The Crisis of Thought 101: The Rupture of Historical Time

Foreword


The Crisis of Thought 101 articles serve as one of the academic courses in the precise field of contemporary philosophy. The main aim of this research is to focus attention on the current crises of thought and existence, analysing their genesis and the way in which they have taken place. The theoretical framework will be covered from a “posthumanist” stance and, essentially, the project involves the attempt to create a diagonal discourse that promotes collective entities and collaborative agency as the main tools for resistance and, more importantly, existence.


The Crisis of Thought 101 will be mainly divided into the following chapters of content:

  • The Rupture of Historical Time

  • What about the Future?

  • Updating the Term “We”

  • Posthumanism

  • Limits and Agency


The Rupture of Historical Time


It is known that history, as a discipline, has devoted extensive volumes to recounting the events experienced by human beings. So, the history of knowledge -to call it that- or, better said, the anthology of the achievements assigned to men, gives a glimpse of the supposed evolution that is attributed to humanity as a species. Moreover, history makes it clear that this evolution has not been such because, in a certain way, humanity is still at the same point of the evolutionary tree since more or less 100,000 years ago. Therefore, what the records of history actually show is that both the procedural mechanisms (technology) and the progressive systems of relationship and social organization have been mutating rapidly and evidently, especially in the course of recent time.


The previous historical dichotomy that was established between the human, a story of prowess and suffering, and the natural, incomprehensible, is now disappearing, as history has fallen prey to the combined narration of nature and the human being (Arendt, 1996). The idea of man as totality and centre of knowledge, the Cartesian doubt in the face of the impotence of not being able to dominate nature in spite of the efforts of many, have disappeared. Yes, innumerable technological advances can be recognized but, as Peter Watson (2005), intellectual historian and expert journalist, points out, the human species has not undergone decisive dynamics that place it in a privileged space of what could be understood as the genealogy of earthly beings. Some postmodernist philosophers have already warned of this. Gilles Deleuze defended, in the interview Control and Becoming (1990), that history as such cannot be understood as the experimentation of the human being, that is to say: when someone speaks of History, he or she is not narrating the experiences of the characters or agents who participated in this or that event, but describing the conditions - social, structural, economic - that made such experiences possible. This conception of history as a record, of more or less socialized practices, takes the study directly to the ideas of Michel Foucault, who affirmed that even the act of thinking is not an innate and natural capacity, but a cultural habit (Chomsky and Foucault, 1971).

Figure 1: Gilles Deleuze portrait, Raymond Depardon (1987)


The experience of time as an accumulation of human facts on the one hand, and natural facts on the other, has collapsed. Man has inserted himself into natural history and, far from being a mere participant in experience, he generates processes that "blur the boundaries between the natural and the artificial" (Arendt, 1996). The human being is now conceived as a natural agent, capable of intervening and modifying processes historically assigned to the otherness. Even, qualifies Dipesh Chakrabarty - pioneer of the new historical conceptions and character on which this writing will focus -, beyond being natural or biological agents, the set of human beings is now understood as a "geological agent", with such a force capable of intervening on planetary processes causing effects similar to the change of orbit (Chakrabarty, 2015). In the face of this hatching of historical and, likewise, natural concepts, questions are posed. Questions that address what kind of relationships can be established with the present, what should be understood by future and, consequently, who “we” are: human being, species or a mere living group within the planetary environment. The object of this article tries to draw some answers to such questions, starting from Chakrabarty's initial text The climate of history (2009) as a framework, and dialoguing with different sources; in search of making sense or, at least, establishing some conceptual basis to help in the understanding of issues of such magnitude.

Figure 2: Dipesh Chakrabarty at the Anthropocene Campus Lisboa meeting


How can be defined the meaning of “present”? Is there even a “present” when the dimensions and scales of time are fragmented?

Today, in the middle of the communication era, humanity lives in the domain of instantaneity. Deleuze already said it: power in "societies of control" is now exercised through the control of information, today's is a permanent state of exception (Garcés, 2021). "Information is directly the control system, the instrument of slogans that direct society" (Deleuze, 1987) and, against all odds, it is the domain of marketing that will determine who exercises power "in the short term and in rapid rotation, but continuously and unlimitedly" (Deleuze, 1990). However, at the same time as there is a sense of global ephemeral urgency, individuals are presented with other ways of conceiving time that escape their brief dimensional understanding. While the contemporary subject is urged to make the present a single moment, the individual is also required to establish almost timeless connections with the future. In the documentary Into Eternity: A Film for the Future (Madsen, 2010), which addresses the possible solutions to be adopted in the face of the danger of radioactive waste, a rupture of the temporal frameworks that human beings are capable of understanding is presented. The problem is clear: the permanence and activity of this type of waste can go beyond 100,000 years, a figure that far exceeds the temporal terms manageable by the human brain (not even recorded history, prior to the invention of writing, reaches such an extension). Therefore, a situation arises that makes it necessary to go beyond historical assumptions in order to establish a dialogue with the brief past and thus try to offer possible answers for an uncertain future.


Something similar occurred with the Chernobyl events. Svetlana Alexievich, journalist and Nobel Prize in Literature, opens a discussion in this respect in her Voices from Chernobyl. Chronicle of the Future (1997), where she states that the continuity of time was broken on that tragic day. The connections that could be established in the temporal line with the past ceased to seem evident. With Chernobyl humanity enters a new reality where a "catastrophe of time" is produced: it is not known if the experience is present or, on the contrary, it speaks of the future, at the same time that it breaks the past, which appears impotent and without solutions for such a disaster (Alexievich, 1997).

Figure 3: Svetlana Alexievich for the Hay Festival (2021)


Therefore, if, as Chakrabarty says in his article, "the historical discipline exists on the assumption that our past, present and future are connected according to a certain continuity of experience"(2009), the meaning of history as a collective mode of knowledge and consciousness has entered into crisis. Neither the present is developed in the now, but in the future; nor the past is the basis for the present. To better understand this hypothesis, one must return to the concept of instantaneity that characterizes the collective experience of today. Thus, Daniel Inclán, professor at the Institute of Economic Research of the UNAM and member of the Latin American Observatory of Geopolitics, regarding the loss of the past, affirms that in contemporary times there is a war against history. That is, a monetary logic that governs the life of the human inhabitants of this planet and that, in an untimely manner, strips the individuals of the achievements of history. How? Through the exaltation of presentism, of the instant: "living today as if it were the last; that is the way to kill the historical link, our link with time [...] Being an inhabitant of the 21st century presupposes a historical orphanhood" (Inclán, 2018). In this way, humanity has lost both its relationship with the past and, also, its long-term future purposes.


Marina Garcés, a Spanish philosopher and essayist, director of the Master's Degree in Philosophy for Contemporary Challenges at the UOC, says in this regard that the future has been hijacked (Garcés, 2017). The authoress argues that the current attraction for dystopias (zombies films, apocalyptic futures…), for characters who move through time without having any future, evidences the collective impotence in the face of the irreversibility of the catastrophe of time. This death of history, which destroys the present as a linear temporal experience, gives rise to nothing but disconnection. That is precisely why everything is not lost yet. Garcés urges individuals to disconnect even more, to move away from the establishment, to conceive the future outside the presuppositions imposed by history. She encourages people to take future not as a place where they can project the possible purposes that they are capable of imagining thanks to the analysis of the past. However, she proposes an action of extinguishing those historical relations, as a way of reappropriating the present: the irreversibility of time is not such, everything has been made and created, there have been active agents and, therefore, everything can be undone. People must challenge the posthumous condition (of death in life) of the current present (Garcés, 2017).

Figure 4: Marina Garcés by Ignasi Aragay at llegim.ara.cat



Image References


Bibliographic References

  • Alexievich, Svetlana (2015) [1st ed. 1997]. Voices from Chernobyl: Chronicle of the Future. Penguin Modern Classics.

  • Arendt, Hannah (1996). Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought. Penguin Classics.

  • Chakrabarty, Dipesh (2009). The climate of History: Four Theses. The University of Chicago Press, vol. 35, no. 2, pp. 197-222.

  • Chakrabarty, Dipesh (2015). La condición humana en el Antropoceno [lecture]. Barcelona: CCCB. Available on: https://www.cccb.org/es/multimedia/videos/dipesh-chakrabarty/221059

  • Chomsky, Noam and Foucault, Michel (1971). Chomsky – Foucault: Menselijke Natuur en Ideale Maatschappij [debate]. University of Amsterdam. Available on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GazE5vFuFMs

  • Deleuze, Gilles (1987). What is the act of creation? [lecture]. France: Mardis de la Fondation. Available on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXOzcexu7Ks

  • Deleuze, Gilles (1990). Control and Becoming. At Gilles Deleuze in conversation with Antonio Negri. Edinburgh University Press Books.

  • Garcés, Marina (2017). Condición póstuma [lecture]. Mexico: MEXTRÓPOLI. Available on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nREWMy0a6fA

  • Garcés, Marina (2021). El problema de la servidumbre. FUOC. Barcelona: Universitat Oberta de Catalunya.

  • Inclán, Daniel (2018). El estado del tiempo: un presente sin pasado [lectura]. Barcelona: MACBA. Available on: https://www.macba.cat/es/exposiciones-actividades/actividades/estado-tiempo-presente-sin-pasado

  • Madsen, Michael [director] (2010). Into Eternity: a film for the future [documentary]. Denmark: Films Transit International. Available on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayLxB9fV2y4

  • Watson, Peter (2005). Ideas, a History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud. Orion.

Author Photo

Alicia Macías Recio

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