Badiou, Encounter, and Narrative

I have long been fascinated with Alain Badiou.

If you have paid much attention to this blog I interviewed a close friend, mentor, and teacher of mine, Jeph Holloway, early last year. Jeph is not only a keen reader of Paul, philosophy, ethics, and everything else in the world, but he is a nice fellow and has a knack for realizing what the important trends are in scholarship and pointing his students toward those.

So, knowing my naive, undergraduate fascination with Derrida and how deconstruction and theology interact he quickly encouraged me to look into Badiou and his book on Paul. This was at the very beginning of my Master’s work. I still remember him asking me to meet him in his office and telling me about the revolution going on in Paul’s use in political philosophy. Since then, I have tried to pay attention to Badiou, transcending just his engagement with Paul (however fruitful that may be, which depends on who you’re reading, really).

I am no Badiouian. But, I recognize the significance of what he has done with set theory in connection with ontology, and most importantly the insistence on Event and how Events are defined and characterized.

Badiou and a rather beautiful cat.

Recently I came across his interview centering around ‘encounter’ published on Verso Books blog page. And, here I realized that accepting encounters are not for the timid. Encounters are unlikely, break from the usual, and upends one’s life. And, encounters are ‘contingent’, a moment of pure chance. Perhaps here we can speak of a clinamen, an Epicurean swerve of the atoms that is unpredictable and non-reductive (and, in the irreducibility of the clinamen, Lucretius sees the justification for freedom of the will).

For the encounter to be distinguished from mere experience the encounter has to ‘disturb the rhythm of existence’, and it then assumes a moment of newness or beginning. The beginning, then, has to be either refused or accepted.

In order to make sense of one’s life, Paul Ricoeur insists on a sort of hermeneutic anthropology (Edit: How the heck do word processors not have ‘hermeneutic’ in thier dictionary??). For time to make sense for the human actor there has to be a narrative element present to represent and bring together otherwise discordant elements. But, sometimes one has an encounter. And, the encounter, while acting as an interruption, brings about new. The new is painful, it is disturbing in the fullest sense of the word because it breaks apart and irritates what was once seemingly coherent, and it is destruktion in the positive Heideggerian sense of the word, in that perhaps it will disturb those previous calcified, traditional elements within our seemingly coherent, static story.


But, stories shift. And can be told in new ways. Perhaps instead of the origin, the present is what gives form to the past of the narrative. And, with this in mind, the encounter, though a present reality (because it echoes throughout the constancy of the now), forms a new hermeneutic lens through which to understand the self.