Alain Badiou and the DJ: Selection and Intervention

French philosopher Alain Badiou is famous for his work on ontology (which is a theoretical framework for thinking about what it means for something to exist or to not exist). Specifically, he is known for adoption of the methods of set theory and other areas within advanced mathematics (category theory in his later work) for this work.


His conclusion that set theory is ontology leads to the central principle that 'being is multiple', not singular. This is the opposite of a philosophical system where a cosmic unity binds together everything, for instance. This also means that a multiple is always a multiple of multiples, or a set of sets (of sets of sets...). When elements or parts of a multiple are presented, a procedure he calls 'count-as-one' allows the multiple to be recognized as a multiple. But the One does not exist, only the multiple does. There are other aspects I won't get into here.

From this basis Badiou elaborates a theory of Event (and I think the term Event includes all points on a spectrum from micro to macro level) that involves an 'evental site' within a 'situation' (themselves both multiples), and an 'intervention', by which he means "a procedure by which a multiple is recognised as event, and which decides the belonging of the event to the situation in which it has its site" (Badiou, p.513). An event comes to be recognized after the fact by an intervention that can't be predicted by or deduced from the situation. It's kind of a "if a tree falls in the forest, does anyone hear it" premise.


I can't quite articulate the finer points yet, but my intuition tells me there is a relation between the role of intervention in Badiou's theory of Event and the function of selection that defines the activity of a DJ. A music selector would be a highly visible intervenor (though without a monopoly on that role), a recognizing agent of events both in the musical strata and the social environment (or even behind or beyond these), a crossing guard of sorts between superimposed situations. This formulation provides a passage between Kai Fikentscher's "disco experience" theory (a DJ responds to their audience) and Stéphane Girard's structural poetics (a DJ operates within a poetics of the text, broadly understood), which I talked about in an earlier blog post (Poétique du mixtape and Kierkegaard).


This passage from Badiou's Being and Event is evocative.


It will be observed that the intervention, being thereby assigned to a double border effect—border of the void, border of the name—and being the basis of the named event's circulation within the situation, if it is a decision concerning belonging to the situation, remains undecidable itself. It is only recognized in the situation by its consequences. What is actually presented in the end is ex, the name of the event. But its support, being illegal, cannot occur as such at the level of presentation. It will therefore always remain doubtful whether there has been an event or not, except to those who intervene, who decide its belonging to the situation. What there will be are consequences of a particular multiple, and they will be counted as one in the situation, and it will appear as though they were not predictable therein. In short, there will have been some chance in the situation; however, it will never be legitimate for the intervenor to pretend that the chance originated in a rupture of the law which itself arose from a decision on belonging concerning the environs of a defined site. Of course, one can always affirm that the undecidable has been decided, at the price of having to admit that it remains undecidable whether that decision on the undecidable was taken by anybody in particular. As such, the intervenor can be both entirely accountable for the regulated consequences of the event, and entirely incapable of boasting that they played a decisive role in the event itself. Intervention generates a discipline: it does not deliver any originality. There is no hero of the event. (Badiou, p.207; emphasis added)


One question to ask for the sake of argument: if selection can't enter the category of intervention, what kind of activity is it? Writing, speaking, singing? If so, do they not also carry the potential for intervention?

Badiou, Alain. (2005). Being and Event. Oliver Feltham (Trans.). London: Continuum. Originally published 1988 as L'être et l'événement.