Present Tense: The Iconology of Time

11/14/2019 - 4:30pm to 6:30pm
McCormick 101
W.J.T. Mitchell Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor University of Chicago

“Present Tense: The Iconology of Time” is an essay on the endless unfolding of social experience, tracking the collective emotional states of the present epoch, primarily in American political culture.   It asks the question that informs every social encounter:  how are we feeling about the present?  What is the mood of our times?  Is the “time out of joint,” as Hamlet claims?  Are “the times a-changing” as Bob Dylan insisted?  Why does Nietzsche claim that “insanity in individuals is somewhat rare,” but in groups (parties and nations) and at certain times (“epochs”) it is the rule.  The argument is that, while we can never provide an adequate definition of time, we can produce untimely meditations on images of temporality to reflect on the experience of historical events as they are registered in real time testimony.  The image repertoire of the essay is grounded in the three basic figures of temporality provided by Greek mythology:  Chronos (linear, clock time); Aeon (Cyclical time); Kairos (the opportune or critical moment), all linked to the dynamic concept of Parousia, the sense that something is coming, and that we inhabit an epoch of special intensity in human history.