Human Sciences 205:
Culture and Society

Special Topic for Autumn 1999:

The Cultural Construction of Time

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen
Office Hours:  Mondays 2-4, Rome Hall 763
email:  jjcohen@gwu.edu
Course meets Thursdays 4:10-6:00 Fall Semester 1999, Rome Hall 771
 
 

Does time have a history? A gender? An ethnicity? Does time unfold differently in different cultures? Can temporality be thought as a substance rather than as a linear motion? How is a sense of time implanted in the body? This course will examine how time functions within anthropological, philosophical, and other theoretical frameworks. NOTE: Some background in critical theory is assumed. This would not be a good "first theory" course to take at the graduate level, especially considering the sheer amount of difficult reading required.

All students are expected to attend every class; to read critically the assigned texts and to have insightful things to say about them; and to complete a seminar paper (20pp).

The syllabus has been formulated to allow maximum flexibility to respond to the seminar's interests as they develop. This web page is therefore the best source of information for the course; it will be updated and expanded throughout the semester.

The following books have been placed on reserve at Gelman Library; they compose the canon of readings for the course.

Anthony Aveni, Empires of Time
John Bender and David Wellberg, Chronotypes
Walter Benjamin, Illuminations
Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture
Jonathan Boyarin (ed.), Remapping Memory
Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter
James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus
Johannes Fabian, Time and the Other
Michel Foucault, The Order of Things
Elizabeth Grosz, Space, Time and Perversion
Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time
Julia Kristeva, The Kristeva Reader
Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern
Robert Levine, A Geography of Time
Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather
Edward Said, Orientalism
Slavoj Zizek, Sublime Object of Ideology
 


Provisional Schedule of Readings with Resource Clusters


Aug. 26     Against History and Destiny (Nonteleological Time)

In this introductory session we examine traditional conceptualizations of time as inexorable forward movement to see what notions of "time travel" actually undergird them.  We'll be especially interested in Benjamin's rejection of "progress" as a passive surrender to the myth of a better future, and his location of Redemption Time in a living, fragmented past.



Sept. 2    Tradition, Emergence, and Identity

James Clifford analyzes the connections among time, culture, tradition, and identity.  Like Benjamin, he believes in the power of collage and the fundamental impurity of temporality. In this class we will investigate the relationship between time and racial/ethnic community; the concept of "present-becoming-future" in its reconfiguration of the past; and the valorization of temporal contingency within historicizing methodologies. We will be especially interested in Clifford's self-positioning in his classic essay "Identity in Mashpee."



Sept. 9    Sociological Times: Walking in Cities

Does every culture keep time according to its own clock? Adventures in Brazil, New York, and in sociology: can time be abstracted? Can temporality be measured and described without reference to a local specificity? The empirical fate of Benjamin's and Levi-Strauss's (and Clifford's) flaneur. Missing information: race and gender in the buying of postage stamps, or why microhistories seldom undergird "facts."


Sept. 16   (Class cancelled due to inclement weather)


Sept. 23 Discontinuity and Dis-Orientalism

For this class we'll be exploring two questions: (1) how is (fantasized) cultural difference related to temporality? (2) how does change enter the world? Specifically, we'll examine if Foucault's methodology is adequate to Said's project: do they construct time in the same way? Does Said's commitment to humanism prevent his full use of Foucault's "posthuman" philosophy?? We'll also look closely at the linking of Other cultures and timelessness or ancientness.
 

"Can one divide human reality, as indeed human reality seems to be genuinely divided, into clearly different cultures, histories, traditions, societies, even races, and survive the consequences humanly?"


Sept. 30   Alterity as Temporality
Fabian argues that when anthropology constructs its object, it does so temporally -- but that the discipline is built upon the disavowal of that knowledge. Today we'll discuss concepts like "allochrony" "schizochrony" "and "coevalness." We'll explore [temporal] intersubjectivity as a possible way out of the anthropological deadlock. We'll wonder why Fabian's others always seem to be temporal others, especially the Middle Ages.
 
"There is a 'Politics of Time' ... The radical contemporaneity of mankind is a project."


Oct. 7  Time, Gender, Bodies
We have seen repeatedly that time, especially in its relation to trauma, is an insistently embodied phenomenon. This seminar meeting will be devoted to reflection on the sexing and gendering of time from a feminist perspective, with special emphasis on psychoanalytic temporalities.
 
"In other words, we confront two temporal dimensions: the time of linear history, or cursivetime (as Nietzsche called it), and the time of another history, thus another time, monumental time (again according to Nietzsche), which englobes these supra-national, socio-cultural ensembles within even larger entities."


Oct. 14     Empires of Time and the Cultural Other
 
"We have taken time outside of ourselves...We have framed it in tiny blocks and hung it on a wall. We have linearized it and circularized it, endowed it with a quality of irreversibility, even artificialized it by wrapping it around our wrists, and exalted it in the turrets of our religious buildings."

The measuring, dividing, and linearization of time in its relation to cultural difference. Calendars, clocks, and spirals of time. Natural or biological time (circadian rhythmns) and technological times.  Personal time vs catastrophic time.



Oct. 21     The End of Progress (Time's Spiral)
 
"We do have a future and a past, but the future takes the form of a circle expanding in all directions, and the past is not surpassed but revisted, repeated, surrounded, protected, recombined, reinterpreted and reshuffled ... In such a framework, our actions are recognized at last as polytemporal."

Towards a theory of radical nonmodernity: Latour confounds the distinction between "modern" and "premodern," demonstrating that "we" (who?) have never outgrown magical thinking and epistemological messiness.



Oct. 28    Postcolonial Times I: Hybridities
 
"The present can no longer be simply envisaged as a break or a bonding with the past and future, no longer a synchronic presence: our proximate self-presence, our public image, comes to be revealed for its discontinuities, its inequalities, its minorities."

Multiple specificities of time. At the intersection of postmodernism, postcolonialism, and hybridty. Agency, history, and discourse.


Nov. 4     Seminar Paper Prospectus Workday (class meets without instructor)

One page proposal for seminar paper due by Monday 11/7 at 9 am in J Cohen's office door folder.



Nov. 11   Postcolonial Times II: On Newness and Time-Lags
 
"Differences in culture and power are constituted through the social conditions of enunciation: the temporal caesura, which is also the historically transformative moment, when a lagged space opens up in-between the intersubjective 'reality of signs...deprived of subjectivity' and the historical development of the subject in the order of social symbols."


Nov. 18 Multiplicities, Haecceities, Temporalities
 
"There is a mode of individuation very different from that of a person, subject, thing, or substance. We reserve the name haecceity for it ... not emplacements, but concrete individuations that have a status of their own and direct the metamorphoses of things and subjects."

On a world of movement rather than of being. Time without system, amen.



Nov. 25 Thanksgiving



Dec. 9 Last day to turn in seminar paper (Please note: no incompletes or extensions will be given for this course)