I’ve been struggling to express this thought, but don’t yet have words to do so with any conceptual rigor or eloquence. Maybe I shouldn’t write about this at all, then. Or maybe I should just write blindly, hoping that something will shake loose and that a seed will form allowing me to formulate something more rigorously in the future. That is, after all, the entire point of this blog… To follow larval subjects through a blind writing that might develop into something more into the future. Hegel disdainfully said of Schelling’s ever shifting systems, that he conducted his education in public. I suppose I’m like Schelling in this respect. I follow my errancy, letting thoughts form in fits and starts, seeing where they lead and watching many of them fall into ruin. I prefer, however, to think that my method is more Leibnizian or occasional; that I’m a sort of letter writer that develops thought as the occasion demands it.
Perhaps I should start with the context of the thought: the current primary election between Sanders and Clinton. I hesitate to do so because I don’t want this to become a discussion about politics– especially democratic politics –but am trying to get at something of a trauma. Again and again the polls indicate that the older generation, the boomers, are skewing towards Clinton, while the younger vote, the millennials, is skewing towards Sanders. This is something I’ve encountered myself in discussion with my friends of various ages. My older friends, in their late fifties and sixties, overwhelmingly gravitate towards Clinton, while my peers and students skew towards Sanders. This is not something I’ve only experienced in the domain of politics, but also in philosophy. I’ve witnessed, on a number of occasions, divides such as this between generations over schools of philosophical thought. The first such experience was with the rise of Badiou contra phenomenology, hermeneutics, and deconstruction. There was the palpable feel that an entirely new discourse had emerged, that there were new rules of the game; yet the prior generation proceeded according to the same methodologies as if nothing new had occurred. Later I witnessed and participated in something similar with the new materialisms and speculative realisms.
I do not wish to take any sides here– though I do have my sides –because I am instead trying to think about the structure of social or historical time. Perhaps we could say that experiences like this are an opportunity for a “phenomenology of the fissure”. Where traditional phenomenology contents itself with an analysis of the lifeworld or our being in the world– our shared “hermeneutic horizon” –a phenomenology of the fissure begins from an encounter with a differend, with incommensurable worlds. A phenomenology of the fissure begins with what Deleuze called a fundamental distance across possible worlds or divergent series. We can only sense that that difference is there because we are there in our world or Welt, but we sense that even though we’re speaking the same language and apparently talking to one another, we’re nonetheless talking about entirely different things. We’re somehow seem to be in the same world, yet there is a distance in this world; a distance that is something other than spatial distance.
A brutal image from American Psycho comes to mind. I always think first in terms of images and then gradually give things conceptual articulation. Patrick Bateman is walking down an alley and comes across a homeless man and his dog. He offers to help him and then cruelly stops. “You and I have nothing in common, we come from entirely different worlds. I can’t even understand you.” Things end badly for the homeless man and his dog. It’s a perfect and horrific, an absolute, anti-Levinasian moment. Between these two– for Bateman, at least –there’s a non-traversable, infinite distance. He knows that there’s another world there before him, yet he cannot traverse the distance to enter into that world. The two men speak to one another, they speak the same language, they make sounds at one another as one of my past analysands would put it, yet somehow they’re not speaking to one another. There’s a paradox here. They’re spatially close to one another, they occupy the same earth or Erde, but they do not occupy the same world or Welt. There is a non-traversable distance between them.
Now another image comes to mind: The Cloud City from The Empire Strikes Back. I imagine all sorts of cities floating in clouds at different levels. They each have their different cultures, their different styles, their different rhythms. We might also imagine China Mieville’s City & The City, where two cities exist in the same space, where they enjoy simultaneity, while nonetheless enjoying a tremendous ontological distance. They are distinct Welts, even if they belong to the same Erde. Freud gives voice to this in Civilization and its Discontents:
[L]et us, by a flight of imagination, suppose that Rome is not a human habitation but a psychical entity with a similarly long and copious past– an entity, that is to say, in which nothing that has once come into existence will have passed away and all the earlier phases of development continue to exist alongside the latest one. This would mean that in Rome the palaces of the Caesars and the Septizonium of Septimius Severus would still be rising to their old height on the Palatine and that the castle of S. Angelo would still be carrying on its battlements the beautiful statues which graced it until the siege by the Goths, and so on. But more than this. In the place occupied by the Palazzo Caffarelli would once more stand– without the Palazzo having to be removed –the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus; and this not only in its latest shape, as the Romans of the Empire saw it, but also in its earliest one, when it still showed Etruscan forms and was ornamented with terra-cotta antefixes. Where the Coliseum now stands we could at the same time admire Nero’s vanished Golden House. On the Piazza of the Pantheon we should find not only the Pantheon of today, as it was bequeathed to us by Hadrian, but on, on the same site, the original edifice erected by Agrippa; indeed, the same piece of ground would be supporting the church of Santa Maria supra Minerva and the ancient temple over which it was built. (Freud, SE 21, 70)
Freud goes on to describe this as a fantastic fantasy, but truly this is the reality where psychic and social time is concerned. We have different strata of time that are chronologically distinct, nonetheless existing simultaneously with one another. If we think time in terms of geological strata, rather than sequentially, somehow the earlier strata are right there with the most recent strata… Not as a matter of memory— though that too –but are really present with the present. There are people, in other words, that are still living in the 60s, 70s, 80s, or 90s today, alongside of 2016. That is their cloud city, their operational closure (to put it in autopoietic terms), their fabric of time or of encountering the world. The times are both distant and simultaneous. I hasten to add that we cannot date these plateaus or cities of time chronologically. It is not because someone was born in 1956 that they live in the texture or fabric of time that defined the city of the 90s. Someone can be born in 1956 and still live in the fabric or texture of time, the Welt, that is 2016. Likewise, someone can be born in 1998 and still live in the fabric of time that is the 80s. This is a question of deep rhythms of time and how one encounters the world. It is a question of the deep structure of their world. And across these worlds that are simultaneous we have operational closure, closed worlds, that somehow still manage to resonate with one another.