Datasein: Heidegger, Proust and the Recovery of Time

It is said that “data” is the most universal and the emptiest concept. But what if the past is data? What can we do about it? What if every past second is a material bit, a semiotic sign, a symbol in a text that needs — or needs not — to be organized as a whole, as a machine, a body, a corpus, a unit that will produce a certain range of effects.

There are many definitions of data. Data is another self-evident concept. I am in an elevator, I am about ten years old. It is early in the morning and I am going to school. Once again, I woke up too early. My brain flashes illogical images of people I know, uncontrolled words, and I feel I need to tame my mind. Why this imperative? Today I would like to imagine the articulation of every second of the past, every bit, into a coherent whole. Everybody understands “the sky is blue”. But how can existential data belonging to the past be understood?

The average comprehensibility of data is by definition questionable. Even if the world is a computer simulation, the feeling of what we call experience cannot be a simple line of code if interpretation and signifier differ. If data amounts to chemical particles, the enigma or singularity of self remains. The fact that we live already in an understanding of data and that the meaning of data is at the same time shrouded in blinding light proves the necessity of asking: what is “being data”? And what about “living in the era of data”? If we could transform a human past into data, how would we interpret and organize it, and who would do it? What would the first second of any existence look like if it could be universalized? An explosion of multiplicity that finds its limit in the emergence of the concept of one? One second. One multiplicity. One sense of feeling and observing around. We are, it seems, born as observers. I remember the first seconds of my daughter, observing around with apprehension and curiosity, her eyes wide open, perhaps the only part of her body that was not still made of folds.

I did not know if I were awake in that elevator, or to be more precise, I knew I was experiencing an intermediate and painful state between dreaming and being awake, because of the obligation to go to school. Hence the disparate mind-pops. Hence the need on the way to school for an imperative, a unifying principle that would organise and filter the uncontrolled data, not only as consciousness but as personality or character. Infinite regression of memories: me thinking of my young self in an elevator thinking of a previous familiar and supposedly anecdotic relation to another human, herself a consciousness filled with memories of memories, unified only in my disunified mind. I had gone on thinking, while I was awake, about what I had just been day-dreaming, and these thoughts could not be defined; it seemed to me that I myself, in that elevator — which was not elevating me but going down —, was not the subject of my life, or more precisely that this subject was not self-evident data, but a question and a challenge.

Regarding, understanding and grasping, choosing, and gaining access to, might appear to be attitudes of inquiry into data, but the acceptation that data is a given, almost imposed by the etymology of the term, can be questioned. Data is construed, it might also be elaborated as we consider it, perhaps — as often noted — invented by the observer. But invented from which material if not another form of data? What is the data of data? The being that has the character of datasein has a relation to the question of life as Creal itself, creation of the real independently of any creator. There seems to be a priority of data, but is it a primordiality? If infinite probability is the prima materia that I call Creal without being able to define it as data would be defined, is this a given matter (data again) or a process of giving (plenteous) meaning (sense creation)?

Can we go beyond impressions that persist or alternatively vanish after we awake, in a state of darkness, perhaps pleasant and restful, perhaps disturbing? I remember a photograph of a young boy socially defined as me at six or seven, siting in a field with a horse in the background. The grass is green, and I am smiling. I have no recollection of the actual day when this image was taken, and since the photograph itself has disappeared, it stands in my mind — and in the mind of a few others — as a bridge between two erased realities. I remember I looked like I was smiling, but I don’t remember how it felt to be smiling when I was six or seven, not even if my appearance of joy was authentic or a practical pose. I don’t remember if I could hear the whistling of trains or the note of a bird in the forest. But I am aware that the photograph, even in my mind, is bordered by rectangular limits, hiding what cannot be seen, what could not be heard. One photo. One moment. One person and one horse. Cuts or folds in the stuff of the Creal, folds — Leibnizian or not — in the prima materia, which appear like reality-cuts. Or cuts and leaps between multiverses that seem like existential folds to an active impression and experience of reality. A science of being (ontology) is a crealectic; it is also a henology, a science of unification.

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