Rilke on Badiou

Zizek’s opposition to post-secular thought is made manifest in his reversal of Benjamin’s first thesis on the philosophy of history:

The puppet called ‘theology’ is to win all the time. It can easily be a match for anyone if it enlists the service of historical materialism, which today, as we know, is wizened and has to keep out of sight.

But I think he, along with Badiou, still falls foul of a straight reading of the original thesis: that their historical materialism relies on an illegitimate theological supplement. We must be careful about raising a wholesale objection to their engagement with the religious tradition though, for it is not that which is the problem. Badiou’s book on Saint Paul and the foundations of universalism is wonderful in the round. But I cannot accept its central pillar as an independent position, namely the theory of the Event. I won’t say much about this here since others have written at length about the unacceptably mysterious relation between Events and their grounds and ‘sites’, or for Zizek the conditions of the Act (for example, Sinthome over at Larval Subjects and Alex Callinicos in The Resources of Critique). Of course, the inexplicability of such Events or Acts are their whole point, defined as they are as a break with an anterior structure that seems to exhaust the current field of possibilites. Edifying as such theories might be (though I have my doubts) in their implicit message that endless theorising is in vain without practical action, the further relation that they posit between theory and practice is unacceptable. But enough of all that for now.

Here I simply want to draw your attention to Rilke’s poem ‘The Angel’, which, almost entirely whimsically, I like to read as a comment on Badiou.

The Angel

He shakes his head as if he would dismiss
whatever might confine him or constrain him –
for each gigantic heartbeat brings more close
the huge event — forever orbiting.

All heaven shouts and swarms with presences
ready to summon him: Come! See and witness!
But do not burden with your heaviness
his weightless hands, for they would break your doors

and, raging in the night from room to room,
would seize you and search deep into your heart,
wrench you about as if to give you form –
at last would break your mould, would lift you out.

– Rilke, Neue Gedichte, trans. S. Cohn