“On the Problematic of Political Prescription” by Timothy Kaposy

“Philosophy is first and foremost this: the invention of new problems.”

-Alain Badiou

Published in 2004 with South Atlantic Quarterly, Peter Hallward’s essay “The Politics of Prescription,” is one of the most instructive responses to the philosophy of Alain Badiou to date. The essay breaks from the usual commentary about Badiou to explain a decrease of politically engaging philosophy across national contexts since 1973. Comprised of twelve theses, Hallward’s essay focuses on prescription as the “concrete transformation of those relations that sustain inequality, exploitation, or oppression” in the present. [1] Prescription is by no means exclusive to philosophy (re: medicine); nevertheless, the term helps Hallward for “a way out of an impasse” via a critique of philosophy’s underwriting of liberal statecraft. Where liberal political discourses of “communication, community, consensus, toleration, recognition, and so on” metastasize fantasies of social progress today, any reader of the daily news realizes these terms legitimate inaction amid systemic injustices. Prescription, by contrast, is a theoretical problem that Hallward makes explicit to seek an end to philosophy’s growing complicity with political orthodoxies.

My reading of Hallward’s essay engages two lines of his argument. First, Hallward brackets aesthetic and ontological claims. This is notable since they are central to Badiou’s thought. Despite examining them elsewhere, Hallward here puts aside questions of political existence and perception. The subject under discussion is thus dissociated from inquiries into Being and its critical faculties. Where then might we find prescription’s philosophical import? Second, prescription is said to initiate subtractive thinking. Against politics as an additive practice—e.g., increasing citizen participation in the State, raising funds for causes—Hallward concurs with Badiou’s separation of politics from solidarity based in nationalism and exceptionality based in identity. Dissociating politics from forms of representation (i.e., Hallward refrains from examining art or culture) and circumventing its affirmative banalities, “Prescription” delimits political thought within a subtractive problematic. This problematic will become clearer once we provide further details.

Based on their previous collaborations Hallward’s proximity to Badiou’s work is well-known. His exhaustive book-length 2003 study, Badiou: A Subject to Truth, is the clearest exposition of Badiou’s philosophy in any language. As well, Hallward’s translation of Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil (2001) and his editorial guidance of Badiou’s work has increased sites of interpretation for English-language readers. Despite their partnership over the last decade Hallward places greater emphasis on contemporary politics. In “Prescription” Hallward pushes for the application of Badiou’s problematic by developing “its properly prescriptive or relational aspect.” [2] Whereas Badiou’s local political commitments are evident – he is a founding member of L’Organisation Politique (1985-2007), a group who fought for the equality of Paris’s undocumented migrants – Hallward questions how Badiou’s thought might animate a larger scale of oppositional political bodies (e.g., the people, collectivity). For instance, what might the problematic of prescription afford autonomous enclaves and social movements whose livelihoods are being subsumed by the European Union or the World Bank and their mandates of development, growth and integration? Staring with this question, I will weave Hallward’s essay back into Badiou’s thinking and end with a discussion of The Century, a series of lectures Badiou gave at the College International de Philosophie between 1998 and 2001.

Since Hallward frames Badiou’s work in “Prescription” more or less globally, it is useful to note that Badiou’s philosophy has gained less traction in North America than the (post-) strucuturalist French theorists who preceded him. From the 1970s until approximately 2010 French theory made inroads into the social sciences and humanities across the United States and Canada. While Badiou’s relation to French theory is a topic to be dealt with elsewhere, his work gained broad interest in 2000 with Slavoj Žižek’s The Ticklish Subject. Žižek contextualized Badiou’s philosophy as a response to the work of Louis Althusser and comparable to the work of Étienne Balibar, Jacques Rancière and Ernesto Laclau. Overall, Žižek’s book length comparisons issued a critique of Althusser’s “theoreticist elitism, his insistence on the gap forever separating the universe of scientific cognition from that of ideological (mis)recognition in which the common masses are immersed.” [3] This point remains germane. Žižek alerts us to the collective horizon of intellectual practice for which Althusserians have, with different results, theorized as a chronic impediment to revolt and self-organization. If reform minded philosophy reproduces the liberal state and philosophy’s critical guise effectively narrows its realm of engagement, Badiou’s work signals to Žižek and Hallward a rigorous challenge to both restrictions.

Hallward’s essay provides a way through these dual impasses. His first step separates constitutive ideas from mediating discourse. To the degree ideas set the conditions for what may be thought, discourse recapitulates enduring debates to leave its most exigent questions unasked and to create the illusion of an inclusive discussion among its participants. [4] Using the idea as the basis of his problematic, Hallward champions Badiou’s extension of the Platonic, Cartesian and Hegelian lineage of philosophical practice. In each case philosophy is un-derived from the pattern recognition of daily life. Badiou practices philosophy as Descartes did in Principles of Philosophy (1644), for example, to lift thought out of the cosmology of religious mystifications, the normative mire of common sense and the immediacy of what is called experience. In a departure from Descartes, Badiou’s division of truth between science, politics, art and love includes no discrete psyche or God as its binding agent. One inevitably draws from empirical insights and theological lessons, but philosophy’s role is to breaks linear patterns of sensory phenomena and metaphysics. For Hallward, Badiou’s thinking has an “axiomatic orientation [which] thereby suspends the supervision of language games, deflates the pathos of romanticism, interrupts the management of consensus or communication.” [5] Further to Hallward’s point, a notable number of conceptual touchstones of the contemporary Left—“austerity,” “debt,” “entrepreneurialism,” “new media,” “neoliberalism”, “affect,” “precarity,” “world systems,” etc.—remain unexamined by Badiou. This purification of thought, as Žižek characterizes it, initiates Badiou’s subtractive problematic. [6]

To better explain the relevance of Hallward’s essay I consider two foci of Badiou’s philosophy: “the present,” and “the event.” I use the definite article here to explain how Badiou applies determinate judgment to problematize these concepts. In contrast to the way periodization prompts recognition of ineluctable histories, these two foci impel one to reckon with oneself and others as thinkers (rather than assume a shared narrative of time). Formalizing ideas rather than placing them in a narrative is one of the methodological distinctions Badiou makes in his two primary works L’être et l’événement (1988; Being and Event, translated to English in 2005) and Logiques des mondes: L’être et l’événement 2 (2006; Logics of Worlds, translated to English in 2009). For Badiou rationality is demonstrated with proof like specificity rather than explained as an innate faculty. Large sections of these texts are devoted to algebraic elaborations on seemingly subjective speculations such as the inevitability of death. [7] Analogously, prescription restricts philosophy from subservience to one’s temporal or spatial surroundings. Thinking is vitally immediate but the principle by which one thinks is skeptically independent of prosaic conscription. For these reasons prescription is a philosophical problematic rather than a tacit praxis (however insistent the desire for ‘direct action’ in politics). [8] By questioning the necessary conditions of thought, one never frees philosophy from its problems. This is no reason to label philosophy superannuated or to avoid its complicated history.

Given North American political culture’s penchant for talking points and single-issue causes, the mere hint of philosophical problems draws the most cynical of sighs. Prescriptive politics, however, are legible in North American culture. Angela Davis’s writings on the abolition of prisons for instance has precedent in eighteenth and nineteenth century Abolitionist movements. [9] In addition, ACT UP’s attempts to end the HIV/AIDS crisis germinated in group deliberations. Their organization of thought forced medical institutions to bypass their budgetary shortcomings and homophobia to examine the group’s research findings. [10] Neither of these problems (i.e., an end to mass incarceration, eradication of a virus) have been solved by philosophy;however, both examples indicate how prescriptive initiatives circulate in North American culture with a power often unapparent to those who espouse solutions as the benchmark of intellectual practice. Perhaps it is fitting to suggest that North America is an optimal audience for Hallward’s response to Badiou.

I. The Present

“Prescription is direct because its element is the urgency of the here and now.” -Hallward

My first focus is perhaps too recent to yield a definitive account. One key feature of contemporary politics is its combination of the militarization of conflict with a mass deferral of collectivity. On the one hand, the rise of neo-imperialist land claims and repetitious civil wars (e.g., Afghanistan, Algeria, Burundi, Cambodia, Congo, Chechnya, East Timor, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Iraq, Laos, Lebanon, Liberia, Mozambique, Palestine, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, Vietnam, Yugoslavia, etc.) have killed millions over economic development, ethnic divisions and the brisk overturning of regimes. New proxy conflicts arise every month.

Politics in venues with less bloodshed consists of a palliation of socio-economic alienation. Think here of the pejorative association of the word “politics” many of us have with marked bodies, cliques, classes—all of which divides people by way of belligerence, nepotism, superficial attitudes and ultimately deliver neighborhoods into identity discord. Amid these polarities of mass killing and woe, bombing and bickering, how might one grasp these oscillating qualities of conflict to enact what Badiou’s calls for: “a new maxim of equality”? [11] What brings these qualities together?

One answer can be found in the way Badiou describes the large scale of normalization in The Logics of Worlds as an “occultation.” The separation of collectives from self-governance is central to his grasp of the current state of politics. A symptom of this separation is “the obscure subject” whose pattern of daily activity nullifies collective intellectual engagement. For all the arcana of Badiou’s philosophy a focused picture of the present is regularly given in his jeremiads. Logics of Worlds describes political projects dissipating in the habits of populations:

“…it is the present which is directly its unconscious, its lethal disturbance, while it disarticulates in appearing the formal data of fidelity. The monstrous full Body to which it gives fictional shape is the atemporal filling of the abolished present. Thus what bears this body is directly linked to the past, even if the becoming of the obscure subject also crushes this past in the name of the sacrifice of the present: veterans of lost wars, failed artists, intellectuals perverted by bitterness, dried-up matrons, illiterate muscle bound youths, shopkeepers ruined by Capital, desperate unemployed workers, rancid couples, bachelor informants, academicians envious of the success of poets, atrabilious professors, xenophobes of all stripes, Mafiosi greedy for decorations, vicious priests and cuckolded husbands. To this hodgepodge of ordinary existence the obscure subject offers the chance of a new destiny, under the incomprehensible but salvific sign of an absolute body, whose only demand is that one serves it by nurturing everywhere and at all times the hatred of every living thought, every transparent language and every uncertain becoming.[12]

“Types” populate the present because of the consistency of normalization. Identities appear viscerally, their discord leaves unaddressed how daily activities effectively obscure and block politics as an entry for one’s thinking. How might one begin to think politically against the grain of political discourse? This in itself is a question rarely posed. Badiou retains Hegel’s belief that thought is the greatest source of normalization.

Two brief examples show how the rhetoric of discourse modifies valuable political ideas and distances populations from ideas of self-governance. First, the reiteration of the word “equity” in lieu of “equality” has lent liberals rhetorical leverage for the refinancing of the welfare state. In too many cases to name the negotiation between opposing parties returns to the near-universal equivalency of capitalist value. Across labour and social movements, money rather than autonomy has become the basis for policy decisions and the index of commitment. Second, national economies are planned to grow at the expense its so-called “resources.” The renaming of workers and ecologies into “flexible” labor and “resilient” environments extends the time of work to all hours and increases pollution to an irreparable toxicity. Gradual acceptance of these shifts, an internalization of their justifications, shows that the compromises made by once independent enclaves of thought (ecologists, universities, NGOs, militant groups, science institutions, unions, etc.) more than ever reconcile to the protocols of the State and corporations. In both cases, a corrupted political present necessitates not the addition of another concept for its illumination. The situation calls for the subtraction of these discourses from circulation as such.

One theorist Hallward notes in “Prescription” associated with the shift from the political idea to thought’s discursive management is Jürgen Habermas. Despite bearing the brunt of critiques from the Anglo-American Left over the last two decades, Habermas’ lingering presence is a symptom of political discourse’s continued relevance. His thinking has had increasing acceptance in North America to the point that reform-minded critical theorists count as touchstones in various contemporary issues (e.g., Wendy Brown, Seyla Benhabib, Nancy Fraser, Raymond Geuss). Badiou is most often compared to Althusser and his students. Yet a brief comparison between Badiou and Habermas marks differences in their thinking.

A second generation acolyte of the Frankfurt School, Habermas emerged in the mid-to-late 1950s after it officially reopened in Frankfurt. Habermas is associated with a reformation of the School after Theodor Adorno’s death in 1969. Mentored in the tradition of German philosophy and sociology, Habermas’s habilitation, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: an Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (1962), is a landmark account of the historical shifts in the notion of the public sphere from the Renaissance in Western Europe to the revolutionary United States. Habermas effectively shifted the School’s approaches to a number of core methods and disarticulated the invasive effect Adorno’s ardent philosophical investigations had on a generation of thinkers who followed. As an aside, the all-too-quick caricature of Adorno’s work in philosophy, cultural studies and musicology has had an indirect effect of substantiating Habermas’s moderate discursive approach. Most significant is Habermas’ reconciliation with positivist sociology (i.e., August Comte, Talcott Parsons), pragmatist political science (his most lucid writings concern the 1990 German reunification process), and discourse ethics (see his theory of “communicative action”). Given the distinction he made in 1937 by Max Horkheimer, the School’s foremost director, he surely would have deemed Habermas’ writings “traditional theory” not “critical theory.” The division between “traditional” and “critical” theory is based on whether intellectual praxis reproduces status quo relations or subverts them. [13] Badiou’s approach is similar to Horkheimer’s in that “[a] prescriptive politics presumes a form of classical logic – a confrontation of two contrary positions, to the exclusion of any middle or third.” [14]

Just over fifty years after the IMF and the World Bank’s structural adjustment programs became law in the global South from Argentina to Zambia, similar tactics have been used to mend hemorrhages in the European Union’s banking sector. Austerity’s greatest impact has been felt by commoners in Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the Ukraine. Seeking ideas to repel the discourse of austerity, Perry Anderson recently consulted Habermas’s writings only to be disappointed by his faith that legislative progress will settle the crisis. The well-intentioned notions of compromise and negotiation broached in the collection The Crisis of the European Union: A Response (2013) confirmed to Anderson that

“Habermas is no doubt in part the victim of his own eminence: enclosed, like Rawls before him, in a mental world populated overwhelmingly by admirers and followers, decreasingly able to engage with positions more than a few millimeters away from his own. Often hailed as a contemporary successor to Kant, he risks becoming a modern Leibniz, constructing with imperturbable euphemisms a theodicy in which even the evils of financial deregulation contribute to the blessings of cosmopolitan awakening, while the West sweeps the path of democracy and human rights towards an ultimate Eden of pan-human legitimacy.” [15]

Habermas appears to have protected his place in the imagined history of ideas at the cost of eliding how liberalism, once exported to other continents by Europeans, has returned to its source fully refined and intent to exploit its populations. Claiming a fidelity to the projects of the Enlightenment and modernity, calling both “unfinished projects” and opposing “postmodern” and “anti-modern” philosophies, Habermas in the 1970s argued for a fidelity to philosophy in a way that resembles Badiou. Unlike Badiou, whose recent essays advocate revolt against the politicos in the Eurozone, a relative absence of ardent philosophical inquiry in Habermas’ late work signals a retreat from these claims. “The management of consensus” or concern for public opinion in Habermas’s work confirms his status as the discursive wing of EU political hegemony (which, not incidentally, is primarily German).

Philosophy is indelibly relational whether or not one chooses to acknowledge it. By the end of his life Adorno argued that “[n]ot only theory, but also its absence, becomes a material force when it seizes the masses.” [16] “Seizes” may not be the word many of us associate with the presence of philosophy’s education across populations. Badiou is compelled, as Adorno was decades earlier, to enlarge the presence of ideas against the growing occultation substantiated by daily life. Adorno’s writings about new age mysticism are well known. Vigilant philosophical practice affords political bodies the capacity of helping deliver the people from obscurity. Badiou writes of the wish that, “wherever a human collective is working in the direction of equality, the conditions are met for everyone to be a philosopher.” [17] Badiou’s desire resembles Antonio Gramsci’s notion of the organic intellectual. His point may be that intellectual inequality undermines a protracted and truly just politics. For if justice is a discourse without an associated practice, its idea is left to rhetorical obscurity. By extension, the nexus of the autonomy of thought and self-organization is pried apart by variations of managerial complicity in the spaces where thinking politically might begin: educational institutions, the cultural field, laboratories, households, etc.

II. The Event

“Prescription is first and foremost an anticipation of its subsequent power, a commitment to its consequences, a wager on its eventual strength.” -Hallward

Habermas and Badiou are contemporaries with divergent national preoccupations and methods of inquiry. Habermas once belonged to the constellation of problems arising from critical theory and Badiou’s method is predominantly philosophical. Badiou’s affirmation of philosophy opposes presumptions of an exclusive place of politics, other than in active fidelity to truth. Hallward remarks that “a prescriptive conception of politics presumes that its conditions of possibility are transcendental in the conventional sense—unconditional, transhistorical, indifferent to questions of context or pertinence.” [18] “The public sphere”, a primary focus of Habermas’s politics, is by now a widely appropriated concept used to analyze privatization, oppose informational surveillance and combat the laws of eminent domain (among many others). In short, the concept’s lineage contributes to its limited efficacy for instances which demand action against property owners. What alternative is available to Habermasians other than to venerate “the public” for its inherent virtue? [19]

Take one brief counter-example: at least since the rise of mercantilism the arrangement of labor has been imposed in what Karl Marx famously called a “hidden abode.” A contrast of this term with “public” strikes the eye. Since the creation of surplus value is high-risk because of the indeterminate rate of production, many employers strictly control the work setting (often to deplorably violent extremes). This partition of labor has led to a continuity of slavery across many time periods. Labor exploitation impinges very little on sanctity of public life. Moreover, could not one say that unpaid and underpaid labor sustains the coherent visibility of the public? Here the difference between these thinkers becomes clear. Habermas advocates for equality through deliberation in existing institutions. Badiou’s maxim for equality initiates action towards the abolition of preexisting institutions. Picturing these two thinkers within the backdrop of a blighted European intelligensia diminishes the notion that tradition necessarily improves their political engagement. Habermas’s fidelity, his contribution to political discourse, compounds the present’s occultation.

Whatever the judgment, historical narratives of philosophical practice are onerous. This is especially true in the case of Badiou. His ontology of time runs perpendicular to the linearity of past-present-future. Nicholas Brown writes, “every human situation is an infinite set, then there are immeasurably many more possible subsets of a situation than there are elements in it. In other words, there is, in all human situations, a rigorously immeasurable excess of the parts over the whole. Any human situation can only appear well ordered by suppressing an immanent anarchy.” [20] Badiou’s subordination of historicism to anticipatory events is seen in his value of poetry over novels, painting over visual media, mathemes over formulae and prescription over process. In each case the latter is associated with remediating knowledge (i.e., established institutions, traditions, laws, trends and, ultimately, socio-economic causalities) and the former with thought in engagement with Truth. Truth arises when a subject anticipates and then abolishes Laws with the application of universal principles. The category of time is no different. “Such is the principal gain,” Badiou writes in Metapolitics (Abrégé de métapolitique, 1998; translated 2005), “of the disjunction between politics and history, and the abolition of the category of time: the seizure of thought of a political sequence remains a homogeneous operation, whether it involves an ‘ongoing’ politics or a bygone politics, even if the protocols to be followed in each are distinct from one another. In any case, politics is only thinkable through itself.” [21]

This is to say that no preexisting concept has the intrinsic capacity to determine how one thinks and acts politically, including the north star of “knowledge.” A novelist and playwright, a bulwark of Badiou’s ideas, nevertheless, are in the form of interventions, lectures, meditations and treatises. Badiou refrains from narrating large scale and historical patterns of socio-economic realities, and this aligns well with the sixth thesis of Hallward’s “Prescription”: “through anticipation, prescriptive intervention thus proceeds at a relative distance from socioeconomic causation.” [22] This is perhaps the most contentious thesis of his paper and of Badiou’s philosophy. Despite the infinite ways history is itself a necessary political practice—the multi-era histories of the late Eric Hobsbawm are one case in point—Badiou maps little to none of the collector lanes of political economies. Badiou goes so far to claim that “political economy has been unable to perform its own critique.” [23] Hallward clarifies that a philosophy of prescription combines unevenly with nuanced historical narration and tracing long term material trends. Instead, Badiou favors the event’s categorical disjunction, the anarchy intrinsic to the time of thinking (which places Badiou in proximity to the strong current of idealism running through the history of philosophy).

My persistent concern in this essay for history leads us to a final note on Badiou and the subject of prescription. I turn here to Badiou’s most historical work, The Century. Few terms are as reiterated in philosophy as “the subject” and yet few are as difficult to grasp. In The Century the subject takes centre stage. In his first lecture, Badiou proposes to “stick as closely as possible to the subjectivities of the century. Not just to any subjectivity, but precisely to the kind of subjectivity that relates to the century itself. The goal is to try and see if the phrase ‘twentieth century’ bears a certain pertinence for thinking, in a manner that goes beyond mere empirical calculation. Thus, we will adopt a method of maximal interiority. Our aim is not to judge the century as an objective datum, but rather to ask how it has come to be subjectivated. We wish to grasp the century on the basis of its immanent prescriptions[24; emphasis mine]. This passage is instructive. For Badiou, the century comes into existence, as history, in its differentiation from other time periods. The century cannot exist without its categorization, judgment, and so on—that is, without ending its tacit continuity with the repetitions of the past.

In terms of political prescription, The Century explains how previously non-political activity is a resource for thinking against its normalization. In this sense, Badiou’s lectures resemble Jean-Paul Sartre’s Search for a Method (1957) and Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s What is Philosophy? (1991). All three share the goal of shifting philosophy’s practice from its consensus terms and conditions to more “non-philosophical” materials (Marxism, psychoanalysis, neurology, ethology, cinema, etc.). The political event occurs not by obvious “politicization”, which is an additive procedure, but in the way an act “undoes…this discursive procedure of absolution”… “between ‘democracies’ and that which, after the fact, they designate as their ‘Other.’” [25] New political ideas arise with a “passion devoted to the construction of a minimal difference, to the delineation of its axiomatic,” [26] and Hallward adds that philosophy should assume the role of taking the axiom to the next level of a prescriptive act.

The context for Badiou’s lectures is “a deceased modernist century, polarized between Communist and fascist responses to the collapse of bourgeois civilization” [27]. Required today are responses to its current restoration. Just as the prescriptive subject is ultimately opposed to the restoration of the bourgeois order, it must also vindicate vanquished oppositions to past orders. In “The Passion for the Real and the Montage of Semblance,” the central lecture of The Century, Badiou explains that subtraction provides an imperative of negation different than lack, destruction and purification. Subtraction’s imperative is discontinuity: “thought must interrupt repetition…It is a question of responding, once and for all, to the imperative: “Erase the bygone days.”” [28] The subject for Badiou is an errant mode distinguished from the empirical human beings identified around us. The subject represents the forces that makes others intelligible but cannot provide a definitive account of who they are. The subject is a set of qualities whose infinite variability of acts indicates the longue durée view of homo sapiens as glacial changes unperceivable in a life-span. The subject is therefore a figure for struggle who predicament long preexists one’s life and whose ideas garner a power unlike anything else. Any collective interruption and subtraction of political repetitions returns for Badiou to this problematic of the thinking subject. It is a credit to Hallward for asking more of Badiou’s philosophy than may be politically possible.



[1] Peter Hallward, “The Politics of Prescription.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 104:4, Fall 2005, p.773; below are the twelve theses of Hallward’s essay:

  1. A prescription involves the direct and divisive application of a universal principle (or axiom).
  2. Politics is the aspect of public or social life that falls under the consequence of a prescription.
  1. A prescriptive politics presumes a form of classical logic—the confrontation of two contrary positions, to the exclusion of any middle or third.
  1. Prescription is oriented by its anticipation of clarity and distinction.
  2. Prescription thus enables the relative autonomy of its effects, the strategic subtraction of cause from effect.
  3. Through anticipation, prescriptive intervention thus proceeds at a relative distance from socioeconomic causation.
  4. The ‘‘leap’’ of subjectivation is directed on the basis of a preliminary anticipation or ‘‘hunch.’
  5. A consequential prescription requires an effective foothold in the situation it
  6. A prescriptive conception of politics presumes that its conditions of possibility are transcendental in the conventional sense—unconditional, transhistorical, indifferent to questions of context or pertinence.
  7. Prescription can proceed only in the imperative mode of a ‘‘logical revolt.’’
  8. Prescription is vigilant but not ‘‘observant.’’
  9. Prescription is indifferent to the manipulations of passionate attachment.

[2] Peter Hallward, “The Politics of Prescription.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 104:4, Fall 2005, p.772.

[3] Slavoj Žižek, The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Center of Political Ideology. [1st Edition] London: Verso, 2001, p.127.

[4] Bologna’s Wu Ming writing collective provides a useful example of contemporary political discourse. They use the example of Silvio Berlusconi’s 2010 reelection campaign: “If you vote for me you can do whatever you want to, as long as you don’t damage the interests of the rich. You can extend your house without worrying about permits. You can evade taxes. You can break speed limits – who cares about them? You can hire workers off the books. You can chase young pussy. You can fuck around as much as you want, as long as you don’t question the Real (i.e. property, class privileges and so on). By voting for me, you’ll keep in power someone who shares your intolerance for rules and limits. I’ll authorise you to do as you please, and you in turn will let me use the state to pursue my own private interests. You know it, I know that you know it, and you know that I know that you know it, and you know you’d better not fuck with me because I know it.” See: Wu Ming, “Berlusconism without Berlusconi.” LRB blog (November 10, 2010). Retrieved from: http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2010/11/18/wu-ming/berlusconism-without-berlusconi/

[5] “Prescription”, 772.

[6] Slavoj Žižek, “From Purification to Subtraction: Badiou and the Real.” in Think Again: Alain Badiou and The Future of Philosophy. Ed. Peter Hallward. London: Continuum Press, 2004. p. 165-181.

[7] Alain Badiou, The Logics of Worlds. Trans. Alberto Toscano. London: Continuum, 2009. p.270

[8] I take the term “problematic” from Althusser, who learned from the French epistemologist, Gaston Bachelard. See: Le Rationalisme appliqué. Paris: Presses Universitaires France; 6e édition, [1949] 1994.

[9] Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete? New York: Seven Stories Press. 2003.

[10] How to Survive A Plague. Dir. David France. Public Square Films. 2012. Film

[11] Logics, 76.

[12] Logics, 61; emphasis mine.

[13] Max Horkheimer, “Traditional and Critical Theory” in Critical Theory. trans. Matthew J. O’Connell. New York: Seabury Press, 1972. p. 188-243.

[14] “Prescription”, 774.

[15] Perry Anderson, “After the Event” New Left Review 73, January-February, 2012, p.52.

[16] Adorno is cited in Fredric Jameson, Late Marxism: Adorno, Or, the Persistence of the Dialectic. London: Verso, 1990. p.40.

[17] Alain Badiou, Philosophy for Militants. Trans. Bruno Bosteels. London: Verso, 2012. p.37

[18] “Prescription”, 783.

[19]In North America, a theorist convinced by inherent value of the public sphere is Henry Giroux. See: Schooling and the Struggle for Public Life. [2nd Edition] Boulder, Colo.: Paradigm Publishers, 2005.

[20] Nicholas Brown, “{∅} ∈ {$} ?: Or, Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek, Waiting for Something to Happen.”CR: The New Centennial Review 4.3, 2004, p.302

[21] Alain Badiou, Metapolitics. Trans. Jason Barker. London: Verso, 2005. p. 49

[22] “Prescription”, 780.

[23] Bruno Bosteels, “Translator’s Introduction.” Theory of the Subject. London: Continuum, 2009. p.xxii

[24] Alain Badiou, The Century. Trans. Alberto Toscano. London: Polity. 2008. p.5-6.

[25] The Century., p.5.

[26] The Century. p.54.

[27] Gopal Balakrishnan “The Historical Absolute.” Lana Turner Journal. Last accessed, March 10, 2013: http://www.lanaturnerjournal.com/archives/balakrishnanthehistoricalabsolute

[28]The Century. p.57.


Tim Kaposy teaches English and Communications at Niagara College.

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