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Belief in the world is what we most lack.

Marcus Quent

Elapsing Time and Belief in the World

Translated by Michael Turnbull

Published: 10.12.2017


It was Gilles Deleuze who in various contexts underlined that what we most lacked was “belief in the world.” The odd remark appears, for example, in a conversation in 1990 with the Italian Marxist Antonio Negri about revolutionary emergence and the political force of minorities. In this dialogue Negri examines his interlocutor’s thought in the light of the “problem of the political,” which connects the various stages of the philosopher’s intellectual biography. Deleuze’s remark here is the reprise of a motif that would be familiar to readers of his second book on cinema, which appeared in 1985, in which Deleuze contends that the “power of modern cinema” is based on its ability to “give us back” our lost “belief in the world.”

At the end of the conversation Negri asks his dialogue partner about the possibility of present-day processes of subjectivization. After initially emphasizing the “rebellious spontaneity” of such processes, Deleuze utters the following sentence in an act linked to such spontaneity: “Belief in the world is what we most lack; we have completely lost the world, we have been robbed of it.” In the context of this conversation the sentence takes on the character of a strange conceptual escapade. Bemoaning a lack of belief, a loss or robbery of the world, without establishing an unambiguous relationship of causality, Deleuze’s intellectual insert remains impetuous to a certain extent, and evades categorization because it has neither been prepared by what was said before it nor does it introduce a new line of thought.

Disregarding for a moment the irritated reactions this remark provoked from many commentators, and furthermore leaving aside the irritation that can come about through the affirmative treatment of the instance of belief and bringing it into play precisely in the context of an intraworldly practice of change, we can attempt to take this idea further and extend it into our present.

If one lacks “belief in the world,” if one has lost the world or been robbed of it, then all that remains in such a state of unbelief is the elapsing of time. The elapsing of time, which seems to be coming more and more into itself today, to be inclining towards completion, is a process experienced by individuals as obscure and contradictory, but that in its incomprehensibility begins to look like an incontrovertible fact. That time can only elapse, that it only exists in this...

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Marcus Quent

studied philosophy and dramatics in Leipzig (GER) and Wales (UK). He is lecturer at the Universität der Künste Berlin and editor of Absolute Gegenwart (2016) and Das Versprechen der Kunst (2014).