What Emerges from a Particularity

I have been reading, loving and learning a great deal from The Order of Time, the latest book from the brilliant Italian physicist, Carlo Rovelli. Below are some notes on some of the ways in which I have found his discussion of time resonant with my own work and thinking.


Unbecoming is the process—even more so, the force—that drives the world. In physics, this force is called “entropy:” the irreversible expenditure by which heat is produced and by which change occurs rather than everything staying the same in a state of equilibrium. Without entropy (that is, without unbecoming) nothing would ever happen; there simply would not be the becoming of being.

Entropy is the process of disordering, degrading, consuming and expending by which every thing exists and comes to mix with other things. As Carlo Rovelli writes: “The entire coming into being [i.e. becoming] of the cosmos is the gradual process of disordering [i.e. unbecoming]…The entire universe is like a mountain that collapses in slow motion. Like a structure that very gradually crumbles” (165-166).

Entropic unbecoming is not the shift from potentiality to actuality (or from actuality to im-potentiality), but is rather the actuality of im-potentiality, of im-potentiality in act. In other words: unbecoming is the form-of-impotent power (its force). States of high entropy include things like fire and explosions, whereas most everything in the universe operates by way of low entropy, for example: the sun.

Low entropy in the past leaves traces in the present, and as Rovelli explains, in the chapter of his book titled, “What Emerges from a Particularity,” it is the low entropy of the past that is the only source of the difference between past and future. The future is what does not leave traces, it is not inscribed or prescribed and this lack of prescription is the source of our sense of freedom to act, and is the condition for the ability to decide—and to not entirely base any decision solely upon what has already been inscribed (or prescribed), that is, in terms of the past. “The absence of any analogous traces of the future produces the sensation that the future is open…This fact is at the origin of our sensation of being able to act freely in the world: choosing between different futures…This is what we call ‘deciding.’” (167-68).

As Rovelli explains, for a trace to be left, something needs to be arrested or stopped in its movement. This can only happen by the entropic degrading of energy into heat, and this is an irreversible process (e.g. you cannot return the struck and burnt match to its earlier unburnt state). Erasure is the process by which an attempt is made to reverse this irreversible process of trace-leaving, of mark-making. But even erasure is its own process of heating up (say, the sheet of drawing paper), and thus leaves its own trace, even if we typically perceive erasure as the reverse of the mark—erasing as the reversing of the trace’s irreversible marking, which is of course its own (that is, the trace’s) form of leaving, as when we speak about “leaving a trace.”

Some prior entropic process (producing a singularity) is the source of attraction and what makes one move to- or towards the outside (yet without any clear and definite sense of destination; see my first book, The Logic of the Lure). The trace is the site of an arrest or suspension of movement, and as the scene of decision affirms that this encounter between unbecoming things is irreducibly a space of separation, of departure, of erasure (see the first chapter of my Decision book: “Name No One Man” on Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing). Departure or leave-taking then is at the heart of attraction (leaving and going toward), and decision (non-prescribed freedom to act going forward), and thus departure is the movement that traces the trajectory of intimacy as always a shared rapport with the outside. This outside is not some external cause (just as much as there is no internal or willed cause in play here), but is simply one name for an opening right at the very edge of things, a spacing that is drawn as the indefinite contour, outline or trace of arresting movement in its passing.

If deciding is the making calculations about possible futures, then in my book The Decision Between Us, I was interested in those moments and scenes of decision, wholly occurring only in relation to a sense of shared-separation, that did not amount to a reproductive futurism. All the while affirming that to the extent that there is separation (and not only negation), there is a spacing of sharing, and hence the need to decide on how to sustain that separation not only in its in-appropriability but even in its un-shareability. This impossibility or improbability is not reducible to what has often gone by the name un-decidable, but more precisely pertains to each instance in which the decision is impossible and yet there it (i.e. shared-separation) is.

Thus there would seem to be a number of valid answers to the question as to what emerges from a particularity (or singularity): entropy, heat, traces, mixing, a sense of openness and a sense of freedom. And thus, decision and a sense of the sheer improbability and absolute partiality (non-totalizability) of all of this. Each one of us is a partisan enthralled by the surprise of existence—that it happens and that this happening is unbecoming.

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