Non-Event 1: Counting Time

Michael provides a nice summary of the recent debate concerning Badiou and anthro-ontology (or maybe onto-anthropology, as that which the critique of onto-theology failed to leave behind) that has been brewing between Dominic, Graham and Levi. The debate continues briefly, as Graham recounts here; and Stellar Cartographies also hints at a possible non-philosophical spin on the problem.

I’m a little confused by Graham’s resistence to the count-as-one as itself an onto-anthropological concession. As Dominic has said, to presume that there must be a human behind the count is to miss the point that humans themselves are the result or product of a count, insofar as they are discrete individuals. So the demand that ‘rocks and earthworms’ be granted the ability to ‘count’ misses the mark – they are also results. Dominic has been vigilant here in rejecting the misconception that there is some higher agent behind the count, anymore than that the fact of individuals requires some agent that individuates them.

Now Badiou’s lack of an explanation for how the count works is a genuine problem, as has been pointed out, and I don’t think it is sufficient to equate it with a transcendental mystery like Heidegger’s Es gibt. But there are plenty of philosophical resources we could use to bolster Badiou here. For example, this tendency toward seeing the count as obliging an agent seems to impute to it a kind of chronological priority, such that there is first an uncounted or preindividuated chaos, and then some higher power intervenes and counts it, and then the world of individuals is presented. Or to shift from onto-theology to onto-anthropology, the world is first a preindividual field or unity, and then humans intervene and count it up, falsely making of it a world of discrete individuals.

I think both of these critical approaches err in imputing such a chronological schema to the count, which seems to me to deserve a more synchronic temporal figure along the lines of Deleuze’s static genesis. For Deleuze, the world isn’t first a preindividual field, and then it gets cut up into actual individuals. The two levels are coextensive, and individuation is an instantaneous ‘process’ that happens-in-place at every instant. There is no before and after here – before and after are divided up within the chain of ‘nows’ by the instant or instantaneous genesis of individuals. I think we could usefully supplement Badiou with Deleuze here, and see the count also as a kind of instantaneous static genesis that occurs at each moment in-place.

Some may take this as a cop-out, but let me go a bit further. This static genesis is not an easy way out, a useful explanation that does not really explain so much as ignore…but a concrete feature of the present/presented world.

To explain, allow me a brief detour: In his book on Paul’s Letter to the Romans, The Time that Remains [65-7], Giorgio Agamben has recourse to the linguist Gustave Guillaume, little known in the English world, and his concept of ‘operational time’. For Guillaume, humans experience time directly but represent it to themselves by way of a linguistic schematization: they must apply the schema of, for example, past-present-future to this experience of time.

Yet Guillaume does not mean that time passes from an undifferentiated intuition into a differential schema – schematized time encompasses and exhausts temporality. So this hypothetical ‘operation’ by which humans represent time linguistically, by which we organize or schematize time, does not itself have a place within that schema. It does not have the form {undifferentiated-temporal-intuition > schematization > past-present-future}, since the latter third is ‘perfect’. Yet it is also ‘too perfect’, in that it does not directly include its own imposition. In this way, the intuition-operation segment is included, but negatively, by way of its own foreclosure to the schema. It does take a certain time to impose the representational schema, but this is not diachronic, already-schematized time. It is rather a kind of negative, impassive time that inheres in the schema by virtue of having no place within it.

We can also think of Kant in these terms: for Kant, the a priori imposition of time as form of intuition is inseparable from intuition itself, there is no intuition ‘before time’. Yet this fact nonetheless entails that there is a non-intuitive, non-scheamtized ‘time’ in which humans represent intuition temporally, a time in which the schematization of intuition through the form of time occurs. This is the secret of Kant’s notion of time as ‘inner sense’, which Deleuze seizes upon:

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. [Kant's Critical Philosophy, ix]

And of course, Deleuze takes this notion of time as an ‘immutable form of interiority’ as the model for his concept of a ‘pure and empty form of time’, the key to the static genesis.

Yet aren’t I still talking in onto-anthropological terms, relativizing temporality to the human experience thereof? Yes, but just as Agamben generalizes Guillaume’s concept beyond its linguistic signification, applying it to his discussion of messianic time, we can just as well apply it to a ‘world without humans’, or to the objects themselves. If we take the immutable form of time or the static genesis of time (operational time) that inheres negatively in diachronic time or the time of succession as the form of interiority (which is not to say that time constitutes the interior, but that it separates the external relatability of something from its internal ‘withdrawal into self’), then why not apply this equally to the interiority of objects?

In this model, the individuated present-ation of the object that makes it susceptible to temporal change, degeneration, as well as historical retrojection (the history of the components of the object before they were ‘enlisted’ in this object becomes the history of the object itself), itself refers to a non-temporal or ‘static’ genesis (count) that does not occur in time, but which is obliviated by diachronic temporality – left out of it or foreclosed to it. Diachronic temporality retroactively recounts the ‘history’ of the object, but does not pinpoint the moment at which the object becomes an object, or something that can have a history. Rather, this moment or instantaneous genesis withdraws from the external relatability that conditions any history. In Graham’s terminology, the real object that is interior to its qualities is nothing more than a projection conditioned by the static imposition of the form of interiority.

So to conclude, the count does not occur ‘prior’ to the presentation of individuals, nor does it oblige the intention of an agent who counts. It is an instantaneous operation that recedes or withdraws from temporal relatability (diachronic or schematic time), or rather, that as foreclosed to this time, conditions the ‘projection’ of a withdrawn interiority. In the next post I will explain how this account obliges us to rethink Badiou’s theory of the Event, as well as the critical rejoinders leveled against it during this debate.

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3 Responses to Non-Event 1: Counting Time

  1. Pingback: Non-Event 2: The Catastrophic Past « Planomenology

  2. Pingback: Badiou and Correlationism « Larval Subjects .

  3. Pingback: Readings Round-Up #5 – mutually occluded

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