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  • The Openness of an Immanent Temporality
  • David Pagano
E. A. Grosz, ed. Becomings: Explorations of Time, Memory, and Futures. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1999.

Elizabeth Grosz is one of our most able theoretical writers, combining clarity of articulation with originality, perspicacity, and sophistication of thought. Those who follow the sometimes mind-wrenching discourse on time and temporality should be pleased that she has lent her acumen to the topic. Having focused primarily on the question of space in her 1995 Space, Time, and Perversion, she turns her full attention to time in her 1999 collection, Becomings: Explorations in Time, Memory, and Futures. Happily, her skills as editor in the recent volume prove equal to her skills as a writer and thinker in general. She has put together a fascinating and insightful collection of essays, written in a style largely as lucid as Grosz’s own, and constituting an important contribution to current thinking about the philosophy and cultural experience of time. Each of the essays pursues the question of becoming—the way in which our experience of time is an experience of perpetual opening toward an indeterminate and indeterminable future, toward change, surprise, the event, the unpredictable, the incalculable, and the new. As Grosz puts it in the fine essay that opens the collection, “Thinking the New: Of Futures Yet Unthought,” she means to explore “the ‘nature’ of time, the precedence of the future over the present and past, and the strange vectors of becoming that a concept of the new provokes” (15). Or again: “This is what time is if it is anything at all: not simply mechanical repetition, the causal ripple of objects on others, but the indeterminate, the unfolding, and the continual eruption of the new” (28). It is vital that we think time in these terms today. As was already clear in Fredric Jameson’s well-known 1984 assessment of postmodernity as “dominated by the categories of space rather than by the categories of time” (Jameson 16), and as has been further suggested by such rhetoric of totalization as that surrounding the Human Genome Project or the establishing of a “global village,” we live in a time when the possibility of the surprising or of the wholly other seems less and less tenable. As Grosz and her writers are well aware, it is not a question of denying the accretion of knowledge or the fact of our increasing interconnectedness (still less of depending on the touch of an angel to provide the culture a renewed sense of the Beyond), but of rejecting System in favor of a materially and discursively situated immanence that nevertheless allows for the unfolding of alterity.

The essays deal with a variety of different topics and thinkers, but Gilles Deleuze and Henri Bergson are the foundations here, along with some of Deleuze’s actual or virtual interlocutors: Friedrich Nietzsche, Jacques Derrida, Pierre Klossowski, and, especially, Michel Foucault (Grosz herself had dealt with Deleuze’s version of becoming in “Architecture from the Outside” in Space, Time, and Perversion, and “Intensities and Flows” in Volatile Bodies). There is, of course, a danger in such an interdisciplinary collection. Demarcated by an abstraction such as “becoming” and embracing topics as varied as the post-human “techno-body,” the postcolonial nation, the nature of the human glance, the Peruvian Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, and French literary pornography, the volume risks being vaguely compelling to many but fully interesting to no one. To what humanistic or post-humanistic endeavor could the idea of becoming not be applied? Yet this danger becomes a virtue in Becomings, for the question of the future is also the question of interdisciplinarity and hybridity in general: how does one maintain an openness to alterity or novelty without sacrificing the intelligibility that comes with boundaries, context, discipline, familiarity, and a shared language? How does one move ahead without that move having been forecast in advance by the rules of the game? In part, one listens to many voices and experiences many degrees of unfamiliarity. Following Bergson, several of the essays explore the ways in which durée can be seen as both unified and fragmented, both forming context and allowing difference. It is in this...

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