‘Who is time?’: Brassier on Heidegger’s Philosophy of Time

Bibliographic Note: Brassier, Ray. Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Print. p. 153-156.

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My critical summary of Section 6.1 of the book Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction. I provided an additional reflection on how this certain section from Brassier’s book can be of help to my Lav Diaz x Time research project.


Brassier begins his 6th Chapter: The Pure and Empty Form of Death with an elaboration of Heidegger’s conceptualization of time in his 1924 essay The Concept of Time, a precursor text to Heidegger’s magnum opus Being and Time (1929). Brassier highlights Heidegger’s privileging of individuated (and existential) time over ontological time, which constitutes the larger part of Section 6.1. – Who is Time?: Heidegger. In this section, Brassier emphasizes that time cannot be understood in terms of “essence” because essence is only understood as presence. It cannot be studied time-as-being-present because time is never ‘present’. (Brassier 153)

To understand time in a conceptual sense, Brassier insists that the relation between intra-temporality and ontological temporality must be established. The relation between the time-within-being, or that which gives the being an existential duration, and the time-outside-being, or that which gives the universe of beings an absolute duration must be explored to properly provide an ontology of time.

According to Brassier, in Heidegger’s essay, the privileging of individuated time is highlighted by the turning of the object of the temporal analytic towards the Dasein, that, to understand time is also to understand the determining characteristic of Dasein. Heidegger highlights that Dasein has two components: temporal specificity (Jeweiligkeit) and mineness (Jemeinigkeit) and its conceptual constitution is always a ‘mine’ – a specificity of the “I am”.

Since Dasein’s constitution is always ‘mine’, it is always ‘us’, which lead Heidegger to conclude in his 1924 essay that each of us is time, for the reason that Dasein is time itself. Brassier remarks that Dasein is only properly and completely individuated in death:

“Dasein becomes properly individuated insofar as it appropriates death as its own… Dasein’s appropriation of death as its own most extreme possibility… authentically individuates it and thereby singularizes its time. The appropriation of death allows the past to be seized out of the future.” (Brassier 154)

For Brassier, Dasein is an existential concept, meaning, its ultimate possibility is death or extinction. In Heidegger’s configuration,  Dasein’s death, which is also our death, is also the moment when time is singular. These two criteria for Dasein’s existential existence can summarily be characterized as Dasein’s finite transcendence: that death is its ultimate principle of individuation and that death is also the singularity of time.

In paraphrasing Brassier, this finite transcendence of Dasein is initially explored in Heidegger’s essay “The Concept of Time“, which is about the relation of ‘sein’ and ‘Dasein’, or the temporal understanding of the being in general and Dasein’s temporal self-understanding. This relation is further explored in Heidegger’s book Being and Time.

In Being and Time, Brassier pointed out that temporal self-understanding is a unity of three self-temporalizations: being-already, being-alongside, and being-towards. Brassier quotes Heidegger: ‘The phenomena of the “toward…”, the “to…”, the “alongside…”, make temporality visible as the “ekstatikon” pure and simple. Temporality is the primordial “outside-of-itself” in and for itself.’ What does it mean by ‘temporality “outside-of-itself” in and for itself’? This assertion is an act of folding. It is Heidegger’s way of folding temporality’s exteriority (outside-of-itself) into its self-positing (in and for itself) movement.

In the next passages, Brassier invokes again the existential analytic of Dasein as a relation between individualized temporality and temporality of being in general. Brassier criticizes Heidegger’s version of temporality pointing that temporality of being in general cannot be ‘co-extensive’ with Dasein. Dasein’s inviduated temporality assumes that there is, of course, an existence of pre-individual self prior to the individuation of time. Temporality of being in general, or ontological time, cannot in a way be conceived in terms of a transcendent pre-individual world. Heidegger’s use of ‘it’, as Brassier pointed out, assumes that there is a pre-individual world prior to the individual.

In the quote below, Brassier points out that Heidegger privileges the individualize temporality of Dasein over the temporality of being in general, or ontological time. This is, for Brassier, the source of blunder in Heidegger’s configuration of time:

“Dasein is time, time is temporal. Dasein is not time, but temporality. The fundamental assertion that time is temporal is therefore the most authentic determination – and it is not a tautology because the Being of temporality signifies non-identical actuality […] Insofar as time is in each case mine, there are many times. ‘Time itself’ is meaningless; time is temporal.” – Heidegger, Being and Time (1962)

Brassier points out in the quote bellow, that this denial of the ontological autonomy of ‘time itself’ is the problematic assertion in Heidegger’s ‘fundamental ontology’.

“[…] the temptation – to which Heidegger himself seems to have succumbed while elaborating the project of fundamental ontology, however audaciously he may have struggled with it before and after – is simply to deny the ontological autonomy of ‘time itself’ and to reduce it to our temporality.” (Brassier 155-156)

Brassier’s positioning towards ontological time is also constitutive of contemporary philosophy’s speculative turn. Brassier, in a way, offers a critique of Heideggerian ontology. In Meillassoux words, Heidegger’s phenomenological understanding of time is one of the many correlationism in the history of philosophy since Kant. But philosophers like Graham Harman, a speculative materialist himself, owe much of his object-oriented philosophy to Heidegger’s thesis on the tool-being.

Brassier’s evaluation of Heidegger’s philosophy resonates with Quentin Meillessoux’ annulment of individuated time in After Finitude, as posited by correlationist philosophers, in order to privilege the facticity of ontological time which Meillassoux consider as time-as-absolute.

Who is Time in Lav Diaz & Time?

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In my developing research project Lav Diaz & Time, the main problem that I am encountering is primarily establishing the relation between the time within Lav-Diaz’s films and the ontological time that situates Diaz’s cinema within the universe of beings (in the world). This ontological time is exterior to Diaz’s filmic world(s) and one of the theoretical issues is finding an ontological bridge between the micro and macro: how does one relate the microcosmic and inherently fictive layer of duration in Diaz’s films to the real duration of the world itself? ‘What is time in Diaz’s cinema’ is a question not only about the object of study (Diaz’s cinema) but also the location of the object of study among other objects (other films, the society-at-large).

In a way, the study must be constitutive of Brassier’s arguments, where ontological time is privilege over individuated time. It must also be constitutive of Heidegger’s phenomenological account of time. There lies an incredible contradiction in combining two different ontological notions of time, which proves this line of inquiry problematic.

The problem is also methodological and, at the same time, epistemological. To know the relation between micro-time in the film and the macro-time outside of film, one has to first ask the questions ‘How does one know? How does one proceed in the task of knowing?’ These questions are epistemological. To inquire about the method of knowing time within and outside of Diaz’s cinema, is simply an inquiry on the ‘appropriate’ epistemic tools. Epistemic tools can be a priori (independent of experience i.e. mathematics, deduction) or a posteriori (dependent of experience i.e. empirical study), or in David Hume’s philosophy, epistemic tools has to be constitutive of both a priori and a posteriori methods of justification. Hume is important in this matter. He argued that an a priori claim cannot stand on its own without the necessary aid of experience or an a posteriori claim.

The Folding of Time

Deleuze’s idea of the fold becomes helpful in making the relation of inside/outside thinkable. Deleuze’s concept of the fold is Bergsonian as it is related to the contraction and dilation of time, but its direct conceptual roots are Leibniz’ ontology and Foucault’s philosophy of subjectivation . As the author of Anarchist Without Content puts it:

“For Deleuze, all of the universe is a process of folding and unfolding the outside – which creates an interior that is not an inside grown autonomously from the outside world but merely a doubling of the outside…” (Culp)

The fold posits that there is no interior. The presumed ‘interior’ of a house is really just a fold of the exterior, a contracted space. In Deleuze Dictionary, Simon O’Sullivan summarily puts it: “[…] the fold announces that the inside is nothing more than a fold of the outside.” (O’Sullivan 107) The interior of a house is a misnomer because, for the construction of the inside, a necessary reworking of the outside must occur. Objects inside the house, its parts, its furniture, do not entirely belong to the inside. It originates from the outside as a reterritorialization. In this way, the inside of the house is entirely a fold of the outside.

By following this logic of the fold, we can say that the fold stitches the relation between individuated time and ontological time, that individuated time is always-already an ontological time folded and stratified by various regimes of power. To put it simply, the fold posits that the experience of time in Diaz cinema is a stratification, a fold, of the expansive ontological time exterior to Diaz’s cinema: the time of society, the time of capitalism, the time of a nation-state, the global time, the time of the universe. There is never actually an individuated time. The fold is a necessary concept in establishing the relation between the inside and the outside, the macro and micro, by positing that there is never, in fact, an inside or a micro. (I do remember that this is also the problematique theoretical physics is facing today in their developing proof of the Theory of Everything (TOE), particularly in establishing a relation between quantum mechanics, or the physics of the micro, and gravity, the physics of the macro).

——–

Additional References

Culp, Andrew. “The Fold, Explained.” Anarchist Without Content: anti-politics. N.p., 2013. Web. 21 Sept. 2015. Retrieved from https://anarchistwithoutcontent.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/the-fold-explained/

O’Sullivan, Simon D. “Fold.” Deleuze Dictionary. Ed. Adrian Parr. Revised. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010. 107–108. Print.

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