complex time, ethics and invention


Introduction and audience interviews: 15 minutes.
Production notes:
*no video images on main large projection screen
*wideangle lens DV camera taping interviews and audience (visible to audience on TV monitor).
*VHS deck taping feed from DV cam. ( cued up to 35 min. at start)



*Stop VHS.
*rewind VHS and switch to projector playback. hit play on VHS. Image on large screen.
* prepared montage playing through VHS projection onto main screen.
*DV continues to record and is visible to audience on TV monitor
*Begin lecture.


I've always felt a strange agitation and sensual turbulence in museums.

Of course experiencing this through the complicated veil of Walter Benjamin's essay on mechanical reproduction has led me to question why I get so worked up. I side with Benjamin on the one hand, agreeing that the politicization of art must be practiced to counter the aestheticization of politics. However I also feel his struggle with the transcendental point of view : the aura is something tangible that gets locked into material, into works of art. This sets up a very difficult conflict.

I have to distinguish what KIND of art this happens with.

Autographic pieces, pieces the author has directly manipulated, touched, fought with.

As opposed to allographic pieces which are merely notations that the author ( architect, writer or filmmaker ) has laid down to be recreated. Autographic pieces hold a kind of chthonic force which seems to me to have captured a fragment of the soul of the creator through the vehicle of presence. This point of view, I hasten to add, is not entirely at odds with a post humanist/ post- post modernist view of cultural artifacts.

So for years, museums have seemed to me to be giant orgone boxes.

Some more than others. It's that the fragments that reside in these museums carry a trace, an indexical trace, of their past experiences, and not in a meaningful way but in an invisibly forceful manner. Wandering through museums can be like moving through an untuned grand piano. The organism responds to certain fragments and their energies in a disorderly manner.

What is an orgone box, you ask?

engines of perception engendered image

To quote from the skeptic's dictionary, which may be found online, " Orgone is an alleged type of "Primordial Cosmic Energy" discovered by Wilhelm Reich in the late 1930s. Reich claimed that orgone energy is omnipresent and accounts for such things as the color of the sky, the failure of most political revolutions, and a good orgasm. In living beings, orgone is called bio-energy or Life Energy. Reich believed that orgone energy is "...demonstrable visually, thermically, electroscopically and by means of Geiger-Mueller counters." Reich, who ultimately was locked up after having his books burned by the US government, was in prison because he "....refused to obey an injunction against selling quack medical devices such as the Orgone Accumulator and orgone "shooters," devices which allegedly could collect and distribute orgone energy, thereby making possible the cure for just about any medical disorder...."

You can also find plans online to make orgone accumulators. Good luck.

What if we could learn to tune an entire building to allow a more coherent resonance to emerge? Or a film? And what would this resonance be with- an invisible energy, or social structures we hope to destabilize? Of course, the role of a museum curator is to sense this implicit order, and arrange our perceptions such that the sequence of art works becomes something more than a simple commentary on the artist's placement in time, or a perceived theme that resonates and mutates as one moves from one piece to the next.

There would be something alchemical in this process; using aura as a dowsing stick to sense the essence of the work. Or develop a critical intuition. Essence in this case is no longer bounded by aesthetic or symbolic criteria, but has to do with a set of impressions the work carries from its encounters with the material and temporal. In his introduction to Focillon's book 'The Life of Forms in Art' , Jean Mollino states:

'The moment is a complex situation, in which multiple orientations and diverse polarities are placed side by side, meet and collide, and in the midst of which those ruptures occur that are called events.

We thus come to the idea of multiple temporalities, of a layered temporality in which each domain, each level of historical reality, advances according to its own rhyhthm and largely independent of the rhythms of other domains. " We may in this way be led to observe a sort of mobile structure of time that displays , in accordance with the diversity of movement, many different kinds of relationships. '"

As we live in an era where such a quasi-mystical capacity of a work to organize folds of perception around itself has been confused with the symbolic responsibilities of the form and not its directly performative or telluric qualities, my introduction to this text may be leaving some readers looking for the clearer logic that emerges from a devitalized modernist or posthumanist agenda. But, think on this example: the Prince Rupert drop, a phenomonon observed by glassblowers. Most bits of molten glass dropped into water will cool too rapidly and fracture violently. However. If one allows a molten bit of glass to drip like honey into water, having achieved a classic teardrop shape before touching the water, the glass will rapidly anneal. It will not crystallize, and when it has cooled its solid form will appear to be a teardrop shape.

It will also have a very thin hairlike filament which trails away from the tail of the drop. In the image shown here, the internal stress of the drops are visible. This stress develops as a sort of surface tension created by the differential rate of cooling as the drop solidifies.

One can attempt to smash this form with a hammer to no avail, if one directly pounds upon the drop. However, the slightest damage to the tail- such as snipping it off with a pincer, will cause the Rupert drop to explode. Leaving behind shattered glass and a powdery dust. Protective gear is recommended for those who wish to try this experiment.

How does this example substantiate the implicit thesis that a museum could be like a giant orgone box, fine tuning the energies of people moving through the building in conjunction with the art displayed therein? Orgone accumulators are apparently constructed out of consecutive layers of metal and wood.

Gehry and liebeskind images: Bilbao, Berlin Jewish Museum

The Rupert drop is an example of a material predilection, a temporo/materially oriented intelligence which captures the behavior of a system as it undergoes a phase transition. We know that the molten glass is in a far from equilibrium state as it encounters the water yet its form at that moment works synergistically with the change in temperature to arrest the energy in the phase transistion and to temporarily delay the crystallization process underway. The phenomenon of a soliton wave, the likes of which grow from foot high standing waves to the size of tsunamis in the ocean, may be used as another materially based example. (More on this idea later as regards Daniel Liebeskind's Berlin museum. )


Of course, the sensibilities of a crowd of people moving through a building cannot be modeled upon only two materials interacting according to a single form and a change in temperature. There are much more complex variables at play. There are however ways to identify the devices which could entrain groups of people or the perception of single individuals, such that a coherent behavior emerges and can be observed and modeled.

I would like to suggest we live, everyday, in complex time. This is of course in tune with comments made by Bergson, Prigogine, Deleuze, Serres, deLanda, and many other recent thinkers who posit that our previously monolithic, macroscopic, linear model of time is no longer viable, and should be replaced with a more nuanced, turbulent, simultaneously reversible and irreversible models.

This should then be understood as a rehearsal for practices in the design realm, whereby we might be able to come to some kind of useful conclusion about what the consequences of living complex time would be, and how one might actually intentionally precipitate a storm of complex time.

What exactly is complex time? Classical dynamics developed a model for physics based on time which is reversible. Time in which T= -T. In Bergson's writing this isolated, closed idea of time's absence from participation in the lived world has been challenged. Duration becomes the theoretical substrate for thinking about evolution. I am not referring to duration in the form of a singular, simple time which can move forward and backwards, but a complex and multiply threaded time which has larger flows of continuity with eddies and stagnant pools within it. With crystals, sheets, and tsunamis, as well. Beckett notes that "The individual is a is the seat of a continual process of decantation- decantation from the vessel of future time, pale, sluggish, and monochrome, to the vessel contianing the fluid of past time, agitated and multicolored by the phenomena of its hours."

Theories of complex time have forced a dramatic rethinking of design research, and moreover a rethinking of self within designed 'space' ( be it architecture, film, or narrative structure), since neither the device nor the body affected by the device exist in closed stasis any longer. Preexisting structures have been forced to give way to dialogue. The resulting new system that forms around a constantly evolving and shifting relationship between the object and the subject thus can be modeled through a dialogic paradigm, one in which dialogs are at first intelligible and linguistic dialogs- language systems, or even forms- and which then may be understood intersecting with material dialogs- more abstract and physical exchanges of force and capacity. These dialogs are as effective as linguistic series; even more so perhaps, through the abstract, specific, meaningless dialogs of material behavior.

The techniques that Bakhtin identifies in his writing on the evolution of the novel, for example parody, hybridization, carnivalization, multiple languages and styles, can all be applied within an extended model of dialog to matter. In such a case we no longer look for an aesthetically or symbolically based linguistic series to evaluate design; but search for the more energetic and intense flows that both matter and virtuality set in motion when they interact with blockages, valves, and intensifiers in their milieu. The Rupert drop is a simple example, but useful in that it demonstrates the facticity of a material behavior which defies expectations.

Elias Canetti's research in his work Crowds and Power provides a cultural rather than material example of similar phenomenon. In it he describes trigger points that characterize a crowd according to event, or allow a crowd to suddenly shift orientation or behavior. These trigger points emerge primarily from systemic conditions of shared emotion or event rather than in form. We can hypothesize an extension of this thesis into the testing of both form and event based phenomena to judge their efficacy in producing systemic effects in larger social structures.

Bakhtin's examination of narrative structures which demonstrate a more intimate involvement between the characters of a narrative and the furnitures that surround them in that space is instructive. He suggests that the evolution of the novel parallels the transformation of early cultures (what Lukacs calls 'integrated civilizations' in his 1923 Theory of the Novel ) toward self awareness, producing a 'modern' rift between subject and world. We see in this proposed evolution a moment where the character becomes able to both influence and be influenced by the world around them- changing the very nature of the time they inhabit and the way they engage destiny.

Over a quite long historical span, the map Bakhtin provides of characters drawn from Apulius, Cervantes, Rabelais, and Dostoevsky reveals this change in the destiny of the character who is profoundly inflected by the spaces within which the story unfolds.

Both the spatial and the symbolic nature of a space is not neglected in Bakhtin's development of this- as DeCerteau says, space is practiced place, and the manner of that practice is addressed by Bakhtin, showing that in a narrative structure where there is little contamination between the nature of the character and the space of the narrative, a simple, unchanging time is the substrate of the story. This substrate can be mapped out as a circular or endless temporality [cf. Eliade in his The Myth of the Endless Return. Integrated civilizations do not have the ability to separate self from world, and so self and time remain in a unified, continuous flow. This manner of being in time is not restricted to ancient civilizations; we have all lived through it at one point in our lives or other (adolescence). Hence the usefulness of this model for us as supposed moderns.

The separation, or distance which develops as epic time dissolves into modernity and is replaced by a form of alienation is a moment where the individual recognizes a distance between themselves and the world around them- and where they begin to participate in what Bakhtin calls the critical interanimation of languages.

However, this does not yet reach the logical conclusion that Bakhtin identifies in novels by writers like Dostoevksi, where the evolution or destiny of the characters is in a constantly evolving state thorough their interaction with the spaces and events they encounter. Their identities, in fact the very capacities of living which they bring to reality, change over the course of the tale.


We see here a three part evolution of the individual's relation to time and lived space. In the first, the destiny of the individual is an isolated system- it exchanges no information or energy with the world around it. In the second, the individual's destiny is a closed system. They may exchange some energy, but deep transformation of the system and exchange of energy and information is not achieved.

The third example opens the floodgates and allows destiny to mutate as the individuals engage in the forces of the world surrounding them and change it in turn.


This is conveniently close to the three part schema that the philosopher Charles Peirce develops as his logical categories of firstness, secondness and thirdness.

Let me discuss these in a brief, and perhaps rather hasty gloss of Peirce.

three bergson sketches- cones-

Let's say that firstness can be evaluated as the condition an entity experiences directly, in absence of self reflection or signification (in absence of time). Secondness is the modern state identified above, where the individual or system becomes aware by identifying difference between itself and an 'OTHER'. Secondness would be the presence of simple form of time and memory. Thirdness is a state whereby the individual or system no longer exists within a blind spot, where it is itself partof the signifying relationship, and now can 'see' itself within the relationship as well as seeing the relationship. This final state would be the virtual copresence of multiple strands and sheets of time, all hybridizing and cross fertilizing each other.

As has been noted by many, including Deleuze in his Cinema One and Cinema Two, and Paul Ryan, whose work on Peirce has informing my academic research for number of years, this set of relations is enough to develop all possible logical relations.

image of relational circuit onscreen

As you may have already intuited, there is a connexion I would like to reveal between this idea of thirdness found in Paul Ryan's model, in the diagrams shown here, and the idea of what Bakhtin calls heteroglossia. Heteroglossia is that condition in a novel or in spoken everyday life where the characters and the reader, the author and the medium, have mixed in a profoundly hybridized state.

Heteroglossia results in an activation of memory that is deliberately complex, and insists that both the reader and the author (and by default the characters) exist in a multithreaded temporality which does not allow a singular state of being (or firstness) to dominate. In fact, we can argue that Bakhtin's notion of heteroglossia and the novel's inventive role in producing it is in synch with the condition of thirdness. Bear in mind that thirdness here is not necessarily the transcendentally motivated teleology it may seem to be... at least not entirely. Thirdness by its nature INCORPORATES firstness and secondness. As you can see in Paul Ryan's diagram, which he terms the 'relational circuit', there is a cyclic closure between firstness and secondness.

These states can all connect, and should probably be imagined to do so in a simultaneous time, as opposed to a sequential time. We don't have to go from 1st to 2nd to 3rdness, but can exist in all three at the same time, or rapidly oscillate back and forth from state to state.

decerteau time diagram


But, now the key question emerges.

What are the DEVICES which occasion that oscillation from state to state? Earlier I suggested that museums accomplish this transition, somehow.

Michel Serres has distinguished the difference between an engine and an organism. Engines process lots of energy, but little information in relation to the scale we recognize them to be engines- for example, the combustion engine processes lots of gas, but if we consider it qua its status as a single engine, very little information. Even in a contemporary engine with embedded computer chips, the information processed pales in comparision to the energy.

However, even a single celled organism processes vast amounts of information in parallel to the energy it takes in and outputs. Every bit of information it processes- about its environment, and internally through constant response to genetic programming- directly affects its destiny. The combustion engine's destiny depends on gas, primarily. The organism's destiny is a consequence of integrated multiple informational flows and energy.

These informational flows are both long term and short term flows of memory and can be understood to be multiple strands of time. This is why Serres calls the organism a convertor of time. It folds and bundles faster and slower strands or sheaves of time together, allowing the speed of a sentence read by a person to mingle with the caffeine they had for breakfast. These speeds convert each other.

Complex time is an experience of the overlap of multiple times, and the consequences of these overlaps are determined by the intensity of memory locked into the systems or individual.

Foucault notes that

'...the body is the inscribed surface of events (traced by language and dissolved by ideas), the locus of a dissociated self (adopting the illusion of a substantial unity) and a volume in perpetual disintegration. Genealogy, as an analysis of descent, is thus situated within the articulation of the body and history. Its task is to expose a body totally imprinted by history and the process of history's destruction of the body... genealogy... seeks to reestablish the various systems of subjection: not the anticipatory power of meaning, but the hazardous play of dominations.'

This quote illustrates the idea that the body is a diagram of the forces exerted upon it: social, economic, political, moral, and ethical. These forces determine the configuration of the subject through language, film, social organization, architecture, modes of production, and the like.

Such a model views habit itself as a force and demands an examination of its relationship to mechanisms of perception, forms and program.

This exposition provides us with the criteria necessary to evalute how devices work. We must establish the frame by which they set up system boundaries and then question how these boundaries permit significant, destiny altering interaction between systems over time.

Systemic amnesia facilitates the gap between experience and memory that becomes, in Deleuze's words, "... an instrument of freedom, '... a machine which should triumph over mechanism," "to use the determinism of nature to pass through the meshes of the net which this very determinism had spread.


images from Liebeskind


As I mentioned above, the idea of the Rupert drop seems apropos of Liebeskind's Berlin museum. At what scale does this project engage the city- is it a giant orgone box? Perhaps. Certainly it is wrapped in enough metal now to interest contemporary Reichians.

More likely, the building has placed itself in a cultural context such that it brings certain absent histories in the city to the fore. The absence of memory in the city- the city's own amnesia- is a rigid body- like the rupert drop- filled with incredible tensions. Perhaps Liebeskind's project is the snipper that will cut the tail of this drop. Other tensions existed in Bilbao... and the museum there, yet another giant metal clad box, has managed to catalyze them. Economically, politically, the city had been frozen and the building and accompanying global press hype has changed that arrest (and Gehry's destiny). Whether these buildings are really orgone boxes or not is NOT the issue. Whether they accomplish a tuning of social structure IS the issue. Which aspects function allographically, and which autographically, is the crux of the question. There are other examples I could cite which work toward this goal.


fuzzy image of Tschuim's la villette


Amnesia in this case, in relationship to complex time, is not a sacrifice of responsibility, but an intensification of awareness and responsibility. Bakhtin's concept of heteroglossia is one general method toward this form of amnesia: The partial monovocity which one finds within the earlier examples that Bakhtin examines in his essay on the chronotope are contrasted by the heteroglossic conditions which accumulate in examples from Dostoevski, in the daily life of a peasant or by extension in the visitor to the Berlin Museum. Heteroglossia, Bakhtin says, is '...another's speech in another's language....'] It may be useful here to contrast the different storytelling strategies of Liebeskind and the Ralph Appelbaum installation in PCF's Washington DC holocaust museum.

To clarify: this hyridization in architecture is not the incorporation of compositional strategies lifted from other disciplines, but is the incorporation of techniques such that a condition of thirdness will emerge. These tactics are effective only when chained to other larger virtualized systems- economic, religious, political, ideological.

The devices we find employed in certain forms of minimalist art approach heteroglossia through an odd landing pattern; These strategies of dislocation are initially impenetrable; however, as in the minimal compositions of Reich, Glass, and Adams, after a certain acclimatization period a shift in perception occurs- a shift analogous to the one that a perceiving subject also experiences, interestingly, in Dan Graham's pavilion projects, (cf. the installation on the roof of DIA). This shift in perception opens the viewer up to continuously deepening levels of information and rhythms which the work begins to articulate. In this way, the work becomes a mise en abyme of the world- what Deleuze calls the Time-Image. The work occupies a machinic realm that could be called, perhaps, a radical phenomenology, in the way that it can function purely upon the sensibility of the eye or the ear. However I argue, with Bakhtin, Tschumi et al, that the formal maneuver is not sufficient to accomplish heteroglossia, but must be chained to an event (narrative) which qualifies the form. Working to mix program with minimalist spatial techniques could be informed by the shift in scale which allows Elias Canetti to catalog crowd types according to events and psychic states: baiting crowds, feast crowds, the hunting pack, the war pack.

clip from blowup

It is clearly implied by Bakhtin that the dialogic principles he identifies as emerging within a novelization of writing and speech genres has an ethical result. In heteroglossia, the refracted series of selves is fundamentally different from a unitary language and culture which does not recognize a distance between the individual's daily life, their life within representation, and myth.

The example he gives vis a vis the illiterate peasant is illustrative of this and should be quoted at length :=

'... Consciousness finds itself inevitably facing the necessity of having to choose a language. With each literary-verbal performance, consciousness must actively orient itself amidst illiterate peasant, miles away from any urban center, naively immersed in an unmoving and for him unshakable everyday world, nevertheless lived in several language systems: he prayed to god in one language ( church Slavonic) , sang songs in another, spoke to his family in a third, and when he began to dictate petitions to the local authorities through a scribe, he tried to speaking yet a fourth language...all these are different languages, even from the point of view of abstract sociodialectological markers. ...As soon as a critical interanimation of languages began to occur in the consciousness of our peasant... then the inviolability and predetermined quality of these languages came to an end, and the necessity of actively choosing one's orientation among them began. ' p295-6

This example differs from a cynically critical position (certain strains of modernism and postmodernism) in that it suggests an affirmative practice which might emerge from the employment of hybridized and heteroglossic design techniques- or, as Bakhtin clearly states, in the practice of everyday life. In this way it could effect a complete reinvention of value systems, in the midst of conducting a critical practice. The example of the peasant is perhaps closest to the examples that we might find in deCerteau, and clearly illustrates the potential role of heteroglossia and hybridization as devices to foster an expanded subjectivity. It would be absolutely KEY to identify the architectural and cinematic locations where what Bakhtin in this passage calls the '... critical interanimation of languages...' might occur, as only there could the double affirmation he is suggesting actualize itself.

An absolutely translucent example may be found in the recent film After Life by Kore-eda.

The premise of this film is simple. After dying, one has a week to choose a single memory and make a short film of this memory to take into eternity. This memory is the only one you will take with you. There are caseworkers who assist you with making the choice and filming the memory.

Each character Kore- eda introduces us to has a different response to this assigned task. We also learn that the caseworkers are individuals who for varying reasons could not decide which memory to take with them when they were asked to choose. They have remained in a sort of limbo.

One case worker, it turns out, had a previous life relationship to several people who pass through his division. Ultimately his encounter with these people who he knew during his life prompts him to make a choice which at the end of the film positions his memory in a remarkable place. He films his own memory on another person's set- a person he was indirectly related to- and this set is a bench which actually was a key location for him in his own life. In fact it was chosen as well by his fiancee, for her own memory to take into eternity. But he also includes in his short film his fellow caseworkers at the institute. This is a beautiful analogy for the workings of memory in general and of course an allegory of the filmmaking process in general.

If we examine this example in terms of Peirce's thirdness and Bergson's conical diagram of memory, we find that this person has cleverly placed his memory consciously in both his own present, his own past, and his own future.

bergson image sketch intensified with bench

*He does not want to lose his own past - hence he uses the bench which both he himself had sat on during his life, his fiance had chosen for her own set, and her husband had chosen for HIS set-

*he does not want to lose his present memory as a caseworker- so his film includes footage of himself on the set, and his fellow caseworkers-

*he does not want to move into eternity unaware of the intensive realm of memory- so he makes sure that the film records his awareness of all three states. He short circuits the limits of memory. Like Chris Marker's hero in La Jetee, he cannot return to the time he yearns for- but he takes a complete awareness with him. Perhaps this is thirdness (total awareness), but without the final connexion back to firstness (direct experience) that Paul Ryan suggests we need to complete the relational circuit.

How would a museum function to achieve this? Film? Architecture, space, or narrative?

Elsewhere, I have written about what I call savage practices. The savage is a precondition- or perhaps a result- of thirdness, and the establishment of complex time. I have suggested that through our conscious encounter with complex time a reconfigured subject may emerge. Cessation of habit critically deployed leads to a human constantly engaged in the production, the living, of Spinozist 'active affections'.

To borrow a term from John Knesl, an encounter with complex time leaves us stuttering gods. To stutter, GODLIKE, would be to be a god such as Borges has described in his short story 'The Circular Ruins': one who invents herself through dreaming, a constitution moment by moment of the body, the consciousness, intentionally.... to establish a new relationship to fate.


15 minutes
*Questions and answers.
*DV continues to record and play on monitor
*VHS tape will now be playing back audience interviews recorded 35 mins ago, through video projector.

essay written july 1999 remixed, February-March 2000

ed keller


Thanks to Bernard Tschumi, Stan Allen, and my design studios at the GSAP between 1998 and 2000.




Works cited:

Bakhtin, M. The Dialogic Imagination

Canetti, E Crowds and Power

Lukacs, G. Theory of the Novel

Eliade, M. The Myth of the Eternal Return

Deleuze, G and Guattari, F. A Thousand Plateaus

Serres, M. Hermes: Literature, Science, Philosophy

Foucault, 'Nietzsche, Geneaology, History'

Deleuze, Bergsonism