I've been firing every synapse of my brain trying to come up with something novel and pithy on the topic .... and -- some scribblings and vagrant thoughts aside -- have so far a big fat zero to show. First, my scribblings. Then, the diagnosis of the underlying problem.
These sparse jottings have accumulated in the notebook I carry with me at all times:
Start w/ the commensensical. Bynum wrote long ago that the present determines the questions we address to the past. But more. Doesn't that form a circuit? Can't be one way communication. The past might give unexpected answers answers to those present-minded questions ... Past may very well interrupt even change present thereby (the reality of possibility -- its materiality, even when it does not strictly speaking exist). Cf. Bruno Latour: time is what we add to the equation last of all, to account for changes that "time" per se didn't bring about (causal agent that in fact hides causality). What about Aramis? Can the possibility itself speak, interrupt time's flow, bring the present and past to confused newness?Well, the use of confused is right. What I'm trying to get at is that time already doesn't easily parcel itself into past-present-future, that the question as phrased in the session's title cannot be answered (other than to say, honestly, 'It is and always has been inextricable. The same goes for the future.') We like to think of time's movement as an arrow, but that linearity is more for convenience and easy order than it is a recognition of phenomenological, physical, cosmological, or experiential reality.
And here's where I get hung up: I've said some version of this before. Many times, in fact. In "Midcolonial," my introduction to The Postcolonial Middle Ages:
a progressive or teleological history in which time is conceived as mere seriality and flat chronology is inadequate to the task of thinking the meanings and trauma of the past, its embededness in the present and future. Once homogeneity and progressive or hierarchizing "developmental" models are denied history - once simple, linear sequences of cause and effect are abandoned for more complicated narratives of heterogeneity, overlap, sedimentation, and multiplicity -- time itself becomes a problem for postcolonial studies, and the medieval "meridian" or "middle" becomes an instrument useful for rethinking what postcolonial might signify ... for accuracy's sake it would make more sense to speak of the "midcolonial": the time of "always-already," an intermediacy that no narrative can pin to a single moment of history in its origin or end ... Much work has been done on the atemporality of postcolonial theory's non-periodizing "post-," and this inquiry could be extended when paired with a rethinking of the Middle Ages' temporally vexed "middleness" ... Janus-faced, biformis, the postcolonial Middle Ages performs a double work, so that the alliance of postcolonial theory and medieval studies might open up the present to multiplicity, newness, difficult similarity conjoined to complex difference.Or these passages from the first chapter of Medieval Identity Machines:
my intention is to survey recent critical work on temporality to discover how time might be thought beyond some of its conventional parameters, outside of reduction into a monologic history (especially when "history" is understood as either simple context or a chain of flat, serial causality); outside of enchainment into progress narratives, with their "ever upwards" movement of evolutionary betterment and abandonment of the past for a predestined, superior futures; and outside of linearization, the weary process through which a past is not encountered for its own possibilities, but either distanced as mere antecedent or explored only to understand better the present and to render predictable the future. In fidelity to the themes of this book, I am most interested in engagements with time that stress the open-ended movements of becoming over the immobililities of being, that stress mutating interconnections over the stabilities of form ... One of the most important texts on medieval chronology, Bede's Little Book Concerning the Fleeting and Wave-tossed Course of Time (known in English succinctly but unpoetically as The Reckoning of Time) concludes, naturally enough, with a discussion of "the eternal stability and stable eternity" of paradise. Time's machines offer no such "blessed repose," but operate in ceaseless motion, in strange middle spaces unperturbed by questions of delineative beginnings or definitive ends.Or this passage, also from the "Time's Machines" chapter of Medieval Identity Machines:
Creation of a nonspatialized, shared, coeval time allows the possibility of what the anthropologist Johannes Fabian calls "the radical contemporaneity of mankind," the opening up of a world without temporalized violence against that which is different and distant. In arguing that temporalities separated by centuries may also in a sense be coeval, I am taking Fabian's argument further than he intended, since for him coevalness applies to cultures contemporary to each other but geographically removed. Once progressivist narratives of chronology have been abandoned, can movement in time ever be "back," with all the negative connotations which anterior temporality (as undeveloped, as primitive) carries? The possibility of coevalness across time, it must be noted, does not imply a radical moral relativism, but simply carries an insistence that "advanced" civilizations cannot claim an innate ethical superiority over those at their temporal or geographical margins. Coevalness requires as well an acknowledgement that the achievement of a tolerant or non-persecuting society is at best a fragile and temporary gain rather than the irreversible attainment of some higher stage of societal evolution, some permanent state of enlightenment. A constant vigilance is by implication absolutely necessary to maintain these moments as tenuous as they are rare.Why am I quoting all this now? Because in trying to think about time -- and in trying specifically to think about the place of the present in considering the medieval -- I am not certain that I have anything more to say on the subject than I did a few years back. I want to be trenchant, I want to be original, I want to be new ... but in rereading what I've already published, I can see that what was at the time provisional has hardened for me into belief. That frightens me: I am not in general a believer, and am always looking to push myself towards the places where I am most ignorant. Deleuze said it best, in an interview with Claire Parnet: it is only interesting, it is only creative, to write from the edge of your ignorance, not to compose from the settled position of knowing in advance the contours of what you will say. I am no longer sure I have anything interesting to say about time. Belief, the worst replacement for ignorance, has placed itself in the way.