Thursday, January 04, 2007

Badiou on Grace & Apostalic Discourse

There invariably comes a moment when what matters is to declare in one’s own name that what took place took place, and to do so because what one envisages with regard to the actual possibilities of a situation requires it. This is certainly Paul's conviction: the debate about the Resurrection is no more a debate between historians and witnesses in his eyes than that about the existence of the gas chambers is in mine. We will not ask for proofs and counterproofs. We will not enter into debate with erudite anti-Semites, Nazis under the skin, with their superabundance of "proofs" that no Jew was ever mistreated by Hitler.

To which it is necessary to add that the Resurrection--which is the point at which our comparison obviously collapses--is not, in Paul's own eyes, of the order of fact, falsifiable or demonstrable. It is a pure event, opening of an epoch, transformation of the relations between the possible and the impossible. For the interest of Christ's resurrection does not lie in itself, as it would in the case of a particular, or miraculous, fact. Its genuine meaning is that it testifies to the possible victory over death, a death that Paul envisages, as we shall see later in detail, not in terms of facticity, but in terms of subjective disposition. Whence the necessity of constantly linking resurrection to *our* resurrection, of proceeding from singularity to universality and vice versa: "If the dead do not resurrect, Christ is not resurrected either. And if Christ is not resurrected, your faith is in vain" (Cor. I.15.16). In contrast to the fact, the event is measurable only in accordance with the universal multiplicity whose possibility it prescribes. It is in this sense that it is grace, and not history.

The apostle is then he who names this possibility (the Gospels, the Good News, comes down to this: we *can* vanquish death). His discourse is one of pure fidelity to the possibility opened by the event. It cannot, therefore, in any way (and this is the upshot of Paul's philosophy) fall under the remit of knowledge. The philosopher knows eternal truths; the prophet knows the univocal sense of what will come (even if he only delivers it through figures, through signs). The apostle, who declares an unheard-of possibility, one dependent on an eventual grace, properly speaking knows nothing. To imagine that one knows, when it is a question of subjective possibilities, is fraudulent: "He who thinks he knows something [...], does not yet know as he ought to know" (Cor. I.8.2). How is one to know when one is an apostle? According to the truth of the declaration and its consequences, which, being without proof or visibility, emerges at that point where knowledge , be it empirical or conceptual, breaks down. In characterizing Christian discourse from the point of salvation, Paul does not hesitate to say: "Knowledge[...] will disappear"(Cor. I.13.8).
--Alain Badiou

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