The Temporal Turn: Time as Event and the Future History of That Which is Not

The Spirit shows itself as so impoverished that, like a wanderer in the desert craving for a mere mouthful of water, it seems to crave for its refreshment only the bare feeling of the divine in general. By looking at the little which now satisfies Spirit, we can measure the extent of its loss.

~ Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit.

It would be best, perhaps, to think of an alternate world—better to say the alternate world, our alternate world—as one contiguous with ours but without any connection or access to it. Then, from time to time, like a diseased eyeball in which disturbing flashes of light are perceived or like those baroque sunbursts in which rays from another world suddenly break into this one, we are reminded that Utopia exists and that other systems, other spaces, are still possible.

~ Fredric Jameson, Valences of the Dialectic.

The Event of Loss as the External Cause of Thought

At the inception of philosophy there is a loss, but not all philosophers begin with this loss. While some of them start from before the loss, some others begin after the loss. One way or the other philosophy proper begins with the inscription of this loss and aims at causing a loss of loss. Immediately following the inscription of loss there emerges the question of justice. The question then becomes this: “how can that which has happened be justified?” It’s not for nothing that philosophy has come to be considered a proposition of justice in time. Whether or not one begins by asking “why is there nothing rather than something?” as opposed to “why is there something rather than nothing?” makes a lot of difference. For at stake here in these initial questions is a primary decision concerning what matters the most, what makes one thing matter more than the other. Philosophy, after all, is a matter of deciding what matters and what not.

Another way of putting the question of beginning would be in terms of the event. From Plato to Zeno of Citium, passing through Kant and Hegel, onwards to Heidegger and Deleuze, and culminating in Zizek and Badiou, philosophers have come to determine the cause of subjective thought to be the objective circumstances surrounding the subject. Accordingly, an external factor, a traumatic incident, a banal accident of life, or the experience of an act of violence have all been considered necessary for the emergence of thought. Thought is immanent to the subject but its conditions transcend it. The event is such a transcendent contingency that it has come to mark the beginning of something new and necessary.

Homer had once said that “the gods send us catastrophes so that we can write about them.” What to do when faced with catastrophic incidents has been a recurring theme throughout the histories of literature and philosophy since then. Another famous statement on this issue is Nietzsche’s “that which doesn’t kill me renders me stronger.” In Hegel the same theme is worked through in this passage from the Philosophy of Right.

Many diverse details have a bearing on the preservation of life, and when we have our eyes on the future we have to engage ourselves in these details. But the only thing that is necessary is to live now, the future is not absolute but ever exposed to accident. Hence it is only the necessity of the immediate present which can justify a wrong action, because not to do the action would in turn be to commit an offence, indeed the most wrong of all offences, namely the complete destruction of the embodiment of freedom.[1]

As for Kant, his whole project is to situate the traumatic incident at the heart of enlightened subjectivity itself. Isn’t Kant’s whole edifice an attempt at introducing a split between reason and the madness inherent to its constitution?

I have doubts whether there is a distinction between general lunacy (delirium generale) and that which is fixed upon a definite object (delirium circa objectum). Unreason (which is something positive and not just a lack of reason) is like reason, a mere form to which objects can be adapted; and both reason and unreason, therefore, concern themselves with the general. However, what first comes into the mind at the (usually sudden) outbreak of a crazy disposition (the accidentally encountered subject matter about which the person will rave later) will be from then on the insane person’s chief concern, since it is, because of the novelty of the impression, more firmly fixed in his mind than anything else occurring afterward.[2]

Badiou goes even further and proclaims, “better disaster than a being without event.”

And Deleuze, probably the most innovative philosopher of the event, situates the encounter with the event at the heart of his Difference and Repetition.

Something in the world forces us to think. This something is an object not of recognition but of a fundamental encounter. What is encountered may be Socrates, a temple or a demon. It may be grasped in a range of affective tones: wonder, love, hatred, suffering. In whichever tone, its primary characteristic is that it can only be sensed. In this sense it is opposed to recognition. In recognition, the sensible is not at all that which can only be sensed, but that which bears directly upon the senses in an object which can be recalled, imagined or conceived. The sensible is referred to an object which may not only be experienced other than by sense, but may itself be attained by other faculties. It therefore presupposes the exercise of the senses and the exercise of the other faculties in a common sense. The object of encounter, on the other hand, really gives rise to sensibility with regard to a given sense.[3]

The genealogy of Deleuze’s thought reveals that there is a passage from the empirical realism of Hume-Kant, through the materialist empiricism of Spinoza-Nietzsche, to the transcendental empiricism of Leibniz-Bergson. From then onwards Deleuze turns to Stoicism which contains the larval form of Bergson’s conception of time in the works of Cleanthes and Marcus Aurelius. But with the Stoics Deleuze discovers a new way of life, a new mode of being and thinking which was already immanent to his own spiritual exercises with concepts.

In fact, concepts only ever designate possibilities. They lack the claws of absolute necessity – in other words, of an original violence inflicted upon thought; the claws of a strangeness or an enmity which alone would awaken thought from its natural stupor or eternal possibility: there is only involuntary thought, aroused but constrained within thought, and all the more absolutely necessary for being born, illegitimately, of fortuitousness in the world. Thought is primarily trespass and violence, the enemy, and nothing presupposes philosophy: everything begins with misosophy. Do not count upon thought to ensure the relative necessity of what it thinks. Rather, count upon the contingency of an encounter with that which forces thought to raise up and educate the absolute necessity of an act of thought or a passion to think. The conditions of a true critique and a true creation are the same: the destruction of an image of thought which presupposes itself and the genesis of the act of thinking in thought itself.[4]

We know that Zeno of Citium’s temporary turn towards cynicism and eventual creation of Stoicism as a philosophical position is a result of a huge loss he had undergone during his journey from Cyprus to Greece. His ship sinks with all the silk and linen Zeno was exporting to Athens. Reduced from a rich merchant to the level of a tramp who has nothing, Zeno initially embraces the Cynic stance, but he is not exactly keen on remaining a Cynic who is not engaged in any positive projects but rather content with merely turning its back on society. In a fashion similar to the Cynics, Zeno also develops a profound dislike for material possessions upon the financial loss he experiences. But instead of turning his back on society he moves on to invent a new model of society which is not driven by an obsession with material wealth. His philosophy now known as Stoicism would later on be turned into a tool for coping with the difficulties of life by Epictetus among others.

Do not seek to have events happen as you want them to, but instead want them to happen as they do happen, and your life will go well.[5]

We continually have to work on turning everything that happens to us in this life into “for the good.” For everything good or bad to become for the good we have to affirm that which has happened to us. But how are we going to affirm something so terrible that nails us to a painful existence indefinitely? First of all, we have to accept that, that which has happened is not changeable, it has already taken place and we cannot go back there to unlive it.  But at the same time the meaning, value, and significance of what has happened is never fully established. Only death accomplishes the event’s significance, only through death is established the truth of what has happened to us.

For the Stoics one has to have a perfect understanding of the workings of cosmos and nature to be able to live in harmony with the world surrounding one. It is such that everything is a cause and an effect at the same time and everything is linked to one another. Everything that happens causes other things to happen. To a certain extent what happens to us is not in our control but at the same time if we know what the consequence of a certain action would be we could choose what to do, and so what happens to us, to a certain extent, becomes our own doing. We have to figure out how to act, which words to use in the way of affecting the external world so as to maintain ourselves as an active agent in any circumstance.[6]

Let us imagine an example. If we have done something so terribly wrong that it is causing us great distress, before drowning in our sadness we have to find a way of reading it in such a way as to turn it into something that was necessary for our present and future happiness. If we let ourselves go after a disappointing incident, if we let things happen to us and not do something to change the course of events we might as well find ourselves in an irresolvable situation at the end, which would lead to madness and death.

At every moment throughout our lives we are confronted with obstacles that keep us from accomplishing certain desired ends. And yet there is also always a certain potential of accomplishing something even better because of the very obstacle that caused the desired end to become unattainable. The Stoic solution to this problem is simple and yet sophisticated.

So detach your aversion from everything not up to us, and transfer it to what is against nature among the things that are up to us. And for the time being eliminate desire completely, since if you desire something that is not up to us, you are bound to be unfortunate, and at the same time none of the things that are up to us, which it would be good to desire, will be available to you.[7]

What we have here is not a total negation of desire but a rejection of certain objects of desire that one must know from past experience are bad for us to desire. If we want something to happen to us, something that would satisfy a certain desire, and if the desired event cannot be accomplished through our actions then there is no point in striving for the attainment of an unattainable object of desire. Instead one should make the best of what is at hand and accomplish other events that render possible the attainment of objects of desire that are within reach. If we don’t know what and how to work for, we get nothing out of life, find ourselves locked in a room on the door of which death continually knocks.

Epictetus’ philosophy is a very practical one. In it we find ways of coping with the difficulties of life. And it is adaptable to the present state of the human condition in which we find ourselves face to face with the exploitation of the life drive and the death drive through a manipulation of the mutual dependence of these two based on the ambiguous, because a-symmetrical, conflict inherent in the relationship between them.

If we know not how to choose what to desire, if we allow the objects of our desire to be shaped by the capable hands of the big Other represented by the global capitalists, we also let the ways in which we desire be determined by a source other than ourselves, hence become puppets trying to satisfy an external force rather than ourselves and our lovers. We have to know what to desire and how to make it happen, otherwise nothing happens and where there is nothing happening there can be neither creativity nor communication; for what is one to create or communicate if there is nothing to create and communicate.

Once it is realized that there is nothing other than nothing to be struggled against, it becomes clearer how it would be possible to detach oneself from external circumstances and act in the way of maintaining an impersonal vision of what happens around us. One dissociates not the events themselves, but dissociates oneself from the events surrounding one. The Stoic indifference requires a subject in the form of an impersonal consciousness who maintains its dissociating function at all times. For this dissociation to take place, however, the subject has to know how to associate events that have led to the present, that is, one has to immerse oneself in the plurality of the past events, and extract from this multiplicity a combination of events so as to enable oneself to constitute oneself as an autonomous, free agent. This attitude emphasizes the importance of each instant. At every instant we have to act in such a way as to make the future better than the past. And this brings us to Nietzsche’s eternal return. According to Nietzsche, we have to act at every present moment in such a way that we will regret nothing in the future. Every present is an eternal moment in-itself and it is at times in our control to turn the present into for-itself, and at times it is not.

As you aim such great goals, remember that you must not undertake them by acting moderately, but must let some things go completely and postpone others for the time being.[8]

So, at every present we have to consider the possibilities from different angles and decide which way to go and which way not to go as if we were immortal. What Epictetus seems to be suggesting is that once a choice is made the only way to make it work for us is to push it to its limit where it either turns against us or against itself and creates another possibility of choice. Epictetus is not in favour of an individuality that would be constituted through moderation, but in a subject that would be indifferent to lack or excess. In Epictetus’ world there is no lack or excess; what there is lacks nothing and nothing in what there is is excessive. If one is satisfied by what there is with its lacks and excesses one needs no moderation of one’s actions, for there is nothing lacking or excessive to be moderated in one’s actions. Lack or excess can only be determined by a whole external to the already existing. But there is only that which is, which never lacks anything in relation to something outside itself. The concepts of lack and excess belong to the world of metaphysics which exists only in imagination.

At the root of Stoicism lies the idea that rational thought can be an independent universal transcending the particularities of local situations. For this reason Stoicism has often been accused of being driven by an indifference to contingent particulars. Counter to this groundless argument, however, I claim that Stoicism is not dismissively but rather engagingly indifferent to contingent events if at all. What’s at work in Stoic philosophy is a disinterestedness in personal gain rather than an indifference to worldly affairs. In the following philosophical manual I attempt to apply Stoicism to a particular and contingent life-situation so as to illustrate how Stoicism works in real time of life.

A Philosophical Manual for Coping with Loss Before and After Its Occurrence

One doesn’t have to love one’s own fate to be able to produce something good, beautiful and true out of it. Our lives are full of big and small, good and bad things happening to us all the time. Even the loss of money while on long or short term vacation can cause immense ruptures in our lives. Imagine a specific situation wherein you have just lost a considerable amount of your little wealth and your modest accommodation. You have also lost time, since you had to give your time in exchange for that money and you will have to give more of it in order to regain what you have lost. You are deep into a vicious circle to say the least. In order to be able to recover the lost time and money, you have to spend less in more time and do more in less time. Perhaps this terrible incident can even turn out to be an opportunity for you to smoke and drink less, which would undoubtedly result in your regaining of your lost health.

You consider going to the police in search of your money. Would they be able to find your money and give it back to you? No. That money will never come back, so don’t waste any more of your already lost time and move on towards the new future not even awaiting you yet, as it doesn’t yet exist in any phenomenal form. Your situation requires reconfiguring the foundations of your being, you are confronted with a profoundly ontological problem. So as to become capable of changing your very mode of being in accordance with the change that occurred in your situation, it is time for you to return to dialectical modes of thinking, being, and acting. Now that you have made the decision not to run after the money you have lost and opted for the more rational route of reconfiguring your relation to time, perhaps it is indeed time to reconsider your life in its relation to capital. The dialectical modality of life is a rigorous creative process intervening in the structure of time itself. Striking at the heart of what constitutes time as an open procedure of constituting a framework for a new life, dialectical theory turns death into life, nothing into something, negativity into positivity by way of exposing that it is how we use time, what we do, how we act in the face of traumatic events that matters the most in determining the sense of what happened, is happening, and is yet to happen. In and through the course of a dialectical process the bad thing turns out to be a good thing after all. But it wasn’t always like that. The bad thing was bad at the time of its occurrence, our actions after the event, however, determined the significance of this event. Dialectical thought thinks of time as that which is continually re-split and re-synthesized by the living subject of theory and practice in one simultaneous movement in two directions at once.

If the loss of money is the cause of my state of being here and now, then what I am now doing here is determinant of whether the event was good or bad for me. If I am content with my situation at present, then the event must have been good in the general scheme of things, although initially it appeared to be a terrible thing. How did I end up here, how did I thought and acted, what have I done until now? These are the questions which I shall attempt to answer in what follows. It’s not that I regained the lost object but rather my relation to its loss has radically changed by way of dialecticizing the matter at hand and the matter lost. The loss gained a new significance thanks to what I did to it in and through philosophy. I had to work in such a way that every moment after the event turns into time regained. At stake here is the emancipation of time from the shackles of capitalism itself.

The orientation of my existence towards singular change required my going beyond the co-ordinates of ordinary life of capitalist axiomatics. For a singular change necessitates making a choice to go in the direction of the world as an open multiplicity of possibilities. Unlike a human-animal I would take it upon myself to transform affects in such a way as to move from existence to being. Of course I am anxious beyond measure, that’s because I have to know something I don’t know, create a future that doesn’t yet exist as a possibility. To do this I have to approach the event of loss as an opening of new possibilities. The event itself is never fully constituted, the significance of the loss is ever yet to be fully determined. Deleuze has this to say concerning the object of encounter: “It is not a quality but a sign. It is not a sensible being but the being of the sensible. It is not the given but that by which the given is given. It is therefore in a certain sense the imperceptible [insensible].”[9]

The loss is not given, the subject gives its own loss to itself. The way in which the subject handles the loss before giving it to itself determines the future effects of this loss. The subject henceforth takes it upon itself to shape the loss in such a way as to reduce its negative effects. The consequences of the loss as the event which initiates a rupture in the ordinary flow of things in the subject’s life are yet to be determined by the subject as its own founding act. The being of the subject is itself affected by loss. In the case of a financial loss, for instance, our mode of being in time is affected since it is our time which we give in exchange of money when we are employed under wage labour. Is it even worth mentioning that in today’s world time is money and money is time?

Not only in the mathematical formulae of modern physics but in general in all human comportment towards time, time becomes a “factor,” i.e. a “worker,” that “works” either “against” or “for” man, namely “against” or in “favor” of the calculation by means of which man makes plans to master beings and secure himself in them. In modern terms, time is something man takes into account precisely as the empty frame of the progression of occurrences one after the other. Everywhere, not only in physics, time is the “parameter,” i.e., the coordinates along which runs all measurement and calculation. Man uses and consumes time like a “factor.”[10]

The Time of Capital, the Time of Being, and the Time of the Dialectical Subject

If money is time and time is money, does this mean that the more money you have the more time you have as a living being? Yes and no, because it is the quality of your time that increases rather than its quantity when you have more money. Already at the beginning of Marx’s Capital we come across this problematic relationship between time and capital. A quantitative increase in capital causes a qualitative increase in the time of life. “The economic paradox that the most powerful instrument for reducing labour-time suffers a dialectical inversion and becomes the most unfailing means for turning the whole lifetime of the worker and his family into labor-time at capital’s disposal for its own valorization.”[11]

We live in such times and spaces wherein time and space have themselves become rare commodities. If we keep in mind that scarcity is that which determines the value of a commodity, we can understand why and how the interruption of the ordinary run of things and socially accepted forms of using time and space can open the gates to a new mode of being and thinking in a new space and time. In a world where time is used as the currency, wherein you can earn more time at work to sell it for goods, foods and other services, you are caught in an ever regressive process of production and consumption in and through which time becomes capital and capital becomes life. Once your time as capital runs out, you die.

The situation depicted in the film In Time (2011) is very similar to contemporary capitalism in which value of your life is measured by how much money you have in the bank, higher the number all the more immune to death you feel you are. The rich survive death forever, while the poor run out of time and die. Capitalism is a mega death-drive, an ever regressive process of production and consumption in and through which time becomes capital. The value of your life is measured by how much money you have in the bank, higher the number all the more immune to death you feel you are. In capitalism the future has succumbed to retrospection, but still there are signs all around for the possibility of a reversal, one only needs to have the eyes to see them in this time.

The self-knowing Spirit knows not only itself but also the negative of itself, or its limit: to know one’s limit is to know how to sacrifice oneself. This sacrifice is the externalisation in which Spirit displays the process of its becoming Spirit in the form of its free contingent happening, intuiting its pure Self as Time outside of it, and equally its Being as Space. This last becoming of Spirit, Nature, is its living immediate Becoming; Nature, the externalised Spirit, is in its existence nothing but this eternal externalisation of its continuing existence and the movement which reinstates the Subject.[12]

The time of finitude (enstatic) and the time of infinity (ecstatic), time as quantity and time as quality, time as a unit of quantitative measure and time as qualitative intensity, the subjective existential/phenomenological time and the objective ontological time are the underlying binary oppositions driving the discourses of Deleuze and Heidegger on time respectively.

[…] time moves into the subject, in order to distinguish the Ego from the I in it. It is the form under which the I affects the ego, that is, the way in which the mind affects itself. It is in this sense that time as immutable form, which could no longer be defined by simple succession, appeared as the form of interiority (inner sense), whilst space, which could no longer be defined by coexistence, appeared for its part as the form of exteriority. ‘Form of interiority’ means not only that time is internal to us, but that our interiority constantly divides us from ourselves, splits us in two: a splitting in two which never runs its course, since time has no end.[13]

As pure self-affection, time is not an acting affection that strikes a self which is at hand. Instead, as pure it forms the essence of something like self-activating. However, if it belongs to the essence of the finite subject to be able to be activated as a self, then time as pure self-affection forms the essential structure of subjectivity.[14]

The time of Chronos and the time of Aeon, as defined by Deleuze in The Logic of Sense, correspond to the logic of time and the sense of time. Therein Deleuze brings forth the qualitative aspect of time as intensity, as opposed to the quantitative aspect of time as a measure of its own passage. This split can be further elaborated by way of recalling Kant’s distinction between concepts and intuitions and sensations. In his tripartite structure of the subject as the unity of sensibility, understanding, and reason Kant introduces time and space as frameworks of existence. The Hegelian dialectic reverses this Kantian order and posits the subject as positing itself in time and space. The subject as dialectics itself constitutes time and space in and through thought and action. At this point one cannot help but remember the progress of questions Heidegger asks in his lecture on The Concept of Time: “What is time? How is time? Who is time? Am I my time?”

Heidegger introduces a split between the time of Dasein and the time of Being, ontological time and existential temporality. It is not for nothing that Heidegger’s Dasein is time itself, whereas for Hegel time is God and inversely. That said, it should also be kept in mind that Hegel’s God is no less human than it is divine. At work in Hegel’s philosophical narrative of the genesis of subjectivity is a process in and through which God becomes human and human becomes God at the same time. The entwinement of the human-subject and the God-object by way of an encounter between the existential and the ontological realms of being is the core idea, the dialectical movement, the driving force pervasive throughout Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.

What matters for Hegel is the capability to turn the negative contingent event into a positive necessity, or rather to realize that once it happens the event is irreversible and therefore becomes necessary. But for this necessity to gain progressive significance one must treat it as such and work in the way of producing something positive out of this negativity. “To what extent does negation of negation work in the way of achieving this transformation?” is the question to be answered in what follows.

Hegel’s procedure of negation of negation so as to cause a loss of loss is the operator of his dialectical process. Absolute Knowledge is established when and if this process succeeds in actualizing the unity of subject and object, absence and presence, being and non-being, affirmation and negation, immanence and transcendence, finitude and infinity. Is, then, the dialectical process nothing but a process of totalization? Is the end product of The Phenomenology of Spirit really a totality? Or is the case rather that totality and infinity are the same thing? But perhaps more importantly, what if Hegel’s thought put forth in Science of Logic is itself a performative articulation of the dynamism inherent in nothingness itself? Could Hegel be presenting totality and infinity as dynamic processes of thought rather than static modalities of being?

Of course, we share with Hegel a conviction about the identity of being and thought. But for us this identity is a local occurrence and not a totalized result. We also share with Hegel the conviction regarding a universality of the True. But for us this universality is guaranteed by the singularity of truth-events, and not by the view that the Whole is the history of its immanent reflection.[15]

According to Hegel the loss doesn’t have a meaning in-itself, the loss of loss, or its a priori perception as a gain, is the driving force of dialectics. It is only the subject’s intervention that turns the empty signifier into a signified. The loss is neither a signifier nor a signified but rather a sign from the future of the supposedly predestined future. His dialectical thought returns Hegel to the beginning as soon as the end is reached and Absolute Knowledge achieved. One of the major undertakings in the way of breaking the Hegelian circle has been carried out by Badiou in his Theory of the Subject.  Badiou’s aim in this first major book of his, as he puts it, is to turn Hegel’s circular dialectics into a spiral by way of introducing periodization into the Hegelian system. Badiou designates his position as a materialist dialectics and situates it as a post-dialectical material dialectics. Before moving on with Badiou’s initial configuration of a materialist dialectics, let’s look at what he has to say about his predecessors.

In his Theory of the Subject, Badiou clarifies the difference between Kant and Hegel. Here Kant is defined as he who stands for objective metaphysical idealism.

Being-in-itself for Kant is the placed inexistent from which it follows that it possesses force of law for the transcendental subject.[…] The ‘synthetic a priori’ judgement names his topological ability of generating the new according to a trajectory in which the real exteriority, even though it cannot be traversed, nonetheless imposes from afar upon the subjective interior the strangeness of a production on itself.[16]

And here is why Hegel stands for dialectical idealism according to Badiou.

Hegel’s path, in position 3, declares that the interior produces its own exteriority. It is an expansive topology, in which the passing outside-of-itself constitutes the whole act of a place. We could say that all Hegelian sets are open, were it not necessary, in order to posit their malleable frontier, to close the whole once again and to program from very far the transgressive opening as return-to-itself, so that the local exteriorization is never anything but the effectuation of a global interiorization.[17]

Akin to Hegel, Badiou also begins with nothing but moves on to construct the non-given Real by using mathematics, set-theory to be more precise, as the ground of his ontology. It is important to note here that when it comes to the relationship between thought and being, Badiou is closer to Hegel than to Kant who begins with something non-given rather than nothing, that being the synthetic a priori. Hegel and Badiou agree on the identity of being and thought, whereas Kant begins with their unity and then splits them in two. That said, Badiou clearly states in what sense he disagrees with Kant and Hegel in his Logics of Worlds.

Kant is without doubt the creator in philosophy of the notion of object. Broadly speaking, he calls ‘object’ that which represents a unity of representation in experience. It is clear then that the word ‘object’ designates the local outcome of the confrontation between receptivity (‘something’ is given to me in intuition) and constituent spontaneity (I structure this given by means of subjective operators with a universal value, which together make up the transcendental). In my own conception, there is neither reception nor constitution, because the transcendental—no more and no less than the pure multiple—is an intrinsic determination of being, which I call appearing, or being-there. One could then think that the comparison with Kant is out of place, and that there is only a homonymy in our respective uses of the word ‘object’.[18]

With the idea of synthetic a priori Kant proclaims that nothing is given, that is, there is nothing at the pure beginning, the beginning before the unity of thought and being. Thought-Being begins taking its course by way of a primary synthesis of the sensations situated in forms of sensibility known as time and space. Understanding is thereby born out of the non-given Real manifesting a “manifold of intuition” thanks to the work of Transcendental Imagination which situates the subject’s encounter with the object in time and space.

Kant uses the expression “appearance” in a narrower and in a wider sense. Appearances in the wider sense (phenomena) are a kind of “object,”(Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, A 235, 249) namely, the being itself which finite knowing, as thinking intuition that takes things in stride, makes apparent. Appearance in the narrower sense means that which (in appearance in the wider sense) is the exclusive correlate of the affection what is stripped of thinking (determining) and that belongs to finite intuition: the content of empirical intuition. “The undetermined object (Gegenstand) of an empirical intuition is called appearance.”(Kant, A 20, B 34) Appearing means: “to be an Object (Objekt) of empirical intuition.” (Kant, A 89, B 121)[19]

One cannot help but recall Hegel’s notion of “appearance as appearance” here.

The inner world, or supersensible beyond, has, however, come into being: it comes from the world of appearance which has mediated it; in other words, appearance is its essence and, in fact, its filling. The supersensible is the sensuous and the perceived posited as it is in truth; but the truth of the sensuous and the perceived is to be appearance. The supersensible is therefore appearance qua appearance. We completely misunderstand this if we think that the supersensible world is therefore the sensuous world, or the world as it exists for immediate sense-certainty and perception; for the world of appearance is, on the contrary, not the world of sense-knowledge and perception as a world that positively is, but this world posited as superseded, or as in truth an inner world. It is often said that the supersensible world is not appearance; but what is here understood by appearance is not appearance, but rather the sensuous world as itself the really actual.[20]

Making a distinction between the thing as it appears to the subject and the thing as this appearance appears to the subject seems to be the initial step to be taken in the way of causing a loss of loss, of making the non-apparent disappear. It is here that Hegel’s succinct rendering of how “negation of negation” operates becomes handy.

The transition, or becoming, sublates itself in its passage; the other that in this transition comes to be, is not the non-being of a being, but the nothingness of a nothing, and this, to be the negation of a nothing, constitutes being. Being only is as the movement of nothing to nothing, and as such it is essence; and the latter does not have this movement within it, but is this movement as a being that is itself absolutely illusory, pure negativity, outside of which there is nothing for it to negate but which negates only its own negative, and this negative, which latter is only in this negating.[21]

In his Less Than Nothing, Slavoj Zizek links the Hegelian notions of “appearance as appearance” and “negation of negation” to the theme of being, non-being, and becoming as it was initially discussed in Plato’s Parmenides and Sophist.

The implicit lesson of Plato is not that everything is appearance, that it is not possible to draw a clear line of separation between appearance and reality (that would have meant the victory of sophism), but that essence is “appearance as appearance,” that essence appears in contrast to appearance within appearance; that the distinction between appearance and essence has to be inscribed into appearance itself. Insofar as the gap between essence and appearance is inherent to appearance, in other words, insofar as essence is nothing but appearance reflected into itself, appearance is appearance against the background of nothing-everything that appears ultimately appears out of nothing…[22]

Now, if we keep in mind that Hegel is the philosopher of infinity and Heidegger the philosopher of finitude, we can understand why Kant has come to be playing the role of vanishing mediator between the two. The dialectical mode of thinking embodied by the Kantian edifice establishes a triplicity, a triadic structure in motion, which is constitutive of Kant’s position according to which time is the synthetic a priori par excellence. It exists before the subject is embodied by it, but this embodiment itself is the only way in which time becomes constitutive of the finite subject as driven by the idea of infinity. Kant calls this idea of infinity “the noumenal” which we can think but cannot know. The noumenal is precisely the regulative idea which is constituted by the subject in such a way as to situate itself as external to it. In this scenario, reason reaches the edge of madness and recoils in anxiety in the face of the actual existence of infinity. What Hegel does is to explicate the way in which infinity as an external obstacle becomes an internal possibility. By way of situating infinitude within finitude itself and inversely, Hegel shows that Kant’s attempt at overcoming the split between the subject and object is unnecessary since that split is internal to both the subject and the object rather than being between them. For Hegel the split is not between something and something else but rather within something itself. The void is internalized and nothing is situated within something itself. Nothing still remains but only as the void within that which is. Badiou neatly configures the reversal of dialectical materialism and the inversion of Hegel’s dialectical idealism simultaneously at work in and through his materialist dialectic.

One could argue that whereas we launch a transcendental theory of worlds by saying ‘There is no Whole’, Hegel guarantees the inception of the dialectical odyssey by positing that ‘There is nothing but the Whole’. It is immensely interesting to examine the consequences of an axiom so radically opposed to the inaugural axiom of this book. But this interest cannot reside in a simple extrinsic comparison, or in a comparison of results. What is decisive is following the Hegelian idea in its movement, that is at the very moment in which it explicitly governs the method of thinking. This alone will allow us, in the name of the materialist dialectic, to do justice to our father: the master of the ‘idealist’ dialectic.[23]

In our case, the inexistence of the Whole fragments the exposition into concepts which, as tightly linked as they may be, all tell us that situations, or worlds, are disjoined, or that the only truth is a local one. All of this culminates in the complex question of the plurality of eternal truths, which is the question of the (infinite) plurality of subjectivizable bodies, in the (infinite) plurality of worlds. For Hegel, totality as self-realization is the unity of the True. The True is ‘self-becoming’ and must be thought ‘not only as substance, but also and at the same time as subject’. This means that the True collects its immanent determinations—the stages of its total unfolding—in what Hegel calls ‘the absolute Idea’.[24]

KANT                                           BADIOU

Possible experience                  Possible world

Unity of self-consciousness     Structural unity of the transcendental of

                                                      a world

Transcendental object = X       General (or logical) form of the objectivity

                                                      of appearing

Synthetic unity                           Postulate of the real one (of atoms)

Empirical object                         Unity of appearing in an actual world[25]

If everything appears and disappears in time, then time itself appears and disappears in space. The life of a human being is the time s/he spends in space. Life requires matter to persist in the unity of time and space so that the living being exists. The experience of existence always takes place in time and space out of which there is no life for living beings simply because there is no time and space. Kant situated the noumenal realm precisely at this point beyond time and space as forms of intuition. Here we come across a juxtaposition of Kant’s and Bergson’s conceptions of time as they both attribute a significant role to intuition in the constitution of a sense of time. The difference between Kant and Bergson resides in their differing senses of the content of intuition, and therefore in their differing senses of the fabric of time itself as the form of intuition.

Representative sensation, looked at in itself, is pure quality; but, seen through the medium of extensity, this quality becomes in a certain sense quantity, and is called intensity. In the same way, our projection of our psychic states into space in order to form a discrete multiplicity is likely to influence these states themselves and to give them in reflective consciousness a new form, which immediate perception did not attribute to them. Now, let us notice that when we speak of time, we generally think of a homogeneous medium in which our conscious states are ranged alongside one another as in space, so as to form a discrete multiplicity. Would not time, thus understood, be to the multiplicity of our psychic states what intensity is to certain of them, —a sign, a symbol, absolutely distinct from true duration? Let us ask consciousness to isolate itself from the external world, and, by a vigorous effort of abstraction, to become itself again. We shall then put this question to it: does the multiplicity of our conscious states bear the slightest resemblance to the multiplicity of the units of a number? Has true duration anything to do with space? Certainly, our analysis of the idea of number could not but make us doubt this analogy, to say no more. For if time, as the reflective consciousness represents it, is a medium in which our conscious states form a discrete series so as to admit of being counted, and if on the other hand our conception of number ends in spreading out in space everything which can be directly counted, it is to be presumed that time, understood in the sense of a medium in which we make distinctions and count, is nothing but space. That which goes to confirm this opinion is that we are compelled to borrow from space the images by which we describe what the reflective consciousness feels about time and even about succession; it follows that pure duration must be something different. Such are the questions which we have been led to ask by the very analysis of the notion of discrete multiplicity. But we cannot throw any light upon them except by a direct study of the ideas of space and time in their mutual relations.[26]

Bergson separates time from space. At the core of his argument is the assumption that time cannot be, or should not be, reduced to the spatial properties of a thing. Time is a qualitative affair rather than a quantitative one. The passage of time is a matter of increase or decrease of the intensity of existence and the velocity of duration. At the core of Bergson’s conception of time lies his critique of representational forms of time. In Creative Evolution, for instance, he vehemently attacks Zeno of Elea for his representation of time as still images following one another in space. According to Zeno of Elea there is no real motion but just an illusory perception of motion. The mind forms a unity of disparate elements and creates a sense of time for itself. Time is therefore a matter of inner sense rather than an outer sense. And here is where Kant’s conception of time as a form of intuition which subsumes space itself coincides with Bergson’s non-representational time of lived experience. With this structure of time the past, the present, and the future merge into one another and time becomes durational. The before and the after collapse in on each other forming an eternal present. Change, however, requires the interruption of this eternal present by a subject.

Thinking From Beyond the Supposedly Predestined Future

The dialectical process is a movement against madness and death. In its proper sense it manifests a principle of survival in the face of loss, rupture, and trauma. The will to life manifest at the core of dialectical movement from a bad past and an even worse present towards a less bad present and perhaps an even better future.

It is what one has at hand at present that matters the most. The disturbing event that has taken place is nothing but an open ended story. Its significance in life will always be in the process of being determined by the subject if the subject so wills now. As Heidegger once put it, “the dreadful has already happened.” Yes, the dreadful is that which has always already happened and yet never ceases to happen nevertheless.

The fact that the event has happened at a time wherein there was no subject but rather an object of circumstances should indeed drive us towards a reconsideration of what has actually happened. Now, if we keep in mind that the event is the beginning of an open ended story, we can understand why it is our actions at present that will determine the meaning and consequences of the event. But we must also keep in mind while we are at it, that the absolute significance of the event will never be fully determined, at least not until the end of existential time signified by death.

The future arises out of the interruption that separates the past and the present. It is the shape the subject gives to this void in time that matters. Let us recall Freud’s designation of the unconscious as that which is timeless and indifferent to difference, just as an immortal among the mortals would be. Freud’s conception of the unconscious obviously resembles Kant’s concept of the noumenon, the thing-in-itself which lies beyond the phenomenal realm within human access. The Real is not substantial, it is rather this void in reality which sets time in its course. It is not for nothing that from Descartes to Lacan and Badiou the subject is a formal entity which stands in for the void in reality. The Real is not exactly the Kantian noumenal but its situation in time. It is here that Lacan’s contribution to Freud’s metapsychology is inscribed. In a sense Lacan does to Freud what Hegel had done to Kant. Lacan and Hegel situate the Freudian and Kantian subjects in time as voids in reality itself. The Real as the void in reality and the subject as void in time converge with the Cartesian cogito, the Kantian subject, and the Freudian unconscious. It is only with Hegel and Lacan via Zizek and Badiou that we recognize this convergence.

“Messianic time” ultimately stands for the intrusion of subjectivity irreducible to the “objective” historical process, which means that things can take a messianic turn, time can become “dense,” at any point. The time of the Event is not another time beyond and above the “normal” historical time, but a kind of inner loop within this time.[27]

The main character in the Butterfly Effect “seizes hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger.”[28] Butterfly Effect is a film from 2004 directed by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber, in which the psychosomatic dynamics of moving in time are at work. According to the film an event which seems to be very insignificant in a sequence of events is in fact as important as any other event and the effects of a minor cause require some time to manifest themselves in relation to the macro situation.

With the Butterfly Effect the audience sees everything from the perspective of a young man who not only has flashbacks in the form of dreams, but who is also able to travel in time through reading his journals. As he reads the journal, first the words, then himself, and finally the whole room starts shaking and immediately after this falling into pieces of the scene the subject travels in time, or perhaps only in his personal history, and wakes up at another period of his own life. His aim is to change something so crucial to the present but which has taken place in the past, and so that way make some things a little bit better for the people surrounding him. But to be able to be present in the past he has to occupy the place of his presence in that particular slice of the past. That is why, as a child he has occasional blackouts during which disastrous things happen, such as a mother with her baby in her arms being blown up. His gift of travelling in time turns out to be his curse locking him up in a mental hospital as a hopeless case who believes he has journals through the reading of which he can go back and forth in time and put things right or wrong when in fact there are no journals and he has simply made all these things up in his mind. Each time he goes back in time to fix something bad, he causes something worse to happen. But that worse thing which happens takes place because of his intervention in the first place. Caught in this vicious cycle of a self-fulfilling prophecy he finally strikes the right chord, he goes back to the right time and fixes the right thing. Where he goes is not in the journals this time, for he is in the mental hospital, in a time where his journals do not exist or are not recognized as such. This time he goes back in time through an amateur home movie recorded when he and his girlfriend were kids, that is, before the girl makes the decision to stay with her father rather than her mother who moves to another city after their divorce. Her decision to stay with her father leads to her friendship with the boy and to the eventual disasters. In this time they are at a garden party. When the girl approaches him he says, “If you come near me again I’ll destroy you and your family.” And the little girl runs and hides behind her mother. What he is actually doing there is giving a voice to the evil at the right time, hence causing less bad things to happen in the future. Bringing out that repressed and anti-social behaviour at the right time, or situating this free floating sign beneath the social reality, turns out to be less evil than the most good of society. It is all a matter of situating the act in the right time and the right place.

To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it “the way it really was” (Ranke). It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger. Historical materialism wishes to retain that image of the past which unexpectedly appears to man singled out by history at a moment of danger. The danger affects both the content of the tradition and its receivers. The same threat hangs over both: that of becoming a tool of the ruling classes. In every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it. The Messiah comes not only as the redeemer, he comes as the subduer of Antichrist. Only that historian will have the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the past who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious.[29]

Intervention in history, seeing in the past something which has never taken place, is itself an act opening up spaces for new possibilities to emerge. The fear of serving that which one thinks one is struggling against prepares the grounds for the realization of what the subject was afraid of.

A potential for change that has never initiated actual change cannot be a lost chance for a change. For since it has never taken place it cannot be a lost possibility.  Benjamin’s point when he says, “only that historian will have the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the past who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins,” is that “even the dead will not be safe” unless the enemy loses. How can even the dead not be safe? For when the enemy loses the lives of the dead will have been wasted for nothing, for these now dead people will have struggled and suffered for nothing. For then, not the enemy but “we, the friends of those who died for a good cause” will have written the history. For Benjamin it’s all a matter of who represents what happened.

“The spark of hope” that is to be fanned is not the hope of redemption, but the hope that redemption has already taken place. That we are already redeemed and yet it is precisely this state of being redeemed that makes it a forced-choice and yet a responsibility to tell the story of the past in such a way as to introduce a split between the past and the future which generates a new mode of being and initiates change. It is out of the space between the past and the future, or the subject of statement and the subject of enunciation, that something new emerges ex nihilo. The subject writes its difference from itself, all writing is writing the difference of the subject from the void. And yet since the void against which the subject writes is the subject itself, with each word the subject moves further away from itself. This performative contradiction inherent in language is the way things are in the world. The outside, the unconscious, is the shadow of language and the social reality.

Consider one of the standard plots of time-travel narratives: the hero travels into the past in order to intervene in it, and thus change the present; afterward, he discovers that the emergence of the present he wanted to change was triggered precisely through his intervention— his time travel was already included in the run of things. What we have here, in this radical closure, is thus not simply complete determinism, but a kind of absolute determinism which includes our free act in advance. When we observe the process from a distant vantage point, it appears to unfold in a straight line; what we lose from sight, however, are the subjective inner loops which sustain this “objective” straight line.[30]

Thinking from beyond the supposedly predestined future doesn’t signify a stance from which a predetermined future is projected onto time. Such an act, without its inverse operation simultaneously at work to prevent a possible catastrophe, would put us in a position similar to that of Oedipus and his father, who, in escape from the prophecy, both fall victim to the very prophecy they were trying to escape from. Thinking from beyond the supposedly predestined future also requires figuring out how we should act now in accordance with what we don’t want the future to be like and think in such a way as to create the conditions of impossibility for this unwanted future to take place while we construct a new vision of the future. This procedure of thought explicates the signs of what the future will be like if things go on the way they are, and then points out “what is to be done, what can be done, and how it can be done?” at present in accordance with the non-being of that dreaded future so as to render it impossible to become now as time goes by. Some readers may or may not object to this procedure for being driven by a fear of what might happen. To those readers all we can say is that there are rational fears and there are irrational fears. While rational fears help secure a new and less bad future for us, the irrational fears usually destroy the possibility of even a less bad future let alone create a better one. For those who have eyes to see and minds to perceive the signs from the future are always already there, here and now. At stake here is a matter of coming from the future and intervening in the present with what is at hand, both to prevent the worse future and to create a less bad one. Paradoxical though as it is, this process requires a simultaneous coming from a reconstructed past and an imagined vision of the future, coming from the past and the future at the same time, moving towards a not yet existent space-time, an utopia, that place which is not. It is a non-place, a time without space, it comes from a slice of time wherein time itself is not the “number of motion in space” as Aristotle claimed it is in his Physics.

With today’s advanced internet technology the domain our lives are lived in is shifting from space to time which is qualitative rather than quantitative. Written and directed by Terry Gilliam, Zero Theorem is yet another science-fiction movie tarrying with the human sensory-motor apparatus in relation to computers and virtuality, as well as the human-condition in a supercapitalist time intertwined with technology. The film opens with our main character Qohen Leth sitting in his room and looking at a computer screen which seems to show a spiralling galaxy with a black hole at the centre, which, as we will soon understand, represents his inner world. His transfixion is interrupted with the loudly ringing phone. He has been waiting for a phone call from an unknown source for quite a while now; it is his obsession, a symptom of his radical alienation. He answers the phone in vain, as it is not the phone call he had been waiting for.

He lives in London and works at tech-corporation called Mancom, which advertises itself as “making sense of the good things in life with Q-Void Computing Systems.” The call he has been waiting for all his life is supposed to provide him with a purpose in life which he currently lacks. His job is to make “0 (zero) equal to 100 % (one hundred percent).” He does this every day by solving mathematical problems, absolving abstract theorems. To be more precise, he fills in the gaps within mathematical equations composed of entities represented by cubes standing in for matrices. The problem is that many entities behave strangely and refuse to remain crunched, since each has its own meaning which changes when put in relation to other entities. And when the meanings of entities change, the equations don’t work, causing the whole matrix to collapse in on itself, thereby annihilating the meaning that should have been constituted when the entities come together.

The future changes the past and the present constantly receedes. On one depressive night as he is talking to his psychiatrist via the computer he has a nervous breakdown because “the entities are behaving vey strangely.” His supervisor comes to check up on him, telling him that he can’t get anything if he is disconnected. “Zero theorem is unprovable,” says Qohen. “Everything adds up to nothing,” says the supervisor.

At the house warming party organized by his supervisor he meets a woman who apparently fancies him. This woman is a virtual prostitute who makes a living by “tantric biotelemetric interfacing.”

Every difference is a projection while we are watching the movie. A Badiouian would read the same movie differently than a Deleuzean would. The difference is at the level of perception. That which is introjected is already predetermined by that which is projected. Now, which one comes first, the projected or the introjected?

One day she brings him a “tantric biotelemetric interfacing” suit. Having difficulty putting it on he exclaims: “one size doesn’t fit all.” They go to a virtual island where they can “drink but never get drunk. It’s all in your mind, from my mind.” They are connected to one another by memory chips and fiberoptics. “Can we die here?” asks Qohen. “You are not supposed to,” answers the woman. There in the virtual domain they are more in time than in space. They spend time together in a realm created by their minds and desires mediated by the computers, while their bodies stand still apart from one another in separate physical spaces. At stake is the disappearance of the body in action, to be replaced by the body which doesn’t move in appearance.

Melancholia and Death Drive

Death drive is the will to reach the end of time as it is at present, and melancholia is driven by a desire for the loss of loss itself. One dies as much, many others rise above and live as such… Cosmologically speaking, life is the effect of a catastrophe in the universe. Perhaps life is this catastrophe itself, especially as far as human life is concerned. At some point in time something went horribly wrong and the Earth was born. But things didn’t stop there and kept getting worse. One catastrophe followed another and Life emerged. Will we ever know what exactly has caused the emergence of the organic out of the inorganic and inversely? We reckon there was not a single cause of this event but rather many. Each of these micro-causes instantly juxtaposed, merged into one another at a certain moment in time and gave birth to a macro-cause, the event itself.

The intensive spatium is space’s memory of time. The contraction of memory constitutes the originary sub-representational depth of intensive difference without which the contraction of habit in extensity would be impossible. Moreover, since the latter is merely the envelope of the former, extensive space is merely the de-differentiation – more precisely, the individualizing actualization or ‘in-different/ciation’ – of intensive time. Accordingly, the relation between space as maximal contraction of temporal intensity and time as minimal dilation of spatial extensity is entirely internal to time. If time qua duration pertains essentially to mind (‘esprit’), it is precisely the mind of the larval subject, whose thinking of individuating difference determines the actualization of the virtual as a contraction of memory.[31]

Further on Brassier puts what Bergson and Deleuze mean when it comes to time and its relation to space: “The larval subject of spatio-temporal synthesis dreams matter into being through the individuating difference of his thought insofar as it clearly expresses a distinction in the Idea.”[32]

Kant had already pointed out that time is “inner sense” and space is “outer sense.” Understanding time and space as forms of intuition and sensibility renders it possible for Kant to posit his presuppositions as synthetic a priori categories of understanding. Deleuze synthesizes and employs Bergson and Kant to develop his concept of “impersonal consciousness.” The dissolution of the one coincides with the emergence of a plurality of sense. Transcendental empiricism is precisely the attempt to give a voice to the many. The univocity of being is Deleuze’s name for the death drive which in-differen/t/ciates, that is, disjunctively synthesizes, an operation which unites as it splits, causing indifference and non-difference at the same time.

Indifference has two aspects: the undifferentiated abyss, the black nothingness, the indeterminate animal in which everything is dissolved –but also the white nothingness, the once more calm surface upon which float unconnected determinations like scattered members: a head without a neck, an arm without a shoulder, eyes without brows. The indeterminate is completely indifferent, but such floating determinations are no less indifferent to each other.[33]

The melancholic subject would much rather end time than end its desire for the object lost in time. Melancholia as an affective quality is driven by a loss of the desire for the world as it is at present rather than as it is in-itself. When Nietzsche said “man would much rather will nothingness than not will” he was probably in such a melancholic mood self-reflecting himself for and against itself as an event in time. The question Nietzsche refused to ask, however, was and remains this: if Kant and Hegel’s Transcendental Subjectivity and Transcendental Imagination do not become handy now, when will they, if ever? Following Nietzsche and failing to ask this question at the right time, Deleuze also falls short of asking, let alone delivering an answer to, the question of why there is both something and nothing at the same time.

The Future of Utopia

If there is a movement of thought which has stamped the significance of dialectics upon contemporary climate of theory and made this significance manifest for the present state of political affairs in the world, it can be found in Fredric Jameson’s books. It’s all a matter of knowing what to do with time, and Jameson knows what to do with it to say the least. In his remarkable book entitled Valences of the Dialectic, which is itself a performance of dialectical thought in action, Jameson takes it upon himself to point out the increasing relevance of the dialectic in relation to temporality. Using Paul Ricoeur’s Time and Narrative as well as Aristotle’s Poetics in conjunction with the Hegelian system of thought driven by and driving the dialectical process, Jameson constructs a temporal narrative of how time and history are made to appear in the sixth and final part of his book devoted to The Valences of History. By way of introducing an epistemological difference beyond the ontological difference between ecstatic and enstatic conceptualisations of ontic time, Jameson also achieves positing a new difference between time and temporality themselves. History now requires a subject to make it appear anew and thereby become the cause of a new future.

As a philosophical enterprise, Valences of the Dialectic, and especially its final part The Valences of History, signify a difference from Heidegger in understanding the transcendence and the transcendent, noesis and noema. This difference is the difference of Hegel’s dialectical process of infinity from Heidegger’s ontological horizon of possibility. The “transcending towards” of Heidegger is situated in a dialectical relation with Hegel’s identity of immanence and transcendence.[34] In the two quotations below, Heidegger and Deleuze point out the shift from an understanding of time as quantity to time as quality.

As a consequence of this disposition, which consumes and uses up, man constantly has less and less time in spite of all his time-saving, and that is why the saving and economy of time are necessary in even the tiniest procedures of technology. Modern man, the subject to whom the “world” has become a uniquely uniform “object,” consumes even time. Modern man therefore always “has” less and less time, because he has taken possession of time in advance only as calculable and has made time something of which he is obsessed, though he is presumably the ruler whose rule masters time. For primordial Greek thinking, on the contrary, time, always as dispensing and dispensed time, takes man and all beings essentially into its ordering and in every case orders the appearance and disappearance of beings. Time discloses and conceals.[35]

Time is out of joint, time is unhinged. The hinges are the axis around which the door turns. Cardo, in Latin, designates the subordination of time to the cardinal points through which the periodic movements that it measures pass. As long as time remains on its hinges, it is subordinate to movement: it is the measure of movement, interval or number. This was the view of ancient philosophy. But time out of joint signifies the reversal of the movement-time relationship. It is now movement which is subordinate to time. Everything changes, including movement. . . Time is no longer related to the movement which it measures, but movement is related to the time which conditions it: this is the first great Kantian reversal in the Critique of Pure Reason. Time is no longer defined by succession because succession concerns only things and movements which are in time. If time itself were succession, it would need to succeed in another time, and on to infinity.[36]

Following Heidegger’s proclamation that “the dreadful has already happened, and only a god can save us now,” as well as Deleuze’s well known quote from Bosquet which goes as “my wound existed before me, I was born to embody it,” it is still increasingly fashionable today to say that “the catastrophe has already occurred.” Yes, it did indeed, many times during the course of history as a matter of fact. And yet the question still remains: “what if there is not just one big catastrophe in the past alone, but many catastrophes happening all the time?” Yes, many catastrophes have already occurred, are still occurring, and will keep doing so in the future to come. There is no guarantee that the worst is over yet, or that there is no worse to come. As the poets would put it, “when we fall we fall hard, the troubles don’t singly come.” Perhaps we haven’t seen anything yet, and the catastrophe which is claimed to have already occurred is nothing but the beginning of a new sequence of catastrophes. Considering we are floating in a sea of catastrophes, it would be stretching it too far to say that best of handling our catastrophic situation is to employ dialectics of time in the service of overcoming, reversing, or at least slowing down the worsening. The initial question to be asked in the way of achieving a transcendental approach to the concept of catastrophe is simply this: “what if the catastrophe occurred to prevent an even bigger catastrophe?” This question immediately empowers one who wishes to reconfigure the significance of a catastrophic event within a broader sequence of events. One therefore has to think and imagine what would have happened if the catastrophe had not occured in its time. Now, of course this operation requires a writing of that which is not known in such a way as to effectuate a less bad future. It’s all a matter of minimizing the effects of the presumed major catastrophe which is itself the outcome of many minor catastrophes leading to that unfortunate sequence of events the consequences of which are yet to be determined. The best way of carrying out this minimization is to make up an alternative sequence of events in the past which would change the meaning of the present itself, thereby causing a new future to emerge.

In this case the past and the future appear to be qualitatively identical in the sense that they are both unknown. We know neither what exactly has happened in the past nor what will happen in the future for sure. We are at a perpetual present whose presence itself is dubious in that it never really is, since as soon as we say “I am in the present now” the present which we say we are in becomes past. At this point we may either opt for constructing a fictional past in such a way as to slow down worsening, or disregarding the past altogether and focusing on the effects of the unknown past manifest in the present. At hand there are pieces of information concerning our situation as well as some sense-data such as mental and physical pain, a mass of misery which we have to put in the service of a less bad future than the one awaiting us if either nothing or something wrong is done.

It is here that Lacan’s definition of the Real as “the impasse of formalization” becomes relevant, for it is there that the Real appears as its own disappearance, and hence as a void-in-process in the symbolic order. The imaginary enters the scene to fill in this gap opened by the forever vanishing objective dimension within the subjective process itself. For Badiou it is precisely at this point of impossibility of knowing that the Real emerges as the eternity in time which goes beyond mere subjective experience and objective reality alike.

In a paper on Jameson’s Making History Appear presented at a conference entitled Thinking About Time: Temporalities of Capitalism and the Time of Revolution[37], Brassier touches upon this same issue of the problematic relation between formalization, the Real, and making the impossible possible. Following Badiou’s footsteps in the field of formalism, Brassier asserts that a forcing of transformation in the structure of formalization itself is required to go beyond the impasse of capitalist mode of production under which the subject itself is subsumed. Referring to Jameson’s definition of capitalism as “totalization-in-process” rather than an all-encompassing structure, Brassier points out that “time is what propels capital and drives capitalism on.” Since “capital configures the way in which time is experienced”, it is up to the subject to formalize a new time for itself in such a way as to reconfigure the subject of capital’s relation to time, and hence cause a transformation in the structure of capitalism itself. Here again it’s all a matter of turning catastrophe into a positive investment in the future. Quoting Jameson at length, Brassier underlines the role of catastrophe in the process of progressive transformations of the existing social and political world of history.

In the phenomenon that interests us here, the sudden flash of a sense of history, we must somehow account for the evidence that History in that sense can be experienced either as nightmare or as a sudden opening and possibility that is lived in enthusiasm. It is an alternation which suggests the existence of some deeper duality in the thing itself: the way in which, for example, the appearing of History, its phainesthai, entails a new opening up of past and future alike, which can conceivably be marked antithetically: a somber past of violence and slaughter giving way to a new sense of collective production, or on the contrary a glimpse of promise in the past which is shut down by a closing of horizons in universal catastrophe. Better still, both these dimensions can be experienced at one and the same time, in an undecidable situation in which the reemergence of History is unrelated to its content and dependent above all on that form in which after a long reduction to the lowered visibility of the present, past and future once again open up in the full transparency of their distances.[38]

This returns us to the issue of the causes and effects of unfortunate incidents, those banal accidents of life which may have varying degrees of traumatic consequences. Related to this issue are the concepts such as causality, contingency, and necessity. Is it possible to know the absolute cause of an event? How are we to know whether an event was contingent or necessary?

Trapped before the traumatic incident, the subject cannot even accept that the traumatic incident has already occurred, and lives as though the past is not past, as if it is still possible to make the event not happen.

Trapped after the traumatic incident, the subject loses touch with its self as it was prior to the event, and lives as though it happened to someone else, as if the event belongs to someone else’s life, someone dead now.

One should thus invert the existentialist commonplace according to which, when we are engaged in a present historical process, we perceive it as full of possibilities, and ourselves as agents free to choose among them; while, to a retrospective view, the same process appears as fully determined and necessary, with no room for alternatives: on the contrary, it is the engaged agents who perceive themselves as caught in a Destiny, merely reacting to it, while, retrospectively, from the standpoint of later observation, we can discern alternatives in the past, possibilities of events taking a different path. (And is not the attitude of Predestination—the fact that the theology of predestination legitimized the frantic activity of capitalism— the ultimate confirmation of this paradox?) This is how Dupuy suggests that we should confront the catastrophe: we should first perceive it as our fate, as unavoidable, and then, projecting ourselves into it, adopting its standpoint, we should retroactively insert into its past (the past of the future) counterfactual possibilities (“If we had done such and such a thing, the catastrophe we are in now would not have happened!”) upon which we then act today.[39]

What went wrong might in fact turn out to be the turning point in the course of happenings which sets things in the right course. Perhaps it was all already going wrong for a quite a while now, and what seemed to be a negativity in this process of wrongoing was actually a contingent necessity for the conditions of rightgoing.

The initial question the subjects asks to itself in the face of aggravating situations of loss should better be this if the subject wishes to overcome the anguish it feels in the face of loss, and with sufficient effort even sublate its state of being in agony perhaps: “what have I gained with this apparent loss?” This question aims at initiating a thought process which would actualize a change at the level of perception. Viewed from a timeless nowhere, from beyond a supposedly predestined future which doesn’t yet exist and may never do so, from the realm of an a-temporal Utopia, the Real, that is, the event as the spark of an open ended story the significance of which is never fully determined becomes possible to handle in such a way as to situate it as a void in time, a gap between the past and the present out of which a new future emerges. Beginning with this void in time, this nothing which is now at hand, the subject can become an active constituent of time rather than being passively constituted by it.

Now, which one is the next question, then?

  • Why is there something rather than nothing?
  • Why is there nothing rather than something?

The second one is indeed the question a dispossessed person would ask, rather than someone who still has something at hand. Yes, here we begin with nothing, because it’s all there is. Jack Kerouac had once asked, “what’s in store for me in the direction I don’t take?” The question still begs to be answered, with or without the recent developments in science and technology in mind, although needless to say it would help to use them in our investigation in search of a true answer. Perhaps time would tell indeed, if only time had a voice to say the least. When one of Beckett’s nameless voices in Texts for Nothing asks “where would I go if I could go, who would I be if I could be, what would I say if I had a voice?” one should listen to this voice without reserve and act accordingly without determination, that is, introject the lost object and project it as the subject without incorporating it. The introjected object of loss does not become a part of the subject at work here. What’s at stake is rather that a new sense of time is created and embodied as void within the subject itself. Out of this void emerges new modes of being and thought which deliver a third question: “why is there both something and nothing at the same time?”

Reference Matter

[1] Hegel, G.W.F., Philosophy of Right, trans. T.M.Knox (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 252-3 / Pr. 127

[2] Kant, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, 1978, p. 116.

[3] Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, p. 139.

[4] Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, p. 139.

[5] Epictetus, The Encheiridion, trans. Nicholas P. White (Hackett: Cambridge, 1983), 13

[6] Epictetus, 11-3

[7] Epictetus, 12

[8] Epictetus, 11

[9] Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, p. 140.

[10] Martin Heidegger, Parmenides, trans. Andre Schuwer and Richard Rojcewicz (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2002), p. 141.

[11] Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes, London: Penguin, 1976, p. 532.

[12] Hegel, G.W.F. Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V.Miller (Oxford: O.U.P, 1977), p.492.

[13] Deleuze, Kant’s Critical Philosophy: The Doctrine of the Faculties. Translated by

Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. Minneapolis: University of

Minnesota Press, 1984, ix

[14] Heidegger, Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics. Trans. Richard Taft (Indianapolis:

Indiana University Press, 1990), p. 132.

[15] Badiou, Logics of Worlds, pp. 143-4.

[16] Badiou, Theory of the Subject, p. 118-9.

[17] Badiou, Theory of the Subject, p. 119.

[18] Badiou, Logics of Worlds, p. 231.

[19] Heidegger, Martin. Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, 5th edn. (Indiana, 1997), p. 22.

[20] G. W. F Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University

Press 1977), p. 89·

[21] G. W. F. Hegel, The Science of Logic. trans. A. V. Miller, Atlantic Highlands: Humanities

Press 1969. p. 400.

[22] Zizek, Less Than Nothing, p. 37.

[23] Badiou, Logics of Worlds, p. 141.

[24] Badiou, Logics of Worlds, p. 141.

[25] Badiou, Logics of Worlds, p. 233.

[26] Bergson, Time and Free Will, trans. F. L. Pogson (New York: Dover Publications, 2001), p. 104-5.

[27] Slavoj Zizek, The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity, (MIT: Cambridge

and London, 2003), p. 134-5.

[28] Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (Glasgow: Fontana Press, 1973), p. 257.

[29] Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History”, in Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (Glasgow: Fontana Press, 1973), p. 257.

[30] Slavoj Zizek, The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity, (MIT: Cambridge

and London, 2003), p. 134-5.

[31] Brassier, Nihil Unbound, p. 178.

[32] Ibid, p. 178.

[33] Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), p. 36.

[34] Brassier, Nihil Unbound, p. 158.

[35] Martin Heidegger, Parmenides, trans. Andre Schuwer and Richard Rojcewicz (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2002), p. 141-2.

[36] Deleuze, Kant’s Critical Philosophy: The Doctrine of the Faculties, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), p. vii.

[37] Ray Brassier, Jameson on Making History Appear, Thinking About Time Conference, American University of Beirut, 27 March 2015.

[38] Jameson, Valences of the Dialectic, p. 598.

[39] Zizek, The Puppet and the Dwarf, p. 164.


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