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The Surge: Temporal Anarchy and the Pursuit of Dynamic History

Ethan Kleinberg
Wesleyan University
University Club

Event Poster

This talk takes up the concept of “temporal anarchy” as a counter to more conventional, orderly presentations of historicist time and in pursuit of a dynamic history. I argue that the historicist understanding of time as uniform and homogenous has suppressed alternative ways of understanding time, temporality, and access to the past resulting in pernicious political and cultural ends going from perspectivalism to parallelism to the current “post-truth” moment. I offer a different understanding of the ways the past makes itself available in the present and a new mode of history to account for this understanding. My contention is that the events of the past are both more temporally dynamic and forceful than most paradigms allow and as such require a mode of history attuned to this temporally anarchistic force. The past on this account is a Total Other but one that becomes available to us if we are attuned such that we can mediate it and make aspects available (ghosts and hauntings). The means to do so is by recognizing the moments when the past becomes available in the present for the future.  This is what I call The Surge.

Ethan Kleinberg is the Class of 1958 Distinguished Professor of History and Letters at Wesleyan University and Editor-in-Chief of History and Theory. Kleinberg's wide-ranging scholarly work spans across the fields of history, philosophy, comparative literature and religion. In particular, Kleinberg engages with the ways that the past haunts our present and presses us toward the future, advocating for a deconstructive approach to better account for this complex temporal entanglement. He is the author of Generation Existential: Martin Heidegger’s Philosophy in France, 1927-61 (Cornell University Press, 2006); Haunting History: for a deconstructive approach to the past (Stanford University Press, 2017); and Emmanuel Levinas’s Talmudic Turn: Philosophy and Jewish Thought (Stanford University Press, October 2021). He is co-author of the “Theses on Theory and History” with Joan Scott and Gary Wilder. His current book project extends this investigation by focusing on how what he calls “temporal anarchy”—the unrestrained mingling of past, present, and future— can lead to a different understanding  of history that is not restrained by what has been, but instead attracted to what can be thus pointing us toward critical political and ethical action.  The past as future, if you will, rather than a futures past.

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