afterword: after the Long Past
a retrospective introduction to
the History of the Pre sent
Mark the singularity of events. . . .  Grasp their return. . . .  Define even their lacuna
point, the moment they did not take place.
Michel Foucault, “Nietz sche, Genealogy, History”
Phi los o phers of the event tend to have a bone to pick with history. As do
phi los o phers of pro cess and becoming. A. N. Whitehead minces no words
when it comes to “the mass of fables termed
history.”1 He laments the “un-
fortunate effect” upon our thinking exercised by “the long- range forecast
and back- cast of critical thought.” After all, neither the past nor the future
exists. Our “habit of dwelling upon the long future and the long past” is a
“literary” effort of “purely abstract imagination, devoid of any direct obser-
vation of par ticular fact.” Dwelling on long- duration continuities, “time-
spans of centuries, or of de cades, or of years, or of days,” is a way of not
attending to what we can effectively experience: “conceptual persuasions
in the pre sent.” Long- range fable- making “enfeebles the emphasis of first-
hand intuition.”
Wait: centuries, de cades, years . . .  days? Just how short- range are our
“conceptual persuasions”? “In considering our direct observation of past,
or of future, we should confine ourselves to time- spans of the order of mag-
nitude of a second, or even fractions of a second.” And did he say “empha-
sis of ? Not “on”? In the fraction of the second that is the order of magnitude
of what Foucault calls “effective history,” firsthand intuition creates its own
emphasis. It is not the forecasting or back- casting of the critical observer
who places an emphasis on. There is no overlook allowing an emphasis to
be laid on from outside or above. Rather, Whitehead says, the observer, is
on the “utmost verge” of events’ taking shape in their own “pro cess of self-
completion.” On the verge of history, past and future are “immanent” to
the pre sent and, in that interval, to each other. The critique of history has
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