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Alain Badiou: Fifteen theses on contemporary art
Fifteen theses on contemporary art
(p. 11 – 26)

The artist is the neutral element

Alain Badiou

Fifteen theses on contemporary art

Badiou’s fifteen theses have been circulating for several years in various versions in the domain between art and philosophy. Art is something essentially different from a “total putting-on-show of particularisms”. It must not regress into the romanticism of expressive creativity if it wants to maintain the pretension to universality. Rather, art includes a certain soberness and an “anti-romantic coldness”. Like mathematics, it is an impersonal act. “The artist is the neutral element” of this act and its affirmation.

1. Art is not the sublime descent of the infinite into the finite abjection of the body and sexuality. On the contrary, 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 qua sensible. This means: the transformation of the sensible into an 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 totalising 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 subjects of an artistic truth are 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 formalisation of the advent of a hitherto formless form.



9. The only maxim of contemporary art is: do not be imperial. This also means: do not 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 formalises 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: 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 in-existence 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...

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Alain Badiou

Alain Badiou

is a philosopher, dramaturg, novelist, and mathematician. He taught philosophy at the University of Paris VIII (Vincennes-Saint Denis), at the École Normale Supérieure, and at the  Collège international de philosophie. He is the author of several novels and plays as well as more than a dozen philosophical works.

Other texts by Alain Badiou for DIAPHANES
INAESTHETIK – NR. 0

Inästhetik denkt die Kunst von der Philosophie und die Philosophie von der Kunst her, ohne dabei das eine zum Objekt des anderen zu machen, ohne eines ans andere zu binden oder dem anderen unterzuordnen in der Überzeugung, dass in der Philosophie wie in der Kunst das Unendliche nur jeweils unterschiedliche endliche Formgebungen erfährt. Inästhetik zeichnet »die aus der unabhängigen Existenz bestimmter Kunstwerke hervorgehenden intraphilosophischen Wirkungen« nach, wobei die Philosophie die Immanenzebene bereitstellt. Inästhetik bringt ein Denken in Anschlag, das Kunst und Philosophie gleichermaßen als Wahrheitsproduktion auffasst und, im Sinne Badious, die »Treue« zu diesen Wahrheiten aufrechterhält. Inästhetik versucht die Ebene einer allgemeinen Ontologie zu fixieren, auf der sich das Verhältnis von Philosophie und Kunst aufspannt. Inästhetik erscheint als Zeitschrift im Halbjahresrhythmus und stellt unter wechselnden Thementiteln internationale Positionen neben explizit jüngere Ansätze. Inästhetik will internationale zeitgenössische Konfigurationen sichtbar machen und operiert daher bewusst mehrsprachig.

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