A number of recent publications suggest that historians of Germany have (re)discovered ‘time’ as a category of historical analysis.1 To be sure, the ongoing and, if anything, increasing popularity of Reinhart Koselleck’s work on the emergence of the modern time regime and its implications for the theory and practice of historical writing forms the scholarly basis of most recent efforts to conceive of time as a historical category.2 At the same time, recent studies not only seek to further develop Koselleck’s seminal work but also historicize his insights as the product of a specific time regime, that of the 1970s. They also mobilize newer theoretical frameworks, most notably the German sociologist’s Hartmut Rosa notion on the ‘acceleration’ of time, François Hartog’s thesis of a new regime of presentism and Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht’s identification of a new ‘chronotype’ of a ‘broad present’ (breite Gegenwart).3 Finally, these publications begin to link German historiography to some now well-established postcolonial critiques of linear and Western conceptions of time.4 Not only was the globalization of Western time itself a historical process and an integral part of Western imperialism, as Vanessa Ogle has recently demonstrated,5 but Western conceptions of time have also served an essential function in maintaining a civilizational developmentalism that has relegated the non-Western world to a backward and often colonial ‘not yet’, in Dipesh Chakrabarty’s words.6 It is perhaps not by accident that these new histories of time exist, with some important exceptions (most notably Joachim Radkau’s recently published Geschichte der Zukunft), in edited collections or as essays. Both of the thought-provoking volumes under review here are therefore first and foremost exercises in deconstruction. They seek to undermine a more traditional yet still very powerful understanding of linear time and/or time that exists separately from historical actors as an objective frame within which History takes place and thus can be categorized into neatly separated entities of past, present and future. By contrast, both volumes propagate a conception of time that diverges from such linear and objectivist conceptions. As Lucian Hölscher argues in his excellent introduction, a history of the future entails a veritable shift of historical optic away from the past and towards ‘past futures’. Such an epistemological shift entails potentially far-reaching consequences. Histories of the future constitute, as he argues, ‘hybrid constructions of reality’ (p. 12) that remain partly imaginary, yet are capable of exerting significant historical force. Most importantly, these histories of the future caution against still-existing teleologies and remind historians of the openness of past futures. Histories of the future thus might produce a potentially infinite number of potential histories that can be analysed not just with respect to their content but also regarding the various modes by which they were generated. No wonder that such an approach resists, as of yet, attempts at synthesis and develops its productive force primarily in the modification, complication or outright deconstruction of existing narratives. Whereas Hölscher’s volume seeks to provide a survey of past futures in the twentieth, Esposito’s volume addresses a more specific problem. According to the comprehensive introduction by the editor, the volume seeks to identify, define and analyse a transformation in conceptions of time during the last third of the twentieth century. Inspired by the Tübingen research project on the history ‘after the boom’, Esposito argues that a modern conception of time as linear and progressive essentially came to an end in the 1970s.7 It was therefore also no accident that this period also saw the publication of Reinhart Koselleck’s seminal works on the emergence the modern time regime, even though the origins of Koselleck’s thinking actually extended back to his intellectual engagement with Carl Schmitt in the 1950s.8 Esposito’s volume thus aims at historicizing Koselleck’s historicization of time, at least as far as it manifested itself in the 1970s. For him, the shift in conceptions of time was closely related to the emergence of a notion of post-history, or post-modernism. Linear and objectivist notions of time were challenged on a variety of fronts, including the ascendancy of Levi Strauss’s structuralism (which privileged the synchronic over the diachronic) and Foucault’s early works. Perhaps even more important, the process of decolonization and the (at least partial) failure to ‘modernize’ the Third World based on Western models revealed the Eurocentrism and potential violence of linear and progressive conceptions of time. For Esposito, all of these intellectual and political development converged in what he calls a ‘second crisis of historicism’ (p. 52), which entailed a further historicization of the foundational assumptions of Western style-modernity. The volume then seeks to demonstrate the various manifestations of this crisis in a variety of political and cultural contexts. Unlike many edited volumes, both collections thus contain a clearly developed and innovative theoretical framework. So how do the individual contributions live up to these rather ambitious goals? Rather than discuss each individual contribution, let me seek to identify some themes that cut across both volumes. One set of issues addresses the conceptions of time held by broadly left-wing or protest movements. This is perhaps not surprising because left-wing movements depended, by definition, on the promise of a better future that would transcend the difficult predicament of workers’ and other oppressed groups’ respective presents. Thomas Welskopp, Stefan Berger and Elke Seefried all analyse Social Democratic visions of the future at various moments from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. Their contributions show persuasively how the concept of the ‘revolution’ gradually shifted through different modes of envisioning the future: from prognosis and specific programmes intended to lead to a Socialist future to a utopia with increasingly little impact on day-to-day politics. Notwithstanding periodic attempts by a leftist opposition to revitalize the revolution in terms of a concrete programme, this gradual transformation of the revolution into a utopia was the necessary complement to the increasingly pragmatic and reformist practice of Social Democracy. What appears striking in retrospect here is the virtual failure to revitalize the revolution as an attempt to imagine a radically different future even in the aftermaths of cataclysmic ruptures such as 1918 or 1945. Perhaps a history of the future should analyse and explain the production of imagined futures as well as those futures that remained absent. From the 1960s onwards, as Elke Seefried’s contribution in Esposito’s volume shows, Social Democratic conceptions of the future shifted from a strong belief in progress and in the ability of the state to bring about a better future, to conceptions that increasingly included ecological consideration and moved from an emphasis on quantitative to qualitative growth, giving rise to the new mantra of sustainability. Reflecting the ascendancy of neo-liberalism in the 1990s, Social Democrats too envisioned the market—and not the state—as the main agent of change, which, by definition, entailed an increasing withdrawal from the notion of a future that can be systematically planned and shaped. Parallel right-wing conceptions of the future are the subject of Anselm Doering-Manteuffel’s essay, which posits National Socialist conceptions of time as the antithesis to the liberal narrative of progress as well as to Communist utopias. Using the example of the German involvement in the 1937 world exhibition in Paris, he interprets Nazi contributions as ‘monumentalized overcoming of the rational belief in progress’ (p. 118). While this analysis persuasively reflects National Socialist self-representations, it radically separates National Socialism from a liberal and Communist ‘other’. As such, the argument goes against recent efforts to show how National Socialism not only transcended but also participated in liberal-bourgeois values, including individuality (as shown for example in Moritz Föllmer’s work).9 Moreover, one wonders about the precise role of anti-Semitism in National Socialist conceptions of time, especially regarding Alon Confino’s recent argument that the eradication of Jewish pasts formed the basis of imagining a future ‘world without Jews’.10 Contrary to a perhaps tempered, yet never completely abandoned Social Democratic belief in the possibility of a better future, several essays reflect a gradual decline of beliefs in the essential malleability of the future or, for that matter, in the promise of the project of modernity during the last third of the twentieth century. Focusing on the example of Michael Ende’s highly popular youth novel Momo, Silke Mende traces the emergency of a skeptical and critical view of the future within the green and alternative milieu, which she then contrasts with what she sees as the belief in progress and the obsession with planning during the long 1960s. Along similar lines, Elke Seefried’s essay on West German futurology, which is essentially a summary of her monograph,11 juxtaposes an essentially optimistic and progress-oriented science of the future that emerged during the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s with the ascendancy of a new uncertainty and skepticism regarding the ability of humans to shape the future during the 1970s. Interestingly, Frank Bösch’s more empirically based analysis of euphoria and fear regarding computers complicates this periodization at least to some extent: he demonstrates that some of the optimism of the 1960s was tempered with concerns over technological unemployment, yet also shows how a more pragmatic and less skeptical orientation towards technological progress eventually prevailed in the 1980s. Other protest movements, by contrast, engaged in a more radical denial of the future during the late twentieth century. In his analysis of the ‘chronopolitics’ of the youth revolt of the early 1980s as it manifested itself in the squatter movement of radical left wing groups (Autonome), Lukas J. Hezel shows how the denial of any future fostered a ‘militant presentism’ that insisted on change (or at least activism) in the present and eventually abandoned any horizon of expectation for a better future. Tobias Becker’s contribution focuses on the flip side, as it were, of the virtual disappearance of the future in his essay on the popularity of nostalgia in the 1980s. Like many individuals at the time, he sees phenomena such as an increased interest in historical preservation or the popularity of museums and historical exhibitions as compensation for the acceleration of time and for receding optimism towards the future. Rather than as a temporal space of as-yet unfulfilled promises, the future of the 1980s existed often as horror scenarios to be avoided at all costs. Nicolai Hannig’s analysis of West German Katastrophenschutz, for example, shows how an initial attempt at eliminating the danger of natural catastrophes gave way to a recognition of their human causes and an attempt to manage their consequences, for example through insurance. That futures are always part of a culture’s imaginary realm, and hence are also articulated in fictional texts, becomes apparent in Stefan Willer’s analysis of apocalyptic visions of nuclear war by the writers Arno Schmidt and Marlen Haushofer. This contribution also brings out the historicity of certain conceptions of the future: while both texts were largely ignored when they were published in 1955 and 1962, respectively, they experienced a revival and revaluation in the context of nuclear fears of the 1980s. Another set of contributions takes seriously the notion of plural temporalities and analyses the relationship between biological and historical times. Sabine Mischner’s excellent essay on ‘praxeological’ conceptions of time in letters and diaries during the First World War reveals the potential benefits of such an approach. Contrary to the thesis of the wartime as an eternal present, she reveals the construction of shared temporalities—and shared futures—in private correspondence between the military front and the home front, which then also became the basis of expectations for the post-war period. Two more contributions analyse (dis)congruities in the relationship between biological and historical time. Jürgen Reulecke’s analysis of the (mis)communication between the youth movements of the turn of the century and of the 1960s and Helge Jordheim’s analysis of imagined futures in old age both reveal protagonists efforts’ (and often failure) to align their individual and subjective sense of time with an overarching, collective historical time. Finally, several historiographically oriented essays reflect the potential contributions of histories of time to the self-reflection of historical practice. As one of the most provocative essays, Achim Landwehr’s contribution challenges, the unproblematic use of the concept of time by most historians as ‘clock and calendar time’ (p. 228).12 Instead, Landwehr emphatically argues for time as a social and historical construct. More importantly, he calls for an analysis of what he terms ‘chronoferences’ (p. 242), that is, the permanently changing and never-stable relationship between ‘present’ and ‘absent’ times. For Landwehr, past and future fundamentally do not exist as separate categories, but are always projections of specific presents, which, moreover, are mobilized differently and for various purposes by different collectives. More so than Fernando Esposito’s introduction, Chris Lorenz mobilizes a post-colonial perspective in highlighting chronology as a ‘Western instrument of power’ and criticizing the ‘teleology of modernity’ as the ‘birth defect of Western periodization’ (p. 77). From this perspective, Koselleck’s thesis of the emergence of a modern time regime also appears as ‘Eurocentric’ and as a ‘product of its time’ (p. 67). Like other authors, Lorenz stresses the decline of conceptions of the future with the ‘end of linear time’ and a renewed interest in memory and identity. Teleology is also the target of Rüdiger Graf’s intelligent analysis of the ways in which recent syntheses of contemporary history deal with the problem of the unknowability of the future. Rather than simply and arbitrarily choosing developments of the recent past and projecting them into the future, Graf brilliantly turns the problem of the essential openness of the future into a theoretical argument for less teleological and more multidirectional narratives in the writing of contemporary history. Both volumes succeed in staking out and defining a field of research that is only gradually coming into focus. In the spirit of historicizing the historicizers, it might also be worth asking why historians are turning to time as a historical category at this particular moment? Perhaps this historiographical impetus reflects the perception of another moment of crisis, in which the past certainties of the liberal-democratic order are not just attacked form without, but increasingly questioned and undermined from within. In times of an apparent global turn to authoritarianism, any residual belief in a sort of liberal democratic telos of History appears to be rapidly crumbling. Both volumes, especially the Esposito volume, can thus also be read as presenting a historical genealogy of sorts of the present moment. That said, some other contexts that might be useful for a new history of the future, and of time more generally, are not fully mobilized in both volumes. One of the proverbial dogs that did not bark is the category of ‘emotions’. It is rather surprising that none of the contributions take up this burgeoning sub-field, even though its relevance for the subject is very apparent. Emotions tend to define and mark their own temporalities by connecting past, present and future. ‘Fear’ and ‘hope’, for example, are future-orientated, whereas an emotion like ‘resentment’ is essentially directed towards the past. Combining the analysis of shifting regimes of time and emotion might reveal, for example, how and why individual and collective investments in certain futures changed over time.13 In their attempts to shift our historiographical focus to past futures and to establish time as a thoroughly historical category, neither volume fully engages with the past historicization of the ‘past’, that is, the comprehensive literature on ‘memory’ and on commemorative cultures. To be sure, several contributions invoke the turn to memory as an indicator of a shifting time regime. But they rarely explore, for example, how certain memories of the past were linked to anticipations of the future, which is to say that they do not analyse actual historical manifestations of what Landwehr calls ‘chronoferences’. For example, it seems rather obvious that the rise of nostalgia in the 1980s, as it is invoked in several essays, might have served a compensatory function for the emergence of a popular Holocaust memory throughout the 1980s. Visiting an exhibition on Prussia or on the Stauffer provided a national identity that a proliferating Holocaust memory rendered ever more complicated. In general, more skeptical, pessimistic futures from the 1970s onwards might have been integrally linked to the emergence and popularization of Holocaust memory during the same period. Perhaps this relative neglect is due to the long-term effects of Koselleck’s thesis of a divergence between the ‘space of experience’ and the ‘horizon of expectation’ that has posited a disjuncture between past and future in modernity. Yet in the context of twentieth-century Germany, memories of an often catastrophic and violent past arguably continued to shape and inform anticipations of the future throughout the century. Finally, a more specific objection to the Esposito volume is the frequently invoked binary contrast between the ‘optimistic 1960s’ and the ‘pessimistic 1970s’ found in several contributions. This argument appears to be a basic assumption of the Tübingen project, and it appears to have become a virtually unquestioned orthodoxy in several contributions. To be sure, this is not to deny that there was indeed a shift towards more critical perspectives or futures in the 1970s, at least in some subcultures. But this sharp juxtaposition of the 1960s and 1970s might have to be somewhat modified in both directions: while the 1960s also witnessed an extensive discourse of crisis regarding the future, the much-cited skepticism towards industrial modernity did not affect all sectors of Western societies in the 1970s, as Rüdiger Graf has recently argued persuasively.14 Both volumes nevertheless succeed in opening up an important area of research. They promote a more self-reflective usage of ‘time’ as an analytical category, and many of the individual case studies provide excellent examples of how to operationalize this perspective. While quite a few edited collections raise the question of just why they needed to be published, these two volumes clearly do not belong in this category. Theoretically sophisticated, carefully conceptualized and empirically rich, these two volumes constitute new benchmarks for anybody who is concerned with historical approaches to ‘time’ and the ‘future’ in the German context. Footnotes 1 Apart from the two volumes reviewed here, see also Frank Becker, Benjamin Scheller and Ute Schneider (eds), Die Ungewissheit des Zukünftigen: Kontingenz in der Geschichte (Frankfurt, 2016), Alexander C.T. Gepper and Till Kössler (ed.), Obsession der Gegenwart: Zeit im 20. Jahrhundert (Göttingen, 2015), Joachim Radkau, Geschichte der Zukunft: Prognosen, Visionen, Irrungen in Deutschland von 1945 bis heute (Berlin, 2017), Aleida Assmann, Ist die Zeit aus den Fugen? Aufstieg und Fall des Zeitregimes der Moderne (Munich, 2013), Martin Sabrow, Die Zeit der Zeitgeschichte (Göttingen, 2012), Rüdiger Graf, ‘Zeit und Zeitkonzeptionen in der Zeitgeschichte’, Docupedia-Zeitgeschichte (2012), Ulrich Raulff, Der unsichtbare Augenblick: Zeitkonzepte in der Geschichte (Göttingen, 2000). 2 See, for example, the recent biography of Koselleck by Niklas Olsen, History in the Plural: An Introduction to the Work of Reinhart Koselleck (New York, 2012). 3 Hartmut Rosa, Social Acceleration: A New Theory of Modernity, trans. Jonathan Trejo-Mathys (New York, 2013), François Hartog, Regimes of Historicity: Presentism and Experiences of Time, trans. Saskia Brown (New York, 2015), Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, Unsere breite Gegenwart, trans. Frank Born (Frankfurt, 2010). 4 Stefan Tanaka, New Times in Modern Japan (Princeton, 2004). 5 Vanessa Ogle, The Global Transformation of Time: 1870–1950 (Cambridge, Mass., 2015). 6 Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton, 2000). 7 Lutz Raphael and Anselm Döring-Manteuffel, Nach dem Boom (Göttingen, 2012). 8 This point is noted in a footnote to his contribution to the Hölscher volume, see Fernando Esposito, ‘Die Schliessung der Zukunft und die Öffnung der Zeit’, in Hölscher, ed., Die Zukunft des 20. Jahrhunderts, p. 290. 9 Moritz Föllmer, Individual and Modernity in Berlin: Self and Society from Weimar to the Wall (New York, 2013). 10 Alon Confino, A World without Jews: The Nazi Imagination from Persecution to Genocide (New Haven, 2014). 11 Elke Seefried, Zukünfte: Aufstieg und Krise der Zukunftsforschung 1945–1980 (Berlin, 2015). 12 Achim Landwehr, Die anwesende Abwesenheit der Vergangenheit: Essay zur Geschichtstheorie (Frankfurt, 2016). 13 For a productive example, see Joachim Häberlen and Jake Smith, ‘Struggling for Feelings: The Politics of Emotions in the Radical New Left in West Germany, c.1968–84’, Contemporary European History 23, 4 (2014), pp. 615–637. 14 Rüdiger Graf, Öl und Souveränität: Petroknowledge und Energiepolitik in den USA und Westeuropa in den 1970er Jahren (Oldenbourg, 2014). © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the German History Society. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/open_access/funder_policies/chorus/standard_publication_model)
German History – Oxford University Press
Published: Nov 14, 2018
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