Things I left out of a note on cinematic time [pdf]

The following adds to my ongoing consideration of cinematic time after Bergson’s concept of duration and alongside Deleuze’s of the time-image. Although they are nonconsecutive, the first part is called Enduring Dreams and the second Plan vital, and now this is the third. Contact me here if you have any questions or comments.


luz es tiempo
point to point

Comments (0)


… critical is vital …

You really pour yourself into something when there’s no money to make things.

— Róisín Murphy

 You’re not free to say a lot of things. You notice it in every single crisis that pops up

— Laurie Anderson

 there’s such silence about the pandemic in art. After 9/11, we built two towers of white light to represent the people who died. We shine them again every year. With Covid, nothing. Why are people so silent?

— Laurie Anderson

 Art should have a mood, I think, before it has anything. That can unlock personal revelations for people.

— Róisín Murphy

 Creating a kind of dreamlike situation which works in sound and image, that conspires to take the listener into another less judgmental place…

— Laurie Anderson

“Oh, this is why I’m doing this. Love: that’s why.”

— Laurie Anderson on the death of Hal Willner from COVID

try to tell the truth. But the real thing I have to say is just try to really like and love yourself, because if you don’t, it will be so much harder. Realise that you already are perfect and you don’t have to worry about anything. Take that as a starting point. That kind of sounds idiotic, but advice is idiotic!

— Laurie Anderson

the way creatives are going at the moment, they don’t need my advice. They see all this straight away. “I’ll do it myself, I’ll make a movie one day, I’ll do whatever I want to do.”

— Róisín Murphy

there it is, the answer to the anodyne pap being served out as cultural commentary


and the answer is …


no but really, really consider this critical moment. Yes, it’s always a critical moment. The present is a problem time.

Read this if you want to know about problems.

so how it works is the present critical moment throws into question all the preceding stories-we-tell-ourselves-to-put-ourselves-to-sleep-at-night and so that we can.

pomo, postmodernism celebrated the end of the master narratives. No more authoritative version. No absolute truth. Just egos puffed up and wanting to dominate, dominate the narrative.

The present critical moment throws into question, celebrates throwing into question ALL THE MINOR NARRATIVES.

the minor narratives are the ones we whisper to ourselves, like it’s going to be all right

like lullabies, the infantile babbling … of what used to be called the inner child now in this critical present moment DOMINANT,

fattened on narcissistic narratives of identity the inner child …

is now THE political representative. Is OUR political representative.

so how it works is the present critical moment puts the problem

and putting the problem opens what is called a solution space

putting the problem sets the terms to articulate the problem

what is the problem?

it’s not absence of creative opportunity

it’s absence of opportune creativity.

return to top, reader. Read how it’s done …


Comments (0)


Things I left out of a note on cinematic time

How can the replay of duration cancel out duration? This is the question I left hanging at the end of the note on cinematic time where I promised to get under the hood of what is happening in the relation of life to the moving image in general. At issue was the contrast between a mathematisable time and natural processual time.

Complicating the issue is that Russell on one hand makes use of the example of cinema, of the cinematograph as a fair enough version of what mathematisable time is. On the other, I say that cinematic time is duration. It has to be, since time as duration going by what Bergson says is presupposed by mathematical time.

Mathematical time is time as measurable. Duration is not. There is time being ratiocinated and time being intuited.

I hoped to point out in that note that the tendency of spatialising time that is Bergson’s target is not what’s going on with Russell’s version. I believe Russell is picking up on what has become, since cinematographic time, a more profound habit of thought. This is, because the moving image moves of itself, to identify its time with real time.

Bergson cannot defend this thesis unless he is read back into cinema, into its early history in particular. There Schonig can help him out and help us out who read him by showing the first film genre to take as its subject natural time. I called this in the note the mystery of the shot and looking at what I said about it I don’t think I’ve been clear enough.

I feel this mystery to be at work in all of this, from the unbelievable swiftness of cinema’s spread to the present fixation with AI. Deleuze’s philosophy gives me leverage on this material but I can’t say for sure that I have lifted the hood. The reason for the present writing, the motor has not been fully revealed.

The motor is contingent motion. This is what I discover from Schonig but I hesitate to call it Schonig’s discovery. His interest is in one effect, one direction that the motor of contingent motion takes cinema.

He signals it in his subtitle, CGI. I find this to be one proof of what the motor is. I mean that cinema as it has developed since the use of computer-generated imagery, in the 1970s and 80s, has become an industry invested above all in contingent motion.

Contingent motion is running the show. It’s a bit like the hard problem of consciousness is for neuroscience and not unrelated. The problem is how to reproduce digitally what the shot naturally reproduces.

When I say the shot, I mean cinema. The problem drives the investment in a technology like Barbershop that the money is still behind and that is still being developed. Barbershop came about to animate Kong’s hair realistically in Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake of King Kong.

A nice 2017 article by Ian Failes, “How King Kong Movies Changed VFX History, Over and Over Again” gives the details of how Barbershop enabled 30,000 to 40,000 clumps of hair on Kong’s head to move independently. That is, in contingent motion. Hair has become an obsession on an industrial scale.

Simulation supervisor Claudia Chung and her team spent three years developing Merida’s hair for the animated feature Brave, 2012. The digital hair had to move and catch the light like real curly red hair. You might say this effort is about finding the noncontingent means to arrive at pure contingency.

The fully digital scenery currently deployed in live-action films, if they are set in some version of biological nature, multiplies the problems for CGI of contingent motion. The leaves on the trees have not only to be made they have to be made so that they are moving.

Neither CGI nor animation are under any obligation to reproduce the contingent motion of leaves, hair, smoke, clouds, nature with any realism. The commercial imperative can even go in the opposite direction. Films that offer more schematic renderings of characters and mises-en-scène can make more money for studios.

A special example is Studio Ghibli. The mises-en-scène have a high degree of verisimilitude whereas the characters are generic. They are schematised, big eyes and heads, rudimentary bodies and expressions and it is the contrast between characters and mises that holds audiences, as of two contrasting levels of time, historical time and the time of the characters’ inner experience, where what happens to them matters more than how realistic they are. This would be how the problem of contingent motion for CGI relates to the problem of consciousness for neuroscience.

The mystery of the shot has become the problem of contingent motion. For CGI the problem is deeply embedded in mathematics. It is, whatever the parameters, how mathematically to generate randomness.

Although natural processes engage entropy and entropy relates to energetic systems, the natural world being an open system, the world of digital graphics a closed one, the problems are different. The leaves moving on the trees is not about entropy, it’s about the wind, the light, the time of day and the immeasurable quantity of details both large and small that are visually captured. No quantity can be fixed for what is in the shot. It is purely a quality, and one of duration, I would say.

It is so for the digital image in a completely different way, in the contingent motion of the little lights, the pixels, that go to make it up, belonging to the screen. These are qualities of screens and eyes. The specific duration, entailing what endures onscreen, is of screentime.

In the note on cinematic time I referred to this duration as an interval and the shot, cinema, as what relates the interval to the indeterminacy of contingent motion. For this indeterminacy I said that a noncontingent time is needed. I meant the interval.

If there is an apparent contradiction here it has to do with the ambiguity of the word contingency. Perhaps I didn’t put enough stress on this in the note. Contingency means both dependent and independent.

The noncontingency of the time of the shot is its independence. It comes as a function, for both digital and analogue media, of the image moving of itself. The contingency of the motion caught on shot has the same independence, so it is contingent in that sense, but for the digital image it never can be.

Yes, the digital image moves of itself but the hair does not. The image digitally produced, the computer-generated image, moves of itself, in screentime, but the leaves do not on the digital trees. The graphics, the smoke, the particle fields, cloud, atmospherics in being digital effects are contingent on digital production.

They can only give a more or less near approximation of randomness. What is noncontingent, indeterminate and open in the digital moving image is screentime. That is, screentime shows contingency of motion as the independence not of what’s on the screen but of the screen itself, its effects of light being the effects of light’s movement, movements belonging to the present.

Are the movements of light, of the light emitted by little lights constructing the screen, confined to belonging to the present? If so isn’t any imagery shown on a screen also confined to the present of when it is viewed? I think the time captured of the natural world is open at both ends.

At one end it is open to the present of when it is captured, at the other to the present when it is viewed. This is unlike the computer-generated image that comes from a closed system and is the result of a process. The digital image is not still in process and in it since the processing has finished when we see the image that process has no duration.

It does not endure. In the terms I used in the note, upon rendering it is inert. What’s alive is the light from which it’s made.

To say it does not endure is not about durability. Although Bernard Stiegler, a philosopher of technics, links the evanescence in the present of digital imagery, its passing, to the passing of a whole regime of learning and knowledge. There is a link between the internal duration of what endures, is not inert, to knowledge, but I think it has to do with the closed loop between temporalities that contingent motion attests to, therefore to the contrast I am still pursuing between what has been made of cinematic time and what it really is.

How to figure out what it really is? The answer is always going to be the leaves are really moving on the trees. That means they are caught in the passage of time passing, that it really is and we can see it again and again, and we can slow it down, speed it up and even wind it backwards.

This is true of every moving image with the added manipulability that the generation of digital imagery by computers brings and this imagery, thanks to the little lights, the pixels, is always moving. So from it is inferred the real time we actually see in contingent motion and here the problem starts again. It is one of reference and inference.

The motor is driving nonetheless. The digital image is no less than the analogue image. What becomes apparent in the history of its development is also what has ceased to be obvious in the analogue image. This is that the passing of real time is in the autonomy of the movements, their contingency as being independent of whatever mechanism of capture is used.

It’s funny when you think about it. What fuels the obsession with simulcast, simultaneity, liveness with no lag, processing power and speed, is what the moving image refers to, time. The exorbitant wasted effort of exporting the problem to digital simulation is equally as ironic or terrible when you consider that all the Lumières needed to do was point a camera at a tree.

The digital is like a forest enchanted under the spell of contingent motion. Then we, its spectators are captive as well. I am suggesting that what we are captive to is time.

The question is what time holds us. Different dimensions of time have so far been noted. There is the time that Zeno challenges with his paradoxes. Because it refers movement to space Bergson calls it space and not time.

Then there is the time of scientific measure, the mathematical variable t. It comprises states of events in a succession one after another that is said to take up time. Bergson’s criticism is that science misses the time taken internal to any state that is like a fingerprint, a unique quality or, it may be said, image.

There is further the time challenging the independent and constant variable of t. This is Einstein’s spacetime. Now t is relative to t2 and t2 to tx. For Bergson this remains a measure external to duration of inert quantities.

It only seems to be supported by cinematic time. It is only so if the cinematic image does not have a unique quality that is like its fingerprint. I am arguing that it does and that the proof of this is contingent motion as well as the proof Bergson is right and what he’s right about is that the time of duration does exist.

Duration is either another dimension of time or is as Bergson says absolute. It would appear we get as far as cinema and, by complicating the relation between scientific and natural time, it adds a complication. Cinematic time is either duration and duration absolute or a fourth dimension of time.

Schonig doesn’t follow up on his own lead and find in the purely at random movement of naturally occurring phenomena being captured on film proof of cinematic duration. Instead he follows it up with our aesthetic appreciation of contingent motion as it resurfaces in the digital attempt to reproduce it. The other reason then he doesn’t pursue the lead he finds is that he looks to Immanuel Kant, whereas I go to Bergson and Deleuze both Kant’s critics.

Bergson’s take on Kant is that he doesn’t get past his prioritisation of space and so succumbs to an illusion. I touch on this in the note on cinematic time. The illusion is the same one that Deleuze places at the start of Cinema 1. It is the result of the evolutionary and individual-developmental idea, of the body being centre of action, that is instinct in the human.

It’s imperative for me to see my body as centre of action. If I’m going to learn to walk I have to see things the right way up and what obstacles there are. Are they things I can put in my mouth? Are they things I can pick up and use on other things? Can I climb on them or up them or do I have to go around them?

The principle of utility arranges things for us. Their arrangement arranges our senses for us. That and the actions of others who might regard themselves as centres of action also arrange our faculties for us, our sense of justice and our moral senses, our understanding and our reason. Still, we can dream and in our dreams suspend what is in our environment made imperative.

Deleuze’s take on Kant is exactly of him allowing a transcendental illusion. He does this in an entirely positive way and in this way reverses Kant. The illusion becomes both guarantor and arbiter of truth.

Any correction reproduces it. This enables duration to be covered by duration. More importantly for cinematic time Deleuze takes, says he takes the temporal figure from Kant of a broken time.

This is when duration breaks cover. For cinema you’d think it does in the cut and this is how Deleuze proceeds. He defines the shot by the cut.

The shot is what cuts and I agree but not for Deleuze as it cuts to another shot or runs out and in this running out we get an inkling of how Deleuze conceives the time-image. It’s in a long shot that can cut, by Michelangelo Antonioni or that is a long take, like those of Michael Haneke, two different eras of film but in common they have a kind of objectivity. The shot lingers or dwells regardless and also full of regard for having cuts or letting go.

It’s a strange kind of objectivity because it lets go of the mechanism, a mechanism that is inferred. It lets go of the control and the shot is then not out of control. It doesn’t go wild but the opposite.

Neither the movement of the action nor the movement of the camera are important. What comes to the fore is staying or sitting with, as if we have to hold our breath or the camera is. It’s not to see what happens because what is happening happens without our gaze mattering. Without care for us looking on the time which is that of the mise-en-scène and therefore of an historical time goes into suspension. It has then the proper dimension of the shot itself and we can infer again that we are the characters looking on or that there are no characters, actions without characters and actions without consequence.

What I am trying to get at is the problem of our and of the characters embeddedness in historical time, in sequence and in succession, being an illusion. Animating the shot is a time out of sequence and that breaks its succession with the interval. Brought to our attention and, it’s possible although we no longer see it through them, the characters’ attention, is the interval itself.

We no longer see it through the characters’ eyes, this duration inside the shot, this interval, simply because they are not what matters. They are usually what matters, in contrast, because we care about what happens to them, usually because the plan of action of the film gives access to their intentions, desires, expectations, disappointments, anticipations. These all belong to an inner duration, another interval, in the characters that is separate from the mise-en-scène.

Between mise-en-scène and character is a distinction of temporality between historical running-out time and cinematic unrolling time. To cinematic time belongs indeterminacy. It’s essential to the film holding us that it capture even if by a thread, through a window cracked open, the breath of fresh air that makes the whole thing undecidable, creating its conditions as it goes along.

I am taking note of the strangeness and unusualness, what is remarkable about when the film is not compelled by its action. What compels it then, some artistic intention of the film-maker? I would say it’s what compelled the earliest audiences that film-makers return to in what Deleuze calls time-images, the mystery of the shot.

The time-image shares in Deleuze’s cinema books something of that mystery, has a kind of mystical aura of the transcendental. I would say, paraphrasing Deleuze himself, that cinema fulfills in these books the conditions of philosophy. From Difference and Repetition on there is Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism, an objectivity about the transcendental plane, that here is the part taken up by cinema.

It is also the part taken by cinema. There is the coincidence of titles, of Jacques Bazin’s Qu’est-ce que le cinéma? with Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s Qu’est-ce que la philosophie? thirty years later, where the problem recurs of what seems to arise in the earlier work by Martin Heidegger, Was Heisst Denken? in translation, What is Called Thinking? Where is this problem raised? Where does it recur but on the transcendental plane that in cinema is the shot. In French the words coincide, le plan means any one of plan, plane, shot and all at once.

My note on cinematic time linked élan vital with duration as a creativity, the creative energy of time itself. I believe this to be Bergson’s problem enlivening the three absolutes of duration, consciousness and evolution, while for Deleuze they are all relative to, relative movements or speeds of, a transcendental plane, plane of consistency or immanence. This leads me to a plan vital as an image of cinematic time that is not found in Deleuze or Bergson but is their child.

Characters work out problems that are on a plan vital unless or until there are no characters and we have shown the plan vital. What gives the greatest distinction to a plan vital is the absence of action. There is movement.

This movement is the signature of duration. It is the movement of the moving image. The moving image is a unique, temporal singularity.

It disproves our embeddedness in historical time as it shows that the shot’s is also illusory or false. The shot cuts time out of time. Where Deleuze’s bringing Bergson to the cinema to show the cinema has always been philosophical is timely, in my reading Bergson in light of cinematic time is untimely.

Being untimely is for me its strength and from the earliest instances of cinema has been, since the untimeliness of those leaves moving, that cloud of dust from a wall’s demolition, the water swirling in random patterns, the waves. These shocked audiences and so film-makers provided them with more.

The whole power of cinema is in those first shots. Does it then get lost? Does it get lost due to the narrative exigencies placed on film and those serving to advance action?

It’s lost inasmuch as it slips from both our sight and our grasp but not inasmuch as it is diminished. It increases and holds us increasingly captive. As data-cows we are milked through our eyes by the moving image.

Deleuze is not with me on this except in the way that his terms migrate. The modulation he attaches to the moving image reappears in his “Postscript on the Societies of Control.” Modulation refers to a moulding that occurs through time and is then a shaping and grooming of behaviours and a keeping score on ourselves.

This could refer to our engagement with cellphones and other devices and to the moving images on them but need not. In that engagement, in the participation with them always seeking our attention, is always a disengagement and nonparticipation. Since with them, through them we have access to the untimely, the guarantor and arbiter of our performance in a time-based world is not of this world.

It’s not of this world or its time because the time that this world avows is the time of action and the vital plane, plan or shot engages our direct participation in inaction. Our attention is actively turned to the inactive.

Belonging, in Schonig’s terms, to contingent motion, we are contingent on as well as contingent to the plan vital. This then is another plane or dimension of time. Like the day-to-day relation of events to cinema as they roll out before us, like the relation of fractal events as they fracture into pixels to the digital moving image, it is also specific to cinematic time.

The fact that we don’t grasp our own inaction as anything but the most important kind of doing-our-jobs points to the two-sidedness duration has taken on, that it has taken on through our becoming inured to it. Our familiarity means we don’t see it. We don’t see it until it breaks cover.

Now I’m trying to grasp it and hoping that you can without too much of sliding from one side to the other. Sliding however is inevitable given its filmy nature. This nature is of where Deleuze places the transcendental plane.

Not a staying with, a sitting with, Deleuze conceives the shot moving. It moves in several ways. It’s there to move us, move the story forward, advance the action, change the relation of parts to whole, where these are not so much bodies as the filmy planes or plates of the moving images themselves, and it’s there to express whatever movement the film-maker, the director, intends.

Because the image is expressive Deleuze doesn’t get into whether whatever physical attributes are inferred or imputed to them by films are real or not. He tacitly retains the distinction between the virtual and actual, the virtual being no less real than the actual, the actual no more real than the virtual. He imports it to time and it generates two-sidedness.

On one side is movement, on the other the absence of action and yet there is no contradiction. Both belong to duration but duration is not what it was before the advent of cinema. I think this is what spurs Deleuze in his books on cinema and what the problem is worked on in them.

For Bergson neither movement nor duration are divisible. Neither are the parts divisible, down to the merest thread, to the smallest particle. Deleuze starts from movement because he says its reproduction corrects the problem Bergson has with cinema, but this is the same problem Bergson has with scientific time, the same that leads Russell to cinematographic time as its solution.

In this respect Deleuze and Russell’s views converge. The way the cinema reproduces movement solves Bergson’s problem with cinema. The way the cinema reproduces time solves Bergson’s problem of putting space first, of science using space to measure time and so, thinking it’s measuring time, missing time itself.

Deleuze takes something from this other view but it is not that the movement reproduced by cinema is the signature of duration. For me the moving image’s moving of itself in itself becomes arbiter and guarantor of the truth of duration and the motor under the hood of this contrast between time both as it has departed from duration and as its underlying condition, the condition really of this parting as a movement of thought. What Deleuze takes is the divisibility into parts of a whole that is duration.

For Deleuze as for Russell these parts are correlative to the whole. They connect to it. They are unities, for Russell relative unities, for Deleuze relative unities with a twist.

The twist’s from Bergson. Parts, unities and the whole are understood under the notion of a multiplicity. The multiplicity of the shot, its unity correlative to the whole, has both virtual and actual sides to it.

Deleuze’s definition of the shot is that conventionally given in film history. The shot only comes into its own with the innovation of cutting. Only then does the camera have a point of view that it finds can be mobilised, changing angle of view, tracking and all the variations of a filmic language.

The importance of the shot however is not for Deleuze that cinema is, as Jacques Lacan said of the unconscious, structured like a language. It’s not the sense made by the shot that is a consequence of it being followed by another. It’s the thought it expresses, how cinema thinks, that is a consequence of the break in its internal continuity of the shot when it cuts.

How this break still makes sense is peculiar to film. The new thought cinema expresses is Deleuze’s target, the new brain it embodies. For thought to move then, from one thing to another, over the breaks it internalises, entails a new image of thought.

The cinema needs a new plane to be constructed for that thought so that it can move because it’s not the movement that is internal to the shot either giving it the movement necessary to thought or allowing it to move. What allows it to move is a surface and its movement can be called a surface effect. So on one side of the plan vital is a film, a surface where thought occurs, consciousness.

For Bergson the brain is an image among images. For Deleuze it is a moving image among moving images. This is the restoration of Bergson Deleuze makes and it seems to me that it is necessarily concessionary.

On the other side of the plan vital is duration. Deleuze’s version of cinematic time is not duration. Is it true?

This can never be asked of Deleuze and it doesn’t mean I love him less but it does go to his difficulty. In him everything is moving. The ungrounding in Bergson undergoes a further ungrounding in Deleuze.

What doesn’t take, from Bergson, what Deleuze gives up is duration. As conceived by Bergson it survives neither the challenge of science nor the challenge science poses to philosophy. It doesn’t survive what I take to be its proof in cinematic time.

That Bergson saw cinematographic time to be the enemy of duration, working for space and not time, is part of the problem. This is the correction offered by Deleuze, but to make cinema duration’s ally means to call Bergson out on his mistake. What aspect of an absolute can be mistaken and to what degree?

Deleuze’s answer is to keep what duration does, its ungrounding of the whole. Duration achieves this already in Bergson since it is the interval of qualitative change that any state whatsoever has. What endures is change internal to states, in the time they take to pass, as they are passing.

Deleuze allows it is change of the whole but only to endow movement to the parts, called by Bergson images. The connection between whole and parts is the crack or thread of duration. It seems to endure in itself not belong to states or events and rest on the surface, the plan vital.

It’s true that Bergson initially thought duration to apply to consciousness. The reason for this is that states cannot be compared. They are in constant flux in themselves and in relation to the whole and it’s wrong to privilege one state over any other, so they cannot be measured, although it is natural to do so.

The anthropocentric fallacy is just this privileging, and a developmental stage in the individual and in the world. Then Bergson endows life with duration. It belongs to anything that endures and that might be said to be going against the current of time by being, in self-creation, constantly changing.

He later extends duration to the whole. He has to because the physical reality is of all images including those of thought being caused and affecting all others. Duration is perpetual change and as such undoes the privileges of thought, of spirit, of life and of consciousness belonging to the human brain.

Duration ungrounds the whole. Now Deleuze in fact sets the whole on the false. Not for the sake of the false or of illusion, the transcendental illusion he assesses positively in Kant, he sets it there for the sake of thought with which he is primarily involved, for the sake of endowing the faculties of understanding with movement.

God no longer arbitrates and adjudicates and offers the guarantee of truth. Already for Kant the positive discoveries of science as well as the suppositions of metaphysics are in the position of measurement against the immeasurable. They are only correlatives of the absolute and indivisible that is inaccessible to society and man. Women don’t really feature in Kant.

They are in Kant already in a sense images that compete for our attention, that are brought to our attention and capture our attention. For these truths that are relative to the unrelatable sublimity of the in-fucking-effable, to quote the writer Samuel Beckett, God’s role is cosmic piano-tuner. It is to harmonise the whole and parts.

For Bergson, which Deleuze approves of, time-as-duration is not true because it’s absolute but because it’s creative. It is creation itself, continuous and ongoing except, as I am trying to indicate in view of cinematic time, it is the interval the shot cuts. The shot cuts out of the transcendental plane a slice that is immeasurable and indivisible, is both because discontinuous, nonsuccessive, properly inconsequential and contingent, random.

The cut only exacerbates and brings to attention what is in the shot. The detail needs to be brought out, going against the current of time. Living duration does.

Before expanding on this I’d like to say something about cinema fulfilling all the conditions of philosophy. That setting the whole on the false is upsetting can readily be seen. Why Deleuze’s ungrounding further to that of Bergson’s ungrounding, his untimely?

Partly the reason is Deleuze being canny enough to avoid the philosophical dressing down suffered by Bergson and by duration. Cinema rises, Einstein rises, Bergson falls and to some extent so does what is called thinking. It falls or fails in its creativity.

Bergson thought philosophy’s role, particularly with the scientific challenge of spacetime, was to go in the direction of true time, duration. He could not support it against the charges of psychologism, irrationalism, subjectivism. Intuition is for women.

What does Deleuze say in his book on Bergson about intuition? He calls it the discovery of a new philosophical method. Bergson’s other great discovery is for Deleuze the nonnumerical multiplicity, nonactual, virtual.

He can save these not duration, not directly. Instead Deleuze’s own philosophical untimely is the virtual, the plane of becoming. The plan vital has all the characteristics of Bergson’s time but for the fact it does not exist, that it is a screen for duration.

Cinema has a screen and images that move across it, sideways and up and down, recede into it and exceed it. That’s all philosophy needs and it too can be creative. It can create, like Deleuze and Guattari say in What is Philosophy?, concepts.

In that book from 1991 the other attribute of philosophy is of having personae. These are usually thought in theatrical terms to be dramatis personae and I’ve also tended to view them this way. Conceptual personae as Deleuze and Guattari describe them are much more like figures from cinema.

Less flesh and blood, more fleeting, with a different relation to duration, they are schematic. They are schematic specifically in Kant’s sense of the schematism, of connecting concepts to perception, to percepts in the words of What is Philosophy? and to sensation, there also, affects. The hard thing to think dealing with affects is that they are impersonal, not subjective, not guilty of psychology.

Cinematic personae fulfill the philosophical condition of conceptual personae, imposed since Bergson, of having empirical reality. Yet they are so for participating on the transcendental plane in a transcendental empiricism. They are not irrational facets of intuitive femaleness and then it is not so strange that in A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari talk of a becoming-woman being the first condition every further becoming has to pass through, through to becoming-imperceptible, that again is almost unthinkable until we think it in light of cinematic disappearances.

Besides the screen that sits on film, that enables film to be layered on top like masks, internal and external, forcing the connections that come from movement and the movement of thought, images, ideas between, through and below them, at any point whatsoever, and besides the sound that then issues from the screen but indirectly, the pointed conversations of personae in turn putting images into motion, besides these cinema fulfills the condition of philosophy for Deleuze of being outside it. This condition isn’t really discovered until his work with Guattari, whose practice it should be remembered was psychoanalysis, and writing, but who came to the partnership with Deleuze, the philosopher, with the point of view of practice. Practice is outside of philosophy, science, writing.

Although they are practices, philosophy, science and writing share the technical reliance on a reflection on them that is always outside their practice. Movement is everything for Deleuze. Time is everything for Bergson.

Time and movement, movement and time, this is the oscillation in Deleuze’s books on cinema. It makes the terms almost interchangeable. I would not say that they have there relativity.

Into their disconnect comes the screen forcing them into relation. For Deleuze this is differentially expressed. It spirals in and spirals out but they never touch.

Between time and movement is the screen and the screen is the perfect transcendental illusion. I do not mean that it itself is illusory, since we know this to be untrue. It means movement for everything else.

The shot then for Deleuze has to be defined by differential relations, organic ones, dialectical ones, as in Walter Benjamin, quantitative and intensive ones. These relations are forced onto different shots by montage, editing, cutting. Duration evaporates from the shot but, Deleuze might say, it hangs around, like a mist.

For Bergson cinema fulfills none of the conditions of philosophy, the opposite. Cinema relates movement to space. It does not dwell on or in time or reflect on it like we know it to for Deleuze.

Bergson’s aim for philosophy is to make it science’s equal by giving it an object that science and mathematics, physical and technical systems of reference neglect. He finds it in the nature of systems themselves and in Creative Evolution 1907 he distinguishes open from closed systems. Openness is a term picked up on by philosophers Martin Heidegger and Giorgio Agamben.

It relates exactly without connection to the philosophical condition essential to its practice that is outside. Evolution, creation, creation in thought as much as of physical phenomena are for Bergson open systems. They are then his philosophical themes because their openness is openness to duration.

Duration or time, unlike movement that only does so because it is durational, they break. This is the figure of a broken time that appears in Deleuze, not in the cinema books. The shot presupposes a broken time but the break is not internal till the forced relation of shots creates it.

It is in this way that I think montage, cuts between and among images, that Deleuze makes internal to the shot and not only external, exacerbates what is already in the first and simplest, the so called primitive shot. The figure of broken time is time out of joint, off its hinges. It is from Hamlet.

Hamlet enacts a critique of philosophical schools. This is something of a theme for Bergson as well. It has the famous line, There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamed of in your philosophy.

In 1601 when the play was first performed what was happening in Europe was the birth of the university and the systematisation of philosophy, into schools. The English were great anti-systematisers and Hamlet is a very unsystematic critique. It is witty and Hamlet’s line is a witty reproof against the schools’ version of philosophy not Horatio’s own.

Jonathan Rée, whose Witcraft: The Invention of Philosophy in English, 2019, I am drawing from, tells the story there that philosophy in English doesn’t really get going until Thomas Urquhart. Urquhart was five when Shakespeare died. It gets its start with Urquhart’s first translations into English of François Rabelais’ lampoons of university philosophy as much as any work that seriously engaged with the subject.

There might be said then to be an English lineage of philosophy, witcraft, that had to do with literature and jokes, fart jokes, satirical jibes and irony, that was of the inside outsider in philosophy. The line skips the country, resurfacing in American pragmatism in the 19th century. Deleuze I think is part of it both, when he identifies himself with pragmatism, on the outside of his philosophy, and, inside it, when he enters the play of philosophical images and uses what I’m calling the plan vital to vitalise philosophy.

His difficulty is due to this since philosophical concepts jostle in him. They move, are juggled and enter into subterranean connection, disjunctive syntheses and aberrant nuptials. They metamorphose and where in one work a concept, a term will be taken to mean one thing, in another it will mean the opposite. He is he says a cumudgeonly interlocutor and in this role resists the notion of a school coming up to follow him.

What has this got to do with the figure of broken time? Well, life, the broken figure of time is the hesitancy of thought. Hamlet is nothing but this hesitancy of thought pitted against philosophy, the philosophy of the schools, of the university, that living thought always exceeds.

A time out of joint is a living time as much as duration is living duration. It is so in the hesitancy of the habit that breaks open, that witcraft makes fall apart laughing. I think an expansion on this is required, under the heading How to Hesitate.

A How-to book, it will deal further with cinematic time, as it reacts on psychological time. Thought breaks into time and stands against the conception of it being in continuous succession like a film. This is to say that life does too. It goes against the current of time.

Life, energy, these organise, form and transform, and, as current theories of energy put it, inform, at all levels of matter. They go against time thought of as knowing-what’s-coming on the basis of repeating-what-has-been-observed-before. Chaos is not reproduced but it is in this sense productive, creative.

Going against the current of time means going against the assumption that high energy tends to low energy, that life is just such a gradient, a slow passage to death. The universe is on an accelerating course to heat death. The earth is on an accelerating course to the same.

The passage to death of life is slow or fast and quick, sometimes in slowmo or speeding up or opening out on the vast and endless plains of boredom and despair, and memory’s role is replay it, to put it on repeat. These are all things that cinematic time does. They don’t belong to living duration and they don’t belong to the leaves are moving on the trees and this is also cinematic time and presupposes the other sort.

I want to come back to the force that the moving image hits the imagination with but before I do I’ll consider one after another the difficulties of the two authors dominating this text, this time taking a shorter detour. The two difficulties are linked. They are linked indirectly by cinematic time although they link directly to it, each in his own way.

The difficulty reading Bergson is that we come after the advent of cinematic time. We have lost the knack of seeing in natural time anything apart from the flow of a continuum that is absolute. This view is supported by science and by mathematics despite the paradoxes challenging it, that at the quantum level time may break down, that at the cosmic level the universe has a before-time and an after-time, it stops and starts.

Literature and all the arts engage with other views of time but these are identified with mental aberration, with states of mind that are deranged. Normalcy is hardwired to time. Start putting effect before cause and you could either be accused of having a good imagination or of being unwell.

This gets worse if we take it back to what Bergson is warning us of, that it is our bad habit to tie everything to its utility to us, to us as centre of action, including time. It is a primitive state in our cognitive and social development. We only do this with time because it works for us. Clocktime works for us and we work according to it and for it.

Break clocktime and bring on the revolution (the one that does not revolve). To read Bergson with understanding is to notice how much of what we do is grounded on the assumption of time having a flow which our organisms in their own functioning deny. They go on on their own against the current.

With the advent of screentime clocktime becomes a redundant reminder. Screentime’s spatialisation of time governs what we do and how we do it and hides that force which sustains its dominance. This is where Bergson gets going with cinematographic time.

He is drawn to it by the same pull we all are and were but his philosophical approach is to condemn it as only ever excelling at reproducing the mistake of space being mistaken for time. He has schooled himself on another line of thinking. Real time passes, endures, in, no matter how great or small, the interval itself.

It’s funny perhaps not in a good way that Deleuze approaches Bergson, takes him to the cinema, with it in mind that Bergson’s condemnation of cinema goes for all of his philosophy of duration. That it comes down to a point on it is true but the philosophy of duration is the reason. So Deleuze goes to movement that for Bergson is presupposed but not grounded by time-as-duration.

Deleuze doesn’t see the ungrounding effect time-as-duration has. Bergson doesn’t see that this ungrounding is the thought that cinema is. It is so in its hesitancy, even in movement terms it is.

Deleuze’s twist is to think time-as-duration as plane of composition. For cinema, this is the screen, plan vital, that in fact covers over duration and sees only one side of it. It sees the side that has no genesis.

I asked at the start how duration covers over duration and I must be nearing the end if I have now given the answer, that Deleuze’s screen covers over duration. From it comes the difficulty that I associate with understanding Deleuze, reading him with understanding. This is the witcraft in the movement of his concepts, in the play of the movement of his concepts over the (filmy) surface of the plane.

The genesis of these concepts in duration is covered over. Deleuze screens off duration for philosophy. It becomes a philosophical memory.

The win for science and mathematics is twofold. It gets to keep t, the time variable, in all its permutations and projections. It gains from Deleuze a metaphysics to support it.

The difficulty Deleuze gives us in reading him is deliberate and this too goes back to Bergson. They more or less see eye-to-eye on the subject of schools, although Bergson stands as something of a warning. Having risen in influence so far, his fall was rapid and for the legitimacy of his philosophical lineage devastating.

I’m thinking here of the bastardy of philosophy’s children that Deleuze introduces, specifically to break the line, launching it into a broken time. This is a subject I’ll have to leave hanging. It does still turn on an aspect of Bergson, his critique of habit, that Deleuze finds additional reasons for in the English philosopher, Scottish born like Urquhart, 100 years after him, David Hume.

Deleuze is difficult because he wants to break our reading habits. The habit is to assume logically that in philosophy one thing will come after another and that the terms used for a concept will remain constant. Not so in Deleuze, he does after all praise Bergson’s method, intuition.

He wants us to experience the forced movement of what is in play. He wants us to feel the full force of the problems he’s dealing with so that they, as artist Francis Bacon says of his paintings, come across directly onto the nervous system. The difficulty they have will be the difficulty processing them and that time of thought will be of a break in the habitual activities of the brain that it will cause to hesitate, stammer, pause or stand still in a kind of anxious overload of possibilities, before making a selection.

The shot originally was such a problem, providing such a shock it cut through all the habits audiences had until then of how time was seen. After seeing time repeated they could say that it can be. Time can be repeated.

The selection was not immediate of cinematic time. It took time to displace habitual views. In that pause audiences’ selections played out in cinemas of those films where time’s signature could be seen. It was time’s because it was nature’s.

This, early cinema could speak authoritatively about, true time. In true time what happens is naturally chaotic. It evolves.

Its energies get expended and are dispersed but that energy goes to forms, signature forms, of waves and particles, particulates in the atmosphere, or the stochastic movement of leaves, grass, hair. It’s fine to affix a cause but the cause doesn’t explain the event, it’s just terms looking for a structure, a matter of projection back onto the terms.

Now the first time you see indeterminate movement you aren’t amazed at its being reproduced. You don’t really care about fidelity to an original. What’s shocking is that it’s there in front of you and the shock is first increased by its being repeated, by that possibility it can be selected and repeated, and then it is learnt.

The early cinema spoke with the authority of true time about movements that are authentic because they could only occur in nature. So the early cinema spoke with the authority of duration. Learnt, this meant something else.

It had to cause people’s selection but more than that it had to cause people’s election to be learnt. This is the meaning, not of the commercial economy, of the democracy of film. It caused to be learnt, through the signature of its movements, what time is and once learnt cinematic time displaced time in even its philosophical dimension.

luz es tiempo
point to point

Comments (0)


on the mimetic creation of another form of expression or, translation and self-consciousness in art: Damian Lanigan’s novel The Ghost Variations

The name has a further meaning, you see. It’s not about the narrator being haunted. It’s not about that Schumann piece, written at the dictation of angels, a yutbe clip appears below. It’s about an altogether other dictation, no less angelic but, in this case, the angels have to be generated to do the dictation.

Chinchilla, play, Robert David MacDonald, brilliant. Brilliant because it’s about art as much as it is art. In other words, it’s about artistic creation and that of an ensemble, the Ballets Russes. Chinchilla is Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev. The play’s special power comes from its special ontological position, as translation.

Oscar Wilde’s “The Critic as Artist” starts fittingly at the piano. In it we find that every work of art worthy of being so called is really a work of translation. Damian Lanigan’s novel translates from one art form to another to make great art.

From pianist to the novelist, from the narrator who is a concert pianist, to the writer who is also a playwright, says his blurb, Lanigan translates to the typewriter that is now a keyboard from the piano that is for Declan Byrnie a machine of torture. See,

A piano performance consists of a body that can never get quite comfortable, possessing an insufficient number of hands and a sucking vortex mind. The poor frightened beast must assert his control over this bizarre Heath Robinson mechanism: strings and hammers and wood and steel and felt and glue stretched in and around a misshapen coffin that weighs about nine tons, has the temperament of a prima ballerina and the capacity of a nuclear power station.

— op. cit., 117

At a certain point it enters the landscape, because it’s always been a part of the landscape of writing. See,

The sunlight breaking on the hillside across the valley, the peaks drifting in and out of view, the way the colour of the water changes, it’s constantly shifting, this permanence, and the mountains are a billion years old, and the clouds are three minutes old, and so you get this collision of massiveness and insubstantialness, the now and the ancient, and the constant shifts between green, grey, white, blue, brown and silver, zero visibility and infinity.

— ibid., 242

Published by Weatherglass Books very well in 2022 you just have to read it really.


Comments (0)


αποίησις: on the alpha privativum

luz es tiempo
thigein & conatus

Comments (0)


the free and creative play of transcendental ideas ::: illustrated with three paintings by Wolfe von Lenkiewicz

Another kind of madness, constantly wanting to draw attention to one’s own insights, like some placard-carrying apocalyptic in Time’s Square.

— Damian Lanigan, The Ghost Variations, Weatherglass Books, 2022, opened at random, p. 69

I’m writing a long note about cinematic time but, as always, encountered something along the way, only tangentially related to that theme, but that seemed to demand another note. Unless I am mistaken and as I write the note up here the tangent feeds back in again to the long note on cinematic time. The tangent was suggested–the same source as the seed for the note to come–by John Ó Maoilearca and Keith Ansell Pearson’s introduction to Henri Bergson: Key Writings.

There they write, Bergson’s Kantianism and his Berkeleyism, in short his idealism, is shallower than either Berkeley’s or Kant’s. It does not have its roots in the categories of human understanding, as with Kant. It does not originate solely in the perception of the mind, as with Berkeley. It is instead virtual.

What is Bergson’s idea of the virtual? what is it in light of his views on time? Time for Bergson is duration. The time marked out by the clock is time translated to the dimension of space, since the clock is counting spatial divisions. These divisions are contingent on conventions of counting the day and night as fundamental units, so they are broken up in space, according to a conventionally 12 hour day, but not in time.

Science tends to use clocktime. Philosophy says Bergson need not, because a philosophical understanding of time should try to get at what time is in itself. Bergson also takes duration, time as duration, to be free of the determinism that its contingency installs.

He thinks duration free of the constraints the conventions of measuring time lead to, that duration is a freedom for creativity beyond conventionalism. This creativity is neither abstract, like the geometric measurement of time as space, nor actual, like the spacetime given in relativity theory as a chrono-geo-determinism. It is instead virtual.

– Wolfe von Lenkiewicz, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp, 2018

What this shallower of Ó Maoilearca and Ansell Pearson means to me is a reflection. Transcendental ideas for Bergson are as shallow as a reflection. I see a reflection on still water of the trees above, and above them, the sky and stars, but this leads me to think of another sort of reflection, one equally as shallow, as on-the-surface, as the reflection in the water. Whereas this one is in space, the other is a reflection in time.

Everything that makes up the reflection in space, in the water, is actual. The surface is an actual surface. It exists. It may only be made of light but that light exists and it is the condition for there being a reflection. I say this because of the mystery and magic, the not-quite-real quality, mirrors traditionally invoke. Their not-quite-reality is not yet virtuality.

A reflection in time is virtual. So the virtual for Bergson relates to time, time as it relates to itself and is in itself, apart from space, contingency and the conveniences of measurement. The virtual is time reflecting on itself, on its own duration.

Deleuze further qualifies the virtual as being distinct from either the possible or the potential. What is virtual is not a pool of possibilities that are held in potential. Possibility and potentiality relate to reality along that continuum going from possible reality to existing reality. The constraints of possibility are again in evidence.

The virtual in contrast relates to actuality and is unconstrained by either possibility or its potential for realisation. Freely creative, the virtual resolves, works itself out in what is actual. The virtual is real without existing in actuality.

The possible exists without being real. Existence adds to possibility what was missing, reality. The formula stating that the virtual is not yet, not quite and no longer is insufficient and misleading. It limits the virtual to complete realisation only when actualised, when nothing is missing from virtuality.

– Wolfe von Lenkiewicz, A Lady Writing a Letter, 2018

Thinking about a reflection in time I think is a better idea. It also relates virtuality to Bergson as an aspect of his insight into time being pure duration. Like the reflection in space, from it nothing is missing and everything is at the surface. This is what I take from Ó Maoilearca and Ansell Pearson’s shallower.

It doesn’t necessarily lessen the difficulty of imagining the virtual. However, if we move from this surface or across this surface according to Deleuze’s ideas about counteractualisation I think we can come closer to understanding how the virtual works, and how usefully to think of it. Counteractualisation is to go from the actual back to the virtual.

Counteractualisation of transcendental ideas, for example, without removing their reality removes their depth or height. It sets ideas jostling on the same plane or surface. It returns them to their shallowness.

No longer are they standing in judgement. No longer transcendent, not yet subjected to a moral tribunal, they are not quite themselves but no less real. The reflection in time effected by counteractualisation reintroduces the freedom and creative play to what was thought to be determined and determining.

The question of idealism for Ó Maoilearca and Ansell Pearson comes up in relation to Bergson’s use of the term images. All four chapters of Matter and Memory, 1896, feature the term. Bergson’s use breaks with philosophical convention and is suggestive of a link, as I said at the beginning, to cinema and to the note on cinematic time I am concurrently working on: what are images if not pictures, whether moving or not?

Ó Maoilearca and Ansell Pearson point out that in other places than Matter and Memory Bergson makes use of the word ideas to mean the same thing. The etymology of idea is from the Greek word εἶδον for to see and then to ιδέα, meaning form or (visual) pattern. Bergson’s shallow idealism more or less flattens the meanings of idea and image. Images are as much physically present as they are in play on the surface, as they are registered on a reflective surface or recorded on film.

– Wolfe von Lenkiewicz, Iodame, 2018

The note to come, that on cinematic time, will take up on the confusion of images in play and bodies in movement and what that means for our sense of time and duration. The purpose here is to go in the reverse direction, rather than from (cinematic) images to (temporal) forms or ideas, to go from images that have a reflection in time to ideas which have virtuality, virtual and transcendental ideas. Counteractualisation is not only meant for either ideas or images, ideal forms or transcendental ideas.

I think of counteractualisation as engaging a surface or plane of temporality or, as Deleuze and Guattari say in What is Philosophy?, I think of it as taking slices of chaos, and of art, science and philosophy each doing so in their own ways. My practice with Minus Theatre was to bring to the depthless surface of the stage the deepest and most intensely felt experiences where they could be brought into play, like transcendental ideas, where they could jostle against one another, free of their baggage, of judgement, of moral implication. This free and creative play, whether it is of transcendental ideas or physical bodies freed from defensive moralising, is of the virtual reflection in time or, better, is on it.

Not then improvisation, the movement in play is ex-temporised. It takes place by coming into being. The reflection in time is what makes in chaos the virtual slice.

luz es tiempo
theatrum philosophicum
thigein & conatus

Comments (0)


juan gelman 2 poems \\// a small piece of Animal Joy by Nuar Alsadir

Hay que hundir las palabras en la realidad

hasta hacerlas delirar como ella.

You have to bury the words in reality,

make them hallucinate the way reality does.

- José Galván

epigraph to Relations, poems 1971-1973, Buenos Aires, by Juan Gelman, translated by Joan Lindgren


he sits down at the table and writes
"with this poem you won't take power" he says
"with these verses you won't make the Revolution" he says
"nor with thousands of verses will you make the Revolution" he says

what's more: those verses won't make
peons teachers woodcutters live better
eat better or him himself eat live better
nor will they make a girl fall in love with him

they won't earn him money
they won't get him into the movies free
he can't buy clothes with them
or trade them for wine or tobacco

no scarves no parrots no boats
no bull no umbrellas can he get for them
they will not keep him dry in the rain
nor get him grace or forgiveness

"with this poem you won't take power" he says
"with these verses you won't make the Revolution" he says
"nor with thousands of verses will you make the Revolution" he says
he sits down at the table and writes

- Juan Gelman

– Valerio Bispuri, from Encarrados

“confidences” and the next poem, from Selected Poems, Juan Gelman, edited and translated by Joan Lindgren, University of California, Los Angeles, 1997


beloved friends / friends dead
in combat or by betrayal or torture /
I do not forget you though I love a woman /
I do not forget you because I love / as

you yourselves once loved / remember? /
how you walked in beauty through the air / how you fought? /
and the warmth of a woman loomed up in your face /
remember? I remember

having seen in you a woman shining
in the midst of painful combat /
then you shone immortal
against pain / against death /

now sleeping ones some
sweet shadow silently touches you
preparing your stand
against the dogs of oblivion

here’s my idea of character in short: “The essence of pleasure,” writes Søren Kierkegaard, “does not lie in the thing enjoyed, but in the accompanying consciousness.”

Nuar Alsadir, where this is found, continues: Think of a madeleine… When I do, I think of the accompanying consciousness for which the madeleine is no more than the schematic.

Intuition, the most familiar kind of embodied knowledge, often has the adjective feminine preceding it. Hysteria, marked by the conversion of feelings and thoughts into bodily symptoms, is generally seen as a feminine disorder (its etymological root is hystericus, meaning “from the womb”) and carries a negative connotation associated with an emotional excess that obstructs reason–being too much. Even my beloved Joyce reportedly said, in response to being asked what he thought of writer Gertrude Stein, “I hate intellectual women.” What is so threatening about this way of knowing?

“We have been raised,” according to the writer Audre Lorde, “to fear the yes within ourselves, our deepest cravings” because it threatens any system that calls upon us to prioritize external logic over internal knowledge. “The True Self comes from the aliveness of the body tissues and the working of body-functions,” explains writer Winnicott of his version of the yes within ourselves, “including the heart’s action and breathing.” Trained to suppress the True Self and what Lorde calls the erotic power of “nonrational knowledge,” we settle for lesser understanding, permitting essential meaning and emotion to be lost.

— Nuar Alsadir, Animal Joy, (London, UK: Fizcarraldo, 2022), 69-70

… the yes within ourselves … aliveness of the body tissues and working of body-functions including the heart’s action and breathing equate with Deleuze’s affirmative power (of the false and) of philosophy, positive difference; and equates with duration, for Bergson. Life animated by duration, in the living tissue and rhythms of breath and heart: it is a wealth, energy source and source of creative energy.

– Joan Miró, Metamorphosis, 1936


— Alsadir, op. cit., 297

luz es tiempo

Comments (0)


The Singularity and the Pornography of the Human Condition

Vernor Vinge, 30 years ago, wrote, 

The Coming Technological Singularity: 
                      How to Survive in the Post-Human Era

I'm reading it now. 

the world acts as its own
         simulator in the case of natural selection

For Vinge, human intelligence acts as its own simulator, displacing that of the world and accelerating the process of selection. It is conceivable then that the intelligence of machines will in turn displace the simulator of the human mind and further accelerate this process.

We humans have the ability
         to internalize the world and conduct "what if's" in our heads...

The Great Acceleration, in technical means, technology, following the Second World War, becomes in the event of Singularity hyperacceleration.

Developments that
         before were thought might only happen in "a million years" (if ever)
         will likely happen in the next century

Vinge says he'd be surprised if the Singularity happens before 2005 or after 2030. Interestingly, the word he uses to mean the coming to be of a world-simulator to displace human intelligence is to wake, to wake up. He proposes 4 scenarios: the supercomputer wakes up; the network wakes; the interface with humans creates in users a superior intelligence; biological enhancement leading to the superhuman. (These last two, Vinge calls IA, achieving the Singularity through Intelligence Amplification.)

The Singularity is essentially historical. It marks a point beyond which existing reality ceases, its rules no longer apply and there is a new reality. It would seem that this new reality for Vinge is defined by the ability of intelligence to simulate it. It is both Messianic and Simulacral.

Here's the problem: Any [ultraintelligent machine able to self-replicate] 
         would not be humankind's "tool" -- any more than humans
         are the tools of rabbits or robins or chimpanzees.

We will be in
         the Post-Human era. And for all my rampant technological optimism,
         sometimes I think I'd be more comfortable if I were regarding these
         transcendental events from one thousand years remove ... instead of

Hardware parity with the biological brain is a condition for the Singularity. In 1993, this was thought to be 10 to 40 years away. What Vinge calls the Singularity is today usually referred to as achieving Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). In 2022, Jake Cannell proposed a 75% likelihood of brain parity, AGI, being reached between 2026 and 2032. [source] 

AGI does however lower the bar from Messianic paradigm-changing event to inter-exchangeability of human and machine intelligences. What is missing from AGI is world simulation. This lowering of horizons for brain parity has also to do with the demotion of both brain and human. 

The neurosciences are in the process of explaining many of the mysteries of the brain, and showing them to be mechanisms. The brain is more distributed than previously thought. There are neurons in the guts. 

At the same time as the notion of the privilege of the brain in the organism becomes questionable, along with claims for its privilege also grounding human exceptionalism, the notion of human exceptionalism in the cosmos is less and less defensible. And as soon as we expect less from the human animal, the supersession of its intelligence no longer looks to bring about the transformation of reality. The Singularity that was source of apocalyptic fear in 1993 is among other bathetic moments in our contemporary culture of disappointment.

Commercial digital signal processing might be awesome,
         giving an analog appearance even to digital operations, but nothing
         would ever "wake up" and there would never be the intellectual runaway
         which is the essence of the Singularity. It would likely be seen as a
         golden age ... and it would also be an end of progress.

But, says Vinge, if it can happen it will happen:

... the competitive advantage -- economic, military, even artistic
         -- of every advance in automation is so compelling that passing laws,
         or having customs, that forbid such things merely assures that someone
         else will get them first.

I think that performance rules 
         [for the superhuman entity] strict enough to be safe would also
         produce a device whose ability was clearly inferior to the unfettered
         versions (and so human competition would favor the development of the
         those more dangerous models).

If the Singularity can not be prevented or confined, just how bad
         could the Post-Human era be?

The physical
         extinction of the human race is one possibility. (Or as Eric Drexler
         put it of nanotechnology: Given all that such technology can do,
         perhaps governments would simply decide that they no longer need

It's hard to see either the physical extinction of the human race or the decision of governments that citizens are no longer necessary as transcending the reality 30 years on. What scares us more now, going by online newsfeeds, is loss of copyright by artists. It's ironic then that Vinge tells of the combination of competences and human/computer symbiosis in art. 

And that he talks about human/computer teams at chess tournaments after Hans Niemann. And mobile computing as being an example of IA (Intelligence Amplification), when it's often seen as the opposite. And the worldwide internet, in the human/machine combo, is where progress is fastest and it may "run us into the Singularity before
              anything else."

Ironic too, considering how the feedback loop has actually worked between biological life and computers, is that he says,

much of the work in Artificial
         Intelligence and neural nets would benefit from a closer connection
         with biological life. Instead of simply trying to model and understand
         biological life with computers, research could be directed toward the
         creation of composite systems that rely on biological life for
         guidance or for the providing features we don't understand well enough
         yet to implement in hardware.

While on the deadliness of competition, that is on the deadliest aspects of human inclinations, there is some prescience:

We humans have millions of
         years of evolutionary baggage that makes us regard competition in a
         deadly light. Much of that deadliness may not be necessary in today's
         world, one where losers take on the winners' tricks and are coopted
         into the winners' enterprises. A creature that was built _de novo_
         might possibly be a much more benign entity than one with a kernel
         based on fang and talon. And even the egalitarian view of an Internet
         that wakes up along with all mankind can be viewed as a nightmare.

Vinge differentiates between weak and strong superhumanity, the weak superhuman being the one who is enslaved to the merely human. Since it has overtaken the human in intelligence, whom it has every right to regard as a human does either its pet, its slave or a bug, the strong is the one to be feared. It is so if you are writing in 1993 and not so much in 2023.

Strong superhumanity in the end links with strong cooperation, a notion of networking as involving connectivity at higher and higher bandwidths. Vinge thinks bandwidths along both digital and cerebral axes, in terms of both computation and cerebration, so they add or superadd to intelligence. Today we tend to constrain communication even at high bandwidths to being a technical matter, of formal or linguistic representation. 

A matter of having more information, bandwidth has to do with perception considered also as representation, specifically inner representation, to have to do with how the subject, whether human or nonhuman, represents to itself the world outside it, so determining how much information it has to work with. The higher or greater the bandwidth, the more a subject has intelligence of the world in which it is situated, the more of it it can represent to itself, but this today does not equate with higher intelligence as it does for Vinge. 

For him, at the highest bandwidths networked entities share higher cognitive functions. They are telepathic. There is a general ratchetting effect of intelligence on intelligence, information on information, perception on perception, accumulating and, in Vinge's view, running away far in advance of low bandwidth entities like us. Leading back to the Singularity.

The process of accumulation Vinge is talking about is what today tends to be talked about as growth. It is inextricably linked to the process of capital accumulation. And this process is fundamentally joined to technological advance. Together they form progress.

For Vinge, technological advance means the accumulation of intelligence not capital. Intelligence embodied in computers, IA and information networks reaches a point of runaway. This progress for him was inevitable, not so for us.

Or is it? Today's coupling of technological and economic forces, accumulation and extraction and exploitation, of both smart and manual labour, means progress to an inevitable point that resembles Vinge's inasmuch as it too is the occasion for fear, if not dread. It is the deadly prospect of human extinction that will be augured by the Sixth Great Extinction of nonhuman life on which human life depends, in the interconnectedness of all life on earth.

The idea that economic and technological forces can be uncoupled appears almost to be cause for optimism. Economic forces, those of extraction and exploitation, are in this view a shackle. Economics stymies progress, leading it off in another direction which appears to be as inevitable as the Singularity. Economic forces divert progress towards planetary rather than human extinction.

Uncoupled, unimpeded by the economic restriction placed on it by the demand for demand and its supply, delinked from the process of capital accumulation (and the current redistribution of wealth, South to North, national to civic, social to plutocrat) technology had to lead, in Vinge's view, towards superhuman intelligence. He doubted that once it was achieved this superhumanly intelligent being would deign to be further constrained by restrictions placed on it by humans. He did however entertain the thought of a benign superhumanity. Its ultraintelligence might indulge humanity, oversee it and shepherd it. Out into the stars, for example, as in his and Iain M. Banks's space opera.

More likely, he thought, was that a superhuman entity should not indulge the species inferior to it. He thought it was more likely, just as humans do to other species, for humans to be squashed. The reasoning resembles that consecrated in theories of economics, of the self-interested individual. What possible self-interest on the part of a superhuman being might be served by preserving the human race?

Fun? Entertainment? Qualities that derive from our animal origins? Inputs of affect and emotion? Sex? God as the Great Pornographer of the Human Condition? ... 

All these have been considered in speculative and science fiction, and explored in the holy books of mono- and pluri-theistic religious traditions. According to how they are treated by the gods, and, whether angry, absent, indifferent or loving, the Gods, anthropos might be thought to have something going for them. And there is room for optimism in light of the literature.

When it gets here, if it were allowed to get here (and economics and technology were uncoupled), the Singularity might solve some of the problems, caused by human practices, of the Anthropocene. Or, Superman might call on the waters of the deep to engulf all of humanity as his punishment. Or... Isn't this exactly what is happening?

network critical
theatrum philosophicum

Comments (0)


speculatively, to see what would happen.

the title of this post is from John Ash’s poem, “Second Prose for Roy Fisher,” page 54 in the volume, The Branching Stairs, published by Carcanet, Manchester, UK, although, England, might be more appropriate, in 1984, and refers to a “missile thrown without anger: speculatively, to see what would happen,” but I was struck by the line because of something that is present in many of Ash’s poems, suspension.

The volume, Disbelief, had a poem in it about suspension bridges. It could not but help recall when talking of suspending bridges on hightension wires suspending disbelief. Belief… disbelief… is one of the things, the human things, Bergson writes of as being elastic, as having plasticity, I have in mind…

…belief of a spiritual nature… …the belief required by convention in order to be upheld (for example, that of a fiat currency for it to retain its value)… …disbelief that anything really bad is going to happen… …the disbelief that anything really bad is going to happen that is really a disbelief in death… …belief and disbelief in the process of trauma, subject to traumatic processes…

Fear transmutes into phobia when it obsessively repeats itself, coding its dread and loathing in a symbolism that may in fact make it more difficult to face real threats.

Catherine Keller says this in view of the tehomophobia of the psalmist who invokes an angry god to smite the people’s enemies. She brings up the tradition of theomachy, struggle with or amongst a god or gods. More than this, she brings up the disappointment at god’s uselessness when confronting enemies of the people, whether these be other people or spiritual or material forces. What these constitute in view of tehomophobia is a fear of chaos, of the chaos that comes to disrupt any given order. It becomes phobic, tehomophobia, when it obsessively repeats itself, or is obsessively repeated, by coding its dread and loathing in a symbolism. This symbolism is not a coating, is not symbolic in the sense of not being real. It is, instead of not real, kryptonite to reality or rather antimatter to the matter at hand. It denies the reality its reality. It does not coat reality with symbols. It displaces reality without replacing it. It displaces it nowhere.

…and the displacement of reality nowhere effected by the encoding of dread and loathing into a more or less pervasive symbolism for me brings up this line of Ash’s addressing what speculatively means, to see what would happen. It does so because threats that are made more difficult to face are threats at hand. They belong to the present so the question becomes is it a nowhere of the displacement of reality or is it a nowhen?

to see what would happen, speculatively. In my last post I had an issue with Rebecca Solnit’s vision of social transformation as a kind of edifice of ideas. In it, Solnit said there were walls and towers. It was a kind of architecture. (I made a play on the arche of architecture, its coming first that an anarchy would be against… but not refuse…) Change happened so that those who were outside the walls might wake up and woke find themselves included, included in the inclusivity of a transforming, expanding social architecture. I said I find this scary. I still find it scary. Horrible to be walled in.

I would rather be anywhere else than in an expanding inclusivity identifying itself as a transforming distending social edifice. Than eaten up by it (Leviathan?) I would rather be nowhere.

I ask, Leviathan? because the symbolism Keller is concerned with as a coding of a fear gone phobic belongs to Leviathan. Leviathan is tehomic. Feminine. Oceanic. Fluid. Chaotic. And ungrounding.

תְּהוֹם, tehom, ungrounds. Tehom unoriginates origin. And it does so from biblical genesis.

והארץ היתה תהו
ובהו וחשך על־פני
תהום ורוח אלהים
מרחפת על־פני

[emphasis added, from here]

terra autem erat inanis et vacua et tenebrae super faciem abyssi et spiritus Dei ferebatur super aquas

And the earth was waste and without form; and it was dark on the face of the deep: and the Spirit of God was moving on the face of the waters

…from formlessness, anarchy, comes formation. Keller’s book, The Face of the Deep, counters the tehomophobia encoding a fear of formlessness, of the deep, of the womb, that gives the formula to genesis of a creatio ex nihilo, with a creatio ex profundis. It’s a big job. It’s big because, Keller says, from the creatio ex nihilo, from this arche, comes what else but creation. And what other kind of creation can there be ex nihilo than one that has a single origin from which it progressively extends in a line. It is the point at which linear time starts. And it figures that point each time, for each time there is linear time. Or, that point is the figure of the start of any time considered to be a line, a line of progressive improvement in standards of living, of scientific progress, of technological accomplishment, for example, and a line toward the end, toward any end, whether it reach it or not. So out of nothing grounds all teleology.

Keller argues for a creation from the deep ungrounding all teleology, making the architecture break open, and bringing on new acts of creation, in some cases stalling progress, stopping growth, exploding in an ongoing explosion, of human and all things, elsewhere … or elsewhen.

…and this again is the speculatively, to see what would happen. When is it? then? now?

… not now but suspended …

[and just like that I went out to get some lunch]

Happening now ex nihilo apart from extreme sensitivity to initial conditions, like after the Big Bang, like that but happening now, it is said we are hastening, accelerating towards first anthropocide, suicide on the scale of all human things and then anthropogenic biocide, killing off if not all then most living things… but if then when?

Science is for, enables us to attend with extreme sensitivity, the extreme sensitivity of its instruments, to initial conditions, so that we can say we are moving ever faster towards a significant extinction event or horizon. It is drawing us on, yes, perhaps, but more important than this is the point at which we find ourselves, are found to be, by instruments of measurement, now, in the now. We are somehow fixed here and this fixing is entailed in, presupposes a timeline we are on. The timeline is both of human scale and at the scale of a geological movement, of geological time, and so called anthropocene.

What has happened to speculatively, to see what would happen? This is no time to see what would happen. This is no time for experimentation. It is no time for experimentation not because time is running out but because time is the timeline established by instrumental sensitivity to existing conditions as initiating an inevitable chain of cause and effect, to end in disaster or apocalypse… some version of the disclosure that the closure of time entails.

We know then, now, that something is going to happen along the way. It will be revealed that is. The end will be revealed. But we cannot act otherwise than in the knowledge of what we know. We cannot above all see what happens.

When is there time to?

When is the time to see what happens but in another sort of time?

Speculatively does not mean being displaced from this timeline onto another timeline. It is not possible to replace, unless we are multiverse-believing, one ex nihilo timeline by another. Multiverse-believing, perhaps we can refuse this one and opt for a leap. Such a leap would however come to land and would not be suspended and indeterminate, between being a wave and a point for example. It would have to come to a terminus. It would therefore also start from nothing. It could not from the unoriginating origin of formlessness.

I mean, even if the concept formed from the formlessness preceding it, the prevenient formlessness of the deep, a kind of Big Time, Biggodaddytime, there might be room for other times contesting it but as concept it would not could not be an indeterminate time, neither would it nor could it be both form and formless.

In the Kabbalistic tradition there is a room set aside for such things, the zimsum. God in this tradition is preceded by ein sof. It is not a matter of a preceding state of affairs and one following it that a time cannot be suspended, speculatively, to see what happens. The happening has to be construed a certain way. All I am really saying is that the dominant construction of temporal matters in our time is linear.

Ex nihilo linearity dominates. It is repeated obsessively. Repeated obsessively, timeline-likeness has been coded in a symbolism more or less pervasive, since this is how it is represented.

The timeline in accelerating has become unalterable. The faster we go, the more difficult to break forward momentum. And the greater the accusations in resisting it that we are trying to turn the clocks back, not speculatively but fantasisingly.

…and yet we know we can’t keep up. We know we can’t keep up. We know we can’t do nothing. We know we can’t do anything that’s going to make enough of a difference and time is running out.

Solnit’s answer is that differences are being made. It’s just that we don’t see them at the individual level. It’s only at the level of a million that the differences being made are visible. Then we who thought ourselves outside the walls will find we are inside the walls.

Solnit counts herself among those who have made a difference in making what was previously invisible visible. The previously invisible injustice comes into sight, and, she says, resistance to this structural expansion has most often made recourse to justice. Using the law does not make injustice invisible again. There is it seems a compulsion at work, a dominology.

…speculatively, to see what would happen. The appeal is in the sense of the speculation not having a stake in what is going to happen. It is also in the sense the speculation has no control. Sight itself has no claim, since it’s not for sight or for the sight or for the over-sight. I can imagine surprise.

It doesn’t matter what kind of act it is. It’s a light thing. It has no longer to do with making visible or invisible however. Does it then matter at all?

Well, yes it does. Something, some human thing, has been lifted up to the surface from the deep. It has arisen not like a tower, a wall, a pulpit, concept or moral principle. And if it has been heavy this human thing has gained from being on the surface a share of lightness. And the lightness that has been superadded has enabled it to move once there. I should say, once here. You might ask, can it move in time? No in one sense. Yes in another. Since its happening is only as much as to see what would.

Better to describe it then as a falling object. But one coming from a profound height to which has been added gravity while from it has been subtracted weight. The time it occupies is not measurable but the vacuum caused by an intake of breath.

luz es tiempo

Comments (0)


paranoia & conspiracy

While paranoia in everyday life asks questions it believes have terrifying answers, paranoid art knows the more terrifying (and inevitable) discoveries are further questions. For paranoid art, unlike paranoid persons, also distrusts itself. And so, paranoid art is the ultimate opposite, the urgent opposite, of complacent art.

— Jonathan Lethem, Fear of Music

case study: Rebecca Solnit, the Albert Speer theory of social transformation:

I was excited as I started to read this. I thought, why have I not been able to listen to what Solnit is saying. And then I realised why.

We are building something immense together that, though invisible and immaterial, is a structure, one we reside within–or, rather, many overlapping structures. They’re assembled from ideas, visions and values emerging out of conversations, essays, editorials, arguments, slogans, social-media messages, books, protests, and demonstrations. About race, class, gender, sexuality; about nature, power, climate, the interconnectedness of all things; about compassion, generosity, collectivity, communion; about justice, equality, possibility. Though there are individual voices and people who got there first, these are collective projects that matter not when one person says something but when a million integrate it into how they see and act in the world. The we who inhabits those structures grow as what what was once subversive or transgressive settles in as normal, as people outside the walls wake up one day inside them and forget they were ever anywhere else.

–Rebecca Solnit, “Cathedrals and Alarm Clocks,” Whose Story Is This? Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2019, 1-9, 1

We live inside ideas. some are shelter, some are observatories, some are windowless prisons. We are leaving some behind and entering others. At its best, in recent years, this has been a collaborative process so swift and powerful that those paying closest attention can see the doors being framed, the towers arising, the spaces taking shape in which our thoughts will reside–and other structures being knocked down. Oppressions and exclusions so accepted they’re nearly invisible become visible en route to becoming unacceptable, and other mores replace the old ones. Those who watch with care can see the structure expanding so that some of those who object or ridicule or fail to comprehend will, within a few years, not even question their lives inside those frameworks. Others try to stop these new edifices from arising; they succeed better with legislation than with imagination. That is, you can prevent women from having access to abortions more easily than you can prevent them from thinking they have the right to an abortion.

— Ibid., 3

When the cathedrals you build are invisible, made of perspectives and ideas, you forget you are inside them and the ideas they consist of were, in fact, made … Forgetting means a failure to recognize the power of the process and the fluidity of meanings and values.

— Ibid., 4

– Lichtdom, Albert Speer, 1938

…”If you think you’re woke, it’s because someone woke you up, so thank the human alarm clocks.” It’s easy now to assume that one’s perspectives on race, gender, orientation, and the rest are signs of inherent virtue, but a lot of ideas currently in circulation are gifts that arrived recently, through the labors of others.

— Ibid., 4-5

Now, a turn is being marked here, a change of mode. The Speer style of ‘cathedral of light,’ Lichtdom, becomes a place where we are all searchlights and all beamingly woke in the intensity of our own light. But, I think, it is a reflected light.

It’s the light off the badges on our uniforms and by this reflected light we signal virtue. Solnit is right in the social constructivism of saying, remember, what you take for an archi-tecture is made, right in stressing the building but wrong about what the built does.

The as-built is that invisible reinforcing material that is taken up by individuals for the moral support it gives to the status of their own discursive existence. It makes more solid their invisible presence, a presence made of breath and in light of the present, breathing-with, con-spiracy.

woke in the wake of … or aufgewacht macht frei:

Remembering that people made these ideas, as surely as people made the buildings we live in and the roads we travel on, helps us remember that, first, change is possible, and second, it’s our good luck to live in the wake of this change rather than asserting our superiority to those who came before the new structures, and maybe even to acknowledge that we have not arrived at a state of perfect enlightenment, because there is more change to come, more that we do not yet recognize that will be revealed.

— Ibid., 5

I can’t say how much this statement fills me with horror. Yes I can. This statement fills me with horror.

the cycle of life: from sparrows to worms to scarecrows

…there was a plague of sparrows: they ate the wheat and rice seeds that belonged to the people. It was said that a few years earlier, in 1959, the plague had been so intense that people in the villages organized outings every day at noon, with the mission of making as much noise as they could. They set off firecrackers and shook rattles and banged gongs and rang bells and managed to make such a racket for so long that the sparrows began to die of heart failure, exhausted from not being able to rest. That year the harvests were saved from the sparrows; but the worms (which the sparrows ate) invaded and destroyed them, and the villagers had to return to the old system of scarecrows.

— Juan Gabriel Vásquez, Retrospective, translated by Anne McLean, London: 128


Comments (0)