“Anyone who doesn’t take love as a starting point will never understand the nature of philosophy.”
I didn’t do the best job of introducing Alain Badiou, so I’ll give a brief sketch before getting into the first chapter of In Praise of Love, called “Love Under Threat”.
Badiou’s biography on The European Graduate School’s website says:
Alain Badiou, Ph.D., born in Rabat, Morocco in 1937, holds the Rene Descartes Chair at the European Graduate School EGS. Alain Badiou was a student at the École Normale Supérieure in the 1950s. He taught at the University of Paris VIII (Vincennes-Saint Denis) from 1969 until 1999, when he returned to ENS as the Chair of the philosophy department. He continues to teach a popular seminar at the Collège International de Philosophie, on topics ranging from the great ‘antiphilosophers’ (Saint-Paul, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Lacan) to the major conceptual innovations of the twentieth century.
Badiou’s most general goal can be described, then, as the effort to expose and make sense of the potential for profound, transformative innovation in any situation. He distinguishes four general fields of truth, or four domains of subjectivation (which in turn operate as the four generic ‘conditions’ of philosophy itself): politics, science, art and love.
The website also provides a conscience summary of what I think will be the summary of Badiou’s view of love:
Genuine love begins in the wake of an unpredictable encounter that escapes the conventional representation of sexual roles, continues as a fidelity to the consequences of that encounter, and is sustained through an unrepresentable exposure to what Lacan famously described as the ‘impossibility of a sexual relationship’.
Badiou’s summary of Lacan’s view on love in the first chapter deserves a post on it’s own, so I’ll limit this post to what Badiou believes love is under treat from.
Love confronts two enemies, essentially: safety guaranteed by an insurance policy and the comfort zone limited by regulated pressures.
In the first instance, Badiou points to dating websites and how we actively avoid randomness by choosing to meet with those people who tick our boxes. In our quest for safety and security, we are overlooking that love is “the thing that gives meaning and intensity to almost everyone’s life.” If we truly want the ardent passion that we associate with love, we also have to embrace the turbulence and risk that is also intrinsic to love. “Love cannot be a gift given on the basis of a complete lack of risk.”
The second threat to love is the idea that “love is only a variant of rampant hedonism and the wide range of possible enjoyment.” Or essentially, love = pleasure. This view of love lacks a deep bond or a relationship. It it simply a taking of pleasure until you no longer derive pleasure.
Even philosophers have a difficult time contending with love. The majority either tend to devalue it as a “natural extravagance of sex” or elevate on par with a religious epiphany.
Badiou is not satisfied with either of those two views. For him:
Provided it isn’t conceived only as an exchange of mutual favours or isn’t calculated way in advance as a profitable investment, love really is a unique trust placed in chance. It takes us into key areas of the experience of what is difference and, essentially, leads to the idea that you can experience the world from the perspective of difference.