Remembering a famous statement by Augustine, we might agree that is not easy to speak about what time is. But it is easy to speak about the fact that there is no time. One of the characteristic traits of the new quotidian of recent years can be found its special temporality. “I can’t, I don’t have time!” is something one hears quite often, not only among overworked business executives, but also in the various “creative industries,” in the arts, and even in academia. People of the older generation still remember a Soviet temporality that made it possible to dedicate years of unhurried reading to eccentric scholarly undertakings lacking any exterior goal. Against the backdrop of today’s time deficit, such memories sound like nostalgic legends.

The lack of time described above is hardly just a “natural” moment of our generation’s coming-of-age, nor is it simply a consequence of some trivial logic of survival in post-Soviet society. Talking to friends from other countries, you can see astounding correspondences in how they organize day and night. One sees a certain globalization of time: a multitude of parallel projects and texts that need to be written to meet this or that “deadline,” a multiplicity of virtual internet communications with various rhythms.

This all gives rise to a certain figure of the molecular dispersion of time, and its analytical decomposition into discrete, hermetic particles. It also produces techniques and practices of administering these particles: planning no longer takes place on an institutional level alone, but is personalized. Schedules for meetings are calculated down to the minutes, and go hand in hand with an ascetic refusal of “low priority” activities. The night is colonized to the point of rejecting sleep. And so on. These practices of self-control sometimes seem even more repressive than early dispositives of spatial and kinetic confinement. They provoke episodic “ruptures,” which express themselves in despairingly joyous collapses of all plans at once.
In this context, the familiarly tragic figure of finite existence, which 20th century thought out in such great detail, appears as a molar, conclusive, monolithic form that we have almost no access to anymore.

Time is not only finite, but there is no time at all! This comes close to what Fredric Jameson has described as the “schizophrenic” temporality of late capitalism, a series of isolated moments of “the now,” lacking any “grammar” or phenomenological connection that might hold on to the past and anticipate the future. But this experience of “schizophrenic temporality” still contained a utopian moment; its decomposition promised an emancipation of sorts. By now, every moment that has freed itself from the inner constraints of subjectivity is caught in a net of outer regulations and requests. There is no salvation in “scientific” forms of objectivity usually associated with linear and systematic models. On the contrary, contemporary psychophysiologists say that our current experience and memory of “the present” has a measurable invariant of physical time, and that this rhythmic structure organizes all anthropological experience. [1]

It does not say very much to confirm that this state of affairs is an effect of the “neoliberal way of life,” precarious and bereft of any institutional support and protection. It makes more sense to speak not of a deficit of outer security but of the growing significance of the most subjective aspect of “living labor” under the conditions of the “real submission” to capital. [2] Risking a simplification, one could say that in this tendency, all time in life, and not only the time spent in the factory or the office or in front the PC, becomes subject to capital’s attempts at organizing the extraction of added value. This becomes especially important in labor in the “creative industries” in which the production of immaterial goods is impossible to regulate through the measurement of exterior, abstract time, such as presence in the workplace.

So time undergoes instrumentalization and fragmentation. The key issue now becomes a struggle for the possibility of undertaking fundamental, inevitably critical studies, for creating works that are really new, for the organization of larger scale political initiatives instead of a multitude of dispersive and shortlived “projects.” In this problematic, no doubt, one can find the source of new antagonisms and potentialities. It seems, however, that it makes little sense to speak of individual forms of struggle as the stubborn rejection of actualization, in the style of the famous literary figure of Bartleby the scrivener with his “I would prefer not to.” But how can one give subjective struggle with this temporal hegemony of capital a collective and, consequently, a political dimension?

Recently, it has begun to seem that the conception of “immaterial labor” and the new subjectivities arising on its base evidence vulnerabilities in precisely this regard. As Matteo Pasquinelli notes, antagonism has the tendency to short circuit in the multitude itself, becoming an “immaterial civil war,” and not a struggle against new forms of exploitation: “[There is a] well known rivalry within academia and the art world, the economy of references, the deadline race, the competition for festivals, the envy and suspicion among activists. Cooperation is structurally difficult among creative workers…” [3]

In traditional political thought, such conditions were always reconciled by the establishment of some new sovereignty, which put an end to all inner conflict by appropriating the right to decide over war and peace. It is clear today that such forms of submission would prove far more regressive than the aforementioned negative traits of the “creative industries.” For now it seems that we have nothing to rely upon but the force of ideas and images; if they take on a universal significance, they themselves will become factors of reconciliation and solidarity, regardless of how destructive the competition between their authors really is. In other words, we need to rely upon a certain critical and heroic ethic in the spirit of Alain Badiou, appealing to the universal event of the truth, which supersedes all “human, all too human” passions and interests. But as we have already noted, the instrumentalization and dispersal of time continues to weaken the truthfulness of the regime of both cultural production and political practice. In this vicious circle, the question formulated above are still very much open.

Be this as it may, the struggle does not only take place in time, but fort he emancipation of the time of production, for another, collective time of events. If we can no longer say that we are “outside” the relations of capital and its all-encompassing “real submission,” then we should analyze the possibilities for its disconnection and disruption in time and not in space.

i E. Poeppel Warum dauert die Gegenwart drei Sekunden // Frankfurter Allgemeine Magazin. 1999. ¹ 83.
ii Cf. Antonio Negri. Time for Revolution (New York: 2003) The present text is too short to fully discuss this extremely complex text.
iiiCf. Matteo Pasquinelli. “Immaterial Civil War”,