The following is in some way a reading of Badiou's The Century, or of a very small part of his writing reflecting on temporality. The prose I lay down is fully culpable as a misdirected summary. Like all writing, the ideas belong to someone else, the mistakes of execution exist wholly in the text before you.
Here, I take the lead of Sebald who in a lecture suggested that all who want to be writers should write down everything they read and hear of significance, without references. Then, at a later date, the would-be writer can pull out that notebook, perhaps in a falling summer dusk with bats flitting all around in the courtyard, and use those phrases with impunity. Plagiarism in ignorance is the saving grace of the author. From notes laid down on paper, the following thoughts transpired.
The twentieth century raised its own sense of historical time, a representation of political conflict as a type of family tree. These dynastic visions take in great swathes of history and attribute to them characteristics, perhaps as 'houses' like the great royal families of Old Europe. The is no room for individualism in such a transcription of time, it removes temporality from the individual and transcends it to enormous silent movements beneath the feet of many generations.
For just about everyone, the day after tomorrow is abstract and the day before yesterday incomprehensible.That sentence is certainly not mine. With it Badiou summons the atemporality of the 21st century. Ground in the instantaneity of everyday thought, Badiou relates time to no longer be a shared individual experience but rather a construct that is largely political. The 20th century was one that constructed time for itself in five-year plans, governmental terms of office and loan repayments. This construction was voluntary.
Gone are the times of the cycle, of land, tide, season and weather marked by shared human activity, marked by harvest and sleep. Instead we are brought into an age which is simultaneously work and rest, panic and stillness. In the face of such rapid everyday life, in the face of such a huge amount of information continually passing before us, we cannot help but enforce a certain passivity.
When I think of notions regarding the pace of life, I immediately envisage a river, a canoe on a fast river. Every now and again the canoeist, let us imagine it is Badiou himself, dips an oar into the current and pushes off from the bank allowing himself to be swept into the main flow of the river, over drops and rapids. Then, perhaps just as frequently, Alain acts upon the forces of the water again with his paddle and eases himself into a quiet eddy, an almost motionless circle of water to one side of the main current. Here he breathes and waits for the moment when he might throw himself once more into the flow.
Can it be that we have no grip of time any more, that we experience both agitation and impotence in the face of progress? If so, how did we come to this point? If the last century, as Badiou argues, was temporally constructivist, how did we end up in a future in which we had no control over time? Acceleration, technodeterminism, modernisation - are these the perpetuating models that we invented and now can no longer resist? Is this Toffler's futureshock?
Or rather, and this is where I speak more loudly than Badiou, can it be that the last century merely saw an abstraction of time? It saw time divided up and measured in such a way that lost all sense of how things actually progress. If the ticking of a clock is akin to lines on a measuring tape, a measurement between events, then perhaps all the last century did was change the speed of the clock, and on our behalf. Perhaps, all subjectivism in relation to time was lost to outside influence, it became no longer a human concept. This might explain, perhaps the movement into atemporality that we face today. Badiou states that
if we wish to attain the real of time we must construct it, and that, when all is said and done, this construction depends on the care with which we strive to become the agents of truth procedures.So, a reconstruction of time is afoot. A new frame of reference is needed. The future is not what it used to be. With testing on the Large Hadron Collider stepping up for the next round of experiments, with ageing theory undergoing radical new schools of thought, and with network evolution continuing at some speed, there is a need for new theories of atemporality to allow us to subjectivise our own time.