The Caesura or Break in Time

A “caesura” is conventionally defined as a break in metric time, a pause where time is not counted. A common device in the arts, but relevant to all modes of expression involving repetition, the caesura is said to introduce a “natural feeling” into exact or “metronomic” time. This is the active sense of the caesura, where it functions as a conscious device that reflects the rhythmic intuitions of a composer or performer—when to take a breath, when to sustain, release, or attack a line. However, there is a passive or unconscious sense of the caesura. Before it is actively placed in a line, a caesura already marks a passive shift in power, in affect as distinct from feeling. Feelings of joy and sadness, as Spinoza says, are at bottom increases or decreases in our power. Power, however, does not shift from metronomic to “natural,” but from potential to actual. In this sense, the caesura is about the actualisation of affective power, about becoming-intense. The caesura is the “non-place” of power, not just a device for the disruption of metre.

Time passes intensively, and caesuras create fluctuations in intensity. They are in fact immanent to how time passes. The power of an event, that is, its actualisation, coincides with its distribution of intensive breaks. What generates that distribution? It depends on local affinities, attractions, energy traps, and thresholds. Caesuras always have content but are not bound to one. A caesura is a break that repeats, but every repetition differs in itself, just as every break in breathing breaks breathing differently, and every interruption marks an immanent synthesis of time. We can think of the genesis of an affective temporal line, or multiplicity of lines, first as this passive distribution of caesuras. It is prior to any active control (which feeds on it) and actualises potentials before they are captured by various metrics. The distribution of caesuras forms a kind of proto-rhythm or uneven oscillation, immanent to time passing, which is spontaneous and ungrounded. In other words, events in themselves actualise rhythmic potentials. Caesuras prepare those events; they are the paradoxical syntheses of potential and actual times. The caesura is the “arrhythmic” pause or “glitch” that makes time pass, creates passive rhythms, and actualises capacities to affect and be affected.