Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Why I Must Read Alain Badiou

Have just watched an excellent little online video in which Peter Hallward of Kingston University discusses Alan Badiou’s book on ethics (Verso, 2001) in the middle of London’s Housmans Bookshop: see www.guardian.co.uk.commentisfree/video/2013/jul/12/alain-badiou-ethics-video-radical-thinkers. Hallward lucidly summarises what he calls the negative and positive side of Badiou’s book, and it was the latter that suddenly made my Morrisian ears prick up.

Ethics for Badiou in this positive sense, according to Hallward, is a matter of ‘giving the participants, the militants of these [emancipatory] causes ... the resources that they need to continue in their projects when they become difficult, when they are vulnerable to despair or exhaustion or doubt, and ethics is about trying to meet that challenge and to find the resources ... to persist’. Hallward’s evocation of the activist’s crisis of morale recalls John Ball’s confession of his crisis of motivation in Canterbury prison in A Dream of John Ball or Old Hammond’s evocation in News from Nowhere of the doubts that afflicted late-Victorian socialists (‘shrunk from what seemed to them the barren task’); and we could certainly find such moments of political discouragement in Morris’s own personal letters too. So if Badiou can offer us an ethics of hope for such bad times, then I feel I had definitely better buy and read his book.

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