From edition

Alain Badiou's St. Paul

Alain Badiou. St. Paul: The Foundation of Universalism. Tran. Ray Brassier. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003. 111 pgs.

St. Paul: The Foundation of Universalism is yet another religious intervention into a practical philosophy that can help us understand the eventizing of revolutionary activity. Badiou’s book forms a group with a number of critics, including Slavoj Zizek and Antonio Negri, who understand the use of religious language and religiosity in establishing a new type of revolutionary potential.   For Badiou, Paul is not the father of Christianity as a metaphysical project. Rather, Paul is a revolutionary anti-philosopher of the event. Pauline Christianity forms the community as a militant collection of singularities operating under a radical universalism. Badiou really wants to show us the relevance of using and appropriating the example of Paul for revolutionary projects today. As such, he is not so much concerned with the details of constructing a historical Paul. Paul is a Christian insomuch as he participates in the Christ-event, insofar as he participates in the collective effort that politicizes the resurrection of Christ as something that can organize the multitude towards revolution. Baidou’s book is a strange rethinking of collectivity, as it sees the eventizing of the revolution in a prophetic intratemporality that locates Paul as a contemporary figure currently helping us participate in resistance against oppression.
Contemporizing Paul or actively stripping him from a very singular historical nexus brings up all sorts of questions regarding how this appropriation relates to the appropriateness of Badiou’s project. To what end can the figure of Paul really help us think about the event? And why, in particular, must a figure of religious thought be used to organize a book on radical politics and philosophy? Badiou makes it clear early on that he cares little for the religious implications of his book. “Basically, I have never really connected Paul with religion. It is not according to this register, or to bear witness to any sort of faith, or even antifaith, that I have, for a long time, been interested in him” (1). This very specific and forceful declaration is an act of appropriation par excellence. Badiou sees Paul as an opportunity for a very particular type of action. For Paul, the importance of the messiah was the event of his resurrection. For Badiou, the importance of Paul lies in how he makes us think about the event in general. “If today I wish to retrace in a few pages the singularity of this connection in Paul, it is probably because there is currently a widespread search for a new militant figure” (2). The Foundation of Universalism focuses its argument around Paul’s worthiness as a successor to the figure of the party militant.   Paul’s appropriation is a resurrection or a recreation, a rememorialization of religiosity in the service of repeating his thoughts within our contemporary political environment. It is, therefore and despite Badiou’s never thinking so, religious through and through.
I think it is important to note, however, that this religiosity produces an immanent political gesture that rescues Badiou’s book from merely being an interpretation of Paul caught up in the closure of metaphysics. I see this potentiality precisely in Badiou’s need to use the past to produce a future against and ultimately beyond capital. In this sense, the radical universalism he advocates acts as a disjointed bridge connecting the event and making it contemporary with the concerns of the multitude that declares it. This is what Paul affects when he declares the good news. Badiou sees the good news as something that automatically threatens the consistency of Jewish law. Also, and this is key for Paul as well as Badiou, the Good News can only work as the event of each universal singularity working within it. It cannot be determined any generalities. The Good News brings about what Badiou would call a universal singularity with each believer participating in it. While respecting the singularity of everyone affected by the Good News, Paul ultimately rejects what he sees as the restrictive prohibitions of Jewish Law. Christianity never exists outside of the believer declaring the truth of the Christ-event. Every time this event is declared and held with conviction, the believer forms a radical community that has no laws and is entirely subjective.

Towards metaphysics and capital, the truth procedure can only offer indifference. It is not simply that Pauline Christianity opposes Jewish law, but that it is entirely indifferent to it. Badiou articulates this indifference not only in Paul’s attitude towards Jewish law. It isn’t as though Paul simply rejects the tenants of the law. The revolution of Christianity, the Christ-event that affects the Christian simply does not regard the tenants. It is not as though Paul condemns Jewish Law, he just does not pay much attention to it. In this not-paying attention to, Badiou marks what could be the most potent revolutionary stance: an absolute exodus based upon in-difference-homonymous to what Giorgio Agamben in The Coming Community would call “whatever being”-vacillating inbetween the singularity of the one experiencing the Christ event and the generality of the impossible community Paul tries to construct. In-difference would not only mark a rejection of difference, but would also include a construction of being and the event focused around and inside of difference-in-itself. Difference would thus reject the static and standard identity networking of capitalism, and instead open itself up to fidelity as repetition, as a revolution that seeks a perpetuation of the event in its rejection of what Badiou calls the “automatism of desire” (79).

Fidelity to the event, in this case, would also reject the event as an automation of repetition. The static repetition of the law seeks an absolute harmony with earlier images of the event. This automatic repetition Baidou calls “sin.” Instead of being merely desire, Paul talks about desire’s relation to the dead structure of the law. “Sin is the life of desire as autonomy, as automatism. The law is required in order to unleash the automatic life of desire, the automatism of repletion” (79). The yoke of autonomy, of desire as manifested in the law autonomously, is the very essence of sin. Despite the absolute need to work together or to form the community of believers based upon the Christ event, sin marks division and discord through this facile myth. This autonomy, for Badiou, is nothing but automatism; it is nothing but the static repetition of the same image which cannot fully embrace the radicality of the event. It repeats the event in a pathetic attempt to recapture a lost revolutionary moment. The problem is that in repeating the event mimetically, automatic desire can do nothing but prolong the reign of the law. The network of difference, automated by a static understanding of repetition, codifies the creative powers inherent in desire and focuses them into the law. Autonomous desire is sinful, for Paul, not because it transgresses-but because its transgression is naïve, nostalgic, and impotent.      

Instead of a contradiction of the automatism of difference, Badiou’s in-difference would, in Deleuze’s words, vice-dict that difference. While talking about Hegel’s understanding of contradiction in Difference and Repetition, Deleuze argues that “[i]t is not difference which presupposes opposition but opposition which presupposes difference, and far from resolving difference by tracing it back to a foundation, opposition betrays and distorts it” (51). The contradiction of the automatism of difference would fail to fully pose a radical alternative. It could only replace the law of automatism, of the repetition that signifies this law, with yet another law. To pronounce t
he Good News, one must force a different thinking, a thinking of indifference that could react radically to the law of automatism. Badiou’s analysis of the automatism of difference, of desire as difference, is similar. In-difference is needed for Badiou because it makes this non-contradictory difference possible in revolutionary thought.   It is a non-dialectical movement that shatters any normalizing conception of difference as a networked reality under Jewish law. Fidelity to the event marks, thus, a constant moving away from the processes that would construct a singular truth or a singular law or even a singular difference. The event can only be called attention to in this moment of in-difference; and this in-difference, for Badiou, marks the only possibility for a revolutionary understanding of universalism.

The invocation of Paul by Badiou shows just how revolutionary this kind of thinking can be. Paul’s image is already incorporated into an extremely complicated capitalistic apparatus, one that is becoming more and more global. Fundamentalisms–Jewish, Islamic, and Christian–all attempt to produce a radical alternative to global capital. By structuring their reaction so dialectially, though, fundamentalisms succeed only in reproducing the very structure they seek to disrupt. This is not to mention the complicency that fundamentalism must have with technology to be recognized in a globalizing world, as Jacques Derrida rightly points out in “Faith and Knowledge: Two Sources of `Religion’ Within the Limits of Reason Alone.” Badiou’s invocation of Paul is an attempt to link religious thinking to a radical political theory of the event. Badiou’s use of indifference to radically oppose the automatism of desire can give theorists who are interested in different theoretical approaches against the growing globalist mechanisms another way to think about the problem. While Badiou’s thinking of the event could be complicated by Derrida’s understanding of globalization and the technology of the event in “Faith and Knowledge” and “Limited Ink (2) (“within such limits”), Badiou does provide a very nuanced approach to thinking about the affinities Marxist thought can have with religion–Christianity in particular. To think against the totality of the emerging global Empire, to use Hardt and Negri’s term, one must understand the possibilities religion can provide in this thought. Badiou’s book fills this void admirably.   

Badiou’s affinities with Paul, Deleuze, and Agamben, perhaps, serve as examples for the type of revolutionary practice he seeks to employ and the understanding of universalism he seems to want to lay claim to. Love is the word Badiou uses to signify the opening of universalist revolutionary practice. This practice does not replace law with lawlessness, but sees itself beyond itself. The Law returns as a beyond of the law, the community returns as a beyond of the community, love returns time and time again–but beyond itself. Revolution, likewise, moves beyond itself in an act that serves to perpetuate what it is. Universalism cannot, therefore, simply be an image or a doctrine that makes singularities static or seeks to employ them in the service of a particular event understood in only one way. With love as a beyond of itself, as a perpetuation of revolution that constantly displaces difference-as-contradiction, universalism can only exist within revolutionary practice. It can only perpetuate itself in in-difference, in a difference that constantly seeks its own repetition as absolutely different and singular.    “[T]he impetus of a truth, what makes it exist in the world, is identical to its universality, whose subjective form, under the Pauline name of love, consists in its tirelessly addressing itself to all the others, Greeks and Jews, men and women, free men and slaves” (92). To be militant is to be universalist is to be a lover; it is to address oneself to all singularities in-differently. For it is within love, and it is here that we see yet a further affinity that Badiou might have with Che Guevarra and Paulo Freire, that the process of the truth event comes to be what it is: not in a static repetition, but in a absolutely dynamic mobility that revolutionizes itself in its perpetualizing existence.

Works Cited
Agamben, Giorgio. The Coming Community. Tran. Michael Hardt. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 1993.

Deleuze, Gilles. Difference and Repetition. Tran. Paul Patton. New York: Columbia UP, 1994.

Derrida, Jacques. “Faith and Knowledge: The Two Sources of `Religion’ at the Limits of Reason Alone.” Acts of Religion. Ed. Gil Anidjar. New York: Routledge, 2002. 40-101.

—.”Limited Ink(2): (`within such limits’).” Material Events: Paul de Man and the Afterlife of Theory. Ed. Tom Cohen et al. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 2001.

Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. Empire. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2000.

Roger Whitson is a Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of Florida.

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