Alain Badiou occupies an odd place in contemporary philosophy. Showered with superlatives like “France’s greatest living philosopher” and “one of the greatest thinkers of our time,” he somehow doesn’t merit even a cursory entry in that definitive academic reference site, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Whether this is simply an editorial oversight or an intentional slight, I am not qualified to say.
Perhaps one of the difficulties of writing concisely on Badiou is that Badiou himself roams far and wide—from Hegel to Lacan, Kant, Marx, Descartes, and even St. Paul. Not easily identifiable as belonging to one school or another, Badiou’s work, though staunchly politically left, resists anti-humanist postmodernism and seeks to ground truth in universals. It’s an unsurprising tack given that he first trained in mathematics.
As if his philosophical work weren’t enough, Badiou also writes novels and plays. Of the latter, his Ahmed the Philosopher: 34 Short Plays for Children & Everyone Else has recently appeared in an English translation by Joseph Litvak. Just above, you can see Litvak as Ahmed and Badiou himself as “a curmudgeonly French demon,” writes Critical Theory, “who takes joy in informing for the police.” Filmed in Germany in 2011,
This scene, entitled “Terror,” serves as a commentary on French xenophobia towards Arab immigrants. Badiou at one point also draws reference to Nazi-occupied France, a sort of “good old days” for Badiou’s callous character.
Badiou as the “demon of the cities” spotlights the brute limitations imposed by violent, unjust police, who summarily execute innocent people in the streets. Taking perverse pleasure in describing such an occurrence, the demon leers, “I like to imagine that I’m hidden behind a curtain. I salivate!” before going on to describe with relish the even uglier scenario of a “bungled” shooting. The audience giggles uneasily, unsure quite how to respond to the exaggerated evil Badiou performs. It seems unthinkable, absurd, their nervous laughter suggests, that anyone but a cartoon devil could take such sadistic delight in this kind of cruelty, much less, as the demon does, initiate it with anonymous libel. It’s an unnerving performance of an even more unnerving piece of writing. Below, you can see more scenes from Ahmed the Philosopher, performed in English sans Badiou at UC Irvine in 2010.
If you like Badiou as an actor, this may be your only chance to see him perform. However, the extroverted philosopher hopes to break into Hollywood in another capacity—bringing his translation of Plato’s Republic to the screen, with, in his grand design, Brad Pitt in the leading role, Sean Connery as Socrates, and Meryl Streep as “Mrs. Plato.” I wish him all the luck in the world. With the blockbuster success of religous epics like Noah, perhaps we’re primed for a Hollywood version of ancient Greek thought, though like the former film, purists would no doubt find ample reason to fly up in arms over a guaranteed multitude of philosophical blasphemies.