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  12. Chronos and Aion


Yi-Jinkyung, Professor

Seoul National University of Technology


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Chronos and Aion are the names of gods in Greek Mythology. Chronos is the god of time, whereas Aion is the god of the universe or the sky, which is symbolized by a circle or a twisted snake. It is said to mean the time of cycle or the time of return, so regarded as symbolization of the time of eternal return. In The Logic of Sense, Deleuze reappropriates these two as two different concepts of time that differ in attribute.

Since Aion is often represented as a circle of returning time, Chronos, in contrast to this, is likely to be represented as the time of straight line. But Deleuze reverses this: Chronos is circular time, whereas Aion is linear time. This is because he thinks it improper to interpret Nietzsche's eternal return as a seasonal cycle or a cycle of time that returns every year(Nietzsche, PUF, 37). Before the Christian concept of apocalypse intervenes in the notion of time. time was understood as something like a seasonal cycle, which is the time that circulates according to the cycle of the moon or the sun. This is the time of Chronos. Therefore, it can be expressed as a circle. For Deleuze, Aion is the time of event, and it is the time that corresponds to the repetition of eternal return. To tell you in advance, Aion is the straight line of time that branches out to different past and future every time it is repeated. It is the time of event that is open in infinitely many directions and connects the past and the future.

As the word ‘chronology’ shows, Chronos is chronological time or corporeal time. This is the time we are used to. This is the time that dominates the body and depth of a thing. It is often said that the natural time, Chronos has three tenses; the past, the present, and the future. The past and the future are the extensions of the present in the sense that the former is the past present and the latter is the present expected to come. Therefore, it is said that “only the present exists in time” from the perspective of Chronos(Logic of Sense 162). Aion is the time of event, the time of becoming. As explicated previously(see ‘Event’), an event is not a thing but a surface effect caused by its serialization. Therefore, Aion lies in between things being serialized or in between different states of a thing. It is Aion that, in between two states, is divided in two directions, one toward the past and the other the future. Aion is the time that divides even the present state into the past and the future infinitely as long as change and becoming occur.

Let's take a simple example. ‘Bake bread’ is an event that takes place between two things, flour dough and baked bread. You can also say it is an event between two states of one thing. Dough and bread are nouns that designate the states of things. ‘Bake bread’ refers to neither dough nor bread. It is a verb that expresses the event that occurs between the two. Time passes through both the dough not yet baked and the baked bread. This time is Chronos. The time of the event ‘bake bread’ is in between the dough and the bread. The dough belongs to the time before the event, and the baked bread belongs to the time after the event. The event of ‘bake’ or ‘be baked’ passes through somewhere ‘in between’ that is no longer dough and is not yet bread.

If you stop baking, the state of bread half-done in the middle of baking comes out anew as the present state. If you resume baking again, time gets out of that state and moves on. You can say ‘be baked’ or ‘bake’ only if time doesn’t stop moving on and doesn’t stop getting out of the present state. You can’t say ‘bread half-done’ when you say ‘bake.’ Likewise, you can’t say ‘bake’ when you say ‘bread half-done.’ If you try to talk about the present state, the event disappears, and if you try to talk about the event, the present state disappears. The moment you tell where the flying arrow is, the arrow stops flying. The stopped arrow has only the present. The flying arrow has no present. There's only the past that the arrow just left and the future that it's about to arrive at.

As such, Aion is the time of change and becoming. However, this alone is not yet enough to say Aion was fully explicated. What is really important about Aion is revealed when dealing with the virtual event not the event physically effectuated. That’s because Aion is ‘the time in which nothing happened,’ and the time corresponding to ‘the event in which nothing occurs.’

First, it should be emphasized that Deleuze’s concept of event is paired with virtuality. This is essential to understand how Deleuze’s concept is different from others. The concept of event usually refers to something that actually occurred. All the ‘events’ in the news and newspapers are the ones that actually occurred. Affairs such as the death of people, the outbreak of fire, and the collapse of a bridge, etc are all events that physically happened. It is the same with the poetic event that comes to a poet and makes him to write. The same is true of philosophical concepts. Heidegger was the first to use ‘event’(Ereignis) as a philosophical concept. For Heidegger, Ereignis is something that raids on you and makes you realize in astonishment that you lived your life in oblivion of the sense of Being until that time. That is, for example, the event that makes one decide to quit what he currently does and live a different life with the shock when he sees his hometown dug up for ‘development.’ Therefore, for Heidegger, there can be no event that does not happen or dose not raid. The same goes for Badiou’s concept of event.

However, for Deleuze, event is rather ‘Ideal’ and virtual. The word ‘Ideal’ is in contrast with the word ‘corporeal’ on one hand, it also means it has repeatable universality on the other hand(see ‘Idea,’ ‘event’). Events that are expressed in nouns, such as ‘love’ and ‘revolution,’ not to mention the verbs like ‘bake bread’ and ‘sharpen a knife,’ all have repeatable universalities too. The event ‘grow’ can occur not only to Alice in ‘Wonderland’ but also to her neighbor’s cat and to the Siberian wolf. Those who have failed disconsolately in love as well as those who have never even started yet can all talk about love, and even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it’s still possible to dream of a ‘revolution.’

Both the love that has not been experienced yet and the love that is dreamed of again after failure are all events not yet actualized. To refer to such an event is to refer to an event that hasn’t occurred yet. It’s the waiting for the event as the virtual. One will wait with fluttering heart to see how it’ll come if he is not in love yet, and one will wait with anticipation thinking ‘it’ll be different next time‘ if his love ended in failure. This is because a virtual event unfolds very differently depending on the condition it encounters.

Therefore, the poetic event that comes to a poet or the event of Being that Heidegger refers to has a unique property, but the event that Deleuze says is not the case. An event is something repeatable not only for the changing subjects but also even for one and the same person. Poet’s or Heidegger’s event belongs to the time that already arrived, whereas Deleuze’s event belongs to the time of waiting.

One of the prevalent misconceptions about Aion is that it is a special ‘Instant’ a certain sweeping change occurs like the poetic event or the event of Being. However, for Deleuze, the time of event is neither the poetic time nor the time of vicissitude accompanying a huge surprise. It is the time related to the repeatability of event, and even belongs to the event not yet effectuated. Although Deleuze refers to it as ‘Instant,’ he says it has no place. It “runs through the entire line by the Instant which is endlessly displaced on this line”(LS 166). ‘Instant’ is the time of any virtual event that brings someone into repeatability and waiting.

Deleuze refers to this ‘Instant’ as “the paradoxical instance or the aleatory point”(LS 166). The sense of this word is revealed only when we follow the line of virtualization. Deleuze contrasts virtual events with the events that are actualized physically. Quoting Peguy’s word “there are two ways of considering the event,” he pairs them with the concepts of ‘becoming’ and ‘history’ respectively. Actualization is “the process of going over the course of the event and recording its effectuation in history,” whereas virtualization is going back up to “the event and installing oneself in it as in a becoming”(What is Philosophy, 111). For example, It is “going over the course of the event” to trace and record the process of revolution historically unfolded in Russia and China. On the contrary, installing oneself in the event as a becoming ‘by going back up to the event’ is ascending up to the virtuality of the event of revolution, namely up to the possible events that will unfold elsewhere at different instants by again asking ‘what is a revolution?’ onto those revolutions.

However, virtualization is not reversing the actualized to the original departure point like rewinding a movie film. “When we turn ourselves toward the virtuality that is actualized in the state of affairs,” what you find there is “a completely different reality”(What is Philosophy 157). That is because it’s entering into the aleatory point, namely into the zone of becoming open to different determinabilities. The zone of becoming is where it is possible to “becoming young again and aging in it, both at the same time, going through all its components or singularities.”(What is Philosophy, 111). Going back up to the event means moving to the point where possibilities of very different evolutions ramify, changing the notion of revolution itself in the question of ‘what is a revolution?’ This is the very point where numerous different possible senses emerge because all existing senses of revolutions are reversed to nonsenses. Required there is a paradoxical serialization in which even the affaires believed to be against revolution surge into revolution.

Therefore, nothing seems to change in the actualized history, but in the virtualized event everything changes. This is because the aleatory point is connected with the minimum of virtual determination and opens up the possibilities of all the eventuations. The determined sense returns to a paradox and nonsense implying numerous different senses at the same time, and the aleatory point surrounding singular point makes it possible to draw lines toward all the eventuations. This is precisely what the word “the Instant of event is the paradoxical instance and the aleatory point” means. Therefore, the time of event is not the actual time in which the event occurs, but the time “where nothing takes place,”(WP 158). It is also the time for all the possible eventuations.

The time in which the lines of eventuation reaches out to different senses and in different directions simultaneously, that is exactly the time of event. This time which was named Aion in The Logic of Sense is called ‘meantime’(meanwhile, entre-temps) in What is Philosophy. “It is no longer time that exists between two instants; it is the event that is a meanwhile”(WP 158). Meantime is the time which belongs to ‘the mean’ and is the time as ‘the mean’. It’s the time in which the aleatory point intervenes in the mean that is divided into the past and the future infinitely, and the time in which lines of different directions diverge ‘meanwhile’.

It was Borges who inspired this concept of time(LS 61-62). The Lottery in Babylon, Borges talks about a lottery that involves chance in every stage of the draw. Everything is drawn by lot here; for example, whether to give a prize or impose a fine, how to decide the amount of prize money. the person who decides it, the region where this decider is chosen from, the criteria to pick the region, etc. This means that “the draw has no choice but to be repeated indefinitely.”(Fictions, 111). An infinite number of chances intervene forever. The ‘mean’ which a chance intervenes in such a way is precisely the meantime.

Aion is meantime. At meantime there are events that are to be actualized differently depending on the aleatory point open in numerous directions. Even though it is the time in which nothing occurred, it is the time open to everything that is going to occur, the time alluding to the events, and the time waiting events. The event left as an allusion and the waiting lured by the allusion are there. The philosophy of event, that is “the philosophy as an enormous allusion”(Qu‘est-ce que la philosophie, 150—omitted in the English version). Deleuze/Guattari thinks that philosophy is the work of creating concepts that contain such an allusion. It is philosophy that invents the concept of event which casts the temptation of allusion in the meantime by going back up from actualization. “Philosophy is always meanwhile.‘”(WP 159) Therefore, it can be said that Aion is the god of philosophy.

According to Deleuze, the Stoics named the chain of cause and effect connecting from one body to another ‘destiny’(LS 4). Chronos is the god who rules the chain of corporeal causality. Of course, there could be mad Chronos who disobeys destiny(LS 163-164). However, Aion tells us that there are innumerable empty places where we can escape from the power of inevitability while affirming the destiny, in other words, without praying for the power of mad Chronos, All the ‘Instants’ that divide infinitely into the past and the future, all the surfaces of bodies lure us to the virtuality open toward different eventuations, to the time of allusion and waiting. That’s why, despite extremely low probabilities and repeated failures, we throw the dice saying ‘okay, once again!’ Those who bake bread, those who kick the ball, those who create communities, and those who dream of revolution, all do the same. Deleuze believes that the throw of dice will continue forever because there is difference open to different repeatability, and that’s what eternal return is.



translated by Jung Ki Lee


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