The Cosmic Time of Empire

The Cosmic Time of Empire: Modern Britain and World Literature

Adam Barrows
Series: FlashPoints
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pn7rg
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  • Book Info
    The Cosmic Time of Empire
    Book Description:

    Combining original historical research with literary analysis, Adam Barrows takes a provocative look at the creation of world standard time in 1884 and rethinks the significance of this remarkable moment in modernism for both the processes of imperialism and for modern literature. As representatives from twenty-four nations argued over adopting the Prime Meridian, and thereby measuring time in relation to Greenwich, England, writers began experimenting with new ways of representing human temporality. Barrows finds this experimentation in works as varied as Victorian adventure novels, high modernist texts, and South Asian novels—including the work of James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, H. Rider Haggard, Bram Stoker, Rudyard Kipling, and Joseph Conrad. Demonstrating the investment of modernist writing in the problems of geopolitics and in the public discourse of time, Barrows argues that it is possible, and productive, to rethink the politics of modernism through the politics of time.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94815-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction: Modernism and the Politics of Time
    (pp. 1-21)

    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.¹ 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...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Standard Time, Greenwich, and the Cosmopolitan Clock
    (pp. 22-52)

    One of the “hallmarks of modernity,” writes Henri Lefebvre in his 1974 study,The Production of Space,is its “expulsion” or “erasure” of time. Inscribed in spaces and in social relationships in the premodern, time in modernity is subordinated to the economic and expelled from the political. In deliberately violent imagery Lefebvre writes that time in modernity “has been murdered by society” (96). If this separation of time from space was so dramatic and violent, why, Lefebvre wonders, did it not cause an “outcry”? How did it become “part and parcel of social norms”? “How many lies have their roots”...

  7. CHAPTER 2 “Turning From the Shadows That Follow Us”: Modernist Time and the Politics of Place
    (pp. 53-74)

    The 1884 Washington conference did not demonstrate the global consensus on universal civil time that Sandford Fleming and his apostles had hoped it might. Despite Fleming’s lofty rhetoric of cosmopolitan time for all purposes on earth, European delegates, as we have seen, were quick to keep separate the issues of cartographic longitude and universal civil time. The American delegates, Rodgers and Rutherford, diplomatically insisted in their concluding remarks that each government would have complete latitude over what uses, if any, it would make of a Greenwich-based civil time. For Fleming this capitulatory language was deeply frustrating. If the global map...

  8. CHAPTER 3 At the Limits of Imperial Time; or, Dracula Must Die!
    (pp. 75-99)

    The 1884 Berlin and Prime Meridian Conferences eliminated material and conceptual barriers against spatiotemporal globalization. Setting the protocols for imperial rivalry in West Africa and beyond, the Berlin Conference would enable the Western powers to fill in with their imperial colors the “white patch” of Africa, which Conrad’s Marlow describes as having been a “blank space of delightful mystery” before it was “filled . . . with rivers and lakes and names” (Heart of Darkness,142). The Prime Meridian Conference would simultaneously unify the diverse temporalities of the world, ensuring that one could never lose the proper Greenwich time, no...

  9. CHAPTER 4 “The Shortcomings of Timetables”: Greenwich, Modernism, and the Limits of Modernity
    (pp. 100-128)

    In chapter 3 I described how Bram Stoker’sDraculaenlisted global standard time both at the level of plot, with Mina Harker’s and the Count’s competing mastery of timetables, and also as a principle of narrative structure, with discrepant time lines from various media synchronized into a uniform typewritten narrative. For Stoker standard time served a double function: it preserved England’s ontological purity by excising the temporally untranslatable, and it provided a model for a total narrative, able to assimilate various classes, nations, and dialects (spoken by the multinational vampire hunters) as well as various media. Modernist texts attack standard...

  10. CHAPTER 5 “A Few Hours Wrong”: Standard Time and Indian Literature in English
    (pp. 129-153)

    Saleem Sinai’s observation on time in India, near the beginning of Salman Rushdie’sMidnight’s Children(1981), provocatively links cross-cultural temporal difference with uneven modernization and linguistic variance. Saleem cannot decide whether the difference between Indian and English time is simply a technical glitch in the Bombay power supply, correctible by a more even and equitable distribution of electric current, or whether it rests on a more fundamental cultural distance written into the very vocabulary and syntax of Hindi. His indecision is emblematic of a central crisis in the treatment of time in the Indian novel in English. Is there an...

  11. CONCLUSION: A Postmodern Politics of Time? Negri’s “Global Phenomenological Fabric” and Amis’s Backward Arrow
    (pp. 154-170)

    What is the value of resuscitating a temporal politics of modernism, as this book has attempted to do? If, as I have suggested, modernism represented a crucial stage in the history of the suppression of temporal politics because it alternately engaged in that suppression and resisted it, what can we learn from modernism about the political constitution of time in the age of GPS and instantaneity? My argument has been that we can draw from modernist temporality a model for a politicized time that is neither subsumed under global standard time’s uniformity nor retracted into a psychical, fluid interiority. Somewhere...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 171-192)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 193-204)
  14. Index
    (pp. 205-211)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 212-212)