In the first pages of his last big book, Logics of Worlds, Alain Badiou proposes the term “democratic materialism” to name the prevailing spontaneous set of assumptions that form the contemporary doxa. This democratic materialism can be summarized, according to Badiou, in one “ontological” statement: “There are only bodies and languages” [Il n’y que des corps et des langages].14 There is the firm being of bodies, their proliferation, their striving for pleasures and enjoyment, the increase, growth, and expansion of life; and there is the multiplicity of languages, the democracy of their plurality and proliferation, multiculturalism, minoritarian practices, all of them entitled to recognition. Democratic materialism is the spontaneous idealism of our times—nobody believes any longer in the salvation of the immortal soul, we firmly believe in bodies and languages. Badiou’s addition to this axiom is simple: “There are only bodies and languages, but apart from that there are truths” [… sinon qu’il y a des verities].15 There are truths that are of another order than bodies and languages, they engage subjectivity and raise a claim to universality, but they don’t exist on some separate location somewhere else—for our particular purpose we could say that they emerge precisely with that excess at the interface of bodies and languages, something that psychoanalysis brings together under the names of the unconscious and sexuality, at the intersection that prevents the neutral coexistence of bodies and languages, in a subtraction from the regime of bodies and languages, epitomized by the Other. Bodies and signs can be counted, but the Other makes for a two that is uncountable. The axiom of democratic materialism has a corollary: there are only bodies and languages, but there is no Other. The promotion of their expansion and proliferation precludes the Other. And this is where our adage that the Other lacks takes precisely the opposite direction: it doesn’t mean that, since it lacks, we are only stuck with bodies and languages, happily or unhappily stuck, it means that the very existence of bodies and languages has to be put into question. It is the two of the Other that undermines their multiplicity and proliferation. The two that is neither one nor multiple, and provides a precarious hold for truth.
When Beckett was pressed about the philosophical implications of his work, he wrote in a letter from 1967, “If I were in the unenviable position of having to study my work, my point of departure would be the ‘Naught is more real…’”22 So Beckett himself proposed Democritus’s fragment 156 as a clue (one of two) to his entire work. He used it verbatim at various points in his work, and in his later work he invented a fine name for it: the unnullable least.
So where does this leave us with regard to our initial problem, the way in which the one divides into two? Which two does one divide into? My answer would be that it is not the two of count, which is the replication of one, the division of one producing more ones, nor is it the two of complementary halves that one would try to combine and fit into a whole. Ultimately, the two, the two of the Other, the Other that doesn’t exist but nevertheless insists, the two would be the division into one and den—not something, not nothing, not one, not being. Enough to stake our hopes on? The object of our perseverance.