In Praise of Love
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In Praise of Love

Alain Badiou, Nicolas Truong

A new century, new threats to love …Love without risks is like war without deaths - but, today, love is threatened by an alliance of liberalism and hedonism. Caught between consumerism and casual sexual encounters devoid of passion, love - without the key ingredient of chance - is in danger of withering on the vine. In In Praise of Love, Alain Badiou takes on contemporary ‘dating agency’ conceptions of love that come complete with zero-risk insurance - like US zero-casualty bombs. He develops a new take on love that sees it as an adventure, and an opportunity for re-invention, in a constant exploration of otherness and difference that leads the individual out of an obsession with identity and self. Liberal, libertine and libertarian reductions of love to instant pleasure and non-commitment bite the dust as Badiou invokes a supporting cast of thinkers from Plato to Lacan via Karl Marx to form a new narrative of romance, relationships and sex - a narrative that does not fear love.

Review

Presumably named in hommage to the 2001 Jean-Luc Godard film of the same name, In Praise of Love is a revised transcript of a public conversation held between Nicolas Truong and Alain Badiou (pictured left), one of the world’s greatest living philosophers, at the 2008 Avignon Festival. Retaining the spontaneous flavour of such an exchange, the theses of this striking popular book can be immediately absorbed even by the idle reader. ‘I’m sorry to say this,’ a friend of mine remarked while flipping through my proof copy, ‘but this sounds a little like the sort of thing your grandmother would say.’

To some extent, my friend is right: the aforementioned stereotypical granny and Badiou both share the conviction that internet dating sites are sad, that love today is under threat, that true love should be forever, that fidelity in love must outweigh the constant temptations to betray, neutralise or ignore it. On the other hand, I bet you’ll find some stuff in here that nobody else says, particularly regarding the non-relationship between love and politics, the experience of seduction in theatre, and the relation of chance to eternity. For Badiou, love is not a natural state or disposition, but a unique form of thought. As a form of thought, it has to go beyond being a risk-management exercise, on the one hand, or a naturalistic species-specific adaptation, on the other. As Badiou declares, everybody knows how dangerous love is; to fall into love is literally to risk giving oneself over to violence, suffering and terror. Yet, without it, life itself is diminished. Aside from some minor infelicities (e.g. ‘Two scene’ doesn’t quite work for ‘scène du Deux’) and a few typos, the translation is highly readable, something that both you and your grandmother could read for enjoyment, edification, and, even, adventure.

Justin Clemens teaches at the University of Melbourne.

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