Sean Hannan (University of Chicago): “A New Realist Philosophy of Time and its Augustinian or Post-Phenomenological Critique”


In recent years, certain philosophical circles have come to revolve around a shared interest in reviving the project of what they’d like to call realism, materialism, or ontology.  This movement is no monolith.  Conversations have grown up around the actor-network theory of Bruno Latour, the Badiou-inflected materialism of Quentin Meillasoux, and the Heidegger-influenced ontology of objects put forth by Graham Harman.  What ties these disparate threads of thought together is the goal of somehow moving past a state of intellectual gridlock, which has supposedly stalled the momentum of movements tracing their roots back to German Idealism and phenomenology.  The way to do this, according to many, is to take away the privilege accorded to the human subject in order to treat all ‘things’ as ontologically equal.

One of the liveliest voices in the field belongs to Tristan Garcia, a young French novelist and philosopher whose substantial work—Form and Object: a Treatise on Things (Edinburgh UP, 2014)—has just been translated into English.  Garcia’s take on things has, even more recently, turned towards time as a suitable topic for post-idealist or post-phenomenological speculation.  In his article “Another Order of Time: Towards a Variable Intensity of the Now” (Parrhesia 14 [2014], 1-13).  Garcia offers up a new theory of temporality that, in his estimation, will allow us to move beyond the inadequate theories once offered up by idealism, phenomenology, and even Anglo-American ‘analytics.’

Throughout the article, Augustine of Hippo appears as a foil.  In the account of temporality given in Book XI of Augustine’s Confessions, Garcia finds a precursor to the phenomenology of time as inaugurated by Edmund Husserl.  And yet, while Garcia’s approach to time comes off as fresh and thought-provoking, it’s not entirely clear that he’s adequately dealt with the questions posed both by Augustine and the phenomenological tradition.  Most specifically, he fails to appreciate the degree to which certain thinkers—Augustine not least among them—were willing to dethrone the ‘present’ from its privileged position at the center of temporality.  This paper, then, aims both to sketch out Garcia’s doctrine of time and to push back against it from the perspective of Augustine’s critique of the present.  It might turn out that the question of the now has less to do with intensity or intension than with what Augustine called ‘distension.’

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