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  • The Event of Cinema:Alain Badiou and Media Studies
  • James Tweedie (bio)

After the forays of Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Rancière, and Jean-Luc Nancy into film theory, we half expect important French philosophers to meditate upon and write about this quintessential modern art. And for readers interested in the philosophy of film, this seemingly effortless transition between the abstractions of thought and the actuality of images demonstrates, more by the force of example than any specific argument, the intimate connection between philosophy and cinema. These thinkers produce insightful theories of film because (and here anticipation begins to drift into the realm of fantasy) cinema has always been operating in the background of their work, lending structure and support to intangible concepts, facilitating the movement between seemingly distinct and distant ideas, secretly guiding the most crucial developments in their thought. Alain Badiou, a French philosopher who writes less frequently and systematically on cinema, would be the most vexing counterexample in this at long last flourishing effort to examine the nexus between modern media and philosophy. This essay will revisit some of Badiou's crucial writing—much of it antagonistic or indifferent to film and other modern visual media—because he develops a provocative theory of the event missing from many philosophies of film and the mature discipline of film studies today.

In the non-Francophone world the task of disseminating and responding to Badiou's work has only recently begun. The English translation of his magnum opus, Being and Event (2005a), was published in 2006, nearly two decades after its release in French. (The second volume of Being and Event, Logics of Worlds [2009b], was also first published in 2006.) In those and his many collections of essays on art, aesthetics, and politics, Badiou traverses the gamut of artistic, political, and [End Page 95] intellectual phenomena, ranging from set theory and the Chinese Cultural Revolution, to Beckett and Deleuze. What distinguishes Badiou's thought at the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first is his seeming anachronism, which in the context of the mutual fascination between the ancient discipline of philosophy and modern or contemporary media, we could also consider an untimely return to outmoded but still productive systems of thought. Most remarkably, we find in Badiou an unrepentant Platonism, as his intellectual devotion results in a fascination with the biography and legend of Plato and therefore verges on fandom. (His recent translation of The Republic [2012] attempts to enlist Plato in contemporary political debates by rewriting portions of the text and staging new dialogues attuned to the idioms and interests of a younger generation.) We also find in Badiou an unrepentant Maoism: he remains a staunch defender of the Cultural Revolution as a crucial attempt to realize communism outside the confines of the party-state. And we find a mathematical approach to philosophy situated squarely against both Anglo-American analytic philosophy and the mainstream version of poststructuralism, with set theory his strategy for making multiplicity accessible to thought and allowing the uncountable to count for something. For the obvious reasons of time and space, this essay will provide only the briefest possible introduction to that larger body of work and focus instead on the implications of his thought for film theory, especially the equally anachronistic and untimely "grand theory" interested in outmoded, vaguely embarrassing, but still fundamental questions like Bazin's "What is cinema?" This is theory that pulls film studies away from the practical demands of criticism and toward the more generic and ontological claims of philosophy.1 More specifically, I use the horrendously old-fashioned and newly fashionable work of Alain Badiou as a vehicle for revisiting time-honored texts whose rhetoric marks them as strangers to the more measured discourse of film and media studies today. With their absolutist language advancing claims about the fundamental nature of cinema—"cinematography is, first and foremost, montage" (28), writes Eisenstein; "the photographic image is the object itself" (1:14), says Bazin; "it is the place of the look that defines cinema" (208), writes Mulvey—these thinkers, as different as they are from one another, all approach film through what Badiou calls a militant conception...


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