Geography, Philosophy

Geography of time: a review

I would like to discuss the article In what way is the world really flat? Debates over geographies of the moment by Robert Dodgshon (Environment & Planning D 2008, vol. 26) The article discusses the notion of time as the addition of a fourth dimension to the three dimensions of space in relation to ‘geography’. This is of interest to us, I think, with regard to a previous post (Spheres / Networks) in which I tried to see space as the folding of time. It also relates to the notion of stabilisation and the duration of spheres/networks through time, that is: the way in which we interpret and understand change.

Dodgshon (D) starts by reviewing the philosophical discussion of the ‘specious present’, mainly by focusing on Deleuze. He remarks that, in reaction to Deleuzian understandings of all time as being experienced through each ‘now’, human geographers have shifted their attention to a conceptualisation of the present by ‘using’ space as an explanatory devise. D wants to approach the present as ‘lived time’ and pleads for the primacyof the present with regard to the way we use time as a concept. That is: in opposition to understandings of  time  as eternal or as durationless instants, D. sees the present as a lived moment, as a moment of consciousness, related to other times and to change and difference. Following human geographers, D. understand the ‘specious present’ as ‘culturally burdened with all our times since, in terms of our direct consciousness of time, we can never step outside it.  This means that all pasts and all futures are always imagined inside their present existence. Consequently the question arises how to relate the ‘specious present’ to these other times? How to fill the void of the present?
D. first considers the ‘phenomenological’ definition of time/the present as the notion that we live forward and think backwards (following Olsson). He more or less refines this by saying that others turn the present into a forward leaning moment filled by intentionality. D. then follows Deleuze in his critique of Bergsonian thought, by understand past and present ‘not as a part of a succession’ , that is to say that we can’t seperate the past, present or future; ‘all times come melded together. This means, according to D., that the present is the only moment through which we experience time directly; ‘all our access to all times – past and future as well as what is immediately at hand in the present itself – its necessarily channelled through it.‘ 

D. then, after this philosophical introduction, turns to so-called ‘geographies of the moment’ and wants to answer the question ‘how to fill the moment / the present of the now?’. He tries to do this by explicating the differences in the ways this has been done or is being done in geography. Rougly there are two ways: performative approaches and contingency approaches. The first one is clearly Deleuzian: it focuses mainly on social change as practics of everyday life by using Deleuze’s notion of the present as a synthesis of all times / the distinction between passive and active syntheses (that is: the difference between time as a method of situating and stabilizing and time as a floating line, a flux) / his emphasis on repetition and difference. Human geography has used these notions mainly because they focus on the concrete practices in which we constantly create the world by repetition and difference. In practice this means that the ‘specious present’ plays a large part in the production of space and place. An important extension of these ideas comes from human geography itself: it states that space shouldn’t be seen as representative and static, but that space must be seen as time, that is; ‘capable of becoming’ . This means that both space and time must be seen as relative and fully concerned with relationships and connections: they are both always reaching out for completion. Important for us is that space can be seen now as shaped by social relations and in this way provided with multiplicity: these practices and multiplicities find their ‘materialisation’ in space. We now see ‘the ceaseless becoming of the present as arising out of the ordinary or everyday.  Or, even more boldly: ‘all social or cultural knowledge – .. – has to be continually accessed via the present if it is to be sustained.’ 

This leads us to some very interesting acknowledgments. First of all space can now be seen as the incorporation of knowledge. D. remarks: ‘Whilst no one individual has understanding of anything orther than a very small segment of the total pool of knowledge available, nevertheless, when treated collectively, this pool constitutes a vast body of consciously derived collective knowledge that has to be routinely available or accessed via each moment if it is to be sustainted.  This could make it possible to see networks/spheres as stabilized knowledge molded into the present by ways of materialisation. This seems to be what I meant in my earlier post on the folding of time in space (now relating mainly to access): ‘[w]e begin with a present in which past present, present present and future present are compounded together and in which what is past present is, arguably, the predominant input. The studying of this access would be possible in terms of localisation of the present. Through the activity of actors and their work of stabilisation knowledge is kept into being. As a concluding remark we could say, with Deleuze and just like D., that we should study the present to understand change, for it contains all time, what we should understand, however, is how we understand the present, how we gain access to it and how we extend it.

Dodgshon, Robert (2008) ‘In what way is the world really flat? Debates over geographies of the moment’ in Environment and Planning D, vol. 26, pages 300 – 314

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