Albert Einstein once said, “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” Fabian clearly thinks a bit differently. Like Einstein, Fabian sees Time as an expedient, but rather than a practical historical one, he recognizes Time as a political instrument wielded by some political actors against others.  For Fabian, Time is a premeditated and calculated technique.  “The history of our discipline reveals that such use of Time almost invariably is made for the purpose of distancing those who are observed from the Time of the observer” (25).  Elsewhere he writes , “I am trying to show that we are facing, not mistakes, but devices (existential, rhetorical, political)” (32).  It is difficult for me to grasp precisely how anthropologists can at one and the same time be, on the one hand, practicing this kind of Othering ‘premeditatively’ and on the other, be wholly ignorant of this historically-received, now deeply implicit, tendency? I’d be interested to hear what the rest of you think about this.


Fabian is convincing in showing us that ‘geopolitics is chronopolitics (144) --that designations like mythological, primitive, ritual, tribal, childish, kinship, do impose a kind of temporality and an implicit social evolutionary schema that places us at the top -- but, hadn’t anthropology already more or less moved beyond these taxonomics by the eighties? This insight, as best as I could understand it, remains relatively  unprovocative. I suspect that his interest is more orientated toward present offences than past ones, but his analytical concentration is, in the main, on those folks that still bandied about terms like those  listed above.  


Perhaps the more interesting critique in respect to time-distancing is the one he performs on relativism,  taking it to task for epistemelogically different, but politically similar reasons as evolutionist assumptions.  ,Along with Bloch,  he charges relativism of producing a ‘culture garden’ behind which whatever happens occurs in a Time other than the anthropologist’s  (52). The holism involved in this, he argues, is equally susceptible as evolutionism to being used for non-relativistic purposes.  In both cases, the Other functions as an object. The anthropologists role remains one of cultural translation, of observation, of reporting, but never of, as he says, coevalness.


And this brings us to the matter of Time; Fabian’s purported object of study.  Anyone else have difficulty telling at different points in the text exactly which of the many-heads of that monsterous concept called ‘Time’ he was taking exception with? He never treats duration, process, moment, reflection, prognostication, all of which one would think would help to clarify a technical term that instead remains rather amorphous.  Fabian instead distinguishes between ‘physical’ time (e.g., chronology) ‘mundane time’ (periodizing) ‘typological time’ (event-specific time e.g. preliterate vs. literate’, and ‘intersubjective’ time (21-4). Intersubjective time is the meat and potatoes here.   It homes in on the ‘communicative nature of human action’ and sets time up as a constitutive (and thus objectifiable) ‘dimension’ of action like ‘space’ (I’ll return to this below).  Time, he explains -- we might call this method ‘genealogical’ insofar as he traces the accidental history and subjugations of this concept (Foucault 84), -- has taken the form of an epistemological hierarchy, which the West has manufactured since the Enlightment.  It has done so mainly through evolutionary social theories,  and taxonomies, for the purpose of promoting Western “progress” and seeing ‘other’ individuals, as scientific objects.  This has carried with it the scientific requirement of ‘distance’ both spatial, and temporal.


Like I said above, it never quite gelled for me as to why Fabian centered on time.  It seemed to me that what he was really after was ‘history.’  Was his coeval not as much about ‘hereness’ as about ‘nowness’ and do we not get the impression that a full-on spatio-temporal ‘present’ would have been more appropriate than ‘time’ to get at the Hegelian insights he was pushing.  By taking ‘Time,’ an admittedly politically fraught ‘object’ as his anthropological object, I felt that he put himself in a number of unnecessarily awkward positions (e.g., his constant spatializing of time, his repeated return to evolutionist terminology rather than conceptual tendency, and his constant switching of the kind of time he is confronting).


Lastly, I feel as though problems of un-coevalness are perhaps inherent in the very act of writing ‘about something.’ Insofar as Anthropology continues to be a ‘report’ of sorts—call it an account to our fellow tribesmen about the neighboring tribesmen...  there cannot be,  a coevalness,  (the time of the dialogue has passed... why should one pretend it functioned at the time of the writing?  Kenneth Burke wrote, “All questions are leading questions.” Perhaps so long as the anthropologists take as their ‘objects’ people rather than events, we are condemned to ask the altogether wrong kinds of questions. 

ryan sayre

anthropology

tokyo japan

architecture

ryan sayre

anthropology

tokyo japan

architecture