For the past yet to come: Utopian conceptions of time and becoming

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Firth, Rhiannon ; Robinson, Andrew (2013)
  • Publisher: SAGE

This article examines a number of critical-theoretical, utopian alternatives to the dominant temporal conception of ‘homogeneous empty time’. It explores the ways in which difference is theorized within the field of time, and the ways in which relations to the past and future can be constructed non-sequentially. It focuses on four related theories. Nietzsche’s theory of eternal return is shown to be inspired by a critique of backward-looking views of time and an orientation to an abundance of the present. Benjamin’s theory of messianic time combines the immediacy of ‘now-time’ with a non-successive connection to past and future times. Deleuze’s Bergsonian view of time suggests the simultaneity of the past with the present, and the possibility of constructing connections between different zones of time and actualizing these zones in the present. Agamben’s theory of temporal play focuses on immediacy, the redemption of the past, and the abandonment of the mastery of history. Each of these theories is discussed in terms of its own conception of time, its difference from dominant conceptions of time, and its relationship to utopia. While offering four distinct alternatives, the theorists all critique alienated and objectivist views of time, and offer different varieties of temporal rhizomatics and polyphony. The juxtaposition of these theories provides the underpinnings for temporal utopianism as a new field of study. The idea of temporal utopianism demonstrates that utopia can be a temporal as well as a spatial phenomenon, and that the experience of time characteristic of capitalist modernity is contingent rather than necessary. It thus points towards a rupture with the sense of closure generated by dominant conceptions of time, creating temporal zones in which utopian spaces can be actualized.
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