2.23.2011

Infinity Bound

Here's an essay I wrote over 10 years ago; I just found it by accident. It ain't bad, even if it's sometimes not quite right.....

Infinity is not a threshold into which the finite passes; infinity is not the generality of things As Kierkegaard explains to us about Jesus, the finite and the infinite exist within the same body, at impossible yet actual juxtaposition. A thing can be bound and yet be infinite.

A Calder mobile, for instance: it is bound by its own and particular play of balance and weight and yet it is not stable or fixed: it moves as the world around it moves. It is in perpetual motion -- and yet it is not open to any and all possible motions. Rather, it moves the way that it moves, bound by its own limitations and yet open to infinite variegation.


Compare this to, say, Keith Haring's endless wall of interlacing figures: they spread towards the horizon in every direction at once. Any limits encountered -- the size of the wall, for instance -- are considered obstacles. (Haring, I have to say now, relishes the limit, too.) Calder, on the other hand, seeks the (open) limits of weight in the world. Or Matisse: his figures relish the limitations of the frame, even ducking their heads to remain within it.



The science of binding infinity is called calculus. That is, if geometry is the science of fixed spaces, of stable coordinates, calculus is the science of stipulated movement. A differential equation at once has a limit and is infinite; it determines its own limit in the process of its own becoming. Take the number Pi: it is infinite and unpredictable. The only way to know what Pi is to follow the equation out to its next step. And yet it remains Pi: each step is at once determined and unpredictable, bound and infinite.

Bach's organ fugues spread to infinity; they maybe based within one key, but like Haring's interlacing figures, this is an inconvenience; if it could cover every key and every modulation of every key, it would. A pop song, on the other hand, enjoys being bound while simultaneously enjoying a certain infinity, a pop differential equation: The Beatles' "Happiness is Warm Gun," the Breeder's "Cannonball," "Ween's Push the Little Daisies."

Jorge-Luis Borges' odd little stories are bound, and yet they are defined by a certain indeterminacy which opens them up to infinity; the subject matter emanates from impossible places, the author's identity a perpetual unknown. Or, better, the subject and author are known only by their effect; like the number Pi, they are determined and yet unpredictable.

An episode of the Simpsons functions in much the same way, resisting closure or finite stability, and yet remaining bound by its style, its colors. In fact, each episode provides a final stitch, a nod in the direction of a moral. And yet this final stitch remains open, multiple, a variety of options offered, all of which are viable.

The possibility of a bound infinity is the very possibility of language. A word has the odd power of shifting, morphing so as to fit its environment -- the ear of the audience, the breath of the speaker, the peculiarities of penmanship. And yet the word, despite its relentless changes, does not lose all meaning. On the contrary, the meaning of a word is its unique set of infinite uses.

1 comment:

Ruby said...

Calculus – that really does explain what I felt pressing in my head when listening to Bach.

There is a great movie ‘Werckmeister Harmonies’ by Bela Tarr about the constancy of cosmic and human cycles. I’m no good at describing things I like but it is well worth looking up.

Werchmeister was a music theorist in Bach’s time- I think his plan was to base music in numbers and thereby have the infinite possibilities for arrangement.