In the preface to the new edition of The Limits of Capital, David Harvey writes,

The linearity of the narrative in Limits makes it seem as though capital has some spectral existence all to itself before it tangibly comes to earth in space and time. It seems as if the crises tendencies of capitalism can be set up sequentially, moving from the general (e.g. the falling rate of profit) to the temporal (financial) to the spatial (uneven geographical development and geopolitics). It is wrong, however, to see the three cuts at crisis theory set out in Limits as sequential. They should be understood as simultaneous aspects to the crisis formation and resolution within the organic unity of capitalism.

I offer two supportive arguments for this position. To begin with, materialism of any sort demands that the triumvirate of space-time-process be considered as a unity at the ontological level. All questions about nature (including human activity), Whitehead once observed, can in the end be reduced to questions about space and time. There is, unfortunately, very little reflection within the Marxist tradition on the nature of space and time. This is a serious defect because historical materialism, or as I prefer to name it, historical-geographical materialism, cannot exist without a solid appreciation of the dialectics of spatio-temporality. There is, it turns out, an underlying spatio-temporal frame to Marx’s theorizing and it rests on a dialectical fusion of three fundamental ways of understanding spatio-temporality. Under the absolute theory, mainly associated with the names of Newton, Descartes and Kant, space is a fixed and unchanging grid, quite separate from time, within which material things, events and processes can be clearly individuated and described. Spatial ordering is the domain of geographical knowledge and temporal unfolding is that of history. This is, in the first instance, the primary domain of use values in Marxian theory. It is the space that defines private property rights in land, the boundaries of the state, the physical layout of the factory, the material form of the commodity and the individuated body of the labourer. Under the relative theory, mainly associated with the name of Einstein, a world of motion defines space-time structures that are neither fixed nor Euclidean. Transport relations generate different metrics based on physical distance, cost and time, and shifting topological spaces (airline hubs and networks, for example) define the circulation of commodities, capital, money, people, information, and the like. The distance between New York and London is relative not fixed. Relative space-time is the privileged domain of exchange value, of commodities and moneys in motion. The relational view, mainly associated with the name of Leibniz, asserts that space-time has no independent existence, that it is inherent in and created through matter and process. The universe, for example, did not originate in space and time. The big bang created space-time through matter in motion. Capital creates space-time. Relational space-time is the primary domain of Marx’s value theory. Marx held (somewhat surprisingly) that value is immaterial but objective. ‘Not an atom of matter enters into the objectivity of commodities as values.’ As a consequence, value does not ‘stalk about with a label describe what it is’ but hides its relationality within the fetishism of commodities. Value is a social relation in relational space-time. The only way we can tangibly grasp it is through its objective effects, but that pitches us into that peculiar world in which material relations are established between people (we relate to each other via what we produce and trade) and social relations are constructed between things (monetary prices are set for what we produce and trade). If value is a social relation and this is always immaterial but objective (try measure any social relation of power directly and you always fail), then this renders moot if not misplaced all those attempts to come up with some direct and essentialist measure of it. But what kind of social relation is presupposed here? Value is an internal relation within the commodity. It internalizes the whole historical geography of labor processes, commodity production and realization, and capital accumulation in the space-time of the world market. (xix-xx)

Setting aside Harvey’s specific concerns to articulate a theory of capital, any materialist theory worth its salt faces the sorts of difficulties that Harvey outlines here. If one begins with the premise that existence is relational as every materialist theory should, then the work of theory necessarily faces the challenge of expressing this relationality in a medium that is necessarily linear and can only treat one theme at a time. A book, a writing, a conversation, is incapable of saying the simultaneity of interdependent relations at one and the same time. As such, thought and debates are perpetually haunted by abstraction (I need a better word) in the sense that the temporal limitations of language invite reification of concepts by wresting them from their fields of relations.

This can take a few different forms, which I will not exhaustively outline here. First, it can take the form of abstract universalization. For instance, one might speak of the “human”, without specifying what assemblages one is referring to, their geographical locations, their structuration, etc., etc. Such talk might have made sense when groups were more geographically isolated allowing a term like the ‘human” to function as shorthand for “what we do”, but in a globalized context it becomes clear that such usages always take a paradigmatic example from one group against which all other groups are then measured. In other instances, this temporal limitation of language can invite ones interlocutor to assume that one is treating one particular issue as the cause or source of all other problems, when in fact the issue here is that one can only talk about one thing at a time. The question here is thus one of how it is possible to think a form of philosophy, a way of writing, that avoids these sorts of pitfalls. Clearly any form of foundationalism will not work here as the founding of an element is dependent on its inter-relations to other elements, not one element that serves a privileged or transcendent role with regard to all the other elements.

Time-space-process. Absolute time-space, relative time-space, relational time-space. I have thrown this passage up as a placeholder for further thought and inquiry. I am not certain that I agree with Harvey’s sorting of different time-spaces, but I am convinced that he is correct in claiming that materialism necessarily entails a thought that attends to time, space, and process. There are key issues here that converge nicely with N.Pepperell’s own luminiously emerging project, pertaining to questions of self-reflexivity and emergence. It is not enough to simply treat things in the world in terms of process, time, and space. No, if one is genuinely a materialist, then thought itself is subject to exactly these same principles. Thought is a material reality. It produces effects. It is a process. It has its geography. As a result, questions of self-reflexivity emerge. In short, we must avoid exempting concepts from these criteria, but must instead grope after the material a priori surrounding the emergence of different concepts, their history, their geography, and their processes, and the processes they spawn in the social field. These remarks are pointers for questions I need to work through.