21 September 2010

Article: Manifesto of Affirmationism

The leftist French philosopher Alain Badiou's "Manifesto of Affirmationism" (trans. Barbara P. Fulks) was published in the New York-based biannual journal of critical theory, art, and fiction "Lacanian Ink" (24/25, spring 2005: no page numbers given).

The full text of the article can be read free of charge here:


Excerpts: "We cannot understand what is gripping us and causing us to despair if we do not return again and again to the fact that our world is not at all a democracy, but rather an imperial conservatism under the guise of democratic phraseology. What to say of today's world? A solitary power whose army is terrorizing the entire planet dictates its law of the circulation of capital and images and proclaims everywhere, with the most extreme violence, the Duties and Rights of everyone. [...] Under the imposed name of 'terrorism,' those most violently opposed to this hegemony of the brutal West, for which 'democracy' is spiritual ornament, are in reality part of it [...]: the fury of inspired barbarism against sated imperialism. [...] Romantic formalism has always been an artistic orientation of ensconced and terminal dominations. And it is thus in our time: that of a unique and multiform doctrine (economic liberalism and political electoralism), integrating for the first time the quasi-totality of human species in the distribution and constraint of its fortune.

"Yes, our time is that of the unique doctrine and of the consensus which is created around it under the strange name of 'democracy.' Any unique doctrine of this type is desperate, nihilist, because it only proposes to the human multiplicity the absurd perpetuation of its obscene order. And the artistic subjectivity that it leads to is that of this nihilism and of this obscenity. [...] The only maxim of contemporary art is to not be 'Western.' Which means also that it should not be democratic, if democratic means: conforming to the Western idea of political liberty. [...] Yes, the only problem is to know if the artistic imperative can be detached from the Western imperative, which is that of marketing and communication. Western democracy, in effect, is marketing and communication. Thus true art is that which interrupts marketing, that which communicates nothing. Immobile and incommunicable, this is the art we need, the only one that addresses everyone, not circulating according to any pre-established network and not communicating with anyone in particular. Art should augment in everyone the non-democratic strength of one's liberty. [...]

"A non-Western art is necessarily an abstract art, in the following sense: it abstracts from all particularity and formalizes this gesture of abstraction. In order to combat expressivity, to combat Romantic formalism, there is only the dynamic of abstraction. [...] The abstraction in art which is and which is to come does not consider any particular public [...]: it does what it says, without needing acceptance from anyone. We affirm that all sociological and institutional speculations about the audience for the arts must be abandoned. Sociology, and criticism itself, is only and always the auxiliary of Western democracy. [...] Convinced of controlling the entire extent of the visible and of the audible through commercial laws of marketing and the democratic laws of communication, contemporary power no longer needs censorship. It says: 'Everything is possible.' Which also might mean that nothing is. Abandoning itself to this authorization to jouir [enjoy, delight in] is the ruin of all art, as well as all thought. We should be our own pitiless censors. [...] It is better to do nothing than to work officially in the visibility of what the West declares to exist."

Alain Badiou was formerly chair of Philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris.

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