More on Time

Part two of my commentary on Deleuze’s Kant seminars

In his second and third seminars on Kant, Deleuze explores what he calls  “the three great reversals that Kant operates on the notion of time.” These are; the unhinging of time from its subservience to movement; the shift from thinking space to thinking time; time as the limit to thought.

Time Unhinged
Time, in the classical sense, was understood as modal, taking its form from that which it  measured, i.e. the circular movement of the heavens, through which the stars are forever ordained to return to their ordered positions, meaning time was understood as circular and eternal. This was reflected in understandings of the structure of society as an inescapably ordered limitation, the disruption of which constituted an act of transgression, one which demanded an act of atonement to re-establish its equilibrium; a framework expressed in much Greek tragedy.

Time in the Kantian sense uncoils itself from this infinite circularity, to become an endless straight line, which measures nothing. No longer does it impose a limit, instead time is the limit, which we go towards but never reach. For Deleuze this constitutes the time of “modern consciousness in opposition to the consciousness of antiquity” (2, 5)*, the latter is predictable, limiting and destined, whereas the former is contingent, elusive, empty, lacking resolution and consolation. 

Time, the Limit to Thought
Deleuze goes on to consider the ramifications for thinking of understanding time as the limit. Here thinking is the understanding given in the concept which says what something is through the categories. In classical philosophy space was understood as the limit to thought, it was that which thinking could not go beyond. This found expression in Descartes’ understanding of the subject as the union of the soul as thinking substance, and the body as extended substance. Which leads Deleuze to call space in this instance the other of thinking, an exterior limitation to thought. 

With Kant the notion of space as the external limitation is replaced by what Deleuze calls the “very very strange idea” of time as the “interior limit to thought…as if there was in thought something impossible to think.” (2, 11). This moves away from the subject understood as the union of  two substances towards the subject as the synthesis of two forms, which are irreducible to each other. These are the form of spontaneity and the form of receptivity or intuition. Both of these are again doubled; the form of intuition contains the exteriority of space and the interiority of time. While the form of spontaniety contains the self of the “I think,” and the categories that I think.

I the Other of Thought
This then takes us into the third reversal, which asks how can the same subject have two forms; spontaneity and receptivity? “Which amounts to saying that for the same subject there is the form of spontaneity of thinking and the form of receptivity of time” (2, 13). These forms are completely hetergeneous, yet the subject needs both to come together in order to function. They are separated by the line of time, the interior limit of alienation, which is the duality of the two forms of receptivity and spontaneity. The subject therefore has two forms as given in the “I think,” which is a spontaneous act, which can only determine its existence as an “I” passive in space and time. “Thus I is transcendental.” From this Deleuze says the subject is split into two forms, the active form of thought, and the passive form of time. The form of time can therefore only “determine the existence of the subject as the existence of a passive being.”

Seminar 3
Deleuze expands on this in seminar three, through an account of Kant’s critique of’ “I am” as a thinking substance, res cogitans, which emerges from Descartes line of reasoning. “I think,” is a determination which implies that “I am,” that I exist, from which Descartes claims that therefore “I am a thing that thinks,” that is a substance that thinks. To draw the conclusion, from the “I think, I am,” that I am a substance that thinks, is denied by what appears, i.e. the phenomenon, which is no longer appearance but apparition. Therefore starting from “I am,” I must go to what I am, i.e. an apparition that appears in time, “I appear to myself in time,” (3, 8) i.e. as a passive being in time. The implication of this is summed up by Kant in The Critique of Pure Reason: “I cannot determine my existence as that of a spontaneous being, I can only represent the spontaneity of my act of thinking”. 

The subject is the “I think,” directed towards what appears, separated from the “I am” by the line of time, meaning that the “I am” is in time and as such is unthinkable, i.e. cannot be determined.

Time has become the limit of thought and thought never ceases to have to deal with its own limit. Thought is limited from the inside. There is no longer an extended substance which limits thinking substance from the outside, and which resists thinking substance, but the form of thought is traversed through and through, as if cracked like a plate, it is cracked by the line of time. It makes time the interior limit of thought itself, which is to say the unthinkable in thought. (Deleuze, 3, 8)

This analysis reveals an inherent tension between the forms of receptivity and spontaneity, inherent in the subject, which are heterogeneous as the conceptual determination of spontaneity and the spatio-temporal determination of receptivity. Yet they never cease to correspond to each other “in such a way that for each concept I can assign the spatio-temporal determinations which correspond to it, just as, the spatio-temporal determinations being given, I can make a concept correspond to them” (3, 9).

Index of my posts on Deleuze’s Kant Seminars
Part One: Synthesis and Time
Part Two: More on Time
Part Three: The Schema

Part Four: The Symbolic and the Sublime

All Deleuze Posts

*refers to my docs version of the seminars, first digit seminar number, second number/s page in doc