Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, Alain Badiou
My first Badiou, and it would feel as if it were my first Paul, had it not been for my fundy upbringing. This is a Paul freed from the “religious thaumaturgy[,…] charlatanism….[and] masochistic propaganda extolling the virtues of suffering” of the Gospels (which, at any rate, appeared only after Paul wrote); a Paul freed from “obscurantist” mysticism; a Paul freed from Acts–fascinating for students of narrative, but unchallenging philosophically; and freed from Pascal and Nietzsche’s misreadings to rest only in those few epistles that we can confidently assign to him (Romans, Corinthians I and II, Galatians, Philippians, and Thessalonians 1). This is a Paul without Hell, without any interest in the words or life of Christ, whose only interest in Christianity is in the resurrection, in the universal address articulated on the site of Judaism. It’s a Paul that would be completely unfamiliar to the church that raised me. Good.
It’s still not as atheist as all that, despite Badiou’s claims for his secular bona fides and despite his repeated assertions of his nonbelief in the resurrection. After all, he takes the literal existence of Jesus for granted, and, more to the point, he’s reading Paul, not, say, Rashi or some other figure typically excluded from the so-called Western and especially “French” tradition. Thus he remains French, despite his disdain for “French identitarian fanaticism” as evidenced in Le Pen and French anti-veiling laws. And He still calls the Hebrew scriptures the “Old Testament”! He takes Paul’s statements about the constraints of the Jewish law for granted (and he may be as credulous when it comes to Paul’s attitudes towards Greek philosophy), and he engages in what strikes me as special pleading about Paul’s attitudes towards women preachers (and note Badiou’s dance with the word “filiation!”), towards effeminate men, towards bodies and sex, and so forth, all that makes Paul embarassing for the decent Christians I know. Badiou’s Paul is therefore an ok Paul, without remainder, but only because Badiou decides not to engage the whole of the Pauline corpus, even within the limits he sets.
So, a few representative bits from this thinker we might call Alain Paul Badiou:
” Paul is a poet-thinker of the event, as well as one who practices and states the invariant traits of what can be called the militant figure”
“the absolute sovereignty of capital’s empty universality, had as its only genuine enemy another universal project”
“there is nothing more captive, so far as commercial investment is concerned, nothing more amenable to the invention of new figures of monetary homogeneity, than a community and its territory or territories”
“every truth procedure breaks with the axiomatic principle that governs the situation and organizes its repetitive series”
“The “culture-technology-management-sexuality” system, which has the immense merit of being homogeneous to the market, and all of whose terms designate a category of commercial presentation, constitutes the modern nominal occlusion of the “art-science-politics-love” system, which identifies truth procedures typologically.”
“since truth is evental, or of the order of what occurs, it is singular. It is neither structural, nor axiomatic, nor legal. No available generality can account for it, nor structure the subject who claims to follow in its wake.”
“A truth procedure is only universal insofar as it is supported, at that point through which it indexes the real, by an immediate subjective recognition of its singularity. Failing which, one resorts to observances or particular signs, which can only fix the Good News within the communitarian space, blocking its universal deployment.”
“Greek discourse bases itself on the cosmic order so as to adjust itself to it, while Jewish discourse bases itself on the exception to this order so as to turn divine transcendence into a sign. Paul’s profound idea is that Jewish discourse and Greek discourse are the two aspects of the same figure of mastery…..The result is, firstly, that neither of the two dis courses can be universal, because each supposes the persistence of the other; and secondly, that the two discourses share the presupposition that the key to salvation is given to us within the universe, whether it be through direct mastery of the totality (Greek wisdom), or through mastery of a literal tradition and the deciphering of signs (Jewish ritualism and prophetism)….Paul’s project is to show that a universal logic of salvation cannot be reconciled with any law, be it one that ties thought to the cosmos, or one that fixes the effects of an exceptional election. It is impossible that the starting point be the Whole, but just as impossible that it be an exception to the Whole. Neither totality nor the sign will do. One must proceed from the event as such, which is a-cosmic and illegal, refusing integration into any totality and signaling nothing.”
“He simply reminds us, even if only by deliberately neglecting to mention these extraneous virtuosities, that none of this is enough to found a new era of Truth. What the particular individual named Jesus said and did is only the contingent material seized upon by the event in view of an entirely different destiny. In this sense, Jesus is neither a master nor an example. He is the name for what happens to us universally.”
“What can measure up to the universality of an address? Not legality, in any case. The law is always predicative, particular, and partial. Paul is perfectly aware of the law’s unfailingly “statist” character. By “statist” I mean that which enumerates, names, and controls the parts of a situation. If a truth is to surge forth eventally, it must be nondenumer able, impredicable, uncontrollable.”