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"Tales about time". Temporality, modernity and the order of time

29 & 30 November 2012


Venue: German Historical Institute London

That time itself changes through time may be quite evident, maybe even trivial. Nevertheless, as historians are some of the main protagonists who actually map, mould and order time it is essential to reflect upon the ways and means by which we actually deal with time. The workshop aims to tackle this difficult obstacle on the one hand by examining the very notions and concepts which historians rely on to make time itself a subject. On the other hand we will problematize modernity as a specific mindset in which time and chronopolitics stood and stand at the centre of attention.

The main presupposition underlying the workshop is that modernities can be grasped – amongst other possibilities – as “tales about time”. In accordance with Zygmunt Bauman’s concept of modernity as a prevailing consciousness of order as a task, it can be assumed that – besides society – time itself was one of the main objects of the modern ordering consciousness. Thus we aim to examine the modern mindset as zeitgeist, i.e. as a preoccupation with time that seemed out of joint, and to look more closely at the link between the specific modern temporal experience and the quest to order time.

Amongst other things, we hope to question the hegemonic status of the narrative of progress. From the Enlightenment onward till the challenge of the modernization theory and the postmodernist, postcolonial, poststructuralist, postmarxist, post-everything critique of and attempt to “rewrite” modernity the narrative of progress was the only “tale about time” deemed worthy of being modern. Other marginal temporal narratives that were also constructed in compliance with the underlying necessity to order time were either excluded as reactionary and pre-modern, e.g. fascism palingenetic “tale about time”, or not even considered. Thus we will look into the rivalry between diverging “tales about time”, the specific bonds that they generated amongst conflicting pasts, presents and futures, the ways they tried to produce synchronicity or temporal harmony, their similarities and fundamental differences.

While looking as far back as the French Revolution and surveying the 1920s and 1930s, the main focus of the workshop will be on the period “after the boom”, i.e. the time since the 1970s. We aim to have a closer look at our contemporary presentist “regime of historicity” (Hartog), its advent and its effects and to reflect upon the interplay between the transformation of the time regime we ourselves have and are experiencing and an increased interest in time not in the least in historiography itself.

Workshop programme (PDF file)

Conference report (PDF file), published in: GHIL Bulletin 35 (2013), Vol 1