Badiou contra modern obscurantisms

May 10, 2011

Badiou’s short text “Contemporary obscurantism” appears in the May 8 edition of last year’s Le Monde.

However, my translation below is from the Russian translation I found here. This is a sort of a test of what one of Badious’ interpreters describes as Badiou’s desire to be perfectly accessible in translation.  What I’d like now is to find a French person who could translate my English version back into French.

What name should we give to the strange intellectual constructs that are the works of Darwin, Marx and Freud? They do not belong to science  in the strict sense, even in spite of the fact that biology, inculding modern biology, thinks itself within a Darwinian framework. They do not belong to philosophy, even though the dialectic (Plato’s old name for philosophy) received a new impetus thanks to Marx. They are not reducible to practices which they illuminate, even though laboratory life aims to confirm Darwin, revolutionary politics tries to verify the communist hypothesis of Marx, and psychoanalytic treatment places Freud within the unstable boundaries of psychiatry.

Let us frame XIX century as the period between the French Revolution and the October Revolution. I propose to call these three brilliant attempts  – dispositions of thought which,  in a sense, determine the contribution XIX century made to the history of humanity’s liberation.

After Darwin, the movement of life and of the human being-as-species is irreversibly split from any religious transcendence, and is returned to the immanence of its own laws. After Marx, the history of human collectivity sheds that nebulous providence which is the omnipotent oppression of inertial forces of private property, family and the state. That history surrenders (or is surrendered) instead to the power of the free play of contradictions, from which, though in stress and uncertainty , equality may yet be established. After Freud, we realize that there is no soul (whose education is but a moralistic training) as something  opposite to primary instincts, which are the very element of childhood which makes us who we are. In fact, it is among those desires, including the sexual, that the possible freedom of the subject is staged, of the subject as it is determined by language, of the language which compactly reproduces the symbolic order.

Various “conservatisms” have, of old, fiercely assaulted these three great dispositions, and naturally so. It is known that in the U.S., even today, educational institutions are often required to present, opposite the Darwinian evolution, a biblical creationism. The history of anti-communism is virtually identical with the history of the reigning ideology of those great  states in which under the name of “democracy” a twin of capital-parliamentarism reigns. The normalizing psychiatric positivism, everywhere finding  anomalies and deviations to be straightened through chemical violence, is desperately invested in “proofs” that psychoanalysis is a hucksterism.

Yet, throughout the whole period, mainly in France, Darwin’s, Marx’s and Freud’s powerfully liberating influence as regards  both thought and action has been winning, though of course not without fierce debates, agonizing reappraisals, and inspired criticque. The momentum of our three dispositions dominated the intellectual scene. Conservatisms assumed a defensive position.

Since the 1980s which saw the start of an extensive process of global normalization, any liberatory or even critical thought has become a hindrance. Thus today we behold numerous attempts to erase from the public mind all traces of these great dispositions,  which are even condemned as “ideologies”, though they actually are the rational critique of ideological enslavement. Unfortunately, because of the activity of some cliques of renegades from the “red decade” (1965-1975), France – a model country of the class struggle, according to Marx – has been at the forefront of this reaction. Here blossomed the “black books” of communism, psychoanalysis, progressivism and, ultimately, of all that is not included in the current set of nonsense: consume, work, vote and be silent.

Among these attempts, which under the guise of “modernity” pull out the junk liberalism circa 1820s, not the least offensive are those that invoke a materialism of pleasure, and wish to consign the liberatory dispositions, particularly psychoanalysis, to the brig. The imperative to”enjoy” which bears no relation to any kind of liberation – this is the injunction which the so-called Western societies order us to obey. We are thus to forbid ourselves the organization of what is really important – the liberatory process of several accessible truths, which are guarded by the great dispositions of thought.

Without exception, we will name as modern obscurantism all forms of subversion and destruction aimed at the power contained, for the good of humankind, in the writings of Darwin, Marx and Freud.

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