1.“What is ultimately at stake,” declares Badiou, for philosophy’s “return to itself,” “can be formulated in terms of the question which weighs upon us and threatens to exhaust us: can we be delivered, finally delivered, from our subjection to Romanticism? (TW 22). For Badiou, Romanticism is just another name for “the aura of the poem,” that seductive aesthetic light of the poetic object that “seemingly since Nietzsche, but actually since Hegel” “grows ever brighter” (TW 25). It reaches its culmination in Heidegger. According to Badiou, the “essence of the process of Heideggerian thought”—its constitutive gesture–is Romantic: it is a “subtraction” of the poem “from philosophical knowledge, to render it truth” (IT 72,73). The trajectory of Heidegger’s thought leads him to “restore, under various and subtle philosophical names, the sacral authority of the poetic utterance, and the idea that the authentic lies in the flesh of language” (IT 73-74). There are, says Badiou, “three possible regimes of the bond between the poem and philosophy,” “regimes” that are distinguished by varying philosophical dispositions of philosophy and the poem. The first of these, which Badiou calls the “Parmenidian,” “organizes a fusion between the subjective authority of the poem and the validity of statements held as philosophical. Even when ‘mathematical’ interruptions figure under this fusion, they are definitely subordinated to the sacred aura of utterance, to its ‘profound’ value, to its enunciative legitimacy. The image, language’s equivocations, and metaphor escort and authorize the saying of the True. Authenticity resides in the flesh of language” (IT 72). In Badiou’s schema the Platonic and the Aristotelian “regimes” break with this Parmenidian “fusion”: Plato “distances” the “undermining fascination” of the poem from philosophy simply by banishing the poets; while for Aristotle, “the poem is no longer thought in terms of the drama of its distance or its intimate proximity, it is grasped within the category of the object” and becomes “a regional discipline within philosophy,” that which will come to be called “Aesthetics” (IT 72). As Badiou sees it, Heidegger misses the opportunity “of inventing a fourth relation” between poem and philosophy; instead, he removes the poem from the domain of knowledge and restores, via Heraclitus, its Parmenidian essence, its sacred aura–which is, of course, another name for aestheticism.
I take the liberty of this lone and lengthy excursion from the body of my letter because Badiou acknowledges that “philosophy is sometimes obliged to expose itself to the poem, “ especially since it must deploy “language’s literary resources” in order to “present the unpresentable void”—or what we often call the sublime (IT 73,79). Badiou’s answer to this poetic necessity is not Parmenides but Lucretius, the Epicurean whose only extant poem, De rerum natura, is a didactic hymn to an “intransigent materialism” (IT 79): “Nothing in it is ontotheological; there is no supreme being for Lucretius, the heaven is void, the gods are indifferent” (IT 80). But I would venture that this points out why Badiou is not “finally delivered” from Romanticism or at least not from that Shelleyan strain of Romanticism which is, in a thoroughly discernible form, Lucretian: we can behold it in Shelley’s approving account of Lucretius in the Refutation of Deism as the poet who “dared publicly to avow” his “faith in atheism with impunity” and in the invocation of Lucretius in The Defense of Poetry as a “creator” in the “highest sense.” And, in the “highest sense,” “Mont Blanc” might be more about the Lucretian sublime than it is about Mont Blanc.