- Book Reviews
Elizabeth Grosz has recently published two new books: The Nick of Time: Politics, Evolution, and the Untimely, and Time Travels: Feminism, Nature, Power. The first is an exploration of "the space between the natural and the cultural, the space in which the biological blurs into and induces the cultural through its own self-variation" (2005a, 1). The second is a series of essays exploring how "reconsidering our concepts of time might result in new concepts of nature, culture, subjectivity, and politics" (2005b, 1). Both books argue for a concept of time shaped by the critique of the metaphysics of presence, a concept of time that is not given over to the privilege of the present, but points to the future, to a probabilistic but still indeterminate yet-to-come that nevertheless may have the power to transform human and nonhuman life in the direction of those yet unknown futures.
The Nick of Time is a timely contribution to the history of philosophy. Making the point that "philosophy and theory in general" do not address Darwinism, Grosz performs the considerable service of addressing that failure (2005a, 19). What will interest philosophers is her claim that Charles Darwin produced a postmodern account of origin; that each origin is a function of language; that it depends on what we call a species; and that what we call a species refers to an arbitrarily chosen set of similarities that render differences marginal or insignificant. As such, Grosz argues, differences form continua whose divisions are arbitrary, differences of degree rather than differences of kind (2005a, 25). To begin with, to the extent that similarities comprising species are formed out of continuous trajectories (continua) of differentiating differences, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that species may be defined not so much by differences of degree as by differential relations. This formulation makes it easier to move away from the concept of evolution by descent and filiation and to define the animal by transversal communications between heterogeneous populations (Deleuze 48–49, 328–29). Nevertheless, Grosz's point is that analysis of species, like that of natural languages, relies on genealogy, temporal processes capable of retrospective not prospective analyses whose principles are individual variation, [End Page 212] reproductive proliferation of individuals and species, and natural selection. The implication here is that insofar as such systems cannot be predicted, they are creatively organizing themselves in myriad ways. However, contrary to Grosz's thesis, the apparent similarity of evolution to deconstruction may not produce the desired result, that is, the randomness or contingency of evolution (or any other process in the universe) is subject to numerous limitations. The reasons for this are complex.
The dynamism, growth, and transformability of living systems are said to arise as a function of abundant variation; the indefinite, serial, or recursive replication or reproduction and long-term magnification or elaboration of variation; and the selection of fitness among competing individuals, varieties, and species (2005a, 32). Into this postmodern picture of undecidability intrudes a disturbing mechanism, something completely independent of the names humans give to species. Darwin himself relied on the framework provided by the Newtonian universe, an undeconstructed metaphysics formulated by the classical laws of motion, a closed, atomistic system governed by discoverable laws. But insofar as the system was taken to be closed, with no new flows of matter or energy, it was eventually predicted to lead to an "economic heat death," entropically unwinding like the universe itself (2005a, 34). It was in this context that Thomas Malthus theorized exponential increases in populations while natural resources develop at a linear rate leading to competition and life-and-death struggles for resources. To the extent that this does not occur, that instead life evolves and, at least apparently, proliferates, at least two other factors have to be taken into consideration.
First, there is the possibility that the universe in general is not a closed system at all, that it may not simply dissipate into a uniform temperature or cosmic wasteland, but that...