On the Origin of Duration

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becoming / bergson / break / depth / diachrony / divergence / event / experience / flow / fracture / intensity / invention / irreversibility / memory / phenomenology / rhythm / science / sensation / time / victor hugo

Caspar David Friedrich, Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon (1824)

On The Origin of Duration

(Notes towards a “Genealogy” of Time)

Time is invention, or it is nothing.

Henri Bergson

Time is a stutter, a clue, a signal from beyond which comes from within. The concept “temporality” breaks itself, already expresses divergence, it forever escapes our control.

The flow of time outruns itself, it is always diachronous, bringing thought straight back to its origin, to the quality without quantity, to an intensity issuing neither in number nor form, but rather in pure expressivity itself, in the depth and fullness of experience. Memory is the form of this recurrence, through the continuous variation of matter along certain axes of symmetry, the flowing solution of a complex problem of folding events, unfolding new durations.

Becoming is a transmission received in convoluted mazes, actualization is labyrinthine: not only a million decisions, but a million ideas — and so a million qualities, varieties and dimensions of time, tucked away and tiny, alive in the cracks between the problems and the idea, between memory and the future, waiting to be explored.

Let us take as our starting point the distinction made by Bergson regarding the dynamic and non-instantaneous nature of time; that is, that time is not formed simply of seconds, minutes, centuries, and so on, but is already a continuous and dynamic flow of experience, a more or less intense duration and not an evenly-divided series of instants.

Temporality therefore presents two salient aspects for our consideration: flow and divergence. In what sense does time present us with difference? Consider the rate of the flow of time. A pure temporal differential, the self-referential speed of speed: one second per second. But is this still an abstraction? To what extent are the models of flow and division themselves a false clarity, an imagined orderliness to cover over a deeper mystery?

That we feel the flow of time seems incontestable. We experience duration not initially as divided but precisely as continuous, a dynamism as opposed to a series of static instants. In this sense, time embodies itself as matter, resistance to difference, as the power of connection and solidarity, indifferent to differences. Such time oozes along, eternally viscous, resistant to other times rhythms, allergic to alien meter.

Nothing dangerous, fluid, or unusual can occur in these sticky one-way channels — except for an unexpected intervention, from somewhere beyond. Adhesive surfaces in particular are naturally generative of strange ruptures.

But there are many other phenomenological classes of temporality. Already the non-instantaneous approaches from another kind of time altogether, a more profound order of time, in the sense of being extruded from deep beneath the earth, allowing the spontaneous ascent of new celerities from out of the non-human depths of bodies: the emergence of an alternate temporality from within the body of an already-existing, mobile temporal order. Birth. In a real sense, then, these phenomenological categories are not, in fact, separate modalities of time; but these divergent aspects are welded together into a machine, a concept which must then become intractable paradox: for just as an expression is inseparable from its content, flow is inseparable from divergence, from an initial declination.

It is curious that the two faces of time echo the two faces of science, human and non-human; and more curious still that the division seems to have been idealized as a classical theoretical foundation, a substitute for a material investigation of time as a diachronous vector of transformation, a materialism of time as the constant deterrence of other flows of time.

The process of the individuation of time is ontologically prior to any particular regime of temporality. Time lacerates, it opens the state onto new kinds of flows of energy.

Transformation makes possible the impossible. The question is not only about mobility but receptivity, not only celerity but capacity to become informed, to learn. The anxious power of ideas… It’s like Victor Hugo’s voids and lanterns, and Caspar David Friedrich’s generative mists: obscurities produce revelations, they are able to be dispersed, capable of being pierced by the light of a lantern.

Ideas burst open the iron bars of prejudice, of habit. But ideas become exposed themselves to a relational milieu, as they move through expression into actualization, they begin to take on the status of events as son as they become stated. How does the idea become folded into the event?

How do events become folded into ideas? An event already reflects the irresolution, the spontaneous rupture between the two “modes” of temporality (which are also the same.) An event lives only through a relational milieu it is born into and through which it intervenes onto an outside.

This exposure to multiplicity of the idea or the event is a receptivity towards structuration, the pre-individual field necessary for genesis. Diachrony is the metaphysical principle naming the structure of time, as a active dimension between two rates of developments, conjoining and disjoining at once without synthesis. Permanent imbalance: continuous development.

Every idea can be dramatized as a series of spatio-temporal dynamisms, but there are non-spatial, non-temporal ideas. The process of actualization is not inevitable, it is the most difficult thing there is. Forward progress. It’s as easy as falling down: behind the too-clear equilibrium, a mobile shift or varying imbalance which is real.

The flow of time is the anti-relation which grounds relations, pure abstract field in which events inter-individuate one another. Again– two inter-related faces of time:

  1. Time is a decoding flow which extrudes buried formations (pre-individual field)… [memory, duration, depth]
  2. Time is a coded division of a development into generic segments (pre-informational field)… [instant, sensation, event]

Time is produced, in short, by a creative flow of energy. The fall into error, irreversible transformation, the result of knowledge. The ontological schism itself.

Time is not inherently dualistic, only ontologically so: diachrony is the fundamental fact, one perceived indeed as a continuity across a break, so that the fracture in the subject is total, but pervaded in every piece by larval luminosities, new orders of temporality struggling to remember. The universe is trying hard to learn.

Phenomenological unity is the essence of the temporal; this can be amplified or obscured by the ontological consideration of division. Flow are only as primary as breaks, from which they are themselves produced. Does asymmetry precede relation?

The Author

mostly noise and glare

1 Comment

  1. beautiful writing. Not sure I follow all the philosophy-speak– but that’s one of those languages that one needs to keep up conversationally or you just lose it.

    Here’s a simplistic thought I’ve had about time: clocks–we invest them with animistic ties to time itself when its nothing of the sort– its a closed, mechanical repetition of numbers.

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