The politics of time

9. VI 2016

We live in an era of subverted time flow. In the post-modern culture of the instant, the most important technological discoveries, although addressing efficiency of transportation and production, have been really about efficient usage of time. With unconditional resentment of anything that resembles idle time, procrastination has become like waiting, a universally denigrated mode of passage of time. Culture waging a war against procrastination has no room for taking distance, reflection, continuity, tradition -that Wiederholung (recapitulation) that according to Heidegger was the modality of Being as we know it. Abandonment of denial of immediacy is a novelty in modern history. It underscores doubts about the arrival of the future. Later means mañana — the future is denied a chance. The moment of no waiting never arrives and Godot takes the central stage.

Subjective time

Understanding the world requires one to take a certain distance from it. Things that are too small to see with the naked eye, we magnify. Things that are too large, we reduce. We bring everything within the scope of our senses and we stabilize it. When all distances have been fixed, we call it knowledge. Throughout our adolescence we strive to attain the correct distance to objects and phenomena. We read, learn, experience and make adjustments. Then one day we reach the point where all the necessary distances have been set, all the necessary systems have been set in place. That is when time begins to pick up speed. It no longer meets any obstacles, everything is set, time races through our lives, the days pass by in a flash and before we know what is happening, we are 40,50, 60,… Meaning requires content, content requires time, thime requires resistance. Knowledge is distance, knowledge is stasis and the enemy is meaning*.

* From: K. O. Knausgard, My stragle: Book 1

Work time

 It is not capitalist exploitation what makes work alienating, but reduction of life to work.

Work is a paid activity performed on behalf of a third person, to achieve goals we have not chosen for ourselves, according to the procedures and schedules laid down by the persons paying our wages. Labor time is unfree time, imposed upon the individual (originally even by force) to the benefit of alien (tautological) end.

Since the first days of industrial age, the compromise according to which workers allocate some of their time to work in order to enjoy their free time is perfectly rational. Seen by the capital, on the other hand, free time is empty and useless time. Economic rationality demands that any constraint which presents an obstacle to capital accumulation be removed. The end result is austerity of free time – free time should be minimized or austerely rationed. As a result of rationality of both sides, the employer and the employee (capital and labor) stand in direct opposition to each other when it comes to time and this defines their basic antagonism whose unfolding is seeing a new chapter in the tech era.

 The most powerful technological forces have established a new normative model in the culture of the entrepreneurship of the self, which has become standard in the western world, where there is pressure to be constantly present and engaged. Not being switched on means falling behind, being out of step and thus losing a competitive edge.

 The antagonism between labor and free time exposes the intrinsic contradiction of rationality and its transformation path in industrial age. Rationality, when set free and unchecked, demands removal of any obstacle to profit maximization. The end result? Workers no longer behave rationally: Instead of working for living, they live to work – their work no longer serves to subsidize the enjoyment of their free time, but they use their free time to become more productive workers.


What will we wait for when we no longer need to wait to arrive? We wait for the coming of what abides. And what abides will be the unceasingly available instant that no longer has to be waited for (Paul Virilio).

Waiting has been the central idea of narrative from Homer to Hollywood, but has never been properly mapped. Waiting for Godot is the first play about waiting. H. Schweizer’s “On Waiting” is a modern analysis of the concept. Waiting is universally denigrated. It lacks the charm of boredom or desire. It is difficult to enjoy people for whom we have waited too long. Waiting is not simply a passage of time — waiting time must be endured rather than traversed. Time during waiting is slow and thick.

Money confuses time with itself — money culture recognizes no currency but its own. Waiting is assigned to the poor and powerless so as to ritualistically reinforce social and political demarcation.

Waiting always carries hierarchical overtones — long waiting lines are for the people with less dignity and self-pride, disenfranchised folks in general (e.g. long lines for visa applications, residency permits, asylum…).

Postmodernity is characterized by an ever accelerating contraction of duration. Blackberries and iPhones (general hyper-connectivity interfaces) deliver information without making us wait. (Our writing is facing an extinction of comma that once indicated a pause.) From the modern perspective, waiting means almost always never. The indignities of waiting in a culture of the instant are the discomfort of being out of sync with modernity and with the habit of velocity.


The central idea of modernity is procrastination. One procrastinates in order to be better prepared to grasp things that truly matter. Max Weber links this particular intent to delay (rather than haste and impatience) to such seminal modern innovations as accumulation of capital and the spread and entrenchment of the work ethic. The denial of immediacy and the principle of delay of gratification is what rendered the scene modern to begin with.

The desire for improvement gave the effort its traction and momentum; but the caveat ‘not yet’, ‘not just now’, directed that effort towards its unanticipated consequence, as growth, development, acceleration and, for that matter, modern society*.

The need to wait magnified the seductive powers of the prize. Far from degrading the gratification of desires, the precept to postpone it made it into the supreme purpose of life. Owing to its ambivalence, procrastination fed two opposite developments: work ethic (in the society of producers, the ethical principle of delayed gratification used to secure the durability of the work effort) and aesthetic of consumption (in the society of consumers, the same principle may be still needed in practice to secure the durability of desire).

* Z. Bauman, Liquid Modernity

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