To Much Future/To Much Time

If time is money, then time is something we always strive for, something of which we have too little of by definition, and which we therefore experience as a deficiency. No matter how much time we acquire, it will always be too little. Not just too little, but less and less. This phenomenon of deficiency is accompanied by what is perceived as an acceleration of the experience of time, pre-figured in turn by a constant, non-linear and progressive acceleration of the circulation of goods. In everyday life, this goes hand in hand with the phenomena of exhaustion, monotony and powerlessness, culminating in burnout and self-exertion. If understood in terms of wealth, time appears as a kind of amassed fortune or capacity (Vermögen) which accumulates “time assets”. The outermost limit of this wealth would be the limit which, as an absolute power, has its own time at its disposal: namely that between life and death. Those who have the hegemony over time would therefore be sovereign. The power over time today is sometimes defined as a power over data. But what if we turned this picture around and claimed the opposite? Maybe we did not always already have too much time, maybe time itself endlessly pours out over us like the horn of Amaltheia?

The defamation of time, which is carried out on Newton’s conception of absolute time, has an extensive tradition within philosophical reflection. Doubt is cast on the mathematical idea that there is a sequence of units following previous units, a sequence which can be understood as an absolute value that flows uniformly and is a priori independent from objects. The be- ing of time loses its modality. In general, the idea that “something changes” is equated with a temporal change. This change can, for example, be described with J. M. E. McTaggart’s epoch-making article “The Unreality of Time”: As two series of sequences, either as the sequence “past-present-future” or as the sequence “earlier than—simultaneously —later than”. John McTaggart Ellis McTaggart | The Unreality of Time | In: The Philosophy of Time | Oxford University Press | Robin Le Poidevin and Murry MacBeath eds. | 1993
This temporal order, which structures our everyday experience to this day, however, does not clarify why time organizes itself at all when change takes place. Are there moments of time, one might ask, which are not permanent in the sense that they pass in the process of expanding?


Strictly speaking, however, Vermögen (capacity) not only designates that which we can access openly and without restriction, but above all it designates that which remains in darkness as mere potentiality, even if it permanently exponentiates itself with and out of itself as an unavailability—one can certainly think in this context of Edmund Husserl’s approach to the “present time” as a “retentional tail”.Edmund Husserl | Lectures on the Phenomenology of Inner Time Consciousness | Indiana University Press | 1964 With Albert Einstein one might explore this idea in even more depth: When we think of space-time and foreground the relation between things and objects (in time as well as in space?), time takes place everywhere and always. Not only does everything have its own proper time when time is relatively tense, but time can only be approximated by its relative tension. Even proper time can no longer be understood as singular, but rather as a potentiated plurality ab ovo. Current theories of time confirm this: Time is always already coming apart at the seams and it designates a multiplicity we can only access in retrospect, whereby precisely the attempt to determine time allows new interpretative sovereignties and thus differences to unfold. In this context, time is becoming and becoming itself can both be understood as relative change.

The focus thus shifts to the unfolding of time itself, i.e. to the act of the capacity within the capacity. In essence, this is a shift toward the question of the potentialization of actualization. Actualization itself becomes the spanned singularity of singularities in a sea of relations. Every body possesses its proper time, which in turn splits into countless active and passive syntheses with their respective proper times ad infinitum. As we propose in these remarks, the deconstruction of time culminates in a de-ontologization of time. The suspension of time does not mean that there would be no changes. Although ex negativo, the temporality of an atempus is still part of a concept of time as a concept of temporality. It does not destroy the paradigm of time, but rather the ideas associated with it. As a modification of time, this temporality does not only intend to determine a subjective experience of time, but also a personal-apersonal understanding of time.


The question as to how topicality can be increased concerning aspects of time often relates to the question dedicated to the organisation of historical situations. Historical situations are not neutral circumstances that are readily available, but rather signs of a process of crystallization, the legibility of which must be established. As situations are always embedded in a social context that is organized by domination or commodities, it is impossible to speak of objective or value-free historical data.

Therefore, what remains is the question of the modality of actualization: a standstill, for example, is no longer dead, inanimate time, quite to the contrary: It is hyperactive, overstretched time. In order to preserve the status quo, it is necessary to repeat what is similar (wieder-holung)—as a process during which changes occur that do not actually change anything, but reproduce prevailing conditions. The aim is to prevent the free flow of potentiality into actualization in order to create hegemonic conditions— socialized machines of habit that express themselves as machines of reproduction in collective memory. As a serial series of victories, the downside of which is the subjugation of a “tradition of the oppressed” (Walter Benjamin), history never freezes merely as an objective arrangement of historical factuality, but ultimately as an expression of accumulating oppression. The “eternal storm of creative destruction”Joseph Schumpeter | Theory of Economic Development: An Inquiry into Profits, Capital, Credit, Interest, and the Business Cycle | Taylor & Francis Inc | 1983, which produces one catastrophe after the next and thereby renews the existing societal organisation (in the sense of wieder-holung), is what we call history—history understood as a narrative interlocking of guilt and oppression. This seems to confirm the impression that catastrophes repeat themselves.


In general, engagement with the past can guide us on how to deal with the present in order to create a secure or better future. Walter Benjamin saw the counterpart to such a preventive appropriation of time in the possibility of actualizing history, which activates failed revolutions from the past retroactively by seizing them as actively retrieving pasts. Reactivated moments of time merged with the present take place as an interruption of the frozen potentialities, whereby simultaneous moments of tension take on a different form and prevail. This liberation from potentiality in actualization ultimately represents a potentiation of actualization because the charged standstill swells by means of the past. This is what Benjamin called the “now-time” (Jetztzeit) in his historical-philosophical theses On the Concept of History; he refers to its readability as the “now of recognizability” (Jetzt der Erkennbarkeit). Both terms oppose a progressive idea of history that adheres to a belief in progress and thus the passive repetition of hegemonic structures. This repetition is not different to the pathos of a “creative destruction”.
At the core of Benjamin’s argument, a radical transformation of the dominant social forms can only be achieved by a new understanding of time. To become conscious of such revolutionary moments - the renewed flow of liberated potentiality in actualization—is not, however, simply available, but requires an intervening act. As somehow transversal to the orders of time, the potentialization of the advanced moment of actuality has an anticipatory character.

Connected with the idea of progress, and this marks the point that ignites Benjamin’s bitter criticism of the Social Democrats, is an understanding of time that implies two things: firstly, an idea of time that is “empty and homogeneous”; secondly, an idea that practices can always be delegated to the following day and postponed. Tomorrow, however, is not entirely identical with “the day after today”, because it is by definition impossible reach its temporality. For Benjamin, the concept of history is not commit- ted to future heirs, but to oppressed ancestors. Considerations that correspond to the epistemological problem of how to create “true” time can be found in his Arcades Project, and they coincide with his conception of the “dialectical image”. The past however, is not the only way to liquefy the frozen potentiality. Many discourses try to appropriate actualization via the concept of the “event” inherent in language, in collective/psychological otherness, etc., and thus change the given structures on behalf of the polis.


Let us remain with Benjamin as an example. Here, the intervention into the act of actualization takes place as an act of quotation, as a revaluation, as they can enter into a constellation with past potentialities. The filmic montage served as a model for Benjamin’s “Copernican revolution in historical perception”.Walter Benjamin | The Arcades Project | Belknap Press of Harvard University Press | 1999 Such constellations cannot be produced in a timeless manner, but can only be constructed when two moments meet (in the in-between of one moment “recognized and one recognizing”). This shows that the past, contrary to postulates of classical historiography, does not consist of a chain of historical entities, which should be approached asymptotically. Because for Benjamin history exists as a text, as a linguistic web (texture) of non-linear, yet disguised references and relationship nodes, it is necessary to blast out historical references in order to create a charged present that overrides the continuum of becoming and thus breaks with the notion of time exuding from the past or from the future. By charging the present, a future which blocks itself from the notion of progress and evolutionary development opens up, because it requires an intervening act in order to be at all. This break with time presents itself as a living date in which data transforms into experiences that will have been.

This readability of the past, comprising dangers within, is incumbent upon the historian who intervenes both into the texture of history and into contemporary political struggles, and who is committed to revolutionary moments. This historian is not an objective scholar, but a mandatary of those who form the “tradition of the oppressed”. “Thus, he establishes a conception of the present as the now-time shot through with splinters of messianic time.”Walter Benjamin | Selected Writings | vol. 4 | Belknap Press of Harvard University Press | 2003 Just as every moment of history is involved in a revolutionary mission, each residue, constantly produced and cast off by the guilt-context of history, harbors a messianic splinter. Ancient Greece already knew two forms not only for life (“bios”, “zoé”), but also for time. While on the one hand ‘chronos’ means the passing of time, ‘kairos’ means its instantaneous interruption. Søren Kierkegaard, for example, sees nothing less than the condensation of time and eternity in the moment itself. Søren Kierkegaard | The Concept of Anxiety: A Simple Psychologically Orienting Deliberation on the Dogmatic Issue of Hereditary Sin | Kierkegaard’s Writings, VIII | Princeton University Press | 1980 Every moment is messianic in the sense that it has the potential to be charged at the “present time” of revolution. Strictly speaking, the potential of every moment concurrently means an always already anticipated reality of revolution. Such “times of now”, such tense presences know no deficit of time.

If no thought goes toward the future, then there are not too few, but too many possibilities for how a changed history can go on. These possibilities are fleeting and are easily missed, because they are already real. Only
the confrontation that unravels the past yet to come creates space for an instant temporality that is worth worrying and thinking about . This temporality knows no hope, because where there is hope, which, as we know, is always the last to wane, there is always despair. The concept of time marks a starting point of what could be described as an invasion of tragic nature. Hope and despair are mutually dependent: the more desperate the situation, the greater the hope. The processing of despair as the parting of time satisfies the need for hope.