“Despite recurring proclamations, it is […] certain that philosophy, like art, is by no means “dead.” On the contrary, it is revived in every season because it corresponds to the needs of meaning that are constantly – and often unknowingly – reformulated. To these questions, mute or explicit, philosophy seeks answers, measuring and exploring the drift, the conformation and the faults of those symbolic continents on which our common thinking and feeling rest.” (Remo Bodei, La filosofia del Novecento, Donzelli, Roma, 1997, p.188)
The Department of Italian at the University of California, Los Angeles proudly hosted a thought-provoking lecture on the paradoxes and perceptions of time by one of its own faculty members, acclaimed Italian philosopher, Remo Bodei, on June 8. Bodei is recognized and respected throughout Europe, but needless to say, his significant contribution to the field of philosophy spans geographical borders. He continues to share his knowledge and wisdom at conferences and lectures all over the globe.
Throughout the course of his career, he has published a myriad of articles, books, and translations of the major literary works of Hegel, Karl Rosenkranz, Franz Rosenzweig, Theodor Adorno, Siegfried Kracauer, and Michel Foucault. Initially, his philosophical interests focused primarily on classic German philosophy, idealism and the late nineteenth century, but they later shifted to the utopian thought of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well as contemporary political philosophy. His most recent research is centered on topics that concern all of us, such as the themes of passion, reason, delusion, oblivion, and time. Some of his most notable publications include Geometria delle passioni, Il dottor Freud e i nervi dell’anima, and Invito alla filosofia. His books are translated into several languages, and he has received numerous accolades and awards for his work, including the Premio Nazionale Letterario Pisa, which he was awarded in 1992. Many of his works are centered on the quest for happiness and the limits that confine existence and knowledge within the political, domestic and individual sectors. He has also written extensively on the human senses and the passions, and he is actively developing the theories of memory. Bodei has taught at some of the world’s most prestigious institutions, including New York University, the University of Cambridge, the University of Pisa, and the University of California, Los Angeles.
The lecture illuminated his most recent subjects of interest, as it called into question the inherently complex nature of time that, once excavated, gives rise to a multitude of paradoxes, which threaten to challenge the prevalent perception of time that we have adopted, and invite us to consider the possibility that it may not be the only plausible and valid one. Our image of time, as Bodei explained, is that of an infinite straight line, on which the present appears as an indivisible and non-extended point, advancing at a constant velocity, while irreversibly separating itself from the past and leaving it behind as it moves toward the future. Subsequently, Bodei attempted to subvert the absolute validity attributed to this common image of time by drawing on the ideas of philosophers the likes of Saint Augustine, Freud, Leibniz and Newton, and asking the unimaginable question “Who can assure us, in the first place, that time passes in an irreversible fashion?” Amongst several stimulating concepts of the lecture, was the idea that we never cease to live in the present: we live in the past only in the present of memory, and we live in the future only in the present of expectation. The tridimensional present time, which is measured by the soul, is thus elastic, since it shrinks and concentrates into a single point through attention, but expands backwards through remembrance, and in turn, extends forward through anticipation.
In light of this, the sense of the past can be modified in the present: that which has already happened cannot be erased, but its weight may be altered through forgiveness, which allows the person who has caused the harm and the person who has endured it, to start anew. Equivalently, the future, and its uncertain nature, may be conditioned by confidence and faith. The scope of Bodei’s lecture was not to assert the falsity of the common idea of time, but rather to illuminate the problem of deeming it the only valid image of time, instead of viewing it as one of the multiple forms through which human experience and knowledge may be thought of. The lecture also provokes us to think about which one of the three dimensions of the present we most frequently find ourselves in. In keeping with the spirit of philosophy and the concept of a tridimensional present, I leave you with a question: does time really pass irreversibly or do we?