Badiou on education from “Art and Philosophy”

In “Art and Philosophy” from 1997 (Handbook of Inaesthetics [Stanford UP, 2005] 1-15), Alain Badiou rejects both Plato’s ostracism of artists as mad counterfeiters of truth and the Romantic poets’ worship of artists as prophets of truth in favour of “artistic apprenticeship as the key to education” (1).

He posits that the 20C has inherited three schemas of art — the didactic, the romantic and the classical:

  1. didactic (cf. Plato, Brecht/Marxism), i.e., cognitive: “all truth is external to art” (2), i.e., art does not produce truth, though it pretends it does (it dissembles truth). Philosophy produces truth. Art must be controlled (or banished, according to Plato).
  2. romantic (cf. the Romantic poets, Heidegger/hermeneutics), i.e., revelatory: “art alone is capable of truth” (3), i.e., it produces truth (it incarnates truth). Art is glorified. Philosophy merely reproduces truth.
  3. classical (cf. Aristotle, Freud/psychoanalysis), i.e., therapeutic: “art . . . is incapable of truth” (4), i.e., it does not produce truth, because it is mimetic (it resembles “reality”) and cathartic, i.e., aesthetic. Art is about likelihood and liking. Philosophy is about “unlikelihood.”

In modernity, these schemas are “saturated” (7):

Didacticism is saturated by the state-bound and historical exercise of art in the service of the people. Romanticism is saturated by the element of pure promise — always brought back to the supposition of a return of the gods — in Heidegger’s rhetorical equipment. Classicism, finally, is saturated by the self-consciousness conferred upon it by the complete deployment of a theory of desire.

He argues that the 20C’s “new” schema of avant-gardism was, in fact, a synthetic blend: a “didacto-romanticism” (it is didactically anti-art and romantically absolutist).

So a fourth genuinely new schema must be found. The clue lies in different relationships of art and truth the inherited schema share, that is, vis-à-vis immanence (whether truth is inside or outside of art) and singularity (whether the truths of art are its own):

  1. didacticism: truth is not immanent in art but is singular;
  2. romanticism: truth is immanent in art but not singular;
  3. classicism: truth is not immanent in art and not singular either.

The new fourth schema is the inaesthetic, which is both

  1. immanent, i.e., “[a]rt itself is a truth procedure,” thus: “[a]rt is rigorously coextensive with the truths it generates”; and
  2. singular, i.e., “art . . . is irreducible to philosophy,” thus: “[t]hese truths are given nowhere else than in art” (9).

By “inaesthetics” I understand a relation of philosophy to art that, maintaining that art is itself a producer of truths, makes no claim to turn art into an object for philosophy. (epigraph)

The role of philosophy, then, is to manifest truths:

Philosophy’s relation to art, like its relation to every other truth procedure [viz. love, science and politics], comes down to showing it as it is. Philosophy is the go-between in our encounters with truths. . . . So it is that truths are artistic, scientific, amorous, or political, and not philosophical. (9-10)

Art and philosophy (can) work together:

[t]his question of the existence of truths (that “there be” truths) points to a coresponsibility of art, which produces truths, and philosophy, which, under the condition that there are truths, is duty-bound to make them manifest (a very difficult task indeed). Basically, to make truths manifest means the following: to distinguish truths [the new] from opinion [the status quo].

(For Badiou, the status quo has as its art, culture; as its science, technology; as its love, sexuality; and as its politics, management [St Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, Stanford UP, 2003, 12].)

How does this relate to education? Education readies us for truth to happen — in art (or any other of the truth procedures):

Art is pedagogical for the simple reason that it produces truths and because “education” (save in its oppressive or perverted expressions) has never meant anything but this: to arrange the forms of knowledge in such a way that some truth may come to pierce a hole in them. / What art educates us for is therefore nothing apart from its own existence. (9)

Or, to speak more radically:

the only education is an education by truths. (14)


See Jan Jagodzinski on Badiou’s somewhat heavy-handed appropriation of Lacan’s four discourses: “Badiou’s Challenge to Art and its Education: Or ‘art cannot be taught — it can however educate,'” Thinking Education through Alain Badiou, ed. Kent den Heyer (Blackwell, 2010) 33-35 (26-44). For most of their history, there has been a tug-of-war between art and philosophy. Once art played the Hysteric to philosophy as Master; when the Master failed to provide answers for her, she became his mistress and muse, inaugurating the hermeneutic discourse of the University (1).

  1. the discourses of Master and Hysteric see art as cognitive or therapeutic (didactic or classical);
  2. the discourse of the University sees art as revelatory (romantic);
  3. the discourse of the Analyst sees art as truth procedure (inaesthetic).

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