6 Jan 2012

Memory in Passing. Ch.3.1 of Williams' Gilles Deleuze's Philosophy of Time

summary by Corry Shores

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Memory in Passing

James Williams'

Gilles Deleuze's Philosophy of Time:
A Critical Introduction and Guide

Chapter 3: The second synthesis of time

Part 1: A time within which time passes

What do the conditions for time to pass got to do with you?

The moments of your life slip away. Where do they go? What makes them leave? Or do you carry them with you always? In what way? How is it that you have a past?

Brief Summary

The second synthesis of time is a memory process that allows the present to pass into the past, all while this process is conducted completely in the present. This is because Memory is the condition of possibility for the past to be ordered and for the present to enter into determinate (but not determined) relations with the future.

Points Relative to Deleuze:

Deleuze's second and first syntheses interact.


The second synthesis is a 'synthesis of the past'. Deleuze's temporality involves multiple interacting syntheses. "Time is therefore manifold for Deleuze, with different syntheses interacting in a fractured and complex manner, allowing for dislocations and changes in perspective." (51bc) "Time and process coexist like reflections in a hall of broken mirrors, offering multiple perspectives to follow and recreate, but never a full image." (51c) The fact that we are now considering two different syntheses raises many questions regarding their relations and the temporalities they produce. (51-52)

Deleuze builds from features of the first synthesis: "the first synthesis is originary but not a pure origin; the present in the first synthesis of time is a passing present; the present is constituted of many durations or stretches that overlap." (52a)

The first synthesis operates in the second synthesis. (52d)

There is a paradox to the present. It both constitutes time while also passing into that constituted time. The time we constitute is both passing away and yet is a present process. "If the present constitutes the past first, then it must pass away into a past that it has not constituted, since there will be an interval, a difference, between the constituted past and the one the present passes away into." (53b)

To handle the paradox, Deleuze separate two things: a) the time that the present passes away into, and b) the first synthesis.

In Williams' reading, the syntheses of time are productive processes. The present does not pass into another time acting as a container. The first synthesis of time transforms as it passes into the second.
"Both syntheses of time are active in many different ways and passivity must itself be understood as a process in Deleuze, rather than inertia or indifference. So the meaning of ‘to pass away’ should not be seen as an inert falling into disuse. It is quite the contrary. To pass away is to pass away in a synthesis of the past as memory defined as the second synthesis of time." (54a)
There are two important principles in Deleuze's speculative metaphysics:

1) nothingness or void can never serve as an explanatory principle, and
2) all processes are two-way and asymmetrical

Deleuze speaks of necessary consequence and necessary referral. It is not logical necessity (because it "does not follow from formal logical operations") but rather it is speculative necessity (because it "follows logically only if we accept the structure of a complex speculative metaphysics.") (54bc)

Yet, perhaps Deleuze is wrong, and time passes into a void of some sort. (54-55) Williams also finds problematic Deleuze's distinction between the two process of foundation and founding. "The first synthesis of time is a foundation because it is a process of ‘occupation’ and ‘possession’, that is, it determines an open space according to patterns and to differences." (55bc) But, what is not given is the form and determination of the passing away of living presents. And what is the condition allowing for past things to be recalled? (55d) Here we turn to the concept of founding. The second synthesis makes present moments pass by placing them into well-determined relations of what is to come. (56a) However, this is not a final determination. (56cd)
"This is because the second synthesis of time as that which makes the present pass through a process of foundation cannot depend upon or lead to a finally established and identified true foundation. It has to allow the present to be determined differently as proper and appropri- | ate." (56-57)
"The pure past will be defined as determining the form of the passing present – that it must pass, and how it must pass – but it does not determine or cause the content of any particular passing present. The pure past cannot be the cause of the present or completely determine it. Deleuze’s philosophy cannot be deterministic." (57a)
Williams considers an objection. Note again how signs of the past are not in the past, but are given immediately in the present. Recall is not necessarily a going back to past presents but is instead an inspecting of present codes and signs. (57a) So if recall happens in the present, why is it necessary that there be a founding of past presents? The problem is that these interpretations of present signs of the past are active processes, yet the second synthesis is passive. (57d) The second synthesis does not synthesize particular moments but instead it synthesizes 'levels' that provide the conditions for an ordering of the past.
"the passive synthesis of the past is a synthesis not of particulars but of levels, that is, not of the passing presents themselves, but of the conditions for any ordering of them. For all passing presents to be ordered and related the successive levels created by their passing have to be connected or, to use Deleuze’s term, they have to be encased in one another." (58a)
Deleuze distinguishes capitalized Memory from uncapitalized memory:
"‘Memory’ as capitalised for the process of the second synthesis and ‘memory’ for active memory: ‘Habit is the originary synthesis of time, constituting the life of the passing present; Memory is the fundamental synthesis of time, constituting the being of the past (making the present pass)’ (DRf, 109). The being of the past is not the representations, records or codes of an active memory in the present. It is the condition of possibility for all the different active memories, their differences, but also their connections, above all their connections with the passing presents that came before them – all of them." (Williams 58b)
The different temporal processes condition one another asymmetrically. (59b)

Williams, James. Gilles Deleuze's Philosophy of Time: A Critical Introduction and Guide. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011.

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