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The (Im)Possibilities of the Infinite

“It is useless to add that life forbids me that hope and even that adverb.”

(Borges “Avatars of the Tortoise”)

The paradoxes introduced in this piece by Borges elucidate the difficulties of wrestling with infinitudes, regardless of magnitude, faced – clearly, throughout time – but even more so within postmodern thought. Borges seems to enjoy undertaking these conundrums, and “Avatars of the Tortoise” reminds me very much of his piece, “On Exactitude in Science,” where a map is created that is exactly to scale of the territory itself, leading to the utter covering of the terrain with a map of that terrain. This, in turn, inspired Baudrillard, at the beginning of Simulacra and Simulation to state:

“Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation of models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it. It is nevertheless the map that precedes the territory – precession of simulacra – that engenders the territory, and if one must return to the fable, today it is the territory whose shreds slowly rot across the extent of the map. It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges persist here and there in the deserts that are no longer those of the Empire, but ours. The desert of the real itself.”

Baudrillard’s main thesis is thus presented, i.e. that representations no longer represent anything other than other representations, that there is no “real” referent underneath the signification. These (related) problematics of infinite regression are, I would argue, a mainstay of postmodern theorizing across multiple disciplines, a view of reality made more apparent by discoveries/theorizing in the sciences, e.g. the various fields of physics, neuroscience, etc. What is reality and how might we parse something infinite? Does it even make sense to do so? Or, are we left as Borges is with his desire to compile a history of the infinite but lacking both means and even adverbs (language) with which to discuss such difficulties? To quote myself, “Infinity: No matter how you slice it, you still have more.” How do we fit these ideas into language to speak of them in ways that (at all) reflect the reality we are trying to discuss?

I find that Cixous’s “The Laugh of the Medusa” addresses some potential answers to these issues in that she seeks a (feminine) language based outside the realm of phallocentric, conventional reasoning, asserting that “nearly the entire history of writing is confounded with the history of reason” (1527). She seeks to resist “that enormous machine that has been operating and turning out its ‘truth’ for centuries…. a new insurgent writing which, when the moment of [woman’s] liberation has come, will allow her to carry out the indispensable ruptures and transformations in her history” (1527). For Cixous, ecriture feminine does not have to be written by a woman, per say, but rather is writing that pushes the boundaries, exists outside of, or transcends the limits of conventional/phallocentric language/thought paradigms.

Reading Borges and Cixous lead me, in a sense, to feel like a slacker who is wasting my life. I used to spend a good deal of time considering ideas like this, writing my own words and pushing linguistic boundaries in ways that I find impossible to integrate into academic writing, which is bound up in more of the “mastery” paradigm discussed by Cixous and Clement in “A Woman Mistress.” I feel trapped in limited language structures and “permissible” ways of thinking, writing, and speaking. Like now. And now. And…… now.

 

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One comment on “The (Im)Possibilities of the Infinite

  1. I find “Avatars of the Tortoise” to be a refreshing story illustrating Cixous’ critique of Western reasoning. Push logic to its logical extreme and you end up with … absurdity. “Infinity” is a theoretical problem of interest to reasoning, but not much use to practical affairs. (Or to rhetoric?) Rhetoric slices through the paradoxes pretty thoroughly, asking a very practical question, What do we do now? I like William of Baskerville’s take on logic (from Name of the Rose): logic is a useful tool (at times), but don’t ever get fooled into thinking it explains the world.

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