Precarious Times, Precarious Lives: Reflections on The End of the Chronological Imagination
Since the invention of the World Wide Web in 1990, digital technologies have revolutionized the relationship between individuals, their worlds, and their temporal horizons. Digital devices are causing frenetic activity as the constant stream of Twitter feeds, news alerts, WhatsApp messages, and Facebook posts drive us to stay connected. Because the information age promotes instant access, it also erodes the expectation of temporal processing. The new era of the “digital now” not only challenges established notions of delayed gratification but also the very idea of time as a concept that integrates past, present, and future by way of the chronological imagination that has underpinned modernity.
And yet the current debate about time is arguably characterized by a high degree of technological determinism: both techno pessimists and cyber optimists have a tendency to regard technology as an objective historical agent beyond human control. I argue that technological determinism – whether of the optimistic or dystopian kind – leads to one-dimensional accounts of modern temporality that are excessively totalizing. While it is undeniable that our lives have been transformed by rapidly advancing digital technologies, we must be mindful of the fact that time remains an embodied and embedded mode of experience that is shaped by complex biological, cultural, social, and economic factors in interaction with technology.
Instead of adopting a technology-driven focus on time in network society, my paper investigates our temporal anxieties from a broad cultural-historical perspective that illuminates alternative temporal trajectories and experiences. I ask how and to what extent cultural attachment to the past and experience of the length and depth of time are being reconfigured in our globalized era of turbo capitalism. Given the premium placed on instant delivery, liveness, and connectivity, how are the temporal conditions in the twenty-first century to be understood? Have we entered the age of a timeless connectivity that depletes the future while also eroding our relationship to the past?
While the first part of my paper addresses the crisis of time in dialogue with the modern chronological imagination, the second part studies two German photographers whose works perform an aesthetic of precariousness that brings into view alternate experiences that rupture the chronological imagination as well as our immersion in the new culture of immediacy.
Short biography of the speaker:
Anne Fuchs (MRIA, FBA) is Professor and Director of the UCD Humanities Institute. Prior to her post which she took up in October 2016, she was Professor of German Studies at the University of Warwick, Professor and Chair of German at the University of St Andrews and Professor of Modern German Literature and Culture at University College Dublin. She is a member of the Royal Irish Academy and a Fellow of the British Academy.
She has published widely on German cultural memory, modernist literature, contemporary German literature and, more recently, on theories of time and temporality in modernity. Her monographs include After the Dresden Bombing: Pathways of Memory, 1945 to the Present (Macmillan Palgrave, 2012), Phantoms of War in Contemporary German Literature, Films and Discourse: The Politics of Memory (Palgrave Macmillan 2008, 2nd paperback ed. 2010), which won the CHOICE Award in the US, and Die Schmerzensspuren der Geschichte: zur Poetik der Erinnerung in W. G. Sebalds Prosa (Böhlau 2004). Her sixth monograph Precarious Times: Precarious Lives: Time and History in Modern German Culture will appear with Cornell UP in 2019.
Amongst her recent co-edited volumes and special journal issues: (with J.J. Long), Time in German Literature and Culture, 1900 – 2015: between Acceleration and Slowness (Palgrave 2016); (with Ines Detmers) Ästhetische Eigenzeit in Contemporary Literature and Culture, 2 vols Oxford German Studies 46.3. and 46.4. (2017).
The guest lecture is organized in cooperation with the Tallinn University Centre of Excellence in Intercultural Studies and it is supported by the (European Union) European Regional Development Fund (Tallinn University’s ASTRA project, TU TEE).
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