Sunday, September 30, 2012

Space Is (As) Time Arrested

Right, so I attribute that phrase, or well the phrase “space as time arrested” to Henri Bergson in my mind.  And I’m pretty sure that’s an authentic memory of some sort, but it may well have gotten mixed up somewhere along the way as I can never find that exact quote in any of my Bergson stuff, as hard as I’ve looked and read and re-read.  So, maybe it was someone else, or maybe it’s a conglomeration of phrases, a different translation or something.  Anyhoo….

To bring that back around to my rambles of last week – about recording versus documenting and then ending with a few words about duration (and that which we endure, and how), I want to get back to that thinking.  So, that opening phrase – “space as time arrested” is such a great one to get mixed up in for a while.  You know, what does a photograph do?  Yeah, it arrests time – or at least it can or might, I suppose.  And, how do we understand space (especially as, perhaps, distinct from place)?  To me, space is gravity or something – or space is what holds us down and fixes us into (a) place, and we have to push our way through it/against it – I have this visual of slogging through (outer) space with a giant frickin’ spacesuit all heavy and burdened, but yet you’re weightless and float, but still you have to slog.  So anyway, it seems like that’s also about duration – how long it takes us to wade through all the shit – or, more poetically we could say, the stuff of life.  But what we have to endure – that’s a lot of shit. 

Alright, so back to the phrase – “space as time arrested”.  And that “as” becomes important.  Because, if space is where all the particles come together and matter is what we are at all times (always already) up against, then time needs to be defined.  What kind of time are we talking about?  Bergson lovingly picks this apart in Matter and Memory when he suggests that, 

The essence of time is that it goes by; time already gone by is the past, and we call the present the instant in which it goes by. …But the real, concrete, live present – that of which I speak when I speak of my present perception – that present necessarily occupies a duration.  Where then is this duration placed?  Is it on the hither or on the further side of the mathematical point which I determine ideally when I think of the present instant?  Quite evidently, it is both on this side and on that; and what I call ‘my present’ has one foot in my past and another in my future.” 
(Bergson, p. 176, 177)   

Yep.  So, how to extend the instant, sort of.  Maybe that’s what happens when we think of “space as time arrested” – it’s like a stop-motion animation of the mind, and I say stop-motion because, for me, even though the suggestion is to “arrest” time which I guess means to stop, we recognize this impossibility – even in the photographic image, because all that does is give us a two-dimensional re-presentation of a moment that’s reactivated when it’s perceived and immediately compresses past/present/future together – and that’s active, and incredibly rapid.

Now, I’m going off the cuff here – if I really wanted to be solid about this, I’d immediately refer more carefully to my Bergson and dig through my Ponty and figure out what they say about matter/space/time – cuz they say a lot (as do Heidegger, Deleuze and others of course, of course) but that’s not (entirely) what I’m using them for.  What I can retain is all that’s really useful – no way in hell am I ever going to truly understand or be able to “do” philosophy – I just need it to help push me along, and give some direction to my meandering – and to burn a few phrases in my head here and there that I can “see” – and lead me to some pictures. 

And of course this is why I’m combining the still and moving image as captured via the time-based mediums of photography and video – if you want to get at the relationship between perception/memory/time, in a visual manner, of course you’d go to the source.   Why are time-based media the source, you ask?  Refer back to my earlier post discussing Crary’s Techniques of the Observer.  And, god-sakes, they’re called time-based media for a reason, eh?  Conversely, if you’ve become so enthralled with the materials you use and their very nature – both in terms of the apparatus and resulting imagery, of course you’d be led directly to considerations of time/memory/perception, and you’d wind up spending loads of time tracing their lineage and sorting out how they work on the viewer in the way that they do – what exactly is a photograph in-and-of-itself and how does that mode of seeing translate to film/video and our relationship to our selves and the world – regardless of subject matter.  Another helpful Bergson quote for good measure, 

“We are dimly aware of successions in nature much more rapid than those of our internal states.  How are we to conceive them, and what is this duration of which the capacity goes beyond all our imagination? …To perceive consists in condensing enormous periods of an infinitely diluted existence into a few more differentiated moments of an intense life, and in thus summing up a very long history.  To perceive means to immobilize.”
(Bergson, p. 274, 275)

And every time I start to really think about this – my mind immediately wants to visualize a cluster of birds in the sky, or a bunch of dust particles in mid-air against a black background (just the way I saw the toilet paper lint pop into the dim light of the black bathroom stall one day), or a stream of leaves in mid-air – you get the point, all this fast shutter speed stuff.  The arresting time.  And sometimes I get stuff like this and I’ve made my way into this territory, but I always seem to let it go for some reason.  I think it’s in part because I need to fabricate the perfect scene to get what I want – and these kinds of scenes (either found or made) are pretty damn elusive and frankly I’ve just not been able to get what I want yet.

So, I’m going to start working toward making this/these scenes happen – and then I’ll record them, and my response to them (which could in fact be/look somewhat different from the action itself).  I have so much unused work that’s resulted from these failed experiments and my random forays into seemingly unrelated territories.  I think it’s time to fuse the old and the new.  Let’s decimate the archive.

Next week, maybe a look in the drawers.

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