DAVID BATE                                                                                                                                               
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THE FUTURE                                    AS IT WAS

Paradox of Zero

Who can say what happened at the dawn of time?

How can I say zero existed then?

Zero. It has not always existed.

Although it may not have happened in the flash of an all of-a sudden, zero took place. And it took time to take place.

There was a taking place of zero with sunya, Sanskrit for 'empty'; and, there was a taking place of zero with the Latin chriffa, which carried the nothing to the null. To be sure, the taking place of zero - 'a device of the Devil' - was not without meetings of resistance; however, in time it took place as 0, sign for nought.

With the taking place of zero something definitely happened in history. Zero became actualised in things, and embodied in states of affairs. Zero became something, mathematically and culturally. Although not taking place in a split second, it can be said that with the taking place of zero an event occurred. An event happened yet with this event there was also the taking place of nothing.

Something, yet at the same time, paradoxically, nothing.


With the photographic works of Zero Culture, I find myself continually, and paradoxically, going in two ways at once. I go this way, and at the same time, I go that way. Effecting such double-movements, these still photographic images - and the texts which take place with them - do not immobilise or freeze, suppress or banish the taking place of paradox.

Paradox, as the philosopher Gilles Deleuze says, 'is initially that which destroys good sense ... but it is also that which destroys common sense as the assignation of fixed identities.'(1) The taking place of paradox is indeed a most peculiar event; for, in taking place there is also that which doesn't take a place.

The event of paradox makes me wonder. It also begs the question: what constitutes an event?

Gilles Deleuze is amongst those for whom every event, no matter what its scale, goes in two ways. There is what history 'grasps of the event in its effectuation in states of affairs or lived experience' and there is another dimension to the event, which can never be grasped as an actuality, as something: 'the event in its becoming ... escapes history'. (2) There is that which occurs and there is also the taking-place, the coming about, of that which occurs and takes place. Something comes to exist as a state of affairs or things, yet in the taking-place of this event there is something, which cannot be pinned down. It's like the twinkle in your eye when something is emerging yet remains unresolved.

David Bate's Zero Culture continually suggests to me the two ways in which events go: there is the designation of states of affairs such as, 'The machine said ', and there is also the twinkling of events which persistently and insistently elude my grasp - 'John called his mother but she wasn't there'.


An event happens and takes place in history; however, there is another dimension to events, which remains indefinite and can never be given a place in chronological time. When an event is twinkling in its unresolved state - if indeed I can call it a 'state'- there is also the occurrence of what can only be called paradoxical time. And the paradox peculiar to this time is the coexistence of what has happened and what is going to happen. When an event is taking-place, when it is 'becoming', there is, at the same time, the no longer and the not yet.

Chronological time forwards the belief in a present, before and after which comes the past and the future. However, with the paradoxical time, which comes with the process of becoming, the present is continually splitting into the present-becoming-past and the present-becoming-future. A present point in time can never be pinned down; we are always too soon or too late to grasp it. Indeed, let's say that the present, as a point in time, becomes zero. As Maurice Blanchot puts it: '... the event that we thought we had lived was itself never in a relation of presence to us nor to anything whatsoever.' (3)

After the firecrackers have gone off and the champagne drunk, perhaps we will say that with the millennium event there was no instance that was ever present to us. Yes, perhaps we will say 'Nothing was ever present'.


Looking at a digital clock I see numbers flash by my eyes. There is just enough time to catch sight of the number which, I'm lead to believe, designates the split second of the present moment. However, looking at the photographic works of Zero Culture I find that such chronological time, and the succession of present moments of which it comprises, becomes, as Gilles Deleuze would say, 'thrown out of joint'. (4)

Chronological time may indeed be thrown out of joint but with Zero Culture there is no time-travelling in the manner of the protagonist of La Jette who sees his adult end at the boyhood beginning of the film. Comprising of still black and white photographs, save for one instance of moving image, Chris Marker's La Jette film presents an image of time as a fixed and inalterable line along which one can travel, back and forth.

Zero Culture, however, makes no such presentation; on the contrary, the science fiction here is that in admitting paradoxical time Zero Culture comes to make time stretch indefinitely

When no longer and not yet paradoxically coexist there is neither beginning nor end. Let me put it to you: when an event is in the process of taking-place, we can say that it is en route, and en route in itself has no beginning and no end. What is in the process of coming about is no more what ends than what begins. Here time stretches indefinitely; that's to say, it becomes limitless, infinite.

The taking-place of an event does not happen between two instants, between, let's say, a before and an after. On the contrary, as paradoxical time splits into the no longer and the not yet, both before and after become drawn together. And with this comes the interminable that neither stops nor begins.

Deleuze speaks of this interminable time as a meanwhile, 'un entre-temps'. 'It is,' he says, 'no longer time that exists between two instants; it is the event that is a meanwhile it belongs to becoming'.5) This meanwhile brings with it the immensity of an 'empty' time where nothing is actualised and can be said to have happened. Yes, the taking-place of events always involves a meanwhile where nothing happens. 'You can't, for example, extract the instant of some terribly brutal accident from the vast empty time in which you see it coming, staring at what hasn't yet happened.'(6)

Yes, we forget the amazing wait in events; John called his mother but she wasn't there ...


The taking-place of an event is inseparable from empty periods when nothing happens. And here I find both sunya and chriffa; yes, here I find the event of zero. However, let us not forget that the taking-place of this event of zero is not without paradox: nothing takes place yet, at the same time, there is an infinite taking-place, an endless becoming. Nothing happens there, but everything becomes.

The media chase after events; they want the spectacular; they want something with a beginning and end, which can be captured. In the rush, however, the media continually miss the becoming of events. To grasp the paradoxical time of the taking-place of events requires skill - it is an art. And it is this art which I find with David Bate's Zero Culture. The 'event' of this art-work may perhaps never gain media coverage; it does not sparkle with the spectacular. But, it does twinkle with that paradoxical time where nothing happens yet everything becomes.

All text Yve Lomax 2000

I Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense. The Alhlone Press, 1990, p3.
2 Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, What is Philosophy?, Verso, London, 1994, p110.
3 Maurice Blanchot, The Step Not Beyond, SUNY Press, Albany New York. 1992, p15.
4 See Gilles Deleuze, Kant's Critical Philosophy. The Athlone Press. London, pvii pviii.
5 What is Philosophy?. p158.
6 Gilles Deleuze, Negotiations, Colombia University Press, New York, 1995. P160.