Badiou’s ‘two world outlooks’

Reading Mao’s On Contradiction today. A very nice connection with his pupil Badiou’s thought is under the first heading ‘1. The Two World Outlooks’. Whereas Mao sees the metaphysical and the dialectical materialist as incapable of being thought together, this is precisely what Badiou attempts to do. So, the ‘metaphysical’ equates with Badiou’s onto-logy with its split between things’ ontological immutability and their phenomenological increase or decrease in intensity of appearance:

The metaphysical or vulgar evolutionist world outlook sees things as isolated, static and one-sided. It regards all things in the universe, their forms and their species, as eternally isolated from on another and immutable. Such change as there is [Badiou would say as there appears] can only be an increase or decrease in quantity or a change of place. Moreover, the cause of such an increase or decrease or change of place is not inside things but outside them, that is, the motive force is external. Metaphysicians hold that all the different kinds of things in the universe and all their characteristics have been the same ever since they first came into being. All subsequent changes have simply been increases or decreases in quantity. They contend that a thing can only keep on repeating itself as the same kind of thing and cannot change into anything different.

On the other hand, of course, we have the dialectical materialist and Badiou’s thinking of the subject:

As opposed to the metaphysical world outlook, the world outlook of materialist dialectics holds that in order to understand the development of a thing we should study it internally and in its relations with other things; in other words, the development of things should be seen as their internal and necessary self-movement, while each thing in its movement is interrelated to and interacts on the things around it. The fundamental cause of the development of a thing is not external but internal; it lies in the contradictoriness within the thing.

So whereas for Mao these two are completely incompatible regimes of thinking (the former bourgeois, the latter radical proletarian), for Badiou they are linked, but only by way of the event. But where does the event come from? For Badiou, the event comes from something that (ontologically) belongs to the situation but which is (phenomenologically) excluded. It is an internal outside, a positive absence. A contradiction, perhaps? Does the event as such dialectise ‘the two world views’ that Mao outlines? I look forward to reading Bruno Bosteels on this question (the book is sitting on my desk…).


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