Strange review of Widder

In borderlands, there is an odd review of Nathan Widder, Reflections on Time and Politics. Its strangest moment is in the final lines, when the author discredits their own review by pointing to a better one elsewhere, but the attempt to police what is ‘continental’ philosophy is also peculiar. My own, very brief, ‘book note’ on Widder’s book was published in Political Studies.

Nathan Widder’s Reflections on Time and Politics is an unusual book, both in argument and design. Comprised of 18 pieces of around 10 pages each, reflections that are ‘shorter than chapters but more sustained than aphorisms’ (p. ix), it ranges widely across classical, modern and contemporary philosophy and political theory. The threads holding things together, beyond the topics of the title, come from the work of Gilles Deleuze, and thoughts on ontology. It’s a striking combination, and, especially given the breadth of engagement within the book, an ambitious one.

Widder is a careful and generous reader, and offers some penetrating thoughts on, among others, Plato and Aristotle, Bergson, Nietzsche, and Foucault. It is in the some of the final sections, when he looks at the late Foucault in terms of not simply an ethics, but a politics, that he offers the most. These reflections pick up on the argument concerning Deleuze’s notion of time, which is seen as a ‘disjunctive synthesis’, as ‘time out of joint’ (p. 8). As such temporality is discontinuous and therefore unable to provide the grounding for a stable identity. Identities might be essential to make sense, but they are always interconnected, forged in opposition to things that they otherwise rely upon. Identities may appear stable, but this masks the continual making and remaking that is going on. The link between understandings of time and politics, while often somewhat muted, becomes clearer here. If time is not understood as a sequence, as structured by movement and continuity, then political projects as a whole lack the kind of secure grounding that traditional accounts assume that they do. The problem comes from the type of politics that might be constructed in its wake.

If I was left with a feeling that the reflections contained in this book did not quite gel into something broader than intriguing, provocative and insightful thoughts, then that is as Widder intends. It is not an attempt at a broad synthesis, political manifesto or philosophical programme. Rather it puts the responsibility onto the reader, who is expected to make a lot of connections themselves. For those well versed in the theorists Widder is engaging, this is a worthwhile challenge.

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