Zizek’s Response to Badiou’s Democratic Materialism and Materialist Dialectics
Slavoj Žižek writes in the International Journal of Zizek Studies:
In his Logiques des mondes (Badiou 2006), Alain Badiou provides a succinct definition of “democratic materialism” and its opposite, “materialist dialectics”: the axiom which condenses the first one is “There is nothing but bodies and languages …,” to which materialist dialectics adds “… with the exception of truths.” This opposition is not so much the opposition of two ideologies or philosophies as the opposition between non-reflected presuppositions/beliefs into which we are “thrown” insofar as we are immersed into our life-world, and the reflective attitude of thought proper which enables us to subtract ourselves from this immersion, to “unplug” ourselves, as Morpheus would have put it in The Matrix, a film much appreciated by Badiou, the film in which one also finds a precise account of the need, evoked by Badiou, to control oneself (when Morpheus explains to Neo the lot of ordinary people totally caught (“plugged”) in the Matrix, he says: “Everyone who is not unplugged is a potential agent.”). This is why Badiou’s axiom of “democratic materialism” is his answer to the question of our spontaneous (non-reflexive) ideological beliefs: “What do I think when I am outside my own control? Or, rather, which is our (my) spontaneous belief?” Furthermore, this opposition is immediately linked to what (once) one called “class struggle in philosophy,” the orientation most identified by the names of Lenin, Mao Zedong and Althusser – here is Mao’s succinct formulation: “It is only when there is class struggle that there can be philosophy.” The ruling class (whose ideas are the ruling ideas) is represented by the spontaneous ideology, while the dominated class has to fight its way through intense conceptual work, which is why, for Badiou, the key reference is here Plato – not the caricatured Plato, the anti-democratic philosopher of the aristocratic reaction to Athenian democracy, but the Plato who was the first to clearly assert the field of rationality freed from inherited beliefs. After all the bad words about the »phono-logocentric« character of Plato’s criticism of writing, it is perhaps time to assert its positive, egalitarian-democratic, aspect: in pre-democratic despotic state, writing was the monopoly of the ruling elite, its character was sacred, »so it is written« was the ultimate seal of authority, the presupposed mysterious meaning of the written text was the object of belief par excellence.