On “What Is Love,” which is ch. 11 of Conditions (1992), supplemented by In Praise of Love (2009 with Nicolas Truong), with Mark, Wes, Dylan and Seth.
In our episode introducing Badiou, we said that love is a “truth procedure,” and here we see (sort of) what this means. Love is about gaining a new vantagepoint the world: seeing it through the eyes of the Two.
It is not a way that two people merge a la Aristophanes in the Symposium (this would be “being-for-death,” meaning that people can’t actually live like that). Instead, according to Badiou, there is originally no overlap between the male and female positions. Those sets of experiences are like two non-overlapping sets. But all sets have in common the empty set, which is something we actually experience as a void, an emptiness. (There’s definitely some Lacan coming in here; we went into Lacan’s theory that “there is no sexual relationship” which Badiou pivots off here in our discussion of the film Vertigo.) Love subtracts that void by giving us this new type of vision. You are not alone.
Is this just a bunch of nonsense, this attempt to connect mathematical terminology (set theory, subtraction) with psychology to make ontology, i.e. a new structure (the Two) in the world that generates truths? Badiou stresses that love is not just a feeling in our individual consciousnesses, but actually adds something inter-personal to the world.
Love is something that necessarily starts with some element of risk, and is not necessarily quiescent. But it posits itself as enduring, as watching out for us as time rolls forward. Badiou describes it as a declaration of eternity. We know that it won’t actually be eternal (for whatever reason), but we’re not lying. “Happiness is proof that time can accommodate eternity.”
A lot of our puzzlement about Badiou’s view concerns how literally to take the claim that male and female consciousness do not overlap. He stresses that these are not literal genders, but just roles, so that someone who identifies as male could have the female role and vice versa. Still, there is definitely a “women are from Venus, men are from Mars” sort of thing going on here, which seems archaic and wrong.
He’s not just talking about every single person’s existential isolation from every other person being overcome by gaining some sort of shared world of ideas and viewpoints through extended conversation. Literal nakedness as vulnerability is also part of it: we try to share ourselves totally.
This sharing, again, does not literally transmit one person into another, but instead opens us up to the truth of difference. It enables us to better understand that separation between people. This is foundational for being a member of a healthy, pluralistic society. It, along with the truths from the other truth procedures (politics, art and science), is what make us fully human. It’s what enables philosophical Truth to be “generic,” i.e. graspable by everyone, despite this complete difference between people’s varying perspectives. Grasping philosophy requires that we in some sense “get out of our own heads,” and love allows us to do this.
Badiou insists that his position is different than Levinas‘ command to grasp the Other as Other, which is maybe more a matter of hands-off respect, and still focused on the change in viewpoint for each individual. Badiou has a more intimate type of knowledge in mind.
The new material for this episode was all optional. You can purchase In Praise of Love or try this online version. A good, recent lecture that lays this out, plus some additional information on the feminist implications of his view is here.
Next episode: “What Is Man?” by Mark Twain.