Repetition of the Demiurge: Time & Difference in Deleuze and Dugin

Screenshot from 2020-01-16 18-10-39

A delicious bit from Hartmut Rosa’s Social Acceleration (which inevitability comes to overlap with discussion of his notion of the ‘frenetic standstill’ that I wrote about in my last post, particularly in respect to the kind of retro-historical remixing that characterizes contemporary ‘chronosickness’):

While history took on the character of a directed and politically shapable movement in classical modernity, in late modernity the perception of a directionless historical transformation that can no longer be politically steered or controlled becomes more and more prevalent. Politics forfeits its directional index, and the concepts “progressive” and “conservative” lose or switch their meanings: progressive politics no longer has any accelerating function and its insistence on the political possibility of controlling social development makes it rather a late modern decelerator. As I concluded from an analysis of its temporal structures, the political project of modernity has perhaps come to its end as a result of the desynchronization of socioeconomic development and political action. Under the pressure of an ongoing contraction of the present, late modern politics becomes situational. It reacts to emerging problems without being able to maintain its claim to shape history and society.

The resulting perception of an “end of history” only reflects the end of the history of classical modernity that was centered on, directed toward, and temporalized by the idea of progress. It marks the transition to a condition in which the historical forms previously thought of as noncontemporaneous once again become timelessly contemporaneous alternatives (monarchy, democracy, state formation, state disintegration, colonization, decolonization, constitutional state, welfare state, etc., no longer designate specific historical stages of development).

Rosa’s description here, of the eruption of non-contemporary forms into the contemporary moment in a way that no longer appears as a contradiction or tension, recalls the description of capitalism’s retrochronic functions offered by Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus: “Capitalism institutes or restores all sorts of residual and artificial, imaginary, or symbolic territorialities… Everything returns or recurs: States, nations, families. This is what makes the ideology of capitalism ‘a motley painting of everything that has ever been believed'”. But whereas for Deleuze and Guattari this is something immanent to the whole of the capitalist system—an expression of the necessary reterritorialization to compensate for ongoing dissolution—what Rosa offers is a vivid picture of a particular phase (or perhaps non-phase) of the overarching pattern of historical development. It’s when the shape of history becomes lost, clouded by the haze of non-historical vapors.

Vince Garton describes this as a ‘time crash’, where development seems to smash against an unwavering wall, forcing all previous forms into a pile of rubble. It’s exactly what gives rise to William’s chronosickness, and, as Garton has pointed out, it becomes the frame for a host of political strategies that understand this condition as both ground and tool (I have an essay for a forthcoming issue of Sum, dedicated to the topic of the Neue Slowenische Kunst, that explores something very similar). This seems also to pertain to ‘metapolitics’, a phenomenon that Cockydooody and myself have discussed quite a bit lately. In the hands of loose networks like the European New Right, metapolitics refers to the take-up of a bundle of strategies inspired by Gramsci’s ‘war of position’ and cultural of hegemony, distilled to the formula that ‘politics is downstream from culture’. What makes metapolitics (a topic I hope to explore further in future posts) particularly interesting, however, is that its utilization by these sectors of the right put it into a paradoxical position. On the one hand, there’s the bid to reestablish traditional societies and forms of social life as a reversal of the processes of modernization—and on the other there’s a willful embrace of the postmodern position, in terms of not only of the ‘cultural turn’, but in the fostering of imaginary coordinates that resemble vaporous non-history more than they do historical reality.

Nowhere does this become clearer than in the work of Aleksander Dugin, whose political program envisions a multipolar globe consisting of a myriad of distinct communities organized around a particular logos and dasein unique to their respective ethnic and cultural developmental modes. It’s traditionalism as a grand narrative, yet at the same time, it’s situated firmly within the postmodern paradigm. To quote from Dugin’s address at the first conference of the Eurasian International Movement:

I would like to talk about the very historical moment we live in. Today is era of postmodern. This means that times of modernity gone away. All that compiled the substance of the Age of Enlightenment – social, cultural, ideological, political, scientific and economic models became completely exhausted. We are witnesses of new era – era of postmodernism that cannot be stopped by any means.

Era of postmodern is era of globalization, ultra liberalization and domination of unipolar world, net style of life, canceling traditional forms of identity – national states, confessions, ethnic groups and even family and gender. “Open society” comes instead of government, religious extremism and indifference instead of traditional confessions, individuals instead of nations, clones and transgenic cyborgs instead of common people. Postmodernism destroys modernism in every aspect…

Eurasian philosophy presents unique understanding of present situation much earlier than other doctrines, claims that we must invest our energy into new project challenging postmodernism along with simply opposing it. In other words we must place Eurasian substance into shape of postmodernism. This is fight for eternity…

I repeat – eurasionism is postmodernism, but with radically different inner substance We accept the challenge of globalization, admit that we all need new rules to play the game. We are not fighting for the past nor in politics, culture, economics, but propose original and self-sufficient scenario for the future.

There’s a metaphysical ensemble, one that brings together history, time, space, and geopolitics, that underpins Dugin’s understanding of these movements and grounds his critique of modernity. Importantly, there is a significant similarity between this ensemble and the last great modernist elaboration of temporality—that offered by Deleuze, most specifically in his book Difference and Repetition. But whereas the model in D&R is a celebration of the New, of primal flux and transformation, Dugin takes an inverted position, one that shores up the fixed centers that Deleuze’s philosophy strives to displace.

Some words have to be said about Deleuze’s modernist temporality, which emerged first in his ‘book on his enemy’: Kant’s Critical Philosophy. In the preface of this work, published in 1963, Deleuze laid out “four poetic formulas” that for him summarize the key points of Kant’s philosophy. The first of these is the most pertinent here, and is lifted from Hamlet: “time is out of joint”. It’s a phrase that will return time and again in the pages of D&R, serving as the fundamental proposition for modern time. Time moving out of joint is the indicator of a profound shift, where “We move from one labyrinth to another. The labyrinth is no longer a circle… but a thread, a straight line”. In Kant’s Critical Philosophy, this time is described as “unhinged”, and in D&R it is one that is “demented”; in the case of each, it’s the replacement of time understood according to the Latin term cardo by one that is ordinal. In ancient Rome, cardo was used in city planning to describe the north-south axis in the design of streets, and is echoed in our ‘cardinal directions’: north, south, east, and west. What’s key in this depiction is the relationship to a fixed center, with then provides essential orientation through which movement can be understood. Ordinal, on the other hand, relates to something’s position in a series: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. The relationship between these figures and time is precisely that between cyclicity and linearity, the circle and the straight line.

This focus on linearity, however, is deceptive. Deleuze writes that

Time is no longer defined by succession because succession concerns only things and movements which are in time. If time itself were succession, it would need to succeed in another time, and on to infinity… It is no longer a question of defining time by succession, nor space by simultaneity, nor permanence by eternity. Permanence, succession, and simultaneity are modes and relationships of time.

In D&R, this time takes the form of “empty time”. This means that is time is related to ordinality, it isn’t because time itself is marked by the successive moments of the series, but that the ability to mark successive is something that occurs as interior to time itself. Prior to this, time was movement produced by great cyclical forces that pointed towards the eternal: the slow arc of planets, the interchange of the seasons, so on and so forth. A movement from this to the empty form of time is bound up to an immense historical transformation, nothing less than the shift from the pre-modern and the modern itself, which is of course the emergence of capitalism as a mode of production distinct form earlier social organizations. Deleuze himself highlights this:

Kant’s historical situation allowed him to grasp the implications of this reversal. Time is no longer the cosmic time of an original celestial movement, nor is it the rural time of derived meteorological movements. It has become the time of the city and nothing other, the pure order of time.

Jacques Le Goff’s Time, Work and Culture in the Middle Ages sheds a little more light on this dynamic. As Le Goff notes, the organization of time by the clock began in urban centers and monasteries in the Middle Ages, but in the late Middle Ages the large-scale discipline of time didn’t emerge as a constitutive social force until the rise of merchant capitalism:

More for reasons of practical necessity than because of the underlying theology, the concrete time of the Church, as adapted from antiquity, was the time of the clerics, given its characteristic rhythm by the religious offices and the bells which announced them. This time was determined, as required, by imprecise and variable sundials or, on occasion, measured by crude water clocks. Merchants and artisans began replacing this Church time with a more accurately measured time useful for profane and secular tasks, clock time. The clocks which, everywhere, were erected opposite church bell towers, represent the great revolution of the communal movement in the time domain. Urban time was more complex and refined than the simple time of the countryside measured by “rustic bells,” for which John of Garland, at the beginning of the thirteenth century, gave this fantastic but revealing etymology: “Campane dicuntur a rusticis qui habitant in campo, qui nesciant judicare horas nisi per campanas.

“Although the merchant’s time was measurable, and even mechanized”, Le Goff continues, “it was nevertheless also discontinuous, punctuated by halts and periods of inactivity, subject to quickenings and slowings of its pace”. Taking this as a leaping-off point, Moishe Postone advances the thesis that while the clock is related to capitalism’s emptied, quantifiable time broken into distinct units of measure, the universalization of clock-time was also dependent on the consolidation and stabilization of industrial capitalism against the ‘residue’ of pre-capitalist life and organization. The two, then, co-developed: “Although abstract time arose socially in the late Middle Ages, it did not become generalized until much later”, with “‘progress’ of abstract time as a dominant form of time” being fundamentally bound to “to the ‘progress’ of capitalism as a form of life”.

This is what made possible Kant’s ‘reversal’ that Deleuze subsequently took up. Time became abstracted from cyclical movement, but the marking of this abstract time in successive units constituted the spatialization of time. This very spatialization, however, could only be glimpsed as interiority, implying by default the external empty form of time. The reversal, distilled to its core, is that time now dominated space, whereas prior space dominated time.

Le Goff writes how the pre-capitalist epoch of ‘Church time’ inherited the model of time from the early Christians, for whom eternity was the “extension of time to infinity”, which ran into a host of ambiguities and tensions with respect to the historical telos (time would end) and the more Platonic understanding of time as something subjected to God’s will. For Deleuze, it’s not so much the historical tumult of time in the Middle Ages that interests him as it is Plato’s model of time and eternity, for it is here that he discovers the domination of time by space in its purest, most transcendent form. The circle of time that Kant displaces is precisely the product of the “arc of the demiurge”, an account that, as Amy Ireland points out, traces back to Plato’s Timaeus. The cosmos is the ‘imperfect copy’ of the eternal, form imposed by the demiurge on the seething primordial chaos—the movement that arises from this act being time itself.

Since the model was an ever-living being, [the demiurge] undertook to make this universe of ours the same as well, or as similar as it could be. But the being that served as the model was eternal, and it was impossible for him to make this altogether an attribute of any created object. Nevertheless, he determined to make it a kind of moving likeness of eternity, and so in the very act of ordering the universe he created a likeness of eternity, a likeness that progresses eternally through the sequence of numbers, while eternity abides in oneness.

Hence the ordo or hinge as the figures that Deleuze finds to understand this pre-Kantian time: time as movement, swinging in great arcs around the fixed space of the One, as an ever-present repetition of the same as the law governing all things. Iterations through time rhyme. But with the Kantian shift, the Nietzschean death of God arrives on the scene—or, as Ireland calls it, the “effacement of the demiurge”. Escalating time’s empty form to exteriority unmoors the status of the demiurge, and with it, the duality of the cosmos and the One. Time no longer rhymes, and as a consequence, both the metaphysical ground for value systems and the repetition of the same collapse into ungroundedness. A repetition persists, but it’s the eternal return of difference-in-itself: “the eternal return is revealed as the groundless ‘law’ of this system. The eternal return does not cause the same or the similar to return, but is itself derived from a world of pure difference… Moreover, repetition in the eternal return implies the destruction of all forms which hinder its operation, all the categories of representation incarnated in the primacy of the Same, the One, the Identical and the Like”.



The launching pad for Dugin’s geopolitical metaphysics is the schema first drawn up by the ‘father of geopolitics’, geographer Sir Halford John Mackinder. It was outlined first in his 1904 article “The Geographical Pivot of History”, where he argued that “it was under the pressure of external barbarism that Europe achieved her civilization”. The source of this ‘barbarism’ was “Asiatic invasion”, with which Europe engaged in a protracted and ongoing “secular struggle”.

For this reason, Mackinder asked his colleagues to “look upon Europe and European history as subordinate to Asia”, a broadening of what strategists had already described as the “Great Game”. The Great Game was the power struggle between the British and Russian empires over the control of regions of the Middle East, Central and South Asia. It was in this particular context that Mackinder’s geopolitical strategy was drafted, and in time he would develop a series of terms to describe particular geographical regions. Europe, Asia and Africa constituted the spheres of the “World-Island”, the center of which was the “Heartland”. This belonged largely the Russian Empire, with the conflict of the Great Game taking place over the “Inner or Marginal Crescent”, or what Nicholas John Spykman would latter dub the “Rimland”. While Spykman would see control of the Rimland as the essential region to control for global superiority (as evidenced by Cold War-era ‘containment’ strategies), Mackinder saw influence over the Heartland itself as the supreme geopolitical control, with the Eastern European zones of the Rimland being the critical site. As he formulated in his 1919 work Democratic Ideals and Reality: “Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; who rules the World-Island commands the world”. From the point of view of British interests, which Mackinder represented, this clash of civilizations was refracted through two different forms of power, based upon their geographical position on the globe: sea-power and land-power.

Dugin’s metaphysical extrapolations from Mackinder’s models are outlined in numerous places, but the clearest explanation comes in his recent lectures in Beijing on the Belt and Road Initiative (posted above & highly recommended!). The polarity between sea-power and land-power becomes translated in that between ‘Atlanticism’ and ‘Eurasianism’. The former, as embodied by the UK and later the US, perpetuates the liberal ideology; it advances the capitalist mode of production across the globe, giving rise to processes of globalization which now sweep across the World-Island. The latter, meanwhile, is a zone of tradition and stability, with a historical mission that is counterposed to the sort of dissolution that Atlanticism unleashes upon the world. The split, then, is not only one between geographical and political blocs: it’s a conflict between modernity and that which stands outside it, which appear to the moderns as pre-modern—or, perhaps, postmodern—forms of life.

On the one hand, this conflict between land-power and sea-power, Eurasianism and Atlanticism, is also the great fight that Hobbes foresaw between the Biblical monstrosities between Behemoth and Leviathan. While this might seem like a surprising turn, given that Behemoth is commonly read as a description of rebellion, chaos and revlolution in contrast to Leviathan as the symbol of authority and order, it is likely that Dugin’s reading spirals out from that of Carl Schmitt, who underscored the linkages between religiously-motivated civil wars that braced Britain in the 1600s. Here, underneath the wild turbulence of insurrection we might glimpse the defense of a life organized around the dictates of religious belief, contrasted with Leviathan, whose authority now appears as a distinctly modern form of statecraft. Indeed, Dugin suggests that “In modern geopolitics, Leviathan and Behemoth means sea power and land power correspondingly. The Leviathan is Atlantism, the West, America, the Anglo-Saxon world, and market ideology. The Behemoth is the Eurasian, continental structure, and is associated with Russia, hierarchy and tradition”.

On the other hand—and this is made clear in the Beijing lecture—it is also a conflict between two principles: that of time and space. Time, Dugin argues, is diachronic, evolutionary, and ever-changing, while space is synchronic (Deleuze and Guattari: “the despotic machine is synchronic while the capitalist machine is diachronic”). When Mackinder said that the Eurasian Heartland was the ‘pivot’ of world-history, this logic must be taken to its ultimate conclusion. A pivot is unchanging, unmoving, fixed, the axis mundi. Atlanticist diachrony, which is opposed to the essential nature of this firm space, lacks the center point. It knows nothing of tradition and order, and everything of progress and chaos.

It’s not hard to see how this picture forms the inverse mirror image of Deleuze’s time-philosophy as introduced in Kant’s Critical Philosophy and elaborated upon in Difference and Repetition. In the Beijing lecture, Dugin describes the movement of time subordinated to space as one that moves in a circle around the center, bringing to mind the Platonic circularity that for Deleuze grounds pre-modern time. Likewise, the Atlanticist time that is unfixed from the center to move freely, putting into motion everlasting change and uncertainty, corresponds directly to the modern Kantian time, with the unity of Atlanticism and the capitalist mode of production with slotting nicely alongside this form of time’s emergence in the context of the early phases of industrial capitalism. In a similar vein, Eurasianist currents tend to draw upon an Apollonian template (Guintovt: “Apollo is with us”), and for Dugin the “Apollonian Logos” is the idealized form to which the Platonists are striving. In modernity, he continues, “Platonism and its echoes, i.e., the remnants of the army of the gods, the partisans of Olympus, go underground, into the realm of peripheral mysticism, of ‘secret societies’, ‘Conservative Revolutionaries’, and ‘conspirators conspiring to restore the Golden Age'”. Deleuze offers yet another inverse in the pages of D&R: “it is a question of causing a little of Dionysus’s blood to flow in the organic veins of Apollo”.

It’s interesting that Dugin’s most pronounced engagements with Deleuze is the works co-authored with Guattari, namely A Thousand Plateaus. While I read D&R as a profoundly modernist work perched on the edge of postmodernism, Dugin views ATP as something squarely within the postmodern paradigm. To quote from Fourth Political Theory:

Postmodernism and poststructuralism define the horizon of virtuality in surface. This stratification and merger of subject-objective, consciousness/corporeality on the surface is a screen, a skin, an epidermic coat, a glass of a showcase, a glossy magazine cover, a television set, a sensor, an Ipad. Here transgression implements at the cost of vertical axis loss. The sense of rhizome is in its absolute horizontality (as modernity before insisted on strict horizontality of subject-object topics).

Elsewhere in the same work, he takes up ATP’s figure of the nomad as a kind of ‘negative chaos’, in contrast to the primordial chaos envisioned by the Greeks. The nomads, for Dugin, are a confused ‘swarm’ of exclusive elements that co-exist with one another, struggling to defy the logic of integration. It’s telling, then, that Deleuze and Guattari align the nomad with the smooth space, which is linked to the ocean and to the project of globalization—”at the complementary and dominant level of integrated (or rather integrating) world capitalism, a new smooth space is produced in which capital reaches its ‘absolute’ speed, based on machinic components rather than the human component of labor”—bringing forth, perhaps, the specter of Atlanticism.

Yet it’s precisely the function of co-existence that seems for Dugin to be an opening with the negative chaos of postmodernism to an alternative postmodernism, a positive globalization that is re-anchored to the axis mundi and the unique dasein that he sees as existing for each culture. Hence Dugin’s claims to be embracing forms of multiculturalism and diversity, the two hallmarks of late liberal politics in the era of postmodernism. From the Eurasianist position, this multiculturalism and commitment to diversity can only be a false shell masking the widening, assimilative agenda built into the core of Atlanticism’s oceanic gyre. As Michael Millerman summarizes, “[Dugin] says we have to have a real difference, a real diversity, which is multicivilizational. So you have to include the diversity of non-Western societies in your understanding of diversity”.

Deleuze’s celebration of difference has often been linked to the sort of Western liberal multicultural discourse, being a kind of mirror held up to the affirmation of difference that capitalism has come to adorn itself with. This, however, is more of a rereading of Deleuze from the vantage point of postmodernism, a Deleuze who is preemptively postmodern—and it largely fails insofar as it doesn’t take into accounts the relationships between difference-in-itself, the modern time-function he crafts, and the ungroundedness it puts into play. At the same time, Deleuze seems to have recognize the threat of this position blowing back onto his delirious and baroque work, precisely because of his (unsuccessful) attempt to ward off the dialectical negative by relegating it to the secondary position. In this move, Deleuze takes the elements both creative and destructive classically seen as being within the domain of the negative and assimilates them into the affirmative. The gambit is to break the link between difference-in-itself and the uncritical celebration of difference:

There are certainly many dangers in invoking pure differences which have become independent of the negative and liberated from the identical. The greatest danger is that of lapsing into the representations of a beautiful soul: there are only reconcilable and federative differences, far removed from bloody struggles. The beautiful soul says: we are different, but not opposed… . The notion of a problem, which we see linked to that of difference, also seems to nurture the sentiments of the beautiful soul: only problems and questions matter… . Nevertheless, we believe that when these problems attain their proper degree of positivity, and when difference becomes the object of a corresponding affirmation, they release a power of aggression and selection which destroys the beautiful soul by depriving it of its very identity and breaking its good will. The problematic and the differential determine struggles or destructions in relation to which those of the negative are only appearances, and the wishes of the beautiful soul are so many mystifications trapped in appearances. The simulacrum is not just a copy, but that which overturns all copies by also overturning the models: every thought becomes an aggression.

This might seem to lend itself to Dugin’s notion of ‘real difference’, as opposed to a peaceful, federative difference of the liberal variety. But against Dugin’s difference, Deleuze’s form remains starker, more abstract and more committed to dissolution. There isn’t room for a real difference based upon logos in Deleuze, for “Grounding is the operation of the logos”, and the ungrounded is treated as primary to ground, the absolutely undetermined primary the determined. As philosophical expression of the modernist ideology, it stands opposed to both the negative postmodernism of globalized Atlanticism and the positive postmodernism of Eurasianism. In that sense, it’s nothing more than a curious relic—but what it expresses remains something that haunts the world as another piece in the rubble of non-history, and for that reason it persists as an unnamed enemy.

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