Democracy and Disappointment

A philosophical exchange about the politics of resistance with Alain Badiou and Simon Critchley


Fields of Knowledge
  • Pedagogy
  • Philosophy / Theory
  • Politics / Economics

Organizing Institutions

Departments of History, English, and Romance Languages, as well as the Program in Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania


Aaron Levy


Verso, Astra Taylor

Opens to public



4017 Walnut
Philadelphia, PA 19104


75% Formal - 25% Informal

Slought is pleased to announce a public conversation between Alain Badiou and Simon Critchley on Thursday, November 15th, 2007 from 7:00-9:00pm. This event will feature short presentations by both philosophers, followed by a conversation about metapolitics and the politics of resistance and dissensus. It will be introduced by Román de la Campa, Edwin B. and Lenore R. Williams Professor and Chair of Romance Languages at the University of Pennsylvania.

In conjunction with this event, we are pleased to make available a transcript of 'Ours is not a terrible situation,' an earlier conversation between Alain Badiou and Simon Critchley at Labyrinth Books, NY, in March 6, 2006; a printed version is forthcoming from Philosophy Today.

"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 Contemporary Figure of the Soldier in Politics and Poetry (UCLA, 2007)

"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, Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance (Verso, 2007)

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Alain Badiou (born 1937, Rabat, Morocco) is a French philosopher. He taught at the University of Paris VIII (Vincennes-Saint Denis) from 1969 until 1999, and then taught at the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) as Chair of Philosophy.

Much of Badiou's life has been shaped by his dedication to the consequences of the May 1968 revolt in Paris. 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 (born 1960) is a British philosopher, working in continental philosophy, history of philosophy, literature, ethics and politics. Since 2004, Critchley has been Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research, New York, and at the University of Essex, Colchester. He has held visiting professorships at the Universities of Sydney (2000), Notre Dame (2002), Nijmegen (1997), Oslo (2006) and Cardozo Law School in New York (2005). In 1997 and 2001 Critchley held a Humboldt Research Fellowship in Philosophy at the University of Frankfurt. Between 1998-2004, Critchley was a Programme Director of the Collège international de philosophie, Paris, and in 2006-7 he was a Scholar at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles.

He is the author of many books, including Very Little... Almost Nothing (1997), Ethics-Politics-Subjectivity (1999), On Humour (2002), Things Merely Are (2005), and, more recently, Infinitely Demanding (2007), which extends it into political theory and political analysis by way of an extended engagement with Marx and an argument for an ethically committed political anarchism. His next book is The Book of Dead Philosophers (Granta, 2008).

Related publications

Philosophers Alain Badiou and Simon Critchley engage in conversation about the politics of resistance and topics such as disappointment, heroism, and poetics.

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