Anders Dunker
A Norwegian philosopher, now located in California.

The aging Alain Badiou pens a radical speech on existential anguish as an opening towards a better community.

In his philosophy, Alain Badiou alternates between psychoanalysis and Marxism. He also builds on Heidegger’s existential and philosophical thinking, where the truth is found in the relationship between the individual and the world. Badiou’s key works mix existential insight with daunting formal and logical arguments in a fundamental examination of the relation between the possible and the real.

In a lighter manner  – through a series of short and easily accessible writings – the eighty-year-old Badiou uses his concept of truth to illuminate general experiences and current problems. The basic idea being that truth emerges as an event where the possible finds space in the real. Seizing the truth in a amorous encounter could radically change reality – the moment of love becomes a relationship, perhaps lasting an entire lifetime. Similarily, in politics : a feeling of injustice makes you an active witness. By being loyal to this experienced truth, you help creating a new political community and changing the world.

Words to the young

The True Life is written as a speech to the young, placing it dangerously close to the often slightly embarrassing – and frequently paternalistic – words of wisdom on coming of age. To compensate for the somewhat plucky role as the keeper of knowledge, Badiou starts off referring to the wildest of all young poets, Rimbaud, who, somewhere, melancholically complains that ‘the true life is absent,’. Talking about the real and inspired life also means speaking of the life that is faded, false and corrupt.

 «Talking about the real and inspired life also means speaking of the life that is faded, false and corrupt.»

A conscious provocation, the subtitle of Badiou’s book is A Plea for Corrupting the Young, a reference to Socrates’ equally ironic fate. When Socrates was sentenced to death by the citizens of Athens, the most important accusation was that he had misled young people.

Challenging insights – tempting evasions

To many young people, a clear and critical insight into the general corruption of society, is a basic experience. Yet, acting as a witness to such bitter insights comes at a price. As any existential philosopher will point out, the solution for most of us is to flee – . With a stark simplification, Badiou points out two escape routes for young people.

The first choice looks a lot like the road taken by the young Rimbaud: an intense existence where the wine flows and life is lived for the moment. Here rebellion abounds, but a life lived only for the instant easily ends up as a series of disconnected episodes, a fragmented experience with no underlying plan. The celebration of life risks ending in emptiness.

To many, the alternative to burning away one’s life force is to carefully ration and invest one’s energy. If this first alternative looks like Kierkegaard’s aesthetic stage, the second solution is akin to the very lowest level of authenticity, stage zero: the conventional life of the bourgeoisie. Here, the prime goal in life is simply to settle in as well as possible, to gain a prestigious, secure and profitable position. Whereas this is undeniably constructive, it is also dangerously close to what Badiou bluntly terms ‘the trinity of corruption’ – power, money and status.

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