an excerpt from my text:
obsession acceleration, fragmentation and absence
Our present experiences in time often draw us out and away from ourselves. Dividing our attention and creating gaps in our perception; we experience disruptions “between our presence in the world and the various levels of a certain anesthesia in our consciousness that, at every moment, inclines us to see-saw into more or less extensive absences.” In his essay The Endless Structure of Recollection; On Chris Marker, David Levi Strauss writes “the first amnesia machine was writing” rapidly followed and joined with other technological advances like photography, cinema, the Internet, computers, tablets and smartphones. These image capturing, making and storage devices have become memory vessels and are embodiments of acceleration and speed that moves faster than thought.
This acceleration is not unique to our current moment. As Jonathan Cray writes in the forward to Virilio’s Aesthetics of Disappearance, every historical epoch “is understandable in terms of speeds, forms of motion and stasis, and their possibilities of modification.” The thing that is significant however is that, over the last decade, we’ve seen an “intensified accumulation of overlapping technologies and networks.” Through these systems and their multiple, external productions of speed, absences in human perception (gaps) are created, supplemented and distributed, multiplying their occurrence. Both barriers to and catalyst for our perceptions, these technologies alter our interactions by becoming intermediaries. Their shallow spaces contain, create and distort time, further dividing our attention and sensations, creating a polychronic division of our consciousness. “Critics of acceleration maintain that accelerating patterns of life are the reason for a commonly voiced sense of unease— the feeling that one is not ‘really’ living. Everything is done all at once, faster and faster, yet no personal balance or meaning can be found. This implies the loss of contact with one’s own self. We also no longer feel ‘at home’ with ourselves and find it difficult to persist in any given activity because we are available at every moment.”
We find ourselves surrounded by a growing quantity of time containing devices and time flows each flow moving at its own speed and in its own direction. As our consciousness moves between these flows, lingering, briefly within them, we lose little bits of our memory. This phenomenon is neither inherently good nor inherently evil; as our consciousness connects to more and more time-fields its effects can foster a greater feeling of connection and inclusion in some cases while illuminating a divided, fragmented or disconnected experience of reality in others. Virilio refers to this experience as picnolepsy—“For the picnoleptic, nothing has really happened, the missing time never existed.” In these gaps our external senses still function but don't receive or register any stimulus, in each of these episodes, without realizing it, little bits of our lives escape; disappearance has become part of our experience. I am not claiming this to be an entirely new phenomenon, like Virilio I believe that our experience of time has never truly been linear, has always been capable of being fractured and has often been desynchronized with time’s external flow.
I’ve always thought of time as granular, comprised of individual moments that accumulate like falling snow, or droplets of water. Maybe this is because the thought of being bound to a single timeline was terrifying to me, given my own lineage and the early marks on my history. Scientifically we’ve evolved our communal understanding of time to incorporate the concept of a spacetime continuum. By definition a continuum is a continuous sequence in which adjacent elements are not perceptibly different from each other, although variation, distinction and extremes are possible when viewed from a distance. Now that we’ve managed to capture the rippling of gravitational waves through this spacetime we can confidently discuss time “as an ontologically independent entity and not a construct disclosed by consciousness.” Classical notions of objective time as a linear sequence of events have been refuted, as we have now confirmed Einstein’s theory, and have observed evidence that we inhabit a spacetime that unfolds omni-directionally.
The fragmentary experience of time that pervades and has come to define our present, offers a significant obstacle to imagining ourselves as belonging to any unified, singular temporal model. We live in an age where a cohesive, universal understanding of the nature of reality is unknowable. Just as there is no flat map that is a perfect representation of the earth's entire surface, there is no single theory that is a perfect representation of our observations of reality in all situations. Accepting this notion, in their book Grand Design, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow make the case for what they term Model-dependent realism. As a method, model-dependent realism allows us to temporarily overcome the impossibility of encapsulating and explaining the totality of our reality with a single universal theory. As the name implies, model-dependent realism focuses on the role of models of phenomena rather than the phenomena themselves. It claims reality should be interpreted based on these models and, where several models overlap in describing a particular subject, multiple, equally valid realities exist.” Hawking and Mlodinow articulate their criteria for model creation as follows: “a model is a good model if 1) it is elegant, 2) it contains few arbitrary or adjustable elements, and 3) it agrees with and explains all existing observations. By extension, the criteria as outlined, actively embraces interdisciplinåarity and art thinking, reaching beyond the strict confines of science, engaging 1) aesthetics, 2) minimalism and essentialism, 3) phenomenology—all of which also fall within the domain of contemporary art practice. In agreement with the above rules, any useful model must be poetic and yet function beyond its poetry. Such a model should consistently overlap, predict or behave in agreement with that which it seeks to represent— in essence, the decided upon model should offer a consistent, poetic, metaphor-dependent realism.
In order to examine and articulate the phenomenology of obsession and its relation to our current understanding of being in time, I too need a model. A simple, elegant, poetic metaphor for time and our experiences within it that evocatively reflects with equal strength what is known and what is felt. In order to better articulate the objective examination of what are essentially subjective phenomena. “On the phenomenal level, consciousness —and the self-consciousness deriving from it— is distinguished by spatial and temporal presence, Consciousness is tied to corporality and temporality: I experience myself as existing with a body over time.” I crave a model for time that is applicable to both physics and phenomenology, capable of embodying concepts of time put forth by both Einstein and Bergson, a model that can be understood both conceptually and corporally.
turbulence and trajectories
Anyone who has spent time on the sea understands how it moves you. Long after your feet are back on solid ground the movement of the sea continues to echo through your body— and at times, you would swear that you were still moving. This is also true of our experiences in time. In August of 2015, I found myself sitting on the sand, staring into the offing. I watched and listened as the tide chewed and subsequently swallowed the shore. In that moment I understood that time is fluid: comprised of a multitude of lines, currents and tides, flows and forces. Each moment a droplet, their combined experience immersive and simultaneous.
Like the sea, time surrounds us, displaced by our presence, the body echoed in its substance. Time is both space and the material that fills it. Time has depth, breadth, currents and flows— it exists simultaneously as individual moments and as a large sprawling body. Time is a sea.
Movements in any continuum are measured and understood as vectors or trajectories. Our present is marked by movement through and between multiple time flows and perceptual fields, requiring navigation and a near constant attention to orientation. Thanks to the general theory of relativity, we understand that space and time are not distinct. Instead they are understood as dynamic, connected quantities: when a body moves or a force acts, it affects space and time- and in turn, the structure of spacetime affects the way in which bodies move and forces act. Imagine a ship, the sea surrounding it, its hull cutting through the waves and the waves, in turn, rocking the boat. The foaming ridge that trails behind the boat is a record of movement through a plane of all possible futures, a trajectory that leaves behind a disappearing scar on the surface of time. “A scar is the sign not of a past wound, but of ‘the present fact of having been wounded’: we can say that it is the contemplation of the wound, that it contracts all the instants which separate us from it into a living present.” This wake is the presence of our past in our present perceptual field, it is memory. Memory is the trace of our trajectory through time, it is what grounds us and orients us in time. Memory functions as an extension of identity, moments from our past can be conjured in our present at will to aid in perpetuating the continuity of a self that exists across time.
“In Einstein’s physics, there is no passage of time, no unidirectional flow from the fixed past and toward the uncertain future. The temporal component of space-time is as static as its spatial components; physical time is as still as physical space. It is all laid out, the whole spread of events, in the tenseless four-dimensional space-time manifold. Under relativity, ‘the present’ is different for all observers…” This subjective present is defined by our perceptual field, an interval of time large enough to contain the present, the anticipated future and the extremely recent past; it is “the moving soil occupied by the passing present.” Within the turbulent blur of oppositional forces that mark our perceptual field, recall of passing events is not necessary as the residue of transpired events still linger on our synapses.
Time surrounds us, we can find ourselves immersed within it or skimming across its unpredictable and turbulent surface. Time heals, corrodes, swells, preserves, shimmers, torments, destroys, and always in transition— never still. Within this fluid, phenomenological model for time, obsession emerges as a tidal force, a storm of attention. The presence and force of obsession is capable of whirling and warping time; but little has been written about how warped space and time behave in such a storm or the impact on our experience of being-in-time “when the shape of space is oscillating wildly and the rate of flow of time is oscillating wildly.”“Even while I gazed, this current acquired a monstrous velocity. Each moment added to its speed - to its headlong impetuosity. In five minutes the whole sea… // …was lashed into ungovernable fury… Here the vast bed of the waters, seamed and scarred into a thousand conflicting channels, burst suddenly into frenzied convulsion - heaving, boiling, hissing - gyrating in gigantic and innumerable vortices, and all whirling and plunging… The ordinary accounts of this vortex had by no means prepared me for what I saw.”
obsession as vortex
Our relationship to time is essential to the way we organize our lives and dictates the ways in which we experience it. These idiosyncratic experiences of time are a foundational element in the construction of our internal reality and present themselves as both opportunity and obstacle.Those susceptible to obsession are presented with an opportunity to leverage its tidal gravity and descend into the phenomenological time-space born of these energies, extending and expanding their relationship to the present moment.
Typically compulsion or obsession is thought of as repetition— mathematically this is expressed by counting, adding or multiplying; but these methods are limited, and only represent linear growth. Time is aggressively warped in the space of obsession and cannot be accurately expressed by a simple counting of the accumulation of minutes, seconds or moments. Within the void of obsession, time and duration have an intensifying effect. Stripped of all distractions the obsessive’s faculties and attentions are hyper-focused. In mathematics, when discussing growth over a period, multiplication alone is not sufficient and instead we use exponents. In equations, exponents are a way of expressing a situation where you begin with a set of conditions and change in the form of growth occurs. In these situations the degree of change (the new) is unknown at the outset, as it results from exponential growth in relation to time (duration). Obsession is an example of this kind of recursive process, where the fixed idea is exponentially compounded via duration— once surrendered to or entered Obsession gives rise to new, unexpected operations which lead to new solutions, resulting in the formation of new ideas— instigating new non-linear thinking, redefinition of problems and exponential growth. As a mathematical formula, obsession’s effect could be represented as—
repetition * fixed idea duration = new.
“The rule is one can not go faster than one’s own present.” The only known place in the universe where the time’s flow could be sufficiently altered so that one could move faster than one’s own present, causing the perception of time to slow, is inside of a blackhole. “Einstein struggled to understand gravity on and off from 1907 onward. Finally in 1912 he had a brilliant inspiration. Time, he realized, must be warped by the masses of heavy bodies such as the Earth or a black hole, and that warping is responsible for gravity. He embodied this insight in what I like to call “Einstein’s law of time warps…” Blackholes are made from warped space and time; amazingly a blackhole’s space and time is warped by the enormous energy of its own warping. “For a black hole, that energy of warping is so great that it generates the warping… Warping begets warping in a nonlinear, self-bootstrapping manner. This is a fundamental feature of Einstein’s relativistic laws” an aspect that for an obsessive is mirrored in our everyday experience. The intensity of a fixed idea begets its repetition in consciousness producing its own tidal gravity, roiling time and attention into vortex.
Obsession is a phenomenological blackhole, a maelstrom in time.
Inside obsession’s event horizon there exists an intense, palpable self-awareness, a thinning, an ulceration of the barrier between instinct and dream, sensation and cognition. In this blackhole, time does not adhere to its traditional rules. Obsession is the calm center of a turbulent vortex, a void, a space born of dissonant energies and the velocity generated by them. It is a space where time is slowed in relation to the chaos that surrounds it. This space whirls and warps time. Obsession is a blackhole on the sea of time that moves like a typhoon across it’s surface. Obsession is a byproduct of intersecting flows of attention and desire in relation to time. Anything that is drawn too close to the void’s edge, toward the hole’s horizon gets dragged inward, and is swallowed by the intense whirl.
Obsession is itself an interstitial space; its dissonant energies create a singularity in the infra-thin space between desire and satiation, resulting in a rupture of the surface of the present. Entering this void constitutes a purposeful disconnection from the larger continuum of time, a descent into given moment and a willful surrender to the whirl of time. Obsessive artists are adept managers of temporal orientation, possessing an ability to move fluidly in and out of the turbulent void coupled with the capacity to parcel, appropriate or disassociate from fragments of reality in service of their pursuits.
time in the space of obsession
The obsessive experiences an extraordinary discrepancy between time on the clock and time in the mind. Obsession’s blackhole warps the perception of time relative to its geometrically measured, external duration, affording the obsessive the opportunity of becoming mentally more productive, increasing increasing the quantity and quality of decisions made over a given duration. The effect is one of descending deeper into a given moment, where the whirl of time affords the opportunity to produce unbound by the rules, limits and structures of external time’s rate of flow.
Virginia Woolf wrote that “all extremes of feeling are allied with madness” as such, tempered, controllable movement into and out of the space of obsession requires one to graft rigor onto every bit of madness. Ritual, purpose, process and practice bind forming a tether of sufficient strength— a means of egress, an escape from the void and the method by which one may return from its whirling depths. The obsessive often willingly surrenders to compulsion, but does not want to be enslaved by it. Desiring instead to remain an intact, independent ego— a conscious, thinking subject, laboring to illuminate thoughts and desires normally obfuscated by the chaos of daily life. The obsessive acknowledges and embraces their compulsive drive, tempering it with an analytical, philosophical or procedural rigor that contains and further focuses the empowering attributes of obsession by binding it with creative production, problem-solving—art thinking. “More than any other means of speculation it [art] allows us to travel back and forth seamlessly from our subjective reality to consensus and possible but unreachable wholeness. It allows a mix of the megalomaniacal delirium of unbound imagination with the humbleness of individual irrelevance.”