If the search for a unitary theory of physical, mental and social space was adumbrated several decades ago, why and how was it abandoned?
Did it cover too vast a field - a veritable chaos of ideas, some of them poetic, subjective or speculative, while others bore the stamp of technical positivity? Or was it simply that this line of inquiry turned out to be sterile?
In order to understand exactly what happened, it is necessary to go back to Hegel, who is a sort of Place de l’Etoile with a monument to politics and philosophy at its centre. According to Hegelianism, historical time gives birth to that space which the state occupies and rules over. History does not realize the archetype of the reasonable being in the individual, but rather in a coherent ensemble comprised of partial institutions, groups and systems (law, morality, family, city, trade, etc.). Time is thus solidified and fixed within the rationality immanent to space. The Hegelian end of history does not imply the disappearance of the product of historicity. On the contrary, this product of a process of production which is animated by knowledge (the concept) and oriented by consciousness (language, the Logos) -this necessary product - asserts its own self-sufficiency. It persists in being through its own strength. What disappears is history, which is transformed from action to memory, from production to contemplation. As for time, dominated by repetition and circularity, overwhelmed by the establishment of an immobile space which is the locus and environment of realized Reason, it loses all meaning.
In the wake of this fetishization of space in the service of the state, philosophy and practical activity were bound to seek a restoration of time. Hence Marx’s vigorous reinstatement of historical time as revolutionary time. Hence also Bergson’s more nuanced (though abstract and uncertain because specialized) evocation of mental duration and the immediacy of consciousness; hence Husserlian phenomenology with its ‘Heraclitean’ flux of phenomena and subjectivity of the ego; and hence, later, a whole philosophical tradition.
- Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, 1974