Notes on Badiou’s “In Praise of Love”
What follows are just my summary notes on Alain Badiou’s In Praise of Love. It’s a very short book. It serves as a wonderful introduction to Badiou’s thought. The book subsists of an interview with Badiou on his various thoughts and observations on love. Love, for Badiou, is essential to philosophy. In fact, he considers it to be one of the four conditions of philosophy. I’m currently working on another post that will utilize Badiou’s thoughts on love, but I decided to share my notes on this particular book of his in the hope that it will lead others to read it as well. I highly recommend In Praise of Love. Now, to my summary notes. The book contains an introduction, six chapters and a conclusion. I go section-by-section here.
Introduction: Badiou talks about how it’s important for a philosopher to also be a lover (as well as an activist, artist and scientist). For Badiou, love is a condition of philosophy.
A philosopher must never forget the countless situations in life when he is no different from anyone else. If he does, theatrical tradition, particularly comedy, will rudely remind him of that fact. There is, after all, a stock stage character, the philosopher in love, whose Stoic wisdom and well-rehearsed distrust of passion evaporate in their entirety the moment a dazzlingly beautiful woman sweeps into the room and blows him away forever.I realised this a long time ago. I have suggested that a philosopher (and this neutral noun naturally encompasses both male and female varieties) must be an accomplished scientist, an amateur poet and a political activist, but also has to accept that the realm of thought is never sealed off from the violent onslaughts of love. Philosophy requires its practitioners of either gender to assume the roles of savant, artist, activist and lover. I have called them the four conditions of philosophy (pp. 1–2)
Chapter One: Badiou discusses his disgust for dating sites that attempt to subtract chance and risk from love. As Žižek would put it, love without love. Baudrillard would say this is simulatory. Badiou claims that love needs re-inventing. The implication being that love is stagnating under capitalist realism.
Chapter Two: Philosophers have tended to have two opposed attitudes toward love, e.g., Schopenhauer hated it and Kierkegaard thought that it was divine. Badiou is obviously a philosopher that loves love. Badiou goes on to give his take on Plato’s take on love. Badiou explains love’s relation to chance and universality. Next, Badiou explains what Lacan meant by “There is no sexual relationship” in Seminar XX. Badiou now says that there are three (not two) main ways philosophy interprets love: (1) love as romantic ecstasy, (2) love as legalistic contract, (3) love as skeptical illusion. Badiou, against these three interpretations of love, offers us a fourth: love is a quest for truth, i.e., a being-in-the-world that is lived by the two instead of by the one. The scene of the two drastically alters Dasein’s disclosure (truth) of beings. Love is a new clearing. Badiou explains how his position on love differs from Levinas’ position on it (the encounter of the Other is not the experience of the Other). Love is an existential project — it concerns one’s being-in-the-world.
Chapter Three: Badiou claims that the two key aspects of love are the following: (1) love is a disjuncture or a Two, (2) love is an encounter or an event. Love involves duration — it is an ongoing process. Sexual difference and disjuncture are fundamental to love. Badiou explains that this duration is essential to love. Love is a lasting re-invention of life (two lives become one life that is still two lives). The temporal dimension is key. Love is not reducible to the production of a nuclear family (though this is a standard part of it). He claims that the “I love you” is the seal of love. He goes into more detail on the relation between love and desire/sex. Love comes to “permeate” desire/sex, that is, it takes them over and makes them into bodily expressions of itself.
Chapter Four: Love is a “truth procedure” — it is an ongoing process through which certain fundamental truths come to be known. There is a universality to love and this is what explains the ubiquity of love stories, love films, love poems and love songs. Love is that which gets us out of our solitary, ego-centric self-consciousness. Love is, therefore, the most fundamental modification of our experience of the world or of our being-in-the-world. We love love because we love truth. This is why philosophy must focus on love — it is deeply connected to truth. Badiou now discusses the importance of the declaration and seal of love, i.e., the “I love you”. The “I love you” is essential to the event of love because of how it transforms a chance encounter into a “destiny” or a “fate”. In the declaration of love and its ongoing reiterations, a shared destiny emerges out of chance. This is how the “I love you” curbs chance. Badiou connects love to fidelity. Relationships may end but the love you shared with that person will last forever. Love relates to a certain kind of eternality in time. This chapter concludes with Badiou’s ideas on how having a child relates to love or the scene of the Two. For him, having a child is not a necessary condition or effect of love, since homosexual and sterile couples really do live in love. However, he grants that if a couple has a child together, then it will greatly effect their relationship. It will drastically alter and challenge the scene of the Two. A child is a “point” (in Badiou’s technical sense), that is, a point at which a truth event must be radically re-chosen, re-asserted or re-affirmed.
Chapter Five: Here, Badiou explores the relations between love and politics. Whereas politics is centered around the collective (large groups of people), love is centered around the Two. There’s a certain analogous relation between the nuclear family and the State — both are there to control and regulate enthusiasms (amorous and political ones, respectively). He says that the state is a condition of politics but that doesn’t mean that power is necessarily the aim of politics. Badiou defends love against the skeptics of love. For Badiou, politics and love simply don’t mix. There can be no politics of love. Why? Because politics is about a battle with people you do not love. Politics is often about an enemy. He claims that genuine politics identifies a real enemy. Badiou discusses what a (political) enemy is and if they even exist right now. However, the enemy or rival is not essential to love at all. For Badiou, jealousy is not a structure or condition of love. The real dangers to love are not external enemies but, rather, internal points of conflict that can a arise from the fundamental difference between the two lovers. Selfishness (identity) is the true enemy of love. Love, however, can be a very violent, painful and agonizing process. As the great Pat Benatar put it, “Love is a battlefield”. Love is not synonymous with peace. Badiou goes into how the idea of communism relates to love and politics. There is a discussion of the meaning of “fraternity”. Communism/internationalism seeks to integrate as many differences (different types of people) as possible in a state of equality. We move on to a discussion of love and religion (especially Christianity). The Bible has a lot of impotent things to say about love and its influence must be recognized. However, Christianity centers around a kind of transcendent love — God’s love or divine transcendence. For Badiou, love is immanent. Love is something that radically changes our being-in-the-world in the here and now. It is not something brings us to transcend our being-in-the-world. Christianity has also turned love into a communal love, whereas Badiou claims love is always a love between Two. Badiou traces the Christian concept of love back to Plato. For Badiou, “religions don’t speak of love” (p. 66). Christian love is passive and receptive, whereas Badiouian love is active and creative. Christianity holds that love transcends this world altogether. Badiou holds that love gives birth to a new world in the here and now. Badiou discusses the work of Antoine Vitez and how it relates to love and Christianity. Badiou talks about how communism might re-invent love. For him, both politics and religion have transcendent concepts of love and that’s their problem — love is immanent to this world. For politics, the transcendent source and object of love is not God, but the Party. Think of the cult of personality and the collective “love” people have for dictators. The Party is supposed to be a mere vehicle for the will of the people to actualize itself but it can come to transform into a fetish. But, for Badiou, this sort of political passion and devotion should never be confused with love proper! Politics is fundamentally concerned with hate and not with love. Badiou claims that love must be separated from politics. For Badiou, the only way to meaningfully connect politics and love is to think about how a communist society would re-invent love and allow it to flourish and create in new ways that are hindered by capitalism. Communism (as a form of politics) is not immediately related to love, but it does open up new possibilities for love. Lastly, there is a discussion of the love stories that have been set against the backdrop of revolutionary struggles. Sometimes, struggles for love and struggles for freedom, equality, etc., occur simultaneously. There is a “secret resonance” they often share. As he puts it, “It is like two musical instruments that are completely different in tone and volume, but which mysteriously converge when unified by a great musician in the same work” (p. 75). There is a kind of commitment operative in both politics and love that we must never give up on.
Chapter Six: This chapter is all about the relation between love and art. This starts with a discussion of Breton and the surrealists. According to Badiou, surrealism was all about re-inventing love — surrealism was an artistic, existential and political project. Art does great justice to an event (political, amorous, etc.) in how it reflects it. There is always something crazy or insane about true love and that’s why there can never be a law of love. Surrealism really liked this aspect of love. The encounter of love and its “eternity”. For Badiou, love is not just the eternity of a moment in time — it is a work in progress. Love is a work that endures. Next, Badiou explains why he loves Samuel Beckett’s take on love. Many love stories focus on the triumph of love, that is, love coming to surpass some great obstacle. But this sort of scenario has little to do with the work of love, with the durational aspect of it. Love involves a lot of banal effort. Love involves living your most everyday type of experiences with the Other and in growing old together in marriage (or a committed relationship). For Badiou, Beckett did a great job of representing this in some of his works. Badiou talks about his deep love for the theatre that goes back to his youth. He loves how the theatre relates language (ideas) to the body. In the theatre, ideas and bodies are not separable. Badiou discusses how theatre does an amazing job of showing the effects ideas have on bodies. He talks about how “Love is a thought” (p. 87). The connection between love and violence is discussed. The theatre reveals to us how love serves as a bridge between solitary subjectivities. But the theatre is also about politics — love and politics. Badiou says, “But love of the theatre is necessarily also the love of love, because, without love stories, without the struggle to free love from the constraints of family, the theatre does not add up to much” (p. 88). Theatre is about the struggle between chance love and implacable law. The theatre is a community and a certain kind of love exists in it. There is a “communist” fraternity in the theatre. Love is all about the we, the couple, which involves us transcending our selfishness and egotism. “Yet another possible definition of love: minimal communism!” (p. 89). Badiou talks more about what it’s like to experience the love shared by the community of the theatre. He argues that every philosopher has to also be an actor. Philosophers, like actors, must seduce (act) in the service of the truth. He references the Greeks. Socrates and Plato claimed that philosophers must take love as their starting point. “It’s true! We should follow our old master. One must start with love. We philosophers don’t have that many means at our disposal; if we are deprived of the means of seduction, then we really will be disarmed. And being an actor is also about that! It is about seducing on behalf of something that, in the end, is a truth” (pp. 93–4).
Conclusion: To conclude, Badiou discusses how love might be a point of resistance against the capitalist world order (capitalist realism, neoliberalism, late capitalism, liberal democracy, etc.). He also talks about France in its revolutionary and reactionary aspects (the “two histories” of France). Sarkozy is also discussed. “The reactionary project is always the defence of “our values”, casting us in the mould of worldwide capitalism as the only possible identity” (p. 97). Capitalism wants us to focus on ourselves (identity), which is incompatible with love. Capitalism produced dating sites for a reason — they neutralize love while simulating it. Safe, risk-free love is no love at all. Capital establishes the law of the land (capitalist society), but true love is always at odds with the love. Reactionaries are also opposed to difference, which is essential to love — reactionaries are, therefore, opposed to love.
Reactionaries are always suspicious of difference in the name of identity; that’s their general philosophical starting-point. If we, on the contrary, want to open ourselves up to difference and its implications, so the collective can become the whole world, then the defence of love becomes one point individuals have to practise. The identity cult of repetition must be challenged by love of what is different, is unique, is unrepeatable, unstable and foreign (p. 98).
Godard made a film called In Praise of Love that brought together love and resistance. Badiou discusses how these two are used in Godard’s work. Next up is Badiou’s thoughts on our “love” for celebrities and especially for their love stories and how this relates to politics. Politically speaking, this is a way to distract us from what’s really important. But why does this work so well? Because people are generally interested in love and love stories. The event of love is something that effects both kings and serfs. There is a universality in love. However, this also goes to show that the people at the top of society are not special. There is no special reason to respect them and to put them on a pedestal. Love discloses something important about politics in this way.
To love is to struggle, beyond solitude, with every thing in the world that can animate existence. This world where I see for myself the fount of happiness my being with someone else brings. “I love you” becomes: in this world there is the fount you are for my life. In the water from this fount, I see our bliss, yours first (p. 104).