• Alain Badiou

Alain Badiou (born 17 January 1937 in Rabat, Morocco) is a prominent French philosopher, formerly chair of philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure (ENS). Along with Giorgio Agamben and Slavoj Zizek, Badiou is a prominent figure in an anti-postmodern strand of continental philosophy. Particularly through a creative appropriation of set theory from his early interest in mathematics, Badiou seeks to recover the concepts of being, truth and the subject in a way that is neither postmodern nor simply a repetition of modernity.

Badiou was trained formally as a philosopher as a student at the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) from 1956 to 1961, a period during which he took courses at the Sorbonne. He had a lively and constant interest in mathematics. He was politically active very early on, and was one of the founding members of the Unified Socialist Party (PSU). The PSU was particularly active in the struggle for the decolonization of Algeria. He wrote his first novel, Almagestes, in 1964. In 1967 he joined a study group organized by Louis Althusser and grew increasingly influenced by Jacques Lacan.

The student uprisings of May 1968 reinforced Badiou’s commitment to the far Left, and he participated in increasingly radical communist and Maoist groups, such as the UCFML. In 1969 he joined the faculty of University of Paris VIII (Vincennes-Saint Denis), which was a bastion of counter-cultural thought. There he engaged in fierce intellectual debates with fellow professors Gilles Deleuze and Jean-François Lyotard, whose philosophical works he considered unhealthy deviations from the Althusserian program of a scientific Marxism.

In the 1980s, as both Althusserian Marxism and Lacanian psychoanalysis went into decline (with Lacan dead and Althusser in an asylum), Badiou published more technical and abstract philosophical works, such as Théorie du sujet (1982), and his magnum opus, Being and Event (1988). Nonetheless, Badiou has never renounced Althusser or Lacan, and sympathetic references to Marxism and psychoanalysis are not uncommon in his more recent works.

He took up his current position at the ENS in 1999. He is also associated with a number of other institutions, such as the Collège International de Philosophie. He is now a member of “L’Organisation Politique” which he founded with some comrades from the Maoist UCFML in 1985. Badiou has also enjoyed success as a dramatist with plays such as Ahmed le Subtil.

In the last decade, an increasing number of Badiou’s works have been translated into English, such as Ethics, Deleuze, Manifesto for Philosophy, Metapolitics, and Being and Event. Short pieces by Badiou have likewise appeared in American and English periodicals, such as Lacanian Ink, New Left Review, Radical Philosophy, Cosmos and History [1] and Parrhesia. Unusually for a contemporary European philosopher his work is increasingly being taken up by militants in movements of the poor in countries like India, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa where he is often read together with Frantz Fanon.

Lately Badiou got into a fierce controversy within the confines of Parisian intellectual life. It started in 2005 with the publication of his “Circonstances 3: Portées du mot ‘juif'” – The Uses of the Word “Jew” [2]. This book generated a strong response with calls of Badiou being labelled Anti-Semitic. The wrangling became a cause célèbre with articles going back and forth in the French newspaper Le Monde and in the cultural journal “Les temps modernes.” Another philosopher, Jean-Claude Milner, has accused Badiou of Anti-Semitism.[1]