You’re On God’s Time Now

The following is the text of a presentation I gave last summer in Berlin. While some of the ideas and problematics articulated here are ones I wouldn’t frame in quite the same way now–that’s the nature of a research project that’s still very much active!–I realized that it’s been a while since I’ve provided any kind of update on the direction my research on time and usury is taking, and thought it might be of interest for some readers here.

1.0 In his review of Deleuze’s The Fold, Alain Badiou positions his own philosophy against Deleuze’s by placing the two of them on opposite sides of one and the same basic decision or divide. The choice, he claims, is between “mathematic” and “organicist” paradigms of multiplicity. Or—as we run through the sequence of opposing terms that reiterates this point throughout the review—a choice between “number” and “animal,” “Plato” and “Aristotle,” “quantity” and “quality,” and, finally—and to my mind, most decisively—“extensive” and “intensive” multiplicities.[1]

Badiou’s—and his admirers’—polemics against Deleuze, have centered in large part on the question of novelty; of what it means for something truly new to come about. This is an issue of both politics and ontology, but this emphasis on novelty also makes it an issue of time—of the time of the new; of how we should think of time in order to think what’s new about the new. The new is, after all, novel because it differs from what comes before it; novelty is a temporal idea. I don’t want to rehash, here, the long and exhaustive debate that’s played out between partisans of these two philosophers over the last several decades—entering a new volley in the repeating fire across the trenches simply isn’t something I’m interested in.

What I want to do instead is take the fact of this division—between extensive and intensive temporal multiplicities—as a kind of index. In particular, I want to take the fact of this division to index a certain operation of division. When I say “operation of division,” I’m recalling especially of Daniel Colucciello Barber’s work on Spinoza, and his chapter “Metarelation and Nonrelation” in Serial Killing, echoes of which you may hear throughout this piece. If we’re being asked to divide time in two for the sake of a decision in favor of novelty—in whatever form that might take—then what is this operation of division that’s being asked of us? What are its stakes and what is its impetus? I’m doing this, for reasons that might become clearer over the course of what I’m saying here, in order to speak in favor of a certain kind of refusal of this division, which is also to say a refusal to decide on the form of the new. I want to apologize a bit for how schematic many of these comments will be, and how much they’ll jump back and forth in both time and disciplinary space. Hopefully you’ll be able to follow the resonances here, and I’m of course happy to talk more about why I’m connecting certain texts and ideas.

One part of the line I’m following, I’ll say up front, concerns the link between time and debt. Maurizio Lazzaratto, Eric Alliez, and a number of others have drawn important links between time and monetary economy as intertwined problematics in Western philosophy. Debt is a technology for the ‘capture’ of debtors’ futures. That money might breed money over time in the circuit M-C-M, that time and money co-accumulate, is a problem for the thought of Aristotle as much as it is for Marx. Debt is a ‘category of descent’ that provides the link between events in Anaximander’s fragment and in Benjamin’s account of historical time. Medieval ethicists saw usurious lending as, in part, a sale of time. I want to suggest that the division between intensive and extensive times might, in fact, owe something to this problematic. But to get to this, we first have to attend to the division.

In The Logic of Sense, Deleuze writes that:

Time must be grasped twice, in two complementary though mutually exclusive fashions. First, it must be grasped entirely as the living present in bodies which act and are acted upon. Second, it must be grasped entirely as an entity infinitely divisible into past and future, and into the incorporeal which result from bodies, their actions and their passions. The present exists in time and gathers together or absorbs the past and future. But only the past and future inhere in time and divide each present infinitely. These are not three successive dimensions, but two simultaneous readings of time.[2]

 1.1 Let’s take a moment to look at one side of this division: extension. To consider time as extensive is to take it in terms of its chronological aspect—to take it as an ordered series, whose measure is quantitative, or numerical. Time, Aristotle famously claims, is the number of before and after in movement.[3] Time is not the movement; time doesn’t ‘extend’ that way. Time is what positions movement, what measures its interval, the distance of its transit. Time ‘extends,’ let’s say, in the space of a ‘present.’ The image associated with this extended present is usually presented by means of a spatial, or more specifically geometric, analogy. Time is extended, in other words, in the manner of a continuous line. As continuous, the extension of the present can be infinitely divided into instants, considered on analogy with points. Time isn’t, however, composed of instants—just as a line isn’t composed of its points. Further, any present may extend over a long time, or a short one. Two presents can be compared by measuring the relative length of their extension. One present may ‘envelop’ another; two presents may coincide or overlap. This month and next month will never happen in the same month—they never occupy the ‘same’ span of time—but both months will happen within the year. Each ‘line-segment’ and ‘point’ of time relates to every other by means of succession and simultaneity.

Deleuze will say, in his discussion of the Stoics, that chronological time—the extended present—has neither future nor past.[4] It’s important to be clear about what he means by this. To say that extended time has neither future nor past is not to say that it lacks before and after. In fact, it’s exactly the other way around: before and after name relations of position, of serial order, and these positions are consistently transitive: if ‘A’ is before ‘B,’ and ‘B’ is before ‘C,’ then I know that ‘A’ is before ‘C,’ and ‘C’ after ‘A.’ Rather: to say that the extended present has neither future nor past is to say that insofar as we treat the point or the movement that transits from ‘A’ to ‘B’ to ‘C’ and so on in terms of its extension, we treat it as something that ‘is:’ something that is, was, or will be ‘present.’[5] Thus, to treat time as extension is to divide it—what is, what admits of before and after, what admits of position—from what becomes, from what is not—either because it is not yet or because it is no longer.

1.2 But time isn’t just that which extends, or that which is present. It belongs to time to pass. And so time—as extension—is divided from time—as intensive, as becoming, as movement. Where extended, chronological time concerns the positions of bodies and states of affairs and the transitive movements that emplot the distance between one state of affairs and another, or between two moments in a body’s becoming, the movement or the event, Deleuze says (he discusses this under the name Aion) has no position, no place.[6] Its instant is atopon; it admits of no geometric topology.[7] While the extended present may position the movement, movement—taken on its own terms—knows no position. If time—as extended—always has before and after in virtue of a present, but never past and future, then we might say that for intensive events, it’s just the reverse. “In accordance with Aion,” Deleuze says, “only the past and future inhere or subsist in time. Instead of a present which absorbs the past and future, a future and past divide the present at every instant and subdivide it ad infinitum into past and future, in both directions at once.”

When movement happens, in other words, the event of the movement is never present. I mean this in two senses. First: if I can ‘say’ the event, if I can give movement a name, then I can name it as something that has happened, or something that will happen, but never as what’s happening now; at the very least, not unless I convert movement—via positional analogy—into extension. Deleuze speaks of events as having the character of a grammatical infinitive. “The tree ‘greens’” is the Stoic example; the ‘greening’ of the tree is a movement which does not coincide with the state of affairs ‘the tree is green.’[8] Second: if movement happens now, if movement is ‘what’ is happening now, then it’s never as movement that I can name it or give it position. The movement happening now is not yet what it will be; it is no longer what it was. ‘What’ the movement was—or, what it will be—is cut apart by its character as ‘what’ is simultaneously no longer and not yet: the movement ‘is’ not. It’s nonbeing.

1.3 This division of animal and number, in various forms, iterates throughout the history of philosophy: moving ‘backward,’ Badiou points out that you can find this as an ambivalence in Plato and Aristotle (although perhaps not yet a ‘choice’ for one or another side of a division), but another key touchstone in both Badiou and Deleuze’s memory would have been the exchanges between Henri Bergson and Gaston Bachelard, or the ‘choice’ often presented in French philosophy between Hegel and Spinoza. The point is that we’re asked to decide: to choose for one or the other side of the division, and to explain one side of this division in terms of the other. In his book Capital Times, Eric Alliez talks about this division as capitalization; in any case he points to a link between thinking time and thinking money.

2.1 The Western European ‘commercialization’ of the 12th and 13th centuries, which marked a significant increase in both long-distance trade and the production of coinage, brought with it a surge of attention to the question of usury. Historic Christian prohibitions on usury were both re-emphasized and intensified, and became a much more direct object of theological and legal reflection than they had been in the earlier Middle Ages. One of the persistent issues that concerns 13th century theologians, sermonists, and canonists is the question of time. According to a prominently recurring argument, the problem with usury is that the usurer is a ‘thief’ of time, and in lending at interest ‘steals’ the time that intervenes between the principal and its return with interest, selling a good that belongs to another. Further, the time that the usurer sells is a time that, depending on the specific formulation of the argument, is ‘common,’ or ‘belongs only to God.’ Among other places, we see this line of argument appear in Peter the Chanter’s Verbum adbreviatum, William of Auxerre’s Summa aurea, Thomas of Chobham’s Summa confessorum, and Giles of Lessines’ De usuris.

2.2 Eric Alliez makes reference to the argument concerning the sale of time in the context of what he describes as an emerging medieval division (a “gothic break”) between abstract time—the measure of extension; a legal, architectural and scientific construction—and the spatial intuition that preceded it: time’s abberant movement. “This earliest emergence of an abstract time turns out,” he writes, “while still sunken in stone, to be indissociable from its ‘commercialization,’ from its ‘monetarization:’ from its being put on the market.”[9] In other words, the controversy concerns, on Alliez’ reading, not simply the emergence of increasingly abstract and mathematical ways of conceptualizing time, but the relation between the two times that he claims are newly divided by medieval science and legal-economic formulae. Concerns about the sale of time, then, would amount to a temporalization of Aristotle’s much earlier concerns about the breeding of money by money. Abstract time, divided apart and left to itself, threatens to spin off into infinity, to unlink itself from the movement of which it’s the measure.

Money, linked to this abstract time, counting and counting-on its accumulation, threatens to unlink itself from, and thus to dominate, the lapsus—both lapse and labor—that inters and interrupts its quantitative infinity. Maurizio Lazzarato has also highlighted the importance of time as a category through which to think about the subjective force of creditors’ claims against debtors.[10] Citing Nietzsche and Deleuze, Lazzarato highlights the sense in which debt lays claim to the debtor’s future and operates upon their memory and expectation, binding them to their promises to their creditors. It’s this link to the time of finance—the capture of the debtor’s future labor-time—that drives Lazzarato himself to bring up the prohibition on usury and the argument from time as forebears that presage his argument. In either case, the couple—extensive-intensive—thus divided—form a kind of circuit in which one side of the circuit threatens to dominate the side on which it depends. And so, according to the frame offered by Alliez and Lazzaratto, we think we know what medieval writers mean when they say that it’s time that’s on sale when a creditor takes interest. Time, here, indicates the future labor and life of the debtor, pledged in advance to the creditor and thus made captive on the basis of time’s capitalization.

2.3 The force of the argument that usurers sell time within the theological and legal academy is intense, but short-lived. Before the end of the 13th century, Peter Olivi will distinguish between two ways of considering time: a common, non-vendible form of which the argument would be true, if only trivially, and the time applicable to a particular duration of labor, which is a viable material for contract and sale.[11] By the early 14th century, writing under Olivi’s influence, Gerard of Siena’s influential question on usury refers to the sale of time idea as “completely worthless,” claiming that if all contracts that deal in lapses of time are void, then we have to apply this argument to all sorts of financial transactions that would not seem to fall under the heading of usury.[12] With a few notable late exceptions, the argument that usury consists in a sale of time quickly disappears from university discussions, surviving only at the level of popular sermons and poetic imagery. This division also appears at first glance to mirror the terms of Alliez and Lazzarato’s opposition: between two times, one abstract and quantitative and one living and qualitative. The terms of this division, however, don’t map directly onto the opposition laid out by these two. If there is an anxiety about the capture of time operative in the argument, and if Olivi correctly diagnoses a division that the argument’s proponents either fail or refuse to make, this division is not one between labor or value and its measure in money. In fact: labor is explicitly on the side of the abstract, on the side of the time that I have, of quantity and contract.

3.1 So: what does it mean to ‘conflate’ or, to refuse to divide these two times? One of the earliest sources we have for the mature form of the medieval argument comes from William of Auxerre, whose reasoning is worth teasing out at length. In his Golden Summary of Peter Lombard’s Sentences, (and I have to apologize here for including such a long quote in a talk) he writes that the usurer:

…also acts against the universal natural law, because he sells time, which is common to all creatures. Augustine says that each creature is compelled to give itself; the sun is compelled to give itself to illuminate; similarly the earth is compelled to give whatever it can, and similarly the water. Nothing, however, so naturally gives itself as time: willing and unwilling things have time. Because, therefore, the usurer sells what belongs to all creatures generally he injures all creatures, even the stones; whence if men were silent against the usurers, the stones would cry out, if they could; and this is one reason why the church so pursues the usurers. Whence especially against them God says, ‘When I shall take up the time, that is, when time will be so in My hand that a usurer cannot sell it, then I will judge justly.’[13]

Taking this one idea at a time: time is a commons. To say that it’s common is also to say that it’s everyone’s and no one’s at once. It’s common, in this sense, precisely because it is characteristic of creation to be given time, to have time and to be unable to do otherwise than to give and receive it. Later, the sermonist Stephen of Bourbon will extend this idea in his own discussion of ‘time on sale,’ saying that usurers “sell the day and night. But the day is the time of light and the night of rest, and consequently they sell light and rest. Therefore, it is not right that they should have eternal light and rest.”[14] Giles of Lessines will say that the usurer: “defrauds both his neighbor whose time it is which he sells him, and God on whose freely granted thing he puts a price.”[15]

To say that the time on sale is the time common to created things is not to say that the argument has nothing to do with the interval that extends between principal and return, or with the idea of labor. Lessines, for instance, continues by saying that: “it is clear that no compensation is made for any kind of labor in the contract or acquisition of usury, since the usurer profits as much sleeping as waking, as much on holidays as on common weekdays.” Similarly, he refers to the practice of usury as an attempt to ‘equalize’ for something that the usurer perceives incorrectly to be his: the temporal interval. Instead: the usurer, by attempting to profit on time’s movement, divides what is, in reality, undivided. To say that the time at stake does not belong to the usurer or to the debtor, is rather, to either fail or refuse to divide these intervals from the time that follows from one’s creation; to strictly identify movement and measure, without division. The division between animal and number—intensive and extensive—that is at stake here, then, isn’t so much the division between my labor—future, past, or present—and its time-value, or even between the value of money now and its unlimited speculative accumulation. Rather: the divide is between the time that I have—which labor and speculation represent in equal measure—and the time that (for lack of a better term) I am.

3.2 The status of labor-time, then, is a bit of a paradox: insofar as we allow for division, labor is on the side of the contractual or the abstract: quantity. Insofar as we refuse the division then it’s tied up in the time that is stolen, and yet, we are told, if the usurer had something to offer in terms of labor rather than in terms of time, then time would not be what’s for sale. So even when division is refused, the divide that’s refused isn’t between labor and calculation. Some other indivision is at stake.

In most treatments of usury as a sale of time, the image of time’s ‘sale’ or ‘theft’ is followed almost immediately by a discussion of the trope of ‘spiritual usury.’ Chobham, for instance, writes:

The Lord retains the only unlimited contract of lending for himself, namely so that nothing can be hoped for in exchange for a loan unless from God alone. And for this reason we do or give nothing to God unless it is toward usury. We will receive a hundredfold in exchange for whatever we do for Him through all our servitude[16].

In other words, while usury is prohibited to humans, God is the only one who can licitly take usury. This is because God, as the original giver of all that is given and gives itself in creation, is the only one with legitimate claim to dominion over the time that accumulates. The image here is ontological, and not merely economic, or having to do with money. This logic recalls the logic of ontological indebtedness that’s also at work in Christian theories of atonement, especially in Anselm of Canterbury: humans owe God their being, in its entirety, as a debt. And so, they owe to God not only what God originally gave to them, but everything that follows and accumulates from it. The life—and, only by extension, the money—that one takes is always, every moment, owed back to God in return.

I want to point out, though, a slippage in Chobham’s terms, which also appears in most other treatments of “spiritual usury.” Our ‘payments’ made on God’s gift are not just a debt: they’re a form of servitude. God can take spiritual usury, then, because the couplet creditor-and-debtor in the relationship between God and humanity coincides with another couplet: dominus-and-servus. Humans’ debt to God is simultaneously a obligation to service. So in addition to an interpretation of creation as ontological debt, the image of God as ‘spiritual usurer’ depends on a Pauline image: becoming-Christian as becoming a slave to God. As historians of medieval law and economies have repeatedly pointed out, the language of medieval servitude is extremely fraught, and clean categories through which to differentiate its many localized forms are not forthcoming. Michael McCormick, among others, has done quite a bit to show that the slave trade was more than simply a rhetorical holdover or a distant memory for Western European societies in the Middle Ages. But the extent of the slave trade in the 13th century, specifically, and the degree of difference between practices of slavery and practices we might describe as closer to something like ‘serfdom’ remain somewhat opaque. Still: to elide slavery and spiritual usury is not an elision obviously—at least for medieval writers—implied by the subject matter of usury as such. The question of coercion in contract, even implicit coercion occurring through a borrower’s unfavorable conditions, is a major preoccupation of several of these treatments of finance.

What I want to suggest, then—at least, provisionally—is this: the distinction or indistinction, the division that’s at stake in the image of time on sale isn’t between one’s labor and an abstract time of capitalization that threatens to dominate or overtake it. It’s the division—or, rather, the threat of a vertiginous indivisionbetween the time that I have and the time that I am, between time as subject and as object of a contract. Or, to put it bluntly, between the positions of the laborer and the slave. This isn’t to say that to be a debtor is to be, in some sense, analogous to a slave. Debt and slavery, both historically and conceptually, have maintained a high degree of proximity, but this proximity almost always finds its point of contact at a threshold. One might pass into slavery on account of one’s debts, for instance, but still, one passes: one’s status as a debtor is revoked, one’s debts are written off as bad debts, and one is not issued new debts but moved from one regime of obligation to another. Rather, what we find as 13th century writers develop the terms to divide these times from each other is a series of increasingly articulate terms through which the continua running from forms of obligation that resemble slavery to those embodied in contractual debt are divided from one another and made discrete. 1492, and the explicit racialization of this divide may still be two centuries away; nevertheless division obtains, even if it’s unstable, threatening collapse.

4.1 To return to the choice between animal and number: we are being asked to choose, to opt for one or the other as the form of the new. We are thus being asked to divide time from time in order to decide. My question—which is, in the context, for the sake of time, going to more or less remain a question: what is the force of this injunction to choose? Or, to put it another way: what is the we that is in a position to choose, to divide what is, really, undivided, and to separate it into ‘animal’ and ‘number?’ without thereby appearing resigned to be merely animal or merely number? If the politics of debt and the politics of time are formally interlinked, then does the position of the debtor—as one in possession of, but not identified with an abstract quanta of labor time, whose struggle against the creditor is articulated in terms of that relation—depend on, need, (as Barber argues in “The Creation of Nonbeing“) the position of the slave?

Is there still time to refuse to decide?


[1] “In fact, there have never been but two schemes, or paradigms, of the Multiple: the mathematic and the organicist, Plato or Aristotle. Opposing the fold to the set, or Leibniz to Descartes, reanimates the organicist scheme. Deleuze-Leibniz does not omit remarking that it must be separated from the mathematic scheme: “in Mathematics, it is individuation which constitutes a specification; this is not so with physical things or organic bodies” (p. 87). He reiterates later: “The animal or the number? This is the cross of metaphysics, and the greatness of Deleuze-Leibniz, metaphysician of the divergent world of modernity, is to choose without hesitation for the animal. After all, “it is not only animal psychology, but animal monadology which is essential to Leibniz’s system” (p. 146).” Boundas et al 55.

[2] Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, 3rd Series.

[3] Aristotle, Physics 4.11

[4] “…in accordance with Chronos, only the present exists in time. Past, present, and future are not three dimensions of time; only the present fills time, whereas past and future are two dimensions relative to the present in time.” The Logic of Sense

[5] Consider, e.g., Aristotle’s argument for the continuity of the present in Physics 4.10.

[6] “The distinction however is not between two sorts of events; rather, it is between the event, which is ideal by nature, and its spatio–temporal realization in a state of affairs. The distinction is between event and accident.”

[7] “First, the entire line of the Aion is run through by the Instant which is endlessly displaced on this line and is always missing from its own place. Plato rightly said that the instant is atopon, without place. It is the paradoxical instance or the aleatory point, the nonsense of the surface and the quasi–cause.”

[8] The Logic of Sense, 6. Another example is the ‘event’ of my death: for me, this can only ever be an event that will happen in the future, that is about to happen. My ‘dying’ will never be intelligible to me as such, because my ‘not being dead’ will always keep it one step away.

[9] Alliez, Capital Times, 163.

[10] See Lazzarato, The Making of Indebted Man, passim.

[11] See Olivi’s De contractibus II.d8.

[12] “Sed nec ista racio potest stare; ymmo omnino videtur frivola quia multi sunt liciti contractus in quibus interponitur duracio temporis et tamen propter hoc non dicitur quod vendatur in eis tempus, ergo a simili nec in isto contractu.” Gerard of Siena Questio de usura, A.2, 123-126.

[13] Summa aurea

[14] Tabula exemplorum

[15] Giles of Lessines, De usuris IV, 417.

[16] Summa confessorum

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