (pistis...”faith”);
one that names the subject at the point of his conviction’s
militant address (agape...”love”); lastly, one that names
the subject according to the force of displacement conferred
upon him through the assumption of the truth procedure’s completed
character (elpis...”hope”). (SP 15)
At the point of declaration, the subject’s faith is a
tenor of conviction and a degree of intensity.
This is the aspect with which we might be more comfortable,
and it demonstrates that every subject is in genetic and engaged
relation to its truth-event.
But Paul gives a second, objective sense to faith, and
that is that faith is the order of existence which follows after
the conclusion of the law.
Badiou’s definition: faith is “the absence of any gap
between subject and subjectivation.” (SP 81)
This definition relies on the discussion in Romans about
law, sin and death. According
to Paul, it is the law that unleashes the life of desire, the
law that forms and then fixes the object of desire, such that
the subject’s will exists only for the automatic repetition
of transgression. Psychoanalysis
acknowledges here a great debt to Paul, who was the first to
explain that the imposition of the law actually creates the
drive for and the possibility of its own transgression.
He says, “[I]f it had not been for the law, I should
not have known sin. I should not have known what it is to covet
if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, finding
opportunity in the commandment, wrought in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead.” (Romans
7:7-8) “Sin” therefore
is the name of the process of death that the law imposes; the
autonomy of the unconscious drive actually occupies, according
to Badiou, “the site and place of the subject.” (SP 79)
Therefore, strictly speaking, an event could not constitute
a subject within the confines of the law, because the process
of subjectivation would have only sin and death for its target.
Faith is the absence of a gap between the subject and
subjectivation because faith is the ability of the subject to
reposition its own site. Whereas
the repetition of sin calculates on the basis of law, that is,
according to works, faith operates independently of works. What appears as the subject’s intense conviction
is also the objective enabling of its own inducement.
This view of faith reinforces our notion that “subject”
does not describe mere humanity; and it may just as easily describe
a collective as an individual, for the disjunction between faith
and the law already necessitates the universality of
the truth-procedure. In law there is a kind of perverse all-encompassing
breadth which cannot really be called universality, since its
operation is rather the continuing proliferation of differences. Law is on the side of being – in contrast to
the event – which means it designates only the particular. “The law is always predicative, particular,
and partial. Paul is
perfectly aware of the law’s unfailingly ‘statist’ character.
By ‘statist’ I mean that which enumerates, names, and
controls the parts of a situation.
If a truth is to surge forth eventally, it must be nondenumerable,
impredicable, uncontrollable. This is precisely what Paul calls grace.” (SP
76) The universal scope
of the event is therefore opposed to the oppositions and distinctions
that the law creates, “[f]or there is no distinction; since
all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are
justified by his grace as a gift ... to be received by faith.”
Love is the name for the subject “at the point of his
conviction’s militant address.”
In other words, love characterizes the subject as it
proclaims the truth universally.
Since a truth is not the final adequacy of a proposition
but the process of an event, its universality does not raise
specters of totalitarianism but rather the prospect of emancipation. If faith is the negation or rather, surpassing
of the law, love is the naming of a non-literal law. Now Badiou notes that faith has already realized
the global possibility of this new path, but that it
is love’s naming of a non-literal law that makes justification
effective for those who hear it. We read in Galatians
that “faith works only through love” (5:6), since love regains
precisely those features of life which, under the burden of
legal transgression, had fallen onto the side of sin and death.
Primary among these is the unity of thought and action.
Under the law, Paul could only lament his inability to
do the things which law requires – his action could not conform
itself because of the overwhelming automatism of transgression. Additionally, from within the situation, or
from under the law, the truth of the event can only appear as
madness and illegality, as Kierkegaard’s “thought which thought
itself cannot think.” But once the subject’s thinking and doing is
transformed by an event, “this recovery turns life itself into
a universal law. Law
returns as life’s articulation for everyone.” (SP 88)
Where the old law introduced difference and particularity
at every corner, the law of love “functions as principle and
consistency for the subjective energy initiated by the declaration
of faith.” (SP
What exactly does this law of love look like? Badiou reads Paul as needing to satisfy two
conditions: first, love must not produce a new fixed object
of desire that will trigger the infinite dialectic of prohibition
and transgression. As we have said, love’s law must affirm the
trajectory of the subject’s truth, which means it must not produce
new differences. Second,
it must “require faith in order to be understood.” (SP
89) The maxim “love your neighbor as yourself” satisfies these conditions:
it is pure affirmation, and it “requires faith, because prior
to the Resurrection, the subject, having been given up to death,
has no good reason to love himself.” (SP 89)
The maxim “love your neighbor as yourself” also speaks
to both of the meanings of the term “fidelity” that we discussed
above. Loving the neighbor satisfies the subjective
sense, in that the universal address of a subject turned toward
all the others continues in “faithfulness” as a witness to the
event. And the “as yourself” connects the disjunctive
and redemptive site of faith to the extended power of love in
an objective fidelity to the event – that is, an increasingly
effective truth-procedure corresponding to what the event requires.
we speak of the effectiveness of the truth-procedure, we run
up immediately against the question, what if the truth faces
opposition? The prominence
of the subject’s description as “militant” testifies to the
expectation that truth will always face opposition: since
every event happens only as the exposure of the void of a situation,
or what that situation refuses to count, the event is inherently
polemical. Besides the
inherent resistance of the situation itself, Badiou speaks of
subjects who are not faithful, who therefore fall away from
subjectivity. There are three possible modes of de-subjectivation,
which Badiou names as the three sources of Evil: simulacrum,
betrayal, and disaster.10 Simulacrum, exemplified in Nazism, is the identification
of a supposed event not with the void but with the plentitude
of a situation. A literal copy of the truth, it replaces the
universal address of a generic subject with the elevation of
a particular group or community, and does so with inevitably
devastating consequences. Outright
betrayal is another form of evil: the subtractive and originary
inducement of the subject means that a truth-procedure can never
be simply abandoned – it can only be fully disavowed.
Betrayal of a truth requires the assertion that the event
never really happened, and that the subject never really
existed. Badiou gives the example of former political revolutionaries
who force themselves to testify that the entire enterprise was
a grand illusion, or of a lover who no longer understands what
she loved about her partner in the first place.
Finally, “disaster” describes the absolutizing of a truth,
the will to make the regenerative power of the truth-procedure
total. Because the truth-procedure is a process of
re-organizing and re-naming the elements of the situation in
which it emerges, and because it is also founded on the basis
of that situation’s void, there is always a tension between
what the truth can accomplish and the void that restrains it.11 This limit-point or obstacle is called the
“unnameable”, and the third kind of evil is the naming of this
What do these three forms
of evil have in common, and more importantly, what does this
have to do with hope? Note first that evil for Badiou is a perversion
of the Good, that the Good comes first and is our first concern,
not the other way around. Now evil is the failure of the subject
in the context of adversity, either a short-circuiting of the
event, a supreme acquiescence, or a rash totalization of the
is the name of a subject which remains.
In contrast to any grand eschatological reading of Paul,
Badiou finds him espousing an “imperative of continuation....Faith
would be the opening to the true; love, the universalizing effectiveness
of its trajectory; hope, lastly, a maxim enjoining us to persevere
in this trajectory.” (SP 93)
The dual sense of fidelity
which I have noted becomes an exhausting tension in the case
of hope. As the third aspect of fidelity, hope marks
the possible resolution of the conflict between these two senses. We saw in the case of love that love’s universal
address enables the unity of thought and action, of adequation
and intensity. With
hope, we find a tension between the subjective rigor of perseverance
and the objective requirement of a truth’s continued success.
On the one hand, Paul’s injunction to “press on toward
the goal” (Philippians 3:14) takes on similarity to Lacan’s
maxim, “do not give up on your desire.” Since desire has been freed by faith and transformed
by love, it needs only to continue. On the other hand, there is the demand for justice, for success
and realization of the truth’s effects, exemplified in Paul’s
exhortation that “salvation is nearer to us now than when we
first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand.”
Hope resolves this conflict
by means of a logic that Badiou takes from set theory, called
“forcing”.13 Forcing is, “the point at which a truth, although
incomplete, authorizes anticipations of knowledge concerning
not what is but what will have been if truth attains completion. This anticipatory dimension requires that truth judgments be formulated
in the future perfect [tense].
Thus while almost nothing can be said about what a truth
is, when it comes to what happens on condition that that truth will have been, there exists a forcing whereby
almost everything can be stated.”14 Forcing therefore secures three advantages: first, it enables
the subject to continue in its path by providing anticipatory
verification of the subject’s claims to truth; second, it also
defends against the three failures of the subject described
above by limiting the scope of truth’s claims on immediate being;
third, the anticipatory projections modify the internal logic
of the very situation as it currently exists, providing guidance
for future steps and a measure of retroactive justification. The details of Cohen’s initial discovery and
Badiou’s amplification are too complex even to summarize here,
but some examples might suffice.
One clear case is Galileo’s innovation and fight with
his Aristotelian counterparts. Galileo envisioned the complete mathematization
of astronomy, but even without complete proofs he was able to
force the concession of his adversaries.
Later, the far-reaching effects of his discovery vindicated
his initial proclamation. Returning to Paul, we see that his
own proclamation of this paradoxical hope engendered a transnational
religious movement that, at least in its early stages, traversed
the existing economic, ethnic, and cultural divisions and radically
challenged the political situation in which it emerged.
Having considered all three
aspects of the subject’s fidelity, we must be reminded that
both the subjective and objective dimensions of fidelity
will be intelligible only to those subjects (whether collective
or individual) that are engaged on behalf of the event. The
event can never be perceived from within the logic of the situation
or from the side of knowledge, which is why fidelity to the
event in the forms of faith, hope, and love will never proceed
as mere reform, alteration, or amendment, but as the radical
transformation of the whole environment.
the seminal collection Who Comes After the Subject?,
published in 1991, both Badiou and Gilles Deleuze contributed
essays whose implicit answer was, “No one – we’re not quite
finished with the subject.”
As Deleuze put it: “a concept does not die simply when
one wants it to, but only when new functions in new fields discharge
it. This is also why it is never very interesting to criticize
a concept: it is better to build the new functions and discover
the new fields that make it useless or inadequate.”15 The analysis above suggests that Badiou’s theory
of the subject is clearly a redefinition of the concept; the
analysis below will cast it as a discovery of the new fields
and functions that make contemporary definitions inadequate.
Our final task is to situate Badiou’s reading of the
Pauline subject in the prominent discourses of that age.
Badiou identifies four discourses in the Pauline corpus:
they are named Greek, Jewish, Christian, and mystical. (cf.
SP 40-54) The first thing we understand is that “Jew” or “Greek” does
not name an ethnic or cultural identity but rather the dominant
“regimes of discourse”. (SP 41) Christian discourse will of course be opposed to both of them,
and the mystical is a kind of quasi-discourse understood as
the perversion of the Christian. Additionally, “discourse” here has nothing
to do with the linguistic worries of so much contemporary philosophy,
but merely names these dominant regimes as constitutive and
– The Greek discourse expresses itself as wisdom.
Its subjective figure is the philosopher for whom all
of reality can be expressed as a totality.
Wisdom is the absolute matching of logos
– the law – to being. In
Paul’s time, wisdom is experienced as both the sophistry of
his Athenian opponents and as the ever-present hegemony of the
Roman Empire – both sides testifying to the impossibility of
escaping the natural cosmic order.
– The Jewish discourse is that of the sign.
Judaism, which by this point is practiced also by Gentiles
throughout the empire, is no longer the exclusive domain of
a particular ethnicity, but nevertheless remains the rule of
exception, the law of election.
Its subjective figure is the prophet, who likewise gains
control over the universe through the literal tradition’s deciphering
Badiou notes at this point that the Greek and Jewish
discourses are “two aspects of the same figure of mastery”.
Jewish election presupposes a backdrop of totality against
which to assert its transcendence, while the Greek cosmic order
requires the Jewish point of exception as a crisis on which
to impose itself. Paul’s claim is that the dialectic of these
two discourses divides humanity in two and blocks the event’s
(iii) Christian – In this sense Christianity is
completely new. Where the first two discourses maintain the
mastery of the Father, Christianity is a discourse of the Son. Its subjective figure is the apostle. Paul, who was never a companion of Christ,
is able to assert his apostolic status because it is a matter
not of historical witness, but of subjective fidelity.
Christianity does not occur within the order of knowledge:
as Paul says, “God chose the foolish things of the world to
confound the wise, and God chose the weak things of the world
to confound the strong; God chose what is base and despised
in the world, and even things that are not, to bring to nought
things that are.” (I Corinthians 1:29)
Christianity will appear to Greek wisdom, which is based
on reason, as folly, and to Jewish election, which demands divine
signs of power, as weakness.
We also note here the affinity of Paul’s phrase “what
is base and despised…and even things that are not” and Badiou’s
doctrine of the event as what exposes the void of the situation
and what re-asserts those elements which the situation does
(iv) Mysticism – This is only a quasi-discourse, for
it is the perversion of the Christian universal address into
a private and unutterable language.
Where Christianity consists in declaration, universalization,
and forcing, mysticism makes claims to ineffability, glorification,
and rapture. Where Christianity
puts the cosmic and literal law into a deadlock in order to
transform it, mysticism resubmits itself to the mastery of the
literal and then clothes itself in silence.
In the context of these discourses, Badiou’s theory of
the subject relates itself to the deconstructive and premodern
moments with Continental philosophy of religion.
In the case of Levinas, Badiou seems willing to distinguish
the dominant reception of the ethics of alterity “from Levinas’
actual conception of things.”16 But he also dismisses absolutized oblatory
love as “narcissistic pretension” (SP
90). Perhaps we may
understand the ethics of alterity as corresponding to the Jewish
discourse outlined above: Levinasian ethics depends upon the
continued hegemony of the “Western tradition” as a backdrop
against which it can oppose the radical exception of ethics
– the prophetic election of my self by the Other. When both I and the other are reduced to our
role as victims – I am the always-already guilty sacrifice,
the other is a mere widow, orphan, or stranger – the one thing
that is forbidden is an event that would break this dialectic
of totality and its supposed infinity. Although the proposition that Levinas is a
politically relevant thinker is finally gaining wider acceptance,
Levinas’s own reluctance to draw out the sociopolitical implications
of his thought displays the extent to which any thought that
begins with ethics (rather than, for example, with the irruption
of ontological innovation) risks confining itself to the normative
categories of its own time.
Derrida’s variation on this in The Gift of Death combines the ethics of alterity with the Christianized
reading of the Abrahamic mysterium
tremendum, resulting in a kind of secret and ineffable self-sacrifice. This variation seems very close to what Badiou
has called mysticism: it takes the rupture and the new logic
announced by Christianity and empties them of power, leaving
them trapped within a private and unutterable language.
Abraham’s transgression of the ethical order is made
Recall that while the rupture of Event always appears
as madness from the perspective of the situation, it also forces
a new logic, a new account, and this is what Derrida forbids
when he introduces the notion of “religion without religion”:
“What engenders all these meanings [gift, the gift of death,
love, faith] and links them, internally and necessarily, is
a logic that at bottom ... has no need of the event of a
revelation or the revelation of an event.”17 Derrida’s move is a valuable reminder of the
inevitably guilty quality of any meaningful act – a defeat par excellence of the beautiful souls – but this is always from the
perspective of the situation: Badiou’s insistence on the possibility
of retroactive justification should be contrasted to the debilitating
effects of such pervasive guilt.
A similar movement from ancient discourse to ineffable
mysticism takes place within Radical Orthodoxy. In this case it is John Milbank’s claim that “every discipline must
be framed by a theological perspective”;18 theology
is the ultimate discourse, the only mode competent to oversee
every other discipline. For
example, in his most recent book, Milbank writes: “granted autonomy
[in the early modern period] to explore pure nature, philosophers
quickly did not find what they were supposed to find….This meant
that the only ‘true’ philosophy was mostly done with their left
hand by theologians.”19 Theology here assumes the role of ultimate
wisdom about what may be said, a surprising usurpation of the
role that philosophy once took for itself.
Proving that the two ancient discourses can in fact form
the same figure of mastery, Radical Orthodoxy also prohibits
the category of event: by denying each discipline the ability
to speak of a “zone apart from God,” Milbank et al. ground
all things in God, canceling the void from which the Event emerges.
There can be no creation ex nihilo.
The biggest surprise, however, is when, in an effort
to extend his panoptic appropriation even across postmodernism,
Milbank concludes by submitting to what Badiou is calling mysticism:
“The Gospel concerns, above all for us today, this issue of
affinity….Affinity is the absolutely non-theorizable, it is
the almost ineffable. Affinity is the mysterium….[W]e cannot say in
what respect we are like God; the image [of God] simply
is an ineffable likeness.”20 That most crucial philosophical enterprise
– the rational investigation of subjectivity – is precisely
what Milbank seems to prohibit.
Since the late modern announcement of the “end of philosophy,”
Judaic election and Greek wisdom have become unsustainable:
just as Levinas’s Judaic retrieval immediately gives way to
Derrida’s play of salvific economy and divine secrecy, so does
Milbank’s theological imperialism – having banished the void
on which being depends – collapse into rapturous silence.
Although the book was not itself conceived in response
to these movements, my reading of Saint
Paul is obviously motivated by a profound dissatisfaction
with the available positions in contemporary thought.
Caught between the political lethargy of Levinas-inspired
deconstruction and the theological aggression of Radical Orthodoxy,
Badiou is more than just a way out: his philosophy attempts
precisely what the others refuse.
Against the Judaic election, Paul announces a subject
who loves the neighbor as
himself, not via a deferential self-sacrifice which would
be the structural obverse of the totality, but by the power
of the universal address of faith, which is love.
And in opposition to any form of discursive closure,
“radically orthodox” or otherwise, the subject forces an anticipation
of its truth-procedure’s success while refusing to determine
all elements of the situation. Finally, against any obscuring mysticism, Badiou’s
theory of the Pauline subject articulates precisely how subjects
participate in immortal being.
Since the Christian subject only comes about through
the inducement by Christ’s Resurrection, effability is not the
guilty and unfortunate necessity of a “fallen world”; declaration
is instead the first mode through which the subject emerges.
theory of the subject is therefore as timely as it is unique.
In an age when every element of difference is easily
co-opted by and conformed to the market’s global order: when
love is replaced by trite romanticism and mere sexuality, when
the sciences have given way to technology, when artistic endeavors
are replaced by the blandness of popular culture, and when emancipatory
politics is forbidden in favor of synoptic management; in these
conditions, it is precisely and only the subject’s rarity, intensity,
and generic universality that can mark a new path for the whole
of humanity. This is the lesson of the figure of Paul who,
threatened on all sides – by the Empire, by enemies, and even
by friends, can write to his comrades in Rome: “I am sure that
neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor
things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height,
nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to
separate us from the love of Christ…” (Romans 8:38-9) Neither an emperor nor a victim, Paul demands of us the militancy
of love; Badiou appropriates him for today because Paul also
demands of us a new love of militancy.