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  • On Radical Atheism, Chronolibidinal Reading, and Impossible Desires
  • William Egginton (bio)

When it came to my attention that my daughter would eventually be one of her generation's great philosophers, she was five years old. She still is, in fact, as this was only a few weeks ago. We were discussing my granting her permission to leave the table without having finished eating, and she lamented that if I didn't relent she would "never get up from the table and never be able to watch television." When I answered, a bit thoughtlessly, that "never is a very long time," she promptly responded, "No, papa, never is not a long time. It's the opposite of time."

If I'm honest with myself, I probably have to admit that I didn't come to that insight until I was in my thirties and met that remarkable student-who-was never-really-a-student, Martin Hägglund. It is thus a great pleasure to take up the charge of critically engaging with Martin's ideas, a fruitful exercise that has repeatedly commanded my attention since the day he showed up in my seminar room some six or seven years ago. [End Page 191]

A brief note on contrary styles might be in order. Martin is a consummate polemicist. Nothing gives him more pleasure, or provides more to the philosophical reader, than to slice and dice an unwitting opponent's arguments with the unyielding edge of his own private Occam's razor. I, on the contrary, being of a sedentary and kindly nature, tend to notice all the sundry ways my erstwhile opponents are in fact making the same point I am and thus need only to be slightly nudged to see it as well. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we integrationists drive polemicists batty. For who can find it even passingly tolerable to engage in hard-fought critique of a colleague's core assumptions, only to have that colleague lift his head after a seeming eternity of listening and furiously scribbling notes to say, as legend has it Slavoj Žižek once did to one very earnest proponent of postcolonial theory here at Cornell: "I totally agree!"

As you will see, then, in much of what follows, it will seem that I am cozying up to Martin's position even as he wards offmy advances with his deadly razor. Thankfully, actual and identifiable differences do emerge, to which, aided by years of debating these with him in person and on paper, I will draw our attention as rapidly as possible.

As our disagreements come into clearest contrast in the context of Martin's deconstructive critique of psychoanalysis, I'd like to begin my remarks by way of a response to his excellent "Chronolibidinal Reading" essay.

At the outset of that essay, Martin quotes Freud as saying, "Transience value is scarcity value in time. Limitation in the possibility of an enjoyment raises the value of the enjoyment" (Freud v. 14, 305; in Hägglund 2009, 2–3). He cites this passage to demonstrate that despite the theoretical failure Martin aims to demonstrate at the heart of psychoanalysis, Freud in fact has the conceptual tools at his disposal to think desire differently, and even intuits—although eventually eschewing—this correct interpretation. The false theory he ends up with is that fear of time stems "from a metaphysical desire to transcend time" (3); consequently, the correct theory that Freud intuits but ultimately rejects for this false theory is that it "is because one desires a temporal being (chronophilia) that one fears losing it (chronophobia). Chronophobia is thus intrinsic to chronophilia" (3). [End Page 192]

This last statement encapsulates the theory Martin now calls "chronolibido":

The theory of chronolibido proceeds from the premise that everything that can be desired is temporal in its essence. Even the most intense enjoyment is haunted by the imminence of death, but without such finitude there would be nothing to enjoy in the first place. The inherent finitude of life is not something that comes to inhibit desire but precipitates desire in the first place.


Incorrect theories of the relation between time and desire are theories that contradict this one, and psychoanalysis...