In Praise of Love by Alain Badiou with Nicholas Truong

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In Praise of Love by Alain Badiou with Nicholas Truong

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Category: Popular Science
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Anyone who doesn't take love as their starting-point will never discover what philosophy is about. I had a connection with the first half, but it won't last...
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 104 Date: April 2012
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
ISBN: 9781846687792

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Love encompasses the experience of the possible transition from the pure randomness of chance to a state that has universal value. Starting out from something that is simply an encounter, a trifle, you learn that you can experience the world on the basis of difference and not only in terms of identity. In other words, when eyes look and worlds collide, the process of alteration that follows, is love. It is absolutely true that love can bend our bodies and prompt the sharpest torment. Love, as we can observe day in and day out, is not a long, quiet river. But it is not designed to be that way - just as a record is a lump of plastic before music has been carved on it, love is just a transaction if all the chance has been ironed out of it - as perhaps by an Internet match site questionnaire.

I'm not a philosopher, and come to this book having never studied it. But I leave it knowing I am not a Lacanian. Lacan apparently said love hardly exists, the process of love-making was only to feed your own satisfaction (id? ego? both?), and what you invent to fill the gap thus created between you and your partner in this distancing process is love. Badiou is more accepting, generous and realistic - It is an existential project: to construct a world from a decentred point of view other than that of my mere impulse to survive or re-affirm my own identity. You cannot really love thyself, and the Spice Girls had it right all along - two become one.

And why it's always worth exploring is that love cannot be reduced to the first encounter, because it is a construction. The enigma in thinking about love is the duration of time necessary for it to flourish. When it does work, it works - the absolute contingency of the encounter with someone I didn't know finally takes on the appearance of destiny. I shall extract something else from what was mere chance. I'm going to extract something that will endure, something that will persist, a commitment, a fidelity.

Having already used more quotes than ever before, and from one of the shortest books I've ever reviewed at that, I'll point out that these are the common grounds I share with the author. He also points out that people, philosophers and otherwise, have declaimed 'love' to be non-existent, the words 'I love you' to be a recreational ploy towards procreation, and so on. This only goes to show there is a lot of truth in these weeny pages.

If this is, as suggested, an almost verbatim public event conversation between the author and a knowledgable interlocutor, it is certainly not an event I would wish to be at. Badiou is certainly intelligent, can quote at will and be quotable at length (as you have seen) but so rich is his veracity you do need to have the text in front of you and the ability to read some of it twice. Having this flashed past your ears once only is a dalliance and not ever love.

It's the second half of this book that marked it down for me. In varying its topics to communism, community theatre and (being French, one of his populist brickbats) Sarkozy, the book seems to the lay reader to be too esoteric and too academic. We get the bones of plot for a Badiou novel which sounds like my worst nightmare as a reader, but at least this short snap of discussion is in favour of, can define, can make appetitising, and rightfully celebrates, love. This chance encounter courtesy the book-reviewing gods was for me a smile on a bus and not a lifelong companionship, but that smile conveyed a lot of accurate intelligence, warmth and brio.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

Hector and the Secrets of Love by Francois Lelord covers a general philosophical, psychological survey of love, as an educational novel that is more fun than it sounds. The book that best defines the chance and risk involved in singling out one love over another is the excellent The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals by Wendy Jones.

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