- Post-Maoism:Badiou and Politics
The Red Years
In "So Near! So Far!" the first section in his polemical Deleuze: The Clamor of Being, Alain Badiou briefly recalls the tense ideological situation in the late sixties and early seventies in which he once went so far as to boycott his older colleague's course at the recently created University of Paris VIII at Vincennes:
Then came the red years, 1968, the University of Vincennes. For the Maoist that I was, Deleuze, as the philosophical inspiration for what we called the "anarcho-desirers," was an enemy all the more formidable for being internal to the "movement" and for the fact that his course was one of the focal points of the university.1
In the original French version, published in 1997, this passage—like the remainder of the brief introduction in which it appears—is actually written [End Page 575] in the present tense. Pour le maoïste que je suis, Badiou thus writes, literally, "For the Maoist that I am."2 Of course, the French usage merely represents a sudden shift to the narrative present; technically speaking, we are still in the past, and, in this sense, the English translation is by no means incorrect. Nevertheless, something of the heightened ambiguity attached to the use of the narrative present is lost in the passage from one language to the other, as the overall image of a potentially discomforting past replaces the suggestion of an ongoing loyalty, or at the very least a lingering debt, to Maoism.
By way of framing my translation of Badiou's talk "The Cultural Revolution: The Last Revolution?" I want to argue that Badiou's relation to Maoism, which amounts to a form of post-Maoism, can in fact be summarized in the ambiguous use of the narrative present. If we were to spell out this ambiguity, we could say that Badiou was and still is a Maoist, even though he no longer is the same Maoist that he once was. Badiou himself says at the beginning of his talk, quoting Rimbaud to refer to his red years: "J'y suis, j'y suis toujours" ("I am there, I am still there," sometimes translated as "I am here, I am still here"). And yet we also sense that an impression of pastness undeniably overshadows the past's continuing presence in the present. What seems so near is also exceedingly far; and what is there is perhaps not quite here. By the same token, we should not overlook the possibility that a certain inner distancing may already define the original rapport to Maoism itself. In fact, Mao's own role for Badiou will largely have consisted in introducing an interior divide into the legacy of Marxism-Leninism. "From the Jinggang Mountains to the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong's thought is formulated against the current, as the work of division," Badiou summarizes in his Théorie de la contradiction (1975), before identifying Mao's logic of scission as a prime example of dialectical thinking: "Rebel thinking if there ever was one, revolted thinking of the revolt: dialectical thinking."3 Maoism, then, in more strictly philosophical terms will come to mark an understanding of the dialectic as precisely such a thinking through inner splits and divided recompositions. As Badiou would write several years later in an article for Le Perroquet, one of the periodicals of his Maoist group: "At stake are the criteria of dialectical thinking—general thinking of scission, of rupture, of the event and of recomposition."4 [End Page 576]
We could begin by pondering some of the more unfortunate consequences of the fact that Badiou's vast body of work, standing nearly as tall as its author, has only recently begun to attract serious critical attention. This is true not only in English-speaking parts of the world, where several books have now been translated or are being translated, but even in his home country of France. In fact, to find a long-standing tradition of critical commentary and concrete analysis informed by this thinker's work, I often insist that we should turn to Latin America, especially to Argentina, where...