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[The following is summary]
Gilles Deleuze's Philosophy of Time:
A Critical Introduction and Guide
Chapter 2: The first synthesis of time
Part 4: The passing present
What does the passing present got to do with you?
On the basis of his account of habit in the first synthesis of time, Deleuze offers an original view of the self.
Williams quotes: "‘Nonetheless, this synthesis is intra-temporal, which means that the present passes’ (DRf, 105)." (Williams 45c) But does the present pass into itself, or does it pass to one of its dimensions?
Consider the paradox that arises when we think that the present passes into the past. The present moment has transformed the past through its synthesis. Thus that past has disappeared. But if the present somehow passes into the future, then it is passing into something that is only awaited and thus not something it can pass into. (45-46)
"If the present passes into its past dimension, it must change the particulars it has already synthesised. If the present passes into its future dimension, it carries actual particulars into the generality of the future, thereby contradicting its definition as only generality. In the first case the arrow of time must be reversed. In the second, it is denied." (46b)Every contractive synthesis is already a passage. To contract the fourth bell toll, the third had to have passed.
"Physical duration is therefore the stretch that it takes for a contraction to pass. Durations are therefore multiple and overlapping: ‘An organism has a present duration, diverse present durations, following the natural scope of contraction of its contemplating souls’ (DRf, 105)." (47a)The first synthesis as a passing present necessarily involves exhaustion and fatigue. The concept of fatigue could even help scientists and other sorts of researchers, although it has a special meaning for Deleuze. (47c.d) When we think in terms of our active syntheses, like when we representationally consider that tomorrow morning we will need to have coffee, then our needing of the coffee can be considered a lack [because we are taking into consideration a future contraction that has not yet happened.] However, when we consider the passive syntheses that are automatically making all these contractions, [our needing coffee is not our lacking it, but rather the exhaustion that results from us constantly making anticipatory contractions. So when we feel like we need something, we feel a discomfort. It is not a frustration that the situation is not otherwise. Rather, it is us exhausting ourselves by channeling our contractions so to guide us to what we need.] [Note: I do not follow Williams' example here. His example sentences are: "I need coffee in the morning" for need as lack and "Too tired even for coffee" for need as fatigue. I have not yet figured out how the second example sentence illustrates a contractive synthesis.]
Signs are present in our contractions. There are two sorts of signs.
"A natural sign relates to a present, to the work of present passive syntheses in a living present and in relation to the passing present. An artificial sign refers to the past and to the future as distinct from the present (Imagine your life free of your coffee addiction), for instance when we ask ourselves abstractly what we want to be, before we seek out the signs of what we are becoming in the present, before attempting to learn our present signs." (49a)When we conceive need as lack, we do so on the basis of a negative structure. But really need results from changing contractions. We cannot properly question in a structure of negativity because "we presume to know what we need and hence the sole difficulty is how to get it." (49bc)
"A question draws on (‘soutire’) an answer, that is, it refines and selects within it, sets it within a series of repetitions. More importantly, it does so by experimentally searching for a novel difference that has passively appeared within the series; this novel difference is a larval subject driving towards a further synthesis of | the series." (49-50)Deleuze's account of habit portrays our selfhood in the first synthesis as pre-reflective not limited to philosophy's normal opposition of passivity and activity.
"Habit as defined on the basis of Deleuze’s work on the first synthesis of time is itself the process where the syntheses of the passive self, ‘the world of the passive syntheses constituting the system of the self’, are also larval subjects, that is, the multiple subjects of actions prior to reflection, representation and understanding. Deleuze’s philosophy of time allows him to turn philosophy away from the opposition of passivity and activity, to an understanding of life – of all things that become – as activity drawn from passivity." (50bc)
Williams, James. Gilles Deleuze's Philosophy of Time: A Critical Introduction and Guide. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011.