Time and cinema

How can time be emancipatory? I arrived at this question coincident in asking: what is emancipatory in the cinema of Lav Diaz? These two questions coevolved in this writing. They both came from the same prism: time as discourse.

Essence vs Construct

Today, there are two dominant concepts of time: one discipline views time as essence and the other views time as construct. Time as essence treats time as universal and unchanging, a discourse nourished and theorized by the sciences. Time as essence is empirical time – the clock-time – time as a measurable quantity, a period, a duration. Empirical view of time claims for objectivity, that it is a quantifiable phenomenon: a second is the unit of time; a minute is composed of 60 seconds and so on. Before Einstein, time is just a string of neutral quantities, a measurement of duration and a place value in history. Time is usually an element subsumed by the phenomena it directly illustrates. When Einstein entered the scene in 1900s (parallel to the spread of film as the new medium), he readdressed again the notion of time and said that time is the structure of space. From being only treated as a measurable quantity, time now, after Einstein, is what structures space itself enlarging its cosmological scope.

Time as construct proposes a different way of looking at time. If science considers time as a measurable quantity and via Einstein a fundamental structure of space, critical theory and cultural studies considers time as a social construct, a concept shaped and conceived by institutions, especially the sciences, and propagated in society by dominant discourses as ‘truth’ and ‘facts.’ Time as construct treats time as a co-opted concept, a result of power relations among ruling ideas.

My theorizing of time follows the route of critical theory: time as a construct. If I follow the scientific rhetoric, Einstein’s theory of General Relativity might offer a more nuanced theory of time than what I will propose. Why bother about time anyway? This investigation of time does not emerge from an empirical observation as a scientist would do. This theorizing of time is filtered through the lens of not only critical theory and cultural studies, but also film theory and philosophy. All these areas are prominently invested on the constructivistnotion of time.

Empirical notion of time, even in its most political formulation, does not speak much about my experience of time in a Lav Diaz film; nor does it tell us about the urgency of a coming deadline; nor can it account for the routinary practices we do in life from completing a bank transaction to waiting in a queue at a department store counter. All these events necessitate a different approach to time. The vacuous world of empiricism cannot account for our own phenomenological experience of time. Hence, we need a new approach to time.

But before I proceed, I would like to caution the reader about this endeavor. This writing constitutes the first appearance of my own conception of time (or the notion of the temporal). The ideas developed in this writing are in their infantile state. In a way, this is risky business, for I will lay down some preliminary concepts without any calibration from extensive academic research. Consider this endeavor more of philosophical exploration than academic. I have no assurance as to what philosophical tradition my concept of time originates. They are not directly rooted in any theory or philosophical thought, whether western or eastern philosophy, but they might take the shape of some existing discourses in the critical tradition, admittedly that of Michel Foucault and Jean Baudrillard.

Is my concept of time within the lineage of Henri Bergson, the French philosopher who wrote the philosophical formulations of time? Or does it come from the Heideggerian school of phenomenology? Does is sit well with Deleuze’s concept of time when he re-read Bergson in his two Cinema books: Cinema 1 and Cinema? Or is Lav Diaz’s coinage of ‘Malay time’ and ‘Filipino time’ instrumental to this conceptual exploration? I really do not know.

Two books, one is Peter Osborne’s The Politics of Time: Modernity and the Avant-Garde and the other is Jason Adam’s Occupy Time: Technoculture, Immediacy, and Resistance after Occupy Wall Street speak about the political dimension of time. Both are published in the Western hemisphere and both address different issues of how time participates in the construction of social spaces and discourses. These two books might play in my future formulation of time. But unlike these two, with the former conversing with the periodization of ‘modernity’, and the latter inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, my idea of time seeks to problematize the nature of time in a Lav Diaz film experience. The ‘extreme’ running length of his films has baffled many audiences, film scholars and critics. It remains now his most contested and refutable element. Can someone endure an 11-hour film? If I watch a six-hour film of Diaz, what can I get? Why does Norte, the End of History (2013) have to be four hours if it can be re-cut in the standard 90-minute format? Is Lav Diaz’s conception of time a ‘wastage’ of audience’s time? What is it about Diaz’s conception of time that makes his films emancipatory? All these questions are temporal in nature. It is paramount to investigate now what is it with Diaz’s notion of time that makes his cinema problematic?

One can say that time in Diaz’s films carve a unique cinematic experience. It is a time regained. The passage of time in Diaz’s cinema reactivates what is lost in this era of similitude and consumption. Diaz’s cinema is a special kind because his films carve a certain space out of time – a temporal space. Diaz’s films uses time to ‘occupy’ space. In Diaz’s cinema, this occupation of space through time is not a passive event but an active political one. He uses time to re-politicized cinematic space. But before going deeper into the temporal implications of Diaz’s cinema, let us first clarify the notion of temporal space.

Temporal Space

The emergence of temporal space is not only limited to Diaz’s cinema, but it is a prevalent structure in contemporary society. A roller coaster ride is a temporal space. It simulates a particular experience using an accelerated time. It uses the kinematics of bodies, intervened again by technology, to produce an illusion of acceleration. In effect, it takes the body beyond its ordinary everyday experience. Unlike the accelerated temporal spaces of roller coasters, the temporal space(s) in Diaz’s films are governed by a decelerated time, countering and combating the always-already accelerated pace of contemporary life. Roller coaster rides may use acceleration to rupture the body, which, for many, is a pleasurable experience, but it fails to engage its participants with the political, with the social, with a certain ‘beyond’ from normal life. What makes Diaz’s temporal space different is that his version creates a site of rupture by re-introducing the political in space, by engaging its participants with the re-inscription of marginalized discourses in contemporary life.

From these two examples we can finally draw our first observation about temporal space. A temporal space is a simulacrum. It is a simulated space governed by a simulated time. Today, when capitalism totally and universally metabolized all spaces, objects and experiences into commodities and simulations, a temporal space serves as its unit structure. It plays an integral role in forming our contemporary experiences as human beings of the present.

As a simulation, a temporal space is a unit structure of worldspace. A worldspace is a macrostructure, governed by worldtime that defines our everyday life. It is a mesh of all existing and immediate temporal spaces. The two concepts, the worldspace and the worldtime, are now used by scientific community to explore further the empirical notion of time because of their totality and universality as a discourse. Unlike the totalizing and universalizing worldspace and worldtime, time in a temporal space is governed by a localized and culture-specific discourse enabled by systems of expressions.

Temporal Spaces in History

It is interesting to note that temporal space might possibly exist in ancient societies. How did regulatory regimes in the past, especially in ancient civilizations, tinker with an idea of time as part of their infrastructural maconstruction? Is the creation of the pyramids of Giza framed within a certain temporal limits, with work schedules and timeframes? Do ancient travelers in the past already have an idea of ‘travel time’? At what point in our history did we start fabricating and simulating temporal spaces?These questions are relevant particularly because they only show that the concept of time as construct is historically contingent. A workspace in, say, a Business Process and Outsourcing industry is one of the most popular temporal space in contemporary Filipino experience. It emerges, by and large, from globalizing markets of capitalism – an event wherein temporal spaces of other nations are being re-simulated outside its territorial limits propelled by its backbone philosophy: neoliberalism. This requires the labor force of the outsourced country to re-adjust their immediate temporal space to the prescribed temporal space of the multinational company.

Capitalism perfected this mode of creating profit from temporal spaces by controlling and regulating them to their optimal states: the eight-hour workday, the 30-minute roller coaster ride, the standard one-a-half hour movie, the ten-minute waiting time for a double cheeseburger at McDonalds, the 40-minute train ride from North Avenue to Taft Avenue, the two-minute TV commercial prior to a 30-minute TV show episode, the one-hour spa treatment, the per-hour internet surfing service at an internet café, the one-day waiting time for freight delivery, the hour waiting time for a lover to return home from work, the second-by-second fluctuations of the stock market. These examples treat time as a simulation of an event with determinable and strictly enforced start-to-finish duration. All of which are closely monitored by computers and other digital technology including surveillance and time-productivity measuring devices. Temporal spaces such as these drive the global market to their optimal conditions. They maximize the business owner’s return of profit and investment. The profitability of a certain service rendered in a temporal space, say a haircut, relies on the maximal exchange of consumable time and consumable money. The service must constitute a time well-spent for the consumer and a time well-earned for the capitalist. Time becomes commodified this way. When the capital regulates time by quantifying it, it reinforces the capitalist’s financial structure. As a result, this produces a commodified temporal space.

Modernity has always been concerned with a new formulation of time. It may have been that the proliferation of temporal space co-evolved with the notion of modernity. Modernity’s critical project is to accelerate almost all traditional and ‘regressive’ cultural elements towards a modern present. Modernists concern themselves with the new by transforming the world’s traditional construct to its ‘modern’ form. This transformation involves a shift in the regulation of time. Modernity’s project is to create new temporal spaces to accommodate modern impulses of life. In this ruling ideology, time is once again subjected to new set of regulatory controls giving way to new formulations of life governed by new disciplinary forces.

Cine-Temporal Space

Cinema is part of the modernist project. It is one of the most promising temporal spaces that emerge during the turn of the world to modernism. As a temporal space, cinema is special because the agency of its regulation of time is not entirely institutional, although there are some cases that the institution or even the social fabric itself plays a role in shaping its temporal design. Nonetheless, the human hands still persist as its agency of creation and propagation. The gesture of holding the camera, of recording an image, of editing and splicing together strips of celluloid films are all manipulated by the human body. What is unique about cinema is that each film is a temporal spacein its own way. The time design of each film, the trajectory of filmic bodies passing through an imagined space, the fluxes and dynamics of its visual and aural elements, the disappearance and (re)appearance of its spaces, the affects and sensations generated in the film uniquely stand on their own as a seemingly separate and autonomous sheet of world from the Real.

Each film is a temporal space governed by a unique set of contingencies and consequences, with a distinguishably constructed before and after. It is structurally a collection of trajectories and multiple temporal spaces. Its simulation is quite different from, say, a temporal space of a cultural source. Culturally simulated temporal space derives it power from physical and contextual relations of cultural objects. Temporal spaces in cinema are virtual, devoid of solidity most cultural forms have. But it does not follow that cinema’s temporal space has no materiality. It has material effects even if it can only be observed using a non-material medium. The cine-temporal space (we can call it that way) seeks to re-configure cultural temporal spaces as re-simulations. It therefore offers a possibility of experiencing other temporal spaces.

There is another temporal space looming in the confines of this writing: the phenomenological temporal, or phenomeno-temporal space. This temporal space is embodied within us. It gives our consciousness a temporal structure. Experience occurs when two or more temporal spaces intersect. As in cinematic experience, it is the intersection of phenomeno-temporal and the cine-temporal. This intersection is a negotiation of significations. Experience is an event and also an intersection of two temporal worlds. For example, the experience of alienation in a workplace is the intersection of two temporal spaces: that of the simulation created by the corporate office and that of the embodied phenomenological time within us.

Durational Politics

Temporal space is not neutral space. It is a site of struggle. Its constitution is governed by certain regulatory and disciplinary regime. An eight-hour work schedule is a political construction in itself. Its goal is accumulate productive work from a laboring body. Temporal spaces in academic institutions like one-and-a-half hour classes are created for an intravenous and accelerated knowledge transfer. Internet is also a highly regulated temporal space of binaries (1/0, on/off, yes/no), hyperlinks and multiple sheets of imagined spaces. It has, within its temporal structure, an oscillatory design to simulate the experience of dynamic ‘interconnection.’ Any participant of these temporal spaces is subject to their regulatory and disciplinary frameworks.

If time is used pervasively and universally to regulate large group of bodies, like institutions and industries, the temporal space we define above takes a new formulation. It becomes a temporal regime. A temporal regime, following Foucault’s words, is time as a discursive regime, which is, in Gramscian formulation, a hegemonic space, or, for Althusser, an ideological apparatus.

A temporal regime is propagated in the present day as dominant temporal design of society: ‘I wake up at 6 AM just in time to do my routines. I make breakfast, take a bath, and dress-up. By 7 AM, I’m queuing for a bus on my way to work. I arrive at the office at around 8:30 AM. I log-in to my office computer, have lunch at 12 noon, and get off from work around 5:30 PM.’ This life cycle of modern man constitute a ‘weekday’. Weekends are for family bonding and ‘rest’. Have one ever thought that this routinary constitution of time in contemporary times is a result of overt power relations of bodies and institutions? The doctor would advise a man not to subject oneself to stress, to refrain from doing overtime work, to do exercises at least fifteen minutes a day in order to sustain this routinary and domestic life. Indeed, Foucault’s words tactile body becomes more relevant now than before. He also said power relations are productive. The temporal regime is a result of power relations among institutions and bodies. It is shaped by dominant discourses of the present. Its pervasive structure defines now, forcefully, what mainstream society call ‘reality.’ In cognate to this ‘reality,’ mainstream society refers to the concept of ‘freedom’ as an escape from this ‘reality’ and one involving a ‘new experience of life’. The temporal regime, in this sense, simulates the idea of ‘real life’ as routinary, inescapable, capitalist-driven life.

This makes the temporal regime the main machine of controlof capitalism and the ruling class. It drives capitalist machines to their optimal state. It is also integral to the formation of new subjectivities and new bodies for contemporary beings. The temporal regime participates actively in the propagation of the dominant ruling class ideology by subjecting all its constituents to its routinary, intravenous and programmatic temporal structures, which slowly disenfranchise the agency of the human beings to create change in society. For some, this programmatic life is the practical route – a total consolidation with the ordinary depoliticized idea of living.

Durational politics come into play as a way of disrupting these routinizing temporal regimes. Its goal is to create mobility, to dislodge time from its current ossified structure to its newer emancipatory form. This creates new alternatives opening laboring bodies and other subjects of the temporal regime towards a greater multiplicity. Durational politics is engaged with creating ruptures and slippage in the temporal regime. Its aim is to take the impractical route, to subject human life into new possibilities of life by letting them pass through a Deleuzian plane of immanence – a plane of genesis.

Counter-Temporal Space

Similarly, Lav Diaz’s cinema creates its own durational politics by dislodging the temporal regime prevalent in mainstream film culture. His films after Batang West Side (2001) seek to reconfigure the capitalistic temporal space created by mainstream cinema. Diaz opens a counter-discourse of time by creating a counter-temporal space. A counter-temporal space is a site of resistance. It offers a new temporal possibility. The length of his films is resistant to the dominant theatrical models of existing commercial cinemas. The cine-temporal space in Diaz’s cinema engages with two modes of durational politics. First is that it offers a new formulation of cinematic length initiating a collapse of the wall between the cine-temporal and phenomeno-temporal planes. This collapse gives birth to a new cinematic experience. Second is, aside from formulating a new configuration of cinematic experience, Diaz’s cinema engages with a new affective politics by opening simulated space for marginalized discourses like class, nation, revolutions, state impunity, the Marcos era, human existence, patriarchy, ethics, struggle of artists, migration and other social and philosophical issues. All of which are important elements in inscribing the emancipatory struggle of the people.

The flight of the counter-temporal in the cine-temporal space in Diaz’s cinema cannot only be attributed to his own cinema. One can also find the emergence of a counter-temporal spaces in the films of John Torres, Raya Martin and Khavn dela Cruz; documentary films of Tudla Productions and AsiaVisions; formal experiments of Chantal Akerman; structuralist films of the 1960s including prodigious experiments of Hollis Frampton and Andy Warhol; Third cinema of Latin America; the works of Soviet montage filmmakers and German Expressionists, and so on. One can dive further in the archival footages of each national cinema and find films of a different temporal design.

Time can be Emancipatory: Towards an Affective Politics

A counter-temporal space is time regained, reconfigured, and inverted. It offers a new formulation of time by re-circulating all discourses towards an emancipatory space. In Diaz’s case, this counter-temporal is channeled through the use of affect. Affect is different from feeling. Affect is formed first prior to feelings. It is an intensity folded from one body to another. Feeling is in the realm of language, while affect is in the realm of pre-linguistic world: ‘I don’t know how I felt when I saw the head of the man explode in Post Tenebras Lux (Carlos Reygadas, 2012) nor do I understand completely the feelings I felt when I watched the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul.’ What is present here is affect – the indistinguishable physical intensity we feel from watching such films. Affect cannot be explained and accounted by our existing words like ‘sadness,’ ‘happiness,’ ‘guilt’. Affect is irreducible to language which made it interesting. But it always follows that feelings, like sadness or happiness, cannot exist without its corresponding affect.

Affective politics engages with such pre-linguistic intensities for their transformative potential and ethical resistance. Time can only be emancipatory if it jointly takes these two routes, transformation and ethical resistance, to break apart existing enclosures and territorialities. The cine-temporal space created by Diaz in his films engages with a unique type of emancipatory affective politics by creating a sustained rupture of cinematic experience. Diaz engages the audience to numerous ontological discourses like existence, the nation, the country, the political struggle, and the people, remaking his cinema as a site of (re)thinking and transformation. For Diaz, cinema is philosophy. Diaz’s sustained critique of the political life in the Philippines, a prominent content in most of his films, forces the audience to rethink their existing conditions creating a site of ethical resistance. These two sites constitute the counter-temporal space of Diaz’s cinema. By engaging in affective politics, the tension between these two sites breaks, destroys, and emancipate the imprisonment of the audience’s egoenslaved by the capitalist machines. This ego is the immobile site of identity, a centroid of the ‘I AM WHAT I AM’ neoliberal subjectivity pervasive in today’s society. Diaz’s cinema seeks to decentralize this ego by introducing transformation and resistive ethics.

Temporal Analysis

This new concept of time necessitates a new approach to film analysis. I will call it now, for the sake of precision, temporal analysis. This analysis shall seek to elucidate the workings of the temporal space: its genealogy (From what temporal tradition does it draw upon?), its temporal design (What type of figural trajectory does it depict? How do the figural bodies in film behave? What is their ‘before’ and ‘after,’ mode of appearances/disappearances, impermanence/permanence? What type of oscillations can one find in the film?), its durational politics (What kind of politics of time does the filmmaker engage with? Is this politics productive and emancipatory or does it only reinforce the temporal space of capitalism?), and its generated affects and sensations (What kind of intensities can one observe from the film?).

All these elements (genealogy, temporal design, durational politics and affects/sensations) are a few of the preliminary materials that one can look at when reading temporal spaces. In the case of Lav Diaz’s films, one way to analyze their generated temporal spaces is to engage with the questions above. In Death in the Land of Encantos (2007), for example, the ruinous landscape in the beginning creates a temporal space that inscribes both the physical space and the trauma of the landscape. In capturing the destroyed provincial oasis of Albay, Diaz creates an image of disappearance of a place. This image of disappearance of a place uncovers the ethical dimension of ‘seeing’ in such a scene. The deafening silence and the basking absence of the landscape taunt the audience to rethink about ideological images of Albay propagated by the tourism industry: the picturesque Mount Mayon, the wide open plains, the homey bahay-kubos and the humble image of a ‘nayon.’ Diaz presents the contrast through an elaborative depiction of destruction forcing the viewers to ‘destroy’ their own hegemonic image of Albay within themselves. This long opening is one of the several temporal spaces in Diaz’s cinema.

This depiction of emancipatory power of time is only particular to Diaz’s cinema. What about the emancipatory potential of time in existing physical spaces? The recent Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong is a sustained and fully formed counter-temporal space, a site of resistance against the capitalist machines and the institutions that run its government. It has its accompanying durational politics. Like Diaz’s cinema, the Umbrella Revolution is a sustained and elaborate disruption of time and space. It almost created a functional collapse of some of Hong Kong’s capitalistic infrastructures due to their sustained occupancy of the space. A counter-temporal space, in order for it to be emancipatory, has to deploy its durational politics in a sustained manner. It must, in Jason Adam’s words, ‘occupy time.’ It must seize the flow of capital across all types of structures to insist for the renewal and transformation of society.

Strategies for the Future Studies

As I stated in the beginning, these ideas are infantile. They need further calibration from research. What I have laid out here is a cartographic map of a long and arduous research on time. Some of the ideas I raised here might not be present in its final form. Hence, I shall sketch a proposal for future studies. My notion of temporal space treats time as a discourse and a simulation. This is, in many ways, a Foucauldian formulation with a Baudrillardian twist. Time is an age-old concept. Ancient philosophy of east and west, north and south dealt with it in their histories. Hence, time must be re-conceptualized in light with this (philosophy of) history. History is also a temporal space. It has its periodizations. The concept of ‘emancipatory’ is also problematic. It certainly came from a strand of Marxist philosophy, but I am not very sure of its genealogical roots. Is the Habermas project of the public sphere similar to my concept of ‘emancipatory?’ These and other questions gather in my mind as I write this sentence, but time tells me that what I have written here is just enough for an introduction. So I should stop right here, for now.

Adrian D. Mendizabal is a MA Media Studies (Film) student of University of the Philippines Film Institute. His written works on cinema appeared in Next Projection.com, MUBI Notebook, Sinekultura Film Journal and Transit Journal. He lives in Quezon City. For questions email him at adrian.lessegers [at] gmail [dot] com