Time


I’ll make these questions brief as I haven’t eaten yet today, am coming down with a cold, and am generally worn out. The model of objects I’ve been working with recently has basically focused on very simple physical objects where the attractors inhabiting the virtual dimension of the object are relatively fixed. Here I think it’s important, however, to distinguish between what, for lack of a better word, might be called recursive objects and non-recursive objects (if someone has a better term for what I’m trying to get at, let me know). When I refer to recursive objects, I have in mind objects whose outputs evoked by inputs (i.e., local manifestations) have the peculiar property of, in turn, functioning as inputs for subsequent states of the object. In addition to the outputs of these objects functioning as inputs for new objects within the endo-relational structure of the object, these objects are historical in the sense that not only do they have a past, they reflexively relate to that past. Thus all objects have a past, no matter how brief that past might be, but not all objects reflexively relate to that past such that that past can function as an input for subsequent states of the object.

I can think of no better representation for this sort of object than Bergson’s famous “cone of memory” from Matter and Memory (depicted to the left above). The point of Bergson’s cone of memory can’t really be represented in a diagram, because what the cone expresses is not simply that there’s a past that trails out behind an object, but that the object perpetually relates to different strata of that past. In the diagram above “S” can be taken to represented the most contracted point of time or the specious present (what I would call the most instantaneous of local manifestations). The cone itself represents the past.

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70106_duchamp_nude_staircaseFor the last few weeks I’ve been teaching Leibniz in my Intro to Philosophy courses. In my view, Leibniz has to be one of the most audacious and creative metaphysicians that ever walked the earth. Regardless of whether or not you vehemently disagree with him, it is difficult, I think, not to come away with a deep appreciation for his philosophical creativity and ability to think outside constraints of “everydayness” or lived common sense. As you first begin reading texts like the Discourse on Metaphysics or the Monadology it is difficult to escape the impression that these are the ravings of a lunatic. Yet as you begin to understand the logical considerations that motivate his position (in particular, the principle of identity and the principle of non-contradiction as criteria to which any substance or object must conform) you start to appreciate his line of reasoning and what leads him to such strange conclusions.

Take, for example, §13 of the Discourse on Metaphysics. Leibniz calmly remarks, as if it were obvious, that,

We have said that the notion of an individual substance includes once and for all everything that can ever happen to it and that, by considering this notion, one can see there everything that can truly be said of it, just as we can see in the nature of a circle all the properties that can be deduced from it.

In short, Leibniz is claiming that every substance, every thing that exists, already includes all of the qualities, events, and properties that will ever occur to it. When my hair turns completely gray, as it is beginning to do now, this is not a new property of my being, but was already contained in my being from all eternity. Even more bizarrely, when I get into a frustrating flame war or blog battle, there is not someone else that is impacting my being in a particular way, there is no causal interaction between myself and other persons and objects. Rather, these events that befall me are already contained in my being for all eternity and arise from me in a movement from the virtual to the actual. As Leibniz puts it in the Monadology, the monads (substances, objects, entities, etc.,) have no windows by which anything could come in or go out (§7), and any change that takes place within a monad is the result of an internal principle (§11), not a cause and effect interaction between substances. For Leibniz, then, substances are a bit like compact disks. As I listen to my favorite CD, I might think something new is taking place as I hear the notes unfold (especially if I’ve never been acquainted with this technology). Moreover, I might think the notes disappear as the song continues to wind its course throughout time. However, this is only a sort of illusion. The notes are already all there inscribed on the CD and remain the same through each performance. This analogy, of course, breaks down when we observe that the CD has to be played on a stereo. That aside, for Leibniz substances are something like CDs in that just as CD’s already contain all their music on them, each substance or entity in the universe already contains all of the events, properties, qualities, etc., within it.

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As I have recounted in previous posts, I had a rather schizophrenic experience in my philosophical trainng. As an undergrad at Ohio State, I was trained in both the analytic and Continental traditions; and, in fact, most of my 116 hours of course work in philosophy was in analytic and Anglo-American philosophy. Although I found a great deal of value in this style of thought, I often found myself dissatisfied as the problems this style of philosophy dealt with often struck me as remote from the sort of “existential” concerns that first drive one to philosophy. Consequently, when I began looking for graduate schools– and deeply in the midst of an addiction to all things Heideggarian and Foucaultian –I looked for a Continental program that also had a healthy dose of Anglo-American philosophers in its faculty. As a result, I finally decided on Loyola of Chicago, where I would get to study with philosophers of mind like J.D. Trout and Moser, philosophers of science like Blachowicsz, Kantians like Paul Abela, and Continentalists like Thomas Sheehan, Patricia Huntington, Andrew Cutrofello, Adrian Peperzak, and David Ingram. Loyola also offered an excellent grounding in the history of philosophy which I believed vital to any philosophical education.

When I got to Loyola my coursework quickly became focused on Continental thought. I must have taken six courses with Peperzak, ranging from Kant, to Hegel, to Heidegger, and Levinas, whose mannerisms I still remember with great fondness and a slight smirk. I took a number of seminars with Cutrofello on Deleuze, Foucault, Kant, and Derrida. I took a number of courses with Huntington on postmodern feminist theory, Heidegger, and various existentialists. However, in the mean time I was reading a great deal of biology, physics, complexity theory, and neurology. I’ll still never forget the look of horror on the faces of my peers when they found out I was reading Dennett, Dawkins, and Gould. “Why”, they exclaimed, “would you possibly read that?” “What are you thinking reading Paul Churchland?”

Although I worked heavily on Deleuze throughout my five years in graduate school, the best description of my philosophical orientation at this time would be phenomenological. I think, maybe, I’m one of five people in the world that actually devoured Husserl’s various texts and lectures with delight. I suspect that means I’m cracked in some way. It is certainly a good thing that I eventually entered analysis with Bruce Fink. I delighted in the work of Merleau-Ponty. I thought Levinas was perhaps the most beautiful stylist of all the philosophers who had ever written. I shivered with pleasure at Jean-Luc Marion’s discussions of givenness. I ravenously read the work of Ed Casey. I guiltily read Sartre throughout, believing him to be gauche at that time, but still secretly loving his work. For some reason I had largely lost interest in Heidegger, wondering why I had been so enchanted with him. Perhaps it was his style. At any rate, my friends would joke that I was living in a permanent “transcendental epoche chamber”.

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When we look at an object or at another person we necessarily apprehend them in space. There they stand before us, alongside other things, in three-dimensional space. This phenomenological presentation of persons and objects thus gives the impression that those things are in space together, that they are side by side in space, but also, under the order of temporality, that they are simultaneous. Before my apprehending gaze I encounter the entities there, together, as being “at the same time”. Perhaps this would be one of the basic premises of structural approaches to social formations, for the structuralist tells us to approach the social formation in its synchrony, as a set of interdependent relations that are simultaneous with one another.

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Perhaps the problem with this view is that social formations are accompanied by archives, whether in the form of texts or in stories, such that they do not follow a trajectory of simultaneity, but rather are punctuated, like staves of a musical score, at a variety of different temporal levels, interacting in highly complex ways. Here it is worthwhile to recall Freud’s famous description of the topology of the mind in Civilization and Its Discontents. There Freud writes,

…[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 beaitufl 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 would find not only the Pantheon of to-day, as it was bequeathed to us by Hadrian, but on the same site, the original edifice erected by Agrippa; indeed, the same piece of ground would be supporting the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva and the ancient temple over which it was built. And the observer would perhaps only have to change the direction of his glance or his position in order to call up the one view or the other.

Where in space one thing can only occupy one place at a single time, mind, claims Freud, is such that all these different periods or strata co-exist together exactly as they were, continuing their processes just as they did in the past. Thus, in the present, I can simultaneously be frustrated with my boss for perfectly legitimately work related and administrative reasons, while also reliving a childhood drama with my father for which he is an effigy, stand-in, or surrogate. It is not that one meaning of the strata is the true meaning of the other meaning (the past version being the truth or the real meaning of the first version), but rather that these two temporalities are tangled together, intertwined, unfolding together simultaneously in this present.

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The case would be the same with social formations. Rather than a space of simultaneously structure that overdetermines all social relations, perhaps instead we have different levels of temporality, different temporal rhythms, that form a temporalized structure playing itself out at different levels. This point can be illustrated with reference to the current democratic primary elections in the United States. As has often been noted, older and middle aged women have disproportionately broken for Clinton, while younger women seem to be breaking for Obama. It is not unusual to hear these older women complain, claiming that these younger women are betraying sisterhood and the feminist cause. Indeed, it is not at all unusual for younger women to abjure or reject the title “feminist” (much to my dismay) altogether.

Could it be that the explanation of this difference has to do with different rhythms of intertwined temporality governed by very different problematic spaces? On the one hand, the feminism of the older women seems to revolve around gender inequality, victimhood, and a pressing desire to break or undermine certain boundaries. Yet on the other hand, when we look at popular culture, we see a very different image of the feminine that speaks to an entirely different set of issues. Battlestar Gallactica depicts women as commanders and fighter pilots that bunk with the men, compete with them vigorously in sports, and who seem to recognize no marked difference between masculine and female characteristics. Quentin Tarantino’s recent films (Kill Bill and Death Proof, as well as Rodriguez’s Planet Terror) depict women as entirely capable of handling themselves, or depict women who shift from positions of dependence on men (Planet Terror) to leadership and confidence. We have had an entire slew of female super-heroes such as Electra and Lara Croft.

A recent series of Cadillac commercials depicts Kate Walsh (Grey’s Anatomy) sardonically repeating a variation of Julie Andrew’s list of her favorite things from The Sound of Music. On the one hand, Julie Andrews’ character in The Sound of Music is an iconic image of woman as caregiver, while on the other hand, Walsh’s character on Grey’s Anatomy is an intelligent, attractive woman in command of her own career and who does not draw her identity primarily from caring for children or men. The slogan of the commercial asks “when you turn your car on, does it turn you on?” When she arrives at a stop light she looks over and sees a couple of men driving a sports car. A satisfied smile crosses her face, she hits the gas, and she leaves them in the dust. She competes directly with men, rather than being a victim of men or subordinate to men.

Perhaps, within this universe of symbols and meanings, something like the presidential race is no longer conceived as a gender issue or as a gender struggle. Yet nonetheless, these different problematic fields or spaces, these different temporalities, co-exist together in the present and weave themselves in a variety of ways, forming something like a temporalized structure or a structure composed of different time-space vectors (“space-time worms”). Paradoxically, they are both present and past, preventing us from arguing that they are strictly synchronous. An adequate social theory would have to think these complex forms of temporality, their structures of meaning production, and their tangled interrelations.

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Special thanks to N.Pepperell for spurring these thoughts, as misguided and inadequate as they are, in our discussion of agency over at Rough Theory.

Recently I’ve been thinking a good deal about the relationship between scene, agency, and act within the field of social theory and political questions. In many respects, these questions have been motivated by worries that have emerged around questions of individuation that I have focused on for the last year or two. The strategic value of Deleuze’s account of individuation is that it overcomes the peril of thinking about entities abstractly by underlining both how entities emerge or come to be in relation to a milieu and how they are characterized by ongoing processual relations to that milieu. However, the danger here is that we end up with a sort of determinism or social and political “physics” where no agency is possible because the agent is simply the actualization of a pre-personal field not of its own making. For Deleuze Ideas or Multiplicities are problems. An Idea is not something that an agent thinkers or conceives, but is rather an ontological category characterized as a field of differential relations and singularities (potentials) that are solved over the course of an actualization. Thus, for example, any particular tree is the result of an Idea or Problem in the sense that it revolves a set of potentials characteristic of both its own genetic constitution in larval state and its unique environment. Similar, for Deleuze, agents are not the agents of their Ideas (multiplicities), but are the patients of our Ideas. We are results of these problematic fields, not the ones directing the course of events.

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