Philosopher Alain Badiou Performs a Scene From His Play, Ahmed The Philosopher (2011)

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.

via Crit­i­cal The­o­ry

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Michel Fou­cault and Alain Badiou Dis­cuss “Phi­los­o­phy and Psy­chol­o­gy” on French TV (1965)

Rad­i­cal Thinkers: Five Videos Pro­file Max Horkheimer, Alain Badiou & Oth­er Rad­i­cal The­o­rists

Hear Michel Foucault’s Lec­ture “The Cul­ture of the Self,” Pre­sent­ed in Eng­lish at UC Berke­ley (1983)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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