Event is a thing that happens or takes place, marked by its levels of significance; it is the momentous imprint of planned or unplanned happenings that can have a social or a public occasion, sensual or rational manifestation, may assume a particular context in which it emerges. In physics it is rather referred to as a single occurrence of a process, such as the ionization of one atom or the forming of a water molecule through a chemical reaction between two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. It is commonly referred to as a result of something that happens or is about to happen.
What about the moment in which the event happens? That inexplicable, ungraspable instance of time, that something is yet to become something else. An event marks change, an intrinsic or a physical transformation. Perhaps what makes a happening an event is the nature and quality of the metamorphosis. The widely known story of Gregor Samsa begins in the aftermath of a miraculous transmutation of a human being to a cockroach. However, not every event has to be piercing as such, nor do the two realms need to differ significantly as Samsa’s two worlds did. That is to say, events are marked by their impact and the radius of their ripple effect.
On a counter spectrum of speculative occurring, every day of our lives is charged by events, their significance solely depending on the lenses we wear, the perspectives from which we perceive the world. According to how you frame your surroundings, you may be overwhelmed by the number of events taking place or utterly bored with the silence and dullness of your day. Thus, an event is unique to a person, but can be shared collectively or with an unintentionally gathered group of individuals. For instance, disasters and social unrest fall into the category of immediately sharable; falling in love or out of love falls into the category of uniquely personal. Amidst the categories, everything that is taking place can have an impact that approximates towards a circle of intimacy that fluctuates wihthin its radius. But what is everything that is taking place? To pixelate the picture a little more, count the atoms colliding, the molecules folding and unfolding. Every breath you take is the orgy of millions of chemical and physical reactions spreading in your body. The earth is always moving and the sun never shines the same. Alas, I cannot bathe in the same river twice. The activity is inconsistently constant, in other words, a union of entropy and force of gravity. Everything (but everything) is in constant flux, everything is changing, forming, reforming all the time. Your skin changes within a week, the totality of the cells in your body are replaced with new ones in seven years, your astrological sign goes through cycles, you scientifically fall out of love within three years of the initial encounter due to the decrease in your oxytocin levels… Beyond what can be observed in physical terms, every minute detail that is about this life and all lives possible, does change. In other words, nothing keeps still. You may try and control things and pretend that everything is intact. Although, sooner than later, you come to terms with the inescapable truth of being in the world. The motive in this text is not to convince you of any myth or political ideology, or crush you under the weight of heavy realities. On the contrary, through your devotion and commitment, dear reader, you shall be granted access to worlds that are larger, horizons wider, sensations greater!
Event horizon is a term borrowed from astronomy that stands for a notional boundary around a black hole from which no light or other radiation can escape. It can be described as somewhere that nothing ever happens or rather where everything that happens has the same impact. Black holes span rather an extensive field of research, for the intensive study of events. Recent studies show us that they are the traumatized zones of matter – if we could call them that – in the sense in which the extreme condensation of matter has sunken into another place, charging the black hole with the resonance of its absence. Scientifically, if you come close to a black hole, you will be pulled in, by nothing but thin air that is charged with the magnetic field that is a memory of a hyper-summate matter. Once you are in, there is no escape, for eternity and ever further you shall be oscillating back and forth from one pole of the hole to the other. It is rather curious that some events may have effects akin to black holes, that once having happened there is no escape. It may not be a bad thing.
The absolute contingency of the encounter juxtaposed with its randomness is where the semantic and emotional, psychological and physical experience takes place. It is where two bodies, in a committed or uncommitted manner, meet one another. A person meets a person, an artwork, or someone walks into a scene of exhalation. Independent of the parties involved, if a change can be observed, be it physical or intrinsic, that is a marking event, or rather something remarkable has taken place. An encounter is bound to unexpectedness, purple or white, something out of the blue happens. A happenstance, bumping into someone or something… And that momentous eventuality, if charged with value, changes something in us, for good. And, what is actually an encounter is a meeting of two bodies (people, objects, buildings, any physical entity)… Is it possible to call it an encounter when we meet with ephemeral or rather non-physical entities? For instance, do we consider that experiences of sound and light have a physical materiality, at least resonance? Or, since we engage with light every moment of our life, perhaps it loses its happenstance unless accentuated? Perhaps a pause is necessary before we start delving vertically into the depth of matter.
It is not easy to talk about experiences of charge and change without creating myths or rather over-dramatizing. That is why most writers and thinkers choose to talk about piercing events rather than events of mediocre calibre and impact. You must have heard of people whose lives have changed after reading a novel or travelling to a distant land or meeting someone that they have devoted their entire life to. Beyond the generic, it is crucial to look within. French philosopher Alain Badiou, following his famous work on Being and Event (1988), has more recently published a recount of a public lecture under the title In Praise of Love (2012), in which he compares the moment of love happening with how he conceptualizes the notion of event: ‘Love always starts with an encounter. And I would give this encounter the quasi-metaphysical status of an event, namely of something that doesn’t enter into the immediate order of things. There are innumerable examples in art or literature that describe such a starting point for love. Many stories or novels focus on cases where Two (as in two people who have just fallen in love, and united for good) are particularly marked out, when two lovers don’t belong to the same class, group, clan or country. Romeo and Juliet is clearly the outstanding allegory for this particular disjuncture because this Two belong to enemy camps.’ Beyond the distinguishing trajectories of two bodies in the momentum of a meeting, Badiou marks the nature of the event with a quasi-metaphysical status. In other words, the semantic value of the body precedes its physical demarcation. This can also be observed in encounters with entities that have a physical manifestation or a physicality attached to their ephemeral nature. That is to say, given a person visiting an exhibition of artworks, that work being an object of some sort – a painting, sculpture, a photograph or any other medium of your choice, as the media nor the exactitude of matter does not count – within the liminal space may be charged with curiosity and further urgency to connect and associate with the inspirations and influences that are triggered through the meeting with the substance of the art-object. In addition, there is a wide spectrum of projections that enrich the domain of seeing and what you want to see. Do you find that too unsettling? The whole world that we see around us is a projection of our mind, the way we construct the reality. It is the ‘half empty–half full’ dichotomy and there are multiple positions between opt-in optimism and opt-out pessimists. The birds that walk on an electric wire, for instance, experience the world in its two-dimensional projected reality. On earth, we reside in the projection of n-dimensions into three. Here I shall add my suspicions as to the existence of time, let alone its position as the fourth dimension. However, this may well be a discussion for another piece.
‘After all, love takes place in the world. It is an event that can’t be predicted or calculated in terms of the world’s laws. Nothing enables one to prearrange the encounter – not even Meetic, and all those long, preparatory chats! In the end, the moment you see each other, and that’s that, and it is out of control!’ If we are taken aback at what we mean by projections, let us perhaps try clarifying love at first sight. When you see what you see in front of your eyes, the way the person looks, feels and inspires you to think, makes your heart jump and your blood rush through your veins (in some cases), this is not only sourced from the person, but also supported by your own projections of who that person might be. Let us take it a step forward to an art encounter, which is not at all different. Imagine you have seen a painting that has had a piercing effect on you, that the use of colour, how light was treated on the surfaces of the canvas, the depicted narrative has inspired you tremendously, so much so that you cannot stop thinking about the painting, nor delving more into its details. How much of this experience belongs to the artwork and how much of it is yours? Please do recall the spectrum of colours between black and white, object and subject, mentioned above as the liminal space, that is, the space in between is charged with what you and the artwork bring to the picture. Seeing is a significant act in encounters; nonetheless they, and recognition, can still occur without the need for sight. Although through sight, we cognize the world much faster, scientific calculations show that we learn ninety per cent from seeing and the rest through our remaining four senses. Sight combined with intellect is where the event mostly happens. Or could that be possible? At the crossing of different intensities, neurons may be fired, new associations may be fostered or patterns are solidified. Whatever may have taken place in the moment of seeing and recognizing something other than ourselves arouses the ecstasy of existence. As Badiou states: ‘The encounter between two differences is an event, is contingent and disconcerting.’ In the course of love, it is the fire of love that is set in the advance of a relationship trigger. Let us set sail from less congested lands and concentrate on what Badiou might refer to as two differences, in the case in which sameness does not lead to an accentuated encounter. Two things that meet in the space-time, gravity–entropy dichotomy require a differentiation, unlikeness to one another in some way. Romeo and Juliet embody the optimum unlikeness in the sense in which their families would rather destroy than cherish each other. In more nuanced ways, the differences play a crucial role in encounters becoming an event, an event of resonance and charge, an event that can change someone or something in its wake. The space of the encounter is activated by intellectual rigour and quest while the eye receives or rather stares at the object of the encounter in suspicion and disbelief – as it is not easy to understand something that you have not understood before, nor associated yourself with. Do you follow? Perhaps let us consult Badiou on love again; he might shed light into the tunnel I am trying to pull you into: ‘Love is simultaneously ignited, consummated and consumed in the meeting, in a magical moment outside the world as it really is. Something happens that is in the nature of a miracle, an existential intensity, an encounter leading to a meltdown.’ Here I shall leave you to ponder on the forces that are at play; however, I will pull you further towards what Badiou refers to as ‘in a magical moment outside the world as it really is’. The moment something happens with force, introducing a seismic shift in our understanding of the world as such, is where time freezes in the sensorial sense, in the manner in which everything else that has been occupying your mind, your body, your reception of the physical world around you evaporates into thin air, leaving you with your object of the encounter. Like in films, two people see each other from the corner of a bar and all of a sudden everyone in the bar disappears, lights dim and we only see the couple and their crooked gaze, seeing only each other, not anything nor anyone else in the room. Here we shall pronounce the necessity of mutuality. You may ask, in the case of a love affair, whether reciprocity is key; however, where does the agency of an artwork lie? Do artworks return the gazes that are thrown at them or do they change through the meaningful and pleasant encounters with the committed bodies of their audiences? It is needless to insert a directory here; however, it is crucial that you include upliftying, titillating and unpleasant encounters in the domain of events. Change that can be traced happens in many ways, and not only elevating, glittering and joyous ways. The notion of truth plays a significant role in the transformation of artworks; in every meeting between subjects of various intellectual and aesthetic configurations, the artworks semantically gain a value, which we call truth. This does not mean that their existence is validated and they occupy a space, but that their presence has a value. Truth and art have been topics of substantial discussion and study for numerous thinkers across the centuries. A contemporary approach is that artworks intrinsically hold truth, although their narratives and facts can be fictional and irrelevant to the truisms of the world. But how does truth come into an encounter, event, resonating bodies and titillating senses? Badiou responds with: ‘You discover truth in your response to the event. Truth is a construction after the event. The example of love is the clearest. It starts with an encounter that’s not calculable but afterwards you realize what it was. The same with science: you discover something unexpected – mountains on the moon, say – and afterwards there is mathematical work to give it sense. That is a process of truth because in that subjective experience there is a certain universal value. It is a truth procedure because it leads from subjective experience and chance to universal value.’ In this line of thought, it is the moment and the immediate aftermath that charges the artwork with truth, the relaying into the past charges with resonance and the difference and independence of it from the eye of its beholder ignites it with fever. Neither the artwork nor the audience stays the same, once an event of a remarkable quality has taken place. They have both been through a black hole and seemingly survived its devilish charm, presumably able to continue their lives from where they have left. However, this may not be the case. In love, two people, after their initial encounter, start caring about their feelings and thoughts, and collect their projections, mirroring and fantasies to start a journey of irreversible nature. They cannot go back to who they were before the event and arrive at another version of themselves, a world view that is slightly altered if not totally shattered. They arrive at a place where everything (but everything) has substantially gained a new horizon. ‘Because love is consumed in the ineffable, exceptional moment of the encounter, after which it is impossible to go back to a world that remains external to the relationship.’ Once you have tasted pleasures, it is not possible to go back; understanding produces knowledge, knowledge seeks more, depths call for depths and new challenges, new bodies that are different yet appealing in cogency and independence. In this narrative, our fellow audience parts its ways with the artwork, to carry the feeling and the experience within, to multiply at times to an extent that it becomes a new lens for viewing the world. Until they meet again, they will have a different encounter defined by the change they have been through
Never an End.
- All quotes from: Alain Badiou, In the Praise of Love.
To download: www.docdroid.net/9xMNmOY/95152645-badiou-in-praise-of-love.pdf
- Further recommended reading: Jalal Toufic, Undying Love or Love Dies.
To download: www.jalaltoufic.com/downloads/Jalal_Toufic,_Undying_Love,_or_Love_Dies.pdf
- This musing Event Horizon is part of a trilogy of
Fatos Ustek’s writings published at Extra Extra.
The first two are Principles of Pleasure published in
Iissue 7 and Do you want to play?, published in Extra Extra Magazine Issue 9.