In his introduction to "Ethics" by Alain Badiou he does a quick run down on how the analytic ethics of Lacan differ from the philosophical ethics of Badiou. I'm having a hard time understanding some of what he says, particularly this part:

'What death stands for at its' most radical is not merely the passing of earthly life, but the night of the world, the self-withdrawal, the absolute contradiction of subjectivity, the severing of its' links with reality'. A Lacanian ethics is designed to enable us to endure this severing without flinching, as the price to be paid for a 'symbolic New Beginning, the emergence of the "New Harmony" sustained by a newly emerged Master-Signifier'. And it is at this point, Zizek continues, that 'Lacan parts company with Badiou'. For confrontation with Lacan's Real here amounts to an experience of the abject, inarticulable realm of the corpse as such - the 'undead' that is Oedipus after his mutilation, or Antigone reduced to her 'living death'. Zizek accepts this reduction without hesitation. Since 'modern subjectivity emerges when the subject perceives himself as "out of joint', as excluded from the order of things, from the positive order of entities', so 'for that reason, the ontic equivalent of the modern subject is the reduction of the subject's positive-substantial being to a disposable "piece of shit". From Zizek's perspective, what thus 'remains beyond Badiou's reach... is this domain 'beyond the good', in which a human being encounters the death drive as the utmost limit of human experience, and pays the price by undergoing a radical 'subjective destitution', by being reduced to an excremental remainder'.

Badiou would no doubt plead guilty as charged. For the great virtue of his system, compared with Lacan's, is surely its' separation of the merely ineffable, in-significant horror of death from the generic 'destitution' or subtraction no doubt demanded by every subjectification. It is Badiou's achievement to have subtracted the operation of truth from any redemption of the abject, and to have made the distinction between living and unliving, between finite and infinite, a matter of absolute indifference. The 'Real' emergence of 'undead-indestructible object, of life deprived of support in the symbolic order' is incapable of provoking the slightest reaction either from within the domain of purely multiple being-as-being on the one hand, or from the domain of an infinite, properly immortal subjectivization on the other. From Badiou's perspective, death can never qualify as an event.

I'm having a hard time with what constitutes death here. What is absolute contradiction of subjectivity"? Why can death not be classified as an event? What is this "undead-indestructible object" and so forth? I would very much appreciate some clarity. Thanks.

3 Answers 3


An event for Badiou:

has no objective or verifiable content. Its 'happening' cannot be proved, only affirmed and proclaimed. Event, subject, and truth are thus all aspects of a single process of affirmation: a truth comes into being through those subjects who maintain a resilient fidelity to the consequences of an event that took place in a situation but was not of it. Fidelity, the commiunent to a truth, amounts to something like a disinterested enthusiasm, absorption in a compelling task or cause, a sense of elation, of being caught up in something that transcends all petty, private or material concerns. Subjects are both carried by a truth - they compose the 'finite' points of an always 'infinite' truth

and truth for Badiou evokes:

the logic of being true to something, of holding true to a principle, person, or ideal. His examples include, in characteristically diverse registers: Saint Paul's militant conception of an apostolic subjectivity that exists only through proclamation of an event (the resurrection of Christ) of universal import but of no 'objective' or established significance; the Jacobin or Bolshevik fidelity to a Revolutionary event which exceeds, in its subjective power and generic scope, the particular actions that contributed to its occurrence; two lovers' conception of themselves as amorous subjects, 'rooted' only in a fidelity to the ephemeral event of their encounter; an artist's or scientist's fidelity to a creative line of inquiry opened up by a discovery or break with tradition.

I should add that Badiou is an atheist, so its interesting that one of his examples of fidelity to truth is St Pauls advocacy on behalf of Christ, an event which left little in the way of historical record and which is an example that adds a great deal of his characterisation of an event that 'cannot be proved, only affirmed and acclaimed'.

In this conception of what constitutes an event, 'earthly passing away' or ordinary mortality is not an event; it is of course an ordinary event, but not an event on the scale and significance that Badiou imagines it should be; but perhaps Hallward already being a little hasty, for one of Badious examples of fidelity is the truth of love, and in that intimate sphere the death of a loved one is an event.

As for the 'night of the world' I can't do better than point to the last two stanzas of Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold, written in 1851.

The Sea of Faith

Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore

Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.

But now I only hear

Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,

Retreating, to the breath

Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear

And naked shingles of the world.


Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! for the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

This is Matthew Arnolds 'night of the world' where the 'night-wind' blows on a 'darkling plain' where armies 'clash by night' and it leaves the world 'naked' and the 'sea of faith ... was once ... full' but he only hears now its 'melancholy, withdrawing roar' (this might be an example of 'self-withdrawal' writ large - the Self is often used in translations of the Indian Upanishads denoting something like Spirit); this was written in 1851, and roughly contemperary with Nietzsches announcement of the 'Death of God', another event that went unremarked by most, to add further validation Badious conception of an event, but which is quite visible today with secularite - once a midpoint of toleration of differing and contentious religious views to becoming a kind of a contending power with them.

The extracts, by the way are from Badious Ethics, again in Hallwards introduction but before the section you've quoted.


for Lacan, the foundation of truth-for-the-subject is the impossibility of unmediated encounter with the Real, whereas for Badiou, the foundation of truth-for-the-subject is its process of transcending its own limitations through fidelity to the "Event", which is some kind of an episode of unmediated encounter with the Real - for Lacan, there is no more truth than desire, which originates from the impossibility for the subject of unmediated encounter with the Real, whereas for Badiou, the subject has access to truth through its own process of fidelity to the idea, memory or goal of unmediated encounter with the Real - the difference is the limits of encounter with the Real, and discovery of the Real - truth is "found" through refusal to limit one's own desire, on the one hand, and objectively delimiting the demands of the self in order to transcend its necessarily limited perspective, on the other.


All the contents of life, in gigantic variegation, are canceled, in toto, absolutely, by death. Ergo, an absolute contradiction. One can't experience death. Only dying. It is outside the sphere of life or "subjectivity". Yet, seen symbolically, objectively, everyone dies. In a certain sense, one can not think of one's death. Badiou upholds this 'Kantian' sense. Another opinion is given: The Real comes in to split this difficulty, and distance man form his death as a thing.


One should consider:

"....The syllogism he had learnt from Kiesewetter’s Logic: “Caius is a man, men are mortal, therefore Caius is mortal,” had always seemed to him correct as applied to Caius, but certainly not as applied to himself. That Caius — man in the abstract — was mortal, was perfectly correct, but he was not Caius, not an abstract man, but a creature quite, quite sepa- rate from all others. He had been little Vanya, with a mamma and a papa, with Mitya and Volodya, with the toys, a coach- man and a nurse, afterwards with Katenka and will all the joys, griefs, and delights of childhood, boyhood, and youth. What did Caius know of the smell of that striped leather ball Vanya had been so fond of? Had Caius kissed his mother’s hand like that, and did the silk of her dress rustle so for Caius? Had he rioted like that at school when the pastry was bad? Had Caius been in love like that? Could Caius preside at a session as he did? “Caius really was mortal, and it was right for him to die; but for me, little Vanya, Ivan Ilych, with all my thoughts and emotions, it’s altogether a different matter. It cannot be that I ought to die. That would be too terrible. Such was his feeling. [&c.]" Death of Ivan Ilych

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .