Time and History

As I was walking down the street one day
A man came up to me and asked me what the time was that was on my watch, yeah
And I said

Does anybody really know what time it is
Does anybody really care
If so I can’t imagine why
We’ve all got time enough to cry


Taking a break from packing, I was reading a short piece by Latour, On the Difficulty of Being Glocal, this morning [via wood s lot] and was wondering just when it was from. Obviously, it is from ART e FACT volume 1 issue 4. But just when was that published? I had to go back to the home page (several clicks from the original article just to figure out when the thing was first published, let alone written. 2005 is the short answer.

I began to wonder— why is publication date often trivialized on the web as if it just didn’t matter when the original material was written/appropriated/published? This seems to be almost a throwback response. Most photography of the 19th century wasn’t dated either, because the artifact just wasn’t of much importance to history. The internet is certainly not treated as a chronicle, even with the careful demarcation of serial publishing. But I digress.

Glocal is an ugly word. The only pertinent recent usage seems to be from a gallery in Surrey whose blog seems to have died in March. But still, it piqued my interest— as matters of time and space have a tendency to do. The tension between global/local is both a contemporary concern and a historical one. The emergence of documentary photography in the 1930s can be seen as a leveling force against regionalism. I have followed the return to “local” (but not glocal) as a meaningful term, and wondered about those chunks of the melting pot like the American South that are ultimately resistant to being rendered (in all senses of the word). Why is local consciousness in the urban east/west/north good when it is historically seen as the embodiment of evil in the rural south or midwest? Why are these areas infested with “small minded” people, feeding the clich&eacute “think globally act locally.”

Latour’s perspective places it squarely in the arena of spatial problems:

First we have to modify this bad habit of ranking all entities of society from the largest to the smallest through some sort of zooming effect. ‘Large’ and ‘small’ are devoid of practical meaning. It’s wrong to assume that society is made of Russian dolls fitting into one another, all the way from planet Earth to the inside secrets of an individual heart. Wall Street is not a bigger space than, let’s say, Gaza. From the boardroom of IBM, one can’t see farther outside than a shopkeeper in Jakarta. As for the Oval Office, who could think it’s inhabited by people with ‘larger views’ than those of my concierge?

What we really mean by size is connectedness. Yes, the floor of Wall Street might be more connected, through many more channels, with many other places on Earth than my study, but it’s not bigger or wider; it does not see clearer; it’s not more universal than any other locus. All places are equally local – what else could they be? – but they are hooked up differentially to several others. Apart from those links, we are all blind. Thus, it’s the quality of what is transported from place to place that creates asymmetries between sites: one can be said to be ‘bigger’ than some other, but only as long as connections are reliably maintained. It’s never the case that one site is more universal, more encompassing, more open-minded than any other, in and of itself.

The past is quantifiably bigger than the present, but that is of relatively little importance. Local arguments of heritage are only as reliable as their connectedness with people in the present. Some locales are more reliably connected than others. I would say the Midwest and South clearly trump the West in that regard; the West tends to bulldoze its ruins. That’s why it is utterly amazing to me to discover in the east ruins on such a fantastic scale. It’s not simply that the Eastern U.S. has “more past” than the West; there are other forces at work. What remains to be seen, for me at least, is the degree of connectedness that those people feel with the spaces they live in.

That connectedness is always contingent over time– The South of the 1930s is a different place than the South of the 1990s that I lived in. That’s why the omission of dates of publication (or at least the obfuscation of them) mystifies me so much. Why would such connections, the backbone of the practice of history itself, be left simply drifting like particles of dirt in a composting field?

I’m afraid that most writing on the internet suffers from the same short-sightedness. In this “net” of connections, there are an incredible number of holes.