Currently I am reading Hägglund’s Radical Atheism with great excitement and a strange sense of affinity. Throughout, Hägglund explores Derrida’s conception of time and its implications. Hägglund’s book is marked, at the outset, with three virtues. First, the clarity of his prose and his argumentation is to be highly commended and is something to be emulated. Second, this is not a slavish book devoted to a pious repetition of Derrida, but develops arguments and lines of thought in its own right. Third, Hägglund develops a realist version of Derrida that doesn’t restrict these claims to the human, texts, or language, but extends it to all life (here I’m left wondering why he restricts these ontological claims to life, rather than going all the way and extending them to all beings).
Throughout, Hägglund explores Derrida’s logic of “autoimmunity”. As Hägglund puts it, “[h]is notion of autoimmunity spells out that everything is threatened from within itself, since the possibility of living is inseparable from the peril of dying” (9). This logic of autoimmunity ultimately issues from the nature of time:
Aristotle points out that there would be no time if there were only one single now. Rather, there must be at least two nows– ‘an earlier one before and a later one after’ –in order for there to be time. Time is thus defined as succession, where each now is always superseded by another now. In thinking succession, however, Aristotle realizes that it contradicts his concept of identity as presence in itself. A self-present, indivisible now could never even begin to give away to another now, since what is indivisible cannot be altered… [A]s long as one holds on to the concept of identity as presence in itself– it is impossible to think succession… Rather, the now must disappear in its very event. The succession of time requires not only that each now is superseded by another now, but also that this alteration is at work from the beginning. The purportedly single now is always already divided by the movement of temporalization in which ‘the dyad [is] the minimum,’ as Derrida contends. (16)
My thoughts are still developing in this connection, but Hägglund’s remarks suggest a way of thinking the split-nature of substance in split-objects. One reason I’ve been unimpressed by critiques of substance that claim that it is incapable of becoming, change, process, etc., is that I already think of substances as activities or processes (this comes out with special clarity in chapter five of The Democracy of Objects where I discuss temporalized structure and entropy). Hägglund helps me to think about this. Every object is internally fissured by its own temporal structure such that it contains non-identity (withdrawal) within itself.
As a consequence, it follows that we must think about identity differently. As Hägglund puts it, “[t]he difficult question is how identity is possible in spite of such a division” (17). Following Bogost, the answer is that we can no longer think identity as pertaining to some unalterable presence in itself, but must rather think identity as an operation on the part of substances. In other words, identity must be an ongoing activity through which a substance reproduces itself across time. Here, again, we find a nice cross-over between Dereck Parfit’s conception of identity and the conception of substances as objectiles advocated by onticology.