You wake with a sense of foreboding — not just anxious but you sense the imminent is not good. As you make your way through your morning, things just keep going wrong — you stub your toe, run out of toilet paper, of toothpaste, you spill your coffee, bump your head (hopefully not all of these things).

Perhaps it's not something that's happening to you — you get a strange email from a friend, hear sirens roaring by, read a disturbing headline.

Of course, an omen need not be foreboding. Maybe you wake and everything falls into place. You feel optimistic, full of promise, of potential. The world yawns and brims.

What do these things mean? Perhaps nothing. Perhaps it's silly superstition. After all, how can something now foretell the future?

Well, time is not a point; it is a trajectory. The now is moving, always becoming, the past moving into a perpetual now that is always becoming the future. And this becoming, this trajectory, is in fact many trajectories, a whole series of virtual worlds intersecting (and not) — all the things you've been and done swirling through time (as time: time is not exterior to life — time is a dimension of life). This is to say, an omen is not one step within a successive series of events; it is an intersection of trajectories happening now — that same now that is itself a becoming past-becoming future-becoming now.

Things don't lead up to this moment. At least usually they don't. Time is not linear; events may be caused by something but not necessarily and even then the cause may only be local, relative. Time moves every which way — forward, backward, sideways. In fact, I'm not even sure what backward and forward even mean in this context. They can only be relative, local terms. Time is a network of moving trajectories, tubes of physio-affective flow a la Donnie Darko.

In some sense, the now is a moving node within an infinitely dense network of virtual and possible worlds. The now is a fold of time, an origami crane always being made into something else.

Time is permutation, everything always changing. Omens abound, not as signs of change but as change itself. This is not superstition; this is physics.

So of course there are omens. Of course things that happen now relate to the future. How could it be any other way?

One of Marc Lafia's multiscreen films from the series, Permutations. Time is permutation.


drwatson said...

This has been an interesting post. Usually I don't have trouble responding, and I always have a desire to keep a running conversation, while at the same time I don't want to just say something for the sake of it. I want something to grab me.

What I've noticed is that I have no particular feelings about omens - though I do love the Donnie Darko reference and I'm both fascinated and overwhelmed by the Permutations clip. I guess my problem with anything that seems like a sign is that I can't tell how much my interpretation of the omen affects/causes/creates the omen. Once I started that cycle of thinking, I've been unable to shake it.

However, time is something I think about a lot. I forget who said it first - maybe Augustine? that the Garden of Eden is about the fall into time. I remember a great professor of mine pointing out that Bambi doesn't get that in the Garden of Eden, or anywhere else, that berries will be ready in two weeks, but that man does - his future is immediately caught up in his present.

Aristotle called time a series of "now moments". It's always now, but Heidegger showed how this wasn't how we experienced time; our experience is much more complex. There's a great book by Heidegger called Zolikon Seminars where he goes to Switzerland, well Zolikon, and does a seminar for psychology students and complicated people like Freud. It's an amazing lecture series - I really think you'd dig it, despite the dislike for Heidegger's (admitted) lack of humor. (the book Poetry, Language, and Thought is where I got most of my connections between thinking and poetry)

In terms of Permutations, I'm wondering how you'd connect that with time. I mean as a metaphor, I can see how all our moments are caught up, or maybe better how a million moments are caught up together in a many, many different people. But as an individual, my experience never feels that hectic - hectic yes, but not quite like that. I mean I really enjoyed it - it'd be a wonderful thing to teach, but I don't know how long I could watch it.

That sort of becomes my issue with narrative - hell, I enjoy them. I just watched About Schmitd again - big Alexander Payne fan - and when I see those kinds of stories, one guy having a major moment in his life, I'm totally intrigued. I mean that's what I love about Woody Allen and Ingmar Bergman - my two favorites. I find people like Godard and Lynch more interesting in some ways to talk about, but not more interesting to watch. Bergman locks into a face and we see time as a phenomenon; we see age.

When I have to watch that many screens, and again, I enjoyed it, but the muddle feels so noisy. It's hard to keep watching. Though, maybe that's the point. And maybe that's a good point, honestly.

Daniel Coffeen said...

My point about omens, my interest is omens, is that they are not signs: they are a fold of time, an event within time, that reveals the shape or tenor or a trajectory.

My understanding of time comes from my poor comprehension of Bergson, from Matter and Memory in particular, as well as from the later lectures on Metaphysics. His main point is the one I try to articulate here: time is not a succession of points but a continuous process without beginning or end. I was trying to make sense of omens in terms of this notion of duration, of enduring.

As for films, I need Godard and Lynch as they consider the form of media along with the content. Real art, to me, puts everything in play, including the medium, the form, the structure. So every shot of a Godard film is a question: What is it to record? Bergman and Allen assume film to be a representation of reality, even if their films become great events.

As for Lafia's Permutations, I wrote a long essay on them many years ago: http://www.joyfulcomplexity.com/Daniel/Permutations.pdf

No time for bed. Thanks, again, for posting.....

drwatson said...

I guess I see the point about omens being a moment in time - it's just I can't think of an example of any experience that would fall out of that definition.

In terms of Godard and Lynch if I'm really honest I like the movies that are more straight - I've taught sections of Breathless before and Blue Velvet, but as those guys go they are "straight stories," if you can stand the pun. In fact I thought Lynch's movie by that name was utterly remarkable and way better than, say, Lost Hightway. However, I love, freaking love M. Drive. That film to me is an absolute masterpiece. And that film is both - it is a pretty stable narrative through at least the first half and then it's also a complete interrogation of the film industry and film in general.

Even people like Fellini - I have a poster of 8 1/2 in my office along with a couple art prints and a picture of Bogart and Becall from the Big sleep - I prefer La Strada.

So if I'm thinking about Bergman, I mean sure he's mostly doing representational art, but it's so fucking affective. I mean my favorites are Fanny and Alexander and Scenes from a Marriage. Fanny and Alexander is a little different, but Scenes from a Marriage to me is actually deeper than something like Contempt or Alphaville because it's not attempting to be so self-aware. I mean Bergman obviously knows he's making a film and so does the audience. I don't necessarily think it's ever a problem to not acknowledge that in some kind of meta way.

I mean most of what I'd call avant-garde fiction falls into a similar problem - it's smart, it's self aware, but rarely do I find an example that I actually want to read. There are notable exceptions - specifically Mark Z Danielewski's House of Leaves recently. I know the argument I'm making is a bit too broad, but I feel like you get the gist of it - I mean I'm certainly not saying everything should be plausible in any work of fiction - but the piece does not have to constantly wink at me.

I will say Wes Anderson is a happy medium - he winks wonderfully.

drwatson said...


I'm going to edit this tonight - but man you've got me banging my head against the wall in a way that hasn't happened in a while. And I mean that as a compliment. This is such a hard issue for me to think about.