BMCR 2010.02.19

Plotinus on the Appearance of Time and the World of Sense: A Pantomime

, Plotinus on the Appearance of Time and the World of Sense: A Pantomime. Aldershot/Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007. vi, 237. ISBN 9780754655237 $99.95.


Table of Contents

Majumdar’s book is a sophisticated, insightful and engaging exploration of Plotinus’ philosophy of time. The focus of the book is Plotinus’ treatise Ennead III.7 [45], the major Plotinian inquiry on the concepts of eternity and time, in which the Neoplatonist refutes Aristotle’s account of time as ‘number [or measure] of motion’ in Physics (IV.10-14.217b-224a) and denies the Pythagorean, Stoic and Epicurean associations of time with physical motion. For Plotinus, time cannot be described by property or quantifying measure of the corporeals; time is associated with the intelligible life of the soul and not the physical or perceptible change. Plotinus defines eternity as the timeless life of Intellect by synthesizing Plato’s account of eternity in the Timaeus (37d), Parmenides atemporality of being (fr. 8) and Aristotle’s etymological analysis of aiôn in De Caelo (279a25-28).

The author divides the book into three parts. After a short introduction on the place of Ennead III.7 in Plotinus’ philosophy of time, the first part of the book sets out “The Hermeneutic Scene” demonstrating Plotinus’ contemplative and experiential method of philosophy (chapter 2) and the hermeneutics of his heritage and legacy, (chapter 3). Ennead III.7 is important both for its discussion of the ancient theories of eternity and time and for its influence in later philosophical and theological traditions of Islam, Byzantium and the Latin West. Plotinus’ most important contribution to the philosophy of time, then, “is not so much his modified vision of Plato’s view as his inference that time is evanescent — an opaque iconostasis to be left behind in the soaring flight of the self” (5). Thus Plotinus’ psychology of time is echoed in later thinkers, such as St. Augustine’s psychological treatment of time in the Confessions, Bergson’s durée and the continuous flow of evolving consciousness in Time and Free Will, Heidegger’s ectases of temporality in Being and Time, the existential lyricism of Jorge Luis Borges’ magical realism in Historia de la eternidad.

The second part of the book, “The Architecture Scene”, is divided into four chapters. In chapter 4, Majumdar argues that the edifice of the soul is a “complex prismatic array of consubstantial souls” descending to the depths of individuation and multiplicity by retaining their unity and identity with each other through their soul-genus relationship (60). In chapter 5, Majumdar argues that a canonized concept of the self is not present in the Enneads : the Plotinian self is “an expression and vehicle of epistrophic freedom” (75), the soul’s inspiration beyond the boundaries of the corporeals. In chapter 6, Majumdar presents Plotinus’ monistic concept of the One and explains logos and contemplation as two divergent facets of the One’s emanative poiesis of time and the cosmos. Consequently, in chapter 7, Majumdar focuses on Plotinus’ philosophy of nature and matter as related to time and the perceptible world generated by a quasi-demiurgic soul, dependent on the silent self-contained contemplation of Intellect. The Plotinian conception of matter as “decorate corpse” should not be taken literally in the dialectic of the Enneads, “a work so nuanced and subtle, it ought not to be caught in a net of superficial and simplistic cogency”. (114).

In the third part of the book, Majumdar sets up the “The Cosmological Scene” with an informative discussion of the multi-divergent involvement of soul and the self in the generation of time and the world of the senses with special reference to Ennead III.7.11-13 (chapters 8-10). The book is strongest in the association of time with the polupragmatic nature of the soul in chapters 11 and 12. In Ennead III.7, Plotinus contrasts the perfect stability and quietness of eternal life in Intellect’s non-discursive operations with the restless unquiet and officious temporal life of Soul’s discursive thinking. Soul’s transitory activity is due to its ‘officious nature’; its ‘unquiet power’, which continually wishes to produce something more than it possesses (III.7.11.15-20). For Plotinus, soul is logos unfolding itself from the quiet seed of Intellect (III.7.11.25-26; V.3.6), and, as it advances into plurality and magnitude, it diminishes its internal unity and grows weaker as it extends and multiplies in temporality. Soul becomes a “slave of time” by making the whole of itself and its processes within time (11.31-34). On this basis, Majumdar associates time and the temporal world with the tolmatic descent of the world-soul. However, as Majumdar maintains, time does not fall from eternity; it is “exteriorized” in a noetic self-extraction of Intellect: “the cacophony of tolma resounds mainly in the post-cosmic worldly world below the realm of real being” (223). The soul undergoes a tolmatic restless activity that “incites the desire of autonomy” and, as Majumdar concludes, “soul’s tolmatic motion reverberates through the edifice of soul as the hypostasis soul launches into a sempiternal discursion, followed imitatively by the World Soul and the “we” qua particular species souls. “We” then lengthen our journey through discursion, draw time out of its logoic fore-life and construct time as an image of eternity”. For Majumdar, the narrative of time in Ennead III.7 is a cryptogram of a larger play “one with many more dramatis personae than meets the eye” (225).

In conclusion, Majumdar justifies with evidence and precision the association of time and soul in the Ennead III.7 and signifies the uniqueness of Plotinus’ conception of time. Majumdar’s language is that of a philosophical poiesis resembling Plotinus’ spontaneous philosophical inquiry and giving us a paradigm of how Plotinus should be studied today.