The Nick of Time: Politics, Evolution, and the Untimely

Elizabeth Grosz

Language: English

Pages: 336

ISBN: 082233397X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In this pathbreaking philosophical work, Elizabeth Grosz points the way toward a theory of becoming to replace the prevailing ontologies of being in social, political, and biological discourse. Arguing that theories of temporality have significant and underappreciated relevance to the social dimensions of science and the political dimensions of struggle, Grosz engages key theoretical concerns related to the reality of time. She explores the effect of time on the organization of matter and on the emergence and development of biological life. Considering how the relentless forward movement of time might be conceived in political and social terms, she begins to formulate a model of time that incorporates the future and its capacity to supersede and transform the past and present.

Grosz develops her argument by juxtaposing the work of three major figures in Western thought: Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Henri Bergson. She reveals that in theorizing time as an active, positive phenomenon with its own characteristics and specific effects, each of these thinkers had a profound effect on contemporary understandings of the body in relation to time. She shows how their allied concepts of life, evolution, and becoming are manifest in the work of Gilles Deleuze and Luce Irigaray. Throughout The Nick of Time, Grosz emphasizes the political and cultural imperative to fundamentally rethink time: the more clearly we understand our temporal location as beings straddling the past and the future without the security of a stable and abiding present, the more transformation becomes conceivable.

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This text is concerned primarily with the question of the ontology of time, duration, or becoming, the ontological implications for living beings of their immersion in the always forward movement of time. The elaboration of a philosophical theory of time is no easy matter. Time is perhaps the most enigmatic, the most paradoxical, elusive, and ‘‘unreal’’ of any form of material existence. This may be why physicists, whose goal it is to explain material existence and render it predictable, have often relegated the perception of passing and change, the perceptible e√ects of time, to the status of subjective illusion, mere appearance, matter encoded by the attributes of human perception (see, e.

It lacks an impetus toward creation. It remains mired in attaining the things of the past rather than in harnessing the possible actions that animated their production for something new or renewed. This reverence for the past reduces concern for the present and commitment to the future. The new has no place in this schema, which is occupied only with preservation, which, in other words, remains stuck in memory without the necessary distance of forgetfulness. To counteract the excesses of antiquarianism, a critical history is necessary, which is to say, a history that doesn’t simply revere the past and memorialize its greatest figures, objects, and events, but that distances and dissolves the forces of the past in order to enable their reconfiguration in action in the present.

That which must be moved beyond and, if necessary, forgotten. These claims are all closely linked to his more general understanding of time, particularly of the link between the past and the future, in his understanding of the eternal return, to which we turn in the next chapter. The Will to Power The will to power is, for Nietzsche, the only drive, the very drive governing not only all organic life, but all of matter as well. It is that which conserves the victorious forces of the past and directs them openly to the future.

My goal here has not been to indicate how Darwinism may assimilate the waywardness of Nietzsche’s contributions to the study of time and life, nor 112 The Nick of Time how Nietzsche may be simply a≈rmed in his condemnations of Darwin. Rather, I have tried to show that, in spite of some quite remarkable resonances and similarities—their a≈rmation of the richness of life over the paucity of resources that we have in our knowledge of life, of the fundamental unpredictability of living forms, and their celebration of the centrality of chance, accident, and surprise—they cannot be too closely linked.

Recognition involves the correlation of a current perception (or perceptual object) with a memory that resembles it. But recognition is not simply a correlation, for recognition would be guaranteed to occur whenever there were memory-images and would be abolished whenever they were missing (an explanation that cannot take account of the phenomena of psychic blindness and the detailed and selective forgetfulness of aphasia). Recollection, and thus recognition, occur when a memoryimage that resembles a current perception is carried along with the perception by being extended into action; but it is significant, Bergson claims, that even in the absence of a memory-image, there may be the possibility of recognition.

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