Time and Power

Sir Christopher Clark (University of Cambridge)

Do different political leaders view the flow of history differently? This is the question that historian and best-selling author Christopher Clark answers in this talk based on his book “Time and Power”. Starting with contemporary examples such as Macron’s idea of Europe’s shared future horizon threatened by a regressive slide into the protectionist nationalism of Europe’s past and Trump’s ambition to return America to a state of past glory, Clark shows that different political regimes in fact have their own distinct temporal signatures.

Taking four examples from German history, Clark demonstrates how each political regime moved to a different temporal music. Not only are there, as Francois Hartog has argued, different regimes of historicity, but there is also the historicity of regimes. In the first example we hear about Frederick William (1620-1688) of Brandenburg who rather than being preoccupied with the past, leaned into the future, positing a number of possible futures, and thereupon choosing among them. Second, there is the historicity of the Frederick II (1740-1786) who lingered in a kind of philosophical stasis, enamored as he was with the classical authors of ancient Rome, and not with the contemporary thought of his day. Thirdly, there is Bismarck’s (1815-1898) time-awareness, whose challenge it was to reconcile the rapid paceof modernity with the static structures of the monarchical state, and who also saw history as unfolding in fleeting and unforeseeable moments which had to be seized. Lastly, there was the chronopolitics of Nazism, which did not see itself as in history, but in a non-linear time of racial identity. Ultimately, concludes Clark, understanding such fluctuations in temporal awareness may not abate the problem of recursive politics, but it might help us to understand it better.

When is the Anthropocene?

HELGE JORDHEIM (University of Oslo)

Periodizations matter. They are statements about what is important and what is trivial. They have effects far beyond their origins in scientific discourse. The Anthropocene is the most effective neologism in our time. Therefore we need to know what it means and the kind of work of it does in both science, technology and politics.

This talk is an attempt to respond to this need. One of the things we find as we look closer at the term is that it actually attempts to cover a incredible range of different kinds of processes: from the deep time of geology, the whole of human history, the lifetimes of species, to the extinction rates of plants and animals. All of these different kinds of life and time-scales are bundled up and made to fit together in a coherent temporal framework. Therefore we can say that the “Anthropocene” synchronizes these different kinds of time.

The Anthropocene is also a statement about our current situation. By highlighting the problematic relationship between humans and nature, it foregrounds the present moment as a kind of emergency. But instead of seeing our present moment as a time of crisis, we must emphasize that it is a moment of what the Greeks called kairos; a brief, decisive moment which announces itself as the right moment to act, and which unless acted upon, does not come again.