The idea of the generic : the problem of form in the work of Alain Badiou

Potter, William (2017) The idea of the generic : the problem of form in the work of Alain Badiou. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


Alain Badiou's philosophy is a consequential attempt to make the idea of generic existence intelligible with purely formal means. The aim of this thesis is to show how Badiou develops a mathematical ontology to think the idea of generic politics after the failure of Maoism and to demonstrate the limits of this approach. My thesis follows the chronology of Badiou's work, and I distinguish four periods : early work that includes the 'novels' 'Almagestes' (1964) and 'Portulans' (1967), and the yper-Althusserian theoretical texts of the mid- to late-1960s; Maoist theory that includes the pamphlets of the 1970s; 'Theory of the Subject' (1981); and finally, the Platonism of 'Being and Event' (1988) and 'Logics of Worlds' (2006). In chapter 1, I argue that, although Badiou's early novels have barely received any attention in recent reception of his work, they are important to understanding the development of his formalism out of a literary concern with the aesthetic whole and how this can serve as an image of political action. In chapter 2, I focus on Badiou's theory of the late 1960s and reconstruct his axiomatic interpretation of Althusserian theory, the distinctive move of which is the substitution of the mathematical category of set for the notion of object. The argument of chapter 3 is that the logic of anxiety in Badiou's political pamphlets of the 1970s circulates around the reality of communism, and that 'Theory of the Subject' is best understood as an attempt to circumvent this through a partial return to mathematical formalism. Inchapter 4, I argue that the ontology of 'Being and Event' replaces history with a logic of retroaction whose model is set-theoretical forcing and that the supplementary logic of appearance in 'Logics of Worlds' is ultimately nothing more than an extension of this mathematical formalism.

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