Reflections on Time and Politics

Reflections on Time and Politics

Nathan Widder
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 224
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    Reflections on Time and Politics
    Book Description:

    Recent philosophical debates have moved beyond proclamations of the “death of philosophy” and the “death of the subject” to consider more positively how philosophy can be practiced and the human self can be conceptualized today. Inspired by the writings of Nietzsche, Bergson, and Deleuze, rapid changes related to globalization, and advances in evolutionary biology and neuroscience, these debates have generated a renewed focus on time as an active force of change and novelty. Rejecting simple linear models of time, these strands of thought have provided creative alternatives to a traditional reliance on fixed boundaries and stable identities that has proven unable to grapple with the intense speeds and complexities of contemporary life. In this book, Nathan Widder contributes to these debates, but also goes significantly beyond them. Holding that current writings remain too focused on time’s movement, he examines more fundamentally time’s structure and its structural ungrounding, releasing time completely from its traditional subordination to movement and space. Doing this enables him to reformulate entirely the terms through which time and change are understood, leading to a radical alteration of our understandings of power, resistance, language, and the unconscious, and taking post-identity political philosophy and ethics in a new direction. Eighteen independent but interlinked reflections engage with ancient philosophy, mathematical theory, dialectics, psychoanalysis, archaeology, and genealogy. The book’s broad coverage and novel rereadings of key figures—including Aristotle, Bergson, Nietzsche, Foucault, and Deleuze—make this a unique rethinking of the nature of pluralism, multiplicity, and politics.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-05495-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Recent philosophical debates have moved beyond proclamations of the “death of philosophy” and the “death of the subject” to consider more affirmatively how philosophy can be practiced and how the human self or subject can be conceptualized today. Combined with the impact of profound changes related to globalization and the information age economy, which have blurred both real and conceptual boundaries and made speed a central factor of contemporary life, this has produced a renewed interest in time as an active force of change, contingency, and novelty. Time’s dynamics, embedding the past and memory in the present in such a...

  5. 1 The “Vulgar” Aristotle
    (pp. 13-21)

    Aristotle is often credited with the first rigorous formulation of the “vulgar” conception of time as an infinite series of “nows” stretching from future to past. For many, this ordinary, chronological conception—which reduces time to space,¹ unfolds it in a linear succession,² or subordinates it to movement³—is a baseline of what contemporary thinking must surpass. Certain difficulties, however, must be negotiated to ascribe this position to Aristotle fully. On the one hand, the discussion of time inPhysics, book 4, opens by stating that not only are past and future nonexistent, but ‘‘the present ‘now’ is not part...

  6. 2 Point, Line, Curve
    (pp. 22-33)

    Modern set theory rejects thehorror infinitiof earlier thought. An infinite like Aristotle’s, linked to endless division of finite magnitudes, is a potentiality that cannot become actual; point and line are incompatible because infinity remains a never completed process of approximation. Conversely, an infinite set, immediately and fully given, offers a way for a continuum to be composed of unlimited indivisibles. The assertion of actual infinities in pure mathematics remains controversial.¹ Nevertheless, its introduction was crucial to the arithmetization of analysis and the grounding of calculus and geometry in number theory.

    InOur Knowledge of the External World, Bertrand...

  7. 3 Immanence and Sense
    (pp. 34-39)

    In his 1954 review of Jean Hyppolite’sLogic and Existence,¹ Deleuze sets the direction for his subsequent work in relation to Hegelian dialectics. Affirming both Hyppolite’s reading of Hegel and his criticisms of anthropological readings like Kojève’s (1969), Deleuze praises Hegel for demanding that philosophy be an ontology of sense: “Philosophy must be ontology, it cannot be anything else; but there is no ontology of essence, there is only an ontology of sense” (Deleuze 1997b, 191). With this gesture, Deleuze places his thought and Hegel’s on a common terrain with respect to a single question: what concept of difference is...

  8. 4 A Discontinuous Bergsonism
    (pp. 40-49)

    From aristotle to bergson, time’s continuity is consistently derived through analogy with local motion: the simple, undivided movement of an object tracing a line; the lifting of a hand.¹ Conversely, the metaphor of music—with its varied layers of rhythm and tempo, melody and counterpoint, staccato and legato—renders fullness the effect of “hatched lines of discontinuity” (Bachelard 2000, 122). Bergson certainly employs musical imagery, comparing the experience of duration to recalling “the notes of a tune, melting, so to speak, into one another” (Bergson 1910, 100), and he calls attention to the mass of continuous sound heard when listening...

  9. 5 Disguised Platonisms
    (pp. 50-62)

    Is platonism defined more by the theory of Forms or by the account of reminiscence that enables access to them? Both might seem necessary to escape the aporias of definition most prominent in the early dialogues and attain a positive ground for becoming. Yet they have clearly experienced very different fates. In contrast to reminiscence, even Plato himself, particularly inParmenides, casts doubt upon the coherence, efficacy, and very existence of the Forms, especially those of substances as opposed to qualities (seeParmenides130b–134e).¹ Moreover, as demonstrated principally in theRepublic, an unavoidable transcendence undermines the entire theory. This...

  10. 6 Syntheses of Difference and Contradiction
    (pp. 63-75)

    In suggesting a route from Hegelian dialectics, Deleuze asks, “Is not contradiction itself only the phenomenal and anthropological aspect of difference?” (Deleuze 1997b, 195). This might suggest a simple inversion of the historical and logical that, as with Marx, would see our logic as the product of our history, not the reverse. But Deleuze refuses this route: a historical dialectic, for him, advances no further than a logical or ontological dialectic in terms of finding a conception of difference adequate to a philosophy of immanence. What is required is a concept of becoming that exceeds and gives sense to the...

  11. 7 Abstract and Concrete Differences: Lacan and Irigaray
    (pp. 76-85)

    As kojève (1969, esp. “In Place of an Introduction”) explains, Hegelian desire consists of two levels. Natural desire seeks to negate the otherness of an object in order to possess or consume it. Human desire, however, negates this negation, though it also preserves and sublates both natural desire and the other that natural desire would consume. Human desire desires not to negate some other but to negate itself, becoming an object of desire for another. This level of desire, which expresses itself in the demand for recognition by a worthy other, drives the dialectic inThe Phenomenology of Spiritto...

  12. 8 Repetition and the Three Syntheses of Time
    (pp. 86-99)

    How does difference become the structure of time as such, rather than an event occurring in time? For Deleuze, it is a matter of repetition. Repetition must not be confused with generality, which belongs to the domain of law (Deleuze 1994, 2) and presents a “qualitative order of resemblances” and a “quantitative order of equivalences” (1).¹ Law relies on abstraction and closed systems (3) to sanction reiterations of identity, as though two events or two things could everreallybe the same. Law and generality treat the differences between repetitions withindifference, as secondary or accidental, but genuine repetition does...

  13. 9 Incorporeal Surfaces
    (pp. 100-107)

    An ontology of sense invokes a surface that brings together and coordinates divergent realms and becomings. It thereby opposes traditional appeals to transcendent Ideas or externaltelei, seeking immanent principles instead. As has been seen, however, apparently anti-Platonist philosophies may still carry residues of Platonism. The same is true of ontologies of the surface. The excess of the surface replaces that of transcendent identities, functioning as a constitutive difference. Yet it may still work to retain the continuity and coherence that are as much a part of Platonism as appeals to transcendence.

    The ancient Stoic theory of incorporeals is a...

  14. 10 The Logic of (Non)Sense
    (pp. 108-114)

    Contradiction—the notion that X is at once both itself and not-X—is the nonsense that creates dialectical sense. It provides the mediating surface that stitches together thought and thing, concept and object, what is said and that of which it is said. Deleuze counterpoises difference to opposition, immediate overcoming to mediating contradiction, and disjunction to the Hegelian Identity of identity and difference. Disjunction is now the nonsense that constitutes sense, and it too connects thought and being, but in a way that prevents any simple correspondence between them. The sign now assumes a new role: it is neither the...

  15. 11 Regularities of Dispersion
    (pp. 115-120)

    The archaeology of knowledgeaims to outline the discursive formations that enable the emergence of subjects and objects and that condition the production of knowledge domains. In other words, it seeks to analyze the structures and processes that establish a surface of sense. To achieve this end, Foucault says, “we must rid ourselves of a whole mass of notions, each of which, in its own way, diversifies the theme of continuity” (Foucault 1989a, 21). Negative unities such as “tradition,” “author,” “oeuvre,” “book,” “science,” and “literature” not only impose themselves from the outside onto discourse but also erect bulky abstractions. Few...

  16. 12 The Genesis of the Surface I: The Theory of Drives
    (pp. 121-129)

    Freud often laments that the understanding of instincts remains obscure, insufficiently established, and lagging in development compared to the rest of psychoanalytic theory (Freud 1953, 168n2; 1957a, 50; 1957b, 117–18; 1957c, 78; 1959, 56–57; 1965, 95; 1994, 45). Yet perhaps this is due primarily to the organization of component instincts into an oppositional schema that is extraneous and without basis. Freud defines instinct¹ as “an endosomatic, continuously flowing source of stimulation . . . lying on the frontier between the mental and the physical” (1953, 168, see also 1957b, 121–22). He contrasts it to “a ‘stimulus,’ which...

  17. 13 The Genesis of the Surface II: Negation and Disjunction
    (pp. 130-142)

    For freud, negation is both a surface effect and what generates this surface. It is a correlate of the consciousness and intellect that make up the psyche’s surface, but it is mapped more or less accurately onto the body’s physical surface and the negative difference between inside and outside. Negation is thus a feature of reality and of the psyche’s reality principle. No negation resides in the unconscious, where contraries condense into one another as though they were conformities (Freud 1966, 178), nor any linear time, with its spatialized difference between past, present, and future, nor fear of death, which...

  18. 14 Crisis Time: Nihilism and the Will to Truth
    (pp. 143-156)

    For nietzsche, modern nihilism is a condition in which delegitimated values of the past remain embedded in an incompatible present. Morality is “a system of evaluations that partially coincides with the conditions of a creature’s life” (Nietzsche 1968, §256) because “feelings about values are always behind the times; they express conditions of preservation and growth that belong to times long gone by; they resist new conditions of existence with which they cannot cope and which they necessarily misunderstand” (§110). In its out-of-sync character, nihilism expresses more generally the formal structure of time. But it arises only when realization of this...

  19. 15 Discipline and Normalization
    (pp. 157-164)

    Foucault is often credited with the view that power fixes and imposes identities on its subjects, while resistance, which may be considered a form of power, opposes this first power and thereby dissolves or deconstructs power’s identity formations.¹ This use of identity as a central term around which power and resistance operate may seem compatible with Foucault’s main criticisms of traditional juridico-discursive models of power: that these models fail to appreciate power’s positive and productive nature, its differing micro- and macrolevels of operation, and its most complex strategies, which go far beyond those of law and restriction. Yet such readings...

  20. 16 Time, Guilt, and Overcoming
    (pp. 165-176)

    One does not need freud to understand how trauma initiates a repetition operating beyond any reference to pleasure or the pleasure principle. The death of a loved one, the breakdown of a marriage, or even a minor public embarrassment—regardless of whether these occur quickly or develop gradually in chronological time—easily result in a compulsion to replay in memory and behavior the events and the context that produced them. Freud asserts that through repetition the trauma of the event can be mastered, allowing the psychic system to repair itself and the pleasure principle to return to dominance.¹ Yet nothing...

  21. 17 Micropolitics “Beneath” Identity
    (pp. 177-183)

    Despite their fictitiousness, identity and opposition do structure a certain level of political and social life, figuring most prominently in the standards of normality and deviancy that seem to give sense to various practices and institutions. Deviation from the norm is considered a failure to achieve standards and a falling away from the norm into its opposite. Different standards operate in different domains, yet in all cases social forces are exercised in the name of policing and correcting deviance and compelling conformity with the norms, often using both carrot and stick approaches. Given the hierarchical and exclusionary nature of these...

  22. 18 The Care of the Self and Politics
    (pp. 184-188)

    The will to truth underpinning disciplinary and normalizing powers may seek to categorize differences according to standards of normality and deviance. But the operations of these power relations always produce something else. Moreover, the frictions and conflicts within disciplinary institutions and practices mean that they operate, from the will to truth’s perspective, only by breaking down.¹ Nevertheless, a regularity persists, giving sense and direction to the entire disciplinary regime. This regularity is found in the schema of correspondence connecting the heterogeneous domains of desire and truth, which constitutes desire as a hidden source of truth about the self. It is...

    (pp. 189-198)
  24. INDEX
    (pp. 199-208)
  25. Back Matter
    (pp. 209-209)