Tracing and Mapping Time


This is just a quick update on my research project. Some exploratory notes on the domain of research. 

My research project on Lav Diaz is becoming a rigorous cartographic project of existing literature exploring the domain of all possible and impossible fields that might actually play in dispensing and distilling the idea of cinema and time. It is unforgivable to perform cartographic sketch for a filmmaker coming from only one root or one guiding framework. Frameworks are arborescent structures. They are centric and centered on subjectivity and historical & cultural determination decreasing potentiality of the plane generative of pure events. The plane for this project must manifest as a empirical space for contending issues which includes not only the problematics of time and cinema but also the following: ontology of representation which dates back to Plato, emancipatory power of cinema , the author/auteur, affect and perception, spectatorship, political economy of time, ethics, the Other and the Minoritarian, digital era, etc.

After tracing and mapping ‘time’ from all directions: from Rodowick (digital x time) to Flusser (post-history) to Bliss Cua Lim (postcolonialism x time) to Agamben (time vs. history) to Deleuze (who reads Bergson, Spinoza and Kant) to Guattari (transversality, ecology) to Derrida (time’s invisibility, differance, trace, critique of metaphysics of presence) to Massumi (perception x time), I am now entering  a differential passage.

  • Toni Negri for labour time
  • Bernard Stiegler for technology x time
  • Jacques Ranciere for image x politics and his writing on Bela Tarr
  • Quentin Meillassoux for his striking proclamation of ‘time as absolute’ in After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency​
  • Ray Brassier for relation of time to extinction
  • some contemporary writings on slow cinema (recently Justin Remes’ Motion(less) Pictures: The Cinema of Stasis)

The project is becoming a hyperplane, a manifold of intersecting discourses, which will eventually collapse into a field or a network of relations that would answer the question: What is the relationship of time and the film image? 

Time is the most difficult component of the project, while Diaz’s cinema remains as an object of philosophical and critical analysis. The relation of time and Diaz’s cinema is a difficult mix of philosophy and cinema studies. I can, however, remain considerably ‘disciplined’ by focusing only on film studies aspect reviewing and integrating only the literature available within the film discipline along with extensive formal film analysis, generating a work of secondary literature. The addition of time as a component to the research stretches the domain of the project.

Spatialized Time: Sexagesimal System and Circular Time

The philosophical inquiry on time is a 5,000-4,000-year-old problem. Before the rise of Greek philosophy, ancient civilizations (Sumerian, Egyptians, Hindu, Mayan etc.) have already participated in inscribing the idea of time-as-measure. Sumerians invented the sexagesimal system of counting (e.g. 60 seconds = 1 minute, 60 minutes = 1 hr) which we used today to tell clock time. Sexagesimal system is a geometrically oriented invention used in measuring angles (e.g. 360 deg = 1 revolution), and by extension used by early geographers to locate coordinates in the map.

Sexagesimal numeral system is one of the first mathematical systems that directly relate time with space. It might be that our circular notion of time co-emerged with the invention of the sexagesimal system. A sexagesimal system is a double-system wherein the circle is a point of intersection translating time to space and space to time.

In the modern world, the sexagesimal system remains one of the means to render time as space. The clock provides circular coordinates of time reinforcing the ideation that time is circular. The notion of circularity here, however, can be seen only as a visual reference which gives time an image, but stipulations on the arrow of time or the relations among three temporal regions of past, present, future would involve distinguishing different notions of circularity e.g. reincarnation, time travel, reset, worm/blackhole metaphysics.

The sexagesimal system of time became the general means of measuring daily time. However, the clock is not the only device that can measure time. Several developments in physics measure different temporalities of objects. From temporality of sub-atomic particles to temporality of stars, scientists today observe correlations of time and distance among objects. Since time and distance are related to speed (e.g. basic formula of speed = distance/time), scientists were able to predict the duration of things, which can be correlated to one’s physical lifetime. This givenness of the methodical and scientistic measurement of time is where Quentin Meillassoux’s book After Finitude: An Essay on Contingency orients its critique of, ironically, correlationism in post-Kantian continental philosophy, which I will expound in latter posts.

But what is the relation of this sexagesimal system to Diaz’s cinema or even cinema for that matter? The image of time, or the clock time, is an anthropogenic constitution of time. It is a human invention for human use, a fulcrum of imperial and civilizational development. It is the engine of homogenization, colonization and modernity. It is the temporal center of modern capitalism and state apparatus. It is not the determination of history that constitutes the contemporary configuration of sedentary and oppressive regimes, but rather it is the temporal order of societies and clusters that considerably plays in the propagation of hierarchical structures and regulatory paradigms. As Agamben would say, and I have been quoting this several times:

“The original task of a genuine revolution… is never merely to ‘change the world,’ but also – and above all – to ‘change time.'” (Infancy and History, 91)

The politico-philosophical trajectory of this research arises from the Agambenian notion of the primacy of time over history. It therefore effaces the historical determinism pervasive in today’s cultural studies and subject-position theories, insisting on locating itself at the fringes of representation by integrating the ruinous dynamism of non-anthropogenic objects within its field of study. These objects include absence, specters, interruptions, inclinations, ruptures, inhuman movement, technological and hypermedia transductions, etc.

The whole politico-philosophical enterprise of this research involves ontological, epistemological, ethical and aesthetic questions:

  • What constitutes a revolutionary time or a time-of-revolution or -emancipation?
  • How do we know that a certain temporal constitution is ‘revolutionary’ or ’emancipatory’ in the very general sense of a word?
  • What constitutes the ‘liberation’ in Diaz’s proclamation: “We do not depend on film studios and capitalists anymore. This is liberation cinema now.” and ‘liberation theology’ in “Digital is liberation theology. Now we can have our own media. The internet is so free, the camera is so free.“? [link]
  • What type of politics constitutes this revolutionary act of ‘changing time’? Is Diaz’s cinema a revolutionary act?
  • What ethical preconditions constitutes the moment when Diaz’s himself correlates the long take with a visionary ‘framework’ of representing his culture, his being Filipino: “…this is the framework that really gives me all the things that I want to see in a film. In that sense, I represent my culture. That is what I want to share as a Filipino.”? [link]
  • What aesthetic paradigms navigate Diaz’s insistence for the effacement and erasure of time and the privileging of space:“My cinema is not part of the industry conventions anymore. It is free. So I am applying the theory that we Malays, we Filipinos, are not governed by the concept of time. We are governed by the concept of space. We don’t believe in time. If you live in the country, you see Filipinos hang out. They are not very productive. That is very Malay. It is all about space and nature. If we were governed by time, we would be very progressive and productive.” [link]

What constitutes the emergence of cinematic language, which is preceded by photography, is also the emergence of what I call a posthuman time. The invention of cinema liberates us from the clock time, or the image of time. It erases the image of time in favor of pure inhuman duration. Posthuman time=false time. This non-anthropogenic notion of time is a necessary critical gesture against the compactification of cinema studies as purely a human subject, an extension of the Enlightenment project to rationalized representations in moving image media. In the Deleuzian turn towards the ruin of representation, and in the restoration of ‘object’ in Speculative Realism today via Harman’s object-oriented ontology, and in the invention of temporal object in Stiegler’s philosophy, the notion of posthumanist objectal time provokes the collapse of the anthropocentric image of time. What arises in the cinematization of the modern world is the rise of a new form of time integrated in the network of inhuman technologies. Today, this posthuman objectal temporal structure is otherwise known as screen media: the internet, the laptop cinematheque, LED television, integrated network of computers, smart phone media technology, etc. Each of these technologies is complicit with capitalism. They are industrial temporal objects of capitalism.

Importance of Time & Temporality in Contemporary Cinema Studies

As we turn towards the digital, the political enterprise of temporal objects like cinema and other screen media became incredibly complex. Diaz’s proclamation that ‘the internet is so free’ reverberates here as a critical point of reflection. It opens several problems regarding ideas of ‘freedom’ in the digital age. Is internet freedom only limited to those who can afford the internet particularly the bourgeoisie? Is the digital divide also the class divide? If ‘internet is so free’, what type of emancipatory politics does it exhibit?

The complex field of the digital directly interfaces with contemporary problems on cinema studies. The whole culture industry is undergoing revision. Several practices are erased. DVDs are suddenly becoming obsolete as new digital formats i.e. new ‘containers’ are being created.

Objectal time is not an invariant. It changes from one medium to another, one technological interface to another. Objectal time is a materialist constitution of time. Industrialization of time gives rise to durational services and products from as complex as theme parks to as simple as 1-hr massage therapies in massage parlors. Each of this temporal enterprise uses different temporal constitutions: a form industrialization of experience. For example, with regards to difference in objectal time between analog and digital, at the atomic level, molecular events constituting the two mediums are very different. Digital cinema inscribes duration using the orderly movement of semiconductor atoms in microchips of digital cameras. The inscription of movement in analog cinema, however, is more violent and chaotic, the same chaos that Brakhage deployed in most of his films.

This expansive domain of time, with a historical scale grander than the 120-year history of cinema, remains the most critical component to this project. Arguably, time (more than space) is the most important and privileged component of cinema. It lies at the heart of  its life. As Bernard Stiegler would say, cinema is an industrial temporal object, whose conditions of emergence cannot but be related to time itself. This complicity with time is not only limited to cinema. The world of art, or any creative practice for that matter, is interspersed with temporal elements: the tenses in literature, the temporality of narrative, the chronology in History, the duration of reaction in Chemistry, scheduling style of TV or radio programs, carbon dating of artifacts in Archaeology. All of which relate back to time-as-indicator, -measure or –slot in a continuum.

However, among time-specific artistic practices, cinema is the one of most special ones because, for Deleuze and Massumi, cinema is ontogenic of time. By virtue of what he calls the time-image, and his insistence that the change occurred after WWII, time is emancipated from movement. Cinema, as an artistic practice, creates new image of time, a time which is freed from the movement of the everyday – a false time, a fabricated past (e.g. historical films) and future (e.g. science-fiction films), a slowed-down movement of objects, a time-controlling monster as in Edge of Tomorrow (2004), a glimpse of the history of a universe via spectacular (false) representations of the interstellar world. In other words, cinema is an artistic practice of generating false time and durations. It disruptively concocts a new image generative and constitutive of time.

Ontogenetic Property of the Film Image

This brings us to the constitution of time within the film image. As an example, we return to Lav Diaz. In my exploratory writings which I have yet to publish here or elsewhere, I conjectured that any moving image can be constitutive of time. Cinema uses time to create duration thereby constituting a moving/durative image, and in turn, this image constitutes a new time. It is a machine of difference. Depending on its constitution, a set of durational images can be strung together to form a montage or an edited piece of art.

In Lav Diaz’s cinema, and contrary to his privileging of space over time as in ‘applying the theory that we Malays, we Filipinos, are not governed by the concept of time. We are governed by the concept of space. We don’t believe in time…‘, his images create time. In Diaz’s cinema, there are two levels to which time is deployed from the film image: the shot and the montage. The shot in Diaz’s films lays out the formal temporal field in which bodies and spaces are generative also of time. Diaz’s shots, some of which can run up to 15 minutes, are considerably tricky. There is no general pattern or rule as to how each shot propagates time because, as Deleuze would mention in Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, the shot, or rather the frame, is a set of elements that is open to the Whole. Deleuze mentions that the Whole is not a set, but rather what allows the set to not close in itself:

“[t]he whole is devoid of sense; but it is not a set and does not have parts. It is rather that which prevents each set, however big it is, from closing in on itself, and that which forces it to extend itself into a larger set. The whole is therefore like thread which traverses sets and gives each one the possibility, which is necessarily realised, of communicating with another, to infinity. Thus the whole is the Open, and relates back to time or even to spirit rather than to content and to space.” (Cinema 2, p. 16-17)

Hence, cinematographic time in a frame remains interactive with the Open time. In my developing arguments on Diaz’s cinema, frame or shot in Diaz (although in Deleuze’s discussion, the frame and shot are distinct) is unlike a movement-image in which time is subordinated to movement. In Diaz’s films, the frame liberates and emancipates time through its violent interaction with the Open whole. This led me to invent the concept of the open image. As I see it, Diaz long durational takes explore the affective dimension of the Open whole by rendering time as a durational intensity. This Set-Whole relation, or rather cinematic timeOpen time relation, two different regimes of time, provocatively situates this politico-philosophical inquiry as anti-disciplinary.

The goal for this project is not only to explore the domain of cinematic time per se but rather extend this exploration by involving the Open whole, which includes temporal structures exterior to cinema – time involved in social construction, regulation of time in capitalism, time within thought, time & technology, time and the inscription of nation, time & its affective dimension, rivalry of time & history, time & textuality, etc. The time in question is not only limited to one and only time – that is, cinematic time, but rather, there is a need to elucidate the temporal dimension ‘exterior’ but integrative of Lav Diaz’s cinema, and also a need to establish a plausible syntactic  or disjunctive connection between time in Diaz’s cinematic world and time of society, time of history, etc.

Time here becomes a politico-philosophical lens or, in Zizek’s configuration a parallax mirror, through which Diaz’s cinema can be unraveled. Given the lengthy duration of his shots, does his films still exhibit a cinematic time or more like a postfilmic time? This brings us to the notion of montage, the lacing together, in disjunctive fashion, of long durational takes to form a narrative world. In Diaz’s films, what type of worlding or events takes place? Can we consider this new temporal event ‘new’, given that spectators, in order to fully realized the dimensional richness of Diaz’s films, have to dedicated more than 5 to 8 hours of their daily life to watch Death in the Land of Encantos (2007)? The temporal experience of a montage operates at a different degree as that of a frame. Temporality of Lav Diaz’s montage opens many political and ethical questions in cinema. The most challenging questions to ask are (re-echoing the politico-philosophical questions asked on top):

  • Is durational length an effective formal tool to dispense and disseminate liberation theology?
  • Is Lav Diaz’s cinema emancipatory? If yes, then what kind of kairopolitical practice is he doing?    

Deleuze’s two cinema books engages with the philosophical at formal level. Deleuze was very particular that there lies more to the formal dimension of films, that its content. In my engagement with Diaz’s cinema, this privileging of form over content remains a problematic concern. Diaz’s films are rich in content. But it is still a contending issue on my part as to how one should go about ‘content’. The critical closeness of content to representation leads me to revisit again the critique on the privileging of representational over nonrepresentational approaches in critical media theory. Deleuze’s book Difference and Repetition proves a useful entry towards the critical engagement with representation in media and film. This lead me to revisit the notion of the ‘I’ as the inscription of content, subjectivity  and identity in films. I proposed that, and this is still work-in-progress, the ‘I’ in time is a procession, no longer a representation but a becoming. This contention on procession over constitution strikes a chord in Difference and Repetition‘s notion of being as difference – a post-Kantian, post-Heideggerian notion of being that directly critiques representation.

It also opens the ontological dimension of Diaz’s cinema particularly in grasping the idea that this cinema of long durations co-evolved with the technological revolution of the digital. This opens up the problematic relationship among time, representation, politics and ethics in the digital era.

Trajectory of Cartography

The project proceeds from the Deleuzian ‘ruin of representation’ towards process philosophy, a practice of philosophical thinking that I adapted from Brian Massumi, which is a prominent polemical posturing of Alfred North Whitehead. But in my recent reading of Ray Brassier and the contending figures of the Speculative Realist movement, Brassier points out the problem of process philosophy:

‘I think it’s a significant problem for any process philosophy that wants to defend or prosecute a form of ontological monism based on something like ‘pure productivity’, ‘pure becoming’, ‘duration’, or whatever one chooses to call it. Because then it seems that you always have to introduce or posit some sort of conceptual contrary, some principle of deceleration, interruption, disintensification or whatever, in order to account for the upsurges of stability and continuity and consistency within this otherwise untrammelled flux of becoming and pure process.’ – (COLLAPSE III, p. 315)

In process philosophy, the distinction between givenness of change and becoming vs. causality of some agency of becoming is still major contending issue. Is change already given in this world, or is it enacted by some agent? Brassier was critical about this ‘need’ to introduce a principle of change in order for process philosophy to takes place. There is always a point of disruption in process philosophy – a clinamen – to envision a world.

Time is not entirely anthropocentric. Time is inhuman difference. And this is perhaps the challenge of the study: to account for the inhuman temporality in Diaz’s cinema, a temporality not limited to the state of affairs of contemporary politics nor a temporality limited to a particular Lacanian-Althusserian subject-positioning or a particular cultural or historical determination. It may perhaps be important again to revisit the writings of Kant, Heidegger, Husserl and ancient philosophers on time to account for transformation of the idea of ‘time’ in the  history of philosophy and representation and relate it perhaps to the conditions of emergence of Lav Diaz’s inhuman temporality. But, as all things are, this research is a work-in-progress. It has never closed in on itself, but it remains, as all texts are, Open, drifting in incompleteness, inhumanly alive.


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