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  • The Pauline Event?
  • Ed Pluth (bio)
Alain Badiou, St. Paul: La fondation de l’universalisme (Paris: PUF, 1997)

What on earth can Alain Badiou, a thinker who proclaims himself to be an atheist and whose Marxist sentiments are obvious, find of interest in St. Paul? Badiou finds St. Paul interesting beyond the content of his message, because in his practice he was a wonderful model for any militant. Consider for a moment the radical activity of St. Paul, whose wanderings throughout the ancient world served to create and solidify a multiplicity of Christian groups whose subjective force would come to dominate the Roman Empire and forever alter the landscape of subjectivity: all on the basis of a discourse about an event, which in this case went by the name of the Resurrection. Badiou believes that one can filter out the content of Paul’s work and still take some lessons from the form of his activity.

One of the major motifs of Badiou’s thought is the relation between the event and what he calls the “situation,” the order of possible opinions and instituted knowledge (L’Ethique 60). An event is that which is essentially unrepresentable in the situation. Badiou notes that for St. Paul it is never a matter of submitting the event to a test — that is, St. Paul never sought confirmation of the Resurrection. This may be seen as irresponsible or opportunistic, but Badiou points out that such a confirmation would have been pointless anyway, since an event by its nature does not submit to testing within the order of facts. Rather, it is proven (or if you prefer, shown to have a certain degree of validity, of worthiness) by the transformations it brings about in this order, and it is at the level of its effects that one might agree or disagree with it. What is important is not a proof of an event but the declaration of it, its promotion in a truth-process, and the transformations it brings about in the situation. This is why the form of Paul’s activity is of interest to Badiou. Outside of the content of Paul’s message, he is dealing with the very relations and issues that any militant, any critical thinker, and perhaps any philosopher must confront in his or her activity. This activity — the submitting of the situation to the disruptive force of an event — is called by Badiou a truth-process.

A truth-process is the discursive articulation of an event in the situation — in our case this would be the field dominated by capitalist, scientistic, and parlimentary discourse, and in Paul’s case it was the world dominated by Roman law. I shall return to the idea of law, for what Badiou wishes to extract from Paul’s works is the foundation upon which the articulation of a universal law (in opposition to the particularizing law of the state) in a field of multiplicity and difference can occur. A truth-process, conceived of in this manner, amounts to the promotion of a “non-conformist thought,” which is for Badiou essentially identical to the subject (St. Paul 119). That is, the subject is unthinkable in the realm of opinion: it can only be sustained by wedding it to an event, and promoting this event in the situtation incessently, in an activity that is constitutive of Badiou’s notion of the subject.

Badiou does spend a surprising amount of time reinterpreting many views attributed to Paul (by the Church, by Nietzsche, by feminism), and one might wonder about the function of these sections of Badiou’s book. If the content of Paul’s message is not what is important for Badiou, then why does he spend so much time on it? If it is recalled that the whole strategy of the book is oriented around discovering the techniques by means of which Paul articulated the subject and continued with a truth process, then the presence of these sections makes more sense. Badiou reads Paul’s letters as so many political interventions into a waning and often divisive militant activity on the part of his addressees, and the key oppositions that are the themes of many...

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