How to chronologize with a hammer, Or, The myth of homogeneous, empty time

Byron Ellsworth Hamann


Modern Western temporality is often characterized (quoting Walter Benjamin) as “homogeneous, empty time.” This temporality is said (in the influential works of Johannes Fabian and Michel-Rolph Trouillot, for example) to result from a process by which sacred Judeo-Christian time was secularized: beginning in the Renaissance and finally achieved by the Enlightenment. Taking Fabian and Trouillot as a point of departure, this essay considers the past five centuries of Western chronological history. Temporal secularization is revealed to be far less linear (and much more recent) than Occidentalist common sense would assume. Given the actual strangeness of the “Common Era” Gregorian calendar—according to whose rhythms much of the world now structures its life—two models are proposed for dealing with that calendar’s complex legacies. Following Nietzsche, we can productively take a hammer to the idol of Western chronology: not to smash it, but to make it ring.


time, calendars, apocalypticism, Latin America, Atlantic studies, Mediterranean studies, Christianity

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14318/hau6.1.016