From Meillassoux’s After Finitude

by devinking

Letter from Cage

We know that the terms ‘chance’ and ‘aleatory’ both refer back to related etymologies: ‘to fall’, and ‘falling’ in the case of the former; ‘dice’, ‘dice-throw’, or ‘game of dice’ in the case of the latter. Thus these terms bring together notions that, far from being opposed to one another, are actually inseparable–the notions of play and of calculation, and of the calculation of chance which is inherent in every game of dice. Every thinking in which the identification of being with chance is dominant foregrounds the theme of the dice-totality (which is to say, of the unalterable enclosure of the number of the possible), of the apparent gratuity of the game (the play of life and of a world whose superior artificiality is acknowledged), but also that of the cool calculation of frequencies (the world of life insurance and evaluable risks). The ontology of the enclosure of possibilities inevitably situates us within a world whose aversion to gravity is but the obverse of the fact that it only takes counting techniques seriously.

By way of contrast, the term ‘contingency’ referes back to the Latin contingere, meaning ‘to touchg, to befall’, which is to say, that which happens, but which happens enough to us. The contingent, in a word, is something that finally happens-something other, something which, in its irreducibility to all pre-registered possibilities, puts an end to the vanity of a game wherein everything, even the imporbably, is predictable. When something happens to us, when novelty grabs us by the throat, then no more calculation and no more play-it is time to be seious. But what is most fundamental in all this-and this was already one of the guiding intuitions of Being and Event-is the idea that the most powerful conception of the incalculable and unpredictable event is provided by a thinking that continues to be mathematical-rather than one which is artistic, poetic, or religious. It is by way of mathematics that we will finally succeed in thinking that which, through its power and beauty, vanquishes quantities and sounds the end of play.

pg. 108, After Finitude