Democracy and Disappointment features a conversation between Alain Badiou and Simon Critchley addressing the politics of resistance in DVD video format, with a brochure featuring their recent philosophical writings about politics, heroism, and poetics. During the 2007-2008 academic year, students in the RBSL Bergman Foundation Curatorial Seminar at the University of Pennsylvania collaboratively engaged in research spanning disciplines such as literature, visual culture, urbanism, geo-politics, and technology. One residue of these endeavors was this publication that attempts to construct an archive of the temporal - in particular, this site-specific conversation on November 15, 2007 at Slought Foundation in Philadelphia.
Alain Badiou (1937) taught philosophy at the University of Paris VIII from 1969 until 1999, and then at the École Normale Supérieure (ENS). Much of Badiou's life has been shaped by his dedication to the consequences of events of May 1968. Long a leading member of Union des jeunesses communistes de France (marxistes-léninistes), he remains with Sylvain Lazarus and Natacha Michel at the center of L'Organisation Politique, a post-party organization concerned with direct popular intervention in a wide range of issues (including immigration, labor, and housing). He is the author of several successful novels and plays as well as more than a dozen philosophical works. In the 1980s, Badiou published a series of technical and abstract philosophical works such as Théorie du sujet (1982), and his magnum opus, Being and Event (1988). In the last decade, an increasing number of Badiou's works have been translated into English, such as Ethics, Deleuze, Manifesto for Philosophy, and Metapolitics.
Simon Critchley (1960) is Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research, New York, since 2004. Like many of his generation, defined by punk, generalized nihilism, and the disappointments that followed 1968, he was politicized by the Miners' Strike in 1984-85 and worked as a local activist throughout the 1980s and early 1990s before becoming disaffected with mainstream party politics. He is the author of many books, including Very Little... Almost Nothing (Routledge, 1997), Ethics-Politics-Subjectivity (Verso, 1999), On Humour (Routledge, 2002), and Things Merely Are (Routledge, 2005). Infinitely Demanding (Verso, 2007), the topic of the conversation featured in this publication, extends into political theory and political analysis by way of an extended engagement with Marx and an argument for an ethically committed political anarchism.
"In disoriented times, we cannot accept the return of the old, deadly figure of religious sacrifice; but neither can we accept the complete lack of any figure, and the complete disappearance of any idea of heroism. In both cases, the consequences will be the end of any dialectical relationship between humanity and its element of inhumanity, in a creative mode. So the result will be the sad success of what Nietzsche named 'the last man.' 'The last man' is the exhausted figure of a man devoid of any figure. It is the nihilistic image of the fixed nature of the human animal, devoid of all creative possibility. Our task is: How can we find a new heroic figure, which is neither the return of the old figure of religious or national sacrifice, nor the nihilistic figure of the last man? Is there a place, in a disoriented world, for a new style of heroism?" -- Alain Badiou
"The sense of something lacking or failing arises from the realization that we inhabit a violently unjust world, a world defined by the horror of war, a world where, as Dostoevsky says, blood is being spilt in the merriest way, as if it were champagne. Such an experience of disappointment is acutely tangible at the present time, with the corrosion of established political structures and an unending war on terror where the moods of Western populations are controlled through a politics of fear managed by the constant threat of external attack. This situation is far from novel and might be said to be definitional of politics from antiquity to early and considerably later modernity. My point is that if the present time is defined by a state of war, then this experience of political disappointment provokes the question of justice: what might justice be in a violently unjust world? It is this question that provokes the need for an ethics or what others might call normative principles that might enable us to face and face down the present political situation. Our main task is to respond to that need by offering a theory of ethical experience and subjectivity that will lead to an infinitely demanding ethics of commitment and politics of resistance." -- Simon Critchley