Hum Stud (2008) 31:223–228 DOI 10.

1007/s10746-008-9085-x BOOK REVIEW

´s: Marramao’s Kairo The Space of ‘‘Our’’ Time in the Time of Cosmic Disorientation
Silvia Benso

Published online: 22 April 2008 Ó Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

´s: Giacomo Marramao, Kairo Towards an Ontology of ‘‘Due Time.’’ Trans. Philip Larrey and Silvia Cattaneo. The Davies Group Publishers, Aurora, CO, 2007, 90 pp + xii Time represents, ‘‘from time immemorial, one of the main themes of Western metaphysics and philosophical speculation’’ (p. 39)—thus claims Italian philosopher Giacomo Marramao in a book that, because of the interdisciplinary approach it takes, the variety of interlocutors it addresses, the ground it covers, and the meditations it develops, should actually be of great interest to a larger public than a uniquely philosophical readership. In this sense, not only philosophers but also anthropologists, social scientist, cultural critics, literary theorists, scholars of rhetoric, theologians, and even physicists and evolutionary biologists among others are sure to find reasons for excitement in the translation of this work. More fundamentally, though, the intrigue of time, its nature and meaning are questions that, at least once in their life (normally at times of birth or death) puzzle the mind of all human beings. In this sense, Marramao’s book can be of interest to everyone. Yet, despite the universal encounter with time, there seems to be a fundamental discrepancy, or at least an ambiguity, between the daily experience of time and its representations. ‘‘What is ... time? If nobody asks me, I know; if I must explain it to those who question me, I do not know.’’ Thus writes Augustine in the Confessions (Bk. IX, chapter 14), identifying with incredible clarity the paradox of time to which Marramao’s short but important book is devoted. What constitutes the ‘‘temporal paradox’’ (p. 39) that Augustine first articulates so poignantly? According to Marramao’s formulation, the paradox is given by ‘‘the intertwinement of natural and enigmatic, obvious and inexplicable’’ so that, in the end, time can be properly ´s described as ‘‘a familiar stranger’’ (p. 39). It is such a familiar stranger that Kairo
S. Benso (&) Department of Philosophy, Siena College, 515 Loudon Road, Siena Hall 423, Loudonville, NY 12211-1462, USA e-mail: benso@siena.edu

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confronts head on and in constant conversation with both the twentieth-century philosophy of the ‘‘temporal flow’’ (especially Henri Bergson, Edmund Husserl, and Martin Heidegger) and contemporary science (especially physics). Marramao’s work is regrettably still largely unknown to the Anglo-American readership. Formed in the socio-critical philosophical tradition of the University of Florence, always attentive to historico-cultural phenomena, Marramao broadened his education by studying social sciences at Frankfurt University, in Germany. Having lectured in numerous major universities around the world, he is currently Professor of both Theoretical Philosophy and Political Philosophy at the University of Rome-III. An important work of his, West Passage: Philosophy and Globalization, one of the first books to consider globalization from a truly philosophical rather than political/ economic/sociological perspective, is due to appear in an English translation with Verso Publishing. An essay on related themes, ‘‘The World and the West Today: The Problem of a Global Public Sphere,’’ is contained in Contemporary Italian Philosophy: Crossing the Boundaries of Ethics, Politics, and Religion, published by SUNY Press. Hopefully, these translations are only initial steps in the endeavor of making known to the English-speaking readership works by a thinker who has written more than 12 books in addition to many journal contributions. ´s Marramao’s reflection is not new to the question of time. Kairo constitutes in fact the third volume in an ideal ‘‘triptych’’ (p. xi) that includes also Potere e secolarizzazione. Le categorie del tempo (Power and Secularization: The Categories of Time), which was originally published in Italian in 1983 and then reprinted in 2005, and Minima Temporalia. Tempo, spazio, esperienza (Minima Temporalia: Time, Space, Experience), published in Italy in 1990 and reprinted in 2005. Curiously enough, in the English title of the volume under review, which in Italian ´s. ´s: reads Kairo Apologia del tempo debito (Kairo A Defense of Due Time), the term apologia has been changed to the expression Toward an Ontology (of due time). No explanation for this alteration is given either in the translators’ Foreword or in Marramao’s Preface (which, however, dates back to 1992 and was not updated for the 2005 third Italian reprint). The term apologia is admittedly difficult to render in English in its Socratic sense. Besides indicating a difficulty of translation, however, the insertion of the expression ‘‘toward an ontology’’ also marks the philosophical agenda of Marramao’s book, which is clearly stronger than the simple provision of an argument in defense of ‘‘due time.’’ What Marramao wants to present is in fact a precise philosophically proactive proposal, albeit non-foundational (p. 30), centered ´s, on a notion of kairo the characteristics and nature of which are still under investigation and elaboration. His ambition is to replace the philosophically prevailing (at least in continental philosophy) ‘‘metaphors of the ‘stream’ and the ‘flow’ [of time] with the notions of architecture of time and topology of time’’ (p. 30). In other words, Marramao wants to integrate the insufficient concept of time modeled on intuitive perception with the measurable, spatialized concept that emerges in modern science and leads to ‘‘a disintegration of the idea of a universal flow of time’’ (p. 32). The goal of the proposed integration would be the reinstitution of the paradox of which Augustine speaks and which Western philosophy has constantly sought to

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neutralize. One way of formulating the question that drives Marramao’s project is to ask: ‘‘How does one place the dimension of our life, within such an ‘estranging’ picture [as the scientific one], so shocking for the familiar certainties of common sense?’’ (p. 32). In a clear echoing of Heidegger’s project of a fundamental ontology based on time and of his concept of ‘‘ontological difference,’’ and yet in an equally clear and declared opposition to Heidegger’s privileging of authentic over inauthentic time, Marramao’s book aims at ‘‘identifying the dimension, that is, the space of ‘our’ time, starting from the cosmic disorientation that the new scientific image of the universe has transmitted to our experience’’ (p. x). In other words, it intends to ‘‘identify the constitutive residue of ‘our’ time—starting from the contemporary and ‘disorienting’ spatial-temporal dimension and far from any ´s— pretense of ‘authenticity’’’ (p. xi). Such a residue will emerge precisely as kairo the time in-between, the interval in which something special happens. Beyond ´s traditionally rhetorical and theological understandings of it, the concept of kairo Marramao intends to propose is prepared by Aristotle’s ‘‘still unsurpassed’’ (p. 51) consideration of time in terms of the ‘‘now’’ (pp. 51–54). According to Marramao’s reading, Aristotle’s ‘‘now’’ is in fact ‘‘pulled away from the abstract, purely quantitative dimension of mathematics, and is included within the continuum of time’’ (p. 54). In this manner, a conception of time as paradoxical, that is, as ‘‘both objective and subjective, physical and psychical, emotional and mental’’ (p. 54) opens up. The extensive discussion of what constitutes only the central premise for the ´s elaboration of such a novel concept of kairo occupies the largest portion of the book. According to Marramao’s reading, the allegedly most radical twentiethcentury philosophies of the temporal flow (namely, those of Bergson, Husserl, and Heidegger) bifurcate time into ‘‘a ‘proper’ time—authentic but incommunicable, which expresses the subjective and inner sense of duration—and an ‘improper’ time—inauthentic but measurable, that manifests itself through its objective and spatialized representation’’ (p. ix). A divide is thus created between time as continuous and unfolding and time as discrete and instantaneous. Whereas the philosophies of the temporal flow intend to concern themselves with the former, the latter understanding of time is rebutted and ascribed by them to the sciences. By provoking such a split and territorialization in the understanding of time, such philosophies in fact forget the twofold nature of time, Marramao claims. The recognition of the twofoldness of time was instead still present in Plato, Marramao argues with a suggestive interpretation that goes against many of the essentialist readings of the great Greek philosopher. According to Plato in fact, or so Marramao maintains, the ‘‘two sides’’ of the temporal coin, that is, the existential and the measurable or scientific, ‘‘form an invisible network of reciprocal implications and references’’ (p. 1). This much is signaled in Plato’s characterization of time in the Timaeus (37d), which according to Marramao constitutes ‘‘the first complete definition of ‘‘time’’ in Western philosophy’’ (p. 7). According to it, ´n.’’ This expression, usually translated as ‘‘time ‘‘chronos is the moving image of aio is the moving image of eternity,’’ is convincingly reinterpreted by Marramao as ´n. meaning that ‘‘chronos is as eternal as aio Both are either ‘‘always’’ together or fall together’’ (p. 12). That is, the scientific and existential aspects of time are

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complementary and not antithetical; in this sense, the rebuttal of the chronological, that is, scientific understanding of time by the philosophies of the temporal flow amounts to a reductionist move. Furthermore, by this move of separation of the two aspects and exclusion of one of them, twentieth-century philosophy ‘‘has relinquished its original function’’ (p. x) of being able to link different dimensions of existence. This ability was asserted by Plato through his invocation of the erotic character of philosophy (pp. 34–8). In the Symposium, Eros, to whom philosophy is assimilated, is in fact portrayed as an intermediate being capable of acting as a messenger between immortals and mortals, between gods and human beings, and ultimately between eternity and time. That is, Eros is the dimension of existence in which opposites come into meaningful communication and connection without thereby losing their specific identity and individual characteristics. The coexistence of opposite, even contradictory features is precisely what characterizes paradoxes. By privileging the unilateral dimension of time as flow, twentieth-century philosophy has lost its eroticism insofar as it is no longer capable of sustaining paradoxes, especially the paradox that time champions. Stated otherwise, philosophy has lost its timeliness, in the sense of having lost the challenge of portraying time as the dimension of paradox that time in fact is. Conversely, as Marramao’s discussion of several scientific theories illustrate, science has taken the paradox of time ‘‘as both the premise and condition of its work’’ (p. x), as it becomes clear especially in the case of Einstein’s relativity theory and the indeterminacy of quantum-mechanics. Despite what the philosophies of the temporal flow assert, science has thus revealed itself more faithful than philosophy to the aporetic character of the inquiry that, according to Plato’s myth of Eros, should characterize the philosophical enterprise. In other words, science reveals itself more philosophical in its inspiration than philosophy—this seems to be Marramao’s indication. Philosophy then needs to rethink experience, including the experience of time, out of the aporetic, that is, disorienting perspective still known to science. According to Marramao, this task implies a ‘‘re-think[ing of] our existence in the universe in light of a radical idea of the limit’’ (p. 66) that also makes possible the formulation of ‘‘an ‘off-axis’ approach to the question of time’’ (p. 67). The articulation of the limit that Marramao invokes in turn requires two elements: first, a rehabilitation of space (pp. 67–9) understood as the ‘‘original symbolic space’’ of psychoanalysis (p. 67), as ‘‘an oneiric virtual element that circumscribes and includes in itself the two dimensions of wake and sleep, of the diurnal and nocturnal realms’’ (p. 68); and second, ‘‘a new understanding of the evolutionary residue of our universe, within which living forms and our existence in the world find their ‘due’ time’’ (p. 69). In other words, psychoanalytic and evolution theories must enter the philosophical description of the space and time of our existence, and exercise a more powerful presence in the meditation on the notion of time. ´s, It is at this point that the concept of ‘‘due time,’’ kairo after which the book is ´a titled, unexpectedly appears in the book ‘‘with a coup de the ˆtre,’’ as Marramao promptly acknowledges (p. x). Unfortunately, the reasons for the appearance of such a central concept are not made more understandable, justifiable, or justified simply by virtue of the prompt and explicit recognition of the concept’s sudden appearance.

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No further help but rather a vague sense of disappointment comes from the additional fact that only a few pages (pp. 69–74) are devoted to the discussion of a concept that is intended to be, or indeed could be, a major philosophical contribution to the theories of time. ´s? What is ‘‘due time,’’ then? What is kairo As the reader is told in the Preface ´s (pp. ix–xii), kairo is ‘‘no longer the Chance or the Fortune of the Moderns, nor is it ´s the eschatological event of the Christians.’’ Rather, as Marramao explains, kairo ‘‘is the fundamental dimension of the appropriate time, of the crucial moment that is nothing but that part of each ‘identity,’ within which the very phenomenon of the mind, or Awareness, takes-place’’ (p. x). A supplemental explanation to the meaning of this concept should come from the (mysterious) etymology of the Latin ‘‘tempus.’’ The Latin term indicates both chronological and meteorological time, both time and weather, Zeit and Wetter, two phenomena that are generally considered distant, and even heterogeneous. ‘‘Tempus’’ signifies thus ‘‘the interface of different elements, from which the reality of evolution derives,’’ Marramao concludes (p. 70). In this sense, tempus is correlative to what the Greeks called ´s: kairo due time, appropriate time. Far from the meaning of ‘‘momentary instant’’ or ‘‘opportunity’’ which, as Marramao remarks, was a typical proto-modern under´s standing of the term, ‘‘kairo comes to designate, like tempus, a very complex figure of temporality, which recalls the ‘quality of conformity’ and the proper mixture of ´s different elements’’ (p. 71). Kairo is the propitious time at which identities are formed, including such identities as the mind, consciousness, and all other ´s evolutionary or historico-cultural phenomena. Not only does the notion of kairo keep together those paradoxical elements of the temporal coin that twentieth century philosophy has radically separated; kairological time is also the time of complexity, of climatic configurations of existence, of living forms, of the world that evolves ´s’’ ‘‘because it is originally ingratiated by the kairo (p. 72). From this concept and its implications, new paths ‘‘can blaze...from a strictly philosophical point of view,’’ Marramao argues (p. 70)—for example, a reinstating of ‘‘the sense of our evolutionary residue and with it, of our very existence’’ (p. 71), a reassessing of the relation between space and time (p.71), and a rethinking of the I (p. 72), death (p. 73), and the other (p. 73). These, however, are all topics that are too quickly addressed in the conclusive pages, and to which Marramao will hopefully devote ´s some future work as that which is his kairo to do. ´s is admittedly ‘‘one long lecture’’ (p. xii) derived from a cycle of talks that Kairo Marramao gave at the Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici in Naples in 1990. The lecture format, in which ‘‘expository and analytical-conceptual parts alternate and … complement each other’’ (p. xii), makes for an easy, even entertaining, although scholarly engaging reading. Yet, a less colloquial format would have probably provided a more sustained confrontation and a deeper discussion of the texts and authors considered (and they are certainly many and varied). Altogether, the main theses of the book (which are indeed interesting and complex) as well as the arguments supporting them would have gained in clarity, depth, and, perhaps, overall persuasiveness. There is no doubt, however, about the vastness of readings, knowledge, and expertise displayed by Marramao, who enters in equally comfortable conversations with Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Husserl, and Heidegger as well

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as with Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and Roger Penrose. And there is no doubt that, in the current philosophical picture, Marramao’s overall project, although in need of further elaboration given what he presents the reader in this book, constitutes an original, rigorous, and imaginative attempt to think through essential philosophical categories. A few words must unfortunately be said about the translation and the editing of the book, a matter that only marginally affects the quality of the content and yet makes for a less than excellent product. Although this reviewer is not a native speaker, she was able to detect some evident inaccuracies such as the recurrent use of the adjective ‘‘disorientating’’ for ‘‘disorienting,’’ or some turns of phrases that echo the Italian too closely (such as the term ‘‘sapiential,’’ which in English does not exist, for the Italian sapienziale, p. 36). It is also somewhat annoying that, besides the translators’ misspelling, no editor detected that the famous character from Plato’s Symposium repeatedly referred to in chapter 6 is not Diotimus but Diotima (a woman, not a man as the spelling suggests); this is just one occurrence of a general laxness in the editing, which seems to lack consistency and defies generally accepted conventions (for example, foreign terms are italicized randomly, the German character ß, as in Bewußt, is regularly ignored, and single quotes, which in English are used only within a previous quotation, are used instead of double quotes). Moreover, there is no uniformity in the referencing style in the notes with respect to italicizing titles, providing names and places of publication, and English translations of the cited works and corresponding page numbers. Thus, the editor’s initial note, following Marramao’s Preface and claiming ‘‘as for Greek words, we sometimes preferred to disregard the scientific transliteration criteria’’ (p. xii), sounds almost as a justification for periodic inattentiveness. Despite these stylistic, editorial problems, the book remains an exciting, fascinating essay that leaves the reader with the desire and hope for a continuation—as if this book were just an interlude. It is perhaps appropriate, then, that Marramao concludes by invoking for philosophy the Platonic ‘‘role of a powerful hermeneutic [sic], placed within the ´’’ tension of the metaxy (p. 74), since ‘‘in a time of cosmic disorientation, philo`in sophe can mean nothing but to stubbornly repeat this interlude’’ (p. 74).

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