“It turns out that roughly 70% of the Universe is dark energy. Dark matter makes up about 25%. The rest – everything on Earth, everything ever observed with all of our instruments, all normal matter – adds up to less than 5% of the Universe. Come to think of it, maybe it shouldn’t be called “normal” matter at all, since it is such a small fraction of the Universe.” [italics added]
Chris Vitale has a nice post up on Deleuze’s Bergsonian notion of the image as a “slice of time,” or a “slice of the world” — which for Deleuze amounts to more or less the same thing. In a similar spirit, I thought I’d post briefly about a Whiteheadian notion of time.
Normally when we think of slicing into time to depict a moment of it, we tend to think of it as a linear flow. Slicing into time is like slicing into bread: what’s on the left of the slice is the past (for westerners and others who read from left to right), what’s on the right is the future, and the slice itself is where we’re at right now. The world as it appears to us is a cross-section of the loaf.
Or a better metaphor, since we’re in motion, might be a train moving forward on the track of time: the tracks ahead of us are the future, those behind are the past, and the train is us.
A couple of recent posts by Chris Vitale and Tim Morton have rekindled my thinking about Deleuze’s crystal-image. Chris’s interesting post is about the power of crowdsourcing and video detournement in delivering a more democratic form of media politics. Tim’s brief posts share music videos and reflections on dark ecology and the timbral.
Chris describes the video detournements as “crystal-images,” where “one image acts as a germ or seed, and it crystalizes the medium its in, just like a string when you make rock candy. The result is a proliferation of possible paths the image can take, but they all echo each other.” My understanding of the crystal-image is a little different from this, but I think it’s fruitful to pursue Chris’s trajectory while combining it with the more ambient trajectory of Tim’s and Deleuze’s own thought. The crystal-image is fundamentally about time, which, for Deleuze (following Bergson), is the flow in which we find ourselves, looking back and forward at one and the same moment. Deleuze writes:
“What the crystal reveals or makes visible is the hidden ground of time, that is, its differentiation into two flows, that of presents which pass and that of pasts which are preserved.” (Cinema 2, p. 98)
The video above (included there) is a Studio 360 piece on Bill Morrison’s found footage collage film Decasia, which is one of the best examples of film, or art, that comments on its own materiality, including its origins and, in this case, its inevitable demise. I’ve blogged about the ecologies and temporalities of images a few times here (with more to come), but thinking about Decasia makes me realize that my recent post on Bergson neglected to mention this materiality of the image.
It may be true, as I wrote there, that “the past is divisible into the era of reproducible images and the era that preceded it: BP (before photography) and AP (after),” or more generally, Before Recording and After Recording, with different extension and limit points for different types of recording — oral, literate, electromagnetic, et al. It may also be true that our technologies of archaeological retrieval, interpretation, and restoration are digging ever deeper into the materiality of the world, making more of it available virtually for new actualizations in the present and future. But it is also true that those materialities all have their half-lives, their temporalities of decay and disintegration, and that there won’t ever come a time when the past is rendered fully open, a pure and transparent archive in which nothing has been lost, nothing has slipped away or disappeared in an invisible stream off the edge of the universe. Things do slip away.
I’ve been thinking about this slippage of things since Graham Harman posted a note in reply to Steven Shaviro arguing that Bergson’s intuition about time “isn’t really grounded in reality”. The point of difference between relational and object-centered accounts, according to Harman, “is whether a thing’s process of genesis is inscribed in its current reality” or not, to which he says “no”: “Much of its genetic history does leave traces, but a great deal of history is forgotten by reality in every moment.” I had begun to respond to him, thinking to myself that this Bergsonian intuition is very much a matter of debate, and that it isn’t just relational and processual philosophers like Bergson and Whitehead who believe that everything at one moment of reality gets incorporated, in some form, into the next moment; that reality, in other words, moves forward — developing, evolving, changing, or enduring, as the case may be, rather than dropping off into an abyss. Where, after all, would it go?
Gilles Deleuze’s cinema books make for difficult reading, and if one is to make headway into them, it helps not only to know something about Bergsonian philosophy, Piercian semiotics, and (a lot about) the history of film, but also to have clips at hand of the films Deleuze discusses. Fortunately, Corry Shores has been very helpfully compiling such clips, accompanied by excerpts from the books, at his Deleuze Cinema Project 1 blog site.
The two books are books of philosophy centered on the moving image — a term that is somewhat redundant in a Deleuzian/Bergsonian framework, for which everything is (in) movement and becoming, and in which the image, which is both visual and auditory, is part of the very texture, or nature, of things. Deleuze, in other words, does not distinguish between a thing and its representation; rather, there are things, which are always in motion, in process, in becoming, and these things appear as “images,” which can be visual, auditory, etc., depending on the sensory equipment that is brought to them. Since the images are always in motion, it is cinema, the art of the moving image, that has best come to capture this quality of world-in-motion. The books are primarily dedicated to articulating Deleuze’s Bergsonian (and Piercian) schema and to setting out a fairly detailed typology of images. Its historical argument — that a shift after World War II allowed for the emergence of the “time-image”, which comes to supplement and ultimately supplant the “movement-image” — can be taken, albeit loosely, or left, but its ontological underpinnings are original, powerful, and I believe very useful for an emergent eco/geophilosophy.
Marcy Saude’s 5 or 6 minutes on cinematic time is a nice short video discussing Deleuze’s “time-image” concept over clips from Rosselini’s Umberto D, Bela Tarr’s Satantango and Gus van Sant’s Gerry:
As I see it, there are at least three reasons why Deleuzian film theory should be of interest to ecophilosophy. The first is the same reason why Deleuze is of interest more generally: because in providing one of the most coherent and self-consistent accounts of the world as process and change, his philosophy helps us understand the ways that things — i.e. relational systems from the molecular to the social to the ecological — come together and drift apart, territorialize and detteritorialize, with us, psycho-biological processes that we are, caught amidst them and acting from within them upon them (and upon ourselves).
The second reason is Deleuze’s Bergsonian and Piercian (and somewhat biosemiotic) focus on the image and its nature as carrier of affect. This brings imagination — the perception of things as not only a passive “reception” of what is “out there” but also an active reconception and engagement with the images and image-affects — to the center of cultural and environmental theory. Environmentalism needs a better understanding of how images do their work in the world; Deleuze can help with that.
I know it’s just that they’ve touched my inner goth, but these graveyard photographs really do express something of what I find most appealing about the idea of immanence — that death is in the midst of life, the two entwined like the dying branches encircling the face of living stone in Onkel Wart’s photograph:
or Stuck in Customs’ tree overtaking a Chinese gravestone:
or E3000′s Sub Specie Aeternitatis:
or moss covering the angelic human spirit rising above its nature-laden grave in Roberto Catalano’s The City of Falling Angels:
Materiality, cyclicality, the rising and the passing away, the return of life to earth, earth covering earth covering stone covering flesh covering memory. The best of ecological art, it seems to me, reminds us of our embeddedness within cycles of emergence, submergence, and re-emergence in new forms, all causally intertwined in dependent origination converging to and from this moment in which we act, the consequences of our acts rippling outwards through eternity. (No, neither Nietzsche nor Buddha preached a closed universe of fated predetermination, as each moment opens possibilities of new connections to be made. But for both there is an ethic of responsibility to those connections, and a solidarity underpinning them.)