Memento Tabere: Reflections on Time and Putrefaction
21 Mar 2009

Motivated by a few current projects as well as some recent inspiring outputs from Nicola and Alex on the concept of decay and putrefaction, I was thinking about one of the main problems inherent to any politics or philosophy of decay. It is the problem of Time, or more precisely, the role of time in any politics or philosophy concerning the process or concept of decay as the calculus of its structure. What is the relation of decay or putrefaction to time? Is decay a narrative conception of time’s indifference to ontic differences or is it the experience of time as presence which in a Heideggerian fashion turns death into an infinitely deferred occurrence through Dasien‘s already-dying? What is exactly the role of time in decay, does this role reinscribe the correlationist appropriation of time through experience and presence or does it amount to an idealism which favors and privileges time over space? These are undoubtedly questions whose answers decide the very definition of decay. The understanding of time and its role in the process of decay is so pivotal that it can lead to different conceptions of decay. Decay as a romanticized concept, decay as a necrocratic fetish, decay as a differential form of emptiness, decay as an umwege (maze) toward base-matter and decay as an ontological fate are all decided by different understandings of time by itself and in regard to space.

My view on the role of time in decay is based on the idea of complicity between time and space. Through such complicity, the diachronicity of time and the exteriority of space are expressed by each other: While space is perforated by time’s emptiness or fundamental indifference, time’s contingency is formally and materially expressed by space’s unbound ferocity for assimilation (which according to Caillois is intrinsic to thanatropism that dissolves the ground of individuation). This is what distinguishes decay as an unwholesome participation between the most abominable of time (non-belonging and pure contingency) and the most degenerate of space (space’s tendency for infinite involutions which undermine any potential ground for the emergence of discrete entities). It is the complicity between the worst nightmares of space and time that brings about the possibility of putrefaction (even an infinite decay) as a differential form of irresolvable emptiness disguised as ideal objectivity with a generative twist. [1] (Think of Bosch’s hollow treeman, the Menger sponge, Nietzsche’s sponge, Bataille’s labyrinth, Deleuze and Guattari’s holey space and Parsani’s ( )hole complex!)

a hollow tree from hell

But what kind of complicity are we talking about? If time belongs to no one and is in absolute indifference to ontic differences (Ben Noys’s Azathothic materialism), then how can its worst nightmares participate with space? And even if despite such irresolvable incommensurability, time and space can indeed participate with each other, then how can this participation be conceived outside of the correlationist ambit?

Perhaps one hypothetical solution – merely presentable as a basis for further speculations – would entail the conception of at least two different times, one of which can bridge the exteriority or diachronicity of the absolute time to the exteriority of space. This intermediating time should be interconnected to the other conception of time (i.e. time as an absolute time which belongs to nothing and no one) as a manifest of the latter’s pure contingency. In other words, the intermediating conception of time should itself be a production of the absolute time’s pure contingency which suspends all natural laws, obstructs the operation of belonging and nullifies ontic differences. To put it differently, the second conception of time which intermediates between the diachronicity of the absolute time and the exteriority of space should itself be a symptomatic production of the absolute time’s pure contingency. Accordingly, the intermediating time does not suggest a dichotomous scission in time but a temporal and contingent conception of its absolute form. Only the vital temporality of this intermediating time can bring about the possibility of ontic difference in relation to appropriated regions (scales) of space, or the ground. The synthesis between time and space – necessary to support the ontic difference – requires the bifurcation of Time into two different but interconnected conceptions. Without such bifurication, absolute time and thanatropic space remain inherently unassociated and exterior to each other and cannot ground the conditions for the emergence of the ontic difference on any level. Perhaps, for the first time, the stoics realized the necessity of having different conceptions or readings of time in order to explain the vital syntheses of time and space. For similar reasons, Deleuze adapts and ingeniously tweaks the stoic model and comes up with two conceptions of time, the time of Aeon and the time of Chronos. The indefinite non-pulsed time of Aeon is inherently closed to the vital bodies; so there should be another conception or reading of time which can synthesize with the scales of space and support vital vibrations. The pulse time of chronos is this second conception of time which supports organic vitalities and provides Time with qualities which are compatible with the structure of corporeal beings.

If decay is the synthesis between the worst of time (non-belonging and contingency) and the worst of space (infinite involutions and ungrounding), then we try to explain the nature of this inherently incommensurable synthesis by a conjectural solution. As mentioned above, this solution requires the bifurcation of Time into (‘at least’) two different but interconnected times. After Deleuze but in contrast to his quasi-Heideggerian readings of time, these two conceptions are as follows:

1. The ungraspable and cosmic time which belongs to nothing and no one. It is the absolute time of pure contingencies which suspends all laws and eliminates all necessities.

2. The temporal conception of time which is time insofar as we experience it and therefore is characterized by ‘the access’ to its presence rather than its quiddity per se. But even more importantly the temporal conception of time supports the temporality of beings (our temporality) by providing the conditions for their emergence. These conditions are nothing but the contingencies of the cosmic and absolute time. The temporal conception of time brackets and foregrounds the contingencies of the absolute time in the form of conditions for the emergence of life (or the subject of temporality). Therefore, the temporal conception of time is an interiorized or bounded form of the absolute time, a ‘temporal set’ wherein contingencies are taken as conditions for the emergence and the continuation of existence (here continuation suggests the temporality of life). In other words, temporal time sets the contingencies of the absolute time as the ground for the determination of difference and ontic emergence through bracketing and interiorizing of pure contingencies. We call this temporal conception of time, the vital time or the time of determinations and productions. Constitutive to the ground of life, the vital time is accentuated in the organic realm through the compatibility of its interiorized and sequential structure with the sequential growth or the rhythmic difference of the organic interiority.

The vital time – the intermediary conception of time – emerges from the cosmic time of pure contingencies as ‘an interiorized set of contingencies’. As a temporal Set, the vital time interiorizes its elements which are contingencies. Since the function of this set is interiorization, it can intensively determine contingencies of the absolute time as conditions for the emergence of life, or necessities for ‘making of a difference’. In the process of interiorizing contingencies and realizing them as conditions, the vital time appropriates the exteriority of the cosmic time and turns it into an interiorized conception of time accessible by life and its manifests. Yet the cosmic time of non-belonging and pure contingencies can never be fully appropriated or assimilated (interiorized) by the vital time and its temporal conception. Why? Because the vital time is itself contingent upon the cosmic time as a temporal condition for the interiorization and bracketing of the absolute time’s contingencies and their realization as the necessary conditions required for the emergence of life. This means that since the vital time is itself a temporal condition qua contingency of the cosmic time, it cannot fully interiorize the exteriority of the absolute time qua pure contingencies. The vital time suggests only one contingency among pure contingencies of the absolute time; its fundamental functions are simultaneously supported and derailed by other contingencies. For this reason, the contingencies of the cosmic time are never fully reintegrated within the manifestations of life (viz. realized horizons of interiority) which are conditioned by the vital time. To put it differently, the vital time can be interiorized by beings as the necessary condition for their emergence because it is itself an interiorized conception of the cosmic time’s pure contingency.

Now, if the cosmic time can never be fully appropriated by and within the vital time, then the horizons of interiority inherent to manifests of life or ontic differences cannot assimilate and appropriate the contingencies of the cosmic time either. Consequently, the interiority of life is a host or a niche for the inassimilable contingencies of the cosmic time – contingencies that never completely turned into temporal conditions within the vital time. In conditioning the emergence of life, the vital time introduces nightmares of the cosmic time into the phenomena of life. The horizon of interiority inherent to the manifests of life becomes a chamber for the pure contingencies and non-belonging of the cosmic time. The cosmic time is deployed inside the vital time and correspondingly, inside the life or being that is conditioned by the vital time. This remobilization of the cosmic time’s exteriority and redeployment of its contingencies within the vital time and manifests of life posits a third conception of time. That is the conception of the cosmic time as an Insider; it is the Insider conception of the cosmic time that internalizes the incommensurability of time’s diachronicity with the exteriority of space within the manifests of life. The conception of the cosmic time as the Insider redefines the intermediary conception of the vital time as a ‘temporal agent’ which smuggles the contingencies and non-belonging of the cosmic time to life’s horizons of interiority. In other words, the Insider conception of the exterior (cosmic) time interiorizes the incommensurable tensions between cosmic contingencies within life and its manifests.

In the wake of the Insider conception of time, the termination of life does not exclusively mark the temporality of life qua its contingency because the very interiority of life (its difference and internal vitality) can unfold as the abyssal infinity of material and ontological contingencies. This unfolding of the cosmic time’s pure contingency through life and by life is expressed by decay as a dysteleologic process. In this sense, life is the medium for the incommensurable tensions between the contingencies of the cosmic time. And decay is the expression of these incommensurable tensions or contingencies along the infinite involutions of space – a complicity between time’s subtractive enmity to belonging and the enthusiasm of the space for dissolution of any ground for individuation, a participation between the cosmic time’s pure contingency and the infinite involutions of space from whose traps nothing can escape.

The process of putrefaction or decay accentuates the compulsion to return toward pure contingencies of the cosmic time through the third conception of time (i.e. the cosmic time as the Insider time). This ‘compulsion to return’ which is instigated by the Insider conception of time becomes a source of tension between the principles of the cosmic time (i.e. contingency and non-belonging) and temporal conditions or necessities of the vital time. These contingent and subtractive tensions are narrated by the degenerate qualities of space through the process of decay. [2] We can say that in decay space is perforated by time: Although time hollows out space, it is space that gives time a twist that abnegates the privilege of time over space and expresses the irrepressible contingencies of the absolute time through material and formal means.


[1] This generative twist is depicted by the medieval concept of the Tree of Rot: a “deformly deformly deformed” (Nicole Oresme) tree trunk which spews forth a cosmic range of both familiar and nameless creatures as a differential extension of its arborescent emptiness.

[2] Through this reciprocal synthesis between the dissolving thanatropism of space and pure contingency of time, these tensions are registered, or more accurately, expressed as discontinuities – perforations, fissures, cracks. The more the being insists on its horizon of interiority or the more the organic entity endures in and by means of the vital time, the more it is exposed to the tensive effects of the incommensurability between time’s contingencies which are expressed by involutions of space. In short, the more the living endures, the more it is perforated and riddled by discontinuities. It is only in decay that discontinuity is formally expressed and materially mobilized by the objectal continuity in the form of a structure overridden by fissures and holes which are held together by the object’s former self.