Deleuze’s Timed Logic (VI) The Event and Time (English Draft of Version for Sabah Ülkesi Magazine)

Square André Chénier, Carcassonne, ‘…Et l’oppresseur n’est jamais libre.’

The step is mouldy and uncomfortable. They come to sit either side of you. Remnants of tear gas in their eyes: both are crying. Your nostrils burn too. Screams and shield bashing can be heard rising from the main square. How is this an event?

Well worn, the stone has seen many epochs and will see many more. Some terrible, others joyful. Inflected by freedom, or bent by terror. Bodies, feelings, languages and ideas have met here. Now stained by fear and noxious gases. How can all of this funnel to one event?

In chapter 6 of his The Fold: Leibniz and the Event (1988), inspired by Leibniz and Whitehead, Gilles Deleuze sought new answers to these questions. Improvising on delicate and supernaturally sensitive lines from Proust, on the resonance of a ‘little phrase’ through musical instruments, Deleuze’s response constitutes one of the most beautiful illustrations of his philosophy of the event:

There’s a concert tonight. It’s the event. With their harmonics or submultiples, sound vibrations spread through space. They have internal properties of height, intensity and timbre. Instruments or voices do not merely project those sounds; each sound source perceives its own and thereby perceives others. These perceptions are active, expressing one another, or they are prehensions perceiving each other.

The Fold/Le pli p81/109

We usually think of an event as a happening, positioned in space and time, and experienced by different viewers. Did you listen to the speeches on 6 March 1957? Such events can be uncertain. There might be irresolvable disagreements about what was experienced. But something happened and we can frame it externally in enclosed space and delimited time.

Deleuze denies this commonplace view, replacing it with ideas of infinitely extended and interlocking processes. These are the concert’s sounds echoing across space and time. They resonate in different domains: intensity and timbre; flesh and wood; words and ideas. And they are expressed by different activities (singing, violin playing).

Music is an example. The smell of gas, the damp of rotten city streets, an idea of freedom also spread as processes through matter, language and bodies. Yet the example is important because it captures the harmony and disharmony of multiple layers of the event emerging from an underlying chaos, always ready to engulf them again, like a fragile improvisation of a familiar tune against the wild background of freest jazz.

For Deleuze, not only are there many events, but each event is many. They give consistency to chaos by changing, not one, not some, but all processes according to a creative intervention which thereby extends through all of space and time and all scales, from the infinitely small to the very largest.

We can think of this contrast between commonplace events and Deleuze events formally. The ordinary sense of event is like a change on a screen for different viewers: an emission source and its reception points. Did you see that? The Deleuzian event is a wave through all things set off by a creative act that is itself caught in infinitely many waves: multiple layers of rippled surfaces. How are you riding your waves?

So when you console your friends, sketching out a home free from sounds of fear and pain, where order no longer depends on bringing force to the city, your words absorb and respond to the whole of time and space by participating in new and different series of processes.

Events are always about activity, a creative response to a chaotic whirl. They cannot be about passivity alone, because mere reception would alter not a thing. This means events always have the potential for change for the better, or for the worse. Nothing is written.

It is only to be rewritten. As Martin Luther King did when amplifying the event of 6 March 1957 – Ghana’s Independence Day – into a refrain for emancipation spreading out through space and time: ‘There is something in the soul that cries out for freedom.’

Deleuze always links pairs of processes whereby emergent patterns are chaotically made and unmade. Every creative act brings harmony to series of processes, but it is inevitably accompanied by new forms of disharmony. Deleuze’s baroque event-waves are turbulent. Progress in them is in cycles, from local to whole and back to local, not in rising spirals from particular to general and upwards to the universal. He is no idealist.

As King says for Ghana, drawing lessons for the aftermath of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, ‘the road to freedom is a difficult, hard road. It always makes for temporary setbacks.’ Yet, like King, Deleuze does not take the misfortune inherent to events as cause for despair or nihilism, because the feelings, intensities and ideas necessary for free creative acts remain and recur, while specific negative facts cannot. Souls will yearn again for freedom even after these souls have passed.

The fabric of events requires creative action. As Deleuze concludes, following Whitehead, novelty is necessary for an event to resonate differently. We have no choice but to ask ourselves again ‘How?’, ‘Where?’, ‘Who?’ ‘Which?’ The answers we find to these problems will be for all times, not as eternal, but as living signs for the acts of others.

This is a demanding philosophy of events, but an affirmative one too, in enjoining us to participate in all worlds, with whatever individual intensities and gestures we are capable of. No matter what temporary solutions we find on that edge between harmony and disharmony, our individual acts cannot avoid also being collective.

How should we act, given this philosophy of the event? Nearly twenty years earlier than his work on Leibniz, Whitehead and the baroque, Deleuze gave some indications, in his book on the Stoics, The Logic of Sense. In a foreshadowing of his philosophy of the event, the book is divided into interlocking series, not separate chapters.

Its twenty-first series is called ‘of the event’. The lesson is that revolt against violent wounds is only a true concern for free citizens of the world acting to be worthy of the event. Freedom is foremost freedom from resentment. Free citizens try not to repeat the systematic violence brought down upon them. An act worthy of the event replays it by countering its wounds and turning them into affirmative signs.

Speaking against colonialism, slavery and racism, Martin Luther King gives a concrete example of such a counter act in the parliamentary transition to a free Ghana:

The thing that impressed me more than anything else that night was the fact that when Nkrumah walked in, and his other ministers who had been in prison with him, they didn’t come in with the crowns and all of the garments of kings, but they walked in with prison caps and the coats that they had lived with for all of the months that they had been in prison.

The free creative act of commemorating oppression, resisting a rapid and resentful turnover from one bad power to another mirroring it, is what Deleuze means by ‘counter-actualising’ the event. The wound cannot be denied but it can be transformed into something affirmative. We once were prisoners, now we are free to recall our imprisonment and try to be worthy of the event in resisting new forms of oppression, for all of humanity.

The event is not simply Nkrumah walking into the parliamentary chamber carrying signs of his incarceration. Like the concert, it is in the reverberation of that act far and wide in other creative acts, such as King’s speech for Montgomery and the way others took up his call for freedom without vengeful violence and resentful institutions.

In his dual magnum opus of enigmatic essay and ground-breaking metaphysics, The Logic of Sense and Difference and Repetition, Deleuze thinks of these events through an extraordinarily inventive and revolutionary philosophy of time. The event doesn’t unfold from the past into the present and then forwards into the future, according to well ordered causal chains. Instead, in any event there is a complex – baroque – overlay of times defined as processes between future, past and present.

Deleuze’s philosophy of time combines with philosophy of event to give the latter greater precision and a stronger response to the question of why we should be convinced by it. The idea of the event spreading through space and time should be understood as processes where each time takes another and transforms it according to a signature form.

For instance, the past takes the present by making it pass away. Therefore, to understand any event, we should look for how its present is being made to pass, how it is becoming obsolete, ineffective, a matter of record and not true creativity. For Ghana, Africa and the world, King renders this as ‘an old parliament passing away’:

“We are no longer a British colony, we are a free, sovereign people,” all over that vast throng of people we could see tears. And I stood there thinking about so many things. Before I knew it, I started weeping. I was crying for joy. And I knew about all of the struggles, and all of the pain, and all of the agony that these people had gone through for this moment.

All these processes are connected. In the passing away, there is also the way the present takes series from the past and transforms them, concentrating the past by rerouting wrongs into future anticipations: the way the present takes charge of the future by giving a momentum to it, as in Nkrumah’s words on a future of freedom and sovereignty quoted by King.

So if you asked yourself why an event transforms all others, why an event is not circumscribed, but rather in touch with all that has been and will be, the answer is in the ways times transform each other and themselves. The past takes itself on by funnelling everything that has been into a joint passing away in the present. As the present passes, it passes into all of the past understood as mere passing away.

Mere passing shouldn’t be understood as fixity, as a mere matter of record. It is the exact opposite. Mere passing is a full turmoil of changes in all things past. Deleuze calls this the ‘pure past’. We can understand it and, more importantly, put it into effect in our response to events, by grasping that we cannot exclude any past from the present event. We are burdened with all of the past, but as whirlpool of change. Yet this is not a burden of despair.

The point is that all of the past is in the event, as having passed and continuing to pass differently. It is therefore ready to be remade, not as something that cannot be undone yet must be submitted to, as tyrants and fraudulent historians always claim, turning the past into a despotic weight, but as something to be made differently and better. Nothing is written.

While all these processes of time are interlinked, Deleuze privileges those where the future transforms the past, the present and itself. For the past, the future adds a necessary transformation to destiny. Thanks to the future, an event we seem born into becomes a role we can replay, resist and turn around. We know this well in events, when we grasp our destiny, not as a prison, but as the possibility to be free, yet still as who we were destined to be. Destiny is there to be recast.

For the present, the future brings a cut, Deleuze calls it a caesura. Every present is a moment of pure freedom, a break in time where something – not everything – can be the fissure whereby all else will be made to become different. The lesson here is that in any event there is an art to where, when and by who the caesura can be acted upon, where we can cut into the flow of events and respond to novelty.

When taking on itself, the future wipes all things away. Instead of understanding events as a constant filling up of the world with things from the past, the future must be understood as the eternal return of the potential for a novelty changing everything. In Proust, this might be the replaying of a ‘little phrase’ from Vinteuil’s sonata. For Deleuze, it is the radical and affirmative refrain taken from Nietzsche, ‘only difference returns, never the same.’

Decadent epochs like ours entertain a shaky and corrosive certainty that nothing can be new, because all has been done before and better, including humanity itself. Against this, Deleuze teaches that the idea of death as filler of cemeteries and record of things past only concerns the identity of things, not the life that made them worthy to be called an event and to be cherished in being brought back differently: ‘… to draw an abstract line from the event, keeping only its contour and splendour: to re-enact ones events, a counter-actualisation.’ (LoS, 176)

What conclusions can we draw from Deleuze’s redefinition of the event as a transformation of times? First, all events are connected in ongoing changes forward and back in time. Second, these transformations follow from interventions in the present. These acts are active and passive: they make changes but also undergo them. Third, there isn’t one order of events, but a multiplicity of them, offering different perspectives according to different individuals and their actions.

Fourth, this multiplicity is itself a connection of different versions of the whole of time. These interact but cannot be reduced to a single reductive account. Fifth, this is an affirmative version of events and time. It affirms potential for change and for difference, against ideas of inevitability and settled truths applicable to all.

Finally, every event is collective and individual, where neither should be identified solely with human selves or groups; animals, plants and rocks are also individuals and collectives. We are never alone in affirming an event differently, but every affirmation only happens through individual appreciations and efforts resonating together as collectives.