Time and the Other

Fabian, J. . Time and the Other – How Anthroplogy Makes its Object . Columbia University Press . New York . 1983 . ISBN 0-231-05590-0

Anthropology is the study of humans and their societies in the past and present. Its main subdivisions are social anthropology and cultural anthropology, which describes the workings of societies around the world, linguistic anthropology, which investigates the influence of language in social life, and biological or physical anthropology, which concerns long-term development of the human organism.

‘Time much like language or money, is a carrier of significance, a form through which we define the content of relations between the Self and the Other.. Time may give form to relations of power and inequality under the conditions of capitalist industrial production’ [Preface and Acknowledgements p. IX]. This means that time is an aspect that determines the interface between Self and the Other and so Time influences our view on the Other.

How does our use of the concept of time influence the construction of the object of study of antropology? The difficulty is in our understanding of we as the subject of anthropology, because in that role we as the subject of history can not be presupposed or left implicit nor should it be allowed to define the Other in an easy way. The contradiction is that the study of anthropoloy is conducted by involving with the object of research intensively, but based on the knowledge gained in that field research, to pronounce a discours construing the Other in terms of spatial and temporal distance.

Ch 1 Time and the Emerging Other

Knowledge is power and the claim to power of anthropology stems from its roots: the constituting of its own object of study, the Other (originally the object was the savage). All knowledge of the Other also has a historical, therefore a temporal element. In this sense accumulating knowledge involves a political act, namely from the systematic oppression to anarchic mutual recognition.

Universal time was established in the renaissance and its spread during the Enlightenment. The confusion exists because of the multitude of historical fact. Universal history is a device to distinguish different times by comparing the histories of individual countries with it: in this way it is what a general map is to particular maps [Bossuet 1845: 1, 2]. Universal can have the connotation of total (the entire worlds at all times) and general (applicable to many instances). Bossuet doesn’t address the first, but the second: how can history be presented in terms of generally valid principles? This can be done if in the ‘sequence of things, la suite des choses’ one can discern the ‘order of times’. This can be done if the order can be abbreviated to allow an instant view. the ‘epoch’ is proposed as a device, a resting place in time to consider everything that happened before that point and everything after it.

Travel gave a new impetus to anthropology and to time. Travel is now a vehicle for self-realization and the documents produced as a result form a new discours. The new traveler citiqued the existing philosophes: things seen and experienced while traveling are not as per the reality distorted by preconceived ideas.

The objective of the modern navigators is ‘to complete the history of man’ [La Pérouse in Moravia 1967:964 f in Fabian p. 8]. The meaning of complete can be to self-realisation and it can also be understood as to fill out (like a form).

The conceived authenticity of a past, found in ‘savage cultures’ is used to denounce an overly acculturated and urbanized present by presenting counterimages to the pristine wholeness of the authentic life. Time is at this point in the nineteenth century secularized.

From history to evolution (from secularization of time to evolutionary temporalizing): 1) time is immanent to the world, nature, the universe, 2) relations between parts of the world can be understood as as temporal relations. The theory of Darwinian evolution can only be accepted on the condition that the concept of time that is crucial to it, is adapted to the one in vigor. Only then can tis theory be applied to projects with the objective to show evolutionary laws in society. Darwin had based his concept of time on [Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology 1830] and he cites in a section in the origin of Species named ‘On the lapse of Time’: ‘He who can read Sit Charles Lyell’s grand work on the Principles of Geology, which the future historian will recognize as having produced a revolution in the natural sciences, yet does not admit how incomprehensibly vast have been the past periods of time, may at once close this#volume’ [1861 third ediction:111]. Lyell suggests the theory of Uniformitarianism: ‘All former changes of the organic and physical creation are referable to one uniterrupted succession of physical events, governed by laws now in operation’ [quoted in Peel 1971:293n9 in Fabian p.13]. Geological time endowed them with plausibility and scope they did not have before; the biblical time wasn’t the right kind of time, because it relays significant events from a Christian perspective, but not a neutral time independent of the events it marks. And so it cannot be part of a Cartesian time-space system.

Darwin states that time has no inner necessity or meaning: ‘The mere lapse of time itself doesn’t do anything either for or against natural selection. I state this because it has been erroneously asserted that the element of time is assumed by me to play an all-important part in natural selection, as if all species were necessarily undergoing slow modification from some innate law’ [Darwin 1861:110 f]. Also Darwin hinted at the epistemological status o scientific discovery as a sort of developing language or code. The new naturalized time is a way to order the discontinuous and fragmentary record of natural history of the world. Evolutionists now ‘spatialized’ time: instead of viewing it as a sequence of events, it now becomes a tree of related events.

By claiming to make sense of society in terms of evolutionary stages, Christian Time was now replaced with scientific Time. ‘In fact little more had been done than to replace faith in salvation by faith in progress and industry..’ [Fabian 1981 p17]. In this way the epistemology of anthropology became intellectually linked to colonization and imperialism. All societies past, present and future were placed on a stream of Time. This train of thought implies that the Other is studied in terms of the primitive, Primitive principally being a temporal concept, a category, not an object of western thought.

The Use of Time

The use of Time in anthropologic field research is different from the theoretical discourse. The latter is used for different purposes:

  • Physical time used as a parameter to describe sociocultural process.
  • Mundane time used for grand-scale periodizing.
  • Typological time, used to measure the intervals between sociocultural events.
  • Intersubjective time: an emphasis on the action-interaction in human communication.

‘As soon as culture is no longer primarily conceived as a set of rules to be enacted by individual members of distinct groups, but as the specific way in which actors create, and produce beliefs, values, and other means of social life, it has to be recognized that Time is a constitutive dimension of social reality’ [Fabian 1981 P 24].

The naturalization of time defines temporal relations as exclusive and expansive: the pagan is marked for salvation, the savage is not yet ready for civilization. What makes the savage significant for evolutionary time is that he lives in another time. All knowledge acquired by the anthropologist is affected by the historically established relations (of power and domination) between his society and the society of the one he studies; and therefore it is political in nature. The risk however is distancing. Moreover: distancing is often seen as objective by practitioners. Intersubjective time would seem to preclude distancing as the practitioner and the object are coeval (of the same same age, duration or epoch, similar to synchronous, simultaneous, contemporary), namely share the same time. But for human communication to occur, coevalness has to be created: communication is about creating the same shared time. And so in human communication recognizing intersubjectivity, establishing objectivity is connected with the creating of distance between the participants or object and subject in research. This distancing is implied in the distinction between the sender, the message and the receiver. Even if the coding and decoding of the message is taken out then the TRANSFER of it implies a temporal distance between the sender and the receiver. Distancing devices produce a denial of coevalness: ‘By that I mean a persistent and systematic tendency to place the referent(s) of anthropology in a Time other than the present of the producer of the anthropological discourse‘ [Fabian 1981 p. 31].

Coevalness can be denied by Typological time and by Physical time, intersubjective time may pose the problem described above: if coevalness is a condition for communication and anthropology is based on ethnography and ethnography is a form of communication then the anthropologist is not free to choose coevalness for his interlocutors or not. Either he submits to the condition of coevalness and produces ethnographic knowledge or he doesn’t. If anachronism is a fact or statement that is outdated in a certain timeframe: it is a mistake or an accident. As a device, and not a mistake, this is named allochronism.

Coevalness is present in the field research and not in the theory development and writing. This latter activity is political in the sense that is rooted in the early existence of the science and so it is connected with colonialism. At this point hardly more than technological advance and economical exploitation seem the most available arguments to explain western superiority (p. 35).

Ch 3: Time and Writing about the Other

Even if (an observer) is in communication with other observers, he can only hear what they have seen in their absolute pasts, at times which are also his absolute past. So whether knowledge originates in the experience of a group of people or of a society, it must always be based on what is past and gone, at the moment when it is under consideration‘ [David Bohm in Fabian 1981 p. 71].

In previous chapters it was argued that the temporal conditions experienced in the field differ from those as expressed when writing or teaching. Empirical research can only be productive if the researcher and the researched share time. Usually the intepretation of the research occurs at a (temporal) distance, denying coevalness to the object of inquiry. This is a problem if both activities are part of the same discipline: this was not always so (travelogues versus armchair anthropology). This is also a problem if the practice of coevalness assumed a given in field research indeed contributes to the quality of the research and that it should not in fact be distanced also in an ideal world.

Now historical discourse introduces two new presuppositions in that it, first, replaces the concept of achronicity with that of temporality. At the same time it assumes that the signifier of the text which is in the present has a signified in the past. Then it reifies its signified semantically and takes it for a referent external to the discourse‘ [Greimas 1976:29 in Fabian pp. 77-8]. The referent being a society or a culture of reference, to reify means ‘render something concrete’.

The Ethnographic Present as a literary convention means to give account of other societies and cultures in the present tense. Historical accuracy, if the past tense in the accounts is used, is a matter of the ‘critique of the sources’. Also the comparison with the referents is not strict anymore, because that needs to be based on past data of the referent also. Another problem is that the present tense may freeze the picture of the state of affairs as it is found in a culture, which is a dynamical thing in nature and freezing it doesn’t take this into account. Another issue is with the autobiographical style of reporting of field research: this has a partly etymological and partly practical backdrop.

This is an important foundation for intersubjective knowledge ‘Somehow we must be able to share each other’s past in order to be knowingly in each other’s present‘ [Fabian 1981 p. 92]. In other words: reflexive (reflexion, revealing the researcher) experience is more important than reflective (reflection, neutralised for the researcher’s presence thus eliminating subjectivity) experience, because if the first were unavailable then the information about the object (the individual and his society) would be unidirectional in time and therefore tangential (irrelevant and beside the point) and therefore another symptom of the denial of coevalness. Additionally reflexion requires the researcher to ‘travel back and forth in time’ and so the researched can know the researcher as well as the converse. The same goes for the storing of data.

The method of observation can be a source of denial of coevalness also: the structure of the observations, the planning, the visual aspects deemed relevant, the representation of the visual data, the indications of speed included in the observations all presuppose a format stemming from one time and projecting itself and / or conditioning the observation. These are criteria brought to the observation process by the researcher and forms the basis for the production of knowledge. In additon to changing and emphasizing some criteria deemed relevant by the researcher and other criteria are left out at his choice.

Conclusions

Anthropology emerged and established itself as an allochronic discourse; it is a science of other men in another Time. It is a discourse whose referent has been removed from the present of the speaking/writing subject. This ‘petrified relation’ is a scandal. Anthropology’s Other is, ultimately, other people who are our contemporaries‘ [Fabian 1985 p. 143].

The western countries needed Time to accommodate the schemes of a one-way history: progress, development, modernity and their negative mirror images: stagnation, underdevelopment and tradition. The fiction is that interpersonal, intergroup, international the time is ‘public time’, there for the taking of anyone interested and as a consequence allotted by the powers that be. The notion of ‘public time’ provided a notion of simultaneity that is natural and independent of ideology and individual consciousness. And as a result coevalness is no longer required.

As soon as it was realized that fieldwork is a form of communicative interaction with an Other, one that must be carried out coevally, on the basis of shared intersubjective Time and intersocietal contemporaneity, a contradiction had to appear between research and writing, because anthropological writing had become suffused with the strategies and devices of an allochronic discourse‘ [Fabian 1985 p. 148].

they (the sign-theories of culture DPB) have a tendency to reinforce the basic premises of an allochronic discourse in that they consistently align the Here and Now of the signifier (the form, the structure, the meaning) with the Knower, and the There and Then of the signified (the content, the function or event, the symbol or icon) with the Known‘ [Fabian 1985 p. 151].

It is expressive of a political cosmology, that is, a kind of myth. Like other myths, allochronism has the tendency to establish a total grip on our (the anthropologists DPB) discourse. It must therefore be met by a ‘total’ response, which is not to say that the critical work be accomplished in one feel swoop‘ [Fabian 1985 p 152].

The ideal of coevalness must of course also guide the critique of the many forms in which coevalness is denied in anthropological discourse‘ [Fabian 1985 p. 152].

Evolutionism established anthropological discourse as allochronic, but was also an attempt to overcome a paralyzing disjunction between the science of nature and the science of man‘ [Fabian 1985 p 153].

That which is past enters the dialectics of the present, if it is granted coevalness’ [Fabian 1985 p. 153].

The absence of the Other from our Time has been his mode of presence in our discourse – as an object and victim‘ [Fabian 1985 p. 154].

Is not the theory of coevalness which is implied (but by no means fully developed) in these arguments a program for ultimate temporal absorption of the Other, just the kind of theory needed to make sense of present history as a ‘world system’, totally dominated by monopoly- and state-capitalism?’ [Fabian 1985 p. 154].

Are there, finally, criteria by which to distinguish denial of coevalness as a condition of domination from refusal of coevalness as an act of liberation?‘ [Fabian 1985 p. 154].

What are opposed, in conflict in fact, locked in antagonistic struggle, are not the same societies at different stages of development, but different societies facing each other at the same Time‘ [Fabian 1985 p 155].

Point of departure for a theory of coevalness: 1) recuperation of the idea of totality (‘.. we can make sense of another society only to the extent that we grasp it as a whole, an organism, a configuration, a system’ [Fabian 1985 p 156]. This is flawed because a) system rules are imposed from outside and above and because culture is now a system, a theory of praxis (the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, practiced, embodied, or realized) not provided b) if a theory of praxis is not conceived then anthropology cannot be perceived as an activity that is part of what is studied.

.. the primitive assumption, the root metaphor of knowledge remains that of a difference, and a distance, between thing and image, reality and representation. Inevitably, this establishes and reinforces models of cognition stressing difference and distance between a beholder and an object‘ [Fabian 1985 p 160].

‘A first and fundamental assumption of a materialist theory of knowledge, .. , is to make consciousness, individual and collective, the starting point. Not disembodied consciousness, however, but ‘consciousness with a body’, inextricably bound up with language. A fundamental role for language must be postulated.. Rather, the only way to think of consciousness without separating it from the organism or banning it to some ‘forum internum’ is to insist on its sensuous nature; .. to tie consciousness as an activity to the production of meaningful sound. Inasmuch as the production of meaningful sound involves the transforming, shaping of matter, it may still be possible to distinguish form and content, but the relationship between the two will then constitutive of consciousness. Only in a secondary, derived sense (one in which the conscious organism is presupposed rather than accounted for) can that relationship be called representational (significative, symbolic), or informative in the sense of being a tool or carrier of information’ [Fabian 1985 p 161].

it is wrong to think of the human use of language as characteristically informative, in fact or in intention. Human language can be used to inform or to mislead, to clarify one’s own thoughts or ot display one’s cleverness, or simply for play. If I speak with no concern for modifying your behavior or thoughts, I am not using language any less than if I say exactly the same things with such intention. If we hope to understand human language and the psychological capacities on which it rests, we must first ask what it is, not how or for what purpose it is used‘ [Chomsky 1972 p 70 in Fabian p 162]. Chomsky, N. . Language and Mind – Enlarged Edition . New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovic . 1972

‘Man does not ‘need’ language; man, in the dialectical, transitive understanding of ‘to be’, is language (much like he does not need food, shelter, and so on, but is his food and house). Consciousness, realized by the (producing) meaningful sound, is self-conscious. The Self, however, is constituted fully as a speaking and hearing Self. Awareness, if we may thus designate the first stirrings of knowledge beyond the registering of tactile impressions, is fundamentally based on hearing meaningful sounds produced by Self and Others. .. Not solitary perception but social communication is the starting point for a materialist anthropology, provided that we keep in mind that man does not ‘need’ language as a means of communication, or by extension, society as a means of survival, Man is communication and survival. What saves these assumptions from evaporating in the clouds of speculative metaphysics is, I repeat, a dialectical understanding of the verb ‘to be’ in these propositions. Language is not predicated on man (nor is the ‘human mind’ or ‘culture’). Language produces man as man produces language. Production is the pivotal concept of materialist anthropology‘ [Fabian 1985 p162].

The element of thought itself – the element of thought’s living expression-language-is of a sensuous nature. The social reality of nature, and human natural science, or the natural science about man, are identical terms‘ [Marx 1953:245 f, translation from The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 1964:143 in Fabian 1985 p 163]. [Marx, K. . Die Frühschriften . Siegfried Landshut, ed Stuttgart: A. Kröner – 1964. The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 . Dirk Struik . ed. New York : International] en [Marx, K. and Engels, F. . Marx and Engels: Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy . Feuer, L. S. . ed. Garden City. New York: Doubleday]

‘Concepts are products of sensuous interaction; they themselves are of a sensuous nature inasmuch as their formation and use is inextricably bound up with language… it is the sensuous nature .. that makes language an eminently temporary phenomenon. Its materiality is based on articulation, on frequencies, pitch, tempo, all of which are realized in the dimension of time… The temporality of speaking .. implies cotemporality of producer and product, speaker and listener, Self and Other’ [Fabian 1985 p. 163-4].