The project of critical theory… [is the] reconfiguration of time in order to open the present (p. 14).
Reflecting on Walter Benjamin’s 1940 “Theses on the Philosophy of History“, Wendy Brown arrives at the foregoing definition of critical theory in her essay collection Edgework. Critique appears to set the times right. Brown’s challenge is to set a “postmodern” time right that (according to Frederic Jameson) appears like an eternal present.
I remember reading this essay several years ago, shortly before diving into Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. Taylor’s much-discussed concept of the immanent frame refers to a modern internal time-consciousness. We moderns live in quite linear “homogenous” time. (Philosophers voice a strange normative intuition that privileges future Earthlings: “If we see the horrors of slavery and racism in the past, what horrors will the future see in our time?”) We have sloughed off the ‘sacred’ time of the Middle Ages, with its liturgical rhythms. Our internal time-consciousness, and our very subjectivity, has changed.
The immanent frame isolates us from the peculiar (and absolutely paradoxical) Christian notion that an eternal God might have entered time. In Kierkegaard’s Concept of Anxiety, unconsciousness of the eternal-in-time is original sin, and it is a sin that moderns are quite unaware they are living in.
When Brown took the opportunity to criticize Taylor, she praised him for “opening up” secular time with an ‘outsider’s view’. She critiqued him, too, and rather strongly. Then she turned to her interest in secularism:
I want to think about the subtle violences of the forces that we might call secularizing.
Wendy Brown, as far as I know (and I know little more than how she uses scare quotes) is not, as she says, “a believer”. But as “a believer”, and moreover as “a believer” more critical than Taylor, shouldn’t one worry about the subtle violence of the immanent frame?