Transformation Miroslav Petříček

“Transformation” has the character of a verb. Just like “imagination,” for example. Its product is change, not the state of things, for transformation signifies alteration. It is a process which is most certainly directed against the human need for stability and constancy; on the other hand, transformation is a characteristic distinguishing the living from the non-living. The metamorphosis of things is disagreeable, however, partly because it brings deformation: transformation is only possible through the disintegration of an original shape or form dissipating in another, and partly because it leads to things apparently getting out of our control: hardly have we got to know something and it is already different and we have to start all over again. But at the same time as all this, it is clear that it is necessary to come to terms with this nonstate of things because it is no longer possible to be unaware of the fact that transformation is the basis for everything that appears constant to us simply because we avert our eyes from what is changeable. We must come to terms with the fact that reality is a transforming reality, that the forms we know are mixtures of forms within a process of deforming formation. The ideal form, one not subject to transformation, is a fiction which we use like a veil to cover a world where—at various speeds and in various ways—everything changes.

When we talk about transformation in relation to the transformation of society—whether this concerns the transformation of Central and Eastern Europe or the development of the modern period into one originating within it as a new form which for want of a better proper noun we have termed postmodernity—it usually refers to the transition between one form and another. Perhaps it would be a lot more precise and commensurate to reality if even here we understood transformation not to be the replacement of one state of things by another, but rather a transition from a world of constancy to a world of transformation. But even “transition” has the character of a verb: life undergoing metamorphosis and reality to which transformation is inherent are in a state of transition. Perhaps the social and political transformation of Central and Eastern Europe was such a striking phenomenon because the transition occurred rapidly; even though it was expected, it was not prepared in any way: suddenly we found ourselves in something else. This aspect, and this aspect only, distinguishes transformation in this region from transformation in the surrounding area. But basically it can be said that the whole of Europe found itself at a particular moment at which the peak of the period of constancy, the time of slow and almost imperceptible tendencies, converged with one of the peaks of the time of events outside of this period of constancy, and their interference meant that we perceived a long-prepared change as a spectacular event.

Under the given nonstate of things, many certainties appear to be entirely different. For example: something is certain if it is approaching a state of disequilibrium, rather than being extricated from general motion. But that does not mean that it is necessary to define the word “uncertainty” in relation to some other context, such as “openness” in opposition to self-containment (autopoesis theory). And the relation between local and global scale needs to be understood in the same way: local knowledge is exact and reliable, but it cannot be generalized. Above a certain threshold it no longer makes sense; general theories apply globally, but cannot be relied upon on the local scale. Above a particular threshold they stop being valid in terms of being universal. Thus a continual transition between Michel Serres’ global and local does not exist, which means that our knowing (which develops as much through the instruments of science as those of art) is a constant search for a delicate balance between the two, without one ever being able to annihilate the other.

The ideal dictionary of our consciousness is developing into an encyclopedia (one in which one can reach any one place from any other place), but encyclopedic “closedness” is collapsing internally into a strange rhizomatic proliferation of multiplicities à la Gilles Deleuze: any point is open to an infinite number of directions. It has the appearance of structure; in reality, however, it is a process, motion, a series of events. We are constantly in the middle without knowing where the center is.

But that is precisely what “transformation” is, as it has the character of a verb and not of a noun. In order to be able to orient ourselves in the realm of transitions and metamorphoses we need imagination, which is the only thing able to keep up with the process of transmutation.