June 21, 2005
The Baroque as Infinite Sets
I was overjoyed to discover Badiou because he formalized through pure mathematics something that I had known and tried to express in other ways for so long: that philosophy, science, existence itself is axiomatic - or decisional - not descriptive. There is no truth or God or tao in the sense of the one out there regulating the particular in hierarchical fashion.
Any particular "reality" is a contraction of the infinite - which is why there is no reality - only realities or worlds. And no logic only logics. The logics or rules of the game which found these worlds are axiomatic - they are decided as an event - and thus are not separate from the very foundational existence of these worlds. One can only excavate them after the fact through the micropolitics of analysis - but an analysis submitted to Lacan, Foucault, and Guattari until it is unrecognizable as a stinking church.
What Lacan calls the object a is an excellent example of a founding event inaccessible to the logic of the particular world (in this case a human one) built on this. In category theory mathematics this is called a central object which determines the relational logic of identities and differences of a particular world or neighborhood or set. Badiou removed the transcendental from the ontological absolute outside above and placed it in the absolute inside local where it founds the phenomenological appearance of a world.
An event is the dissolution of solidity of the rules of a particular set which opens this contraction onto the infinite real expansiveness of pure possibility, potential, or power. The infinite is void or nothing because it is no-thing. It is not a thing or set. In a Hegelian sense then, the real or void is spirit or negation of thingness and identity, and to the extent that this remains within the human it is his negating, voiding, spiritual action which continues to open closed sets or things to the real of power (in the Nietzschean sense). Thus with the "end of history" and the "death of God" we have the overman or beyond-human free spirit - for the power to destroy is the power to create.
In fact this is the real meaning of karma. Karma is usually interpreted from the limited point of view of cause and effect in terms of reward and punishment. But one can really only understand the meaning of karma with access to the transpersonal, holographic, or synchronistic world of creative destruction or the will to power. Steiner saw that Hegel and Nietzsche had taken philosophy and human experience as far as it could go to the brink of the true meaning of karma in the free spirit when he wrote his book on the "Philosophy of Freedom." To move beyond is to become other than human but actually to fulfill the movement of spirit which Hegel could only see as human or the will to power or eternal return by which Nietzsche tried to grasp this inhuman experience. While this experience had always been open to certain fortuitous cases through human history, Hegel and Nietzsche were harbingers of the time when rapid technological evolution would force the species as a whole to confront the dissolution of its world. Deleuze and Guattari simply updated the story of the onset of "Capitalism and Schizophrenia," but few grasp the true meaning and gravity of the current situation.
While the baroque is a particular historical period or world which demonstrates some of these characteristics, it is also a recurring period in cyclical process which manifests such a creative destruction woven of infinite play. I have often counterposed the baroque to the postmodern as two forms of aftermath to an event (such as modernity). While the postmodern is marked by a cynical nostalgiac cool (cold) defense mechanism, the baroque is marked by ironic acceptance, open pathos and infinite regeneration which looks much like Nietzsche's concept of the eternal return of history as a playground of myth and mask. For in the end all of these different worlds are only multiple versions of the infinite void which is only experienced as lack or no-thingness in a world of appearance, but which recalls us to the real which - as Deleuze and Guattari would say - is not absence but pure presence, potency, and potential.