The One and the Many


There are cultures that value prose, argument, dialectics, in the search for truth. Others praise the hymn, the psalm, the enigma. Some have pushed far the love of wisdom, or maieutic. Others have preferred prophecy or mystery.

The ways forward are multiple. Variations are legion.

Hard climates, short summers, open landscapes, undoubtedly influence the view, life, and everything else. Scattered archipelagos, high valleys, alluvial plains, tawny deserts, wet basins, all these eclectic places hardly resemble each other. They have had, in their time, in their turn, respective affinities, sudden impulses, for thoughts coming from elsewhere, or born within them. Greece has its light. On the Indus flows a heavy and sweet air. The Nile is not the Oxus. The Rhine is not the Tigris.

Each people has their own way of seeing the sea and the stars, of following the sun and the course of the mountains, of telling the fire and the milk, the cow and the night.

Their languages sometimes bear witness to this, beyond the centuries.

Images, which have become seemingly banal, yesterday founded grandiose metaphors, and for millennia have nourished original intuitions. The arid stone of the desert gave birth to a mineral monotheism. The laughing myriads of the sea waves are of a more pantheistic nature – they diffract the solar unit abundantly into billions of labile shards.

One people alone does not create the idea of the divine; the climate also exudes it, the landscape cherishes it, and the language welcomes it.

Besides, the One has too many names. Prajāpati, El, Adonaï, Eloh, Baal, Elion, El Shaddaï, YHVH, Deus, Allah.

The Elohim themselves testify that the One hides in the plural …

All these names are one. These so many names all say that the One is, but they are very many to proclaim it.

It is inferred that all these names and even the number “one” are but veils.

One, one, one, … One, only one, not two, not three, not a thousand or billions.

How could the One rub shoulders with the Two? Or engender the Three? Or breathe the Infinite?

No, no, no. One, One, One…

Only One, there is only the One!

One is one. The Divine is infinite. How to limit the infinite by the One? Idle question. The world is larger than all the deserts, deeper than all the cosmos: no matter the quarrels of hackneyed words…

There, for millennia, towards the Indus, beyond the Oxus, ancient peoples saw the Divine everywhere they looked. They drank it with their eyes, when the light set its dazzling wing, and offered this very light as a sacrifice.

Grammar, words, style, rhythm, liberty, criticism, were other wings for them, making other prisms glimmer in their unbounded intelligence.

The mind then became aware of its destiny, unique and colorful.

The north still lives in the south of itself. East and west close together at the ends of the day. The one and the infinite make two… and they open the way to the possible and to the unity of being.

Today, it is time to think about the unification of the human, after so much blood has been shed just to claim the “oneness” of the divine.

Renan provoked: « Who will dare to say that by revealing the divine unity and definitively suppressing the local religions, the Semitic race has not laid the foundation stone for the unity and progress of humanity?”i

The Semitic God is far from man, immensely distant. But occasionally He comes near. He chooses a Nabi, an Anointed One, a prophet, a chosen one, or a pure soul, and He reveals Himself, absolutely elevated, infinitely unspeakable, all “Other”.

Next door, close by, elsewhere, the multiple, the diverse, the lowly, the “Other”, are neither « one » nor « far ».

One day, the man of the future will link the One and the Multiple, the distant and the near, the earth and the sky.

Deserts, seas, mountains and valleys will blow various winds, unique and shadowy geniuses, inaudible wisdoms, thoughts yet to be born.


iErnest Renan. Histoire générale et système comparé des langues sémitiques. (1863)

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