[The following is a translation of Alain Badiou’s seminar from February 15, 2016, part of his last series of lectures on the Immanence of Truths. The video in French is here and the transcript (which I have added to in parts) here. For ease of reading, I’ve divided the text into sections:  Introduction to oppression as covering;  Finitude and constructible sets;  Infinity and non-constructible sets; and  Fundamental ethics of the Idea.]
 General Introduction to Covering
The major idea we are working with for the moment, I recall, is that ultimately every figure of oppression comes down to an imprisonment in a finite figure of existence, right there where an infinite perspective could have been upheld. In other words, we are transforming the problem of emancipation, or the process of liberating human possibilities, by no longer treating it directly under the form of an explicit contradiction between loose or separated terms like the oppressors and the oppressed. In fact, we believe that what attracts oppression upon oneself, oppression in all its figures, is always the fear, doubt, risk, or possibility that something will emerge that would be radically in excess over the order whose guardians are the masters. If the order functions without supposing its opposite, then specific methods of oppression will not even have to be used. Order itself then constitutes the oppressive figure. What we will discuss is the specific, identifiable figure of oppression that is required once order–in its own functioning, in the only machine it constitutes–no longer appears sufficient (or so it fears) to contain in the finite closure of oppression the figure that it represents.
Our intuitive point of departure is that oppression manifests itself whenever something that could extract itself from the order that contains it dares to appear. This is one possible meaning of the strong old revolutionary statement: “Where there is oppression, there is revolt.” Unfortunately, this is not quite true; it is not mechanically true. What is certain, on the contrary, is that where there is revolt, there is oppression. Where something surges up that appears to disturb the general order, that order will immediately and always put in place precise and specific figures. How is an antagonistic possibility is contained?
My hypothesis, which has an ontological character, is that the dialectic adequate for thinking this in its being is the dialectic of the finite and the infinite. The ambition of a closed order, whatever its nature might be, is to perpetuate itself, to maintain its closure as such, that is, to prevent the manifestation of something qualitatively foreign to this closure. This closed order can always be described as the maintenance of a certain type of finitude. Everything that appears as being beyond the dominant conception of finitude, everything that appears in excess of it, as deregulating this closure, is perceived as a perilous in-finitization of the situation. And, in particular, of the in-finitization of possibles. Because locking-down what is possible is the key to maintaining order. That is why, in general, order begins by saying that nothing other than itself is possible, blocking the possible itself, in a precise point, through this very fact. What we are doing is finding the deep underlying logic whereby order seeks to actually break that which appears to go beyond the norm and the rule. For this logic is even more fundamental than the system of means, which we all know so well (mechanisms of propaganda, policing, open oppression, etc.).
My second hypothesis has to do with an extremely important procedure that I call covering. At the most general level, it is the attempt to neutralize the possible emergence of a new infinity by covering it over with preexisting significations, already given in the situation, which aim to forbid its development, on the one hand, but also its internal meaning, the immanent sense of this infinite, of this excess, this new infinity. It is not a matter of declaring that it did not happen or that nothing happened, but rather that this something does not have the signification it gives to itself. It is possible, in effect, to analyze this situation in terms of oppression itself: it is to cover up in some way, as if one had put a sack over the top of it, the set of that which is said and done in the name of this novelty with old, generally stereotypical significations internal to the situation, and in such a way that the very intelligibility of what has happened is annihilated, such that even those who participate in it wind up no longer really knowing if what they are doing is truly what they say it is. For this procedure also aims at an intrinsic demoralization of the agents of the novelty, by convincing them, through numerous artifices, that what they believe is new is in fact old, and not just old, but harmfully antiquated. That is the general operation of covering. In order to cover something up, one has to plaster already-existing significations over its advent, its upsurge, its embryonic instances. In that way one kills the pioneering intensity of the upsurging or novel figure of infinity. Continue reading