Sketches for a History — Christopher Clifton

In the era of equivalence the image of a god could be compared with any image under heaven. For the images were not the representatives of things that were not present to the senses, but were taken in themselves as that which was. What they seemed to represent were merely other kinds of image that had more or less face value, and the values they contained were just a function of the process of the endless calculation they belonged to. From a point of view outside this calculation, every image of the time was worth the same as any other.

*

The unlimited extension of the field of calculation of the images of debt had presupposed a set of terms that had already been decided on the nature of that owed, as on a total. The extension of this field had been a conscious exploration of the meaning of that total, by which that which was accounted was accounted as a part that had no obvious connection with the parts that had already been accounted, but which signified the sum of all that could be. Every aspect of the debt was therefore entered on the page as an expression of the total, and could only be compared with any other irreducible expression of the same through the analogy that gave each thing its meaning. By which anything accounted as an image of the total could be easily exchanged for any other single image of the total, but not counted as the same. The total of the debt had been implied in the extension of the numbers of such things, but never present to the senses. Any vision of the total in itself would have implied that other terms had been contracted.

*

There had seemed to be no manner to account for the appearance of the debt. It had been present to begin with, for as long as any memory could remember. The attempt to break it down into its minimal components had resulted in all manner of numerical expression, which were treated as a measurement of time before its present, and proposed as a description of the origin of everything that came to be considered. However these numerical expressions, and the figure of the past that they enabled the accountants to depict with a conviction of conception were revealed to be so many other aspects of the debt that had been taken by their senses, and provided no account of that from which it had been given to account for. There had been nothing to account but the reality to which the time had access, but the access to this debt was without access. The beginning was in everything, and everything its end.

*

The universal nature of the debt had been accounted in the wake of termination of that form in which a debt had been regarded as a minor deviation from the normalcy of law. That law had been established in a past of which no mortal point of view had seen to speak of, but the centre of that law had held a universal balance of accounts that every mortal was subject to and aware of. Everything took place and had its place in its relation to that centre. A debt was a displacement from the centre of the norm, and a relation to the past to which it had to be returned to keep the order. A payment was an act of restoration to the universal balance of all things. But there came a great disruption, when the centre was displaced by that which had not been accounted, and the space of distribution lost proportion, and the instances of debt were left with nowhere to return to. Everything converted into debt that had no origin to which to be referred but the destruction of the law that had determined what was where and where held due. It was no longer a relation to the past, but a relation to the future.

*

That the “total” had already been arrived at left the task of taking stock of the particular indebtments that came after. They were taken to account as irreducible components that had no direct relation to the other irreducible components, but as open to the total that could not itself be given on the page of its components led directly to some other unrelatable account of something elsewhere.

*

That the evidence of that which came to be had been accounted as so many forms of debt allowed that debt to simply be as it would be. That the debt would be accounted as received, and not from where it was received, nor how it came to be received, but simply taken to account as something given to consider, meant that nothing could take precedence to any other image of the debt. Thus a simple piece of string, a cloud formation, a decision in a court room, an ideal, a grain of sand, the earth itself, a thought of something, the conception of a whole, a sense of joy, a beating heart – were just so many single figures to be written side by side as irreducible expressions of the debt. That they had as such been taken in account then raised the question of the limits of the contract that had opened the account, but such a question only widened the dimensions of the debt and brought a more acute awareness of the debt that was at hand – which was the only debt that mattered.

*

The specificity of debt had been regarded as being relevant to just the very fact of it being given to the consciousness contracted to receive it. That consciousness itself had been accounted as another irreducible appearance of the debt that had no origin to turn to, but had come to take account of that to which it had contracted. Thus the quality of debt had been made present in the sense of coming from, but that from which it had been given to account had not been given to account for. Yet that consciousness was able to return to the collection of the figures of account to build its story.

*

The symptom of the age had been the presence of an I that took its presence as the ground of all that came to be considered. Every sentence had a subject that both spoke and heard its speaking as the willing confirmation of its immanent importance. But this subject had been given as a function of the contract that decided and connected every thing that it could speak of, and the subsequent adherence to the presence of the I that thus perceived itself as adequate to everything obstructed the contraction of another set of terms, which would have had to have implied another subject – or whatever could replace it. That the subject that perceived the world contracted had been given by the terms to which it found itself contracted had been hidden by the fact that it was present to its presence in the world, but not its presence to its presence.

*

There came a time in which the background of the total came to figure in the line of simple numbers to disrupt their calculation, in an instant in which everything was given as a thing that made no reference to a total. A method of accountancy emerged that took this qualitative change as but one figure of an infinite repayment. That which followed was a sequence of accounts of total figures of the end of what they stood for. The significance of which was not a total obligation, but a lapse that left them void.

 


Christopher Clifton works as a trauma counsellor with refugee and aboriginal communities in Australia. His treatise “Of the Contract” is published by Punctum Books, and his novel “Constructions” is forthcoming from Void Front Press.

Image: steel wool!, Ben Mortimer, Creative Commons