Monday, 19 November 2007

Indeterminacy as mediator / Dialogue as purchase while moving away ...

My aim with this post is to explore some fundamental connections between the respective views of:

Brian Massumi, in Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation
(Post-Contemporary Interventions), 2002, Duke University Press.

Extracts from Visualising experience: Henri Bergson on memory, (p. 57).
in Middleton, D and Brown, S. D. 2005. The Social Psychology of Experience. Studies in Remembering and Forgetting. Sage Publications Ltd, London, California, New Delhi.

Len Lye, in his 1939 essay, Movement as Language, in Epilogue 1935-1937.
Riding, L and Graves R. Edited by Mark Jacobs.

These texts are currently acting for me as a collective lasso around the elusive quarry of impromptu encounters and meetings with others.

In 1927, Henri Bergson, who had previously been hailed as both, ‘the greatest thinker in the world’ and ‘the most dangerous man in the world’ (Mullarkey, 1999b) was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He has been a major influence on the thinking of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Emmanuel Levinas and Gilles Deleuze. Bergson is perhaps most widely known for his treatises on concepts of time and becoming. I am particularly interested in Bergson`s notions of time for his emphasis, as a ‘process philosopher’ on ‘lived’ and ‘experienced’ time and space.

Bergson, as a process philosopher, was concerned (unlike mainstream western philosophy which has dealt overwhelmingly with substantive content or ‘things’ which may be easily categorised perhaps, as nouns possessing tangible qualities rather than verbs which inherently reference ‘doing’) with the actions which bridge or give rise to the manifestation of content. He pursued the intangible, often residual glues binding content, concentrating on the experience of the event itself; activities like conversing, the tenuous dynamics of relationships between people, events like the experience of parenthood, losing a job or a loved one.

Bergson`s thinking traverses the territory from ‘being’ to ‘becoming’:

Being is the name typically given to those essentital qualites of a thing that do not change, those aspects that endure despite all temporary changes in appearance. Reality can then be defined by enquiry into the particular kind of “being” that a given entity has or expresses (this is what is usually called “ontology”)(p. 61).

‘Becoming’ for Bergson, was and remains quite a different way of defining reality. The word describes an action rather than a static, passive quality. It refers to a view of the world which is defined through motion which is continuous. This view can be encapsulated by the famous line from Heraclitus: ‘One cannot step into the same river twice’. So the only reality is constant change, flux, transformation – becoming. The things we perceive as ‘real’ and constant, reliable and set are only outcomes relative to our respective perceptions – they are not in themselves, reality per se, ‘ … the qualities of matter are so many stable views that we take of its instability’. ( Bergson, p. 61).

Bergson puts this very succinctly another way: '… rather than there being things which change', more accurately speaking, there is, '… change provisionally grasped as a thing'. (Bergson, p. 62). This realignment of perspective captures in essence the conditions (created by a movement dynamic), which both cause and govern indeterminacy which in turn is responsible I believe, for the ways in which meetings between people on the street are dominated by the phenomenon of ‘arriving’ and ‘leaving’. These words are redolent with implications which speak of change or ‘becoming’, itself momentarily grasped and lost, or places in time and space which punctuate change from which we ultimately move away.

In his 1939 Essay, Movement as Language, the New Zealand kinetic sculptor and avant-garde film-maker, Len Lye stated:

Movement is the result of a feeling in one thing of strong difference from other things. Movement is always one thing moving away from other things—not toward. And the result of movement is to be distinct from other things: the result of movement is form. The history of any definite form is the movement of which the form is the result. When we look at something and see the particular shape of it we are looking at its after-life. Its real life is the movement by which it got to be that shape.

This observation shares similar territory to Bergson`s maintaining that we live 'change' in a constant state of becoming and that we can only grasp and isolate moments provisionally within change itself.

In my previous post I referenced Brian Massumi in Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Post-Contemporary Interventions) (2002). Massumi states that:

When a body is in motion, it does not coincide with itself. It coincides with its own transition. The range of variations it can be implicated in is not present in any given movement, much less in any position it passes through. In motion, a body is in an immediate, unfolding relation to its own nonpresent potential to vary. That relation, to borrow a phrase from Gilles Deleuze, is real but abstract … This is an abstractness pertaining to the transitional immediacy of a real relation – that of a body to its own indeterminacy (its openness to an elsewhere and otherwise than it is, in any here and now)

To what extent during our times ‘in-transit’ are we driven by a feeling of not so much arriving, but of leaving – continually moving on, away from the current meeting – often while we are still in that meeting? Are we always fully present in our exchanges or have we in fact in our intent, already left, while ostensibly maintaining our physical presence? In my own work, I am concerned with the investigation of what I will call the ‘spaces between content’ in our lived experience. In exploring what may constitute engagement and conversation on the street, I am not so much interested by what is being communicated, as what is being left out, due to what I identify as interpersonal terrain dominated by indeterminacy. It is indeterminacy, as Massumi states above, ‘… that of a body to its own indeterminacy (its openness to an elsewhere and otherwise than it is, in any here and now)’ which I believe continually mediates our meetings, our conversations, our interactions our becoming fully present with the place/person with whom/where we have ‘arrived’ when we have already begun in our constant state of becoming, to move away. I am interested how this uncertainty located within movement/change may influence or to a significant extent, govern the nature of dialogue in urban contexts.

In this text Middleton and Brown suggest that Bergson`s view of the world is a process which does not require qualifying, explaining or defining through the use of things of substance. They go further and suggest that perhaps it is inappropriate to think of reality as something which requires explanation. Reality is simply a, ‘fluid continuity of the real’, (Bergson, p. 62). I am curious about the ways in which the real and virtual may join to become what Mark Hansen in Bodies in Code (2006) defines as, ‘mixed reality’ and within the context of the above reference to Bergson, not only how this may exist as a ‘fluid continuity’ but how I may go about enacting and documenting the phenomenon.

Duration is the experience of time passing. Bergson describes duration as, '... the prolonging of the past into the present and the forms of experience that are thereby granted'. (p. 62). Bergson betrays in Duration and Simultaneity (1999: 30), (p.63 in Virtualising Experience) a classic perspective of a process philosophy approach to consciousness:

There is no doubt but that for us time is at first identical with the continuity of our inner life. What is this continuity? That of a flow or passage, but a self-sufficient flow or passage, the flow not implying a thing that flows, and the passing not presupposing states through which we pass; the thing and the state are only artificially chosen snapshots of the transition, all that is naturally experienced is duration itself.

In Bergson`s terms, the 'states' or 'things' are treated as outcomes or products by interrupting the flow.In my perspective within this context, the encounters and meetings with people in urban spaces represent an example of these outcomes. Such encounters enable a person to gain for a moment, a purchase on his or her duration or ongoing flow. Islands if you will, in time and space punctuating that continual indeterminate movement away.

(Bergson`s other publications which are relevant to my spheres of interest are Matter and Memory, (1908/1991), Time and Free Will (1913/2001) and Duration and Simultaneity, (1922). One of his later works, The Creative Mind (1946/1992), concentrates on his assertion that intuition is the most appropriate method of producing philosophical knowledge, that, ‘theory and knowledge and a theory of life seem to us inseparable’ (p. 58)).