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ON THE IMPORTANCE OF A CERTAIN SLOWNESS.

Stability, memory and hy tere i in !om"le# y tem . Pa$l Cillier University of Stellenbosch fpc@sun.ac.za
In philosophy the winner of the race is the one who can run most slowly. Or: the one who gets there last. Wittgenstein (Culture and Value)

Introd$!tion s a result of a whole range of what one coul! call "pathologies# in contemporary culture$ the i!ea of "slowing !own# has of late been moote! in a number of conte%ts &. few can be name! briefly. 'he "Slow (oo!# movement$ which starte! in Italy but has a worl!wi!e following$ e%tols the virtues of !ecent foo! ma!e from !ecent ingre!ients without compromise. 'he resistance shown to ")un* foo!# is not only base! on aesthetic consi!erations$ but also on ethical (an! nutritional+ ones. 'he movement promoting "Slow ,ities#$ also of Italian origin$ fosters an un!erstan!ing of cities which is more humane. Such cities shoul! encourage wal*ing rather than !riving$ have small shops with local pro!ucts rather than shopping malls an!$ in general$ provi!e opportunities for the community to interact$ not to live in isolation. "Slow schooling# is a movement which -uestions e!ucational processes in a worl! geare! for instant results. It emphasises the conte%tual nature of *nowle!ge an! remin!s us that e!ucation is a process not a function. On a more personal level$ "slow se%# involves attitu!es which tries to prevent that the values of the mar*etplace also rule in our intimate relationships. We nee! to recognize that the )ourney is more important than the !estination$ an! that ta*es time. n imme!iate or perpetual orgasm is really no orgasm at all. 'here are a number of very important issues at sta*e in these e%amples$ but in what follows$ the focus will not be on these social movements as such$ but on the un!erlying principles which ma*e the !ebate on slowness an important one. 'hrough an analysis of the temporal nature of comple% systems$ it will be shown that the cult of spee!$ an! especially the un!erstan!ing that spee! is relate! to efficiency$ is a !estructive one. slower approach is necessary$ not only for survival$ but also because it allows us to cope with a comple% worl! better. 'he argument will be ma!e initially by briefly analysing the !istortions in our un!erstan!ing of time. 'hese !istortions result$ on the one han!$ from the rational an! instrumental theories we have about a mo!ern worl!$ an!$ on the other$ from the effects of certain technologies$ especially communication an! computer technologies. In or!er to show why these are "!istortions#$ or at least$ to show why these !istortions
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See .onor/ (0112+ for a !iscussion of the emergence of several movements which challenge the "cult of spee!#.

0 are problematic$ the temporal nature of comple% systems will be !iscusse!. 'he relationship between memory an! anticipation will be central to this !iscussion$ but attention will also be pai! to the importance of !elay an! iteration. 'hese characteristics of comple% systems have important implications for our un!erstan!ing of the formation of i!entity$ both in!ivi!ual i!entity as well as the i!entity of groups. In closing$ a number of general cultural issues involving the fast an! the slow will be loo*e! at. 3efore moving on to the !etail it is important to pre4empt a possible misun!erstan!ing or two. 'he argument for slowness is not a conservative one5 at least not in the political sense of the wor!. It is not merely bac*war!s4loo*ing nor a glorification of what has been. lthough it emphasises the historical nature of *nowle!ge an! memory$ the argument for slowness is forwar!4loo*ing5 it is about an engagement with the future as much as with the past. Slowness is in itself a temporal notion$ an! in many ways the e%act opposite of the notion "static#. In point of fact$ it is actually an unreflective fastness which returns you to the same place. It shoul! also be state! up front that there is no argument against an appropriate fastness. stew shoul! simmer slowly$ but a goo! stea* shoul! be grille! intensely an! briefly. 'he argument is against unreflective spee!$ spee! at all cost$ or more precisely$ against spee! as a virtue in itself5 against the alignment of "spee!# with notions li*e efficiency$ success$ -uality an! importance. 'o the contrary$ a system which has carefully accumulate! the relevant memories an! e%periences over time will be in a better position to react -uic*ly than one which is perpetually )umping from one state to the other. 6erhaps "slow# an! "fast# are not e%actly the correct terms to use. 'erms li*e "reflective# an! "unreflective#$ or "me!iate!# an! "unme!iate!# may be more accurate. 7evertheless$ the !ebate ta*ing place uses "slow# an! "fast#$ an! the terms !o have a certain rhetorical significance. If we stay with their use$ it is !one in a metonymical way (see table+. 'he whole point of this paper is to give them a richer meaning. Li%in& in the Pre ent In Time: The Modern and Postmodern Experience .elga 7owotny (&882+ argues for a certain shift in our e%perience of time. In short$ in my paraphrase$ an! incorporating insights from 3auman (e.g. 3auman &880+$ the argument is the following: One of the main aims of the instrumental rationality flowing from the 9nlightenment was to create con!itions in which we are not controlle! by contingency. 'o achieve these con!itions$ it is necessary to un!erstan!$ an! preferably control$ the future. 'his !eman!s co4or!inate! an! goal4oriente! action in the present. :o!ernism becomes a pro)ect which !eman!s our total commitment against the forces of irrationality an! chaos. 'he mo!ernist pro)ect has two important effects on our un!erstan!ing of time. In the first place$ our actions nee! to be co4or!inate!. 'his can only happen if time is universalise! in such a way that we all live in the ;same< time. 'his was achieve! mainly through technology$ i.e. the construction of accurate cloc*s$ an! by regulating

@ time globally. Instea! of each person or local community living in their own time$ it was necessary to synchronise time in such a way that activities in say 7ew =or* an! 6aris coul! be correlate!. 'he effects of this$ however$ go much further than merely synchronising time in !ifferent parts of the globe. It also means that private time an! public time are synchronise!. We have to live our lives accor!ing to a generalise! an! controlle! un!erstan!ing of time. sub)ective$ or shoul! one say phenomenological$ e%perience of time has to be sacrifice! in or!er to generate a universal temporal framewor* in which we can operate efficiently. 'he secon! effect of instrumental rationality on our un!erstan!ing of time is a result of the !esire to control the future5 for the future to be ma!e *nowable. 'his woul! only be possible if the future$ in some essential way$ resembles the present. We cannot anticipate what we !o not *now$ an! therefore we shoul! !o everything in our power to create a future which !oes not !isrupt the stea!y progress we are ma*ing towar!s a better worl!. 'his mo!ernist strategy is perhaps e%emplifie! best in .egel<s !ialectic of history which is suppose! to converge towar!s an ultimate solution. 'he actual result of this i!eology is to e%ten! the present into the future$ causing us to live in a perpetual "present#. 'his collapse of the !iachronic into the synchronic allows instantaneous interaction between everybo!y5 it creates a worl! which is fast an! efficient. 'he sacrifice ma!e in or!er to achieve this$ however$ is nothing short of sacrificing the very notion of temporality. 7owotny (&882: &>+ calls it "the illusion of simultaneity#. 'he way in which contemporary society lives in an eternal present$ or what 9ri*sen (011&+ calls the "tyranny of the moment#$ is ma!e possible$ an! augmente!$ by the surge in technology$ especially computer an! telecommunication technology. We are instantaneously in contact with everybo!y everywhere. 7ot only has the !istinction between home an! the wor*place collapse!$ but also the !istinction between wor*time an! private or leisure time. It is e%pecte! that we are available$ always an! everywhere. 'his state of affairs may have been less !etrimental if it !i! not also !eman! instant response. 'he very reason for mobile phones an! e4mail lies in the fact that imme!iate response is possible. It is in this "imme!iate# that the main problem lies. 'here is less an! less time for reflection. ?eflection involves !elay$ an! in a cult of spee!$ !elay is unacceptable. 'his move away from reflection to imme!iate response has profoun! implications for our un!erstan!ing of what it is to be human (see 6ar*ins 0112: @A> B@A8+$ to which we shall return. 'he "illusion of simultaneity#$ the i!ea that if we live -uic*ly an! efficiently in the present we are somehow closer to reality$ is nevertheless e%actly that: an illusion. We cannot escape our temporal nature$ an! our persistence in trying to !o so can only lea! to pathology. 'he necessity of !elay an! reflection nee!s to be re4 evaluate!. 'his can be !one from a number of perspectives. (reu!ian analysis woul! show that instant gratification is actually a !estruction of pleasure. :ore sublime pleasure can be foun! only if !esire is !elaye!$ anticipate! as a memory of something still to come$ but something which shoul! also in principle be able to surprise us. Cerri!a calls the illusion of living in the present$ of thin*ing that we have access to an ob)ective un!erstan!ing of reality if we live "in# it$ the "metaphysics of presence# (Cerri!a &8A>: 28+. .e intro!uces the notion of diffrance specifically to un!ermine the metaphysics of presence (>0+. Diffrance is a notion which intertwines !ifference (as a spatial notion$ one coul! say+ an! !elay (to !efer$ a temporal notion+

2 as the engines of meaning (Cerri!a &8D0+. 'he present consist only as a combination of memory (of what has been+ an! anticipation (of what is to come+. In his novel Slowness :ilan Eun!era (&88>+ uses the metaphor of somebo!y ri!ing on a motorcycle as being constantly in the present. Spee! an! the !eman!s of the machine re!uces his horizon to something imme!iate. Someone wal*ing$ however$ is moving at a pace which allows for a much wi!er horizon. 'he stroll unfol!s in time in a way which opens up reflection about where we are coming from an! where we are going to$ as we wal*. 'his theme of both the past an! the future being present in a meaningful e%perience of the present coul! be pursue! in much more !etail from both a (reu!ian an! Cerri!ean perspective B an! several others too B but the argument for a meaningful temporality$ i.e. something slower$ will be ma!e here from the perspective of the !ynamics of comple% systems.

Com"le# Sy tem , Tem"orality and Memory n important aspect of comple% systems$ one which certainly complicates our un!erstan!ing an! mo!elling of such systems$ is their temporal nature. ,omple% systems unfol! in time$ they have a history which co4!etermines present behaviour an! they anticipate the future. :oreover$ as we *now at least since the wor* of 6rigogine$ the behaviour of comple% systems are not symmetrical in time. 'hey have a past an! a future which are not interchangeable. 'his being "situate! in time# !oes not always receive a!e-uate attention in our analysis of comple%ity. 'he central notion at sta*e when we tal* of time an! comple%ity is that of "memory#. :emory is the persistence of certain states of the system$ of carrying something from the past over into the future. It is not merely the remembering of something in the past as if belonging to that past$ it is the past being active in the present. We shoul! therefore not thin* of memory in abstract terms$ but of memory as something embodied in the system. In many respects the system is its memory. If one accepts an un!erstan!ing of comple%ity which emphasises the relational nature of the system$ it is useful to thin* of systems as networ*s where the connections between the no!es are more important than the no!es themselves. 'he nature of these connections is a result of which states of the networ* are "retaine!#$ thus the structure of the system is a result of the se!imente! history of the system. 0 It is important to remember that memory is not merely a cumulative process. 'he structure in the networ* of relationships can only !evelop if certain states of the networ* are not maintaine!. :emory is a result of a process of selection. 'he states which are significant are repeate! more often an! therefore form more permanent lin*s in the networ*. Fess significant states will fa!e away over time. :emory is only possible if the system can also forget @. What is important to note at this stage is that memory is not an instantaneous thing$ it ta*es time to !evelop$ it is slow.
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'his argument can also be ma!e using the e%ample of the brain$ an! lin*s with many (reu!ian arguments in an interesting way. See ,illiers (&88D: 2GB2A$ 80$ &1D+ for further !iscussion.
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'his process is *nown as the "use principle# or .ebb<s rule. (or more !etail see ,illiers (&88D: &AB &D$ 8@B82+

G If one characterises memory as the past being carrie! over into the future$ it follows that the future can only be anticipate! in terms of the memory of the system. nticipation is not$ or at least$ shoul! not be$ simply an e%trapolation of the present. It is a comple%$ non4linear process which tries to fin! some tra)ectory$ some way of "vaulting# from that which has alrea!y been e%perience! to that which has to be cope! with. 'he -uality of the anticipation is a function of the -uality of the memory. more varie!$ richer$ !eeper an! better integrate! memory will open up more sophisticate! anticipatory capabilities. 'he obvious -uestion now woul! be to as* how such a rich memory is forme!. 'his is a comple% issue$ but for the sa*e of the argument at sta*e here$ one can say the following: memory is information from the environment which has been filtere!$ it is that which has been interprete! B by the memory alrea!y se!imente! in the system B as significant. 'he i!entity of the system is$ in some sense$ its collection of !ynamic memories. 'he implication is that the system cannot reflect$ or act upon$ everything which is going on in the environment at a given moment. If that were the case$ the system woul! always be merely a reflection of its environment an! woul! have no i!entity of its own. In or!er for it to be a system at all$ a system which has its own i!entity$ which can react to the environment an! not merely mirror it$ a certain hysteresis is re-uire!. 'he system must be slower than its environment. 'he notion of hysteresis is an important one 2. It lin*s to the notions of !elay an! diffrance !iscusse! above. n event in the environment of the system !oes not have inherent an! imme!iate significance for the system. Its significance is establishe! in time as it is re4enacte! in the system an! carrie! over into the future. In a way$ the significance of an event has always alrea!y been establishe! (in terms of the memory of the system+$ but never completely or finally since the significance is always also to be !etermine! by what is still to come. 'he system has to hang on to some aspects with a certain tenacity5 not let go of them too -uic*ly. 'here is ris* involve! in this$ of course. 'he system has to invest resources in this process. It cannot maintain everything5 it has to select. If too many of the wrong things are carrie! over it will impair the system<s performance. .owever$ if not enough is carrie! over$ it will also fail. 'o put it in slightly !ifferent terms: the system has to fin! a way to !iscriminate between information an! noise. If it follows every tren! in its environment$ it will also be following noise. If it reacts too slowly it will only follow the low4fre-uency tren!s$ which may also be )ust noise. 'he system must be stable enough not to be buffete! aroun! by every fluctuation$ an! it must be fle%ible enough to be able to a!apt when necessary. Where this optimal point lies is not a -uestion which can be answere! from an ob)ective viewpoint. 'he balance between stability an! change is a contingent thing which plays itself out in time. What one can say$ though$ is that merely to be fast will !estroy the system. 'he argument for a certain slowness shoul! start to ta*e shape now. viable system has to be able to resist some of the !ynamics in its environment. 'here shoul! be a temporal space in which the past is allowe! to play itself out in interaction with present. 'here must be time for reflection an! interpretation. 'he faster the system
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.ysteresis is the "lagging of effect when cause varies# (O%for! ,oncise+

> becomes$ the shallower its resources will be. Ultimately -uic* behaviour will be no more interesting than 3rownian motion. It must be stresse! again that the argument for a certain slowness is not a conservative argument. certain amount of conservation is a prere-uisite for a system to maintain itself$ of course. 'he important point$ to which we shall return$ is that a "slow# strategy is not a bac*war!s4loo*ing one. If a somewhat slower tempo allows a system to !evelop a richer an! more reflective memory$ it will allow the system to !eal with surprises in its environment better. 'he argument of slowness is actually an argument for appropriate spee!. 'here is no ob)ective or imme!iate rule for what that spee! is. If anything$ it is a matter of e%perience$ an! e%perience (as ristotle urge!+ has to be gaine!$ it cannot be "given# in an imme!iate way. It is e%perience which !etermines which piece of meat shoul! be frie! -uic*ly an! which shoul! simmer slowly in the stew. She who fries everything -uic*ly will only have something nice to eat now an! then$ an! then purely by chance. Inte&rity, Identity and Re'le!tion In his novel The Disco er! of Slowness" Sten 7a!olny (011@+ gives us a fictionalise! account of the life of Hohn (ran*lin. (ran*lin$ a &8 th century e%plorer primarily obsesse! with fin!ing the 7orthwest passage$ was slow. .is a!vance (in the ?oyal 7avy+ is also slow$ mainly because being slow is confuse! with being stupi!. Since he is not stupi! he is gra!ually awar!e! comman!$ an! those wor*ing with an! un!er him !iscover the a!vantages of being slow. (ran*lin is persistent$ !epen!able an! trustworthy. 9ven in war$ thorough reflection pays !ivi!en!s not always imme!iately apparent. .is political career$ as governor of Ian Ciemen<s Fan! (now 'asmania+$ en!s ba!ly only because he is !isgrace! by those out for -uic* an! selfish results. .is principles are not negotiable. (ran*lin is a worthwhile human being because he has integrity. 'here is a substance to his personality which may seem opa-ue at first$ but eventually shows itself as soli!ity. 'he nature of his integrity is !irectly couple! to his slowness. .e assimilates$ integrates an! reflects before he acts. 'his is sometimes a pon!erous process$ an! he pays a price for it. Un!er normal circumstances it is easy not to notice someone li*e this$ or to pass him by$ but when there is a crisis$ it is him they turn to. .e can be truste!$ he will come up with something. 'his is most significant. It is e%actly when one woul! thin* that being fast is what is re-uire! that slowness proves its worth. 'he lin* between slowness an! integrity is also an issue in H.:. ,oetzee<s (011G+ novel Slow Man# .ere we have a character who resists change$ !espite the cruel !eman!s being ma!e on him. .e clings to a set of values important to him$ an! this gives his personality substance. .owever$ he is too stubborn$ an! eventually he cannot a!apt to new circumstances. One has tremen!ous sympathy for him$ but he turns out to be too slow$ an! pays the price for it. 9ven so$ it is clear that when there is a choice between the loneliness of the slow an! the superficial companionship of the -uic*$ the author si!es with the slow. Integrity is more important than a certain *in! of success.

A Cespite ,oetzee<s !ar*er view$ there is no reason why slowness shoul! be solitary an! sa!. Juite the contrary is true. In his novel Slowness$ :ilan Eun!era (&88>+ shows with great conviction how a certain slowness is a pre4re-uisite for being fully human. What is at sta*e in this novel is not moral integrity$ or a *in! of ,alvinist !epen!ability$ but the sensuality of human interaction$ the beauty of a relationship which unfol!s in time$ the ecstasy of a love which has a history an! a future. 3eing human implies having a bo!y$ something with its own rhythms an! !eman!s. If we re!uce all of this to something merely instrumental$ to transactions written in legal terms (not in lyrical prose+$ if we !eman! results now$ then we will stop being human. Fanguage cannot be re!uce! to a co!e5 it plays itself out in a certain conte%t. What is more$ even if we immerse ourselves in the conte%t we have to wait beyon! the last soun!s. When all is sai!$ the meaning has not finally arrive! yet. It is the anticipation of what it coul! yet mean which !raws us forwar!. Einmal ist $einmal# :any may feel that the novel is an out!ate! art form$ something to be replace! with the fast an! imme!iate communication of the !igital co!e. In his boo* The Moment of Complexit! :ar* 'aylor (011@+ seems to lean in this !irection. (or him$ something of a para!igm shift has occurre! in the last few !eca!es. ccor!ing to him we live in a new worl! with new forms of communication an! new forms of learning an! human interaction B something he seems -uite willing to sell. .e resonates with a fast worl!$ something new an! e%citing. .is emphasis on the new goes han! in han! with a nearly interchangeable use of the notions "noise# an! "comple%#. .is argument is se!uctive$ but$ to my min!$ wrong if not harmful. In his fervour to embrace the posthuman he loo*s at the history of being human with a certain !is!ain. It seems as if he$ li*e many of his contemporaries$ thin*s that comple%ity is a recent !iscovery. 3eing human has always been comple%. 'he i!eas of the posthuman an! the cyborg are of un!eniable importance$ G but in our enthusiasm to embrace new mo!es of being we shoul! be careful not to effect a transformation into something inhuman >. :achines are fast$ but they are machines. 'he present argument is not for an a priori re)ection of the possibility of machines with human capabilities$ but for the recognition that any comple% system$ organic or not$ woul! have to incorporate a certain slowness. In conclusion$ the nee! for slowness$ an! a warning against the embracing of the fast$ can perhaps be motivate! best from the perspective of philosophy. 6hilosophy$ in its most general form$ is essentially the art of reflection. Wen!y 6ar*ins (0112+ analyses contemporary culture as one moving away from reflection$ an! argues that what we nee! is an "ethics of time#. She !oes not elaborate much on what such an ethics shoul! loo* li*e$ but it is something which nee!s careful attention$ not only from a moral perspective$ but also from the purely pragmatic perspective of how to live an! survive in a fast worl!. Such an "ethics# will be comple% in itself. It will have to unfol! in time an! be conscious of its own temporal nature. 3ut for now$ rushing aroun! li*e the re! -ueen in a worl! where change is virtuous merely because it is change$ we can start by putting up some resistance. With a little more regularity we shoul! say "no#.
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See 3a!mington 0111 for a collection of philosophical essays on the posthuman. See .ayles (&888+ for a !etaile! !iscussion of cybernetics$ the !evelopment of the posthuman an! the importance of embo!iment. See 3rai!otti (011G+ for an affirmative !iscussion of the posthuman which is neither a euphoric$ uncritical acceptance of a!vance! technology$ nor a nostalgic lament for the !ecline of classical humanism.

(iblio&ra"hy 3a!mington$ 7eil (e!.+. 0111. Posthumanism. Fon!on: 6algrave. 3auman$ Kygmunt. &880. %ntimations of Postmodernit!. Fon!on: ?outle!ge. 3rai!otti$ ?osi. ",yberfeminsim with a !ifference.# http:LLwww.let.uu.nlLwomensMstu!iesLrosiLcyberfem.htm ( ccesse! D ugust 011G+ ,illiers$ 6aul. &88D. Complexit! and Postmodernism# &nderstandin' Complex S!stems. Fon!on: ?outle!ge. ,oetzee$ H:. 011G. Slow Man. Fon!on: See*er an! Warburg. Cerri!a$ Hac-ues. &8A>. (f )rammatolo'!. 3altimore: Hohn .op*ins University 6ress. Cerri!a$ Hac-ues. &8D0. NCiff/ranceN in Cerri!a$ Hac-ues. Mar'ins of Philosoph!. ,hicago: 'he .arvester 6ress$ pp. &B0A. 9ri*sen$ 'homas .yllan!. 011&. T!rann! of the Moment: *ast and Slow Time in the %nformation +'e. Fon!on: 6luto 6ress. .ayles$ 7 Eatherine. &888. ,ow -e .ecame Posthuman: Virtual .odies in C!bernetics" /iterature" and %nformatics . ,hicago: 'he University of ,hicago 6ress. .onor/$ ,arl. 0112. %n Praise of Slowness: ,ow a -orldwide Mo ement is Challen'in' the Cult of Speed. Fon!on: Orion. Eun!era$ :ilan. &88>. Slowness. Fon!on: (aber an! (aber. 7a!olny$ Sten. 011@. The Disco er! of Slowness. 9!inburgh: ,anongate. 7owotny$ .elga. &882. Time: The Modern and the Postmodern Experience# O%for!: 6olity 6ress. 6ar*ins$ Wen!y. 0112. "Out of 'ime: (ast sub)ects an! slow living#. In Time and Societ!" Iol. &@ 7o 0$ pp. @>@4@D0. 'aylor$ :ar* ,. 011@. The Moment of Complexit!: Emer'in' 0etwor$ Culture . ,hicago: 'he University of ,hicago 6ress.

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Fa t :achine Imme!iate response Superficial 'al*ing ggression .urrie! Juantity 'empo !ictate! or fi%e! Cestination Outcome Orgasm (uc* In!ifference ,areless ccepting

Slo) .uman (Hohn .enry+ ?eflection With !epth Fistening ,alm 6atient Juality 'empo a!)ustable Hourney 6rocess Cesire$ sensuality (on!le ,are ,areful ,ritical

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