Badiou’s Rationalistic Reabsorption of Heidegger
The principle contours of Badiou’s ontological thinking can be thought to involve an absorption of Heidegger, an absorption which rationalizes Heidegger and thus produces new consequences. Science will be revalidated, and along with it, its essential historical corollary: the subject. Both terms, so deeply criticized by Heidegger, will be reaffirmed in a radical re-absorption of Heidegger himself.
The absorption will occur on two levels: that of place and that of ontological difference.
One can conceive of the conceptual development of Heidegger’s work - from Being and Time up and through the later works - as a deepening meditation of the role of place in ontology. If there is a connection between Heidegger’s thinking and his brief Nazi engagement, or between his thinking and a generally “archi-fascist” orientation (as Lacoue-Labarthe argued), then this comes down to his meditation on place.
What emerges in Being and Time is that the opening of authentic time is always at the same time the embrace and owning-up to a radical “thrownness” (gerworfenheit) of our being-there. In other words, the modes in which Being opens itself up to me, such that I experience beings as beings, is always a transcendental condition. I cannot deduce or divinely create Being, but it is the factical opening of the way things already are. If beings are to be revealed to me as beings, as being determined authentically by Being, this can only be the case if my being-there bursts open to its already-being-there.
The key is to understand how this temporal ‘already,’ converts itself into the worldiness of place. The unity of time-space for Heidegger, is the unity of the ‘already’ and place. What is ‘already’ is history, the set of social codes in which I find myself, as well as the language in which I think and dwell. This language, or social code, is where I dwell. To be from Germany, for Heidegger, and to live in Germany, is to be part of German history, and to embrace such is to assert the distinctively German destiny. Here we see the Nazi engagement, or at least a fascistic-nationalist orientation, quite clearly.
How does Badiou absorb, yet subvert this concept of place, with the consequence in fact of converting a nationalist project into a universalist project? First we must understand the second transformation between Badiou and Heidegger: that which concerns ontological difference.
Heidegger is the inventor of the term “ontological difference,” but if we follow Heidegger in his 1929 work Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, we can find the origin of the concept in Kant.
The idea is this: as opposed to the realist, metaphysical determination of beings from an absolute ground (what Heidegger calls “onto-theology”), beings can only be thought according to transcendental conditions. The transcendentality of these conditions means that they are only ever presuppositions of the opening of beings. For Kant, these conditions are the pure concepts of the Understanding and the forms of intuition in Sensibility. The first supplies the concept of an object in general, or representations thought according to necessary rules, such that what is experienced as nature is no subjective whim: it is a rule governed order that genuninely counts as Nature. The second limits the use of the former, ensuring that Nature is only ever given within the finite horizon of human thinking and experience.
In his reading of Kant, Heidegger attempts to synthesize the two faculties in Kant’s concept of the Transcendental Imagination, using the latter as the ground for the unified whole of Dasein, which just is this finite opening of genuine Nature. Yet this opening, as being a mere transcendental presupposition, ensures that there can be no reduction of the Being of Dasein to a being: there is no objectal ground of this opening of Nature, and Dasein is just this liminal point between Being and beings.
The ontological difference explains why Heidegger will end up conceiving Being as itself Nothing. Being is no-thing, but beyond a mere word play, this means that the conditions of the opening of beings are in a sense inaccessible, because any opening of these conditions, requires the “invisible” presupposition of the conditions themselves.
The impossibility of reaching Being then becomes a kind of endless task for Dasein, it requires a “resoluteness” in a meditative waiting, a thinking of the “withdrawal” of Being; for this Nothing, though nothing, in some sense can still be felt, in its effects, through this quasi, anxiety-inducing, vanishing, presence.
This is the point at which Badiou makes the daring move: yes, Being is Nothing, but no, it cannot be felt: for Being is merely the empty set of mathematical set theory that formalizes the void. For Badiou, Heidegger is inconsistent: if Being is Nothing, there cannot even be a mood which thinks it. Mathematics is moodless. Yet this also means that the void can have no history, no patient awaiting, no promised archi-fascist, poetic revolution. Put differently, Being is placeless.
So what happens to place, now radically cut off from Being? Badiou nonetheless fully incorporates place into his system, making it the ground of the topological theory of what he calls "situations." Like Heidegger, situations are linguistic and their character is a kind of appearing: they are accessed according to phenomeno-logy. They are finite openings, yet presuppose a void of Being, which now, for Badiou, will be mathematically infinite.
Following this reabsorption we rediscover science: for the science of Being is mathematics. And we rediscover its well-worn rational correlate: the subject. No longer the figure of technological domination, the subject is merely the fragmentary support, the reclaimed sub-jectum, of Truth.