The Anglophone reception of the French philosopher Alain Badiou has focused largely on his ontological and political commitments. Where Jacques Rancière is increasingly received as a philosopher of art above all else, Badiou's own critical commitments have received less attention. In this review essay of Badiou's recent collection, The Age of the Poets, I will scrutinize Badiou's readings of literature, and in particular his readings of Wallace Stevens, in order to pose a series of more general, interlinked questions. First, what are the strengths and limitations of recent Continental philosophical reflections on the literary, defined as they so frequently are by a small, high modernist European canon? Might Badiou provide resources for a critique of what has become known as “world literature,” with its assumptions about translation and the smooth transportability of literary meaning? How might the limits of current literary-critical historicisms be further brought to notice by a critical confrontation with Badiou's “inaesthetics”? Finally, how might the profound weaknesses of Badiou's own practices of reading open up alternative, materialist, and formalist frameworks to account both for the productivity of literary form at the level of the line and for the neutralization and appropriation of that productivity across circuits of commodification, translation, and journalistic-scholarly “appreciation”?
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