Badiou’s most explicit meditations on the topic of ideology appear in a series of texts written over the course of a decade or so, stretching from the late ’60s to the late ’70s. The series divides in two: the first sequence, all composed prior to the events of May ’68, aim to think ideology as that from which thought subtracts itself, impurely and interminably, whether through aesthetic process or epistemological break. The second sequence, in which a faithful articulation of the uprising’s consequences is at stake, and in which political rebellion comes to actively condition Badiou’s philosophy, aim to think ideology itself as a mode of struggle and process of scission.
Ideology: Before ’68
In 1967’s ‘The (Re)commencement of Dialectical Materialism’, Badiou distils a highly schematic concept of ideology from his teacher’s work, breaking ideology into the three imaginary functions of repetition, totalization and placement, which serve
(1) to institute the repetition of immediate givens in a ‘system of representations […] thereby produc[ing] an effect of recognition [reconnaissance] rather than cognition [connaissance]’ (RMD 449);
(2) to establish this repetitional system within the horizon of a totalized lifeworld, ‘a normative complex that legitimates the phenomenal given (what Marx calls appearance),’ engendering ‘the feeling of the theoretical. The imaginary thus announces itself in the relation to the ‘world’ as a unifying pressure’ (RMD 450-1).
(3) to interpellate both individuals and scientific concepts (crossbred with ideological notions) into the horizons of that lifeworld (RMD 450, 450 n.19).
In the background of these three functions is what any Marxist analysis must take to be the ideology’s ultimate aim, which is ‘to serve the needs of a class’ (RMD 451, n.19) – by which is meant, however tacitly, the dominant class. Badiou’s earliest works have little to say about this most basic function of ideology, and even less to say about Althusser’s quiet conflation of ideology tout court with the category of dominant ideology – but this complacency (which, it should be noted, is not uninterrupted – The Concept of Model (1968) marks an important, but ultimately inadequate, exception) will not survive the rebellion mounted in Of Ideology, to which I will return in a moment.
In his first theoretical publication, ‘The Autonomy of the Aesthetic Process’ (1966 – written in ’65), Badiou describes how art, though it does not tear a hole in ideology as science does, nevertheless serves to subtract thought from ideological domination by capturing the latter in ‘the discordant unity of a form: exhibited as content, ideology speaks of what, in itself, it cannot speak: its contours, its limits,’ (APE 80) decentring the specular relation that ideology works to preserve, and exposing the audience to the ‘outside’ surface of ideology’s infinite enclosure:
If ideology produces the imaginary reflection of reality, the aesthetic effect responds by producing ideology as imaginary reality. One could say that art repeats, in the real, the ideological repetition of that real. Even if this reversal does not produce the real, it realizes its reflection. (APE 81)
If ideologies, as Badiou suggests in The Concept of Model, play themselves out as continuous variations on absent themes (CM 7), then the point of the aesthetic process is to expose those themes in their presence themes by capturing them in their form.
The second mode by which thought subtracts itself from ideology is science, conceived as a sequence of epistemological breaks. Ideology confronts scientific practice in the form of what Bachelard termed epistemological obstacles. In ‘Mark and Lack: On Zero’ (1969 – written in ’67), Badiou contends that epistemological obstacles affect scientific discourse in the form of an unstable suture of the scientific signifier (see entry on suture). Epistemological breaks must therefore act on structure of the signifier itself: they demand a labour of formalization, desuturing and stratifying the scientific signifier, assembling it in an inhuman machine that tears through the fabric of ideological enclosure. The structure of the scientific signifier comes to foreclose every ideological recuperation, but this radical dissonance with ideology is not accidental. It is the constitutive engine of scientific practice:
it is not because it is ‘open’ that science has cause to deploy itself (although openness governs the possibility of this deployment); it is because ideology is incapable of being satisfied with this openness. Forging the impracticable image of a closed discourse and exhorting science to submit to it, ideology sees its own order returned to it in the unrecognizable form of the new concept; the reconfiguration through which science, treating its ideological interpellation as material, ceaselessly displaces the breach that it opens in the former. (MM 173)
Science thus proceeds in an endless dialectical alternation of scientific rupture and ideological recapture – a dialectic that structurally corresponds to that which Badiou will later describe as taking place between truth and knowledge.[i]
Ideology is the ubiquitous medium of thought and practice, within and against which art and science operate. Philosophy’s task cannot, therefore, be one of purifying thought – whether scientific, artistic or philosophical – of ideology. Its task, as formulated in The Concept of Model, following the direction of Althusser’s ‘Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of Scientists’, is to draw abstract lines of demarcation between ideology and the subtractive practices it unstably envelops – but this demarcation is not an end in itself. It is carried out for the sake of new ideological-scientific syntheses. In fact, the Badiou of 1968 defines philosophy as ‘the ideological recovery of science,’ the manufacture of ‘categories, denot[ing] ‘inexistent’ objects in which the work of the [scientific] concept and the repetition of the [ideological] notion are combined’ (CM 9). It is clear that this vocation is futile so long as the category of ideology, itself, remains undivided – subsumed, root and branch, under the category of dominant ideology. The philosophical necessity of this division is already legible in The Concept of Model, whose attempt to trace ‘a line of demarcation’ between the scientific concept of model and its bourgeois-ideological recapture is explicitly oriented towards readying the concept’s ‘effective integration into proletarian ideology’ (CM 48). But the theory of this division is not yet clear, and so, for want of a clear articulation of the difference between dominant and resistant ideologies, The Concept of Model can only end with this promissory note.
Ideology: After ’68
The reader of Badiou’s post-’88 works may recognize in the aesthetic process and the epistemological break an anticipation of the later conception of art and science as truth procedures. Only after ’68 does the third condition arrive in full force, and it is the entrance of political rebellion onto the scene that will force the division of the category of ideology that is needed if the philosophical fabrication of categories is to be justified. This fission comes to a head in a 1976 pamphlet, coauthored with François Balmès under the title, Of Ideology. Badiou and Balmès’ first (and powerfully Sartrean) move is to insist on the transparency of ideology:
We must have done with the ‘theory’ of ideology ‘in general’ as imaginary representation and interpellation of individuals as subjects […] Ideology is essentially reflection, and in this sense, far from being an agent of dissimulation, it is exactly what it looks like: it is that in which the material order (which is to say, the relations of exploitation) is effectively enunciated, in a fashion that is approximate, but nonetheless real. (DI 19)
Following a merciless critique of the Althusserian theory of ideology (within which Badiou’s initial reflections on the topic took shape), Balmès and Badiou lay down the rudiments of a properly Marxist and militant theory of ideology. They begin by drawing a line between the ideology of the exploiters (the ‘dominant ideology’) and the ideology of the exploited. There can be a ‘dominant ideology’ only where there are people who are dominated, and those who are dominated will resist, whether powerfully or weakly: It is from the standpoint of this resistance that the concept of ideology must be formulated. In resisting domination, the exploited form a more or less systematic representation of the real and antagonistic class relations that exploit them. This representation contains the germ of the ideology of the exploited class – the germ of an ideology of resistance. It is in a resistance to the ideological resistance of domination that the dominant ideology takes shape, struggling, not to deny the existence of contradictory class relations – which could only be a product of blindness or stupidity – but to downplay their antagonistic character. Its platform is threefold:
(i) Its first move is to contend that ‘[e]very apparent antagonism is at best a difference, and at worst a non-antagonistic (and reconcilable) contradiction.’ (DI 40)
(ii) Its second is to maintain that ‘[e]very difference is in itself inessential: identity is the law of being, not, of course, in real social relations, but in the ceremonial register of regulated comparisons before destiny, before God, before the municipal ballot-box.’ (DI 40)
(iii) Its ‘third procedure is the externalization of the antagonism: to the supposedly unified body politic [corps social] a term ‘outside of class’ [hors-classe] is opposed, and posited as heterogeneous: the foreigner (chauvinism), the Jew (anti-Semitism), the Arab (racism), etc. The procedures of transference are themselves riveted [chevillées] over an exasperation of the principal contradiction.’ (DI 40; n.27)
Resisting this resistance of resistance to domination, the ideology of the exploited may become an active ideology of rebellion. To do so, ‘revolt must produce an inversion and reversal of values: for it, it’s the differential identity of the dominant ideology that’s the exception, and it is antagonism that is the rule. It is equality that’s concrete, and hierarchy exists abstractly’ (DI 41). In this exponentiation of resistance the communist invariants take shape: egalitarian, anti-proprietary and anti-statist convictions, which, Badiou and Balmès argue, are not specific to proletarian revolt, but genuinely universal, legible in every real mass revolt against class exploitation (DI 66-67). These invariants comprise the contents of resistant ideology, and not necessarily its form, which it as a rule is inherits from the ideology of the dominant class (the communist invariants inscribed in Müntzer’s peasant rebellion, for instance, were couched in a religious form inherited from the ideology of the landowning class).
This division between content and form – with the form of an ideology deriving from the ideology it resists, and its contents reflecting the real class forces that drive it – supplies Badiou and Balmès with a straightforward way of accounting for false consciousness. ‘Illusion and false consciousness,’ they write,
concern the form of representations, and not their content. That a small-time union boss might hold the sincere conviction that he speaks in the name of the working class, and even has the backing of a tawdry Marxism, when he bends over backwards to liquidate a mass revolt, that’s false consciousness – but only so far as the formal side of the question goes. The truth is, our little revisionist is invested by the force of the bourgeois class, which his thought quite adequately reflects. (DI 32)
It is here that the Marxist formation of a proletarian party becomes crucial to the organization of revolt, in its function of welding the correct ideas of the masses – the invariant, communist contents of mass revolt – to the scientific form of Marxism. It is this that sets the proletariat – the organized proletariat – apart from the exploited classes of the past, for while it ‘is not the inventor of ideological resistance, it is its first logician’ (DI 128).
SEE ALSO: SUTURE, FORCING, MODEL, SPLACE, ENCYCLOPAEDIA, REPRESENTATION, STATE, HISTORY, CAPITALISM