capital times

Jackson Pollock, The She-Wolf, 1943


Commentary on the book by Eric Alliez.

Forty years ago, in a course dedicated to Stoic philosophy, given at the École Normale Supérieur de Sèvres, Victor Goldschmidt brought to light – and questioned – an implicit postulate of philosophical historiography as a whole: the postulate according to which, in ancient philosophy, the problem of time refers exclusively to physics; which implies that only the moderns would have “discovered” the subjectivity of time (V. Goldschmidt, “Le Systéme Stoicien et l'Idée de Temps”, J. Vrin, Paris, 40, pp. 1953-49). Later, Goldschmidt shows how this postulate – apparently solidly anchored in the oldest doxography – is reiterated, and taken to the extreme, throughout all of Heidegger's reflection on the history of metaphysics.

In the hard-line style of Heideggerian meditation, even the most “modern” of moderns (Hegel and Bergson), who propose to de-objectify time, end up reiterating the Aristotelian neutralization of “original” time, which to be and the time have the task of recovering. All of Goldschmidt's beautiful book goes against the current of this tradition, in the direction of showing, at the heart of ancient philosophy, the presence of a reflection ethics where the idea of ​​time is already disconnected from its purely cosmological horizon: the Greeks did not ignore “lived time” or the subjective dimension of temporality.

Em capital times, Eric Alliez takes up the question, exploring it, with ample breath, in the most unexpected directions. At first glance, it is a history of the concept of time, from Antiquity to the end of the Middle Ages. And his book can also be read like this. As if heeding Goldschmidt's suggestion, the author dynamits the above-mentioned postulate, describing, in detail and erudition, how, since classical antiquity, philosophy envisions, beyond the circular and calm time of the stars, a kind of maddened temporality, disconnected from any meter, protagoric or sophistic.

Already with Aristotle himself, or in his crematistics, what he discovers, beyond the definition of time as the number of movement, is the uncontrollable flow of the instant or the now that definitively compromises, on the most visible face of time, the perfect circle of eternity, opening the space of the abyss that would receive from Hegel is the name of the bad infinity. From this original deviation, it is a matter of describing the inflation of this temporality excess, from Aristotle to nominalism, passing through Plotinus and Saint Augustine. It is, therefore, a narrative of the progressive “subjectivation” of the concept of time or an archeology of modern theories of time (Kant, Hegel, Bergson, Husserl, Heidegger).

But, in reality, the book offers much more than an overview of the subjectivation of the concept of time. It is not just a question of showing the presence of “lived time” in philosophical systems where it was supposed to be absent. Alongside the history of the “concept”, we find another history, which we could call the history of “temporal practices”.

The history of metaphysics and the history of social practices intertwine in this archaeological effort, allowing for a “Marxian” reading. Reading that is not inappropriate, since the telos of the work is explicitly marked in its very opening: reading Marx reading Aristotle. Reading, by the way, carried out by Antonio Negri, who identified, in Alliez's book, the program “of a materialist historiography of philosophy”. It is clear that – at least as much as Kant, Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger – the floorplans are on the horizon of this description of the “conquest of time”.

It is clear that the ultimate target of this reconstruction is “the Marxian concept of time in floorplans, in which abstract time, measure of exploration and subsumption of the 'socius' under the regime of equivalence, becomes society's production force” (Antonio Negri). The narratives of “capital times”, even if they traverse the intricacies of the history of ancient and medieval philosophy, ultimately aim at the constitution of the time of capital, or of capital as the ultimate subject of time and being.

All this is right. But care is needed: one more step, and reading may no longer do justice to the book's program. A step taken by Antonio Negri, when he states, describing Alliez's company, that: “there is no history of thought: thought is a reflection of reality, it is not established in a horizon of continuity, but in permanent emergence of singular points, of ' examples', in a radical discontinuity”. Materialism or a sort of inverted Platonism? Certainly, the vocabulary of “reflection” is not adequate to describe the company in question: refusing autonomy, continuity and teleology to the history of philosophy does not mean making it a passive mirror of a history that precedes or is external to it.

The charm of Alliez's book consists precisely in rejecting this alternative and in overlapping, as if in interiority, the essentially disparate levels of conceptualization and the lived (social) experience of time. Conceptual and non-conceptual episodes intersect reciprocally in an ever unstable equilibrium and the narrator moves freely, following the threads of a thousand different intrigues. Without the pluralism of narratives, we could not understand the methodological privilege of discontinuity. Nor could we justify the sense of novelty that accompanies reading the book – the certainty that we are not being told, once again, the same old story of the genesis of capitalism and Western reason.

Let's say, in closing, that this book is interesting to the exact extent that, like a detective novel, it is capable of maintaining permanent suspense, with its thousand intrigues, with a fantastic collage of texts and situations, superimposing old and current texts and producing reciprocal echoes in the shocks thus effected.

This phrase of mine is pure pastiche of the “avant-propos” of Difference and Repetition, which here comes very by the way. Deleuze opens the last paragraph of this “avant-propos” with a sentence that could serve as an introduction to Eric Alliez's book: “The time is coming when it will no longer be possible to write a philosophy book as has been done for a long time: Ah! Le vieux style…”.

*Bento Prado Jr. (1937-2007) was professor of philosophy at the Federal University of São Carlos. Author, among other books, of Bergson, Presence and the Transcendental Field (Edusp).

Originally published in the newspaper FSP, on December 7, 1991.


Eric Alliez. Capital times: reports of the conquest of time. Translation: Maria Helena Rouanet. Foreword: Gilles Deleuze. São Paulo, Editora Siciliano.


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