Posts Tagged ‘temporality’

We insist on one thing. Duration.

And the diagram.

And affect.

Ok that’s already quite a crowd, well but isn’t there an entire method in these three vector-concepts: duration, diagram, affect?

What is the duration of a habit, say the habit of smoking or the habit of playing a guitar? Remember what Toscano teaches us about habit:

The stakes of the debate come down to the extension that is to be ascribed to habit. The minimalist option is to relegate it to an operation characterized by acquisition through repetition, by the decrease of intensity and the perfectibility of action. From this perspective, habit itself is not productive of beings. It is only with the second approach that we can begin to consider the idea of habit as an agent or factor of individuation. If, as Lalande and Egger propose, habit as contraction is to be severed from habit as the state or property of a thing, the former can no longer be considered as ontologically constitutive: it merely designates a process that affects or qualifies an already constituted entity, whether this entity be physical, biological or psychic. On the contrary, if we follow the indications of contributors such as Lachelier, habit can be considered both as the general state of being and as the procedure whereby this state is attained, in such a manner that the difference between the dynamics of individuation and the state of the individuated is only relative. Punctuating this debate about the significance of state and process in the definition of habit we encounter three questions, all of which are indicated by the Vocabulaire: the distinction between passive and active habits; the relationship between habit and repetition; the question of habit’s relationship to the organic. The Theatre of Production, 111-12

The most important lesson here to my mind is that a diagramming of habit is both a conceptual and material experimentation on the capacities of the embodied mind, or an affirmation of becoming (same “thing”). We must insist that any such diagram is in fact a practice of assembling with the organic processes, differentiating active and passive habits, understanding the ontogenetic (or materialist, pragmatic) dimension of repetition itself.

Many critics begin analysis with power (at times in particular ways, Foucault’s problem). But what is the ontological status of relations of power? Of domination?

If in the 1920s the avant-garde had been an elite phenomenon, by the 1970s it was becoming a mass experiment in creating a semiotic environment for life. Thanks to the radios, thanks to the autonomous zines spreading all over, a large scale process of mass irony was launched. Irony meant the suspension of the semantic heaviness of the world. Suspension of the meaning that we give to gestures, to relationships, to the shape of the thing. We saw it as a suspension of the kingdom of necessity and were convinced that power has power as far as those who have no power take power seriously. Indeed when irony becomes a mass language, power loses ground, authority and strength. (Berardi, Precarious Rhapsody 21)

This strikes me as a little too optimistic, but it is so much better in terms of capacities to begin with the ironization of power. Foucault does this brilliantly, ruthlessly, hilariously, without romanticism. Yet, the gesture that starts with power (the State [a return to governmentality would do this tendency good] or the Law [Autonomista zindabad!], etc. etc.) is also, generally, a gesture simultaneous with a genuflection to a particularly stupid figure of contemporary criticism: the subaltern. Kill the subaltern, and criticism can instead become subaltern, become minor through all your becomings. Remember what Deleuze says of minorities:

The difference between minorities and majorities isn’t their size. A minority may be bigger than a majority. What defines the majority is a model [norm] you have to conform to: the average European adult male city-dweller, for example. A minority, on the other hand, has no model, it’s a becoming, a process. One might say the majority is nobody. Everybody’s caught, one way or another, in a minority becoming that would lead them into unknown paths if they opted to follow it through. Deleuze, Control and Becoming 173

Not minorities as preconstituted categories of a population segmentation mechanism generated by the Googlezon. Contemporary marketing in a particular irony that only they seem unaware of considers contemporary segementation merely an extension of VOP – the Voice of the People!! Consider:

In this study, we propose to harness the growing body of free, unsolicited, user-generated online content for automated market research. Specifically, we describe a novel text-mining algorithm for analyzing online customer reviews to facilitate the analysis of market structure in two ways. First, the VOC, as presented in user-generated comments, provides a simple, principled approach to generating and selecting product attributes for market structure analysis. In contrast, traditional methods rely on a predefined set of product attributes (external analysis) or ex post interpretation of derived dimensions from consumer surveys (internal analysis). Second, the preponderance of opinion, as represented in the continuous stream of reviews over time, provides practical input to augment traditional approaches (e.g., surveys, focus groups) for conducting brand sentiment analysis and can be done (unlike traditional methods) continuously, automatically, inexpensively, and in real time.

This is from an article in the European Journal of Marketing by T. Lee and E. Bradlow, entitled: “Automated Marketing Research Using On-line Customer Reviews” (Vol. XLVIII (October 2011), 881 –894, 881-82). What is the aim of market structure analysis? It is in fact much broader than segmenting a market.

Abstract: market structure analysis is a basic pillar of marketing research. classic challenges in marketing such as pricing, campaign management, brand positioning, and new product development are rooted in an analysis of product substitutes and complements inferred from market structure. in this article, the authors present a method to support the analysis and visualization of market structure by automatically eliciting product attributes and brand’s relative positions from online customer reviews. First, the method uncovers attributes and attribute dimensions using the “voice of the consumer,” as reflected in customer reviews, rather than that of manufacturers. second, the approach runs automatically. Third, the process supports rather than supplants managerial judgment by reinforcing or augmenting attributes and dimensions found through traditional surveys and focus groups. The authors test the approach on six years of customer reviews for digital cameras during a period of rapid market evolution. They analyze and visualize results in several ways, including comparisons with expert buying guides, a laboratory survey, and correspondence analysis of automatically discovered product attributes. The authors evaluate managerial insights drawn from the analysis with respect to proprietary market research reports from the same period analyzing digital imaging products.

This Voice of the People bullshit is particularly revolting when you consider that by voice of the people they really mean an automated algorithm-driven process of auditing, and eventually modulating and controlling various semiotic flows (online reviews, but the semiosis of computer code as well, the semiosis of “managerial judgment” and traditional marketing structure analysis) and bodily dispositions and assemblages.

Which returns us to thinking control and marketing. If we could say that habits are like clichés or refrains of our life, we must consider the integration of our habits with contemporary forms of capitalist valorization (the production and accumulation of profits). Something has happened to the world since the days of discipline described by Foucault in Discipline and Punish. What is this something? It is the shift from capitalist production of commodities to the rise of the precariat of cognitive labor, which more simply can be understood as the informatization of all aspects of capitalist life, such that capital no longer wants labor, as much as packets of time that are flexible, intermittent, modular, informatized-digitized, and networked (see Berardi:

When we move into the sphere of info-labor there is no longer a need to have bought a person for eight hours a day indefinitely. Capital no longer recruits people, but buys packets of time, separated from their interchangeable and occasional bearers. Depersonalized time has become the real agent of the process of valorization, and depersonalized time has no rights, nor any demands. It can only be either available or unavailable, but the alternative is purely theoretical because the physical body despite not being a legally recognized person still has to buy food and pay rent. (Precarious Rhapsody 32-33)


And yet discipline persists, normality exerts enormous pressures on us all the time, and we make compromises with forms of power that generate through us bad compositions of matter, information, desire, bodies, and value. It’s the source of the shame of being human. How can we cast off this shame? This shame being an effect of badly analyzed composites?

If we are undergoing the most intensive acceleration of everyday life through networked information, how have such habits been affected at the level of the assemblage of durations and desires? Berardi and others speak of an attention economy, the simplest expression of which is if you are paying attention money can be made on that attention itself. Can we develop habits of occupying spaces such as the protestors have done at St Paul’s Cathedral? It would be a good habit to encourage in all of us. Collective occupation of privatized space. But why have these protestors merely settled for occupying cold, cold stairs. Why not take the occupation inside the cathedral itself? Impossible to conceive at the moment, as the occupation experiences itself winding down due to various internal and external forces.

What does the Occupation have to do with Marketing? What does it have to do with what Foucault called Panopticism, and to what Deleuze called Control?

Franco Berardi asks,

What is the market? The market is the place in which signs and nascent meanings, desires and projections meet. If we want to speak of demand and supply, we must reason in terms of fluxes of desire and semiotic attractors that formerly had appeal and today have lost it. In the net economy, flexibility has evolved into a form of fractalization of work. Fractalization means the modular and recombinant fragmentation of the time of activity. The worker no longer exists as a person. He or she is only an interchangeable producer of microfragments of recombinant semiosis that enter into the continuous flux of the Net. Capital no longer pays for the availability of a worker to be exploited for a long period of time; it no longer pays a salary that covers the entire range of economic needs of a person who works. The worker (a machine endowed with a brain that can be used for fragments of time) becomes paid for his or her occasional, temporary services. Work time is fragmented and cellularized. Cells of time are for sale on the Net and businesses can buy as much as they want without being obligated in any way in the social protection of the worker. The intense and prolonged investment of mental and libidinal energies in the labor process has created the conditions for a psychic collapse that is transferred into the economic field with the recession and the fall in demand and into the political field in the form of military aggressivity. The use of the word collapse is not as a metaphor but as a clinical description of what is happening in the occidental mind. The word collapse expresses a real and exact pathological phenomenon that invests the psycho-social organism. That which we have seen in the period following the first signs of economic decline, in the first months of the new century, is a psychopathic phenomenon of over-excitation, trembling, panic and finally of a depressive fall. The phenomena of economic depression have always contained elements of the crisis of the psychosocial equilibrium, but when at last the process of production has involved the brain in a massive way, psychopathology has become the crucial aspect of economic cycles. The available attention time for the workers involved in the informatic cycle is constantly being reduced: they are involved in a growing number of mental tasks that occupy every fragment of their attention time. For them there is no longer the time to dedicate to love, to tenderness, to affection. They take Viagra because they don’t have time for sexual preliminaries. They take cocaine to be continuously alert and reactive. They take Prozac to cancel out the awareness of the senselessness that unexpectedly empties their life of any interest. Franco Berardi, Precarious Rhapsody

I am attempting to think through the implications for media assmeblage analysis of the connection that Bergson makes between the body and duration. This is an excerpt from an article I recently wrote. It may appear in South Asian Culture and History.

The main point here for the purposes of this paper, is that Office Tiger presents itself as a corporation that provides measurable value-added services to Western firms, but these quantities are abstractions from the streams of immeasurable and immense values of immaterial and affective labor. This is the labor that inhabits, enables and exceeds the boundaries between home and office, between merit and privilege, between men and women, and between work time and leisure time. It is this space of creativity in between times that Office Tiger attempts to control as its own domain. Indeed, it is the value of temporality itself (starting work on-time, the duration of the work day, the intensification of labor-time through multi-tasking: Aneesh’s “time zone warp,” Deleuze’s Untimely plane of immanence from which the variable present only flows) that is most under attack and occupation by the pedagogies of Office Tiger.

It will be no surprise that this transvaluation of value is central to the actual connectivity between work and information technology, established through an algorithm-based governance structure that Aneesh terms “algocratic.” As Upadhya remarks in her review of Aneesh’s study, the algocratic mode of hegemony depends on technology, especially information technology, which structures work routines and workplace behaviour: in the post-industrial economy many work tasks are now performed through computers and the symbolic manipulation of code, giving rise to new systems of control, based on the coding process. “The algocratic mode has enabled new global flows of information labour as well as control over geographically dispersed workers through constant online access and monitoring, as seen in the model of geographically and temporally ‘distributed development’ followed by Indian software outsourcing companies.” Indeed, the digitization of information and its circulation in real time across the globe is the single most important catalyst for this transvaluation of value. For his part, Hardt notes that one “novel aspect of the computer is that it can continually modify its own operation through its use. Even the most rudimentary forms of artificial intelligence allow the computer to expand and perfect operation based on interaction with its user and environment.”

It is the value-added to specific cinematic clichés by information technology that brings me to a consideration of contemporary Bollywood cinema. I have argued in Untimely Bollywood that contemporary Hindi-Urdu cinema is undergoing a definite phase transition, and that by diagramming the set of durations (or vibratory fields) assembled through the various processes constituting cinema—time embodied in form—we could begin to write a nonlinear history of South Asian media. Giorgos Artopoulos and Eduardo Condorcet note that in Bernard Cache’s analysis of the assemblage entered into by a kite, a method for diagramming “inflections on surfaces of varied curvature” becomes available to thought and practice. “In doing so, he describes the evolution of a form, and its shaping force in time. With the use of advanced geometries, time can be embodied in form—form—for example the kite—is the ‘site’ for the calculation of multiple forces. Digitally-generated environments to be inhabited by a ‘player’ raise the issue of human presence in the space-less environment of the computer” (214). Cinema as inflections moving, embodied in time, in form, and always doubled by the Untimely: this would alas, be too metaphorical, and hence useless, for an effective diagram. But let us progressively differentiate this metaphor, and show the set of intensive entities constituting it.

One way to consider duration ontologically is to follow the relations it enters into. Deleuze suggested that there are definite properties of duration. “Pulsed time and non-pulsed time are completely musical, but they are something else as well. The question would be to know what makes up this non-pulsed time. This kind of floating time that more or less corresponds to what Proust called “a bit of pure time.” The most obvious, the most immediate feature of…non-pulsed time is duration, time freed from measure, be it a regular or irregular, simple or complex measure. Non-pulsed time puts us first and foremost in the presence of a multiplicity of heterochronous, qualitative, non-coincident, non-communicating durations. The problem therefore is clear: how will these heterochronous, heterogeneous, multiple, non-coincident durations join together…” Durations do not (necessarily) communicate, but they do join together. What I have been calling a non-coinciding resonant unity is this “joining together” of duration yielding a media assemblage with emergent properties. Through embedded or transversal time-scales, a non-pulsed time mobilizes self-organization, morphogenesis and a virtual plane. Following Deleuze’s suggestion for a biological understanding of temporal cycles, Delanda puts the problem thus:

Thinking about the temporality involved in individuation processes as embodying the parallel operation of many different sequential processes throws new light on the question of the emergence of novelty. If embryological processes followed a strictly sequential order, that is, if a unique linear sequence of events defined the production of an organism, then any novel structures would be constrained to be added at the end of the sequence….On the contrary, if embryonic development occurs in parallel, if bundles of relatively independent processes occur simultaneously, then new designs may arise from disengaging bundles, or more precisely, from altering the duration of one process relative to another, or the relative timing of the start or end of a process. This evolutionary design strategy is known as heterochrony…”

If heterochrony is the necessary condition of affective capacities, then sexuality (praxis) finds its non-coinciding incipience here as an ecology of sensation, in folded bundles of parallel processes, that disengage, feedback, and mutate. It is this heterochronous duration that marks both the immensity of affective labor, and its susceptibility to control. It also limns an edge of chaos in the phase transition of contemporary Bollywood.

Eddies within eddies, without a trace. The great challenge of Deleuze’s notion of hearing the inaudible is to open the body’s perception to resonating durations in a continuous multiplicity. This is not easy, but there is an intuition necessary to it.



In a review of Virtual Migrations: The Programming of Globalization, Carol Upadhya highlights A. Aneesh’s description of two contrasting systems of Indian software labour deployment—bodyshopping and virtual migration. “Although there is some ethnographic description of the transnational experiences of Indian software workers that place them in an unsettled, interstitial space, the experiences of offshore software workers remain unaddressed. Instead, he focuses on the systems of control that have emerged to govern dispersed IT labour. He argues that virtual software labour migration is characterised by spatial integration (in which work is delinked from the work site) and temporal integration (in which workers in different time zones are linked together), and that this has led to the emergence of a new ‘governance scheme’ and organisational structures. The former are labelled as ‘algocratic’ or in accordance with the rule of algorithm, as distinct from the earlier governance schemes of bureaucratic and panoptical dominance” (Carol Upadhya, Review of Virtual Migrations, in Contributions to Indian Sociology, 42:2, 2008, 344-347, 345).  Upadhya expresses some skepticism of the extension of code to various forms of globalization in India, noting, “I am suspicious of the extension of the metaphors of ‘code’ and ‘programming’ to such a wide range of phenomena and processes: while he is attempting to provide a fresh formulation to describe these forms, the excessive use of these terms may appear more clever than insightful” (346). In what sense is code not a metaphor? Here we would insist that code is the very ontology of social relatedness, the form of value itself, in such IT labor. Negri defines immaterial labor and explicates its implications thus: “Today we face a tendency towards the hegemony of immaterial work (intellectual, scientific, cognitive, relational, communicative, affective, etc.) increasingly characterizing both the mode of production and processes of valorization. It goes without saying that this form of work is entirely subordinate to new modes of accumulation and exploitation. We can no longer interpret these according to the time employed in production. Cognitive work is not measurable in those terms; it is even characterized by its immensurability, its excess. A productive relation links cognitive work to the time of life. It is nourished by life as much as it modifies it in return, and its products are those of freedom and imagination. This creativity is precisely the excess that characterizes it” (Antonio Negri, The Porcelain Workshop, Noura Wedell, trans., [Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2008] 20).

Aneesh, Virtual Migration 2.

Upadhya 345.

“Rather than the politicization of real abstraction that Virno gleans from the supposed collapse of labor qua measure, Cillario sees the current figure of real abstraction as centering on the proliferation and production of new procedures, of codes of production, of transmissible ‘hows’ rather than measurable ‘whats’. The organizational codifications of the processes in which incommensurate use values are produced becomes central, but the locus of abstraction becomes not labor per se, or commodity-exchange, but the role of cognition within the laboring process. Even if procedures themselves are then subjected to the standards of exchange (i.e., they in turn become products), their centrality to a capitalism that more and more takes the figure of ‘flexible accumulation’ marks a mutation in the character of real abstraction. As Cillario writes, ‘‘The incessant impetus aimed at the change in the methods and procedures of laboring activities is the generative nucleus of the abstractive process of knowledge’’ (1990, 168 /9). The centrality of procedures also means that, in a way that is not necessarily pregnant with emancipatory possibilities, reflexivity is at the heart of contemporary capitalism. That is, it is not just the abstraction of capital’s forms, but its colonization of cognition, that is crucial to an understanding of the present. ‘‘The concept of abstraction which is adequate to the phase in which knowledge becomes capital stems from the reflexive character of the process of social labor’’ (Cillario 1990, 168; 1996, 52)” (Toscano, Alberto, “The Open Secret of Real Abstraction,” Rethinking Marxism, 20:2 (2008), 273—287).

Hardt 94.

Stuart Kauffman’s elegant definition of a phase transition is useful to recall here. In At Home in the Universe, he writes that “when a large enough number of reactions are catalyzed in a chemical reaction system, a vast web of catalyzed reactions will suddenly crystallize. Such a web, it turns out, is almost certainly autocatalytic—almost certainly self-sustaining, alive” (58); “The ratio of possible reactions to polymers is so vast that eventually a giant catalyzed component and autocatalytic sets emerge. Given almost any way in which nature might determine which chemicals catalyze which reactions, a critical molecular diversity is reached at which the number or red catalyzed reactions passes a phase transition and a vast web of chemicals crystallizes in the system. This vast web is, it turns out, almost always collectively autocatalytic” (65).

Gilles Deleuze, “Making Inaudible Forces Audible,” in Two Regimes of Madness, Amy Hodges and Mike Taormina, trans. (New York: Semiotexte, 2006) 156-160, 157.

Delanda, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, Ch. 2, 110?

Bergson writes in Time and Free Will: “To say that the same inner causes will reproduce the same effects is to assume that the same cause can appear a second time on the stage of consciousness. Now, if duration is what we say, deep seated psychic states are radically heterogeneous to each other, and it is impossible that any two of them should be quite alike, since they are two different moments of a life-story. While the external object does not bear the mark of the time that has elapsed and thus, in spite of the difference of time, the physicist can again encounter identical elementary conditions, duration is something real for the consciousness which preserves the trace of it, and we cannot here speak of identical conditions, because the same moment does not occur twice. It is no use arguing that, even if there are no two deep-seated psychic states which are altogether alike, yet analysis would resolve these different states into more general and homogeneous elements which might be compared with each other. This would be to forget that even the simplest psychic elements possess a personality and a life of their own, however superficial they may be; they are in a constant state of becoming, and the same feeling, by the mere fact of being repeated, is a new feeling. Indeed, we have no reason for calling it by its former name save that it corresponds to the same external cause or projects itself outwardly into similar attitudes: hence it would simply be begging the question to deduce from the so-called likeness of two conscious states that the same cause produces the same effect. In short, if the causal relation still holds good in the realm of inner states, it cannot resemble in any way what we call causality in nature” (199-201). 

Now this brings us to some of the fundamental shifts that Bergson hopes to achieve in the history of philosophy. First, causality in nature is not the same causality of lived duration. Causality, the principle of logical necessity between cause and effect, is an abiding concern in Bergsonian theory, from Bergson himself through to Prigogine, Deleuze, Massumi, Hansen, Grosz, Delanda, Shaviro, and onward. One might pose usefully it seems to me the relation between Deleuze’s quasi-cause (as elaborated in the Logic of Sense) and Bergson’s non-linear causality of becoming. What is most important in this relation? First, time is an irreducible component of all physical and psychic being, its being in belonging to mixtures of co-evolution. Assemblages only happen in time, although time is not “of” an assemblage (by which we mean that temporal relations cannot give us “types” of assemblages, only statistical probabilities and their indefinable unfolding, patterned but stochastic). In that sense, non-linear causality helps us to pose becoming as an unfolding of resonant processes, which while statistically regular on large scales (robust to shocks), are nonetheless open to chance and mutation at other scales of interactions. This breaks with the notion that causes are fixed, unified, and predictable–they are none of those things in the short (human consciousness) and long (embedded timescales of evolution) run. 

But this brings us to a lingering problem in Bergson–at least in this text (we might usefully compare this to the much later Creative Evolution). Why does Bergson reduce pure succession to lived durations in consciousness? Many times, he insists that pure duration is only so for a consciousness which endures. But does this have to be so? Many today would argue that everything–from a sugar cube on fire or dissolving in a glass of water to the swirling hurricane-like vortex at Saturn’s south pole (see–endures. Stuart Kauffman asks rightly by what criteria do we say such phenomena (he is mostly talking about dissipative structures like the vortex Great Red Spot on Jupiter, not sugar cubes! See At Home in the Universe 20-21) is or is not alive. There is a lively debate here on the nature of life, and it centers precisely on duration and non-linear causality. 

There are other relations to also keep in mind with the above quote. The insistence that no psychic state can have a predictable causal relation to subsequent psychic states is part of the larger project of grappling with the pure succession “by imperceptible steps” of intensive processes. That time cannot be figured (or pre-figured, as Bergson shows in his analysis of the future in present causality) as space–indeed, once it is figured at all, as symbolical representation, time becomes space–is the central thesis of this thesis (yes, this was his doctoral thesis, sheesh!). Time is a continuous, non-quantifiable multiplicity, and the aim of Bergson’s thought is to aspire to a form of intuitive rationality commensurate with time’s becoming. 


Some definitions: endos·mo·sis (en′däs mōsis)noun, in osmosis, the more rapid, inward diffusion of the less dense fluid through the semipermeable membrane to mingle with the more dense

Hylozoism is the philosophical conjecture that all or some material things possess life, or that all life is inseparable from matter.” 

Thus, Bergson glosses a fluid, imperceptible transference as a habit of thought: “We have seen that, though our deepest conscious states exclude numerical multiplicity, yet we break them up into parts external to one another; that though the elements of concrete duration permeate one another, duration expressing itself in extensity exhibits moments as distinct as the bodies scattered in space. Is it surprising, then, that between the moments of our life, when it has been, so to speak, objectified, we set up a relation analogous to the objective relation of causality, and that an exchange, which again may be compared to the phenomenon of endosmosis, takes place between the dynamic idea of free effort and the mathematical concept of necessary determination? But the sundering of these two ideas is an accomplished fact in the natural sciences” (218). Bergson has just suggested that “Here again the mistake made by consciousness arises from the fact that it looks at the self, not directly, but by a kind of refraction through the forms which it has lent to external perception, and which the latter does not give back without having left its mark on them” (217). The aim here as elsewhere is to restore to consciousness pure duration, and to stop treating time “as a homogeneous medium” (220); the obstacle is consciousness itself in its habits of reducing pure succession to simultaneity, difference to the homogeneous, and thus spatializing what ought to be understood as enduring. 

“We have seen that, though our deepest conscious states exclude numerical multiplicity, yet we break them up into parts external to one another; that though the elements of concrete duration permeate one another, duration expressing itself in extensity exhibits moments as distinct as the bodies scattered in space. Is it surprising, then, that between the moments of our life, when it has been, so to speak, objectified, we set up a relation analogous to the objective relation of causality, and that an exchange which again may be compared to the phenomenon of endosmosis, takes place between the dynamic idea of free effort and the mathematical concept of necessary determination?” (218). One could easily object that what after all is “our deepest conscious states”–is it some kind of essentialism of consciousness, and even more troubling doesn’t Bergson assume that he has gotten (we readers) there? Like many of the problematic terms that Bergson uses–purity, for me, most of all–it seems that the deepest conscious state actually turns out to be a confused mixture of imperceptible succession. But, then, could free will be located in something so confused and heterogeneous?

“We can now formulate our conception of freedom. Freedom is the relation of the concrete self to the act which it performs. This relation is indefinable, just because we are free. For we can analyse a thing, but not a process ; we can break up extensity, but not duration. Or, if we persist in analysing it, we unconsciously transform the process into a thing and duration into extensity. By the very fact of breaking up concrete time we set out its moments in homogeneous space ; in place of the doing we put the already done ; and, as we have begun by, so to speak, stereotyping the activity of the self, we see spontaneity settle down into inertia and freedom into necessity. Thus, any positive definition of freedom will ensure the victory of determinism” (219-20). 

What is after all concrete? Does it have a difference resonance in French? We would need to check the French which I have not done…But strikingly freedom is a relation of a body (a perceiving, cognizing, multiplicity) to specific kinds of actions; but this relation is graspable not as a definition but a definite process with a definite, but non-spatial, non-repeatable, singular, and irreversible duration. 

“To sum up ; every demand for explanation in regard to freedom comes back, without our suspecting it, to the following question Can time be adequately represented by space ? “To which we answer : Yes, if you are dealing with time flown ; No, if you speak of time flowing. Now, the free act takes place in time which is flowing and not in time which has already flown. Freedom is therefore a fact, and among the facts which we observe there is none clearer. All the difficulties of the problem, and the problem itself, arise from the desire to endow duration with the same attributes as extensity, to interpret a succession by a simultaneity, and to express the idea of freedom in a language into which it is obviously untranslatable” (221). 

So what then do we do with this undefinable relation, this fact called freedom? It is to insist the the absolutely undetermined event must be the constituted outside of all relations, all actions of the brain or body, the embodied mind, are constituted by this outside folded into the repetitions of its intensities. But note then that the folding of freedom into a process without end, or foreseeable product, is to insist that the aim of life is to actualize this experience of freedom by giving oneself to a given practice. The outside becomes the most intimate, and even the very stability of subject and object breaks down in duration. The outside simply turns out to be the virtual proceeding of the actual. 

There remains the problem of adequation. Is the language used by Bergson–intensity, sensation, sympathy, duration, succession, freedom, relation, action, perception–is this the language which best expresses the idea of freedom? And if it does, has this language escaped the spatializing tendency of symbolical representation? How?

The obvious, if not quite fully satisfying answer, is that Bergson defines this language as without definition, without visual perspective, the done product grasped in vision as opposed to the imperceptible unfolding of the lived duration of an event: a kind of synaesthesia of time. So in that sense the formulation (as translated) of Bergson’s triumphant sentence last quoted has this double sense, of a thought that has not left the desire for adequation, and thus for space, and a dim realization of a method that has found a kind of transcendental empiricism as its practice. To grow old and young in the event at once, to discover the untimely in all things, at every moment as an affirmation of freedom. But perhaps the post-Nietzschean/ Deleuzian experiment with Bergson is our new spatialization (for an attempt to practice something like that for media assemblage theory see: Deleuze, Cinema, and Zen: Break the Motor)? Is it not possible that concepts once monstrous but now part of the machinery of capture and domestication, as they enter the world of philosophy, of sociology, or literary and media criticism inevitably ossify the durational into the spatial, become the product (with their own cultural capital accruing or waning) of that which has already escaped it?  

How to think durational movement without product, space, simultaneity–without telos (goal, aim)? How could such a thought make a claim to 1. thought, 2. politics, 3. the future?

A practical way to go forward here is to compare some of Bergson’s theses on duration to Suzuki on Zen. In his 1951 paper “The Philosophy of Zen” (Philosophy East and West, 1:2, 3-16), Daisetz Suzuki writes that “When I say that Zen is life, I mean that Zen is not to be confined within conceptualization, that Zen is what makes conceptualization possible, and therefore that Zen is not to be identified with any particular brand of ‘ism'” (3). I take conceptualization here to mean symbolical representation, that it comes out of life itself, or what Bergson calls lived duration. Suzuki goes on to say that the experience of Zen is best expressed–again we are to contemplate what forms of expression, language, indeed (non)conceptualization best describes the non-conceptualizable–by the doctrine of sunyata which “means emptiness” but has no direct equivalence in English. It is not a negative term, it “is a positive concept with a definite connotation, but it ought not to be considered an outcome of abstraction or generalization, for it is not a postulated idea. It is what makes the existence of anything possible, but it is not to be conceived immanently, as if it lay hidden in or under every existence as an independent entity. A world of relativities is set on and in sunyata; sunyata envelops, as it were, the whole world, and yet is in every object existing in the world” (4). Sunyata is the experience that reconciles the contradiction between immanentism and transcendentalism. 

When we are out of sunyata we experience the duality of object/subject, but in it we are “in Zen.” “To experience means to become aware of, but not in the way in which we become aware of the world of sense-and-intellect. In the latter case, we always have a subject that is aware of something and an object of which the subject is aware, for the world of sense-and-intellect is a dichotomous world of subject and object. This unique way consists in sunyata’s remaining in itself and yet making itself an object of experience to itself. This means dividing itself and yet holding itself together” (5). Clearly, sunyata would be an experience that would fundamentally call into question causality and non-contradiction, and in that sense Bergson’s notion of the qualitative multiplicity of lived duration before symbolical representation would help us to affirm this experience. But, on the one hand, Suzuki is too categorical in his dismissal of logic. Aren’t there different logics which proceed through the pragmatism of functional mixtures and dynamic thresholds? Topological reasoning would be one example, tactical media (see Race, Perception, and the Institutionalization of Networks) would be another. More, isn’t intuitional reason a kind of logic of sense? On the other, sunyata helps us to critically engage the desire for adequation that marks Bergson’s final passage quoted above. 

Sunyata can help us to focus, to stay focused on the interminable process of a method, that is like one continuous mistake. A practice of the false. “Reasoning defeats itself, finds itself altogether futile, in its attempt to reach sunyata, because reasoning, instead of trying to see sunyata itself in the process of reasoning, strives to reach sunyata as the goal of reasoning, that is, when all the reasoning comes to an end” (6). Suzuki’s Zen and Bergson’s duration converge here on the insistence that one cannot substitute analysis for process-practice without turning time into space. 

But we should not lose site of the fact that for Suzuki, in Zen there is the experience of “sudden enlightenment.” We should not take this too seriously, or too lightly. “When sunyata is awakened to itself or becomes aware of itself, which is ‘knowing and seeing’ itself, we have another name for it: sunyata is tathata. Tathata is everyday thought, it is “an affirmation through and through” (6). But tathata is sunyata, and sunyata is tathata. “A Buddhist philosopher declares: A mountain is a mountain and water is water before a sunyata-experience takes place; but after it a mountain is not a mountain and water is not water; but again when the experience deepens, a mountain is a mountain and water is water” (7).

Nothing special, like a frog just sitting. We are reminded here of another Suzuki, Shunryu Suzuki who in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (New York: Weatherhill, 1970) wrote: “Zen stories, or koans, are very difficult to understand before you know what we are doing moment after moment. But if you know exactly what we are doing in each moment, you will not find koans so difficult. There are so many koans. I have often talked to you about a frog, and each time everybody laughs. But a frog is very interesting. He sits like us, too, you know. But he does not think that he is doing anything so special. When you go to a zendo and sit, you may think you are doing some special thing. While your husband or wife is sleeping, you are practicing zazen! You are doing some special thing, and your spouse is lazy! That may be your understanding of zazen. But look at the frog. A frog also sits like us, but he has no idea of zazen. Watch him. If something annoys him, he will make a face. If something comes along to eat, he will snap it up and eat, and he eats sitting. Actually that is our zazen—not any special thing. Here is a kind of frog koan for you. Baso was a famous Zen master called the Horse-master. He was the disciple of Nangaku, one of the Sixth Patriarch’s disciples. One day while he was studying under Nangaku, Baso was sitting, practicing zazen. He was a man of large physical build; when he talked, his tongue reached to his nose; his voice was loud; and his zazen must have been very good. Nangaku saw him sitting like a great mountain or like a frog. Nangaku asked, “What are you doing?” ‘Tampracticingzazen,” Baso replied. “Why are you practicing zazen?” “I want to attain enlightenment; I want to be a Buddha,” the disciple said. Do you know what the teacher did? He picked up a tile, and he started to polish i t . In Japan, after taking a tile from the kiln, we polish it to give it a beautiful finish. So Nangaku picked up a tile and started to polish it. Baso, his disciple, asked, “What are you doing?” “I want to make this tile into a  jewel,” Nangaku said. “How is it possible to make a tile a jewel?” Baso asked. “How is it possible to become a Buddha by practicing zazen?” Nangaku replied. “Do you want to attain Buddhahood ? There is no Buddhahood besides your ordinary mind. When a cart does not go, which do you whip, the cart or the horse?” the master asked. Nangaku’s meaning here is that whatever you do, that is zazen. True zazen is beyond being in bed or sitting in the zendo. If your husband or wife is in bed, that is zazen. If you think, “I am sitting here, and my spouse is in bed,” then even though you are sitting here in the cross-legged position, that is not true zazen. You should be like a frog always. That is true zazen.”

This is too beautiful not to quote in full, and in any case, as Patricia Clough and I affirmed to each other just before we saw Wall-E with As’sia, my daughter, we only aspire to bring together in a new diagram the force of innumerable quotes!

In any case, Daisetz Suzuki differentiates sunyata-tathata from pragmatism by radically de-linking practice from teleology, and Zen from time. “Time and teleology are interwoven, and Zen transcends time, and therefore, teleology also” (8). But what Bergson has shown throughout his life’s work is that time is teleology only after the done is separated from the doing, the product from the process, that is when time is spaced. But lived duration, and the intuitional reason that gives it its singular dynamism, its pure potentiality, is radically free, and also and for precisely that reason, non-teleological. 

But that is not all Susuki has to say here on time; indeed, he goes on to suggest that momentalistic Zen is not, because each moment has eternity in it. “To Zen, time and eternity are one. This is open to misinterpretation, as most people interpret Zen as annihilating time and putting in its place eternity, which to them means a state of absolute quietness or doing-nothingness. They forget that if time is eternity, eternity is time, according to Zen. Zen has never espoused the cause of doing-nothing-ness; eternity is our everyday experience in this world of sense-and-intellect, for there is no eternity outside this time-conditionedness. Eternity is possible only in the midst of birth and death, in the midst of time process” (8-9). So eternity is the difference immanent to process (of course in Zen Buddhism, eternity is inseparable from divinity). The (non)aim would be a kind of motionless duration, echoing with a future that will only ever remain potential. I would think this potentiality is divinity, if I needed divinity to make this thought, how shall we say, living. But the thought needs nothing, because it is isomorphic with the life it models, enters into mixtures with it, and emerges as multiform expression. Only certain of the expressive forms–narrative, sign, icon, figuration, discourse, metaphor, montage, syntagmatic unit, character–are recognized and legitimated through pedagogical institutions of gridding and exploitative value, even when they are part of movements of counter-actualization (anarcho-Marxism, ecofeminism, womanist anti-imperialism, Maoist postcolonialism, poly-sexualization). Couldn’t we think of a political practice of counter-actualization in various media–from literature to the screen to the cellphone–that begins with a new lexicon: attach and attack the grid in the grid, denaturalize it, and then radically naturalize it. Expressive forms are thus refunctioned, and the political becomes the untimely in the potentialities of co-evolution. By calling into question the stability of the category “political” itself, new gradients will emerge as a froglike practice reassembles media and their intensities. Strictly, nothing special. 


I don’t mean to fetishize Suzuki’s Zen, because we know of the use Japanese Zen buddhists made of their practice during World War II. Zizek speaks about this in his talk at Google, and his words are important to think about.