Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Visible Time

scraps from a talk I'm giving in Zagreb at the Broken Time symposium this weekend

Time is the medium of change. For that reason, it is necessary to control it. Calendars are more ancient than Stonehenge or the Pyramids. They shape time, sculpt time, order time, and seek control over the monstrous ocean of change that threatens to engulf each human life and all human societies. Humans are the historical animals: time is more for us than the cycle of the seasons. We seek greater orders across ancestral centuries. We recall a golden age, and look forward to another. There was an Old Testament and a New, and there will be a Second Coming. We seek such order because we are driven to it. Freud almost knew this when he described thanatos, the death instinct, the drive to decay and entropy. That is one extreme of the drive to order. The other is totalitarianism. We tidy the corners of the world where we live to keep the monstrous tides of pollution at bay, sometimes sweeping up dust, sometimes driving out strangers. The struggle, as Mary Douglas names it, between Purity and Danger (bigpdf here), structures lives and makes art an essential process of walking the boundaries between them, drawing in life from the chaotic margins to replenish what would otherwise become the sterile taxonomies of organization.

. . . There is a leakage at this level of the tiny fragments of time, a leakage of those even smaller fragments. These cannot be caught by sampling at ever more extreme rates. What is lost in any sampling regime, anything working on the fragment as such, is the puzzle of continuity first posed in Zeno's paradox 2500 years ago. To measure out life in units is to fail to understand the disintegration of integers. That lack of self-identity that troubles the totalizing self-presentation of the image as presence is the same dialectical negation that pulls apart the stability of the pixel. At the same time, the remnant of each division of time into units is a mark not of a near-enough approximation but of the failure of division to grasp the unstill gesture of motion as a trajectory, not a plot of points. Time is a vector, or more properly a scalar product of the multiplication of many vectors: in each case, a motion with direction and therefore marked by and as change.

. . . The time of the glitch, the time of the dead pixel, the time of laborious attention to the world and its pictured ordering: these are the particularities, the unique instances of suffering and joy that refuse universal history and its diary. They are instruments of hope and, I hope, pledges of the beauty that escapes.

No comments: