Time
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Time

A Vocabulary of the Present

Amy Elias, Joel Burges

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eBook - ePub

Time

A Vocabulary of the Present

Amy Elias, Joel Burges

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The critical condition and historical motivation behind Time Studies The concept of time in the post-millennial age is undergoing a radical rethinking within the humanities. Time: A Vocabulary of the Present newly theorizes our experiences of time in relation to developments in post-1945 cultural theory and arts practices. Wide ranging and theoretically provocative, the volume introduces readers to cutting-edge temporal conceptualizations and investigates what exactly constitutes the scope of time studies. Featuring twenty essays that reveal what we talk about when we talk about time today, especially in the areas of history, measurement, and culture, each essay pairs two keywords to explore the tension and nuances between them, from “past/future” and “anticipation/unexpected” to “extinction/adaptation” and “serial/simultaneous.” Moving beyond the truisms of postmodernism, the collection newly theorizes the meanings of temporality in relationship to aesthetic, cultural, technological, and economic developments in the postwar period. This book thus assumes that time—not space, as the postmoderns had it—is central to the contemporary period, and that through it we can come to terms with what contemporaneity can be for human beings caught up in the historical present. In the end, Time reveals that the present is a cultural matrix in which overlapping temporalities condition and compete for our attention. Thus each pair of terms presents two temporalities, yielding a generative account of the time, or times, in which we live.

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Information

Verlag
NYU Press
Jahr
2016
ISBN
9781479844401

Part I

Time as History

Periodizing Time

1

Past / Future

Amy J. Elias
The prognosis implies a diagnosis which introduces the past into the future.
—Reinhart Koselleck, Futures Past
Much theoretical ink has been spilled about the “presentism” of post-WWII globalized societies and the loss of history that accompanies it. This presentism has been attributed to a traumatized Western collective consciousness confronting WWII as an “event” unprecedented in its history; to the time of the Spectacle that reduces the past to advertising slogans and depoliticized images of material desire; to finance capitalism’s acceleration of time and eradication of spatial distance as it creates a technologized world economy; or to the speed of “real time” technology that makes impossible both deliberation and historical depth. It seems that we may be incarcerated in the present.1 Yet while presentism often opposes “past” and “future” to “the present,” the dialectical counter to time as diachronic history (past/future) is in truth not another kind of historical time (the synchronic present). The opponent is duration—timeless time, homogeneous time—whose synchronic partner is the Event. But there is duration, and there is duration. Understanding this leads one to realize that what is bemoaned (or celebrated) in most theories about presentism today is actually not a “present” at all, but rather marketplace duration, a dank obversion of Bergsonian temporal vitalism or Deleuzian rhizomatic flow. Our “now” is a technogenetic present, a cacophony of noise and color and movement; it is the construction and breaking apart of temporary mechanical assemblages, but in the hyperreal space of the world mall—no longer limited to shopping centers but flowing in the spaces of our cars, our earphones, and our computer screens in the unceasing movement of the electron.2 Theories of “presentism” may attempt to define a situation in which, for the first time in modern history, duration has assumed a metaleptic character inside both planetary and historical time: humankind has created its own version of durational time inside (rather than outside) the box of historicity.3
Is techno-duration the only (a)historical space we have now, the terminal electrocution of past and present, or is this truly a metaleptic framing, a kind of time of capital within other kinds of possible time? The stakes of this question are high: if the latter, there may be a way back up the ladder of ontology and back out to planetary time. My own predilections lean toward metaleptic framing, so I would like here to explore how, in the twenty-first century, techno-duration characteristic of the world system may construct its own form of historical time, rather than rehearsing yet again how capital redefines linear history as perpetual present (an idea well trodden in twentieth-century postmodern theory).
My first idea is that in techno-duration, “past” and “future” have become redefined as “retrofuture” and “slipstream,” contaminations and inversions of older notions of “past” and “future” time. These two terms signal neither progress nor decline—which would be developmental movement through historical time characteristic of modernity’s historicism. Instead, “past” and “future” signal a doubled movement of simultaneous futurity and historicity that provokes an image of “moving stasis” compatible with techno-durational “presentism.” My second thought, a form of melancholic realism toward which I really only gesture in this short discussion, is that in the twenty-first century, history has not “ended.” There is no empirical evidence that we are caught interminably in the metaleptic techno-durational frame that demands a “past/future” relation as perpetual exchange, as the splinters in our minds keep reminding us.4

The Past as Retrofuture

The 1960s saw a significant shift in historical studies when historians such as Reinhard Wittram and Reinhart Koselleck “invented the concept of a past future, by which was meant a future that was not the future of the present but the future as it was conceived of at some time in the past.”5 Comparing pre-modern to modern time, Koselleck wrote that pre-modern Europe understood time eschatologically, in terms of biblical, apocalyptic history that demanded a “constant anticipation of the End of the World on the one hand and the continual deferment of the End on the other.”6 The agent of this deferral was the Roman Catholic Church and its secular allies.7 But the Church’s power eventually weakened, and by 1555 and the Religious Peace of Augsburg, Koselleck claims, politicians were concerned more with the temporal, secular future associated with civic peace than with the eternal future associated with personal salvation, and thus it became possible to open up “a new and unorthodox future” to the conceptual imagination.
Thus the period between 1500 and 1800 saw a radical change in how people understood the future: by the time of Robespierre “there has been an inversion in the horizon of expectations” concerning the historical future8 and a “temporalization [Verzeitlichung] of history, at the end of which there is the peculiar form of acceleration which characterizes modernity.”9 Specifically, the eschatological prophecy is replaced by political calculation, embodied in the rational forecast or prognosis.10 These are significantly different conceptions of future time. Prophecy exceeds human measurement, binds time in a moral universe, portrays current events as equivalent symbols of an already-known future, and in effect destroys time in a present determined by an apocalyptic future (and thus synchronic with it). In contrast, modern prognosis is dependent upon human calculation, opens time to a secular domain of probable and finite political possibilities, and defines events as unique and time as open-ended.11 Prognostic history dovetails with a conception of Utopia newly created in the eighteenth century, moving from a tale of spatial/geographic travel to utopian lands to temporal travel into the future, when, in accordance with Enlightenment futurity, there will be a perfectibility of Man.12 Yet this progress demands a future that “is characterized by two main features: first, the increasing speed with which it approaches us, and second, its unknown quality.”13
While today’s historiographers inherit the Enlightenment revolution in historical understanding and reject religious versions of eschatological prophecy, their notion of time has accelerated to such an extent that prognosis has also become discredited because it is unable keep up with the pace of technological innovation and societal mutation. We are dependent upon prognoses that are obsolete almost at the moment they are pronounced. Yet ironically, this may account for both our obsession with history, with the past, as well as our concomitant lack of belief in its ability to give us meaningful information about the future. This is why I have mentioned future time in this essay section devoted to past time: according to Koselleck, with the advent of the Enlightenment future (infinitely receding as the horizon of progress), the idea of historia magistra vitae (“history is the teacher of life”) was undermined, but (paradoxically) as a result, the past became an object of observation and analysis in a historicist sense (an artifact rather than a living teaching), “history in and for itself.”14 In the nineteenth century, as the future became increasingly impermeable to prognosis, the past became mummified, a dead object to be observed and dissected. Once this happened, a second, postmodern stage of historical inquiry followed: metahistorical theorization of what kinds of futures the past created, a history of past temporal concepts. The past becomes viewed not in relation to the future, but from the perspective of a backward-looking present.15 This is one backdrop to the melancholia of modernity but also a new engagement with the past generated by the linear sense of modern time taking hold in Europe after the French Revolution.16
We now live in the time of techno-duration, when the present dominates the past in just this way. As Hartog notes, a “regime of historicity” that some have called the postmodern and which he calls “presentism” follows Koselleck’s modernity. It is characterized by omni-presence, an “invasion of the present into the realms of the past and future.” Significantly, Hartog describes this dominating present as filled with memory and commemoration.17 Reynolds has correlated this commemorative impulse to a “retromania” brought about through digital life: “In the analogue era, everyday life moved slowly . . . but the culture as a whole felt like it was surging forward. In the digital present, everyday life consists of hyper-acceleration and near-instantaneity . . . but on the macro-cultural level things feel static and stalled. We have this paradoxical combination of speed and standstill.”18 This combination is what I am calling “techno-duration,” and in it, the present spreads out like tsunami waters over the past.
Techno-duration thus constructs a new kind of past, a “retrofuturism.” “Retrofuturism,” on the one hand, is a style emerging in the mid-twentieth century after the heyday of Art Deco and aligned now with what is termed “Googie architecture”: a colorful, optimistic, “space age” 1950s and 1960s futuristic style (think The Jetsons).19 The artists who produced artifacts of this kind (restaurants, hotels, theme parks, etc.) did not understand them to be “retrofuturistic” but, rather, “futuristic”: the best example is always the 1939 New York World’s Fair, which featured the World of Tomorrow, Futurama, and Trylon and Perisphere exhibits.20 “Retrofuturism” is, then, a twenty-first-century historical perspective on the near past, a looking back upon these futuristic productions of the past that sees them as quaint utopian hopes of a future than never arrived. Today, such a retrofuturistic perspective should occur to visitors to the Magic Kingdom at Disneyland, where one can feel a palpable nostalgia for a 1950s vision of the technological future that is now itself obsolete.21
On the other hand, retrofuturism describes an aesthetic style that is produced today to imitate such past futuristic artifacts. This is commercialized retrofuturism, linked to what Fredric Jameson called the culture of pastiche. It has migrated to other aesthetic forms—TV shows, films, poster art, video games. This retrofuturism as a contemporary style may have varied sociopolitical aims. In Retro: The Culture of Revival, Elizabeth Guffey writes that “retro revivalism” after the 1970s actually separates the past conceived as “naĂŻve” from the present, and Sharon Sharp asserts that retrofuturism can be the basis both of critique and a neo-conservative impulse.22 The genre often resembles alternative-history narratives, and Henry Jenkins in fact uses “retrofuturism” to describe a post-1970s subgenre of science fiction set in the past, at a moment of utopian promise. Referencing Dean Motter’s graphic novels, Jenkins writes that retrofuturism “allowed people to look backwards, examining older myths and fantasies against contemporary realities.”23 The attitude of critique certainly can be found in Michael Moorcock’s A Nomad of the Time Streams series, subtitled “A Scientific Romance” and collating three time-travel novels published between 1971 and 1981. A self-described anarchist, Moorcock creates an upright British military commander, Captain Oswald Bastable, who time travels into the past to see different versions of the future. In each time voyage, readers are treated to overt commentary denouncing colonialism, sexism, and other social violences aligned specifically with a capitalist economic system.24 A twenty-first-century literary example might be Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day, an encyclopedic but fantastic treatment of a historical moment (at the end of the nineteenth century) when the nature of the future was up for grabs.25 Like Pynchon, neo-Marxist writer China MiĂ©ville has used ste...

Inhaltsverzeichnis

  1. Cover
  2. Title Page
  3. Copyright Page
  4. Contents
  5. Acknowledgments
  6. Part I. Time as History: Periodizing Time
  7. Part II. Time as Calculation: Measuring Time
  8. Part III. Time as Culture: Mediating Time
  9. Time Studies: A Bibliographical Reading List
  10. About the Contributors
  11. Index
Zitierstile fĂŒr Time

APA 6 Citation

Elias, A. (2016). Time ([edition unavailable]). NYU Press. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/719678/time-a-vocabulary-of-the-present-pdf (Original work published 2016)

Chicago Citation

Elias, Amy. (2016) 2016. Time. [Edition unavailable]. NYU Press. https://www.perlego.com/book/719678/time-a-vocabulary-of-the-present-pdf.

Harvard Citation

Elias, A. (2016) Time. [edition unavailable]. NYU Press. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/719678/time-a-vocabulary-of-the-present-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Elias, Amy. Time. [edition unavailable]. NYU Press, 2016. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.