Time & History

Marx’s conception of history has an altogether different context.  For him history is not something into which man falls, something that merely expresses the being-in-time of the human mind, it is man’s original dimension as Gattungswesen (species-being), as being capable of generation — that is to say, capable of producing himself from the start not merely as an individual, nor as an abstract generalization, but as a universal individual.  History, therefore, is determined not, as it is in Hegel and the historicism which derives from him, by an experience of linear time as negation of negation, but by praxis, concrete activity as essence and origin [Gattung] of man.  Praxis, in which man posits himself as origin and nature of man, is at once ‘the first historical act’, the founding act of history, to be understood as the means by which the human essence becomes man’s nature and nature becomes man.  History is no longer, as in Hegel, man’s destiny of alienation and his necessary fall within the negative time which he inhabits in an infinite process, but rather his nature, in other words, man’s original belonging to himself as Gattungswesen, from which alienation has temporarily removed him.  Man is not a historical being because he falls into time, but precisely the opposite; it is only because he is a historical being that he can fall into time, temporalizing himself.

Marx did not elaborate a theory of time adequate to his idea of history, but the latter clearly cannot be reconciled with the Aristotelian and Hegelian concept of time as a continuous and infinite succession of precise instants.  So long as this nullified experience of time remains our horizon, it is not possible to attain authentic history, for truth will always vie with the process as a whole, and man will never be able concretely, practically, to appropriate his own history.  The fundamental contradiction of modern man is precisely that he does not yet have an experience of time adequate to his idea of history, and is therefore painfully split between his being-in-time as an elusive flow of instants and his being-in-history, understood as the original dimension of man. (108-109)

Giorgio Agamben | Infancy and History: On the Destruction of Experience


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