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The Politics of Time

The Politics of Time
Peter Osborne
The simple possibility that things might proceed
otherwise … is sufficient to change the whole
experience of practice and, by the same token, its

Pierre Bourdieu, The Logic of Practice
The simple possibility that things might proceed otherwise
is something in which there is depressingly little belief at
present. * For all the enthusiasm for change manifest in the
debates about postmodernism, there is probably currently
less of a sense that ‘things might proceed otherwise’ in
Western capitalist societies than at any time since the early
1950s. At a theoretical level, this situation has been depicted
in a number of ways: from the ‘realisation of nihilism’ of
Fukuyama’ send of hi story , via the ‘realisation of positivism’

of Jameson’ s postmodernism, to a series of more diffuse
analyses of the end of politics and the crisis of the future. 1
One thing which is distinctive about all these scenarios is
their fulsome embrace of that hitherto discredited nineteenth
century genre, the philosophy of history; albeit, more often
than not, in negative or inverted forms.2 Indeed, the mere
fact that Fukuyama crafts his argument at this level has been
enough for some on the Left to identify him as a friend: the
secret agent of the State Department’s discontent with its
own rule, perhaps. 3
Personally, I am less persuaded that the philosophy of
history belongs intrinsically to the left than I am of the
dystopian character of its more recent manifestations.

Dystopias may once have functioned to raise an emancipatory
alarm about the present, now they all too readily merely
confirm the ‘worst case scenarios’ of the policy planners using the imagination to undercut, rather than underpin, the
possibility that things might proceed in another way. Grand
narrative forms of the philosophy of history have migrated
to the Right, for fairly obvious conjunctural reasons. To

* This is a revised version of a talk given at the Radical
Philosophy Conference, ‘The Politics of Experience’, at
Birkbeck College, University ofLondon, on 13th November
1993. It deals in a condensed form with issues which are
explored at length in a book ofthe same title, to be published
by Verso in spring 1995. I am grateful to all those who
commented on the draft for identifying the points at which
compression is most likely to lead to misunderstanding.

Radical Philosophy 68, Autumn 1994

declare the genre dead is simply to reproduce it in its
presently most pervasive, if paradoxical form.4
In Hegelian terms, this state of affairs has long appeared
as some kind of crisis in the historical experience of ‘reason’ .

Yet the fact that a certain literature continues to articulate
the crisis from this standpoint is less important than what it
reveals about the temporal dimension of the conception of
reason at stake. For the historical present does not just resist
interpretation along the lines of any of the currently available
Hegelian models, it positively mocks them, and not for the
first time.

There is a range of views about precisely which events
this century have been most destructive of the orthodox
Hegelian perspective on history as the demonstrable
realisation of the idea of reason as freedom – as opposed to
those heterodox variants which require no more than the
logical basis for a speculative hope. They reflect the
experiences of a number of political generati9ns. across a
variety of social groups: from the horrors of the First World
War, through European fascism, the holocaust, Hiroshima
and the prospect of a global nuclear annihilation, to an
increased awareness of the role of genocide and racial
slavery in the constitution of Western culture, the ecological
crisis of the planet, and the collapse of historical communism
– a veritable ‘slaughter-bench’, as Hegel himself described
history, ‘at which the happiness of peoples, the wisdom of
states, and the virtue of individuals have been sacrificed’ ,5
but in this case without the promise of reconciliation at its

Most decisive, perhaps, has been the cumulative impact
of these events on a form of historical consciousness
(narrative totalisations of history from the standpoint of a
realised reason) which has, in any case, been progressively
eroded by the power of temporal abstraction at work in the
social processes of capitalist societies. This erosion is
perhaps the most far-reaching cultural consequence of
commodification. It appears in Habermas in quasi -Romantic
form in the guise of the ‘colonisation’ of the life-world by
the system. It is associated more generally with the idea of
‘modernity’.6 Few, I think, would disagree with Ricoeur
today when he writes that:

It now seems as though Hegel, seizing a favourable
moment, a kairos, which has been revealed for what
it was to our perspective and our experience, only
totalised a few leading aspects of the spiritual history


of Europe and of its geographical and historical
enviroment, ones that, since that time, have come

What has come undone, Ricoeur continues, is ‘the very
substance of what Hegel sought to make into a concept’ .

Difference, he insists, ‘has turned against development,
conceived as a Stufengang [succession of stages]’.7
Difference has turned against development conceived at
the level of world history as a succession of stages. The
European spirit can no longer find itself in the ‘absolute
dismemberment’ to which Hegel refers in the Preface to the
Phenomenology, however hard it may continue to try.

‘Contemplating the negative face to face’, it cannot dwell
there any more. What Horkheimer described as ‘the logical
difficulties that understanding meets in every thought that
attempts to reflect a living totality’ ,have been so compounded
by the perception of the concrete historical difficulties listed
above as to appear insuperable. 8
Both difficulties are primarily difficulties about the
future: a conceptual tendency to enfold the future back into
the present, in the first case – to deny its fundamental
openness; the experience of the future (present futures) as a
blockage or impediment to freedom, in the latter. From the
point of view of the philosophy of history, the situation is
thus not unlike that in the late 1930s, when Horkheimer’s
famous essay set the Frankfurt School on the road which
would lead, by the 1960s, to the impasse of Adorno’ s
negativism. It is not history, but the philosophy of history,
which moves in cycles of repetition here. But does the
renewed implausibility of Hegelianism, in its broadest
sense, as a structure of historical experience (within which
I include the philosophy of history implicit in the political
culture of the Communist tradition) rule out the possibility
of a totalising historical consciousness per se? Or does it
rather, more taxingly, demand a radical change in our
conception of its form?9
One thing which is at issue in this question, among
others, is the progressive political legacy of the metaphysical
tradition: the capacity of reason to mediate social experience
in such a way as to foster, in a sufficiently concrete manner,
the rational belief that ‘things might proceed otherwise’.

Since the beginning of the nine teeth century, the fate of this
tradition has hung on its capacity to think ‘history’ in the
collective singular – to transform historical experience into
what, following Adorno, one might call ‘philosophical
experience’ , and vice versa – and thereby to provide political
culture with a temporal horizon appropriate to the project of
large-scale social transformation. The philosophy of history
may not ‘belong’ to the left, in the sense in which some of
Fukuyama’s admirers like to think, but it is certainly a field
upon which a certain socialist tradition depends,
intellectually, for its credibility. This includes any
development which would draw on the history of Marxism
as one of its resources; Marx’ s critique of Hegel
notwithstanding. The crisis in the category of history
manifests itself within this tradition as a crisis in the
conception of political experience.


What follows are some brief reflections on the
temporalisation of hi story which argue the theoretical virtues
of continuing to cultivate the terrain of the philosophy of
history (the field of historical totalisation) by rethinking its
terms, in order to overcome the conceptual difficulties of its
Hegelian form, by way of what I shall call a philosophy of
historical time. The idea has a number of precursors foremost among whom one might name WaIter Benjamin
and the later Sartre – but it is expounded here, for the most
part, independently of its relations to these writings. 10 The
exposition is of necessity both summary and abstract.

History and Historical Time
What does the idea of history gain by a turn to the apparently
even more abstract idea of time? Or to put it the other way
around: what is added by the qualification ‘historical’ to the
general idea of time?

It has become conventional, philosophically, to
distinguish three main perspectives on time, associated
with three different ‘times’: the objective or cosmological
perspective (concerned with the time of nature); the
subjective, lived or phenomenological perspective
(concerned with duration or individual time-consciousness);
and the intersubjective or social perspective (associated
with a historical multiplicity of forms of time-consciousness
which together make up the time of history or ‘historical
time’). This third perspective or ‘kind of time’ is generally
taken to come in some disputed way between cosmological
and phenomenological time. Ricoeur, for example, in his
monumental TimeandNarrative, sees what he calls ‘properly
historical time’ as the product of narrative inscriptions of
lived time onto cosmic time. II
Each perspective or kind of time is identified with a
particular canonic literature. Thus, cosmological, objective
or ‘natural’ time is identified paradigmatic ally with Aristotle
and the discussion of time in Book IV of the Physics:

specifically, the famous definition of time as ‘the number of
motion in respect of “before” and “after”‘. Its main
characteristics there are the subordination of time to
movement (a reflection of the primacy of astronomy in
Greek thought), and an image of time as an infinite succession
of identical instants, split in relation to anyone instant into
a before and an after, an earlier and a later. This is what
Heidegger calls the ‘ordinary’ conception of time, what
Benjamin refers to as ’empty homogeneous’ time, and what
Althusser describes as the ‘ideological’ conception of time
as a homogeneous continuum. 12 It is essentially a way of
measuring movement.

If we update the idea of nature beyond Aristotle’s simple
cosmological scheme, we may include within a significant
broadening of this category the periodic times of various
biological cycles and the complex and contradictory
relational times of more recent astronomical and subatomic physical theory. These are very different times from
Aristotle’s, but they claim a broadly equivalent status,
onto logically .

Phenomenological time, on the other hand, is generally
Radical Philosophy 68, Autumn 1994

taken to have its philosophical ongms in Book XI of
Augustine’s Confessions, although one might trace it back
further, to Plotinus. 13 It is paradigmatically associated with
Husserl and his Lectures on the Phenomenology ofInternal
Time Consciousness (1905; published 1928). It is further
developed by Bergson and Heidegger. Its main
characteristics are subordination of time to consciousness
or human existence (Heidegger’ s Dasein) as a dimension of
its self-constituting activity, based not on the relation of
before and after an instant, but on the permanently shifting,
self-differentiating, tripartite temporal division of past/
present/future. Past/present/future cannot be considered
equivalent to before/present instant/after, for two main
reasons, each of which has to do with the specificity of the
phenomenological present.

Firstly, the concept of the present is not grasped by the
Aristotelian idea of the instant because, as Augustine
famously pointed out, it actually contains not just one,
fleeting dimension of time but all three together. Past and
future are not differentiated by their absence as opposed to
their presence to consciousness, as Aristotle implied, but by
the form of their presence as objects of memory and
expectation, rather than attention, respectively. The present
is actually a ‘three-fold’ present: a present past, present
present and present future. Secondly (and this was Bergson’ s
and Husserl’s point), the ‘present present’ is not a point-like
instant, but an expanded, longitudinal present, which must
retain elements of the recent past through projective
identification if a continuity of experience is to be possible.

The lived present has duration. It endures. It also includes
certain expectations about the future. Projected futures are
a central part of the existential structure of any present
moment. Most important, famously, for Heidegger, is the
anticipation of death as the transcendental horizon of human
temporality, such that human existence is essentially defined
as Being-towards-death. On this model, what we call ‘time’

is the reified result of an ongoing process of temporalisation,
part of the active (self-) production of a particular kind of
being, rather than a merely given form. For the early
Heidegger: ‘There is no nature-time, since all time belongs
essentially to Dasein.’ 14
Finally, the mUltiple social times of history provide the
object for a tradition of historiographic literature about
calenders, clocks, and social time-consciousness which
emphasises the social determination and historical variety
of forms of collective time-consciousness. This work has
often focused on struggles over the units of labour-time at
various stages in the transition to capitalism (the day? the
hour? the minute?) and the role of religious institutions in
introducing scheduling into social life. It is represented by
the tradition of the Annales School in France (one thinks of
Le Goff’s classic Time, Work and Culture in the Middle
Ages), and in England by E.P. Thompson’s ‘Time, Work
Discipline and Industrial Capitalism’. More recently,
Frederick Cooper’s ‘Colonizing Time’ essay has extended
this kind of analysis of the temporal consequences of the
imposition of wage-labour to the study of colonial
Mombasa. IS
Radical Philosophy 68, Autumn 1994

The main feature of this type of time is its social
composition through struggle over the conflicting rhythms
of different definitions of social practice (right down to the
micro level of struggles over television schedules in domestic
living rooms), or the objectification of subjective,
phenomenological forms of time in collective
institutionalised forms. It is manifest in the regulation of
calendars by holidays and feast days, for example, but also
in the increasingly generalised (and subsequently
‘naturalised’) imposition of standard units for the
measurement of time through navigational systems and the
development of the railways. These developments are very
recent. Clock time as we know it – that is, as a substitute for
solar time – did not come into being until 1780, in Geneva.

And it wasn’t until 1966, for example, that the US Congress
finally passed its Uniform Time Act. In the nineteenth
century the time-reckoning in colonised countries tended to
work differently depending on whether the colonisers came
from the east or the west. And although there has been a
World Standard Time since the Meridian Conference of
1884, it wasn’t until 1940 that a country as central to modern
European history as Holland synchronised itself with the
rest of the world. 16
This literature includes the historiography of historical
consciousness (historical accounts of the emergence of
different ideas of history) and the semantics of historical
time, as the past is extended longditudinally, in various
ways, back beyond the memory of the living to embrace the
community of the dead through tradition, and the future is
extended forwards to include the expectation of various
different ends to history and hence to historical time:

Doomsday, the Last Judgement, Communism. 17
So, it seems that not all time is ‘historical’; at least, not

in the technical sense, or so the literature would have it.

However, as will perhaps already be evident, there are
actually two rather different kinds of time at issue under the
general heading of ‘historical time’ here. There are the
multiple temporalities associated with the historical and
geographical diversity of social practices, 18 and there is the
single overarching temporality – the time of History with a
capital H – through which these multiple temporalities are
unified, if they are unified, into a single complex stream. It
is the relationship between the two which lies at the heart of
debates about the concept of history. It is the latter (emphatic)
sense of historical time that I am concerned with here – the
time of history in the collective singular – and its
philosophical justification; or rather, as I would prefer to put
it, the implications of its inescapability. For if we accept the
early Heidegger’s account of the phenomenological unity
of temporalisation (independently of the deeply problematic
reduction of history to ‘historicality’ (Geschichtlichkeit)
which follows it in the text of Being and Time), we may infer
that, phenomenologically at least, some kind of totalisation
of social times into ‘history’ cannot be avoided.

The key to this argument lies in the internal relations
between the ideas of temporalisation and totalisation. All
temporalisation is of phenomenological necessity an ongoing
process of differentiated unification of the three temporal
ecstases (past, present and future) through which human
existence is constituted as something ‘outside-of-itself’ and
hence open to history. 19 In this sense, time is ‘the totalisation
of existence’ .20 Conversely, totalisation is of necessity a
temporal process. The attempt to avoid this relation through
the structuralist methodology of synchronic analysis serves
only to underline the point, since its artificial negation of
time places the results of such analyses, in principle, beyond
the horizon of any possible practice, until they are mediated
with experience through some process of temporalisation.

Furthermore, just as according to Heidegger the
anticipation of death is a condition, existentially, for the
temporalisation of ‘time’ in general, so the projection or
anticipation of some historical end is a condition,
hermeneutically, for the constitution of a temporal horizon
beyond the generational reach of a living individual. The
phenomenological structure of temporality – to which all
time must at some level conform, in order to be mediated
with experience – dictates that there be no historical
experience without the implicit anticipation of an end of

This is to say at once a great deal and very little,
depending on one’s point of view. From the standpoint of
some great debate between opponents and defenders of the
possibility of historical totalisation, it is a decisive
intervention. It cuts the Gordian knot of the epistemological
struggle between identity and difference, returning the
deconstruction of time to the methodological position of a
second reflection, from which its less enthusiastic adherents
have never sought to displace it. The ‘temporising detour of
deferral’ registered by Derrida’s concept of differance
constitutes, rather than challenges, the movement of
totalisation. Its ‘infinitesimal [yet] radical’ displacement of

Hegelian discourse is precisely that: a displacement of
Hegelianism, not an end to totalisation. All disputes about
historical totalisation must be read as arguments about
specific forms of totalisation and their limits, without
generalisable implication for the idea of totalisation per
se. 21
From the standpoint of those for whom the debate was
always about specific forms of totalisation, their meanings
and limits, however, we merely have a new point of departure
from which a number of arguments can set out anew. There
is no space to embark on this journey here,22 except to note
that, since the ‘end’ in question cannot be posited as the
realisation of an immanent telos without negation of the
differential constitutive of temporality itself, totalisation
will have to find another standpoint – in some kind of
‘exteriority’, perhaps. If the critique of historicism places
Benjamin in the unlikely company of both Althusser and
Popper, his insistence on an alternative standpoint for the
totalisation of history distances him from them, definitively. 23
The early Heideggerian provenance of this line of thought
distinguishes it in principle from the temporality of
Hegelianism in at least two crucial respects. On the one
hand, the acknowledgement of the finitude of human
existence at the centre of Heidegger’ s discussion of Dasein
places strict hermeneutical limits on the epistemological
status of historical interpretations, however successful they
might be. (This has particular significance for the cognitive

Radical Philosophy 68, Autumn 1994

status of historical ‘ends’ , and their relations to the historical
present.) On the other hand, however, if pursued in another
direction, this stress on human finitude opens up the
phenomenology of historical time-consciousness to the
material of both the natural and social sciences, demanding
an integral account of the three kinds of time referred to
above (,natural’, ‘phenomenological’, and ‘sociohistorical’): the totalisation of social times into ‘historical
time’ requires the totalisation of all three kinds of time – the
totalisation of time – as history. Such an approach departs
radically from Heidegger’s association of time with the
question of the meaning of Being in general, in favour ofthe
establishment of theoretical connections with the
development of various positive know ledges, in the spirit of
a renewal (but not a mere repetition) of the trajectory of
Frankfurt Critical Theory. 24
Temporalisation and the Politics of Time
How do these abstract theoretical matters bear, concretely,
upon the comprehension of history, let alone anything
which might appear under the heading of a politics of time?

What is implied for the idea of politics by a rethinking of the
philosophy of history from the standpoint of the philosophy
of time?

The connection lies in the concept of experience, and
more specifically, in the possibility of what I shall call
‘historical experience’, using this phrase in the doubly
emphatic sense we find in WaIter Benjamin, referring to an
emphatic sense of history (history as a whole, history in the
collecti ve singular, the totalisation of time) and an emphatic
sense of experience (Erfahrung as opposed to Erlebnis, in
the German – something which is acquired and learnt from,
as opposed to merely ‘lived through’). This is a sense of
experience which has little in common with dominant
empiricist conceptions, although it is connected to one of
E.P.Thompson’s usages of the term.25 In Benjamin’s
writings, it is developed in increasing proximity to the
concept of history and its political significance is determined,
above all, by its temporal structures. For it is through
experience that different categories ofhistorical totalisation
-suchas ‘modernity’ and ‘tradition’, ‘progress’ and ‘decline’

– are lived as socially produced forms of time-consciousness
through which history is made (or forgotten). If structural
categories of historical analysis like ‘capitalism’ are to be
rendered effective at the level of political experience, they
will need to be mediated by these phenomenologically more
fundamental categories of historical time through which
history is lived as an ongoing temporalisation. 26
Two main points can be extracted from Benjamin’s
writings at this point. The first concerns the centrality of
totalising temporalisations of history to the structure of
everyday experience in capitalist societies. This is the
object ofBenjamin’ s own distinctive sociology of modernity:

excavation of the competing totalisations of history
(competing forms of temporal totality) built into the
interpretive structures of our social practices at a variety of
levels. The second is the rather more problematic redefinition

Radical Philosophy 68, Autumn 1994

of ‘the political’ as a mode of temporalisation, such that the
terms ‘political experience’ and ‘historical experience’ (in
the doubly emphatic sense referred to above) become moreor-less equivalent. 27 For the fundamental categories of
historical experience – categories like ‘progress’ and
‘reaction’, ‘revolution’, ‘crisis’, ‘conservation’, ‘stagnation’

and ‘the new’ – are not the products of different totalisations
of historical material across a common temporal frame.

They are not just based on different selections of which
historical material is significant. They are alternative
temporal structures, alternative temporalisations of ‘history’,
which structure experience temporally – offering alternative
articulations of historical pasts, presents, and futures – in
what are, politically, significantly different ways.

It is in this sense that I write of a ‘politics of time’ indeed, of all politics as centrally involving struggles over
the experience of time. How do the forms of the social
practices in which we engage structure and produce, enable
or distort different senses of time? What kinds of experience
of history do they make possible or inhibit? Whose future do
they ensure? Conversely, all temporalisations involve
specific orientations to practice, since they provide
alternative structures through which past, present and future
may be fused together to define the temporal structure of
action. A politics of time would attend to the temporal logic
of these structures insofar as they open onto, or foreclose,
specific historical possibilities, in distinctive temporal
modes. It would rethink the political significance of social
practices from the standpoint of their temporal forms.

(Think, for example, of the way in which the political
significance of the level of unemployment in capitalist
societies is determined by the horizon of expectation within
which it is received; and of how that horizon is related to
broader forms of historical consciousness.)
This brings me, in conclusion, back to the quotation
from Bourdieu with which I began: the idea that ‘the simple
possibility that things might proceed otherwise … is
sufficient to change the whole experience of practice and,
by the same token, its logic’. For this is a possibility which
must be lived as a possibility for Bourdieu’ s point to hold
true. What appears initially in Bourdieu’ s text as a comment
about the probabilistic logic of social laws, only becomes a
point about practice if uncertainty is internalised as the basis
of strategy: ‘substituting the dialectic of strategies for the
mechanics of the model, but without falling over into the
imaginary anthropology of theories of the “rational actor”. ’28
Just as possibility (as a category of action) depends upon the
internalisation of uncertainty as the basis of strategy, so
politics (in the classical sense )29 depends upon what we
might call the social production ofpossibility at the level of
historical time-consciousness.

‘Possibility’ is produced by and as the temporal structure
of particular types of action; it is sustained by others, and
eroded and undermined by others still. And it is produced in
a variety of temporal forms. It is in this deep structural sense
that there is a crucial political significance to culture culture as formation, not culture as value – and a need for a
left cultural politics which would engage in the willed

transformation of the social forms of subjectivity at their
deepest structural levels. For it is these forms, including the
form of ‘the political’ itself, which determine (and ration)
the social production of possibility. ‘The simple possibility
that things might proceed otherwise’ must be produced as
experience if the otherwise is to proceed.


For a reading of Benjamin’s cultural criticism as the working out
of a philosophy of historical time in concreto, see Peter Osborne,
‘Small-scale Victories, Large-scale Defeats: WaIter Benjamin’ s
Politics of Time’ , in Andrew Benjamin and Peter Osborne (eds),
Walter Benjamin’s Philosophy: Destruction and Experience,
Routledge, London and New York, 1993, pp. 59-109. Sartre’s
position is strikingly reminiscent of Benjamin’ s: ‘Marxism caught
a glimpse of true temporality when it criticised and destroyed the
bourgeois notion of “progress” … But – without ever having
said so – … renounced these studies and preferred to make use
of “progress” again for its own benefit.’ Jean-Paul Sartre, Search
For a Method (1960), translated by Hazel Barnes, Vintage
Books, New York, 1968, p. 92. However, it is not clear that after
1200 pages of the Critique of Dialectical Reason Sartre got any
closer to the ‘true temporality’ of history himself.

Symptomatic ally , his most extensive remarks on the subject are
to be found in the notes assembled as the Appendix to the
unfinished second volume. Jean-Paul Sartre, Critique of
Dialectical Reason. Volume Two (Unfinished). The Intelligibility
of History, translated by Quinton Hoare, Verso, London, 1991,
pp. 401-24. In the text itself, Sartre returns repeatedly to the
totalising structure of individual action, the exposition of which
is progressively deepened, but he breaks off before ‘the advent
of history’.


Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, Vo!. 3, p. 99. See also, Cornelius
Castoriadis, ‘Time and Creation’, in John Bender and David E.

Wellbery (eds), Chronotypes: The Construction ofTime , Stanford
University Press, Stanford, 1991, pp. 38-64. Oscillation between
the languages of ‘perspectives’ and ‘times’ is a distinctive
feature of most of the recent philosophical literature on time. It
is as initially productive as it is ultimately problematic.


Martin Heidegger, Being and Time (1927), translated by John
Macquarrie and Edward Robinson, Blackwell, Oxford, 1962,
Division Two, Pt VI; WaIter Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy
of History’ (1940), translated by Harry Zohn, in Illuminations,
Fonta, London, 1973; Louis Althusser, ‘The Errors of Classical
Economics: An Outline for a Concept of Historical Time’, in
Louis Althusser and Etienne Balibar, Reading Capital (1968),
translated by Ben Brewster, Verso, London, 1979. The
Heideggerian roots of Althusser’s discussion of differential
temporality are rarely appreciated.


See Genevieve Lloyd, Being in Time: Selves and Narrators in
Philosophy and Literature, Routledge, London and New York,
1993, pp. 26-37.


Martin Heidegger, The Basic Problems of Phenomenology
(1927), translated by Albert Hofstadter, Indiana University
Press, Bloomington & Indianapolis, 1982, p. 262. Translation


Jacques Le Goff, Time, Work, and Culture in the Middle Ages,
translated by Arthur Goldhammer, Chicago University Press,
Chicago, 1989; Edward Thompson, ‘Time, Work-Discipline
and Industrial Capitalism, Past and Present 38 (1967), pp. 56-97
(reprinted in the author’s Customs in Common, Merlin Press,
London, 1992); Frederick Cooper, ‘Colonising Time: Work
Rhythms and Labour Conflict in Colonial Mombasa’ , in Nicholas
B. Dirks (ed.), Colonialism and Culture, University of Michigan
Press, Ann Arbor, 1992, pp. 209-246. See also, EviatarZerubaval,
‘The Benedictine Ethic and the Modern Spirit of Scheduling’,
Sociological Review 50, pp. 157-169.


The examples are taken from Eviatar Zerubavel, ‘The
Standardisation of Time: A Sociohistorical Perspective’,
American Journal of Sociology, Vo!. 88, no. 1 (1988), pp. 1-23.

For a broader developmental perspective on time as the ‘symbol
of a socially learned synthesis’, see Norbert Elias, Time: An
Essay, translated by EdmundJephcott, Blackwell, Oxford, 1992.


Herbert Butterfield, The Origins of History, Eyre Methuen,
London, 1981; Reinhart Koselleck, Futures Past: On the
Semantics of Historical Time, translated by Keith Tribe, MIT
Press, Cambridage MA, 1985.

Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man,
Penguin, London, 1992; Frederic Jameson, Postmodernism, or,
The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Verso, London, 1991.


Lutz Niethammer, Posthistoire: Has History Come to an End?,
translated by Patrick Camiller, Verso, London, 1992 is particularly
good at displaying the structure, as well as the history, of this


Cf. Benjamin’s description of Baudelaire as ‘an agent of the
secret discontent of his class with its own rule’ . WaIter Benjamin,
Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era ofHigh Capitalism,
translated by Harry Zohn, Verso, London, 1983. See, for example,
Joseph McCarney, ‘Endgame of History’, Radical Philosophy
62 (Autumn 1992), pp. 35-8 and ‘Shaping Ends: Reflections on
Fukuyama’, New LejtReview, 202 (November-December 1993),
pp. 37-53; and Gregory Elliott, ‘Cards of Confusion: Historical
Communism and the End of History’, Radical Philosophy 64
(Summer 1993), pp. 3-12.


I am thinking, of course, of Jean-Fran<;ois Lyotard's The
Postmodern Condition (1979), translated by Geoff Bennington
and Brian Massumi, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis,
1984. Fukuyama might be read as countering Lyotard’s Left
Nietzscheanism with a more geo-politically realistic, Hegelian
Niezscheanism of the Right.


G.W.F. Hegel, Reason in History: A General Introduction to the
Philosophy of History, translated by Robert S.Hartman, BobbsMerrill, Indianapolis, 1953, p. 27.


Jiirgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity
(1985), translated by FrederickLawrence, MIT Press, Cambridge
MA, 1987, Ch. 1, and The Theory of Communicative Action.

Volume 2. Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist
Reason (1981), translated by Thomas McCarthy, Polity Press,
Cambridge, 1987, Chs VI & VIII. For a discussion ofthe abstract
quality of ‘modernity’ as a form of time-consciousness, see
Peter Osborne, ‘Modernity is a Qualitati ve, Not a Chronological,
Category’ ,New Left Review 192 (March/ApriI1992), pp. 65-84.

As Lyotard quickly came to recognise, the concept of the
postmodern is wholly internal to the development of the temporal
dialectics of the modern. Its paradoxes all derive from the level
of abstraction at which the concept of the modern acts as a gauge
or register of historical change.


Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, Vo!. 3, translated by Kathleen
Blarney and David Pellauer, University of Chicago Press,
Chicago, 1988, pp. 204-5.


G.W.F.Hegel,PhanomenologiedesGeistes, Ullstein,Frankfurtl
M, 1970, p. 29 (Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, translated by
A.V. Miller, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1977, p. 19,
translation altered); Max Horkheimer, ‘Traditional and Critical
Theory’ (1937), in Critical Theory: Selected Essays, translated
by Matthew J. O’Connell et ai, Herder and Herder, New York,
1972, p. 238.

I take the critique of the temporal consequences of Hegelian
philosophy (the ‘immobilisation’ of time ) to have been expounded
in more or less completed form as early as 1839, by Feuerbach
in his essay, ‘Towards a Critique of Hegelian Philosophy’,
translated by Zawar Hanfi in The Fiery Brook: Selected Writings
of Ludwig Feuerbach, Anchor Books, Garden City, NY, 1972,
pp. 53-96. For a recent variation, under the heading of the
‘eternalisation ofthe present’, see Ricoeur, Time and Narrative,
Vo!. 3, Ch. 9, ‘Should We Renounce Hegel?’.



Radical Philosophy 68, Autumn 1994



Western anthropology has traditionally read socio-spatial distance
as temporal, for a critique of which see Johannes Fabian, Time
and the Other: How Anthropology Makes its Object, Columbia
University Press, 1983.


Heidegger, Being and Time, p. 377


Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, Vol. 3, p. 66. Cf. Jean-Paul Sartre,
Critique ofDialectical Reason. I. Theory ofPractical Ensembles,
translated by Alan Sheridan-Smith, Verso, London, 1976, p. 53:

‘the only conceivable temporality is that of a totalisation as an
indi vidual process.’ Sartre’ s mistake is to confuse the indi vi duality
of the process with the structure of individual action.

Jacques Derrida, ‘Differance’, in Margins of Philosophy,
translated by Alan Bass, Harvester Wheatsheaf, Hemel
Hempstead, 1982, p. 14; Gayatri Spivak, ‘Remembering the
Limits: Difference, Identity and Practice’, in Peter Osborne
(ed.), Socialism and the Limits of Liberalism, Verso, London,
1991. For the notion of philosophy as second reflection, see
Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, translated by E.B.

Ashton, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1973.



It is undertaken in chapters 3 and 4 of the book refered to in the
opening footnote, above.


For an attempt to use Althusser and Benjamin together, see
Susan Buck-Morss, ‘Fashion in Ruins: History After the Cold
War’, in this issue. Popper’s hostility to historical totalisation
per se – which is not unlike that of much contemporary
postmodernism – derived from a scepticism about historical
prediction. His distance from Benjamin on the question of
historical knowledge could hardly be greater.



firstly, in extending the notion of totalisation to the unity of all
temporalisations, and thus to ‘narrative’ in its most fundamental
structural form (Ricoeur arbitrarily restricts his use of the term
‘totalisation’ to the Hegelian form); secondly, in reading his
‘narrative’ mediation of cosmological and phenomenological
forms as being of ontological as well as poetic significance; and
finally and consequently, in continuing to insist on the practical
significance of the philosophical attempt to totalise time, beyond
the (essentially religious) consolation of the contemplation of its

For a discussion of which, see Perry Anderson, Arguments
Within English Marxism, Verso, London, 1980, Ch. 2. Cf.

Adorno’s reminder that for Hegel: ‘Nothing can be known “that
is not in experience”’, Theodor W. Adorno, Hegel: Three
Studies, translated by Shierry Weber Nicholsen, MIT Press,
Cambridge MA, 1993, p. 53.


I take this to be the point of Sus an Buck-Morss’s extension of the
concept of fashion to the analysis of an epochal transformation
like the collapse of historical communism, in this issue.


This strategy can be traced back to Benjamin’s reception of
Surrealism. See, ‘Surrealism: The Latest Snapshot of the
European Intelligensia’, translated (with a slightly different
title) in WaIter Benjamin, One-Way Street and Other Writings,
New Left Books, London, 1979, pp. 225-239.


Pierre Bourdieu, The Logic of Practice (1980), translated by
Richard Nice, Polity Press, 1990, p. 99; translation amended.


Jiirgen Habermas, ‘The Classical Doctrine of Politics in Relation
to Social Philosophy’ (1963) in Theory and Practice, translated
by John Viertel, Heinemann, London, 1974, pp. 41-81.

Cf. Ricoeur Time and Narrative, Vol. 3, chapter 10, ‘Towards a
Hermeneutics of Historical Consciousness’ . I differ from Ricoeur,

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