Tuesday, March 18, 2014

After 1945

Toward the beginning of After 1945, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht summarizes his remarkable vision of a shift since the mid-twentieth century in the structure of time itself. He believes that the recent past was . . .

". . . dominated by effects of exclusion and non-fulfillment. What had seemed entirely within reach in the many illusions of human agency (both individual and collective) that prevailed during the first half of the twentieth century, was now slowly but steadily beginning to appear remote and frozen in memories with less and less energy to keep them alive. In objective terms, postwar conditions of existence had improved for hundreds of millions of people; at the same time, however, the previously luminous horizon had dimmed, and life had lost much of its intensity. Mankind  understood as a historical process  was increasingly paralyzed by unseen restrictions that, it seemed, would not let go. It is this situation  the slow, almost imperceptible process that has occurred over the past seven decades  that I wish to describe. Although the pace of our activities and inventions may have accelerated, we can no longer be certain whether we will pass into the threshold of futurity."

"The closing chapter analyzes moments in time and historical events that, when they first occurred, seemed to make or unmake the world (for example, the youth revolt of 1968, the implosion of State Socialism in 1989, or September 11, 2001). Now, they are becoming, as we look back on them, part of an ever-broadening present above which we can no longer seriously hope to rise. Time  today and for us  seems to reveal a new structure and to unfold in a rhythm that is different from the "historical" time that governed the nineteenth- and the early-twentieth centuries. In this new chronotope  for which no name exists yet, even though we live within its forms  agency, certainty, and the historical progress of mankind have faded into distant memory. We are left only with unredeemed desire, uncertainty, and disorientation. At the same time, a future that we never chose threatens us. There is neither escape, nor much of an idea where we stand at this point  or even where we should be." 

cover photo: "Tightrope performance in Frankfurt, 1948."
akg-images / Tony Vaccaro
cover design: Rob Ehle
publisher: Stanford University Press