Given World and Time
Temporalities in Context
Publication Year: 2008
Published by: Central European University Press
In his 1991 novel Time’s Arrow, the British writer Martin Amis, playing a postmodern “narrative game with time” (as Paul Ricoeur would say) explored the implications of a very simple narrative twist for our historical and moral perception. How would some key twentieth-century historical event, an event as ineluctable as the Nazi seizure of power and the unfolding of Nazi genocide, appear from a radically different temporal perspective? And what might this perspective shift tell us about the way our historical and moral judgments carry...
Temporality in the Long Run
1. Walking Backwards into the Future: The Conception of Time in the Ancient Near East
If we regard the Akkadian (i.e., Assyrian–Babylonian)1 terms that designate “past” and “future” as more than simple equivalents to the corresponding English terms, we make an astounding discovery. An examination of temporal terms such as “earlier” (Akkadian: pāna, pān; pānānu(m); pāni; pānû(m)) or “former times, past” (Akkadian: pānātu; pānītu(m), pānū) shows that these are all related to the Akkadian pānum, or “front,” plural pānū, or “face.” The Sumerian2 equivalents to the Akkadian terms for the past are formed with the word...
2. Epic Remains: Seeing and Time in the Odyssey
When we think about the various visible objects that comprise the landscape of the ancient Greek epic, the first to come to mind are the Shield of Achilles, the scepter of the Achaians, and the bed shared by Penelope and Odysseus. These objects—whether unique or of a general class—are like snapshots in the epic narrative. Individually, they have been the focus of extensive scholarship on the poems, principally in terms of their metonymic relationship to the narrative at large (ecphrasis), their expression of vividness (enargeia), or their...
3. Fourier and the Saint-Simonians on the Shape of History
One of the main intellectual consequences of the French Revolution was to leave many Europeans with the sense that the optimistic, rationalistic and egalitarian ideology of the Enlightenment had exhausted itself and been discredited with the failure of the radical phase of the revolution. There was a sense on many sides that the Enlightenment had been “on trial” during the French Revolution and that the understanding of human nature and history offered by the Enlightenment had proved inadequate. The period that followed the French Revolution...
4. World History According to Katrina
How does Hurricane Katrina change our understanding of the United States, the lengths and widths of its history, as well as its place in the history of the world? As a catastrophe that casts into doubt the efficacy and security of the nation-state, what alternatives does it suggest, what other forms of shelter, what other ways to organize human beings into meaningful groups? And how might these nonstandard groupings challenge American Studies as a discipline, given their deviations from the foundational norm, and the shape of the future they portend?...
Historical Figures: Mediations, Citations, Narrations
5. Intricate Temporalities: The Transfiguration of Proper and “Improper” Sounds from Christian to Jewish Environments
Three modes of communication situate the background of this paper. They relate to three realms of experience and to the intersections and conflations of their respective configurations. These modes are music, narrative, and ritual. All three engage us in the real present— they call our attention at a certain moment, they demand from us a blank duration for the projection of their inhering experiences, and they launch us into “unreal” presents whose mental fabrication they stimulate.2 When we hear a story, listen to a piece of music, or attend a ritual, we are often willingly interpreting their messages by assuming...
6. Quoting from the Past, or Dealing with Temporality
In her famous essay on Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt summarized his theoretical reflections on history, tradition and authority in the following formula: “Insofar as the past has been transmitted as tradition, it possesses authority; insofar as authority presents itself historically, it becomes tradition.”2 We will never know whether Benjamin himself would have endorsed these lines, which clearly show the hand of Arendt. Yet the formula does have the appearance of something that comes close to Benjamin’s very own style of thinking and writing, to such an extent that one could easily take it for a...
7. Taking Time: Temporal Representations and Cultural Politics
On the one hand, the exhilarating temporality of revolution. On the other, the baleful “burden of the past.” These images identify—at their polar limits—two contrasting projections of time. Of course they are very different. But both are grounded in the materiality of social life. Here I contrast them with a conflicting conception of time that emerges in the projection of Postmodernism. My objective is to suggest what is at stake, theoretically and politically, in contemporary representations of time...
8. Image-Times, Image-Histories, Image-Thinking
Derived from the Latin, i.e., imago (f. noun) and imagines (pl.), the terminology and the concepts adhering to “image” have both fascinated and perplexed scholars, most of them philosophers, psychoanalysts, and historians of religion, art, and film. To explore these etymologies today, however, seems superfluous since the term has an expanded significance in all media studies and practices, including computer technologies, digital and analog photography and film, television, and video. While the conceptual intricacies associated with the image and its cognates in the Western tradition stretch back to...
9. Documentary Re-enactments: A Paradoxical Temporality That Is Not One
Re-enactments, the more or less authentic recreation of prior events, provided a staple element of documentary representation until they were slain by the “verité boys” of the 1960s (Ricky Leacock, D.A. Pennebaker, David and Albert Maysles, Fred Wiseman and others) who proclaimed everything, except what took place in front of the camera without script, rehearsal or direction, to be a fabrication— inauthentic. Observational or direct cinema generated an honest record of what would have happened had the camera not been there, or what did happen as a result of recording what happens when people...
Shapes of Modernity
10. Time and Progress-Time as Progress: An Enlightened Sermon by William Robertson
In the introductory studies of his seminal Futures Past, Reinhart Koselleck offers an engaging and succinct illustration of the course of what he calls the “temporalization of history” in European thought during the early-modern period. Koselleck conceives the process as a whole in terms of the changes in the perception of the “compression” (or “acceleration”) of time that, supposedly, precedes the onset of the future in the thought of these past generations: “For Luther, the compression of time is a visible sign that, according to God’s will, the Final Judgment is imminent, that the world is about to end. For...
11. Religious Revivals: The Binds of Religion and Modernity in Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Anti-Christ and Richard Wright’s The Outsider
One linchpin that holds together Western modernity, the secularization thesis, is crucial in narrating the historical progress of society away from religious control to individual determination. The thesis can be seen as comprising six components: 1) the creation of different institutional apparati that separate religion from politics, 2) the depoliticization and privatization of religion, 3) the decline in religious belief, 4) the development of cultural identity, 5) the rise of the state as governmental form, and 6) the production of capitalist markets.1 Together these components describe the new phenomenon that...
12. Hetero-Temporalities of Post-Socialism
Time has, if you will forgive the paradoxical phrasing, long been a terrain for projects of social justice and utopian dreams. As Susan Buck-Morss has recently pointed out, this function of time is selfconsciously true in historically sedimented ways for the praxis of formerly socialist nation-states.1 What has become of time in the aftermath of socialism? My answer to this question will focus on China, a country whose continuously radical transformations have coursed through the twentieth century and now into the twenty-first. Unlike in the countries of eastern Europe, China’s Communist Party...
13. The Politics of Temporality: Heidegger, Bourdieu, Benjamin, Derrida
“The time of our lives”—this expression condenses into one phrase a series of questions that could require much more than one lifetime to answer. Is the time of our lives a function of a life as a whole, a lifetime, or can it be condensed into a single moment of vision? Does a life have a unity that runs through it, or is the unity of time, and of a life, a narrative, a story, a fiction, or even an illusion? In this essay the question that particularly interests me is, what notion of time is the time that we encounter in our experience of our world and ourselves?...
“To the Planetarium”: From Cosmos to History and Back
14. Eternity No More: Walter Benjamin on the Eternal Return
On January 6, 1938, Walter Benjamin wrote to Max Horkheimer from San Remo to report on a remarkable development in his thinking about his Baudelaire studies and about the larger framework of the Passagenwerk, Benjamin’s decade-long historical research about nineteenth-century Paris, a project that he described as an Urgeschichte der Moderne (an archaic history of modernity). The occasion of this development was his encounter with a largely forgotten text by the famous insurrectionist Auguste Blanqui, entitled L’éternité par les astres (Eternity According to the Stars). This short book comprised a...
15. A Microscope for Time: What Benjamin and Klages, Einstein and the Movies Owe to Distant Stars
In today’s day and age, upheavals in human worlds of image and media are preferably traced back to technical achievements. The history of optical media—camera obscura, photography, the cinema, television, etc.—seems meanwhile firmly established as a prime example of such means of viewing. But how well do these perspectives of progress fit the “nature” of humankind, which has somehow struggled through the channels of anthropological predispositions, neurobiological influences, et al. to the peaks of civilization? Using a short and anonymously published text from the mid-nineteenth...
Page Count: 378
Publication Year: 2008
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