25 June 2012
The history of philosophy is full of speculation about the fundamental ontological features of time and space (Grosz, 1995: 93-100; West-Pavlov, 2009: 17-19). Foucault asserts that time has tended to dominate modern thought:
‘since Kant, what is to be thought by the philosopher is time: Hegel, Bergson, Heidegger’ (1980: 149).
There has been much recent sparring by theorists over which ‘side’ has received the most consideration historically and which deserves the most attention today. Foucault’s brief remarks seemingly in favour of space over time in his talk about heterotopia and the explosive response from the Sartrean psychologist in the audience, is often mentioned in this respect. In an interview in 1980, Foucault recalls that his remarks seemed to hit an ideological mine-field. At the end of his lecture:
… someone spoke up – a Sartrean psychologist- who firebombed me, saying that space is reactionary and capitalist, but history and becoming are revolutionary. This absurd discourse was not unusual at the time (2002: 361).
Soja (1989: 10) claims that despite Foucault’s observations, time still pre-dominates the ‘critical consciousness of modern social theory. He riles against the ‘persistent hegemony of historicism’ (21). In complete opposition, Grosz claims that ‘representations of space have always had…. a priority over representations of time’ (1995: 97). Thrift argues that space is ‘equally dynamic’ as time (2006: 142).
Massey would support this argument (1993: 141) and explores how the term ‘space’ is often used as if its meaning is clear and uncontested. She also supports Foucault in attempting to ‘awaken space from the long sleep engendered by the inattention of the past’ (Massey, 2005: 13). She argues against those theorists, such as Bergson, de Certeau and Laclau, who not only set up an unhelpful dichotomy between time and space but also attempt to give primacy of the former over the latter. Whilst acknowledging the strength of Deleuze’s elucidation of Bergson generative notion of temporality, she outlines how Bergson has a narrow derogatory conception of space as the ‘dimension of quantitative divisibility’ which is out to conquer the richer and more productive qualities of time (23). For de Certeau, space is particularly associated with structure, representation and stabilisation, working against an engagement with the stream of ‘life’ (45).
According to Massey, both theorists conceive space negatively as a ‘residual-category’ of the temporal (49). Using a wide range of perspectives, including modern physics, she argues that space and time are ‘inextricably interwoven’ (1993: 152). Serres’ sustained applications of ‘topological thought’ also configures time and history as dynamic volumes, emphasising ‘connections, mediations and passages’ (Conner, 2004: 105).
But how does Foucault conceive space? Why does he insist on the importance of space in relation to time? How does Foucault’s understanding and use of these concepts inform his brief sketch of heterotopia? My next series of blog entries will try to address these questions.
Conner, S. (2004) ‘Topologies: Michel Serres and the Shapes of Thought’ Anglistik, 15: 105-17.
Foucault, M. (1980)  ‘The Eye of Power’ in C. Gordon (ed.), Power/Knowledge, Brighton: The Harvester Press, 146-165.
Foucault, M. (1998)  ‘Different Spaces’, in J. D. Faubion (ed.), Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology: Essential Works of Foucault Volume 2, London: Penguin, 175-185.
Foucault, M. (2002)  ‘Space, Knowledge, Power’ in J. D. Faubion (ed.), Power: Essential Works of Foucault, Volume 3, London: Penguin, 349-364.
Grosz, E. (1995) Space, Time and Perversion, London and New York: Routledge.
Soja, E. (1989) Postmodern Geographies: the reassertion of space in critical social theory, London: Verso.
Massey, D. (1993) ‘Politics and Space/Time’ in M. Keith and S. Pile (eds.), Place and the Politics of Identity, London: Routledge, 141-161.
Massey, D. (2005) For Space, London; Sage.
Thrift, N. (2006) ‘Space’, Theory, Culture and Society, 23: 139-146.
West-Pavlov, R. (2009) Space in Theory, Amsterdam: Rodopi.