The Perfumes of the One


At the beginning of our ‘Common Era’, several « discourses » about the “One” were competing: there was the Jewish “One”, the Greek “One”, the Christian “One”, and possibly a fourth “One”, « that we could call mystical », says Alain Badioui.

What is the Jewish “One”? It is the “One” of the prophet, who demands for signs. It is « a discourse of exception, because the prophetic sign, the miracle, the election, designate transcendence as being beyond the natural totality ».ii

What is the Greek “One”? It is the “One” of the wise, who appropriates « the fixed order of the world », and matches the logos to the being. It is a « cosmic discourse » that places the subject in « the reason of a natural totality ».iii

The Jewish and the Greek discourses on the “One” seem to be in opposition.

“The Greek discourse argues for the cosmic order to adjust to it, while the Jewish discourse argues for the exception to this order to signal divine transcendence.”iv

But in reality, one also could say that they are « two sides of the same mastery figure », says Badiou. This is Paul’s « deep idea ». « In the eyes of the Jew Paul, the weakness of Jewish discourse is that the logic of the exceptional sign applies only to the Greek cosmic totality. The Jew is an exception to the Greek. The first result is that neither of the two discourses can be universal, since each assumes the persistence of the other. And secondly, both discourses have in common the assumption that we are given in the universe the key to salvation, either by direct mastery of the totality (Greek wisdom) or by mastery of the literal tradition and decoding of the signs (Jewish ritualism and prophetism). »v

Neither Greek nor Jewish discourse is « universal ». One is reserved for the « wise », the other for the « chosen ». Paul’s project is to « show that a universal logic of salvation cannot be accommodated by any law, neither that which links thought to the cosmos, nor that which regulates the effects of an exceptional election. It is impossible that the starting point should be the Whole, but just as impossible that it should be an exception to the Whole. Neither the whole nor the sign can be appropriate. We must start from the event itself, which is a-cosmic and illegal, and does not integrate into any totality and is not a sign of anything. »

Paul cuts short. He just starts from the event, unique, improbable, unheard of, incredible, incredible, never seen before. This sole event has nothing to do with the law, and nothing to do with wisdom. What it introduces into the world is absolutely new.

Paul breaks the discourse, the secular and the millennium.

« Therefore it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will destroy the understanding of the intelligent’. Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where’s the fighter of the century? (…) But God chose the foolish things of the world to confuse the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to confuse the strong; God chose the vile things of the world and the most despised, those who are not, to destroy those who are.  » (1 Cor. 1, 17 sq.)

It cannot be denied that Paul’s words are revolutionary, « scandalous » for some, « crazy » for others, undoubtedly subversive.

And then comes the fourth “One”, the mystical “One”. The allusion in Paul is as brief as lightning, veiled, lapidary: « I know a man (…) who heard ineffable words that a man is not allowed to express. » (2 Cor. 12, 1-6)

The ineffable is a brother to the inaudible.

Plutarch reports that there was a statue of Zeus without ears in Crete. « It is not fitting for the sovereign Lord of all things to learn anything from any man, » explains the Greek historian.

The One has no ears. Does he have eyes, a tongue, a nose?

Badiou provides four answers to this question. Two of them are not universal. The third is, because it includes (among others) the mad, the weak, the vile and the despised.

About the fourth One, one can’t say anything.

A special point of view would be to make theses four visions compatible, to connect together these specific opinions, finding their possible hidden coherence.

This ‘special’ point of view could also be the point of view of the One.

How to represent this Unique Point of View?

Maybe we need to change our metaphor, to change vision for smell, colors for fragrances, contemplation for breathing.

The subtle scents of the divine aromas, the sacred perfume elaborated by Egyptian priests gives an idea of it.

This antique perfume, called Kyphi, was composed of sixteen substances: honey, wine, raisins, souchet, resin, myrrh, rosewood, seseli, lentisk, bitumen, fragrant rush, patience, small and large juniper, cardamom, calami.

There were other recipes, which can be found in Galen, Dioscorides, Edfu’s text or Philae’s text.

Effluences. Emanations. Inspiration. Let’s exhale.

Baudelaire takes us further on this path:

« Reader, have you ever breathed

With intoxication and slow greed

That grain of incense that fills a church,

Or a bag of musk?

Deep charm, magical, with which we are ebriated

In the present by the restored past!

So the lover on a beloved body

Remembrance picks the exquisite flower. »

A Mystique of past flowers, and future fruits.

iAlain Badiou. Saint Paul. La fondation de l’universalisme..PUF , 2014

iiIbid.

iiiIbid.

ivIbid.

vIbid.

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