Please note: UC Press e-books must be purchased separately from our print books, and require the use of Adobe Digital Editions. If you do not already have Adobe Digital Editions installed on your computer, please download and install the software. To complete your e-book order, please click on the e-book checkout button. A charge will appear on your credit card from Ingram Digital Group.
Margaret Church Memorial Prize, Modern Fiction Studies, Purdue University
Modernism and the Politics of Time
A concern with time is intrinsic to the internal logic of modernity. "More than anything else," Zygmunt Bauman writes, modernity is the "history of time: the time when time has history" ("Time and Space Reunited," 172). Radically breaking with the authority and legitimacy of the past, modernity offers a totalizing vision of progress toward an illimitable future. Its universal narrative of irrepressible global development presupposes a uniform scale of spatial and temporal measurement. In this context the legislative creation of world standard time at the International Prime Meridian Conference of 1884 stands as a signal moment in the history of modernity, providing a global grid whereby the minutest spatial unit and the most infinitesimal duration of time could be measured in relation to Greenwich, England. Convened in Washington, D.C., at the behest of a group of American metrologists and engineers with the Canadian industrialist Sandford Fleming as their spokesman, the goal of the Prime Meridian Conference was to establish the meridian of longitude passing through Greenwich as the spatial and temporal zero point for global cartography and civil time measurement. The issue at the conference was a particularly modern one: Did individual nations possess sovereignty over the regulation of civil life, down to the very intimate rhythms of temporal activity? Or was time, as Fleming insisted, transnational, universal, or, in his own terminology, "cosmopolitan"? Despite what one dissenting astronomer termed the "ancient and necessary barriers" of nations, time was conceivably the metaphysical principle that transcended all cultural and political division. The Prime Meridian Conference would ultimately render Greenwich not only an international symbol of the British Empire, but also the cosmopolitan standard for measuring the very limits of modernity.
Although the conference made its recommendations in 1884, it took more than forty years for advocates of standard time to pressure individual nations to adopt the reforms. Between the 1880s and the 1930s a radical transformation thus took place in the synchronization of global activity that would facilitate commercial and military penetration into the remotest regions of space. The period during which Greenwich Mean Time became accepted, nation by nation, as Universal Time spans the period in English literary history typically associated with high modernism. As political and scientific representatives of "civilized" nations argued over the value of synchronized civil time, literary artists were experimenting with the representation of human temporality in ways that would radically alter prevailing aesthetic forms. The Cosmic Time of Empire situates that dominant aesthetic tendency of modernism within the context of the political and legislative battles over world standard time. Specifically I argue that representations of the Greenwich Observatory, Greenwich Mean Time, and temporal standardization more generally are tightly bound up in modernist texts with representations of an authoritarian management of bodies, communities, and nations. These associations between standardized time and manipulative forms of imperial control constitute a problem rather than a solution for the modernists, as they attempt to formally and thematically mediate between a host of competing temporal demands. The modernists negotiated, without ever necessarily resolving, a complex array of temporal models, alternately centered in the body, the mind, the state, the empire, and the globe. My argument thus depends on a central analogy between the substance of the debates at the Prime Meridian Conference and the experimental treatment of time in modernist texts, from Henri Bergson's philosophical treatises to the fiction of Virginia Woolf. Modernist literature dialectically enacts the same tensions between contextually embedded time and cosmopolitan time that fueled the debates at the Washington conference. Politicians, astronomers, philosophers, and artists during this period wrestled with contesting definitions of temporality in the light of a heavily funded campaign to definitively install Greenwich Mean Time as the one, true, "cosmopolitan" time. Indeed experimental modernist literature was not unique in its engagement with the public discourse of temporality. Modernist temporal experimentation was part of a larger fin de siècle cultural project to reshape and reexamine the limits and limitations of regimes of temporal management. That project, while intrinsic to the high modernist canon, also informs a variety of fictions not often considered modernist because of their genre, style, or country of origin. I explore the discourse of standardized temporality in works as seemingly disparate as a Victorian adventure novel, Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), a South Asian anticolonial "Gandhi novel," K. S. Venkataramani's Murugan, the Tiller (1927), and a modernist classic, James Joyce's Ulysses (1922). Though they were published within the same thirty-year period, it is difficult to think of three texts more rigidly segregated by disciplinary boundaries. Yet all participate in the common cultural project of imagining the role of Greenwich Mean Time in the political construction of communities and nations, sometimes by naturalizing and sometimes by generating alternatives to standard time's global authority.
High modernism brings its own unique temporal demands to the discourse of global standard time, however, which tend to distinguish it from other works of its cultural and historical moment. As the modernist novel becomes more totalizing and encyclopedic in its aspirations, endeavoring to contain and connect diverse nationalities, discursive communities, and class fractions within one overarching, eschatological framework, it demands new narrative forms of conceptualizing time and space capable of managing those totalities. How does the novel maintain order when it reaches outside its generic, national, and linguistic boundaries, as do the novels of Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf? In a sense this problem is similar to the one facing the architects of the standard time system, which was presented as the ideal map for reading the time and space of an increasingly globalized world. The aspirations of the literary modernists and the standard time advocates can thus be understood as fundamentally similar. Yet although standard time definitively "solved" the problem of globalization by simply unifying every space and time on the map as theoretically equivalent, these modernists refuse a homogenizing and philosophically abstract solution to the very real limits on temporal and spatial solidarity. The project of using British time to dictate a new global conception of space was unique to this historical period, as standard time advocates proceeded nation by nation to integrate the world into a system of Greenwich precision. To fail to recognize this new burden on British time in the decades between 1884 and 1930 is to miss the greater significance of direct modernist references to British time as well as modernism's larger transformations of standard narrative chronology, both of which indicate an engagement with questions of paramount public concern rather than a philosophical retreat into bourgeois, private interiority.
Modernist temporality has often been treated as a reactionary cultural formation expressing a deliberate retreat from crassly material or "political" engagements with questions of empire. The Cosmic Time of Empire demonstrates, on the contrary, the degree to which modernist texts engaged with rather than evaded the enlistment of temporality in the imperial project, while simultaneously forging alternative models of temporality resistant to empire's demands. The modernist discourse of time, generally considered in purely philosophical or aesthetic terms, was thus always intrinsically politicized, bound up as it was with the problematics of imperial control and global conceptualization. At a time when imperial politics have become central in studies of modernism, I argue that it is possible, and productive, to rethink the politics of modernism through the politics of time.
Standard time eliminated the discrepancy between a multitude of local times by dividing global space into twenty-four time zones, all synchronized to the Greenwich Royal Observatory, deviating from Greenwich by whole-hour integers. Enabling the precise coordination of global activity, the system can in one sense be understood as the culmination of Enlightenment rationality, dispassionate scientific inquiry, and democratization. Indeed Clark Blaise has advocated that Sandford Fleming be considered an innovator alongside the likes of Darwin, Pasteur, and Edison. Yet clock coordination was never purely the outcome of disinterested rationality. The ability to determine the time at two spatially distant locations has, perhaps inevitability, always been driven by the demands of international commerce and military hegemony. In the eighteenth century British naval power depended on exact knowledge of positioning at sea, a fact clearly recognized by the British Parliament when it passed the Longitude Act in 1714, offering a reward of twenty thousand pounds for anyone able to solve the problem of longitude. The story of John Harrison's claim to the prize money in 1773 for his invention of an accurate marine chronometer is well-known, but what is perhaps more noteworthy than the life story of this "lone genius" is the larger confluence of forces driving the demand for accurate global positioning, in Harrison's time as in the present day. The Longitude Act followed closely on the heels of the annexation of Scotland into Great Britain by the Acts of Union and was driven by naval pressures during the thirteen-year war of Spanish succession. Accurate global positioning thus emerged as an acute need during a time when Britain was consolidating its national power at home and fiercely competing abroad for territories and resources. Time control was a crucial element in that battle for the control over spatial positioning. As Peter Galison writes in Einstein's Clocks, Poincaré's Maps: Empires of Time, the coordination of clocks that drove theoretical physics and communications technology alike in the following century was "never just about a little procedure of signal exchange," but rather was driven by "national ambitions, war, industry, science, and conquest" (38).
Standard time advocates of the nineteenth century presented themselves as public servants satisfying a clear and present demand from the industrial masses for hyperefficiency in time management. To an extent this was true. The architects of the Prime Meridian Conference certainly did not imagine or invent the nineteenth century's hyperconsciousness of temporal precision, nor did they single-handedly rationalize and reify time. These were processes rooted deep in industrial modernity and in urbanization, emerging from what E. P. Thompson characterizes as the "marriage of convenience" between Puritanism and industrial capitalism, which compelled workers to recognize time not as task-specific, but as a neutral commodity ultimately reducible to monetary terms (95). Thompson's account of increasingly time-thrifty factory owners forbidding their employees access to personal timepieces and keeping one master clock under lock and key clearly illustrates the structural inequalities built into the drive to standardize time. While Thompson recognizes an increasing faith in time discipline among English workers in their battle for ten-hour days and overtime pay, his study of time discipline clearly suggests that such discipline was not driven from below, but was imposed from above to accord with the needs of Taylorized factory production.
Hyperconsciousness of time was by no means restricted to factory workers and their employers. Peter Galison characterizes time synchronization as "a circulating fluid of modern urban life." As coordinated time in the mid-nineteenth century extended into "train stations, neighborhoods, and churches," it became a public service that "intervened in peoples' lives the way electric power, sewage, or gas did" (107). Certainly the increasing ubiquity of train travel in the lives of nineteenth-century Londoners made the Bradshaw guide to railway timetables a crucial necessity, a book as likely to grace the average Londoner's bookshelf as the Bible, the dictionary, and the almanac. The guide's first issue, in 1839 (under the title Bradshaw's Railway Companion), was commonly satirized for its impenetrability, with lampoons produced as six-penny brochures and as stage pantomimes. (One satirist made the name Bradshaw synonymous with uselessness in the couplet "Almost as useless (howsoe'er you tried/To follow it) as any Bradshaw's Guide.") These satires were largely a product of the 1840s and a reaction to the bewildering novelty of train travel itself. After his death in 1853 Bradshaw became a symbol of the powers of the railway age and was recognized as a pioneer in providing a key to navigating the new global landscape it created. When the trains were stopped because of a coal mining strike, an editorialist in Punch equated the bosses with Bradshaw: "But fallen is the pride of those/Who knew their Bradshaw, Perth to Tring;/And jubilant are Bradshaw's foes." The circulatory fluid of standardized railway time was itself part of a larger late nineteenth-century drive for standardization across a range of social practices. Jennifer Wicke identifies the period between 1881 and 1901 as a time when the notion of a standard was "crystallized in disparate cultural practices and concretized as a cultural concept." The increasing rationalization and reification of time during this period rendered time itself "palpable," as Mary Anne Doane argues. "Time was indeed felt," she writes, "as a weight, as a source of anxiety, and as an acutely pressing problem of representation" (4).
It was this anxiety over the maintenance and control of modern time that the standard time system promised to allay. Yet the solution advocated by the standard time architects at the Prime Meridian Conference was by no means a foregone conclusion, nor did it substantially represent the desires of even a majority of key European delegates in attendance. My aim in the first chapter of this book is to illustrate the extent to which arguments for the pressing necessity of a global system of time reckoning depended on deliberate misreadings and wild overstatements of the conclusions of the 1884 conference, which has been almost universally misrepresented as having given international sanction to the creation of a Greenwich-based civil time. There has never been a rigorous, book-length historical account of the Prime Meridian Conference, although Derek Howse, Ian Bartky, and Peter Galison have each devoted a chapter to it. Their accounts, however, are largely limited to the central rivalry between England and France, a rivalry that was vocal in the first few days of the conference but was by no means the most salient feature of the month-long debates. My study of the conference proceedings and of Sandford Fleming's voluminous archive of personal correspondence at Canada's National Archives extends beyond Anglo-French rivalry to an investigation of more diverse European responses to world standard time. With the benefit of that archival research, chapter 1 is not merely a summation of existing historical research, but is more importantly a revisionist reading of the 1884 conference that brings to the surface peripheral voices previously silenced in the face of the more vocal antagonism between France and England. According to my reading a wide range of conference delegates protested the extension of Greenwich Mean Time into all but the most specialized subset of practices. The issue of the desirability of a universal adoption of the Greenwich longitude was deliberately and explicitly kept off the table in Washington by delegates from Germany, Spain, and the Ottoman Empire. Dissenting delegates forcefully defended the sovereignty of discrete national time reckoning and the sociocultural or religious foundations on which those national norms were based. These arguments illustrate the extent to which the inevitability of a universal standard time was by no means a foregone conclusion in the fin de siècle. In the first chapter I discuss the relevance of my archival research and chart out structural imbalances of power in the standard time system, using a proposed rail venture in northern Brazil as a case study of a community disenfranchised by its penetration. Standard time illustrates the maxim that, in Pierre Bourdieu's words, "unification profits the dominant" ("Uniting to Better Dominate," 1).
This revisionist reading of the history of standard time provides the foundation for a series of readings of texts by British and Irish authors written between 1884 and 1925. The near obsessive fixation with time in modernist fiction of this period has inspired a great deal of scholarship. Yet the dominant critical tendency has been to treat modernist time as a purely philosophical exploration of private consciousness, disjointed from the forms of material and public temporality that standard time attempted to organize. This familiar narrative, though illuminating in many ways, fundamentally misinterprets the role of time in modernism by failing to recognize that what is far more characteristic of the discourse on time in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth is not the tension between public and private time, but rather the tension between national and global time. The discourse on time surrounding and informing the Washington debates bore no trace of any philosophical discrimination between individual time and collective time. A reactionary retreat from all forms of public, urban time tout court is more clearly evident in cultural products of the early and mid-nineteenth century, when railroads replaced stagecoaches and urbanization began to transform the economic and social dynamics of English life, than it is in the early twentieth century, by which time most English citizens, and certainly all Londoners, had long accepted the ubiquity of public, standard time as the "circulating fluid of modern urban life." The impact of world standard time in England was not to alter the private sensation of English temporality. British clocks had, after all, been synchronized to Greenwich since the mid-1850s, and it is in Dickens rather than Conrad that one finds evidence of reaction to that move (in Dombey and Son, for example). What is significant about 1884, rather, is that it marks the date when England begins to export British time as a commodity to an entire globe newly dependent on Greenwich precision. For British authors, standard time provides a new way of conceptualizing the globe as spatiotemporally enmeshed with England. Global standard time as an imperial practice and Anglo modernism as a cultural practice share a common representational problem of conceptualizing and managing the relationship between global and local spaces. Texts of the period represent the unification of time and space in a common coordinate system even as they contest, and in some cases metaphorically dismantle, that unification. Global standard time was a tool of spatiotemporal representation that removed many of the formerly existent barriers to empire. As authors began to adopt this representational tool for their imaginative fictions they came ultimately to test its limitations and to offer counterrepresentations of space that would explore alternative forms of shared, public time, none of which could be easily manipulated within a common coordinate frame.
To make such an argument about British literary modernism, it is first necessary to contest the familiar narrative of modernism's affirmation of private, interior time consciousness, which has largely depended on an application of the theories of Henri Bergson to modernist literature, sometimes by the authors themselves but more often by literary scholars. The political dimensions of modernist temporality have been misrepresented in a long-standing critical tradition that equates modernist time with the private, interior, and purely aesthetic pleasures of the Bergsonian durée. An implicitly Bergsonian reading of modernist time certainly informs the first chapter of Stephen Kern's very influential The Culture of Time and Space: 1880-1918, still the only rigorous attempt to theorize a relationship between standard time and modernist literature. The Culture of Time and Space remains the touchstone for studies of standard time and aesthetics; thus a discussion of its critical assumptions at this point is particularly useful. Indeed it has now become virtually impossible to think of modernist time outside of the contexts of Bergson's philosophy and Kern's social history. To do so, however, is to generate potentially invigorating readings of modernist temporality and to avoid what I consider to be two common interpretive pitfalls in the critical literature. These pitfalls, which I label temporal isolationism and temporal transnationalism, both inform Kern's landmark study.
The introduction of standard time, according to Kern, was "the most momentous development in the history of uniform, public time since the invention of the mechanical clock" (4). Kern's definition of cosmopolitan, universal time as public immediately sets the stage for the assertion that modernism's oppositional stance will reclaim and champion an individualized private temporality. Although Kern designates the age's dialectical positions on time as "homogeneous" and "heterogeneous," the terms public and private recur more frequently in his treatment of literary texts. For Kern literary modernism's engagement with standard time is, without exception, an assault on public or national experience from a position of private, bodily, or transnational identity. Private time writes itself on the individual bodies of protagonists who exist in a local or national milieu that is "discordant," "sinister, or "superficial." Thus Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray experiences "a sinister discordance between body time and public time," and Proust's Marcel is set apart from national scandals like the Dreyfus Affair and from his fellow bourgeoisie because he "moves at an irregular pace that is repeatedly out of phase with that of the other characters." A private, isolated act, Marcel's search of lost time impels him to turn within his own physical frame. According to Kern, "Proust learns to listen for the faint stirrings of memories implanted in his body long ago and destined to recur to him in unpredictable ways" (16). In this sentence Kern fuses what he understands as Marcel's private, bodily time with an ancestral "implanted" time controlled by cosmic "destiny" rather than by public or national events. Marcel is both temporally isolated within his cork-lined room and also temporally unified with his fellow humanity in a transnational sense. This is even clearer in Kern's reading of Leopold Bloom in Joyce's Ulysses. Bloom's heterogeneous and diverse experience of time may be "unique" within the social context of 1904 Dublin, but it is also related, in Kern's words, "to the infinite expanses of cosmic time" (17).
In Kern's work we see both of the interpretive traps between which I hope to chart a course. On the one hand we find an implicit understanding of literary modernism as affirming a private, temporal isolationism in the face of a degrading and superficial public sphere. The hypersensitive temporal perceptions of Dorian Gray, Marcel, and Leopold Bloom retreat from the corruption of the public sphere into a private disavowal of any but the most bodily, intimate temporal rhythms. On the other hand we find a seemingly paradoxical assertion that for all their temporal isolationism these refined private characters are capable, precisely because of their isolation, of achieving a cosmic or cosmopolitan union with a larger humanity not hindered by the determinations of nationally regulated clocks. This position, which I call temporal transnationalism, asserts a cosmic connection of individual bodies, isolated from their immediate contexts but finding union and communion in a cosmopolitan temporality. Kern's use of these two constructions of human temporality depends on a fusion or confusion of two independent traditions within modernist literary criticism. The temporal isolationism model draws on a reading of modernist temporality as exclusively Bergsonian, an allegation leveled against modernist writers by Wyndham Lewis as early as 1928. With his language of delicate temporal sensibilities, his disavowal of spatial and linguistic corruption, and his provocative metaphor of the durée turning away from its own shadow, Bergson staked out a reactionary retreat from the inherently corrupt world of shared, public values. The temporal transnationalism position draws on a more recent characterization of modernism as a predominantly metropolitan form, disengaged from and disenchanted with national contexts and eschewing all local determinations in favor of a cosmopolitan, liberal humanism. This characterization emerges largely from Marxist critiques of modernism's "exilic" condition by Terry Eagleton and Raymond Williams, for whom modernism's canonization is an attempt on the part of artists and scholars to avoid or evade the political responsibilities of national conflict. While these two critical traditions have shed productive light on one aspect of modernist time consciousness, they have inadvertently led us to ignore the full range of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century modernist engagements with temporality. I certainly do not mean to exorcise modernism entirely of its association with the subjective, the interior, or indeed the private. Such associations can, and inevitably will, be made. As David Harvey suggests, though, reference to private time becomes meaningful only within the context of the public discourses of time that I have been charting here (267). My suggestion is that an extrication of modernist time from its association with Bergsonian isolationism and metropolitan transnationalism remains a crucial preliminary gesture in any study that hopes to move beyond the static image of a modernist consciousness forever shuttling between isolated individualism and jubilant cosmopolitanism.
In chapter 2 I discuss the implications for modernist scholarship of treating Bergson's particular version of modernist time as merely one of a vast array of competing models of temporality rather than as an indelible encapsulation of his age's zeitgeist. Situating Bergson's theory of the durée in Time and Free Will within the context of the movement to standardize world time (he was composing it as the delegates met in Washington), I suggest that Bergson's ambitious attempt to wrestle the qualitative and vitalistic time dimension away from the quantitative and mechanistic dimension of space is only truly meaningful within the historical context of the standard time movement, which after all promised to seamlessly unify global time and space in one grandiose cartographic gesture. Bergson, in a reactionary move, tries desperately to keep time and space apart, affirming the purely qualitative character of the former in contradistinction to the purely quantitative (and thus degraded) character of the latter. Yet Bergson's rear-guard response to the challenges of standard time's global vision represents only one of many attempts to sort out the implications of global standardization for human and narrative time in the fin de siècle. Placing his theories of time in dialogue with those of immediate contemporaries (some of them antagonists), such as Einstein and the delegates to the Prime Meridian Conference, I mean to suggest that Bergson's conception of a private durée in perpetual conflict with a degraded public sphere was by no means the only or even the most culturally dominant articulation of modernist temporality. Bergson's attempt to reconcile the pressing demands of global spatiotemporal representation is arguably both backward and inward looking in its orientation. His primary chosen interlocutor is the fifth-century BCE philosopher Zeno of Elea, whose famous paradoxes he attempts to disprove. Ultimately, Time and Free Will concludes with the assertion that genuine freedom requires us to "turn our eyes from the shadow which follows us and retire into ourselves" (233). Yet other modernists looked forward and outward in their attempts to reconcile their own experience of modern time with the dictates of the new global map. Foremost among these, as I have suggested, were the novelists of the age, whose work increasingly gestured hyperbolically outside of comfortable generic, national, and linguistic boundaries and who thus could not artistically or philosophically afford the luxury of Bergson's reactionary retreat from the muck and grime of the spatial public realm of contextually determined values.
The equation of Bergsonian temporality with all forms of aesthetic modernist time crucially informs a long-standing critique from the left of the bourgeois and decadent interiority of aesthetic modernism. This tradition, beginning with Georg Lukács in The Meaning of Contemporary Realism and achieving its most sophisticated articulation in Raymond Williams's collected writings on modernism, finds modernist writers mired, like Bergson, in the interior dimensions of a private time abstractly separated from historical change, place, and necessity. For Williams this subjectivism and abstraction was a function of that most phantasmagoric of modern entities, the cosmopolitan city, which, with its dizzying array of consumer pleasures culled from the far reaches of empire, promised the metropolitan modernist writer the intoxicating allure of being placeless and homeless, a global citizen without any of the burdens of mundane participation in the actual national polity. Yet if modernist writers tended in some senses toward a cosmic abstraction from localism, the discrete particularities of space, place, and nation equally exerted a powerful influence on their sensibilities. While critics on the left have attacked aesthetic modernism for its apolitical cosmopolitanism, modernism's enfant terrible of the right, Wyndham Lewis, accused the majority of his modernist contemporaries of being localist and nationalist to the point of fascism. Surprisingly, according to Lewis in his book Time and Western Man, it is their allegiance to Bergson that makes Joyce, Proust, Stein, Pound, and other writers such fanatical nationalists. Perhaps the first critic to associate modernist writers in toto with Bergsonian philosophy, Lewis provocatively identifies Bergson's obsession with temporality as little more than a cloak for regionalism and provincialism. I devote a substantial portion of chapter 2 to these claims because they hint suggestively at a modernist version of temporality dramatically different from the metropolitan transnationalist model. Situating Lewis's arguments within a constellation of fairly recent critical studies that pay close attention to modernism's tortured engagement with its own national contexts, I suggest that time in modernist writing is a far more fraught and ambivalent construct than it appears under the Bergsonian or metropolitan models. It was precisely because of their ambivalent and even tortured engagement with questions of private, national, and transnational values that the modernists were uniquely situated to interrogate the radical novelty and provocative disjointedness of standard time's reshaping of the globe.
The interest of modernist writers in the relationship between time, empire, and global space can perhaps more productively be traced to late nineteenth-century English literary models than to late nineteenth-century continental philosophy. Popular British narratives of empire in the 1880s and 1890s demonstrated a keen appreciation of the power of temporal standardization as a tool for the management of diverse spaces and populations. If the twentieth-century modernists, as I will argue, found standard time's homogenization of global space and time problematic, fin de siècle "imperial gothics" tended both thematically and formally to reinforce and naturalize standard time's power to unify the globe, bringing resistant populations and spaces within a precisely coordinated network. In chapter 3 I examine representations of temporal standardization and nonsynchronicity in a selection of popular adventure novels of the fin de siècle, all of which are explicitly concerned with the management of exotic spaces and bodies that initially resist any kind of spatiotemporal mapping. The title characters of H. Rider Haggard's She (1887) and Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) refuse to fit into prescribed temporal and spatial limits. Ontological outsiders, largely because they are temporal outsiders, Ayesha and Dracula are literally deathless and ageless monsters resistant to the ultimate limits and limitations that human temporality would otherwise place on them. Yet despite the fundamental atemporality of these imperial outsiders and their cultural milieus, the narrative apparatus of the imperial gothic works stridently to contain and domesticate them within a clearly defined standardized spatiotemporal scheme. This happens not only thematically, with representations of actual instruments of spatiotemporal management, but also formally, at the level of narrative construction. In contrast to the ceaseless formal experimentation of the modernist texts of chapter 4, the imperial gothics enforce rigidly controlled narrative structures that tightly synchronize narrative chronology, eliminating rather than accommodating heterogeneous temporalities. The goal of these texts is to remove any threat to a vision of seamlessly unified space and time by narrating the extermination of temporal outsiders potentially threatening to the epistemological certainty of world standard time, situating them neatly within carefully plotted latitudes and longitudes. The management of exotic nonsynchronicities in the imperial periphery was thus an eminently cartographic problem, as I illustrate not only in readings of Haggard and Stoker, but also in an examination of Rudyard Kipling's cartographic strategies in Kim (1901) of assimilating and instrumentalizing "Asiatic" temporality, wedding it seamlessly to the imperial demands of British punctuality. Whereas modernist texts of the early twentieth century radically destabilized the coordinates of world standard time in their texts, late nineteenth-century adventure novels rigidly enforced them.
In contrast to the direct references to Greenwich that I identify in twentieth-century texts in chapter 4, the texts under consideration in chapter 3 are notable for their lack of reference to the Observatory itself or to the name Greenwich. Instead these texts represent railway time, the Bradshaw guide to train timetables, telegraphy, and other time-based technologies, as if they were independent of any national control or determination. Railroad time is not Greenwich or British time for Haggard, Stoker, and Kipling. It is simply time. Their texts do not expose the relationship between Greenwich and imperial power, as do the modernist texts in chapter 4. Rather they naturalize that relationship, rendering it invisible. Realizing, in aesthetic form, the ultimate goal of Sandford Fleming and the standard time advocates, these narratives render human time and Greenwich Mean Time equivalent and nonproblematic, smoothing over the intransigent alterity of those populations potentially resistant to the imperial manipulations enabled by a global common coordinate frame. In contrast modernism's efforts to stylistically reconfigure notions of social connectivity and temporal relationships will shatter both the form and the content of this marriage of convenience between Greenwich time and global temporality, in the process opening up spaces and times for alternative social configurations.
Chapter 4 constitutes the heart of my argument about the role of time in high modernist texts. Greenwich Mean Time is explicitly invoked in novels by Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf as a hollow and often dangerously manipulative substitute for more socially and aesthetically productive forms of temporality. In these texts Greenwich time is situated within its larger political, commercial, and imperial contexts, bearing evidence of the extent to which Greenwich, by the early twentieth century, had entered modernist consciousness as a powerful symbol of authoritarian control from a distance and of the management of diverse populations. Exposing what Conrad's character Comrade Ossipon calls "the shortcomings of timetables," these modernists sought to dislocate their own treatment of human temporality from its enlistment in the standard time system by resituating temporal processes within more meaningful, contextually determined and variable social patterns. These three texts are particularly useful for a study of standard time and modernism because, in making direct reference to Greenwich Mean Time, Greenwich coordinated clocks, or the Greenwich Observatory itself, they bring to the surface latent tensions over temporality within a larger body of modernist fiction not as explicitly or obviously concerned with Greenwich. As with any attempt to situate imaginative literature within the extraliterary contexts of imperialism, political legislation, or scientific innovation, however, these readings of British novels inevitably raise the problem of mediation. To what extent is it possible to suggest that the world-historical transformations of global standard time, managed not by artists but by scientists, politicians, and industrialists, had any kind of impact on a handful of writers, alone in their studies, as they crafted their narratives?
Extensive consideration of the problem of mediation between literature and science is a nearly routine move in the best studies of this nature, which self-consciously walk a fine line between atomistic and zeitgeist accounts of mediation. While the atomistic approach can be tediously local (combing over authors' journals to find direct references to contemporaneous developments in history), the zeitgeist approach can be irresponsibly global, claiming simply, for example, that "time was in the air" in the fin de siècle, as Clark Blaise repeatedly does in his book on Sandford Fleming. For Michael Whitworth the disadvantage of the atomistic approach is that it can only "report utterances" on the part of individual authors, without determining "their relation to any larger system." Alternately zeitgeist approaches, Whitworth writes, are incapable of "discriminating between different social networks," erroneously assuming that "an entire society would have been saturated uniformly in ... new knowledge" (Einstein's Wake, 18). This more general methodological tension becomes particularly acute in studies of modernism and empire, which, as Patricia E. Chu explains, have had to wrestle with definitions of modernism as simultaneously an aesthetic and a historical phenomenon (55). Astradur Eysteinsson's oft-quoted statement of the central paradox of modernist studies is thus particularly relevant in theorizing the relationship between modernism and empire, as Chu suggests. Eysteinsson asks "how the concept of autonomy, so crucial to many theories of modernism, can possibly coexist with the equally prominent view of modernism as a historically explosive paradigm." When modernism has traditionally existed as a literary category primarily because of its purely aesthetic features, how is it possible to maintain the category of modernism while opening up its aesthetic autonomy to larger social networks?
Attempts to resolve this paradox in studies of modernism and technology have often tended toward a stark opposition between the purely aesthetic cultural product and the anti-aesthetic forces of technological growth, always and everywhere opposed to the liberty and autonomy of creative expression. According to this paradigm, modernism implicitly opposes technology, imperial or otherwise, in an attempt to maintain its aesthetic autonomy. This kind of oppositional approach is characteristic of Kern's treatment of the relationship between modernist art and standard time, as numerous critics have observed. For Sara Danius, Kern's discussion of public and private time in modernist art is representative of a larger tendency in modernist scholarship to see modernism as a reaction to modernity, paralleling, echoing, or contesting its development. According to this paradigm, Danius writes, "aesthetic modernism tends to be understood as external to modernity" (33). In her study of technology and modernism she proposes a model of mediation according to which technological modernity is constitutive of modernist art, internal to it rather than external. According to Danius modernist aesthetics is "immersed" in the technological, economic, and social conditions of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth. The aesthetic strategies of the modernists are thus analogous to and informed by technological strategies of reconfiguring social relations. "Even if high-modernist practices often sought to transcend or even cancel what was thought of as public time, instrumental reason, and the logic of commodification," Danius writes, "it can nevertheless be demonstrated that those art forms were affected, enabled, and to some extent even caused by those developments" (10).
Danius's constitutive model of the relationship between modernist aesthetics and technological modernity can be productively brought to bear on the thesis proposed by Fredric Jameson in his landmark essay "Modernism and Imperialism," a work that has crucially informed my conceptualization of the subject of this book. In his essay Jameson identifies the formal contradiction unique to modernist writers between 1884 (the date of the Berlin Conference) and the First World War as a problem of global cartography. Locating "a significant structural segment of the economic system as a whole" outside of the home country, imperialism in its advanced stage confronted the modernist writer with the conceptual and experiential limitations of his or her own spatial experience. Unable to grasp the functioning of the global economic order as a whole, because unable to imagine the "life experience and life world" of the colonies overseas, the modernist faces a problem in cognitive mapping. Modernists such as E. M. Forster, according to Jameson, "solved" this problem by stylistically invoking the language and imagery of infinity, a style that served as the "place-holder" for the "unrepresentable totality" (58). Jameson's essay, the first to theorize a relationship between modernism and empire, has been criticized, often validly, from many quarters. Yet his identification of global mapping as the central problem of the modernist period remains highly provocative and endlessly productive. Cartography as an organizing metaphor usefully identifies the period's obsession for charting, classifying, and manipulating distant space. Certainly my thesis that British fiction between 1884 and 1930 is characterized by a tension over spatiotemporal mapping strategies owes much to Jameson. What is missing from his account, though, is an acknowledgment of the existing technologies of representation that would have aided the modernists in their mapping strategies, ameliorating the kinds of cognitive or existential gaps that led them, in Jameson's view, to fall back on mystical invocations of infinity when confronted with global space. Jameson quite rightly invokes 1884 as codifying a new world economic order because of the Berlin Conference, but he unsurprisingly ignores the International Prime Meridian Conference, which occurred nearly simultaneously in that same year. World standard time not only enabled the efficiency of advanced global imperialism, but more important (for a study of aesthetics), it provided English citizens with a conceptual tool for cognitively reading that new imperial space as intrinsically unified with England through the hyperprecision of Greenwich time. Jameson ignores the network of means by which English modernists could fill in their conceptual gaps about the functioning and experience of the global economy. One such means was certainly the new world map, with Greenwich as its spatiotemporal zero point. In this sense my treatment of the relationship between the aesthetics of modernism and the technological and juridical innovations of the standard time system employs a constitutive model such as the one advocated by Danius. World standard time crucially informed modernist conceptions of time-space coordination, even as modernist aesthetic strategies challenged its limits and limitations as a representational tool.
In chapter 1 I present London Times newspaper coverage of the Prime Meridian Conference as well as discussions of the standardization of time in a number of late nineteenth-century journals. In chapter 4 I offer a meticulous analysis of the Times coverage of an attempted bombing of the Greenwich Royal Observatory in 1894. This body of evidence is intended to suggest that Greenwich's role in managing global space was widely publicized in the fin de siècle, substantiating the claim of Conrad's Mr. Vladimir that the "whole civilized world" had heard of Greenwich. It is not entirely necessary to my argument, though, to prove that each of the writers I discuss followed this coverage. Conrad almost certainly read the Times reports of the bombing, but beyond this I do not claim. Nor do I mean to argue that each representation of Greenwich in the modernist novels under consideration shows evidence of an intentional, direct response or reaction to the Prime Meridian Conference. Rather they bear evidence of the extent to which Greenwich had entered the consciousness of the modernists as a powerful symbol of authoritarian control from a distance and of the management of diverse populations. National pride over the institution's position and consciousness of the symbolic resonance of being the new global time zero began to mark references to Greenwich in the early twentieth century, as a number of provocative references to the institution indicate. Randall Stevenson, for example, notes a jubilant reference to Greenwich Mean Time in Arthur Wing Pinero's 1885 play, The Magistrate. By far the most famous incident, though, is Martial Bourdin's attempted bombing of the Observatory. As I argue in chapter 4, Conrad's disavowal of any public knowledge of Bourdin's motivations is belied by coverage in the Times that clearly indicated a public awareness that the Observatory was associated with intense political controversy. Journalists in 1894 expected their readers to know why the Greenwich Observatory, with its symbolic and actual control over temporal rhythm, was a potential target for foreign and domestic dissidents. Michael Newton has demonstrated as much in his discovery of documents in the Royal Greenwich Observatory archives suggesting that between 1880 and 1885 the Home Office had examined the Observatory for its vulnerability to dynamite attacks. "Clearly," Newton writes, the Observatory had been considered "a possible target" well before the alleged attack (141). Similarly Karen Piper has uncovered documents attesting to Scotland Yard's reaction to an alleged plot by prominent suffragettes to disable the Observatory. British police guarded the building in 1915 because of a report that suffragettes had been overheard on a tram car saying, "Wait till they start on the Greenwich Observatory; London, without time, will cause them to wake up" (37). If Greenwich's spatiotemporal privilege is a mere historical anachronism today, at the height of the British Empire its status as time zero seemed the crowning symbol of empire's assumed authority to measure, regulate, and delimit the uneven temporalities of global modernity.
A necessarily global phenomenon, world standard time's greatest impact was arguably on populations whose temporal standards and models were radically different from those of the imperial centers. In chapter 5 I turn to contemporaneous literature produced by English-language, subcontinental Indian writers in order to investigate the politics of time from a colonial context. In the case of India the relationship between modernism and empire was necessarily dependent on the conditions of modernization. The railway and telegraph lines, both their physical presence and their interaction with preexistent models of temporal rhythm, play central roles in such texts as S. K. Ghosh's The Prince of Destiny (1919) and K. S. Venkataramani's Murugan, the Tiller (1927). The possibility of a politics of anti-imperial time in India depends on the extent to which technological modernization is assimilated and adjusted to cultural constructs of the West and the East. The Prince of Destiny is a particularly revealing text in its juxtaposition of a temporally standardized, anti-imperial revolution against a cultural construction of the East as a timeless, "cosmopolitan," and counterrevolutionary entity. In India, where the stakes for a viable politics of time were particularly acute, its complex and ambivalent interaction with politically inflected cultural models of Eastern values made its realization equally as fraught as it was in the imperial centers. Extending my history of standard time and narrative beyond the national borders of Great Britain, this chapter intervenes in postcolonial debates over the role of nonsynchronous time in constituting a viable project of countermodernity, cautioning against the dangers of essentializing a unique Indian temporality linguistically or narratively incommensurable with standard time's grid or Western narrative's conventions. Whereas Meenakshi Mukherjee in The Twice Born Fiction has argued that early Indian fiction in English often simply romanticized timelessness and the heroic past, I contend that the tensions between competing representations of time in early Indian fiction are rooted in an awareness of the socioeconomic transformations that accompanied standardized transportation and communication networks. This chapter does not presume to be an exhaustive study of the role of Greenwich in English-language Indian novels. Such a task would require a book-length study of its own. My intention is to suggest how the conclusions of my study of standard time and British literature might open up potentially invigorating investigations of the politics of time in early twentieth-century literature of the global South. If modernist time has been wrongly construed as isolationist, antinational, and antimaterial, postcolonial time has similarly been misconstrued in terms of brash contrariety: contra modernity, contra history, contra nationality. This construal of postcolonial temporality offers the tantalizing notion of time as a realm of sheer jouissance and anarchical rhythm, but it forecloses a host of important questions about the mechanics of temporal imperialism, questions that were quite clear-sightedly explored in the narratives of Ghosh and Venkataramani. These early English-language Indian writers placed culturally incommensurable models of time and timelessness in tension with industrial manifestations of standardized temporality, demonstrating an acute awareness of the cultural and political violence accompanying standard time's incursion into the subcontinent.
Time has remained strangely untheorized in many strains of contemporary cultural theory, having given way to place and other cartographic constructs. Since the 1970s the more visible and enduring theories of power have been predominantly concerned with analyses of space rather than time. The contemporary theoretical landscape is rife with spatial paradigms, models, and diagrams, from Michel Foucault's panopticon to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's rhizomes and plateaus. The globalized world is often conceived diagrammatically, as a system of borders (permeable or impermeable), territories (sovereign or subject), networks (of capital and communication), flows (of information and immigrants), and various models of postpanoptical forms of surveillance. When time enters the discussion it is often only as that which globalization has already made obsolete. It has been "compressed," "distantiated," or "shattered" with the simultaneity and instantaneity of contemporary forms of communication. This shift from the chronometric to the cartographic suggests that, at the end of history, all that matters is the extent and reach of an irrepressible modernity as it gradually enfolds the world map. Yet struggles over standard time in the early twentieth century reveal the radical instability of that globally synchronized modernity, dependent on a continual colonization of social time requiring extensive capital investment, technological modification, legislative sanction, and cultural saturation. The elimination of time as a resource, a limit, or arguably even a viable field of research is a continuous site of political struggle rather than a fait accompli. The Cosmic Time of Empire provides a preliminary chapter in the history of that politics of time, representing the standardization of world time, along with the struggles over its implementation and its cultural representation in the art of the early twentieth century, as a necessary and inaugural moment in the history of globalization.
Members receive 20-40% discounts on book purchases. Find out more