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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).
a uniquely optimistic construction. And does so in order. so to speak. that acceleration is not equivalent to material speed. to say “a plea. 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. in a history that is almost entirely not of our own design. rather. but simply ahistorical bodies under both the aegis and codings of the digital-now. forever hurtling forward without truly understanding what ‘forward’ implies. humanity’s – relation to time. One could note. finds us mindlessly covering ground. it is. it would seem. it is relational. as the West and as Westerners in the early twenty-first century. 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. Slaughterhouse Five: Or. Bolted to rails. are constructed in such a manner as to be simply beyond incredulous towards and fundamentally incapable of understanding our – or.” 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. 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. applied rote large. 2008). 85.’ Innis penned his understanding of this situation. 61 – 92. vectorial. a Duty-Dance with Death. the description in metaphor that Vonnegut proffers about us. to rattle our conceptions of how we are embodied. back those now many decades ago. that is. as such. Indeed. 3 Harold Innis. The Tralfamadorians2. (or encaged if you take the Klee and Benjamin slant on things). as A Plea for Time3. that we find ourselves in as a contemporary western culture. (New York: Dial Press). as it was. Though Vonnegut understood something which Innis did not. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. It is precisely this situation. in other words. – to be crass and begin with fictions – in the writing of his novel Slaughterhouse Five. . as Vonnegut terms them. to the extent that space is consumed almost as fuel in the furnace of a machine whose function it is specifically to destroy time.. The Children’s Crusade. Or – worse still! – not even as Westerners. Bias of Communication. perhaps Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
too fast. “Space at the Margins: Critical Theory and Colonial Space after Innis. of course. rationalization of knowledge. William Buxton & Charles R. 292. that is.”4 In other words some societies are temporally present but materially absent and others the reverse. “compromises between the demands of a monopoly of space and of a monopoly of time. That is. “historically. but we may simply be going. as such. Even today the so-called ‘Tea Partiers’ champion the very same constitution that they unabashedly wish to alter. the rise of print media facilitated the democratization of knowledge and the triumphs of humanistic culture” writes Jody Berland. and persist by overcoming the bias of media which over-emphasize either dimension. America. and displacement of difference. The most successful empires. 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. as Innis argues. those of space and time. organizations of power and the like. the societal identity of its own 4 Ibid. To wit. and duration. . seems to be – again. 6 Jody Berland.” in Harold Innis in the New Century: Reflections and Refractions. others ensconced in time.” Innis writes of the axis and geometries defining his conception of empire. of course. in Innis’s understanding – very much of the former persuasion. MQUP.super-sonic jet: his words are there. 100. in this sense. 27. has always-already been covering ground while forgetting itself. mutate. 1999). other than. “yet the spread of space-biased communication technology has led to the accelerating marginalization of oral culture. by now. Ed. There exists little play. Acland. some embodied in space. “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. 5 Ibid.”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. in time – then as they are now – available for anyone still enough to hear them.”5 as it seems America. reflexivity. to be blunt. and re-craft to their own particularly yet unknowingly historicized interests. “large-scale political organizations such as empires must be considered from the standpoint of two dimensions. (Montreal: McGill/Queens Press.
Nor is it our place to ‘decide’ in the traditional sense who is right or wrong. then.becoming-anonymous (see Georg Simmel. who saw the world in terms of its becoming-collapsed to “the terminal phase of technological society. and dialogue – all aspects of oral culture that have been appropriated and transformed through the production of technological space. tradition. Émile Durkheim. perhaps. dialectical opposition to one another. eating time. is whether the teetering-top of the anonymous ‘West’ has become too instant to save. 1992). out of his element. eating culture. (Montreal: New World Perspectives. has been reduced to a ‘specious present. in the case of Innis. . Will to Technology and the Culture of Nihilism: Nietzsche. 8 Arthur Kroker. Marx. which is to say.”8 Virilio and Innis cannot ‘speak to each other’ in the traditional sense.”7 Profering the notion – if albeit implicitly – that Innis is. According to Innis. 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. 9 Kroker. to ask the ‘question of speed’ at the margins of our own acceleration. . The Possessed Individual. André Groz. that phase where technology actually comes alive in the form of eating space. at least for our current purposes. but should be our purview simply to posit the historicized station of both in. a thinker of the 20th century without recourse to the 21st century conflagrations that confront us.’ and the social engineering of time into a micro-managed prism of empty granularities”9 in the case of Virilio. Rather we can. . “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. and both the early work of Marx and the entire works of Albert Camus). is – oddly enough – a near-contemporary of Innis’s! One who was simply much more cynical. much earlier in his career. Heidegger. marginalizing or obliterating media appropriate to memory. spirituality. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Paul Virilio: A theorist of pure speed. ultimately. whether or not we’ve reached the vectorial acceleration of acceleration that “exceeds the possibility of spatial or ontological balance. 13. 2004). 292. 6. and that which believes “the acceleration of space under the sign of digital culture. 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.
”10 though what can we read from this? Innis was not without his own breed of cynicalism. Bias of Communication.” to wit. not without his own disdain for conscious effort-towards in terms of a knowing-subject and a will-towards-will. 159. and by the ideological constitution of the viewing subject. can we be saved by a particular kind and type of quagmire – by their getting in each other’s way. in the transmission of messages and images.e.”13 10 Innis. (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e). 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. 13 Adrian MacKenzie. “contemporary technological conditions. but that. 11 Kroker 12 Paul Virilio. the media and mediums of space). as Kroker does. from the greek: to race – possibility of the instantaneous moment of arrival before having left. spatial exteriority and temporal futurity” are themselves “under assault from instantaneity. as the triangulation point of politics. they also eradicate duration or delay. replicability. To say. 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. by an ontological stalemate of the media and mediums that favour one or the other. Are we therefore to find refuge in the edifices of political structure and its concomitant stability. . that “if we live in the era of the empire of space (and the disappearance of time). 2007). culture and society. Speed and Politics. “leads to the government of nothing but time.time and a neglect of the problems of space.”12 That is.” through the dromoscopic – Dromos. as Innis is wont to assert. 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. 174. the bourgeois ego. (New York: Continuum. 2002). as Adrian MacKenzie understands it ““today we are beginning to realize that systems of telecommunication do not merely confine extention. to phrase it thusly. Transductions: Bodies and Machines at Speed. and amenable forms to human endeavour? Heavens no! Nor are we to find refuge in the dialogical spirituality and rememberance inherent to religion! Only.”11 We’ve replaced the potential epistemologies of a lived-relation towards temporality with a world where the “loss of material space. i. 120.
As Kroker writes. 17 Kroker. or almost nothing.”14 This. this – this assault from instantaneity. 24-25 15 Innis. as an identity. The truth. the question dawns. 40. 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. (New York: Verso. contrasts with – but does not contradict. 76. which then results in the totalizing and unsustainable using-upof-space. Will to Technology and the Culture of Nihilism: Nietzsche. in Virilio’s understanding. “the pollution of time distances that reduces to nothing. in this fishbowl of temporality. per se – Innis’s less dogmatic assertion that we are simply mired in a “modern obsession with present-mindedness. the Romans. whether or not we subvert our relation or surpass our station. For Virilio. for our purposes seems to tend more towards something ontologically inescapable. ect. the real instant of instantaneous telecommunications. the truth in both: that the overarching and unbalanced focus on space in Innis’s understanding.”17 But maybe this was the lesson the children of the obscure disaster were meant to learn: that the 14 Virilio. Marx. then. to the extent we can read it into his textual body – is a challenge to our ability to maintain as a society. which is to say. “the more ‘standing still’ the time.). 2007). conversely. then. 1997). 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. yet again. The Original Accident. Bias of Communication.”16 This is possibly. the more proof positive that even the denial of the ‘emptiness that bores’ confirms the fundamental reality of the metaphysical crisis of technological society. who would want to remember more than having swam past our plastic undersea castle. again. Open Sky. the extent and duration of our habitat. ultimately rests upon our coming to terms with the realms in which we are given to have being. Left. (Cambridge: Polity. 62. 16 Virilio. . as we are. yet possesses geophysical dimensions that are unextendable.”15 as though this modern obsession were something that we could opt-out of as nonchalantly as a gym-membership. Heidegger. like a pollution. the Byzantines. besides matter. this human environment that. the Russians.For Innis then.
. (May. as has been mentioned) run amok. gotten a lot farther away. we’re called upon – by something beyond ourselves. Haruki Murakami’s timeless advice from his novel After Dark seems pertinent: walk slowly. it just conforms to the same laws governing any ‘mindless coverning of ground’ and has. then. though what is a different issue. 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. in other words.” The American Economic Review. . “Industrialism and Cultural Values. as Innis does. 41:2. drink lots of water. harmony and sympathetic discourse that this is still. ethics? Being? Political engagement – to get our hands dirty. doesn’t achieve much. even if you have had the proverbial ‘wool’ pulled off from over your eyes. over the last 60 years.”18 Like Vonnegut’s protagonist we approach lived-time as though ‘knowing’ only to find out that ‘knowing’ outside of fostering. within the realm of possibility. to say that if someone is to ‘calm the waters’ of temporality and bring our lived-time into balance. either in isolation. 203.inevitable crisis is not always quite so inevitable and that sometimes. in point of duration. “the limitations of culture. To say. of course. in trying so urgently and implacably to rescue our fate from spatiality (or indeed temporality! That is. shaping and enacting this that or the other narrative. 1951). – Dock Currie Theory & Criticism 18 Innis. It is perhaps the gap between Innis and Virilio. .
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