Alain Badiou: Fifteen Theses on Contemporary Art
I think everybody has the 15 theses, it is necessary, I think, for the talk. I'll comment about the theses and you can read them. I think the great question about contemporary art is how not to be Romantic. It's the great question and a very difficult one. More precisely, the question is how not to be a formalist-Romantic. Something like a mixture between Romanticism and formalism. On one side is the absolute desire for new forms, always new forms, something like an infinite desire. Modernity is the infinite desire of new forms. But, on the other side, is obsession with the body, with finitude, sex, cruelty, death. The contradiction of the tension between the obsession of new forms and the obsession of finitude, body, cruelty, suffering and death is something like a synthesis between formalism and Romanticism and it is the dominant current in contemporary art. All the 15 theses have as a sort of goal, the question how not to be formalist-Romantic. That is, in my opinion, the question of contemporary art.
[...] Lombardi is really a good example, and I am very glad to speak here tonight. We can see that there is something like a demonstration, a connection, points of connections. You have something very surprising, because Lombardi knew all that before the facts. We have somewhere, a great drawing about the Bush dynasty which is really prophetic, which is an artistic prophecy, that is a creation of a new knowledge, and so it's really surprising to see that after the facts. And it's really the capacity, the ability of art to present something before the facts, before the evidence. And it's something calm and elevated, like a star. You know, it's like a galaxy, see, it's something like the galaxy of corruption. So, the three determinations are really in the works of Lombardi. And so it's the creation of a new possibility of art and a new vision of the world, our world. But a new vision which is not purely conceptual, ideological or political, a new vision which has it's proper shape, which creates a new artistic possibility, something which is new knowledge of the world has a new shape, like that. It's really an illustration of my talk.
1. Art is not the sublime descent of the infinite into the finite abjection of the body and sexuality. It is the production of an infinite subjective series through the finite means of a material subtraction.
2. Art cannot merely be the expression of a particularity (be it ethnic or personal). Art is the impersonal production of a truth that is addressed to everyone.
3. Art is the process of a truth, and this truth is always the truth of the sensible or sensual, the sensible as sensible. This means: the transformation of the sensible into a happening of the Idea.
4. There is necessarily a plurality of arts, and however we may imagine the ways in which the arts might intersect there is no imaginable way of totalizing this plurality.
5. Every art develops from an impure form, and the progressive purification of this impurity shapes the history both of a particular artistic truth and of its exhaustion.
6. The subject of an artistic truth is the set of the works which compose it.
7. This composition is an infinite configuration, which, in our own contemporary artistic context, is a generic totality.
8. The real of art is ideal impurity conceived through the immanent process of its purification. In other words, the raw material of art is determined by the contingent inception of a form. Art is the secondary formalization of the advent of a hitherto formless form.
9. The only maxim of contemporary art is not to be imperial. This also means: it does not have to be democratic, if democracy implies conformity with the imperial idea of political liberty.
10. Non-imperial art is necessarily abstract art, in this sense: it abstracts itself from all particularity, and formalizes this gesture of abstraction.
11. The abstraction of non-imperial art is not concerned with any particular public or audience. Non-imperial art is related to a kind of aristocratic-proletarian ethic: Alone, it does what it says, without distinguishing between kinds of people.
12. Non-imperial art must be as rigorous as a mathematical demonstration, as surprising as an ambush in the night, and as elevated as a star.
13. Today art can only be made from the starting point of that which, as far as Empire is concerned, doesn't exist. Through its abstraction, art renders this inexistence visible. This is what governs the formal principle of every art : the effort to render visible to everyone that which for Empire (and so by extension for everyone, though from a different point of view), doesn't exist.
14. Since it is sure of its ability to control the entire domain of the visible and the audible via the laws governing commercial circulation and democratic communication, Empire no longer censures anything. All art, and all thought, is ruined when we accept this permission to consume, to communicate and to enjoy. We should become the pitiless censors of ourselves.
15. It is better to do nothing than to contribute to the invention of formal ways of rendering visible that which Empire already recognizes as existent.