Koselleck’s Times: Saddles, Layers, and Non-synchronicities

Saturday, January 3, 2015: 8:30 AM
Bryant Suite (New York Hilton)
Helge Jordheim, University of Oslo
Koselleck’s Times: Saddles, Layers, and Non-Synchronicities

In her book Ist die Zeit aus den Fugen? (2013) the German cultural historian Aleida Assmann analyzes “the temporal regime of modernity”, which she claims is about to collapse due to the lack of a credible idea of the future. Among the key figures in establishing this temporal regime is the historian and theorist of history Reinhart Koselleck, who famously argued that modernity and modernization come about due to a radical break with the past.

                  In this paper I want to look beyond Assman’s “temporal regime of modernity”, which can be seen as another version of German historicism, and explore other theories, models and regimes of time that are developed in Koselleck’s work. My claim will be that these other theories might prove to be more interesting for current and future historiography and not least more apt to deal with challenges of globalization and global and transnational history than both the canonized and criticized theory of Western modernity.

                  I will focus on three figures or representations of time, in which entire theories are invested: first, the saddle, prominent in Koselleck’s idea of Sattelzeit, which points to the temporal and historical extension of the now;  second, the geologically and archeologically inspired metaphor of layers of time, Zeitschichten, which move at different speeds, have different durations and different rhythms, and hence render the idea of a radical and absolute break all but impossible; and finally, the synchronicity of the non-synchronous, which Koselleck uses to investigate the interweaving of diachronic and synchronic  elements in any given historical process, event or representation.

                  By discussing these three temporal configurations, I think it possible to understand Koselleck less as a representative of German historicism and modernization history and more as the most innovative theorist of historical time in the post-war era.

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