Parallel Session 2: Temporalities of Crisis


‘On Not Knowing Greek’
Antonia Birnbaum (Philosophy, University of Paris 8 )

For the Greek tradition, crisis is associated with kairos; together they point to a decisive moment. Kairos is the difficult art of seizing a situation, its sum of uncertainty and unforeseeability, the moment where a decisive judgment will have the most impact. Thus the Greeks often refer kairos and crisis either to the image of the boy with locks in front, bald at the back – an occasion to be seized – or to the art of releasing an arrow at the precise moment when the enemy puts one in danger. For us today, crisis often means the exact opposite: a situation where things supposedly can’t go on as before, but where there is no possibility of a break: the economic crisis epitomizes this. To think out a temporality of crisis that does not aggravate a continued state of degradation is thus to question anew the element of decision in crisis. Is there such a thing as a ‘present’ of decision? How does it articulate time? Two thinkers of this question come to mind: Walter Benjamin and Friedrich Schelling.

‘Crisis and Contemporaneity’
Peter Osborne (RP/Philosophy, Kingston University London)

Marxist theories of capitalist crisis depend upon the articulation of three levels of temporalization: the longue durée of historical time (development of the forces of production/temporality of modes of production), the theory of capitalism (development through ‘periodic’ or ‘cyclical’ economic crises), and the politics of conjunctures (the ‘concrete analysis of a concrete situation’) amenable to decisive action. However, the socio-spatial – and hence temporal – presuppositions of the classical version of this model (national capitals aligned to nation-states, and socialist internationalism) no long hold. Rather, economic crises are increasingly subject to the conditions of a global contemporaneity. There is both an apparent convergence between the temporal structures of crises and contemporaneity, and an increasing disjunction between economic and political temporalities. This paper will reflect upon this apparent convergence and disjunction in temporal form from the standpoints of the ‘normalization’ of crisis and relationship between so-called ‘historical’ and ‘systematic’ dialectic.

‘Presents Past: History and “Time’s Turmoil”’
Harry Harootunian (Literature, Duke University)

This paper explores the relationship between history, especially the role played by forms of historical time, and capitalism. Specifically, I am interested in examining the differentiation between history and capital logic and the consequences it had for the status of historical time. I will be particularly concerned with how the former (history) has come to be identified with the retention of traces from modes of production prior to capitalism (embodied in thought, custom and sentiment) within a capitalist present which seeks to subsume them. This perspective, announced by Marx in both Grundrisse and Capital, together with a priority accorded to the temporality of the present, opens up a vista for comparative possibility by fusing the incidence of a common temporal immanence (a shared contemporaneity between observer and observed) with the recognition that at the same time they occupy different but co-existing temporal registers empowered to mediate and even determine their actions. The example chosen for illustration consists of three attempts by workers in different locales and times to seize hold of their disposable time from the regime of abstract labor by expending it in the pursuit of artistic and cultural activity. These three episodes were initially discounted, if not ignored, in their respective national histories but have been narrativized in Jacques Ranciere’s Proletarian Nights (concerning French workers in the mid-19th century), Peter Weiss’s The Aesthetics of Resistance (an epic historical novel focused on youthful German workers in the 1930s, putting in question the relationship between fiction and history) and the Japanese journal Gendai shiso/Modern Thought (concerning the ‘worker’s circles’ of Japan in the 1950s). Each has been released from more recognizable social historical environments and resituated in a terrain and a time no longer shaped by the agenda of national history. The sites are made contemporaneous with each other because they have been retrieved by, for and in our present.