Acts of Time: Cohen and Benjamin on Mathematics and History

Paradigmi. Rivista di Critica Filosofica 2017 (1):41-60 (2017)
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This paper argues that the principle of continuity that underlies Benjamin’s understanding of what makes the reality of a thing thinkable, which in the Kantian context implies a process of “filling time” with an anticipatory structure oriented to the subject, is of a different order than that of infinitesimal calculus—and that a “discontinuity” constitutive of the continuity of experience and (merely) counterposed to the image of actuality as an infinite gradation of ultimately thetic acts cannot be the principle on which Benjamin bases the structure of becoming. Tracking the transformation of the process of “filling time” from its logical to its historical iteration, or from what Cohen called the “fundamental acts of time” in Logik der reinen Erkenntnis to Benjamin’s image of a language of language (qua language touching itself), the paper will suggest that for Benjamin, moving from 0 to 1 is anything but paradoxical, and instead relies on the possibility for a mathematical function to capture the nature of historical occurrence beyond paradoxes of language or phenomenality.

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Julia Ng
Goldsmiths College, University of London


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