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  • The Nick of Time: Politics, Evolution, and the Untimely
  • Nickolas Pappas
Elizabeth Grosz . The Nick of Time: Politics, Evolution, and the Untimely. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004. 314 + viii pp.

The future was not where it should have been. Newtonian mechanism encouraged fantasies of time's movement "forward" to Utopia, nature as indirect as Rube Goldberg's apparatuses, but also just as inexorable, and just as surely rigged to gratify human wishes. Now that historical processes no longer inspire such faith, political activism needs new ontological underpinnings (2–3). Conservatives may project the recent past simplistically ahead, while fundamentalists yearn to tear past and present down like two giant Buddha statues in the Afghan desert (257). But if some new future remains the object of one's hopes, asks Elizabeth Grosz, and yet is not guaranteed to come, then how does the activist go about producing it?

Whatever the new foundation is, it ought to serve a "politics of the oppressed" (119), carried out by "feminists, antiracists, and political activists of all kinds" (186). The prolegomenon to future politics should illuminate (1) "how we conceptualize the future and engender it through political and social action" (242), and (2) what the human body must be like, to exist in the stream of time as it does and engage in future-directed action (3).

Fortunately the elements of a reinterpretation of timekeeping already exist. Darwin, Nietzsche, and Bergson are invaluable by virtue of being evolutionary theorists, staked to the belief that nature, politics, sociality, and culture change over time. They can be guides to understanding the embodied human, the time the human occupies, and the means by which humans today can navigate through and beyond the present moment.

As a reader, Grosz takes her cue from those short early books of Deleuze's that expand an author's thoughts as they elucidate them, until the trains of thought inspired by a system travel beyond its boundaries, and it is hard to pinpoint where the interpreter takes established ideas into new territory. Grosz presents but also modernizes Darwin, Nietzsche, and Bergson, so that they inform political activism not quite despite themselves but regardless of their wishes.

Most generally, Grosz appeals to the three to counter the subjectivization of time (244) and the treatment of past time as a version of the present (159, 182–83). Darwin, Nietzsche, and Bergson all incorporate robust ideas of duration into their evolutionary theories. Time does not function passively as an analogue to space. Nor does the past determine how the present will unfold. In further agreement, the three find old sciences inadequate to an account of the body precisely because those sciences hold to an old idea of time.

Darwin, for example, steers inquiry away from closed Newtonian systems (32–39). Darwinian time generates differences that had not existed before (44–46). Any politics dedicated to affirming human difference (243) will want to heed both the inherent fecundity of Darwinian time and the experiments-in-living that it gives birth to, because Darwin's image of proliferating phenotypic variation shows what the future might be if it is not a projection of the present into the time ahead.

The major difference under consideration is sexual difference. On this topic Darwin is particularly helpful, if he is read with emphasis on sexual selection instead of a blinkered focus on fitness and survival (64–84).

Nietzsche seconds Darwin's proposal of an open future with his doctrine of the eternal return (141–48), though this is a version of the doctrine that lacks its usual reiterative necessity. Nietzsche cannot expect old sequences to recur in causal lockstep (146). So this time anything can happen; in the long run everything will. Not only does the actual present comes back, but so too does "every other combination and possibility" (145). [End Page 69]

Of the three, Bergson contributes the most to theorizing about time. His speculative neuroscience (168) permits the future to stand apart from the past (157, 170). And while Bergson does not deny sciencem he does not let it carry the day (190–93). Besides animal instinct and the scientific intelligence, he recognizes a cognitive...


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