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On the Possible Impossibility of Ontological Balance
While capital must on the one side strive to tear down every spatial barrier to intercourse, i.e. to exchange, and conquer the whole earth for its market, it strives on the other side to annihilate this space with time, i.e. to reduce to a minimum the time spent in motion from one place to another. – Karl Marx, Grundrisse, 539 Why do you think it’s going to last when everything you’ve ever done went to the past just think about our bodies in this place and imagine us shooting through space – Chad VanGaalen, Infiniheart
Is an expansive, robust, and easily engaged-with conception of time possible at the dying shadowy days of the liberal-democratic telos? Under the sign of conquered-space and the epoch of completed metaphysics? Wandering like last-men as we are, children of the ‘Obscure Disaster1,’ it strikes as a very serious possibility that it is not possible. And the question, then, is whether the forerunners of such a discourse – with their guarded optimism – were glimpsing the promise of a salvation that is still opened up towards us today, or whether they were simply watching the sunset on an always-already pre-ordained forclosure of possibility; whether the structures and geometries of political modernity can still reign in temporality and spatiality into some sort of functional milieu, or whether (precisely as a result of those structures and geometries), temporality and spatiality have become catastrophically and irrevocably unglued, plunging us into either a chest-thumping militaristic amnesia, never quite able to remember to remember, as the case arguably is now, or into some form of disturbed and babbling Tithonus, always forgetting to forget, as the situation arguably could be soon. 1 Alain Badiou. “Of an Obscure Disaster: On the End of the Truth of State.” Lacanian Ink. 22:Fall (2003).
it would seem. that is. to the extent that space is consumed almost as fuel in the furnace of a machine whose function it is specifically to destroy time. and it is this notion which may function in place of the cynical impossibility of the kind of ‘balance’ between space and time that Innis sought and conceptualized as a normative ideal in the constitutive makeup of ‘the state. as it was. Or – worse still! – not even as Westerners. so to speak. that the alien species that Vonnegut constructs evoke exactly the kind of biases of communication – to say: physical territorialisation and the breadth and play of duration – that Innis champions. are constructed in such a manner as to be simply beyond incredulous towards and fundamentally incapable of understanding our – or. perhaps Kurt Vonnegut Jr. One could note. Though Vonnegut understood something which Innis did not. 85. (or encaged if you take the Klee and Benjamin slant on things). Bias of Communication. to rattle our conceptions of how we are embodied. And does so in order. forever hurtling forward without truly understanding what ‘forward’ implies. The Tralfamadorians2. as such. 3 Harold Innis. Indeed. – to be crass and begin with fictions – in the writing of his novel Slaughterhouse Five.” though it seems far more likely today – some 60 years later – as though it were a warning yelled from tree-tops to an in-flight 2 Kurt Vonnegut Jr. it is relational. it is. (New York: Dial Press). to say “a plea. that we find ourselves in as a contemporary western culture. .’ Innis penned his understanding of this situation. The Children’s Crusade. Slaughterhouse Five: Or. a uniquely optimistic construction. as the West and as Westerners in the early twenty-first century. vectorial. as A Plea for Time3. It is precisely this situation. that acceleration is not equivalent to material speed. rather. but simply ahistorical bodies under both the aegis and codings of the digital-now. finds us mindlessly covering ground. the description in metaphor that Vonnegut proffers about us. back those now many decades ago.. as Vonnegut terms them. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Bolted to rails. applied rote large. might have been reading or had previously read some potent words from the pages of Canadian theorist Harold Innis on exactly this problem! – so prescient as it was. a Duty-Dance with Death. 2008). 61 – 92. in a history that is almost entirely not of our own design. humanity’s – relation to time. in other words.
” Innis writes of the axis and geometries defining his conception of empire. MQUP. as Innis argues. others ensconced in time. America. Ed. rationalization of knowledge. and displacement of difference.super-sonic jet: his words are there. other than. in time – then as they are now – available for anyone still enough to hear them. “compromises between the demands of a monopoly of space and of a monopoly of time. that is. some embodied in space. to be blunt. The most successful empires. the rise of print media facilitated the democratization of knowledge and the triumphs of humanistic culture” writes Jody Berland. To wit. organizations of power and the like. mutate. and duration. Even today the so-called ‘Tea Partiers’ champion the very same constitution that they unabashedly wish to alter. 6 Jody Berland. as such. in this sense.” in Harold Innis in the New Century: Reflections and Refractions.”5 as it seems America. There exists little play. “historically. 5 Ibid. of course. 292. in Innis’s understanding – very much of the former persuasion. by now. .”6 The entrenchment of ‘the West’ in space reduces and mitigates its ability to reflect itself historically through time as a coherent and self-instantiating identity. has always-already been covering ground while forgetting itself. and re-craft to their own particularly yet unknowingly historicized interests. William Buxton & Charles R. “yet the spread of space-biased communication technology has led to the accelerating marginalization of oral culture. those of space and time. seems to be – again. “Space at the Margins: Critical Theory and Colonial Space after Innis. are those for whom – for Innis – there exists something of a ‘play’ between the mediums in these structures that favour space and those that favour time. and persist by overcoming the bias of media which over-emphasize either dimension.”4 In other words some societies are temporally present but materially absent and others the reverse. “they have tended to flourish under conditions in which civilization reflects the influence of more than one medium and in which the bias of one medium towards decentralization is offset by the bias of another medium towards centralization. 27. That is. “large-scale political organizations such as empires must be considered from the standpoint of two dimensions. 1999). reflexivity. 100. too fast. Acland. the societal identity of its own 4 Ibid. (Montreal: McGill/Queens Press. but we may simply be going. of course.
”7 Profering the notion – if albeit implicitly – that Innis is. eating culture.becoming-anonymous (see Georg Simmel. dialectical opposition to one another.”8 Virilio and Innis cannot ‘speak to each other’ in the traditional sense.’ and the social engineering of time into a micro-managed prism of empty granularities”9 in the case of Virilio. and both the early work of Marx and the entire works of Albert Camus). (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Heidegger. but should be our purview simply to posit the historicized station of both in. who saw the world in terms of its becoming-collapsed to “the terminal phase of technological society. Will to Technology and the Culture of Nihilism: Nietzsche. ultimately. 292. posit them as the arch priests of two orders: that which believes modernist political orthodoxy can be curved and contoured into a functional balance of space and time. The question. eating time. Nor is it our place to ‘decide’ in the traditional sense who is right or wrong. is – oddly enough – a near-contemporary of Innis’s! One who was simply much more cynical. Rather we can. and dialogue – all aspects of oral culture that have been appropriated and transformed through the production of technological space. “bureaucracy in terms of the state implied an emphasis on space and a neglect of the problems of time and in terms of religion an emphasis on 7 Ibid. which is to say. . much earlier in his career. Paul Virilio: A theorist of pure speed. then. has been reduced to a ‘specious present. is whether the teetering-top of the anonymous ‘West’ has become too instant to save. to ask the ‘question of speed’ at the margins of our own acceleration. perhaps. According to Innis. out of his element. whether or not we’ve reached the vectorial acceleration of acceleration that “exceeds the possibility of spatial or ontological balance. 2004). spirituality. a thinker of the 20th century without recourse to the 21st century conflagrations that confront us. at least for our current purposes. tradition. whether the ‘time’ that Innis so desperately wants to see flow in ying to the spatial-west’s yang can indeed be brought out-from-concealment. that phase where technology actually comes alive in the form of eating space. 9 Kroker. 13. 1992). . Émile Durkheim. in the case of Innis. (Montreal: New World Perspectives. Marx. marginalizing or obliterating media appropriate to memory. André Groz. and that which believes “the acceleration of space under the sign of digital culture. . 6. 8 Arthur Kroker. The Possessed Individual.
in the transmission of messages and images. To say.e. not without his own disdain for conscious effort-towards in terms of a knowing-subject and a will-towards-will. Innis’s thought is such that what ‘saves’ in the Heideggerian sense is that which ‘damages’ or ‘mitigates’ the knowing ‘savingness’ of other agencies of salvation.”10 though what can we read from this? Innis was not without his own breed of cynicalism. under which society might flourish in directions unattainable and unthinkable whilst under the sway of exclusively one or the other (as it could be contended we are now. Bias of Communication. Are we therefore to find refuge in the edifices of political structure and its concomitant stability.” through the dromoscopic – Dromos. can we be saved by a particular kind and type of quagmire – by their getting in each other’s way. (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e). it is because the western rationalist eschatology has inscribed itself by means of a twofold political strategy: by the policing of the imminent codes of perspective. they also eradicate duration or delay. “contemporary technological conditions. from the greek: to race – possibility of the instantaneous moment of arrival before having left.time and a neglect of the problems of space. as the triangulation point of politics. the bourgeois ego. to phrase it thusly. “leads to the government of nothing but time. as Innis is wont to assert.”13 10 Innis.”11 We’ve replaced the potential epistemologies of a lived-relation towards temporality with a world where the “loss of material space. but that.” to wit. and amenable forms to human endeavour? Heavens no! Nor are we to find refuge in the dialogical spirituality and rememberance inherent to religion! Only. by an ontological stalemate of the media and mediums that favour one or the other. i. 174. 2007). and by the ideological constitution of the viewing subject. 13 Adrian MacKenzie. the media and mediums of space). 159.”12 That is. that “if we live in the era of the empire of space (and the disappearance of time). . (New York: Continuum. replicability. as Kroker does. 2002). 11 Kroker 12 Paul Virilio. 120. Speed and Politics. spatial exteriority and temporal futurity” are themselves “under assault from instantaneity. Transductions: Bodies and Machines at Speed. culture and society. as Adrian MacKenzie understands it ““today we are beginning to realize that systems of telecommunication do not merely confine extention.
it is a challenge to escape our almost inevitable becoming-historical! Being trapped “[at] the end of the outside world” where “the whole world suddenly becomes endotic” and where “such an end implies forgetting spatial exteriority as much as temporal exteriority (‘no future’) and opting exclusively for the ‘present’ instant. For Virilio. . which then results in the totalizing and unsustainable using-upof-space. As Kroker writes.”17 But maybe this was the lesson the children of the obscure disaster were meant to learn: that the 14 Virilio. yet again. or almost nothing. Bias of Communication. “the pollution of time distances that reduces to nothing. the Romans. to the extent we can read it into his textual body – is a challenge to our ability to maintain as a society. 1997). conversely. in this fishbowl of temporality. ect. (New York: Verso.”15 as though this modern obsession were something that we could opt-out of as nonchalantly as a gym-membership. “the more ‘standing still’ the time. ultimately rests upon our coming to terms with the realms in which we are given to have being. Will to Technology and the Culture of Nihilism: Nietzsche. the question dawns. 16 Virilio. then. for our purposes seems to tend more towards something ontologically inescapable.). then. the real instant of instantaneous telecommunications. (Cambridge: Polity. 2007). this – this assault from instantaneity. yet possesses geophysical dimensions that are unextendable. as we are. besides matter. 40. the more proof positive that even the denial of the ‘emptiness that bores’ confirms the fundamental reality of the metaphysical crisis of technological society. as a fixed amalgam of principles that hold through history in order that they might become-historical (as in the case of any of Innis’s many historical archetypes – the Summerians. again. the Byzantines. Heidegger. The truth. The Original Accident. the Russians. Open Sky. 62. 17 Kroker. in Virilio’s understanding. which is to say. per se – Innis’s less dogmatic assertion that we are simply mired in a “modern obsession with present-mindedness. who would want to remember more than having swam past our plastic undersea castle.”14 This. Left. like a pollution. this human environment that. as an identity. 76. the truth in both: that the overarching and unbalanced focus on space in Innis’s understanding. the extent and duration of our habitat. contrasts with – but does not contradict.For Innis then. whether or not we subvert our relation or surpass our station.”16 This is possibly. Marx. 24-25 15 Innis.
“the limitations of culture. (May. drink lots of water. then. Haruki Murakami’s timeless advice from his novel After Dark seems pertinent: walk slowly. harmony and sympathetic discourse that this is still. in point of duration. as Innis does. To say. of course. – Dock Currie Theory & Criticism 18 Innis. ethics? Being? Political engagement – to get our hands dirty.” The American Economic Review. over the last 60 years. 41:2. It is perhaps the gap between Innis and Virilio. it just conforms to the same laws governing any ‘mindless coverning of ground’ and has. even if you have had the proverbial ‘wool’ pulled off from over your eyes. . though what is a different issue. . doesn’t achieve much. we’re called upon – by something beyond ourselves.”18 Like Vonnegut’s protagonist we approach lived-time as though ‘knowing’ only to find out that ‘knowing’ outside of fostering. gotten a lot farther away. 203. to say that if someone is to ‘calm the waters’ of temporality and bring our lived-time into balance. in other words. shaping and enacting this that or the other narrative. 1951). within the realm of possibility. “Industrialism and Cultural Values. either in isolation. . as has been mentioned) run amok. in trying so urgently and implacably to rescue our fate from spatiality (or indeed temporality! That is. are in part a result of the inability to muster the intellectual resources of a people to the point that stagnation can be avoided and that boredom can be evaded.inevitable crisis is not always quite so inevitable and that sometimes.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?