by Steven Craig Hickman
The attitude of the Gnostics toward time, and more generally, toward the world, is characterized from the first by a movement of revolt against time and the world as conceived by Hellenism and Christianity…
—Henri-Charles Puech, Gnosis and Time
Most of us think of time as a linear process, a movement from the past to the future, but has this always been so? Is time truly an arrow, or is it also a return, a circle rather than a slide toward some apocalyptic abyss? Or, what if time could reverse course, or slip off into a non-time, a time of no time, a rhizomatic cleavage in time that would lock it and its inhabitants in a zone of stasis, a place where time stood still? Have we even begun to think about time?
The earliest recorded Western philosophy of time was expounded by the ancient Egyptian thinker Ptahhotep (c. 2650–2600 BC), who said, “Do not lessen the time of following desire, for the wasting of time is an abomination to the spirit.” The Vedas, the earliest texts on Indian philosophy and Hindu philosophy, dating back to the late 2nd millennium BC, describe ancient Hindu cosmology, in which the universe goes through repeated cycles of creation, destruction, and rebirth, with each cycle lasting 4,320,000 years. Ancient Greek philosophers, including Parmenides and Heraclitus, wrote essays on the nature of time.
Plato, in the Timaeus, identified time with the period of motion of the heavenly bodies, and space as that in which things come to be. Aristotle, in Book IV of his Physics, defined time as the number of changes with respect to before and after, and the place of an object as the innermost motionless boundary of that which surrounds it.
In Book 11 of St. Augustine’s Confessions, he ruminates on the nature of time, asking, “What then is time? If no one asks me, I know: if I wish to explain it to one that asketh, I know not.”
During the Medieval period with the influx of ancient Greek systems from the great philosophers and mystics of Islam came other concepts of Time. The Islamic world at the time was so large, and the intellectual milieu so rich and diverse, that no single book could put an end to its philosophy and discursive reasoning. Ibn ‘Arabī’s philosophical mysticism offers a vast synthesis of gnostic and Sufi ideas as well as a type of philosophical discourse which, for the first time, formulates the Sufi doctrine. With Ibn ‘Arabī, we see a monumental effort to comment on a full array of metaphysical, cosmological, and psychological aspects of Gnosticism, thereby providing a vision of reality whose attainment requires the practice of the Sufi path. Ibn ‘Arabī’s philosophico-mystical edifice is a process of spiritual hermeneutics (ta’wīl) which relies on the language of symbolism to guide a novice from the exterior (ẓāhir) to the interior (bāṭin). For Ibn ‘Arabī, the entire cosmos represents signs (ayāt) which lend themselves to symbolic exegesis, a process whose pinnacle is the Universal Man (al-insān al-kāmil). Ibn ‘Arabī, whose doctrine of the Unity of Being (waḥdat al-wūjūd) has been interpreted by many to be pantheism, was nevertheless careful to argue that even though God dwells in things, but the world “is not” in God. For Ibn ‘Arabī, humans are microcosms and the universe is the macrocosm; the Universal Man is the one who realizes all of his inherent potentialities, including the Divine breath which was blown into man by God in the beginning of creation as the Qur’an says.
As the modern scholar Henri Corbin would say of Islamic Gnosticism and Sufi notions of Time: “Real time is concrete time, the time of persons. The abstract time of “everyone and no one” abolishes pluralism and makes totalitarianisms possible. The “No!” that he insists we cry aloud “draws its energy from the lightning flash whose vertical joins heaven with earth, not from some horizontal line of force that loses itself in a limitlessness from which no meaning arises.”1 This battle between concrete time of persons, and the abstract time or totalitarian time of the State or Sovereign power and authoritarian rule was at heart a war between monism and pluralism, autarchy and democracy.
For Corbin the Gnostics and their descendants in Sufic thought our time is a “time of return,” and the beings of Light who inhabit this time are haunted by intimations of Eternity and nostalgia for the source of Light … (Cheethem, p. 45) This notion that the whole of history is and has been a defensive measure against the dark side of Time, that we have already been thrown into this temporal continuum to not to condemn us but to protect us from the dark powers of Ahriman, the alien and evil power of Darkness who originates entirely outside the realm of Light in an unknowable outer abyss. That the God of Light and Eternity, the Time of Endlessness needed time to do battle against the dark one so formed and shaped this universe of finitude to stay the hand of the evil one. And, yet, it is the very power of the Evil One who is locked within the energetic multiplicity of this universes powers of mattering through the fallen labors of Sophia, the mother of all and Time. The time that we know is both necessitated and limited by the acts in the cosmic drama that is both its prelude and its consummation. We live in “cyclical time”— a time of a return to an eternal origin. In this mythology the earthly soul is lacking its eternal half (Plato) — it is “lagging behind itself,” incomplete and confined within the limited time of the combat. The earthly soul lives in nostalgia and anticipation, in exiled incompleteness, in longing and hope. (Cheetham, pp. 44-46)
These mythical notions of time would fall away during the time of destruction, the age of demythologization we have come to know of as the Enlightenment. Secular time and the sciences would displace these ancient narratives and dramatizations of Time as part of this demythologization process. For Kant the watershed philosopher of the Secular Age time and space were neither objective nor real:
Space is not something objective and real, nor a substance, nor an accident, nor a relation; instead, it is subjective and ideal, and originates from the mind’s nature in accord with a stable law as a scheme, as it were, for coordinating everything sensed externally.2
Kant would begin that epistemic turn toward the Mind and make both Space and Time categories of the Mind rather than ontological verities of existence, so that our conceptions of outer sense were from then own dependent on Mind rather than autonomous substances in their own right. This would be the beginning of what we now know as the Anti-Realist Continental traditions in which all thought of reality independent of the Mind would lose its relevancy within philosophy. This abstraction of time out of the real and substantive would lock us into a realm of pure evil according to Corbin and the Ismaili Sufi gnostics.
Whereas for the ancient gnostics Time (Zervan) was a Person, the modern cosmologies of the West have abstracted themselves out of the Real, produced a cut or gap or crack between the human and the universe at large displacing humanity into a realm of no-time, an internalized time of abstraction and probabilities, linearity and progression in which time is no longer cyclic and moving toward its origins, a return. But is now a time cut off in abstract time, a time of no-time in which humanity in its accumulation of abstractions seeks to stay the return of Time. Instead of combating the dark side of Time modernity seeks to join the dark side and contribute to its war against return, against origins and the Real.
Of course all of this is mystical mumbo-jumbo, a record of the mythologies of peoples star games and strategies of explaining time as a personal soteriology, a salvationist mythology in which humanity is seen as a pawn in an eternal war between Light and Dark, Good and Evil. As if we were members of a spiritual species that had been trapped and imprisoned in a realm of dark abstractions our memories lost in the deep well of past time. This notion that the cosmic drama of a cyclical time originating in a retardation of some dark progenitor (Ahriman) is carried toward its final act by “the torment of a ‘retarded eternity.’ (Cheetham, p. 49) As if the God of Light were neither all powerful, nor had the weapons available to combat this dark pull and lure of evil. As if the dark powers were in fact much older and powerful that this upstart, this demiurgic force who contested its ancient darkness.
In modern quantum cosmology we speak of the impossible mathematical models of those missing particles needed to explain the twelve or so dimensions of our universe under the rubric of Dark Matter and Dark Energy. Why? What is this dark unknown force and its spectral material that seems to both engender our visible universe and stabilize and organize its substantive systems? We know little, and surmise much. Modern cosmology has spent over a hundred years seeking a theory of everything to fit all the missing pieces of time and space, the spacetime continuum together in a mathematical model that can be someday tested to put to sleep the questions of both the origins and end of our universe. While explaining the very structure and dynamism of that process of Time and its powers in the substance of space.
The late Mark Fisher in his Capitalist Realism brought many of these feelings and suspicions of the ancient gnostics to the fore as he studied the catastrophic consequences of late capitalism: the suspicion that the end has already come, the thought that it could well be the case that the future harbors only reiteration and re-permutation. Could it be that there are no breaks, no ‘shocks of the new’ to come? Such anxieties tend to result in a bi-polar oscillation: the ‘weak messianic’ hope that there must be something new on the way lapses into the morose conviction that nothing new can ever happen.3 This is the heaviness and moroseness of the gnostic view of evil, of the realization that cut off in time we are trapped in a system of domination that harbors our ill-will and seeks to enslave us in a global system under the rule of absolute abstract Time.
As Fisher explicating T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland would tell us “the exhaustion of the future does not even leave us with the past. Tradition counts for nothing when it is no longer contested and modified. A culture that is merely preserved is no culture at all.” (Fisher, p. 7) A sense of despair and hopelessness ensues and we are bound to a world without past or future, cut off in a sidereal time of no-time; neither utopic, nor real, but rather a dystopic time of pain and suffering under archons of political and social control that seek total dominion over all life. We are living through a “transformation of culture into museum pieces” (Fisher, p. 8). Fisher asks us to imagine walking:
around the British Museum, where you see objects torn from their lifeworlds and assembled as if on the deck of some Predator spacecraft, and you have a powerful image of this process at work. In the conversion of practices and rituals into merely aesthetic objects, the beliefs of previous cultures are objectively ironized, transformed into artifacts. Capitalist realism is therefore not a particular type of realism; it is more like realism in itself. (Fisher, p. 8)
This notion that humanity is living in a museum under the gaze of invisible archons whose pleasure is in tormenting us within a planetary experiment of absolute torturescapes, playing out the eternal round of a time of no-time where our torments produce the pleasure and jouissance of strange Time-Lords: this is the horrendous message of a dark gnosis in which there is no reprieve, a sadism of ancient powers from which there is no redemption.
Of course for most of humanity none of this is perceived for as T.S. Eliot once said in a poem: “Humankind cannot bare too much reality.” (Four Quartets). Instead we have our local myths, our secret narratives and illusions, our delusions of grace and innocence to alleviate such dark truths. We shift between non-meaning, either passive or active nihilism, or the elder days of religious or political meanings of earthly power and corruption; else, the natural power of entropy and death of the scientific view… we sleep in a world of delirium believing we are awake to the truth of the Real. Others like my friend R. Scott Bakker pull the skeptical worldview out of the bag of ancient thought and update it for a new era with truths of brain sciences that speak of our ignorance, our ‘medial neglect’ in which humans by way of evolution evolved mental systems to help them survive and procreate over millennia in developing shared delusions and mental worlds full of errors to assuage the dark outer truth of our non-knowledge of ourselves and the environment surrounding us. Like magicians and shamans we dream of power and knowledge, but live in a realm or error and erroneous delusions, mental fallacies of reason and cognitive biases.
As Fisher would tell it what we are left with in our time is ruins: “Capitalism is what is left when beliefs have collapsed at the level of ritual or symbolic elaboration, and all that is left is the consumer-spectator, trudging through the ruins and the relics.” (Fisher, p. 8) Like zombies or ghosts we sleepwalk through existence, circle in this time of no-time, live out our lives as if this were all there was, as if this were real, the only world, the only way. Lost among our own delusions we accumulate profits for our masters as if we had no alternative, all the while being tormented by the disquieting thought that we have forgotten something profound and if we could just remember what it is we might suddenly wake up from this nightmare of civilization and history.
John Gray studying the Aztec civilization discovers another version of this overcoming of the evil of Time. For the Aztecs humans were fated to live in a world in which their rulers were their enemies, their gods were their enemies. Yet these same enemies ensured a type of order that would not otherwise be possible. If Hobbes had been right in his diagnosis of human conflict producing savagery and brutishness, Aztec life could only be a brutish anarchy, without art, industry or letters. The actuality was the thriving metropolis full of order, beauty, and artistic excellence that so amazed the invading Spaniards. Destroyed soon after the conquistadores arrived, the Aztec city was an experimental refutation of some of the most fundamental assumptions of modern western ethics and politics.4
The alien quality of the Aztec world does not come simply from the fact that they made a spectacle of killing. The Romans did as much in their gladiatorial games, but they did so for the sake of entertainment. The uncanniness of the Aztecs comes from the fact that they killed in order to create meaning in their lives. It is as if by practising human sacrifice as they did the Aztecs were unveiling something that in our world has been covered up.
Modern humanity insists violence is inhuman. Everyone says nothing is dearer to them than life – except perhaps freedom, for which some assert they would willingly die. Many have been ready to kill on an enormous scale for the sake of creating a future in which no one dies of violence. There are also some convinced that violence is fading away. All say they want an end to the slaughter of humans by other humans that has shaped the course of history.
The Aztecs did not share the modern conceit that mass killing can bring about universal peace. They did not envision any future when humans ceased to be violent. When they practised human sacrifice it was not to improve the world, still less to fashion some higher type of human being. The purpose of the killing was what they affirmed it to be: to protect them from the senseless violence that is inherent in a world of chaos. That human sacrifice was a barbarous way of making meaning tells us something about ourselves as much as them. Civilization and barbarism are not different kinds of society. They are found – intertwined – whenever human beings come together. (Gray, p. 87)
Again we see this use of violence against the violence of Time, a revolt against the crushing order of the chaosmos or thermospasm of existence in which we find ourselves locked up like rats in a maze without outlet. Humans kill one another – and in some cases themselves – for many reasons, but none is more human than the attempt to make sense of their lives. More than the loss of life, they fear loss of meaning. There are many who prefer dying to some kinds of survival, and quite a few that have chosen to go to a violent end. (Gray, p. 87)
Marx himself would see this dark god of violence at work in the 19th Century, saying, “We have seen how this absolute contradiction does away with all repose, all fixity and all security as far as the worker’s life-situation is concerned; how it constantly threatens, by taking away the instruments of labour, to snatch from his hands the means of subsistence, and, by suppressing his specialized function, to make him superfluous. We have seen, too, how this contradiction bursts forth without restraint in the ceaseless human sacrifices required from the working class, in the reckless squandering of labour-powers, and in the devastating effects of social anarchy.”5 For Marx modern society was a continuous sacrifice by the poor workers to the gods of violence and profit so that the elite could feed off the surplus value of their immolation.
As Franco “Bifo” Berardi in Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide would suggest it is not merely crime and suicide, but more broadly the establishment of a kingdom of nihilism and the suicidal drive that is permeating contemporary culture, together with a phenomenology of panic, aggression and resultant violence.6 For Berarid the recent rash of mass suicides and mass murder in the heart of the capitalist state economies in EU and the U.S.A. are about people who are suffering themselves, and who become criminals because this is their way both to express their psychopathic need for publicity and also to find a suicidal exit from their present hell. (Berardi, IL 60) As he states it:
I’m interested in people who are suffering themselves, and who become criminals because this is their way both to express their psychopathic need for publicity and also to find a suicidal exit from their present hell.
The point for Berardi is that of the Aztecs who sought to create meaning out of the mass killings of it’s victims, victims who were the doubled face of the enemy, the enemy who was god, the god of violence of which the sacrifice and sacrificed were the dual face of the Dark Lord of Time. Ahriman – the violent one. Conversely, for Berardi our late capitalist era seeks to annihilate nihilism actively destroying the shared values (both moral and economic values) produced not in the present, but in the past by the human production of democratic political regulation under progressive liberal systems of managed societies of control. They do this to affirm the order of chaos and the primacy of the abstract force of money: the power of the absolute god of violence. Annihilating nihilism is the product of financial capitalism, destroying concrete wealth in order to accumulate abstract value. Ultimately, the financial game is based on the premise that the value of money invested will increase as things are annihilated (if factories are dismantled, jobs destroyed, people die and are sacrificed, cities crumble, etc.), that the god of violence will be appeased and the financial elite can continue their devastation of the human and natural worlds in an endless hyperloop outside time’s vectors. For those outside the loop this daemonic farce is the epitome of the ancient gnostic myth: financial capital as the ideal form of a Cosmic Crime, actively establishing suicide at the core of the sociopathic end game of Western Civilization.
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Jose Rosales - BERGSONIAN SCIENCE-FICTION: KODWO ESHUN, GILLES DELEUZE, & THINKING THE REALITY OF TIME
Obsolete Capitalism - THE STRONG OF THE FUTURE. NIETZSCHE’S ACCELERATIONIST FRAGMENT IN DELEUZE AND GUATTARI’S ANTI-OEDIPUS
Obsolete Capitalism - Acceleration, Revolution and Money in Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-OEdipus (Part 1)
Obsolete Capitalism - Acceleration, Revolution and Money in Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-OEdipus (Part 2)
Obsolete Capitalism: Acceleration, Revolution and Money in Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-OEdipus (Part 3)
Obsolete Capitalism - Acceleration, Revolution and Money in Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-OEdipus (Part 4)
Obsolete Capitalism: Acceleration, Revolution and Money in Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-OEdipus (Part 5)
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Steven Craig Hickman - The Carnival of Globalisation: Hyperstition, Surveillance, and the Empire of Reason
Steven Craig Hickman - Shaviro On The Neoliberal Strategy: Transgression and Accelerationist Aesthetics
Steven Craig Hickman - Hyperstition: Technorevisionism – Influencing, Modifying and Updating Reality
Terence Blake - CONCEPTS OUT OF THE SHADOWS: Notes on Deleuze and Guattari’s “What is Philosophy?” (2)
Terence Blake - GUATTARI’S LINES OF FLIGHT (2): transversal vs transferential approaches to the reading contract
Himanshu Damle - Games and Virtual Environments: Playing in the Dark. Could These be Havens for Criminal Networks?
Himanshu Damle - Hegelian Marxism of Lukács: Philosophy as Systematization of Ideology and Politics as Manipulation of Ideology.
Nick Land - The unconscious is not an aspirational unity but an operative swarm, a population of 'preindividual and prepersonal singularities'