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Time and the Emerging Other (Time and the Other, cap 1)

Chapter One / Time
and the Emerging Other
Apartfrom time there is one other means to bring about important change—force. If one works too slowly, the other
will do it faster.
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
Of course the history and prae-history of man take their
proper places in the general scheme of knowledge. Of course
the doctrine of the world-long evoluúon of civilisation is
one which philosophic minds will take up ivith eager interest, as a theme of abstract science. But beyond this, such research has its practical side, as a source of power destined to
influence the course of modern ideas and actions.
Edward Bumett Tylor
K N O W L E D G E IS POWER. T h a t commonplace applies to
anthropology as much as to any other field o f knowledge.
B u t commonplaces usually cover u p for not-so-common
truths. I n this first chapter I want to set down some o f the
terms for an argument to be pursued throughout these essays: Anthropology's claim to power originated at its roots.
I t belongs to its essence and is not a matter o f accidental
misuse. Nowhere is this more clearly visible, at least once we
look for it, than in the uses o f T i m e anthropology makes
when it strives to constitute its own object—the savage, the
primitive, the Other. I t is by diagnosing anthropology's
temporal discourse that one rediscovers the obvious, namely
that there is no knowledge o f the Other which is not also a
temporal, historical, a politicai act.
T i m e and the Emerging Other
T i m e and the Emerging Other
Perhaps this covers too much ground; politicai can mean
anything from systematic oppression to anarchic mutual
recognition. T h e epigrams chosen for this chapter are to
indicate that our attention will mostly be directed to the oppressive uses o f T i m e . Anthropology's alliance with the
forces o f oppression is neither a simple o r recent one, as
some moralizing critics would have it, nor is it unequivocal.
T h e brief sketches o f some o f the historical contexts in which
anthropological uses o f T i m e developed have the main purpose o f recounting a story whose conclusion is open-ended
and contradictory. Anthropology may, d u r i n g the period
covered here, have succeeded i n establishing itself as an academic discipline; it failed to come to a rest vis-à-vis a clearly
defined Other.
From Sacred to Secular Time: The Philosophical Traveler
I n the Judeo-Christian tradition T i m e has been conceived
as the m é d i u m o f a sacred history. T i m e was thought, but
more often celebrated, as a sequence o f specific events that
befall a chosen people. Much has been said about the linear
character o f that conception as opposed to pagan, cyclical
views o f T i m e as an éternel retour. Yet such spatial metaphors o f temporal thought tend to obscure something that
is o f more immediate significance in an attempt to sketch
the ancestry o f Time's anthropological uses: Faith in a covenant between Divinity and one people, trust i n divine
providence as it unfolds in a history o f salvation centered
on one Savior, make for sacred conceptions o f T i m e . They
stress the specificity o f T i m e , its realization in a given cultural ecology—the Eastern Mediterranean, first, and the
circum-Mediterranean with Rome as its hub, later.
Decisive steps towards modernity, those that permitted
the emergence o f anthropological discourse, must be sought,
not i n the invention o f a linear conception, but i n a succession o f attempts to secularize Judeo-Christian T i m e by generalizing and universalizing it.
Different degrees o f universalizing T i m e had o f course
been achieved i n an abstract f o r m by earlier philosophical
thought. I n fact, "universal T i m e " was probably established
concretely and politically in the Renaissance i n response to
both classical philosophy and to the cognitive challenges
presented by the age o f discoveries opening u p i n the wake
of the earth's circumnavigation. Nevertheless, there are good
reasons to look for decisive developments, not in the moments o f intellectual rupture achieved by Copernicus and
Galileo nor, for that matter, by Newton and Locke, but in
the century that elaborated the devices o f discourse we now
recognize as the foundations o f modern anthropology—the
Age o f Enlightenment.
I f we follow G. Gusdorf we may locate the starting point
of these developments, a sort o f barrier that had to be broken through, in one o f the last attempts d u r i n g the seventeenth century to write a universal history from the Christian viewpoint, Bossuet's Discours sur Vhistoire universelle (first
published i n 1681). Perhaps it is too simplistic to put Bossuet at the other side o f a premodern/modern watershed,
for i n many ways he anticipated the Enlightenment genre
of "philosophical history." His opposition to modernity is
not so much in the detail o f his methodological prescriptions as it is in the position that integrates his views: faith in
the evangelical specificity o f ali o f history as history o f salvation. A brief reading o f the introduction to the Discours,
entitled "The General Plan o f this W o r k , " will illuminate
the importance o f Bossuet's treatise.
Bossuet's professed aim is to alleviate confusion caused
by the multitude o f historical fact. T h i s is to be accomplished by teaching the reader to "distinguish different times
(temps)" with the help o f "universal history," a device which
"is to the histories o f every country and o f every people
what a general map is to particular maps" (1845:1, 2). I n
this analogy the universal is aligned with the general, which
signals a certain ambiguity (one which, incidentally, is still
with us i n anthropology's quest for universais). Universais
appears to have two connotations. One is that o f totality; i n
this sense, universal designates the whole w o r l d at ali times.
T h e other is one o f generality: that which is applicable to a
large number o f instances. T h e important point, borne out
by the body o f the Discours, is that Bossuet does not thema4
T i m e and the Emerging Other
tize the first connotation. His account does not cover the
w o r l d , it never leaves the circum-Mediterranean. W r i t i n g
within the horizon o f the history o f Christian religion, he
does not see his perspective, nor does he look beyond his
horizon. T h e former is self-evident as an article o f faith, the
latter is bounded by his politicai position at the French court
o f Louis X I V , whose succession to the Christian Roman
Empire he takes for granted. Perspective and horizon o f the
Discours are tied together by the all-pervading intention to
validate (albeit not uncritically) the politicai realities o f his
day by a history that is universal because it expresses the
omnipresent signs o f divine providence.
I n contrast, Bossuet is quite conscious o f problems i m plicit i n the second connotation o f universal. H o w can one
present history in terms o f generally valid principies? He
argues that such a project rests o n the ability to discern i n
the "sequence o f things" (suite des choses) the "order o f times."
Methodologically this calls for an "abbreviation" o f sequences in such a way that order can be perceived "at a
glance" {comme dun coup d'oál, 1845:2). A long history o f the
"art o f memory" is behind this remark, and a history o f the
visual reduction o f temporal sequence—its "synchronic" understanding—lies ahead o f i t .
A methodological device that opens the view over T i m e
is the epoch, conceived, not i n its currently most common
understanding o f a period or interval o f time, but i n a transitive sense derived from its Greek root. A n epoch is a point
at which one stops the j o u r n e y through T i m e "to consider
as from a place o f rest, ali that happened before or after, so
that one may avoid anachronisms, that is, a kind o f error
which results i n confusing the times." I n exposing universal
history one proceeds by treating a "small number o f epochs" in secular and religious history, the outcome o f which
will be—and here Bossuet's methodology rejoins his faith—
to make visible the " P E R P E T U A L DURATION O F R E L I G I O N , A N D
(1845:3, 4). T h u s both, the externai, spatial boundaries o f
history and its inner continuity are o f religion. Where mere
sequence m i g h t cause confusion, the distinction o f times i n
T i m e and the Emerging Other
the light o f divine providence creates order. I t demonstra tes the omnipresent work o f salvation.
O . Ranum, the editor o f a recent English version, reminds us that Bossuet used the term discourse i n the title o f
his work deliberately. He wanted to break with conventions
according to which highly stylized secular and religious histories were produced d u r i n g the seventeenth century (see
Ranum 1976:xviii). Bossuet asserted his freedom to abbreviate, condense, and emphasize without being bound by the
then firmly established c â n o n o f historical facts each historian was expected to report. I n this he anticipated the "philosophical history" which Voltaire opposed to mindless
chronicling and out o f which the first projects o f modern
anthropology were to grow. Less obvious, but equally i m portam, is the model set by Bossuet for what one might call
sermonizing history, which is another possible connotation
o f discourse. Bossuet wrote his w o r k for the enlightenment
and education o f the Dauphin (and his father, the Sun King).
I t was meant as a refutation o f attacks on the literal understanding o f the Bible and as a defense o f a Gallican, Frenchcentered, reformed Catholicism. I n short* his "distinction o f
times" is embedded i n concrete political-moral concerns. He
expressed himself t h r o u g h discursive devices that were rhetorical i n the classical sense: aimed to move and convince
the reader. His politicai intent and its rhetorical f o r m were
to influence the writing o f the philosophes and to become part
o f anthropology's heritage as, i n Tylor's words, a "reforme i s science."
We set out to show i n Boussuet's Discours an example
for a premodern treatise o n universal history; now we seem
to end u p with more similarities than dissimilarities i f we
compare his method and devices to those o f the Englightenment philosophical histories. We are confronting here a wellknown problem i n the interpretation o f eighteenth-century
thought. O n the whole, the philosophes, w h o m we recognize
in many respects as our immediate ancestors, achieved only
a sort o f negative modernity. I n the words o f Carl Becker:
"Their negations rather than their affirmations enable us to
treat them as kindred spirits" (1963:30). Or, as Gusdorf puts
Time and the Emerging Other
T i m e and the Emerging Other
it, these thinkers replaced Bossuet's Christian m y t h with the
"myth-history o f reason" which, by and large, continued to
use the conventions and devices o f earlier periods. I f one
wants to show how T i m e became secularized i n the eighteenth century and onward he must concentrate o n the
transformation o f the message o f "universal history" rather
than on the elements o f its code. T h e latter display a remarkable continuity with preceding periods down to the
Greco-Roman canons o f the arts o f memory and rhetoric.
T h e transformation o f the message had to be operated on
what we identified as the specificity o f Christian "universality." Change also had to occur on the levei o f politicai intent
or "judgment." I t was on that levei that the philosophes had
to overcome Bossuet who "was never reluctant to j u d g e ali
o f the past i n the light o f the single most important event
o f ali time: the brief passage o f the man-god Jesus through
a life on earth" (Ranum 1976:xxvi).
I n fact, among the many expressions o f change one
could cite is the very transformation o f one man's allsignificant passage on earth into the topos of travei. I n the
Christian tradition, the Savior's and the saints' passages on
earth had been perceived as constituem events o f a sacred
history. T o be sure, this had occasioned much travei to
foreign parts i n the form o f pilgrimages, crusades, and missions. But for the established bourgeoisie o f the eighteenth
century, travei was to become (at least potentially) every
man's source o f "philosophical," secular knowledge. Religious travei had been to the centers o f religion, or to the souls
to be saved; now, secular travei was from the centers o f
learning and power to places where man was to find nothing but himself. As S. Moravia had shown in his brilliant
studies, the idea and practice o f travei as science, prepared in
Diderot's encyclopedia (1973:125-132), was definitively established toward the end o f the eighteenth century, especially among the thinkers known as "ideologues" (see
Moravia 1976). T w o names, those o f J. M . D e g é r a n d o and
C. F. Volney, are o f special interest i n this connection o f
travei and the secularization o f T i m e .
I t was D e g é r a n d o who expressed the temporalizing
ethos o f an emerging anthropology i n this concise and pro-
grammatic formula: "The philosophical traveller, sailing to
the ends o f the earth, is in fact travelling in time; he is exploring the past; every step he makes is the passage o f an
age" ( D e g é r a n d o 1969 [1800]:63). I n this statement, the attribute philosophical echoes the militant enthusiasm o f the preceding century for a science o f man to be conceived by man and
for man, one i n which religious and metaphysical searches
for mankind's origin and destiny were to give place to a
radically immanent vision o f humanity at home in the entire
world and at ali times. Now man is, i n Moravia's words,
"placed, without residue, inside o f a world-horizon which is
his own . . . to travei means, i n this framework, not only to
quench the thirst for knowledge; it also signifies man's most
intimate vocation" (1967:942). I t is i n this sense o f a vehicle
for the self-realization o f man that the topos o f travei signals achieved secularization o f T i m e . A new discourse is built
on an enormous literature o f travelogues, collections and
syntheses o f travei accounts.
T h e manifest preoccupation in this literature, in its
popular forms as well as in its scientific uses, was with the
description o f movements and relations i n space ("geography") based primarily on visual observation o f foreign
places. However, this does not contradict the contention that
elaborating a secular conception o f T i m e was its underlying
concern. Precisely because secular T i m e was its presupposition, logically speaking, or its signified, in semiotic parlance,
the new discourse had (with exceptions to be mentioned
later) no need to thematize T i m e . (Philosophical History, as
is well known, was strangely ahistorical). Such distinction
between intent and expression is an important principie of
interpretation which will be more fully elaborated in chapter 3. I t also invites consideration o f the reverse case: A discourse i n which T i m e is thematized may be about an atemporal referent.
As we shall see,
evolutionism is a case in point. A t any rate, "philosophical
travei," that is, the conception o f travei as science, could leave
the problem o f T i m e theoretically implicit because travei itself, as witnessed by D e g é r a n d o ' s statement, is instituted as
a temporalizing practice.
Why this should be so is explained by the subsumption
T i m e and the Emerging Other
T i m e and the Emerging Other
o f travei under the reigning paradigm o f natural history.
Moravia has shown that the project o f scientific travei was
consciously conceived to replace an earlier, enormously
popular, genre o f mostly sentimental and aesthetisizing tales
o f travei. T h e new traveler "criticized the philosophes: the
reality o f lived experience and o f things seen was now opposed to a reality distorted by preconceived ideas"
(1967:963). One also begins to reject the linkup, unquestioned by earlier voyagers, between travei i n foreign parts
and military conquest. According to La P é r o u s e , one o f the
most famous figures i n this story, "the modern navigators
only have one objective when they describe the customs o f
new peoples: to complete the history o f man" (cited i n M o ravia 1967:964 f ) .
T h e r e is a significam double entendre i n the verb to
complete. As used by La P é r o u s e , it signifies belief in the f u l fillment o f human destiny: travei is the self-realization o f
man. I t also has a more literal, methodological meaning and
might then be translated as filling out (as i n "to complete a
questionnaire"). I n the episteme o f natural h i s t o r y the exercise o f knowledge was projected as the filling o f spaces or
slots i n a table, or the m a r k i n g o f points i n a system o f coordinates i n which ali possible knowledge could be placed.
I t is therefore not surprising that with the rise o f an ethos
o f scientific travei we also see the emergence o f a genre o f
scientific preparation for travei quite different from the instructiones European potentates used to give to the early navigators and conquistadors. We know its m o d e r n offspring,
the Notes and Queries on Anthropology which accompanied
generations o f anthropologists to the field. Only recendy
have we rediscovered and come to appreciate such predecessors as D e g é r a n d o ' s The Observation of Savage Peoples, issued from the short-lived activities o f the Société des Observateurs de 1'Homme. I t is most revealing to find that a model
o f the genre was conceived by that natural historian par excellence, Linnaeus (Institutio Perigrinatoris, Uppsala, 1759).
This confirais, i f confirmation is needed, beyond any doubt
the roots o f the new science o f travei i n natural-historical
projects o f observation, collection and classification, and description.
The new travelers d i d not mindlessly subscribe to em-
piricism and pure, positive description. Volney, one o f the
most eminent representatives o f the genre, is also the one
who advocated a criticai stance based (and i n this he is closer
to the Romantic revolt against the Enlightenment) on explicitly historical, i.e., temporal considerations. D u r i n g his
voyages i n Egypt and Syria he constantly had to face the
dilapidated monuments o f a once glorious past. Contrasung
past and present became an intellectual concern as well as a
literary device pervading his writings (see Moravia
1967:1008 f ) . I t was elevated to a poetic-philosophical v i sion i n his Les Ruines ou Méditation sur les Révolutions des Empires. Better than any commentary, the opening page from
Ruines will illustrate the poignancy o f contradictory experiences o f past and present and the politicai nature o f V o l ney^ concern with T i m e :
In the eleventh year of the reign of Abd-ul-Hamid,
son of Ahmed, emperor of the Turks, at a time when
the victorious Russians took the Crimea and planted
their banners on the coast that leads to Constantinople, I was travelling in the empire of the Ottomans, and I traversed the provinces which once had
been the kingdoms of Egypt and Syria.
Carrying with me my attentiveness to everything that concerns the well-being of man in society,
I entered the cities and studied the customs of their
inhabitants; I ventured into the palaces and observed the conduct of those who govern; I lost myself in the countryside and examined the conditions
of those who work the land. Seeing everywhere
nothing but pillage and devastation, nothing but
tyranny and misery, my heart was heavy with sadness and indignation. Everyday I found on my road
abandoned fields, deserted villages, and cities in
ruins; often I encountered ancient monuments and
temples reduced to debris; palaces and fortresses,
columns, aqueducts, tombs. This spectacle turned
my spirit to medidating about times past, and it
caused in my heart thoughts that were grave and
profound. (Volney 1830:21 f)
When he later draws the "lessons from times past for
times present" (thus the title o f chapter 12) he finds conso-
T i m e and the Emerging Other
T i m e and the Emerging Other
lation i n a thought that rings with the optimism o f the philosophes:
It is a man's folly that makes him lose himself; it is
up to man's wisdom to save him. The peoples are
ignorant, may they instruct themselves; their rulers
are perverted, let them correct and better themselves. Because that is the dictate of nature: Since the
evils of societies come from cupidity and ignorance, mankind will not cease to be tormented until it becomes enlightended and wise, until they practice the art of justice,
based on the knowledge of their relations and of the
laws of their organisation. (Ibid. 90)
T h e difference between this new faith i n reason and
Bossuet's old faith i n salvation could not be expressed more
clearly. Bossuet preached understanding o f a past that contained a history o f salvation and divine providence. Volney
preaches, too, but has no recourse from the history o f man.
T o h i m , knowledge o f the past is a sort o f Archimedian
point from which to change an otherwise hopeless present.
T h e r e certainly is an element o f romantic pessimism and
nostalgia in his reveries on the Orient's glorious past. A t the
same time, i f we consider the context and message o f Ruines
in its entirety, we find, beneath the image o f a dream which
the writer conveys to his readers, the pragmatic assertion
that it is his, the educated French traveler's, knowledge o f
the past that counts. I t is a superior knowledge, for it is not
shared by the Orientais caught in the present o f their cities,
either deserted and dilapidating, or overpopulated and put r i d . Bossuet had evoked the same topos at the end o f his
Discours, albeit with a different conclusion: "Egypt, once so
wise, stumbles along drunken, dizzy, because the L o r d has
spread giddiness i n its designs; she no longer knows what
she is doing, she is lost. But peoples should not fool themselves: W h e n it pleases H i m , God will straighten out those
who err" (1845:427).
Prefigured i n the Christian tradition, but crucially
transformed i n the Age o f Enlightenment, the idea o f a
knowledge o f T i m e which is a superior knowledge has become an integral part o f anthropology's intellectual equipment. We recognize it in an outlook that has been charac-
teristic o f our discipline through most o f its active periods:
T h e posited authenticity o f a past (savage, tribal, peasant)
serves to denounce an inauthentic present (the uprooted,
évolués, acculturated). "Urban anthropology," inasmuch as it
exposes counterimages to the pristine wholeness o f p r i m i tive life, was i n an obvious sense the byproduct o f an advanced stage o f colonization abroad and an advanced stage
of urban decay at home. O n a deeper levei, as Volney's example reminds us, i t was the point o f departure for our
discipline i n that i t expressed the consciousness and concerns o f its urban, bourgeois founders.
From History to Evolution: The Naturalization of Time
Thanks to studies such as those by B u r r o w , Stocking, and
Peei, our understanding o f evolutionism, the paradigm under which, at least i n England, anthropology gained its status as an academic discipline, is much improved. Nevertheless, there remains much confusion, some o f it revived and
perpetuated i n various forms o f neoevolutionary anthropology whose historical awareness does not seem to go beyond
Leslie W h i t e . A failure to distinguish between Darwins and
Spencers views o f evolution is responsible for a great deal
of equivocai back-and-forth tracking between biological and
sociocultural applications. O n the other hand, an admixture
of the two cannot simply be dismissed as an error. I t stems
from a tradition o f equivocation fostered by Spencer h i m self (see Peei 1971:ch. 6) and perhaps by Darwin i n his later
stages. One way to get a grip o n this slippery issue is to
examine it i n the light o f a critique o f anthropology's uses
of T i m e .
I f our conclusions in the preceding section are correct,
the starting point for any attempt to understand evolutionary temporalizing will be the achieved secularization o f T i m e .
I t resulted in a conception which contains two elements o f
particular importance to further developments in the nineteenth century: 1) T i m e is immanent to, hence coextensive
with, the w o r l d (or nature, or the universe, depending on
the argument); 2) relationships between parts o f the w o r l d
T i m e and the Emerging Other
T i m e and the Emerging Other
(in the widest sense o f both natural and sociocultural entities) can be understood as temporal relations. Dispersai i n
space reflects directly, which is not to say simply or i n obvious ways, sequence i n T i m e . Given the sociopolitical context o f these axiomatic truths i n the industrializing and colonizing West, it seems almost inevitable that social theorists
would begin to look for scientific frames i n which to place
ideas o f progress, improvement, and development they had
inherited from the philosophes. This is the straightforward
story as it is most often told. I n reality, the history o f early
evolutionism is replete with puzzles, paradoxes, and inconsequential reasoning.
Theories o f social evolution and vague ideas o f biological evolution were around before Darwin proposed his specific theories o f the origin o f species. Once his theory gained
popular acceptance it, or elements o f it, were incorporated
in views o f social evolution even by those who, like Spencer,
had formed their basic convictions independently o f Darw i n . What they d i d was to redistill from Darwin's theory o f
biological evolution those doctrines that were social to begin
with (Malthusianism, uulitarianism). Paradoxically, the u t i lization o f Darwin became possible only on the condition
that a revolutionary insight that had been absolutely crucial
to his views, namely a new conception o f T i m e , had to be,
i f not eliminated, then altered and emasculated. Only then
could it be applied to various pseudoscientific projects supposed to demonstrate the operation o f evolutionary laws i n
the history o f mankind.
schemes had been tried before; and there was Vico, a disturbing figure when i t comes to periodizations o f moderni t y . B u t the qualitative step from medieval to modern time
conceptions could not have been made without a breakthrough based essentially on a quantitative change. T h i s was
the demise o f Bishop Ussher's biblical chronology, prepared
by earlier skeptics by fully established only when Charles
Lyell published his Principies of Geology (1830). Its importance is stated by Darwin in a passage "On the lapse o f T i m e "
in The Origin of Species: "He who can read Sir Charles LyelFs
grand work on the Principies o f Geology, which the future
historian will recognize as having produced a revolution i n
the natural sciences, yet does not admit how incomprehensibly vast have been the past periods o f time, may at once
close this volume" (1861 [ T h i r d E d i t i o n ] : l l l ) . Lyelfs concern was with uniformitarianism, a theory which was to account for the present shape o f the w o r l d without recourse
to unique, simultaneous creation or to repeated acts o f d i vine intervention ("catastrophes"). As summarized by h i m ,
it posited that "ali former changes o f the organic and physical creation are referable to one uninterrupted succession
o f physical events, governed by laws now i n operation"
(quoted in Peei 1971:293n9).
That was the basis for nineteenth-century attempts to
formulate specific theories o f evolution. Geological T i m e
endowed them with a plausibility and a scope which their
eighteenth century predecessors could not have had. Furthermore, while it is true that the new conception provided
first o f ali a vast quantitative expansion o f T i m e , its real
significance was o f a qualitative nature. T h e problem with
calculations based on the Bible was not only that they d i d
not contain enough time for natural history. T h a t sort o f
problem could have been dealt with (and is dealt with, I
imagine, by present-day fundamentalists) by redoing the
calculations and extending the chronology. T h e true reason
why biblical chronology had to be abandoned was that it d i d
not contain the right kind of Time. Being calculated as the
T i m e after creation as it was revealed i n the Scriptures, this
was Bossuet's T i m e o f salvation. I t was T i m e relaying significam events, mythical and historical, and as such it was
chronicle as well as chronology. As a sequence o f events it
was linear rather than tabular, i.e., it d i d not allow for T i m e
to be a variable independent o f the events it marks. Hence
it could not become part o f a Cartesian system o f time-space
coordinates allowing the scientist to plot a multitude o f uneventful data over neutral time, unless it was first naturalized, i.e., separated from events meaningful to m a n k i n d .
Let us for a moment r e t u r n to Darwin i n order to clarify two further issues. One is Darwin's own keen awareness
that T i m e , once it was naturalized, could and should not be
rehistorized (which was precisely what the social evolution-
T i m e and the Emerging Other
ists would try to do). He could not have been clearer than
in the following passage i n which he rejects tendencies to
read some sort o f inner necessity or meaning into the temporal dimension o f evolution:
The mere lapse of time by itself does nothing either
for or against natural selection. I state this because
it has been erroneously asserted that the element of
time is assumed by me to play an all-important part
in natural selection, as i f ali species were necessarily
undergoing slow modification from some innate
law. (1861:110 f)
Second, Darwin had more than a first inkling o f the
epistemological status o f scientific chronologies as a sort o f
language o r code (an idea we will encounter later on i n its
Lévi-Straussian version):
For my part, following LyelTs metaphor, I look at
the natural geological record, as a history of the
world imperfectly kept, and written in a changing
dialect; of this history we possess the last volume
alone, relating only to two or three countries. Of
this volume, only here and there a short chapter
has been preserved; and of each page, only here
and there a few lines. Each word of the slowlychanging language, in which the history is written,
being more or less different in the successive chapters, may represent the apparently abruptly
changed forms of life, entombed in our consecutive,
but widely separated formations. (1861:336 f)
Unlike old sacred T i m e , o r even its secularized form i n the
"myth-history o f reason," the new naturalized T i m e was no
longer the vehicle o f a continuous, meaningful story; it was
a way to order an essentially discontinuous and fragmentary
geological and paleontological record. T h e social evolutionists, as I mentioned before, had to emasculate the new vision
on ali the three accounts in which it differed from earlier
conceptions. They could not use its vastness because the history o f mankind, recorded or reconstructed, occupied a
negligible span on the scale o f natural evolution (and I am
not sure whether this has changed now that we count h u -
T i m e and the Emerging Other
man time in millions rather than thousands o f years). N o r
could the social evolutionists accept the stark meaninglessness o f mere physical duration. They were too full o f the
conviction that T i m e "accomplished" or brought about things
in the course o f evolution. A n d finally, they had, as yet, no
use for a purely abstract methodological chronology; theirs
was a preoccupation with stages leading to civilization, each
of them as meaningful as a sentence leading toward the
conclusion o f a story.
Because they had no use for the positive iniplications
of naturalized T i m e , the social evolutionists accepted it i n
the end as a mere presupposition o f natural history. I n fact,
some took the consequences and discarded T i m e altogether
from their speculations about human social evolution. For
instance, Morgan stated: " I t does not affect the main result
that different tribes and nations on the same continent, and
even o f the same linguistic family, are i n different conditions at the same time, the condition o f each is the material
fact, the time being immaterial" (1877:13). From Morgan's
timeless "condition" to the later topos o f cultural "configurations" was but a small logical step. I n postulating the
radical irreducibility o f "superorganic" history, militant antievolutionists such as A . Kroeber in his "Eighteen Professions" became executors o f the legacy o f naturalized T i m e .
After ali these observations on what evolutionist anthropologists did not do with T i m e we can now state what
they d i d do to it: they spatialized T i m e . We may illustrate
this by going back to Spencer. J. D . Y. Peei notes that Spencer visualized evolution, not as acham o f being, but as a tree:
"That this image holds true for societies as well as organisms, and for between them as well as for social groupings
within them, is clear from the opening to the final volume
of the Sociology where he says 'social progress is not linear
but divergent and redivergent' and speaks o f species and
genera o f societies" (1971:157). What this describes (a point
not developed by Peei who i n this context gets bogged down
in the spurious issue o f unilinear vs. multilinear evolution) is
a taxonomic approach to socio-cultural reality. T h e tree has
always been one o f the simplest forms o f constructing classificatory schemes based on subsumption and hierarchy. We
T i m e and the Emerging Other
are back to Linnaeus and eighteenth-century natural history. I n other words, the socio-cultural evolutionists accomplished a major feat o f scientific conservatism by saving an
older paradigm from what M . Foucault called "the irruptive
violence o f time" (1973:132). T h e implications o f this will
be spelled out at length i n the chapters that follow. Let us
retain at this point that the temporal discourse o f anthropology as i t was formed decisively under the paradigm o f
evolutionism rested o n a conception o f T i m e that was not
only secularized and naturalized but also thoroughly spatialized. Ever since, I shall argue, anthropology's efforts to
construct relations with its Other by means o f temporal
devices implied affirmation o f difference as distance.
T h e ingredients o f evolutionist naturalization o f T i m e
were Newton's physicalism as well as Lyelfs (and to a lesser
extent Darwin's) uniformitarianism. I n the historiography
o f anthropology things are usually left at that. T y l o r or
Morgan are for many anthropologists still the uncontested
founders o f their discipline and, while most o f their "artificial constructs" may now be rejected, the naturalization o f
T i m e which was evolutionism's crucial epistemological stance
remains by and large unquestioned. That, I submit, betrays
a good measure o f naiveté. T h e use o f T i m e i n evolutionary
anthropology, modeled on that o f natural history, undoubtedly was a step beyond premodern conceptions. But it can
now be argued that wholesale adoption o f models (and o f
their rhetorical expressions i n anthropological discourse)
from physics and geology was, for a science o f man, sadly
regressive intellectually, and quite reactionary politically.
Let me explain. I consider regressive the fact that anthropology achieved its scientific respectability by adopting
an essentially Newtonian physicalism (Time being a universal variable i n equations describing nature in motion) at a
moment near the end o f the nineteenth century when the
outíines o f post-Newtonian physics (and post-"natural history" history) were clearly visible. Radical naturalization o f
T i m e (i.e., its radical dehistorization) was o f course central
to the most celebrated scientific achievement o f that period,
the com para tive method, that omnivorous intellectual machine permitting the "equal" treatment o f h u m a n culture at
T i m e and the Emerging Other
ali times and i n ali places. T h e enthusiasm and euphoria
generated by this toy made it easy to overlook that, while
the data fed into the machine m i g h t have been selected with
positivist neutrality and detachment, its products—the evolutionary sequences—were anything but historically or politically neutral. By claiming to make sense o f contemporary
society i n terms o f evolutionary stages, the natural histories
of evolutionism reintroduced a k i n d o f specificity o f time
and place—in fact a history o f retroactive salvation—that has
its closest counterpart i n the Christian-medieval vision contested by the Enlightenment.
This was politically ali the more reactionary because i t
pretended to rest on stricdy scientific hence universally valid
principies. I n fact littíe more had been done than to replace
faith in salvation by faith i n progress and industry, and the
Mediterranean as the hub o f history by Victorian England.
T h e cultural evolutionists became the Bossuets o f Western
For better or worse, these were the epistemological conditions under which ethnography and ethnology took shape;
and they were also the conditions under which an emerging
anthropological praxis (research, writing, teaching) carne to
be linked to colonialism and imperialism. One cannot insist
too much that these links were epistemological, not just
moral or ethical. Anthropology contributed above ali to the
intellectual justification o f the colonial enterprise. I t gave to
politics and economics—both concerned with human T i m e —
a firm belief in "natural," i.e., evolutionary T i m e . I t promoted a scheme i n terms o f which not only past cultures,
but ali living societies were irrevocably placed on a temporal
slope, a stream o f Time—some upstream, others downstream. Civilization, evolution, development, acculturation,
modernization (and their cousins, industrialization, urbanization) are ali terms whose conceptual content derives, i n
ways that can be specified, from evolutionary T i m e . They
ali have an epistemological dimension apart f r o m whatever
ethical, or unethical, intentions they may express. A discourse employing terms such as primitive, savage (but also
tribal, traditional, T h i r d W o r l d , or whatever euphemism is
current) does not think, o r observe, o r critically study, the
T i m e and the Emerging Other
"primitive"; it thinks, observes, studies in terms o f the p r i m itive. Primitive being essentially a temporal concept, is a category, not an object, o f Western thought.
One last point needs to be made before we consider
T i m e in the context o f modern anthropology. Evolutionism,
the very paradigm that made o f anthropology a science
worthy o f academic recognition, was soon violently rejected
o n both sides o f the Atíantic. One might be tempted to assume that this rejection included its use o f T i m e . This, however, was not the case. Littíe needs to be said i n this regard
about the diffusionist opponents o f evolutionism. Superficially at least, their basic assumptions were so much like those
o f evolutionism that their disputes could not have resulted
in any major reorientation. T h e categorical frame o f naturalized T i m e had become so powerful by the end o f the
nineteenth century that it easily absorbed ideas which the
Kulturkreis people had inherited from the romantics.
This applies, for instance, to Graebner's textbook diffusionism. T h r o u g h o u t his Methode der Ethnologie (1911)
"culture history" is p r e d o m i n a n t í y construed from spatial
distribution. T h a t he accepted the evolutionist equation o f
time and change is implied i n the following example o f his
reasoning: " I f I can demonstrate that the total culture, i n a
given span o f time, d i d not change at ali, o r only i n m i n o r
aspects, then I am entided to interpret dates which fali into
this period more or less as i f they were contemporaneous"
(1911:62). I n other words, i n the study o f "unchanging"
primitive culture, temporal relations can be disregarded i n
favor o f spatial relations. When Graebner frequently talks
about temporal sequence (Zeitfolge), or temporal depth (Zeittiefe) this expresses an Aristotelian notion o f effective causality; temporal sequence was indispensible for arguments
concerning cultural causation. Still, diffusionism amounted
to a project o f writing a history without T i m e o f peoples
"without h i s t o r y . "
O n the other hand, Graebner and other theoreticians
o f diffusionism should be read against the background o f
earlier culture-historical and culture-geographical writing,
whose intellectual substance had not yet been diluted by
postivist methodologization. A document for that period is
T i m e and the Emerging Other
an extraordinary essay by Friedrich Ratzel, "History, Ethnology and Historical Perspective" (1904). H a l f o f the paper
is addressed to questions o f T i m e and temporal sequences
and, in this case, romantic historism and natural history
produce arguments that seem to r u n side by side. Ratzel
begins with remarks on the theory o f science, rejecting the
evolutionist metaphor o f a developmental tree. Such a taxonomic and hierarchical view obscures the radical commonality and equality o f ali sciences. Because ali disciplines ultimately study phenomena that are on and o f the earth they
ali are earth sciences (see 1904:488). W i t h acknowledgements to Herder, Ratzel makes i t clear that this geographism assumes a cotemporal community o f mankind. Priority
was given to the study o f specific cultural identities understood as the outcome o f processes o f interaction between a
population and its environment. Emphasis o n real space
(ecology) precluded concern with temporal grading o f societies on evolutionary scales according to postulated general
Nevertheless, in the century between Herder and Ratzel
the episteme o f natural history had established a hold on
ethnology. When Ratzel turns to the question o f "facts and
temporal sequence" he advocates a "genetic" interpretation
o f cultural facts but affirms that the foundation o f such an
approach must be (natural-historical) collection, description,
and classification o f culture traits (see 1904:507). Imperceptibly, real ecological space is being replaced by classificatory,
tabular space: distribution wins over growth and process.
Ratzel is aware o f this and describes contemporary infatuation with conjectural history, somewhat ironically, as f o l lows: " I t sounds very simple: Since ali historical events occur i n space, we must be able to measure the time they
needed to spread by the distances that were covered: a
reading o f time on the clock o f the globe" (1904:521). A l most immediately he doubts that in the realm o f human
history such simple translation o f distribution i n space into
sequence in time will ever be "scientifically" possible. Especially, the determination o f origins in developmental sequences is a matter o f "practical" rather than scientific Solutions ( I hear i n practical at least a connotation of politicai).
T i m e and the Emerging Other
Time and the Emerging Other
W i t h i n the human community (Òkumene) it is impossible to
decree a specific period o r area o f cultural origins. Being
situated on one and same earth, "no country is privileged
over another" (1904:523).
T h e reason and excuse for this digression is to register
at least one instance o f anthropological uses o f T i m e which
hesitated to follow the main line o f naturalization and temporal distancing. Its failure to influence mainstream anthropology in the twentieth century certainly was i n part selfinflicted. I t is hard to recognize Herder i n Graebners
pedantry. T h e deeper reason, however, might be that the
dominant trends in anthropology could not accommodate the
anti-Enlightenment heritage that was at the roots o f the culture-historical orientation.
Several discernible paradigms succeeded the evolutionist and diffusionist Grunderzeit. For the sake o f brevity let us
refer to them as (British) functionalism, (American) culturalism, and (French) structuralism. T h e early functionalists,
notably Malinowski, simply rejected evolutionism on the
grounds that it was armchair historical speculation. Notice
however that he objected, not to its being too naturalist or
rationalist in dealing with human society, but rather to its
not being naturalist enough. Functionalism, i n its fervor to
explore the mechanisms o f living societies, simply put on ice
the problem o f T i m e . Synchronic analysis, after ali, presupposes a freezing o f the time frame. Similar postulates were
formulated by de Saussure and French sociologists such as
Mauss and D u r k h e i m . Eventually this made possible the rise
o f hyphenated functionalism-structuralism whose powerful
hold on social anthropology, and, indeed, o n sociology testifies to the unbroken reign o f evolutionist epistemology. Its
open, explicit revival i n the later writings o f Talcott Parsons, i n debates on the history o f science ( K u h n , T o u l m i n ,
Campbell, and others), and even i n the latest twist o f criticai
theory (Habermas and his opponent Luhmann), shows that
it has not lost its attraction among Western intellectuals.
Ironically, the supposedly radical break with evolutionism propagated by Boasian and Kroeberian cultural anthropology had little or no effect on these epistemological presuppositions. T r u e , culturalism proclaimed "history" a
domain irreducible to natural history. I t relativized human,
cultural time and left universal time to biological evolution.
W i t h that the Enlightenment project was in fact ignored and
relegated to the natural sciences. Practically, concentration
on cultural configurations and patterns resulted in such
overwhelming concern with the description o f states (albeit
"dynamic" states) that the eighteenth-century élan i n the
search for a theory o f universal human progress was ali but
abandoned. I n sum, functionalism, culturalism, and structuralism did not solve the problem o f universal human Time;
they ignored it at best, and denied its significance at worst.
Some Uses of Time in Anthropological Discourse
One might be tempted to conclude from ali this that not
much has changed since anthropology first emerged. Yet i n
at least one respect contemporary anthropology differs from
its eighteenth and nineteenth century predecessors. I r r e spective o f theoretical orientation, field research has been
established as the practical basis o f theoretical discourse.
T h a t fact alone makes the problem o f T i m e i n m o d e r n anthropology complex and interesting.
I f one compares uses o f T i m e i n anthropological writing with the ones in ethnographic research he discoyers remarkable divergence. I will refer to this as the schizogenic
use o f T i m e . I believe i t can be shown that the anthropologist i n the field often employs conceptions o f T i m e quite
different from those that i n f o r m reports on his findings.
Furthermore, I will argue that a criticai analysis o f the role
T i m e is allowed to play as a condition for producing ethnographic knowledge in the practice o f fieldwork may serve
as a starting point for a critique o f anthropological discourse in general. B u t before that argument can be deyeloped we should be more specific about the notions o f T i m e
whose use i n anthropological discourse we want to criticize.
We must briefly survey uses o f T i m e as they appear in anthropological discourse, i.e., i n the w r i t i n g o f monographs;
in synthetic and analytical works covering different ethnographic áreas, or different aspects o f culture and society over
T i m e and the Emerging Other
T i m e and the Emerging Other
several áreas; and, finally, i n textbooks presenting the sum
o f our present knowledge. T o shorten that task I propose
to distinguish three major uses o f T i m e , each characteristic
o f a genre o f discourse, keeping in mind, however, that these
distinctions are not mutually exclusive.
Let us call the first one Physical Time. I t serves as a sort
o f parameter or vector in describing sociocultural process.
I t appears in evolutionary, prehistorical reconstruction over
vast spans but also i n "objective" or "neutral" time scales
used to measure demographic or ecological changes or the
recurrence o f various social events (economic, ritual, and so
forth). T h e assumption is (and this is why we may call it
physical) that this kind o f T i m e , while it is a parameter o f
cultural process, is itself not subject to cultural variation. A t
times, the nature o f our evidence forces us to acknowledge
that a given chronology might be "relative"; but that means:
relative to chosen points within a sequence, not culturally
relative. Relativity o f this kind is considered a flaw, which is
why carbon 14 and a host o f other physical methods o f dating caused so much enthusiasm when they first appeared.
N o t only were these thought to provide better, more correct
placement o f human developments in T i m e ; as far as human evolution is concerned they lead to a temporal explosion comparable to the one that d i d away with biblical chronology. Most importantiy, though, these methods o f dating
appeared to anchor human evolution and a vast amount o f
cultural material once and forever i n objective, natural, i.e.,
noncultural T i m e . T o a great deal o f anthropological writing they conveyed an aura o f scientific rigor and trustworthiness that previously was reserved to well-documented
histories o f the recent past.
O f course, neither evolutionary theory, nor prehistory,
nor archaeology are confined to plotting data on temporal
scales. This leads us to considering a second use o f T i m e i n
anthropological discourse which makes its appearance i n two
related forms. One I will call Mundane Time, the other Typological Time. Mundane connotes to me a k i n d o f world-wise
relation to T i m e which, while resting assured o f the workings o f Physical T i m e in natural laws governing the u n i -
verse, has no taste for petty chronologizing. Instead, it i n dulges in grand-scale periodizing. I t likes to devise ages and
stages. But unlike belief i n the Millennium or the Golden
Age, it keeps a cool distance to ali times. T h e rhetoric o f its
discourse can therefore serve equally well the construction
o f imposing visions o f the "human career" and the maintenance o f cocktail talk about primitive mentality.
I n another, more serious form this stance manifests itself as Typological Time. I t signals a use o f T i m e which is
measured, not as time elapsed, nor by reference to points
on a (linear) scale, but in terms o f socioculturally meaningful events or, more precisely, intervals between such events.
Typological T i m e underlies such qualifications as preliterate vs. literate, traditional vs. modern, peasant vs. industrial,
and a host o f permutations which include pairs such as tribal
vs. feudal, rural vs. urban. I n this use, T i m e may almost
totally be divested o f its vectorial, physical connotations. I n stead o f being a measure o f movement it may appear as a
quality o f states; a quality, however, that is unequally distributed among human populations o f this w o r l d . Earlier
talk about peoples without history belongs here, as do more
sophisticated distinctions such as the one between "hot" and
"cold" societies.
I n fact, constructs which appear (and often are proclaimed by their authors and users) to be purely "systematic" do i n fact generate discourse o n T i m e and temporal
relations. This is obvious in the case otclass (see, e.g., its use
in the nineteenth century; Peei 1971:60f); it is central in
Max Webers typology o f authority. Systematizers such as
Talcott Parsons d i d not succeed—and, God knows, they
tried—in purifying Weber's brilliantly condensed analytical
categories and type-constructs from their historical, temporal substance. After ali, Weber cannot be read as i f his
central concern, the process o f rationalization, d i d not exist.
Rationalization clearly is a close relative o f the Enlightenment idea o f philosophical history. A t any rate, not even the
tightest formalizations o f the "social system" were able to
stop the logical leak kept open by the concept o f charisma.
I n Webers own writings about it temporal references
T i m e and the Emerging Other
abound: T h e notion o f Alltag is used to define, by contrast,
the nature o f charismatic authority. As a process, charisma
undergoes "routinization" (Veralltàglichung). Duration (Dauer,
dauerhaft, 1964:182), emergence (entstehen, in statu nascendi
182, 184), flow (múnden, 186), succession (passim), are ali
temporal, directional qualifications which signal fundamental links between typologizing and temporalizing. These
connections were quite apparent to Weber's contemporaries. Hans Freyer noted in 1931: "Sociology grew out o f the
philosophy o f history. Almost ali o f its founders regarded
sociology as the legitimate heir to historical-philosophical
speculations. . . . Not only historically, but with logical necessity, sociology includes problems o f types and stages o f
culture; at least, it always leads up to that problem"
(1959:294 f ) .
Inasmuch as some kind o f typologizing is part o f almost
any anthropological discourse I can think of, notions o f T y pological T i m e are all-pervasive.
Finally, time has informed anthropological discourse i n
a t h i r d sense. For lack o f a better label, I shall speak o f i t as
Inter subjective Time. T h e term points back to one o f its philosophical sources i n phenomenological thought, as exemplified in Alfred Schutz's analyses o f intersubjective time and
in a few applications to anthropology, such as i n Geertz's
Person, Time and Conduct in Bali.
More importantly, the attribute intersubjective signals a current emphasis on the communicative nature o f human action and interaction. As soon
as culture is no longer primarily conceived as a set o f rules
to be enacted by individual members o f distinct groups, but
as the specific way in which actors create and produce beliefs, values, and other means o f social life, it has to be recognized that T i m e is a constitutive dimension o f social reality. N o matter whether one chooses to stress "diachronic" or
"synchronic," historical o r systematic approaches, they ali are
chronic, unthinkable without reference to T i m e . Once T i m e
is recognized as a dimension, not just a measure, o f human
activity, any attempt to eliminate it from interpretive discourse can only result in distorted and largely meaningless
representations. T h e irony is that formal models, which are
T i m e and the Emerging Other
often presented as the most "scientific" f o r m o f anthropological discourse, try i n fact to ignore the one problem, T i m e ,
which has been recognized as the greatest challenge by
modern natural science.
Taking Stock: Anthropological Discourse
and the Denial of Coevalness
This sketch o f major ways i n which conceptualizations o f
T i m e i n f o r m anthropological thought and discourse shows
how enormously complicated o u r topic could get, especially
i f we would now go into further differentiations and into the
many combinations i n which Physical, Typological, and I n tersubjective T i m e may be used. However, even i f it were
possible to write something like a complete "grammar o f
T i m e " for anthropological discourse, it would only show us
how anthropologists use T i m e i n constructing their theories
and composing their writings. Findings from such analyses
would ultimately pertain to questions o f style and literary
f o r m ; they are o f great interest but do not as such raise the
epistemological question which must ask whether and how
a body o f knowledge is validated or invalidated by the use
o f temporal categorizations.
We must ask what it is that anthropologists try to catch
with their manifold and m u d d l e d uses o f T i m e . (Or, which
is the same, what they are trying to escape from by employing a given temporal device). Let me indicate the direction
o f my argument by formulating the following thesis: I t is
not the dispersai o f human cultures i n space that leads anthropology to "temporalize" (something that is maintained
in the image o f the "philosophical traveler" whose roaming
in space leads to the disco very o f "ages"); i t is naturalizedspatialized T i m e which gives meaning (in fact a variety o f
specific meanings) to the distribution o f humanity i n space.
T h e history o f our discipline reveals that such use o f T i m e
almost invariably is made for the purpose o f distancing those
who are observed from the T i m e o f the observer. I will i l lustrate this first by taking another look at the historical
Time and the Emerging Other
T i m e and the Emerging Other
break we attributed to Enlightenment thought. T h e n I will
give a more detailed account o f how distancing works i n
current anthropological discourse.
Enlightenment thought marks a break with an essentially medieval, Christian (or Judeo-Christian) vision o f Time.
T h a t break was from a conception o f time/space i n terms o f
a history o f salvation to one that ultimately resulted in the
secularization o f T i m e as natural history. For the present
argument it is important to realize that this not only entailed a change in the quality o f T i m e (sacred vs. secular)
but also an important transformation as regards the nature
o f temporal relations. I n the medieval paradigm, the T i m e
o f Salvation was conceived as inclusive or incorporative:
T h e Others, pagans and infidels (rather than savages and
primitives), were viewed as candidates for salvation. Even
the conquista, certainly a form o f spatial expansion, needed
to be propped u p by an ideology o f conversion. One o f its
persistent myths, the search for Prester John, suggests that
the explorers were expected to round up, so to speak, the
pagan world between the center o f Christianity and its lost
periphery i n order to b r i n g it back into the confines o f the
flock guarded by the Divine Shepherd.
T h e naturalization o f T i m e which succeeded to that view
defines temporal relations as exclusive and expansive. T h e
pagan was always already marked for salvation, the savage is
notyet ready for civilization. Graphically (see figures 1.1 and
1.2) the difference between these views can be illustrated by
contrasting two models. One consists o f concentric circles o f
proximity to a center in real space and mythical T i m e , symbolized by the cities o f J e r u s a l é m and Rome. T h e other is
constructed as a system o f coordinates (emanating o f course
also from a real center—the Western metro polis) in which
given societies o f ali times and places may be plotted in terms
o f relative distance from the present.
T o anticipate an objection: evolutionary sequences and
their concomitant politicai practice o f colonialism and i m perialism may look incorporative; after ali, they create a universal frame o f reference able to accommodate ali societies.
But being based on the episteme o f natural history, they are
founded on distancing and separation. There would be no
Orbis (The World)
Figure 1.1. Premodern time/space: incorporation
Figure 1.2. Modern time/space: distancing
raison cTêtre for the comparative method i f it was not the
classification o f entities or traits which first have to be separate and distinct before their similarities can be used to establish taxonomies and developmental sequences. T o put this
more concretely: W h a t makes the savage significam to the
evolutionist's T i m e is that he lives i n another T i m e . Little
needs to be said, I assume, about separation and distancing
in colonialist praxis which drew its ideological justification
from Enlightenment thought and later evolutionism.
T i m e and the Emerging Other
We can now examine how T i m e is used to create distance in contemporary anthropology. But before we get to
distancing itself we should note that anthropology, like ali
scientific discourse, inevitably involves temporalization (an i n sight which will be developed in chapter 3). We must necessarily express whatever knowledge we have o f an object
in terms o f temporal categorization. This is emphatically not
only the case when we give "historical" accounts; T i m e is
involved in any possible relationship between anthropological discourse and its referents. T h e referent shared by various subdisciplines o f anthropology is strictly speaking not
an object, or a class o f objects, but a relationship. This is a
cautious, insufficient term ( I would prefer contradiction). I n
any given piece o f anthropological w r i t i n g the referent usually is a particular aspect o f the relationship between elements or aspects o f a culture o r society; but ali particular
ethnography is ultimately about general relationships between cultures and societies. I n fact, i f we remember the
history o f o u r discipline, it is i n the end about the relationship between the West and the Rest.
By now i t is generally admitted that ali particular ethnographic knowledge we may have acquired is affected by
historically established relations o f power and domination
between the anthropologists society and the one he studies.
I n that sense, ali anthropological knowledge is politicai i n
nature. However, i t seems possible to me to carry our selfquestioning further by focusing on T i m e as a key category
with which we conceptualize relationships between us (or
our theoretical constructs) and our objects (the Other). H o w
exactly temporal categorizations contribute to defining and,
in fact, constituting o u r object depends on the k i n d o f timeuse in a given anthropological discourse.
Physical Time may define seemingly objective distance
between the researchers culture and, say, the findings from
an archaeological excavation or a record reconstructed from
oral tradition. I f an object can be located i n 2000 B . C , or an
event i n 1865, they are definitely, irrevocably past. Such definitive anchoring i n the past gives logical and psychological
firmness to the standpoint o f the researcher; this is why
chronological dating, in itself purely mechanical and quantitative, can bestow scientific significance on a vast array o f
T i m e and the Emerging Other
particular data. T o be sure, chronology is only a means to
an ulterior end. T h e temporal distancing it involves is
needed to show that natural laws o r law-like regularities operate i n the development o f human society and culture.
I t may seem that the use o f Physical T i m e is politically
innocuous. I f anything is "value-free" i n science it should be
the measurement o f physical d u r a t i o n . O n the other hand,
one is tempted to invoke relativity theory as evidence for
the inescapably positional relativity (Standpunktbezogenheit) o f
the experience o f T i m e . Physicists commenting on the wider
implications o f relativity theory have done this; occasionally,
social philosophers have attempted to relate their arguments for a multiplicity o f cultural times to relativity theo r y . I doubt that these connections can amount to much
more than analogies or metaphors. After ali, relativity theory is called for only i n the realm o f extremely high velocities. I t is hard to see how it could be directly relevant o n the
levei o f culturally shared experiences. I t might even be said
that relativity theory is aiming too low in that it theorizes
from the reference point o f individual observers. Socially
mediated "relativity" o f Physical T i m e would have to be
identified, rather, i n historical processes o f mechanization
(the technology o f clocks) and standardization (the acceptance o f universally recognized units o f measuring). I n this
latter sense o f Western clock time, anthropologists have used
Physical T i m e as a distancing device. I n most ethnographic
studies o f other time conceptions the difference between
standardized clock time and other methods o f measuring
provides the puzzle to be resolved.
Furthermore, the idea o f Physical T i m e is part o f a system o f ideas which include space, bodies, and motion. I n
the hands o f ideologues such a time concept is easily transformed into a k i n d o f politicai physics. After ali, it is not
difficult to transpose from physics to politics one o f the most
ancient rules which states that i t is impossible f o r two bodies
to occupy the same space at the same time. When i n the
course o f colonial expansion a Western body politic carne
to occupy, literally, the space o f an autochthonous body,
several alternatives were conceived to deal w i t h that violation o f the rule. T h e simplest one, i f we think o f N o r t h
America and Austrália, was o f course to move or remove
T i m e and the Emerging Other
the other body. Another one is to pretend that space is being
divided and allocated to separate bodies. South Africa's r u l ers cling to that solution. Most often the preferred strategy
has been simply to manipulate the other variable—Time.
W i t h the help o f various devices o f sequencing and distancing one assigns to the conquered populations a different
T i m e . A good deal o f such Aristotelean politicai physics is
reflected i n the schemes o f evolutionists and their cousins,
the diffusionists.
Physical T i m e is seldom used in its naked, chronological form. More often than not, chronologies shade into
Mundane or Typological Time. As distancing devices, categorizations o f this kind are used, for instance, when we are
told that certain elements in our culture are "neolithic" or
"archaic"; or when certain living societies are said to practice "stone age economics"; or when certain styles o f thought
are identified as "savage" or "primitive." Labels that connote temporal distancing need not have explicitly temporal
references (such as cyclical o r repetitive). Adjectives like mythical, ritual, o r even tribal, will serve the same function. They,
too, connote temporal distancing as a way o f creating the
objects o r referents o f anthropological discourse. T o use an
extreme formulation: temporal distance is objectivity i n the
minds o f many practitioners. This, by the way, is reflected
with great accuracy and exasperating predictability i n the
popular image o f our discipline. I am surely not the only
anthropologist who, when he identifies himself as such to
his neighbor, barber, or physician, conjures u p visions o f a
distant past. When popular opinion identifies ali anthropologists as handlers o f bonés and stones it is not in error; it
grasps the essential role o f anthropology as a provider o f
temporal distance.
T o recognize Intersubjective Time would seem to preclude any sort o f distancing almost by definition. After ali,
phenomenologists tried to demonstrate with their analyses
that social interaction presupposes intersubjectivity, which
in t u r n is inconceivable without assuming that the participants involved are coeval, i.e. share the same T i m e . I n fact,
further conclusions can be drawn from this basic postulate
to the point o f realizing that for human communication to
T i m e and the Emerging Other
occur, coevalness has to be created. Communication is, ultimately, about creating shared T i m e . Such a view is not ali
that outlandish to anthropologists who, following D u r k heim's lead, have probed into the significance o f ritual and
the creation o f sacred T i m e . One could also point to an i n creased recognition o f intersubjectivity i n such new disciplines as ethnomethodology and the ethnography o f speaking. But, on the whole, the dominant communication model
remains one in which objectivity is still tied to (temporal)
distancing between the participants. A t least, I believe this
is implied in the widely accepted distinctions between sender,
message, and receiver. Leaving aside the problem o f the
message (and the code), these models project, between
sender and receiver, a temporal distance (or slope). Otherwise communication could not be conceptualized as the
transfer o f information. I n sum, even in communicationcentered approaches that seem to recognize shared T i m e
we can expect to find devices o f temporal distancing.
These examples ali lead up to the crucial point o f our
argument: Beneath their bewildering variety, the distancing
devices that we can identify produce a global result. I will
call it denial of coevalness. By that I mean a persistent and systematic tendency to place the referent(s) of anthropology in a Time
other than the present of the producer of anthropological discourse.
What I am aiming at is covered by the German terms
gleichzeitig and Gleichzeitigkât. T h e unusual coeval, and especially the noun coevalness, express a need to steer between
such closely related notions as synchronouslsimultaneous and
contemporary. I take synchronous to refere to events occurring
at the same physical time; contemporary asserts co-occurrence
in what I called typological time. Coeval, according to my
pocket O x f o r d dictionary, covers both ("of same age, duration, or epoch"). Beyond that, i t is to connote a common,
active "occupation," or sharing, o f time. B u t that is only a
starting point; it will be elaborated as I proceed with my
T h a t coevalness may be denied with the figures o f
Physical and Typological T i m e needs, in my m i n d , no further elaboration. But there remains the difficulty we noted
in regard to Intersubjective T i m e . I t might be argued that
T i m e and the Emerging Other
T i m e and the Emerging Other
this temporal category precludes the kind o f ideological manipulation suggested by the notion that anthropologists
"make use" o f T i m e . I f coevalness, sharing o f present T i m e ,
is a condition o f communication, and anthropological
knowledge has its sources in ethnography, clearly a kind o f
communication, then the anthropologist qua ethnographer
is not free to "grant" or "deny" coevalness to his interlocutors. Either he submits to the condition o f coevalness and
produces ethnographic knowledge, o r he deludes himself
into temporal distance and misses the object o f his search.
This is the reasoning that underlies some o f the most
radical critiques o f anthropology. I t is implied when we are
told that ali anthropological knowledge is dubious because
it is gained under the conditions o f colonialism, imperialism, and oppression (views that were forcefully expressed i n
Dell Hymes' Reinventing Anthropology, 1974, and more thoroughly explored in a volume edited by Huizer and Mannheim, 1979).
Maxwell Owusu, in an essay "Ethnography in Africa"
(1978) argues, on the basis o f evidence contained in writings
considered exemplary, that almost ali the "classical" ethnographers failed to meet one basic condition: command o f the
language o f the peoples they studied. As far as I can see,
Owusu does not draw an explicit connection between communicative deficiencies and the denial o f coevalness. H e
does, however, denounce the "essential anachronism"
(1978:321, 322, 326) o f ethnographic data collection aimed
at savage society in its original state, but carried out under
the politicai economy o f colonialism. O u r analysis o f time
distancing i n anthropological discourse will reveal that this
is perhaps not going far enough. Anachronism signifies a
fact, or statement o f fact, that is out o f tune with a given
time frame; it is a mistake, perhaps an accident. I am trying
to show that we are facing, not mistakes, but devices (existential, rhetoric, politicai). T o signal that difference I will refer
to the denial o f coevalness as the allochronism o f anthropolT h e critique o f anthropology is too easily mistaken for
moral condemnation. B u t at least the more clearheaded
radical critics know that bad intentions alone do not invali-
date knowledge. For that to happen it takes bad epistemology which advances cognitive interests without regard for
their ideological presuppositions. A t any rate, what is interesting (and hope-inspiring) about ideological uses o f T i m e
is that they have not, or not yet, led our discipline into total
self-delusion. T o insist on field research as the fundamental
source o f anthropological knowledge has served as a powerful practical correcdve, in fact a contradiction, which,
philosophically speaking, makes anthropology o n the whole
an aporetic enterprise.
Let me explain. O n the one hand, ethnographers, especially those who have taken communicative approaches
(and that includes most ethnographers o f value) have always acknowledged coevalness as a condition without which
hardly anything could ever be learned about another culture. Some have struggled consciously with the categories
our discourse uses to remove other peoples from our T i m e .
Some needed breaks in that struggle—see Malinowski's d i a r y ; some gave poetic expression to what is essentially an
epistemological act—see the type o f anthropological w r i t i n g
exemplified by T u r n b u l f s Forest People and the Lévi-Strauss
of Tristes Tropiques. But when it comes to producing anthropological discourse i n the forms o f description, analysis, and
theoretical conclusions, the same ethnographers will often
forget or disavow their experiences o f coevalness with the
people they studied. Worse, they will talk their experiences
away with ritualistic invocations o f "participam observation"
and the "ethnographic present." I n the end, they will organize their w r i t i n g in terms o f the categories o f Physical or
Typological T i m e , i f only for fear that their reports m i g h t
otherwise be disqualified as poetry, fiction, or politicai propaganda. These disjuncdons between experience and science, research and writing, will continue to be a festering
epistemological sore in a discipline whose self-image—and
that is another heritage from the Enlightenment philosophes—is one o f aggressive health and optimism.
H a v i n g diagnosed the illness as the denial o f coevalness, or allochronism, we can begin asking ourselves what
m i g h t be done about it. T h i s will not be easy. A n entrenched vocabulary and obstinate literary convendons alone
T i m e and the Emerging Other
are formidable obstacles. Moreover, coevalness is a mode o f
temporal relations. I t cannot be defined as a thing or state
with certain properties. I t is not "there" and cannot be put
there; it must be created or at least approached. As an
epistemological condition it can only be inferred from results, i.e., from the different ways i n which recognition o r
denial o f coevalness i n f o r m anthropological theory and
writing. A Kantian category o f thought, or even a Durkheimian collective r e p r e s e n t a t í o n , are by definition "necessary"
(otherwise they could not be categorical). As such, it would
seem that the category o f shared T i m e cannot be questioned; it is not subject to choice between recognition and
denial, at least not within the frame which produces and
uses it. Here is a dilemma with which we must struggle and
I see no other way out o f i t but to focus on ideological mediations o f scientific discourse such as the uses o f T i m e we
have examined here.
First o f ali, that it seems possible to refuse coevalness to
another person or another people suggests that coevalness
is neither a transcultural fact nor a transcendental condition
o f knowledge. T h e term coevalness was chosen to mark a
central assumption, namely that ali temporal relations, and
therefore also contemporaneity, are embedded in culturally
organized praxis. Anthropologists have little difficulty adm i t t i n g this as long as it is predicated on a specific culture,
usually one that is not their own. T o cite but two examples,
relationships between the living and the dead, or relationships between the agent and object o f magic operations,
presuppose cultural conceptions o f contemporaneity. T o a
large extent, Western ratíonal disbelief in the presence o f
ancestors and the efficacy o f magic rest on the rejection o f
ideas o f temporal coexistence implied i n these ideas and
practices. So much is obvious. I t is less clear that in order to
study and understand ancestor cult and magic we need to
establish relations o f coevalness with the cultures that are
studied. I n that form, coevalness becomes the ultimate assault on the protective walls o f cultural relativism. T o put it
bluntly, there is an internai connection (one o f logical equivalence and o f practical necessity) between ancestor cult or
magic and anthropological research qua conceptualizations
o f shared T i m e or coevalness. Paraphrasing an observation
T i m e and the Emerging Other
by Owusu, I am tempted to say that the Western anthropologist must be haunted by the African's "capricious ancestors" as much as the African anthropologist is "daunted" by
"Malinowski, Evans-Pritchard, Fortes, Mair, Gluckman,
Forde, Kabbery [sic], T u r n e r , Schapera, and the Wilsons,
among others" (1978:326).
Obviously, we are now getting into deep philosophical
waters. O u r examination o f the uses o f T i m e i n anthropological discourse has led us to state their general effect or
thrust as the denial o f coevalness to the cultures that are
studied. T h e most interesting finding, however, was one that
precludes a simple, overall indictment o f our discipline. This
was the discovery o f an aporetic split between recognition
o f coevalness in some ethnographic research and denial o f
coevalness in most anthropological theorizing and writing.
T h e r e is a split between a recognizable cognitive necessity
and a murky, ultimately politicai practice. T h a t is, however,
not an accident or simply a theoretical weakness. Such
schizogenic use o f T i m e can be traced to certain choices that
were made at a time when anthropology emerged as a science. T h e r e is nowadays much talk about the politicai and
moral complicity o f our discipline with the colonial enterprise. Much remains to be said about cognitive complicity.
T o be sure, the logical connections between, say, British
evolutionism and the establishment o f the British Empire
are obvious. But our critique o f these connections is bound
to miss its mark as long as it does not unearth some o f the
deeper links. T h e distance between the West and the Rest
on which ali classical anthropological theories have been
predicated is by now being disputed in regard to almost
every conceivable aspect (moral, aesthetic, intellectual, politicai). Little more than technology and sheer economic exploitation seem to be left over for the purposes o f "explaining" Western superiority. I t has become foreseeable that
even those prerogatives may either disappear or no longer
be claimed. T h e r e remains "only" the all-pervading denial
o f coevalness which ultimately is expressive o f a cosmological myth o f frightening magnitude and persistency. I t takes
imagination and courage to picture what would happen to
the West (and to anthropology) i f its temporal fortress were
suddenly invaded by the T i m e o f its Other.
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