Time and Activism: Ruptures, Experiences, Aftermaths, 1848-1968
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‘We stand on the last promontory of the centuries!… Why should we look back, when what we want is to break down the mysterious doors of the Impossible? Time and Space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute, because we have created eternal, omnipresent speed.’ So demanded Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in The Futurist Manifesto the destruction of the decaying old world and the embracing of a radical, new, industrial future cleansed through violence.
Time is a key component of political projects. Radicalism—of both left and right—looks to the future or to the past in its challenge to established orders. This one-day workshop will focus on the role of time in left and right political radicalism during a period marked by vast social change, waves of activism and new radical political movements. 2018 is a timely moment to reflect on these themes, as it sees the anniversaries of 1848 and 1968, while radical politics are on the upsurge across Europe, and more widely.
The inspiration for this workshop comes from two sources. First, there is Hannah Arendt’s response to résistant and poet René Char’s experiences during WWII: Arendt pointed out how the experience of the Resistance formed a treasure which, though precious, ultimately came to hamper reinsertion into regular society. Activists felt themselves to be cut off, unmoored in time, after having participated in such intense activism. Second, there is Arendt’s notion of revolutions as ruptures in historical time in which revolutionaries confront the problem of the ‘beginning’. Together, these ideas are a point of departure for considering how periods of upheaval create alternative temporalities, which are powerful but difficult to reconcile with the regular flow of time.
From this starting point, questions emerge about how political ideas, revolutionary praxis, and personal experiences are heavily shaped by understandings of time. What notions of time existed in radical movements? The demands of radical movements often foreshadow future policies and developments: to what extent do they live ‘out of time’? How did nostalgia function as a way of retooling the past for the purposes of the future? How did activists reinsert themselves into daily life after moments of upheaval?
A keynote speech will be delivered by Julian Wright, Professor of History and Head of Humanities at Northumbria University. Prof. Wright’s 2017 book Socialism and the Experience of Time tackled many of these questions by exploring understandings and experiences of the present among French socialists at the turn of the twentieth century. Prof. Wright argues that this was a crucial moment of social and political transformation during which the left began to articulate new ideas about revolution, seeking to recapture it from a distant future timeframe and making it live in the present.
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