Per Bj. Boym: Always an experiment
On entering a room, in a sense you do something completely different.
You enter this room, and this room is something other than a room.
It doesn’t help much to describe the room as, say, cubic
with a base length of 2 metres, yellow walls, pine floors, white
ceiling, wooden window frames, etc. You do not enter the room
that is cubic with a base length of 2 metres, yellow walls, pine
floors, white ceiling, wooden window frames, etc. You enter this
room, which is cubic, with a base length of 2 metres, yellow walls,
pine floors, white ceiling, wooden window frames, etc.
In perceiving the tension between something big and something
small, in a sense you perceive something completely different.
You perceive this tension between the big and the small. It doesn’t
help much to describe the tension as “a sense of isolation,
of tabooed impediments”. What you perceive is this sense
of isolation, of tabooed impediments.
In perceiving a whole as balanced – empty space and objects,
surfaces and lines all as elegantly balanced as a tightrope walker
– in a sense you perceive something entirely different.
You perceive this balance of empty space and objects, surfaces
The emphasis on “this” can be characterized in a variety
of ways. This individual, this unique or outstanding, this singular,
this one-and-only thing. For the time being, let us put the nuances
of these various terms to one side.
What one encounters is the singular, the individual. You encounter
what is clearly limited to being a single entity, and which cannot
be repeated or divided without becoming something different. In
grasping it with the intellect, you grasp it as something that
can be repeated: a cube, a cube constructed of plywood, a photograph
of cubes where the distance between elements is measurable and
the photograph has been digitalised, a photograph that has a certain
relation to an art gallery, etc. All this can be repeated. But
this photograph is only a single entity. However, with the intellect
you also grasp that it is such, but the questions are: How? What
does it consist of? The uniqueness is not a quality in what you
encounter. You cannot say: This object is unique because the distance
between the three cubes does not recur in the other objects. The
reason for this is that all you would then be saying is that an
object with these qualities (a certain distance between three
cubes) does not occur twice here, although it certainly could
recur; it just doesn’t do so here. So, no matter how deep
you delve into the question “What qualities, quantities
and relations does this consist of?” you can never answer
the question “What is it that makes this here this here?”
We must manoeuvre in our thoughts. Let us begin by saying that
this here is one. One? One of something, perhaps, but first just
this one. One is hardly a simple affair. Aristotle worked with
at least four basic meanings of one. In its lesser sense one denotes
unities that are not numerical, in other words, that do not occur
as one in number, but which are unities even so. This lesser unity
is found in anything continuous; the simpler and less composite
the movement, the greater the unity, the greater its oneness.
For Aristotle, nature is one such unity: “… nature
in the primary and strict sense is the essence of things which
have in themselves, as such, a source of movement”. But
what you encounter in the individual is one in the numerical sense.
As Aristotle puts it: “In number, then, the individual is
It is an intriguing thought that one can conceive of greater or
lesser unity, where greater unity is like a station on a journey,
a level of a movement. Moreover, that the singular is bound to
a certain station, greater unity, the numerical. Here, “greater”
cannot be understood as an expression for greater quantity, but
as a higher priority. That which possesses greater unity is, for
example, more simply composed than that which possesses less;
it has greater force of identity than that which has less, etc.
Duns Scotus takes this line of thought further. Nature possesses
a lesser unity, the singular a greater. And he describes the relation
between these as follows: “singularity belongs to the nature
through something in the thing that contracts the nature”.
This something he characterizes in a variety of ways, for instance
as realitas positiva, although the term Duns Scotus uses most
widely is haeccitas, which can be translated as thisness. There
is a thisness in nature that contracts it, thereby giving rise
to the individual.
It might not seem very promising to answer the question “What
is it that makes this here this here?” by appealing to a
thisness in nature that contracts it, thus giving rise to this
here as this here. But something has been achieved: we are claiming
that this here is something more than a state of mind, and moreover
that it is a contraction.
Duns Scotus claims that in a sense this contraction can be compared
to the difference between a family, or genus, and a species. For
example, the genus animal and the species human, or the genus
picture and the species photography, or the genus geometrical
solid and the species cube. The genus animal has one set of characteristics
in a certain configuration – a form. The species human possesses
these characteristics plus a number of others. Contraction occurs
through the addition of a constellation of characteristics to
a preexisting constellation; one formal characterization is supplemented
with another. This entails that the set of animals is reduced,
or contracted, to encompass only the set of humans. This helps
us to understand what is meant by contraction in this context.
But in another sense, the contraction that results in the singularity
is something very different. The transition from species to individual
does not occur through the addition of a new characteristic, a
new formal characterization. In the language of Duns Scotus, the
mystery is solved by claiming that the addition is not formal,
“because it is never taken from an added form, but precisely
from the ultimate reality of the form”.
Following this kind of argument, we could claim that the species
“box” is on the one hand a certain constellation of
characteristics, a form as a configuration. This can be expanded
to apply to subspecies, such as “boxes” constructed
from plywood with a base area of 20x30cm and a height of 55cm.
The form is a set of specifications that determine the configuration.
But on the other hand, this form also has a “reality”
that is capable of changing the species into a singularity through
the adoption of a “supplement”. This implies that
the “reality” must point to something other than a
simple opposition; whether it be real or unreal, reality will
have to be something that is complex since it both exists –
as the reality of the form in the species – and can in certain
cases manifest something more, a supplement that gives rise to
the individual event. The form can be real in the species, but
real in another way in the individual.
Concerning the question of what makes this here this here, we
have so far concentrated on the first element: this. And on this
subject we have found an idea that says that this is a supplement
derived from the reality of the form. The same observation can
also be applied to the second element: here. We can treat “here”,
the location, in the same way as “this”. Accordingly,
what applies to the haeccitas of the thing applies also to the
haeccitas of the location; it derives from a supplement in the
reality of the form.
But the singularity, this here, is not something we encounter
only at a given location; the encounter also involves a given
time. When we say that the encounter with the unique happens here
and now we are confronted with the question “What is this
now?” Is there any reason to problematize “now”?
Isn’t now quite simply 14.02 Central European Time? One
thing that is problematic about this 14.02 is that it is a kind
of “roughly now”. Was it not 14.02 and 4 seconds?
14.02, 4 and 2/10 secs.? 14.02, 4 and 2/10 and 3/100 secs.? Etc.
etc. But “now” is not approximate; it is now. In defining
now as 14.02, we assert that we know many “nows” and
perceive them as a continuous series; we emphasize what is common
to these “nows”. But not only do these “nows”
share common features, each is also unique: this moment, this
Many people have contemplated this difference: time as a continuous
“flow” and time as the instant. The Stoics distinguished
between two different types of the present. The present of the
body and that of the spirit, Kronos and Aion. The foundation for
the temporal present of the body – as for the body itself
– was a continuity, a course of events. This progression
was rhythmical in one sense or another, and, at the logical extreme,
measurably so; condensed rhythm: seconds, minutes, hours, days,
years … The body’s present carries with it a past,
which it is constantly expanding through the addition of the present
that it leaves behind as it passes into the future. In the bodily
present, past and future become combined. Seen in this way, memory
is an expression of the body’s present. The present of the
spirit is different, just as the spirit is different from the
body. The spirit is eternal, without progression, without rhythm.
The present of the spirit, Aion, was the moment, the limitless
(in the sense of “immeasurable”) instant that separated
past and future, but which itself did not belong to, and had nothing
further to do with, either of them. The encounter with something
hitherto unknown, a revelation, is in this sense an expression
of the present of the spirit.
This way of conceptualizing two different kinds of the present
solves the problematic aspect of the “roughly now”.
It acknowledges both continuity and the instant, linking them
together in terms of the relation between body and spirit. Spirit
is an archaic conception, which we shall make no attempt to analyse
here. But we can replace it with something else in order to find
out whether this way of thinking is fruitful when we make a different
choice of words. Let us use the term “ideas”, the
present of ideas, to find out whether the argument can be adapted.
An idea can have a progression and rhythm, although it can hardly
be claimed that this is true of all ideas, yours and mine. In
any case, the world of ideas is limitless, and all attempts to
demarcate that world have ultimately proved futile. What would
be the consequence if we claimed the present of ideas to be the
limitless instant (the present of the spirit for the Stoics),
that which divides past from future, but which itself belongs
to neither and is uninvolved with them in any other way? Wouldn’t
the consequence be that we would attribute to ideas (perhaps as
a supplement) something other than memory, that we could link
the encounter with the hitherto unknown and revelation to the
notion of the present of ideas? And this does not seem to be a
consequence that overreaches everyday experience.
We appear to have arrived at two possible conceptions of “this
room here and now”, which we enter. But one of these conceptions
fails to capture the encounter with the singular. Memory, as expression
of rhythmical time, operates with quantities, properties and qualities.
With these tools it seeks to grasp the individual as a combination
of quantities, qualities and relationships. This draws the encounter
away from this-here and back to what is already encoded. This
memory answers the problem “What qualities, quantities and
relations does this consist of?” but leads us away from
the problem “What is it that makes this here this here?”
Kronos does not describe how time functions in the encounter with
the singular; this encounter is Aion’s time, the present
of ideas, the moment that divides.
Is there any connection whatsoever then between the encounter
with the individual and memory, or is this encounter forever excluded
from memory? Experience tells us that such a connection exists,
but how can it be thought? Duns Scotus offers two alternatives
in the encounter with the singular, which in this context he dubs
the “irreducible simple”. “Either it is grasped
totally or not at all … that what is so irreducibly simple
remains completely unknown unless it is grasped fully as it is
itself.” Taking this as a starting point, the questions
are as follows: What is it to grasp something, and what is it
grasped as? How is it grasped?
To grasp in this context must presuppose a mental mechanism that
does not function in a way that determines qualities, quantities
or relationships. But this mechanism must possess the ability
to retain something; it must have a grip. To serve as a bridge
to memory, that which is grasped must involve something that enables
it to impinge on memory. What is it that can be “grasped
fully as it is itself” and which does not consist of qualities,
quantities or relationships? One suggested solution to this question
is the concept of “intensities”. What an intensity
has in common with a quality is that it remains unaffected by
numerical change. For example: if a yellow cube is doubled in
size, it does not become twice as yellow. But unlike qualities,
intensities have the ability to bring about change. For example,
temperature: when two bodies of different temperatures are brought
into contact, the temperatures in both change such that each ends
up with the same temperature but at a level somewhere between
the different original temperatures. This does not happen when
two yellow cubes come into contact; they remain the same yellow
cubes. In this sense, intensities are something other than quantities
and qualities, while at the same time they are not passive but
productive. In the world of physics it is such that “…
differences in intensity … can drive fluxes of matter or
energy …” In other words, intensities can set something
in motion, have effects, constitute a bridge.
On this basis, the encounter with the room can be described as
an encounter with an intensity, or an encounter with an irreducible
batch of intensities. How can an intensity be held on to? How
can the eternal moment leave traces in continuous time? Intensity
is forever something different from quantities and qualities,
but can the productive forces it possesses have an effect on quantities
and qualities? The example concerning differences in temperature
showed us that when two different bodies come into contact, the
difference in intensities – here, a difference in temperature
– creates in itself a trace in quantities and qualities,
the trace in this case being a process of change, for example
in the speed of molecular movement. Taking this example as our
starting point, we have to imagine that the intensity of the encounter
comes into contact with other intensities and that this contact
gives rise to something capable of leaving a trace in quantities
and qualities; might this be something that can be retained in
the sphere of memory? First, how should we conceive of contact
in this context? Do we not have to assume here that there are
other intensities than the here and now of the encounter, and
that these are contained in quantities and qualities – both
in the recollections and concepts stored in memory and in the
zones between them – in order to be able to operate with
intensities with which contact can be made? If we assume this,
then contact can take place on the basis of “fluxes”
from the intensity of the encounter and “fluxes” from
the intensities that are contained. If we imagine fluxes as vibrations
or pulses, then contact can come about through a correspondence
in rhythm or sequence between the intensities of the encounter
and some of the contained intensities. The intensity of the encounter
finds a rhythm or sequence in the others such that its own rhythm
or sequence is taken up and carried on. Not as the same, but with
a displacement. A simple image for this kind of displacement might
be what happens when a wave of a certain wavelength encounters
a wave of half its wavelength. The original wave continues to
propagate, but in addition to being displaced relative to its
initial rhythm, it also displaces the rhythm where it continues.
Thus the process can be described in terms of acoustics or resonance.
Resonance is the basis for change in the contained intensity and
this change creates a trace in what it is contained in, in the
concept, in the memory, or in a zone between these things. In
these terms, grasping an intensity, apprehending it, will mean
that the intensity is carried on in a contained intensity, creating
traces in that in which it is contained within. With regard to
this trace we can claim that the “irreducibly simple”
is “fully” apprehended; it is not subdivided or altered.
But “as it is itself” acquires a special meaning through
this approach. The only way the intensity of the encounter can
be grasped is by means of two displacements, one resulting from
being grasped as change in something else, the other from being
grasped by means of a rhythm or sequence that differs from its
own, since its fluxes propagate and can be grasped as resonance,
i.e. as a different rhythm or sequence.
On entering a room, in a sense you do just that. You enter a room,
and the room is cubic with a base length of 2 metres, has yellow
walls, a pine floor, white ceiling, wooden window frames, etc.
In perceiving the tension between something big and something
small, what you perceive is in a sense precisely that. You perceive
the tension between the big and the small, which you might describe
as “a sense of isolation, of tabooed impediments”.
In perceiving a whole as balanced – empty space and objects,
surfaces and lines all as elegantly balanced as a tightrope walker
– in a sense you perceive precisely that. You perceive the
balance of the empty space and the objects, the surfaces and the
The emphasis on what recurs, on the recognisable, on what appears
the same, on the identical, the conceivable, in the sense already
implicit in concepts, is an important characteristic of everything
that has a history, or which is continuous. The fact that continuity
arises might be a result of this very mechanism; electrons repeat
their movements, people sleep and are awake, the ptarmigan changes
to its winter plumage when the snowy season arrives, the earth’s
axis relative to its plane of rotation around the sun gives rise
to winter, summer, autumn and spring in the subarctic regions.
What is focused on here can be described as habit, but habit in
a sense that is broader than that of habit as a mental phenomenon.
Here habit denotes processes that are repeated, habitus, which
can however also be mental. If the haeccitas of (the singular)
individuality is a contraction of nature, then habitus is a combining
of, primarily, expectations and memory. Expectations and memory
as terms for forces, not primarily mental forces, but something
that also includes the mental field. For example, expectations
and memory in the construction of the ptarmigan’s feathers
that lead to a change of plumage.
It is to this habitus – you enter a room – that Kronos
corresponds; time as continuous, where the present encompasses
both the past and the present, memory and expectations. Since
life is a continuous process, this experience will dominate on
the mental level. The experience and perception of entering a
room “comes of itself”, whereas the experience of
the singular, the unique – that which introduces a break
in continuity – must be cajoled, goaded, enticed to appear,
or else it will force itself to the forefront – the dominant
experience must be overcome in one way or another. Kant’s
concept of the “sublime” corresponds to such an experience
that forces itself to the forefront.
Habit is a frozen condition, in the sense that it is based on
recognition and identities in addition to expectations within
the limits that these set. The singular is the starting point
for an open condition, the limitless instant, revelation, the
encounter with the unknown. As the situation is described here,
however, the singular is also linked to habit insofar as it is
its only source of resonance. And habit is linked to the singular
insofar as this is the point of origin for changes in habit, changes
in habitus, in terms of resonance and traces.
Seen in this way, to enter a room comprises two events, or one
event with two faces: a confirmation of habitus and a confirmation
of haeccitas. The confirmation of habitus is a confirmation of
quantities and qualities, whereas the confirmation of haeccitas
is the confirmation of the intensive, of that which is productive
The intensive is both frightening and attractive. Frightening
because it is a threat to continuity, ultimately to all progression,
all life. Attractive because it provides contact with something
fundamental in existence, something fundamental to being itself,
namely the change that cannot be foreseen, life in the sense of
unpredictable, productive change.
What happens when this singular, this intensive, becomes the goal
The train of thought in the foregoing has been an attempt to describe
a field of the acutest relevance to human observations, reactions
and thought, in a way that leaves the distinction between the
human mental sphere and everything else unclarified and does not
claim it to be essential. Even so, we have used terms which most
dictionaries would define as applicable to the human mental sphere
or to the psychology of other animal species, such as experience,
memory, habit and the like. I shall continue using these terms
in the same manner, in the enduring conviction that in context
they are able to refer beyond mental conditions and events.
The singular, the intensive as goal of action is therefore a goal
that can be achieved by ensuring that the dominant experience
of or reaction to something, habitus, is no longer allowed to
dominate. The use of chemical (organic or synthetic) stimuli is
a traditional and well-known behavioural pattern, regarded as
driven by the intensive as a goal. In this behavioural pattern
we observe a tendency to self-reinforcement; a little use leads
to greater use in order to achieve the same goal, which ultimately
– for chemical reasons – entails a tendency to self-destruction.
(In this argument, no distinction has so far been made between
intensity, the feeling of intensity and an intense feeling; more
about this later.)
In the introduction to Part V of his Ethics, Spinoza writes: “At
length I pass to the remaining portion of my Ethics, which is
concerned with the way leading to freedom.” Following this
he endeavours to make it as clear as possible that this is a matter
exclusively of what we are capable of doing (and of what “mental
freedom or blessedness” consists in). In other words, no
more logic or “medicine” (= the ways one should care
for the body), but the role that the power of reason plays in
questions concerning what it is possible to do. It is very common
to regard a decision to act as if it were based on a combination
of one’s understanding of a situation and the will to undertake
something. Spinoza denies that action involves two faculties,
reason and will. He claims that reason and the will are the same.
Or to put it another way, reason is a faculty, while will is something
that only exists as concrete expressions of will, as consequences
of concrete understanding. To conceive of that which is common
to expressions of will as a separate faculty, the will, is in
Spinoza’s opinion a confused opinion, and one that can be
attributed, in part, to a tendency to accord independence to that
which is general and to confound it with the particular. Within
this kind of framework, the self-destructive use of stimuli as
a pattern of behaviour intended to modify habitus and to bring
out what is intensive cannot be regarded as bad will but as inadequate
It is necessary to distinguish between intensity, the feeling
of intensity and an intense feeling, but first to distinguish
between intensity and feeling. This can perhaps be done by emphasizing
that feelings are something we are aware of as our subjective
property, something that belongs to a subject. On this basis,
the relation between intensity and feeling is such that feeling
arises when intensity is fixed upon in a subject by being set
in a describable, narrative progression: emotion “is intensity
owned and recognised”. An understanding of intensity as
feeling will in this sense be a poor understanding of intensity.
The formulation “an intense feeling” refers in general
to a powerful feeling or a concentrated and powerful feeling.
Can we then speak of the feeling of intensity or is it that intensity
will of necessity lie beyond the reach of any possible subjective
approach and hence be something different from what we have described
as haeccitas, the singular? One way to proceed is to look at feeling
as a transformation of part of a field of intensity, a capture
thereof. The process that takes place is therefore multi-faceted;
something is captured, but the greater part “evades”
capture. “The feeling of intensity” can in this sense
be based on two circumstances. One is that the act of evasion
itself is captured, felt as a glimmer, in addition to the feeling.
The other is that these fields of intensity constitute a background
for – or a membrane over – all sensory perception
and all emotion, a noise that is there but does not become apparent.
Intensity as a goal for action is not limited to just a few areas
or phenomena. With the understanding we have built up so far,
it follows that the intensity, the singular, is everything and
can thus be a goal for action on every level. Viewed in this way,
art as a social domain does not possess a special status or occupy
a privileged position in this context; like all other levels of
experiences, it is a field of activity for both habitus and haeccitas,
for habit and for the distinctive, for narrative and for discontinuity,
for feeling and for intensity. Within the field of art it is,
however, relatively easy to notice the use of other strategies
(other than the use of chemical stimuli, which are also found
in the field of art), where intensity is a sought-after result.
In our context these strategies can be understood as founded on
the feeling of intensity conceived of as a “glimmer”
or as “noise”. Given the argument presented earlier
in this text, this is a rich conception of that which is distinctive.
It is not my intention here to begin a narrative about the appearance
and the role of the glimmer and noise in art history, but merely
to point out that it is possible to argue for a connection between
the glimmer and noise and artistic strategies of this kind. A
strategy in which a discontinuity in the narrative or the role
of emptiness plays a central part can be viewed as an endeavour
to become receptive to the glimmer, whereas a strategy that focuses
on repetition can be viewed as an attempt to become receptive
to noise. Thorvald Erichsen’s late Holmsbu landscapes will
serve as products of the latter, while Robert Smithson’s
reclamation projects for large mining fields can be seen as products
of the former. Morandi’s still lifes can be seen as products
In this kind of context, repetition must be viewed as an experiment,
an investigation. This investigation must adopt a pragmatic standpoint
on many problems: What does the repetition consist in? What is
it that is repeated? How is it perceptible? What stories are repeated?
How should the repetition take place? etc. And the theme of the
experiment could perhaps be formulated thus: How does an event
become interesting and at the same time so quiet, so monotonous,
so silent that it makes an opening for the noise that is created
in the surface membrane, vibrations that the dominant impression
can do nothing but oppose?
When you enter a room it is always an experiment.
Aristotle: The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. Richard McKeon, New
York: Random House, 1941.
Bryant, Levi R.: Difference and Givenness: Deleuze’s Transcendental
Empiricism and the Ontology of Immanence, Evanston IL: Northwestern
University Press, 2008.
DeLanda, Manuel: Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, London:
Deleuze, Gilles: Difference and Repetition, London: Continuum,
Duns Scotus: John Duns Scotus: Philosophical Writings, trans.
Allan Wolter, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1987.
Massumi, Brian: Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation,
Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2002.
Spinoza, Ethics, trans. R.H.M. Elwes (1883), http://frank.mtsu.edu/~rbombard/RB/Spinoza/ethica-front.html.