2004 - 2005 Pembroke Seminar: The Orders of Time

Rey Chow, Chesler-Mallow Senior Faculty Research Fellow, Pembroke Center

In 2004-05, the Pembroke Seminar will investigate the question of time, looking at interdisciplinary as well as discipline-specific, historical, and cross-cultural conceptions of temporality. We will place such discussions in relation to time’s classic correlate, space, taking into account how the intimacy, differentiation, and tension between time and space have been an inherent part of social and cultural ideologies with lingering effects. In addition, we will ask how thinking and writing about time have informed the constructions of gender, class, culture, ethnicity, religion, and other important social divisions, and, conversely, how such social divisions themselves are implicated in time.

There is hardly an area of contemporary academic knowledge production that is not affected by some implicit or explicit logic of time. Philosophy’s preoccupation with time and being; anthropology’s dedication to non-Western, “other” cultures; literature’s specialization in narrative and memory; film studies’ debates about time- and movement-images; feminism’s articulations of women’s time; economics’ rationalizations of labor time; the inquiries undertaken in history, biology, music, and geology, each with its distinctive way of understanding time as the agent of change, mutation, movement, and sedimentation. In these and multiple other instances, time is far more than a mere thematic content. More often than not, it provides a key to the modes of theorization as well as the forms of practice in a field of knowledge, bearing significant clues as to how knowledge is generated, represented, authenticated, and reproduced.

What are some of the classic concepts of time across the disciplines? How have these concepts evolved, become popular or controversial, and migrated beyond their original, specialized contexts to become part of larger discourse networks? How is time structural to the development of particular areas of knowledge, with what epistemological and/or ideological consequences or potential? How have some fields developed with a clear emphasis on time, while others have done so by repressing time? Linearity, taxonomy, narrativity, subjectivity, otherness, everydayness, leisure, speed, duration, relativity, modernity, belatedness, eternal recurrence, and différance are all modalities of time. What are others? The numerous “posts” that have emerged in the vast inter-fields of cultural studies--postmodernism, postfeminism, postsocialism, postcolonialism, posthumanism, for instance--would seem to cut across these modalities of time with the force of an irreversible, already-past time. How do we reconcile such "posts" with the powerful claim of the contemporaneity or coevalness of diverse world cultures? What is the relationship between the multiple facets of globalism and the politics of time?

Is time a neutral medium, a general equivalent, an inevitable universal standard? Are the time for physicists contemplating the principle of relativity, the time for computer engineers counting nano seconds, and the time for stockbrokers trading on Wall Street the same time as that for homemakers working at unpaid household chores, migrant workers performing cheap sweatshop labor, victims of geopolitical displacements committing violent acts in the name of faith, or populations and species on their way to extinction? Is there a point to juxtaposing these disparate, uneven, and contradictory worlds, and imagining some kind of connectedness among them? Or should such worlds with their seemingly disjointed orders of time be left to their permanent antagonisms with one another? Could Ernst Bloch’s notion of ungleichzeitige Gleichzeitigkeit (often translated as “synchronous nonsynchronicity”) become a viable, ethical way of rethinking time in relation to knowledge and representation--and to possibilities of what may be? What other paradigms of time are available to critical thinking in the early twenty-first century? Across languages and cultures, who are the thinkers and authors whose works deserve fresh attention in terms of time?