Eugenia Loli, "Midnight Insanity" (2017)
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The Multiple Simultaneous Temporalities of Global Modernity: Pamuk, Tanpınar, Proust

I am scattered in times whose order I do not understand. —Augustine, Confessions

What my eyes beheld was simultaneous, but what I shall now write down will be successive, because language is successive. —Jorge Luis Borges, “The Aleph”

Only through time time is conquered. —T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

The globalization of modernist studies continues apace. But in the phrase global modernism, the latter word has not kept up. A temporalization of the field must follow its geographic expansion. Recent critics (surveyed in Friedman 2019) have reached similar conclusions, drawing on Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson to stress the relativity of time and the nonlinearity of history.[1] This essay extends these claims about the coexistence of modernity’s multiple temporalities but teases out their specific ramifications for non-Western nations, which are often negatively cast in terms of their developing, belated, or laggard temporalities (Gurbilek 2003; Reiss 2001). The essay makes this point by looking to a series of interlinked modernist novels that are explicitly about the nature of time. But instead of revealing the acceleration (Concheiro 2016), deceleration (Koepnick 2014), dilation (Clune 2013), cessation (Benjamin 1969), negation (Eshel 2003), or even social construction (Rovelli 2018) of time, these works reflect time’s inherent plurality, attesting to the multiple simultaneous temporalities of global modernity.

By extension, multiple simultaneous temporalities contest the singular story of Western modernity (Jameson 2012), which identifies its geographic, temporal, and intellectual origins in Industrial and Enlightenment Europe. If any given moment is now said to contain both vestiges of the past (Levine 2015: 73) and multiple available futures (Eshel 2013), modern people, literature, and nations— Western and non-Western alike— must also contain a simultaneous mixture of past, present, and future. In other words, if time does not obey a successive logic, neither can modernity.[2] No longer beholden to historical progress, global modernity is instead “a plurality of times existing together, a dis- juncture of the present with itself” (Chakrabarty 2000: 109). The essay thus argues for the simultaneity of modernity’s heterogeneous temporalities without viewing non-Western societies as either “representatives of the future” (Osborne 1995: 18) or “nonsynchronous” residues of the past (Bloch 1977). While Raymond Williams (1977: 121-27) appears to anticipate this argument, his temporalities of the residual, emergent, and dominant ultimately serve the logic of uneven development. However, the frequently contradictory temporal pressures that act on people, narratives, and polities index a level of self-division whose temporal heterogeneity refutes the logic of progress or belatedness in the first place. The “temporalization of difference” (Ogle 2015: 7) that separates developing nations from more developed ones is thus denied by the pluralization of temporality. Such a claim does not represent a chimerical attempt to “undo the history of Western imperialism and colonialism by nostalgically recuperating romanticized precapitalist pasts” (Cheah 2016: 12). Instead, it is an attempt to reckon with the necessarily multiple temporalities that structure human life, its narrative representation, and political organization.

The counterintuitive nature of this claim resides in the fact that different temporalities can exist simultaneously. Simultaneity ought to belong to the domain of space—not time. For Augustine (2008: 235), past, present, and future coexist outside time only in godly eternity. Jorge Luis Borges (2011: 205), who writes of an extratemporal point that contains all points in “The Aleph,” laments the inability of language to render it simultaneously, while Adūnīs (2003: 119) denies the temporality of modernity in part because it “cuts vertically through time” in its “vision which includes in it all times.” “I confess I do not believe in time,” writes Vladimir Nabokov (1989: 139) in an exemplary statement. “I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another.” In the Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant (2007: 61) argues, “Time has one dimension only; different times are not simultaneous but successive (just as different spaces are not successive but simultaneous).” This essay, however, will follow Bergson’s rejoinder to Kant in Time and Free Will, affirming the possibility of multiple simultaneous temporalities through a phenomenological understanding of human consciousness.[3] Such a consciousness is better described through the qualitative, heterogeneous multiplicity of temporal duration than through the quantitative, homogeneous succession that is comprehensible in space.[4] Put more simply: on a given day, our thoughts fly through any number of time zones. And if the human mind finds itself conditioned by multiple simultaneous regimes of past, present, and future, it follows that narratives of modernity crafted by such a mind would reflect the coexistence of those topsy-turvy temporalities rather than the neat line of historical progress. Thus, while Hans Robert Jauss (1970: 28) writes that “things which occur at the same time are not really simultaneous,” this essay argues for the simultaneity of things that occur at different times.

In fact, it proposes multiple simultaneous temporalities as a constitutive feature of global modernism. Overlapping temporalities— sacred and profane, surreal and antique— characterize global modernist literature from Andrei Bely’s Petersburg to James Joyce’s Ulysses, T. S. Eliot’s Wasteland to Forough Farrokhzad’s Another Birth, Virginia Woolf’s Waves to Sadeq Hedayat’s Blind Owl, and Ruben Dario’s Azul to Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy.[5] The essay makes this point through a series of interlaced epiphanies about time, across time, staging an East-West comparison that reflects the creole nature of global modernity. It reads modern Turkish fiction by Orhan Pamuk and Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar in light of a shared precursor in modern French literature, Marcel Proust. Making the case for the temporality of simultaneity, the essay begins in Pamuk’s present before gradually peeling back layers of Proust’s time, taking the structure of a Russian doll: Pamuk cites Tanpınar, and Tanpınar cites Proust. (All loved Bergson.) The spatial metaphor of the doll embeds the question of reception, or how Turkish appropriations of French literature shine new light on French literature. It also illustrates the persistence of the past in the present, demonstrating the contiguity, if not the “contemporaneity” (D’Arcy and Nilges 2015), of modernism across three novels, each roughly fifty years later than the one before it.[6] While “modernism persists in the present because it still dictates the ways in which we can discuss the present” (North 2019: 93), this essay looks past old demands to “make it new” (Pound 1935) and a newer call to “make it the same” (Edmond 2019). In fact, these modern novelists transcend the structures of difference and repetition or continuity and rupture, exploding the logic of cause and effect that narrative typically confers (Ricoeur 1985) while particularizing the equation of literature with “non-standard time” (Dimock 2006: 140): Pamuk spatializes time in The Museum of Innocence (Masumiyet Müzesi, 2008); Tanpınar temporalizes space in The Time Regulation Institute (Saatleri Ayarlama Enstitüsü, 1961); and Proust temporalizes time, demonstrating how it can reckon with itself, without the aid of space, in Swann's Way (Du côté de chez Swann, 1913).[7]

While the essay primarily identifies multiple simultaneous temporalities in the literary effects of these novels, the ubiquity of this feature across global modernist literature suggests that it sustains a geopolitical model of modernity as well. Such a model, beyond the scope of this essay, would argue that modernism both reflects modernity and provides the conceptual tools with which to reimagine it. Thus, unlike Gustave Flaubert’s barometer (Barthes 1989), the literary effects of these novels have the power to both signify within the text and denote something outside it— in this case, the nation. Nations, like novels, have narrative properties, and these narrative properties exist in time. This “disjunctive time of the nation’s modernity” (Bhabha 1990: 294) is not homogeneous or empty (Anderson 2006) but heterogeneous and multiple (Chatterjee 1999), even nonsecular and nonteleological. If so, the simultaneity of these temporalities refutes, a priori, the ideology of progress that consigns non-Western nations to the “waiting room of history” (Chakrabarty 2000: 7).

Progress has had a target on its back for some time. Jed Esty (2011: 1-5), for example, identifies a widespread trope of arrested development in the bildungsroman to critique this concept. While his argument supports the following readings of Pamuk, Tanpınar, and Proust, his critique of progress does not necessarily follow from the descriptive claim that characters, and the nations they allegorize, are stuck in perpetual adolescence. That characters or nations are behind might simply suggest that they have not yet achieved the telos of Western modernity. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (2001: xiii) adopt a different tactic, pointing out that “the spatial divisions of the three Worlds (First, Second, and Third) have been scrambled so that we continually find the First World in the Third, the Third in the First, and the Second almost nowhere at all.” But an empirical critique of empire likewise does not necessarily follow the rhizomatic diffusion of temporal markers (first, second, third) into space. This essay instead yokes its critique of progress to the theory of multiple simultaneous temporalities, whose very logic negates the construct of belatedness and, by extension, distinctions between nations progressive or backward, developed or developing, First or Third World.[8] If every nation on earth inhabits multiple temporal regimes at once, a better way to rethink the world-system may reside in the heterogeneous time that we see most clearly in global modernist fiction.

Outer Shell: Against the Refusal of Time

Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence begins with a literal scene of ecstatic temporality:[9]

Hayatımın en mutlu anıymış, bilmiyordum. Bilseydim, bu mutluluğu kor- uyabilir, her şey de bambaşka gelişebilir miydi? Evet, bunun hayatımın en mutlu anı olduğunu anlayabilseydim, asla kaçırmazdım o mutluluğu. Derin bir huzurla her yerimi saran o harika altın an belki birkaç saniye sürmüştü, ama mutluluk bana saatlerce, yıllarca gibi gelmişti. 26 Mayıs 1975 Pazartesi günü, saat üçe çeyrek kala civarında bir an, sanki bizim suçtan, günahtan, cezadan ve pişmanlıktan kurtulduğumuz gibi, dünyada yerçekimi ve zamanın kurallarından kurtulmuş gibiydi. (7)

[It was the happiest moment of my life, though I didn’t know it. Had I known, had I cherished this gift, would everything have turned out differently? Yes, if I had recognized this instant of perfect happiness, I would have held it fast and never let it slip away. It took a few seconds, perhaps, for that luminous state to unfold me, suffusing me with the deepest peace, but it seemed to last hours, even years. In that moment, on the afternoon of Monday, May 26, 1975, at about a quarter to three, just as we felt ourselves to be beyond sin and guilt so too did the world seem to have been released from gravity and time.] (3)

In the heat of this scene, the novel enters the eternal key of the modernist epiphany. But this timeless moment in fact contains any number of temporalities. Chronologically, the homogeneous empty time of 2:45 p.m. proceeds unencumbered by this ostensibly extratemporal event. Narratively, the passage represents a subsequent written account of an oral history given to the character of Orhan Pamuk, decades later. Intertextually, it is an homage not only to Tanpınar but also to Proust (1928: 510): “People don’t know when they are happy.” Grammatically, its conditional tense— “Had I known” or “Bilseydim”— suggests that a counterfactual temporal register will continue to haunt the protagonist Kemal long after such considerations are relevant.

The Museum of Innocence dramatizes the coexistence of multiple simultaneous temporalities on a grander scale as well, describing the psychic fallout of modernization efforts that began in the nineteenth- century Ottoman Empire and continued well into twentieth-century Turkey. In the process, the novel captures the contradictory temporal pressures lingering from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s drastic social reforms in the 1920s: those social, calendrical, linguistic, even sartorial upheavals created a fragmented bourgeoisie caught between multiple progressive, conservative, and moderate subject positions. The novel captures the shock of modernization through the life of Kemal, a businessman who blows up his impending marriage by embarking on an obsessive love affair. Pacing through Istanbul in at least three layers of sadness— Baudelairean spleen (the name of his cologne), Pamukian hüzün (melancholy for the loss of Ottoman tradition), and Shakespearean star-crossed love—Kemal begins to pilfer ordinary objects from his mistress Füsun, her family, and the city. These objects— which include 4,213 cigarette butts, as well as salt shakers, thimbles, pencils, barrettes, earrings, lottery tickets, and watches— eventually populate the museum that gives the novel its name. The museum’s literal objectification of Füsun enables Kemal to recollect and relive his love for her long after she has gone. In this way the museum— which exists both in the fiction and outside it, in contemporary Istanbul— explores the relation between time and space. The quotidian objects seemingly grant Kemal’s desire to evade time, which comes to the fore in the novel’s central passage:

Aristo, Fizik’inde “şimdi” dediğim tek tek anlar ile zaman arasında ayırım yapar. Tek tek anlar, tıpkı Aristo’nun atomları gibi bölünmez, parçalanmaz şeylerdir. Zaman ise, bu bölünmez anları birleştiren çizgidir. Zaman’ı, şimdileri birleştiren çizgiyi, Tarık Bey’in “unut” öğüdüne rağmen ne kadar gayret etsek de, aptallar ve hafızasızlar hariç kimse bütünüyle unutamaz. Hepimizin yaptığı gibi mutlu olmaya ve zaman’ı unutmaya çalışabilir ancak insan. . . .

Yaşadığım hayat, Zaman’ı, yani Aristo’nun şimdi dediği anları birleştiren çizgiyi hatırlamanın çoğumuz için pek acı verici olduğunu bana öğretmiştir. . . . Oysa “şimdi” dediğimiz anlar . . . bazan bir yüzyıl yetecek kadar mutluluk verebilir bize . . . ve evlerinden Füsun’un dokunduğu irili ufaklı küçük eşyaları, bu mutlu anları saklamak için alıp götürüyordum. (317–18)

[In Physics Aristotle makes a distinction between Time and the single moments he describes as the “present.” Single moments are— like Aristotle’s atoms— indivisible, unbreakable things. But Time is the line that links these indivisible moments. Though Tarık Bey [Füsun’s father] asked us to forget Time—that line connecting one present moment to the next — no one except for idiots and amnesiacs can succeed in forgetting it altogether. A person can only try to be happy and forget Time, and this we all do. . . .

My life has taught me that remembering Time— that line connecting all the moments Aristotle calls the present—is for most of us a rather painful business. . . . But sometimes these moments we call the “present” can bring us enough happiness to last a century.. . and it was to preserve these happy moments for the future that I picked up so many objects large and small that Füsun had touched, and took them away with me.] (287-88) 

If readers miss these lines in the novel, they are reprinted prominently on a wall in an Istanbul museum based on the novel; the floor of the museum’s lobby also evokes the passage, as it contains spirals of time flecked with dots: Aristotle’s atoms.[10] Why might Kemal want to still time? As he fondles Füsun’s objects, refusing time enables him to believe that he can live “in the present” in the past he shared with her: another multiply simultaneous, if somewhat misguided, understanding of time.

In the context of the modernization debates that the novel convenes, evading time serves something other than cognitive dissonance. In fact, given how frequently the novel’s characters talk about modernity, it is not a stretch to view this passage as a critique of modernity, at least in the teleological sense of a singular modernity that condemns non-Western nations to belatedness. This passage thus contains an argument for fashioning a more fluid and less psychologically taxing relation to time that jettisons the developmentalist logic of history underlying most European accounts of modernity (Chakrabarty 2000: 7). In place of this logic The Museum of Innocence appears to advance a non-teleological account of modernity that inheres in the indivisible Aristotelian moment. Such moments, understood singly rather than linearly, preclude the creation of metanarratives that offer a single point of origin for modernity.

Toward the end of the novel, Kemal reenters the cosmic register of this passage. In a broader disquisition on the museum, he claims that “real museums are places where Time is transformed into Space” (564; 510). These lines repeat the shibboleth that simultaneity takes place in space. Such a belief might help Pamuk get around the problem that Johannes Fabian (2002: 35) highlighted in the discipline of anthropology, which located non-Western cultures outside time to study them. If, according to Kemal’s logic, objects shed their temporality in the museum and align themselves in spatial constellations, then the “denial of coevalness” is averted: there is no time in which to make temporal distinctions about historical development. (Pamuk is not the only non-Western artist to discover this solution: William Kentridge employs the same tactic in his video installation The Refusal of Time [Cheah 2016: 1-2].) The novel’s passages about time thus not only help Kemal make peace with Füsun but also commend the novel’s cast of characters to renounce time— and linear modernity— in order to be happy.

Happiness, however, is overrated. And any hypothetical attempt to skirt the category of time via the museum space raises two issues. Far from a liberatory gesture, the refusal of time mimics the tactics of the Western anthropologists whom Fabian critiques in Time and the Other. Refusing temporality to the 1970s Istanbul bourgeoisie— whose pretensions to modernity Kemal is always ready to mock— is in fact what enables him to study it. Such a gesture does not critically appropriate, parody, or subvert the tools of the Western anthropologist— it only repeats them. Kemal says as much: “I had become an anthropologist of my own experience” (40; 30). Furthermore, the developmentalist ladder of history cannot be undone by the elimination of temporality: the temporality of no time is but one option amid the multiple temporal regimes that hum forward or whir backward at any given moment.

Another contradiction befalls The Museum of Innocence's supposed negation of time: the spatialization of time relies on the homogeneous empty time that it claims to rebuke. Since the entire novel is premised on a scene of recollection told to the character of Orhan Pamuk— an experience that takes place inside the Museum of Innocence, a literal memory palace— it does not follow that Kemal has renounced time. The temporality of the novel, premised on a Bergsonian conception of duration, is unmistakably heterogeneous. “Has true duration anything to do with space?” Bergson (2001: 91) once shuddered. “Certainly, our analysis of the idea of number could not but make us doubt this analogy, to say no more.” The novel and museum instead reflect the colliding temporalities of Kemal’s mind, in which past, present, and future are hopelessly intertwined; his memories, prompted by the objects before him, imagine alternate versions of the past that in turn yield counterfactual presents and subjunctive futures. Such an experience of duration thus cannot reflect the discrete spatialization of time via Aristotelian moments that expire as they arise. Instead, as Kemal regards Füsun’s objects in the Museum of Innocence, space becomes time. Therefore the novel’s critique of linear accounts of historical time operates under different premises. The teleological account of modernity is contested not through the domain of space but through the multiple simultaneous temporalities that flow through individuals, narratives, and nations.

Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar’s New Regulation of Time

For all his debts to Nabokov and Dostoevsky, Pamuk (2017: 186) creates a precursor for himself in “the writer in whom I feel the closest bond”: Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, a twentieth-century Turkish scholar and statesman who was in turn indebted to Proust and Bergson.[11] If Pamuk inadvertently articulates the multiple simultaneous temporalities that flow through ostensibly atemporal moments, Tanpınar makes this modernist feature explicit both in his correspondence (Tanpınar 2005: 395) and in his recollection of the “second time” that simmers beneath the city of Bursa (Tanpınar 2014: 96; 2018: 88): “Yaşadığımız, gülüp eğlendiğimiz, çalıştığımız, seviştiğimiz zamanın yanı başında, ondan çok daha başka, çok daha derin, takvimle, saatle alakası olmayan; sanatın, ihtirasla, imanla yaşanmış hayatın ve tarihin bu şehrin havasında ebedi bir mevsim gibi ayarladığı velut ve yekpare bir zaman”(Alongside the time in which we live, laugh and enjoy ourselves, work and make love is another Time very different, much deeper, unrelated to the clock and the calendar: a creative and indivisible Time which, like an eternal season in this city’s atmosphere, is regulated by art and history and a life lived with passion and faith).[12] The Time Regulation Institute, published in 1961 after years of serialization, mourns the loss of this “second time” amid the mechanical tempo of modernity. A satire of the country’s top-down modernization efforts in the 1920s, the novel narrates the vicissitudes of a short-lived institute whose sole purpose is to synchronize the nation’s clocks. The institute’s regulatory arm quickly acquires a Borgesian bent, fining people whose watches display the wrong time, as well as those whose watches do not match the time of nearby timepieces.

The impossibility of perfect temporal synchronization doubles as an allegory for the transformations in Turkish time that began during the nineteenth-century Tanzimat (Reform) period and continued into the early Republic. The unfolding synthesis of Western (alafranga) and Ottoman (alaturka) ideas was, as Avner Wishnitzer (2015: 151-52, 154) puts it, often framed through the rhetoric of overlapping temporalities:

The concurrent use of the alaturka and alafranga hours down to the end of the Hamidian era was emblematic of the effort... to patch together foreign and indigenous elements in search of a distinctly Ottoman path of progress. While the use of the European system was deemed necessary for interacting with the outside world, the abolition of the indigenous hour system, associated with old traditions, was not seriously considered. . . . Double-faced clocks showing alaturka and alafranga hours were put in public places, often in proximity to international facilities such as postal and telegraph services. Pocket watches showing both times were marketed throughout the Ottoman domains.

While many of these changes had their origin in nineteenth-century reforms, Tanpınar witnessed their aftereffects during his teens and twenties, describing the ikilik, or twoness, they carved in his soul (Ertürk 2011: 111). This duality was apparent in multiple calendrical rhythms (Gregorian and Rumi) and, more starkly, in the skyline of Istanbul, which was dotted with Ottoman-era mosques and Western-style clocks.[13]

Tanpınar’s critics acknowledge these anxieties about temporality when they style him as a Benjaminian chronicler of urban palimpsests (Erturk 2008) or a ventriloquist of Bergsonian duration (Dolcerocca 2015). In the latter camp, Özen Nergis Dolcerocca (2017: 185) makes a valuable distinction between vakit (official time) and zaman (the inner time of one’s life) in an analysis of Hayri Irdal, protagonist of The Time Regulation Institute and human rebuke to the logic of progress. A Turkish Bartleby, Hayri possesses the ability to “trip time” up (185), instead of being tripped by it— a crucial difference between the original Turkish and the English translation. Dolcerocca profitably marshals this distinction in service of a broader argument about Hayri’s “inherent temporal irregularity”: “trapped in a cycle of infernal repetition,” he is beholden to an “anxiety-driven impulse to bring time to a standstill” (185, 181, 185). This argument, however, represents another instance of the modernist fallacy of temporal negation. (The claim’s persistence across time may be one argument it has in its favor: plus ça change.) By reducing Hayri to his desire for repose— his desire to exit time— the argument ignores the multiple temporalities that the vakit-zaman distinction reflects, consigning to backwardness, in a paraphrase of Ernst Bloch (“the simultaneity of the non-simultaneous”), temporal orders that are very much alive (185,193). Furthermore, it focuses on the immediate, stultifying nature of the impasse at hand in Hayri’s life, rather than discovering its latent transformative potential. These laggard temporal orders culminate in the arrest of time— this time, in human form— and their devaluation leads to the conclusion that the novel “deemphasizes the idea of continuity with the Ottoman past, in favor of a more critical and modernist approach” (179). However, modernism, in its complicated European and global instantiations, always embeds the past that it breaks with. What makes The Time Regulation Institute tick— and what makes it classically modernist— is the multiplicity of its simultaneous temporalities. That is why, for Hayri, “it is my past [mazim], and not my current position in life, that holds the key to my problems; I can neither escape from it nor entirely accept its mandate” (52; 55).

While Hayri cannot forget his past— he is in psychoanalysis, by the way— Benjaminian and Bergsonian readings of the novel also downplay the temporality on which it, and all modernization efforts, rely: the future. The promise of a future arrives at the end of The Time Regulation Institute, when Hayri comes up with a design for the institute’s exterior and interior: the face of a clock. This design, in other words, represents a literal spatialization of time. But this facade of homogeneous empty chronology is figurative as well, for it registers the elusive Bergsonian “second time” at the same time that the two clocks would hypothetically quantify it. Hayri’s design stems from his observations of minarets and curtains from several Istanbul mosques, resulting in an eclectic union of Islamic architecture and the Western grandfather clock (377-79; 377-79). This marriage of the secular and nonsecular discloses the simultaneity of ostensibly competing temporal regimes within the same clock. Such a synthesis, for Ertürk (2011: 134), reflects “the aggregation of different temporal fragments in anticipation of a new future”: that is, the composite modernity of the Turkish Republic. Indeed, the notion of the nation as the site of variegated overlapping temporalities precludes the creation of progressive historical narratives that consign the nation, its literature, and its people to belatedness or atemporality (Gürbilek 2003). Any effort to impose temporal homogeneity on a given era—either through feverish modernization or through a return to “tradition”— will be thwarted by the existence of people or even clocks that obey multiple temporal rhythms at once.

Counterargument: Belated Proust

A pertinent critique of this essay’s argument holds that theories of heterotemporality catapult non-Western nations into modernity by a sleight of hand. “Although the thesis of heterotemporality presents itself as a rejection of the universalizing teleological narrative of Western capitalist modernity,” Pheng Cheah (2016: 13-14) writes, “alternative temporalities are in fact varieties of teleological time in a smaller case. They are nonuniversal or local teleologies because they are governed by a dynamic of self-return in which a given postcolonial people or social group achieve [sic] self-determination through their own practices.” This claim convincingly describes many contemporary non-Western or postcolonial works of literature, but it fails to characterize either The Museum of Innocence or The Time Regulation Institute. The reason is not that Pamuk, as a bourgeois, and Tanpınar, as ideologically adrift,[14] are immune to the revolutionary features of postcolonial literature that Cheah goes on to sketch. Nor is it strictly because Turkey was never colonized and would not necessarily replicate the same telos in parvo.

The issue, again, is one of time. While for Cheah (2016: 245), “heterotemporality is undone by. . . the time of capital,” these Turkish novels are after something different. They do wish to be recognized in the asymmetry of global modernity. But the modernity they envision is not singularly defined by global capitalism, nor is it exclusively secular. Instead, they inhabit a temporally heterogeneous modernity that challenges Max Weber’s (2004) increasingly wobbly equation of modernity with disenchantment. Characters in these novels may be disillusioned, but they are not emptied of belief. Critically, they layer nonsecular temporalities— circular, repetitive, solar, messianic— onto the supposedly homogeneous empty time of daily life. The argument, to be clear, is not for a postsecular regime: Pamuk and Tanpınar are not restoring lost faith to a disenchanted world.[15] Instead, they reflect a global modernity that was never secular in the first place (Chakrabarty 2000: 16; de Grazia 2021; Gandhi 2006: 122; Josephson-Storm 2017; Largier 2009).

To make this claim as airtight as possible, I turn back to nonsecular temporal heterogeneity in the beau ideal of European modernism: Marcel Proust. I have begun with the later non-Western examples to build from particular cases to the most general one, for while Pamuk spatializes time and Tanpınar temporalizes space, Proust temporalizes time itself. Swann’s Way has sustained any number of readings that corroborate its multiple simultaneous temporalities. “The problem— and the pleasurableness— of [Proust’s] sentences . . . lies in their insistent intermixing of past, present and future,” Malcolm Bowie (1998: 37) writes. Joshua Landy (2004: 215) says that Marcel’s involuntary memory “seizes the passage of time,” while for Gilles Deleuze (2008: 4), “the Search is oriented to the future, not the past.” With time, interpretations of the novel’s multiple temporalities will only multiply.

To call this novel an example of nonsecular temporal heterogeneity, however, is more challenging. The phrase is paradoxical, for it appears to muddle the axiomatic pairs of nonsecularity with eternity, and secularity with temporality. Accordingly, nonsecular, religious, or redemptive readings of the Recherche, in which Marcel is said to have resurrected time, tend to valorize the eternal, not the temporal (Bowie 1998: 31). If past and future are seemingly available in the present, the thinking goes, their coexistence takes place not in time but in eternity. The Bergsonian notion of temporal simultaneity— which has historically underpinned meditations on involuntary memory— thus appears to rest on a fallacy. As Martin Hägglund (2012: 37) writes: “Given that the past never ceases to be, it preserves itself and everything that happens without relying on anything other than itself. For the same reason, however, the duration of the past is not temporal at all but an eternal substance.” This elegant critique of temporal simultaneity disregards the fact that past and future can be both coeval and differentiable.[16] Hägglund’s account is also premised on negation: every moment of time ceases to be in its very passing. Time is immanent to its self-negating self, in contradistinction to Bergson’s eternally retrievable past. But how is the past retrievable at all if it passes away in its own event? Hägglund’s account relies primarily, though not exclusively, on the spatialization of time.[17] But the spatialization of time, as my readings of Pamuk and Tanpınar reveal, typically demonstrates its opposite: the temporalization of space.

Marcel’s memories arrive in flashes, draped in mist or serrated jealousy. They emanate from an unreliable person in time, whose attempts to leave traces of memory are etched in human frailty: “None of us can be said to constitute a material whole, which is identical for everyone, and need only be turned up like a page in an account book or the record of a will,” Marcel writes in a sentiment liberally scattered throughout the novel (Proust 1928: 25). “It is plain that the object of my question, the truth, lies not in the cup but in myself,” he adds (62). Even when Marcel appears to spatialize time, he hastens to add that space can merely serve as the catalyst for processes of memory that are inherently temporal: “The past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of the intellect, in some material object (in the sensation which that material object will give us) which we do not suspect” (61). Thus Swann’s Way admits the spatialization of time only insofar as objects, such as the madeleine, catalyze the multiple simultaneous temporalities of human memory.

These temporalities frequently admit nonsecular realms. When Marcel describes a musical phrase from Vinteuil's sonata, he distills the nature of the novel’s overlapping temporal regimes. That phrase “espoused our mortal state,” though 

its destiny was linked to the future, to the reality of the human soul, of which it was one of the most special and distinctive ornaments. Perhaps it is not-being that is the true state, and all our dream-life is inexistent; but, if so, we feel that these phrases of music, these conceptions which exist in relation to our dream, must be nothing either. We shall perish, but we have for our hostages these divine captives who shall follow and share our fate. And death in their company is somehow less bitter, less inglorious, perhaps even less probable.

So Swann was not mistaken in believing that the phrase of the sonata really did exist. Human as it was from this point of view, it yet belonged to an order of supernatural beings whom we have never seen, but whom, in spite of that, we recognize and acclaim with rapture when some explorer of the unseen contrives to coax one forth, to bring it down, from that divine world to which he has access, to shine for a brief moment in the firmament of ours. That is what Vinteuil had done with the little phrase. (Proust 1928: 504)

The musical phrase was at once finite, linked to the future, and possibly nonexistent. We are mortal, though we live among those who are not; such people also might not exist. Paradoxically, the divine, whether it represents musical notes or the musicians themselves, “shall follow and share our fate,” meaning that those who are eternal can evidently experience finitude, too. Openly contradictory, these lines convey the two simultaneities at play. The first, as captured in Marcel’s gloss of the little phrase, is that of a coeval past, present, future, and afterlife— a simultaneity of times that proceeds in time. The second is that of competing temporal regimes: secular and nonsecular. Or as T.S. Eliot (2010: 956) put it a few years later, “a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together.” The fact that a phrase of music— which has no external or spatial form— prompts this meditation suggests the power of time to reckon with, or temporalize, itself.[18]

The paradigmatic example of European modernism thus expresses a variant of the temporal simultaneity observed in its Turkish successors in Tanpınar and Pamuk. In theory, this finding should affirm the modernist tenet of multiple simultaneous temporalities and, in turn, eliminate the construct of belatedness. But in practice, it raises the following question: If all three novels operate on the multiple simultaneous rhythms of global modernism, do they also reflect similar historical circumstances? If Tanpınar and Pamuk were motivated by anxieties about modernization, was Proust, too? How modern was his Europe in the first place? By the time Proust had finished the novel, the Continent was indeed still in the throes of its own incomplete modernization. “Neither England nor France had become industrial-capitalist and bourgeois civil and political societies by 1914,” Arno Mayer (1981: 11) writes, recasting World War I as a conflict between temporal orders fighting for the right to remain behind. In this account, France sounds much like the unevenly modernized Brazil lamented by Roberto Schwarz (1992: 34-39) and, frankly, at one point or another by most non-Western intellectuals.[19] Likewise, Saree Makdisi (2013) points out that imperialism stoked anxieties about the internal backwardness of the British Empire, whose synchronizing mission targeted the English aristocracy and peasantry. Both Mayer and Makdisi recast nineteenth-century European capitals of modernity as sites of temporal heterogeneity. Read in this light, the maxims of European modernism start to sound more insecure than revolutionary. “One must be absolutely modern”: Does not Arthur Rimbaud’s imperative expose the chasm between what is and what one wants to be? Or of when one is, and when one wants to be? “Make it new”: Does not Ezra Pound’s dictum imply aesthetic innovations that have yet to arrive? “Backwardness,” Heather Love (2009: 6) avers, “is a feature of even the most forward-looking modernist literature.”

Modernity, Temporality, History

And yet. This essay has moved backward in time to advance a non- teleological narrative of modernity, but its line of influence reproduces the familiar narrative “in which modern Turkish literature is tutored by European genres” (Ertürk 2011: x).[20] The argument put forth is consonant with a diffusionist account of a single global modernity that is the composite of multiple simultaneous temporalities. Borges (1964: 184) characterizes the position of the Turkish writers here fairly well: “I believe our tradition is all of Western culture, and I also believe we have a right to this tradition, greater than that which the inhabitants of one or another Western nation might have.” (“The Argentine Writer and Tradition,” a response to Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” enacts this very premise.) While my essay sympathizes with the project of recovering indigenous theories of modernity from non-Western contexts (Mufti 2005)— a project that nobly seeks to head off issues of Eurochronology (Apter 2013)— it acknowledges that indigenous theories are themselves creole, inherently marked by the cross-cultural nature of modernity (Adūnīs 2003: 94; Harootunian 1999: 141; Moi 1989: 118; Spivak 1990: 29).

I have tried here to provide an account of modernity capacious enough to accommodate modernist literature from three eras in order to contest the logic of progress via that of heterotemporality. An additional premise follows that relates to the unusual emphasis on the temporality of simultaneity, rather than its spatiality. The past, present, and future may flow simultaneously and omnidirectionally through people, narratives, and nations, but time always increases. While many temporal rhythms coincide in a given moment, they unfold along a macroscopic time scale that ultimately marches forward. This critique of linear time may sound rather linear, but it captures “the tension between the nondirectionality of time and the unidirectionality of history” (Fenves 2010: 4). It is also a staple of Bergson’s (2010: 137) accretive theory of temporality. Thus a temporally heterogeneous object from the future will contain more time than a temporally heterogeneous object from today— even if one of the temporalities available to today’s object is that of the future. More time will have elapsed, and more will be available to the future object than to today’s object, or to an object from the past.

This corollary obviates “the central problem faced by all theories of modernity” that Peter Osborne (1995: 20) identifies: “[It] is not that they cannot think decline, but, rather, the reverse: the fact that modernity/ modernities grow old.” Indeed, the word modernity is as old as the fifth century (Jameson 2012: 17), and today’s modernity will become tomorrow’s tradition. Framing modernity as a concept whose time increases over time accounts for this dilemma. While Reinhart Koselleck (2004: 37; 2018: 9) has revolutionized the study of multiple temporalities, his observations on temporal acceleration and the need for historians to transcend linear or cyclical understandings of time focus on the rise of history in the eighteenth century. By contrast, this essay stresses both the logic of temporal simultaneity and that of temporal accretion, necessitating not only the pluralization of temporality, which began in Bergson’s nineteenth century, but also its gradual accumulation, given that time only increases. Thus, when critics offer revisionist accounts of modernism that emphasize the alternate acceleration, deceleration, dilation, cessation, negation, or social construction of time, they inevitably prove its pluralization. The same principle is dramatized through this essay’s Russian doll-like structure. While it reverses time by reading Proust through Tanpınar and Tanpınar through Pamuk, it also affirms the presence of the former two writers in Pamuk, whose more recent place in history explains his greater accretion of time.

By its arrangement, the essay implicitly critiques modernist periodization. It also mimics a particular branch of messianic historicism. Walter Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History” is the obvious precedent. The angel of history embodies this essay’s notion of multiple simultaneous temporalities, looking to the past in the same present that it is pulled into the future. But the analogy is complicated, because for Benjamin (1969: 207), the revolutionary now-time that explodes the continuum of history is in fact predicated on “a Messianic cessation of happening.” Multiple temporalities are indeed the condition of possibility for Benjamin’s critique of progress, but they are the result of the spatialization of time.[21] In fact, they emerge from a painting: Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus. In other words, Benjamin’s theses arrest time through a spatial simultaneity, or via the logic of temporal negation that this essay has contested.

The critique of progress is achieved not because time has frozen but because another temporal order has arrived. To preserve the possibility of temporal simultaneity, this essay has opted for Erich Auerbach’s vein of messianic historicism.[22] Auerbach’s typological readings have sustained any number of interpretations—secular and nonsecular alike— and this hermeneutic indeterminacy also attests to the simultaneity of multiple temporal regimes. His essay “Figura” extends this temporal ambivalence into the level of method, capturing the extent to which figural and theological interpretations are entwined. For Auerbach (2014: 100), figural reading in fact becomes a form of prophecy that 

consists in an interpretation of one inner-worldly event by another. The first event points to the second, the second fulfills the first. To be sure, both remain concrete events that have taken place in history. Yet, when seen from this perspective, they both have something provisional and incomplete about them. They point to one another and both point to something in the future that still is to come. This will be the actual, complete, real, and final event.

The union of discrete forms along the line of time (Proust, 1913; Tanpınar, 1961; Pamuk, 2008) hinges on the arrival of yet another item in the series. The series continues infinitely in time, completed by newer writers who leave it incomplete. Built into this method is yet another temporal and theological logic: that of waiting. Figural reading thus marries its philological rigor to messianic faith, proclaiming the multiple simultaneous temporalities of literary criticism as well.


Shaj Mathew is assistant professor of English at Trinity University. He studies literature and film in English, Spanish, Turkish, and Persian. His scholarship also appears in Modernism/modernity and New Literary History.

I am grateful to Marshall Brown, Nergis Ertürk, Marta Figlerowicz, Margreta de Grazia, Kyle Hutzler, Peter Kalliney, Jean-Michel Rabaté, and an anonymous physicist for their feedback on this essay.


[1] While Einstein and Bergson are often “pigeonholed to fit into opposing categories (such as mechanism versus vitalism and objectivity versus subjectivity)” (Canales 2015:36), they shared more than they believed—namely, a commitment to rethink time beyond homogeneous linear chronology.

[2] This essay uses the word modernity singularly to denote a plurality of overlapping temporalities. While theorists of alternative or multiple modernities have valuably fleshed out the hierarchies among nations developed, semideveloped, and developing, their analyses typically imply that every nation has its own vein of contemporary modernity, a suggestion too ecumenical to be useful. Furthermore, the critics who stipulate that non-Western modernities are “alternative” inadvertently reproduce the periphery-center power asymmetry embedded in most theories of world literature. This essay’s singular theory of global modernity is instead premised on multiple simultaneous temporalities that reflect processes of cultural diffusion. See Gaonkar 2001.

[3] It also follows Johann Gottfried Herder’s reply to Kant in the Metacritique of the Critique of Pure Reason: “No two things in this world have the same measure of time. . . . Formulating it boldly, there are in the universe at one time an infinite number of times” (quoted in Sauter 2007: 685). I thank Heather Sullivan for this reference.

[4] Bergson revises this notion in Matter and Memory. As Gilles Deleuze (1997: 82) writes: “Bergsonism has often been reduced to the following idea: duration is subjective, and constitutes our internal life. And it is true that Bergson had to express himself in this way, at least at the outset. But, increasingly, he came to say something quite different: the only subjectivity is time, non-chronological time grasped in its foundation, and it is we who are internal to time, not the other way round.” As such, this essay stakes its claim to the early Bergson of Time and Free Will.

[5] Bergson’s influence on the European modernists is well known. His influence on Bely, Mahfouz, and Tanpınar is less so. See Ardoin, Gontarski, and Mattison 2013; El-Enany 2003; and Fink 1999.

[6] W.G. Sebald’s (2011: 101) Austerlitz exemplifies the contemporaneity of modernism and, by extension, the concept of multiple simultaneous temporalities. The tide character avers that universal time does not exist as he walks through the Royal Observatory, where Greenwich mean time was established in the nineteenth century.

[7] These novelists also render the gender of time. On this point, Julia Kristeva (1981: 16) juxtaposes a cyclical, repetitive, or otherwise nonlinear “women’s time” against a linear, progressive, teleological masculine time. To an extent, Pamuk and Proust ratify this claim. As Laura Mulvey (1975:11) puts it in the context of cinema, their female characters “work against the development of a story line” and even “freeze the flow of action,” sacrificing their interiority for that of the male protagonist (or for the visual pleasure of the film viewer). Tanpınar (2013: 266; 2015: 266) upends Kristeva’s dichotomy, however, given that women in The Time Regulation Institute are specifically chosen to synchronize the nation’s clocks according to homogeneous empty time, for “the only ones to whom we’ll be able to teach such manners and etiquette are young girls.” Subsequent page citations refer to the 2013 translation and the 2015 Turkish edition, respectively.

[8] It may help us reimagine the history of an individual nation as well. As Rader Konuk (2010: 80) writes, “Constructing temporality along the axis of a progressive, secular, and modern Turkey (in contradistinction to a deficient, underdeveloped, and traditional Ottoman Empire) created obstacles that could not be overcome.”

[9] Arguably, it also begins by announcing Pamuk’s debt to Tanpınar through an epigraph from the latter’s notebooks. Page citations for the Turkish and the English refer to Pamuk 2008 and Pamuk 2009, respectively.

[10] These spirals of time, alongside the museum’s butterfly logo, are the novel’s most Nabokovian trait. “The spiral is a spiritualized circle,” Nabokov (1989: 275) writes. “In the spiral form, the circle, uncoiled, unwound, has ceased to be vicious; it has been set free.” While Nabokov cites G. W. F. Hegel in this passage from Speak, Memory, he likely also draws on the theory of the spiral that Bely elaborates in the 1912 essays “Circular Movement” and “The Line, the Circle, the Spiral.” For more on Bely’s attempt to render the shape of historical time in these essays, see Bethea 2021: 140-42.

[11] Pamuk (1990) is also very much taken with Proust. The epigraph of The White Castle comes from Swann’s Way, albeit “from the mistranslation ofY. K. Karaosmanoğllu,” a fact underlining that transformations of time are also subtended by transformations in translation.

[12] The homogeneous empty time of clocks and calendars is typically juxtaposed to the heterogeneous time explored in this essay. But this distinction is a modern one. As Stuart Sherman (1996: 4) writes, prior to Christiaan Huygens’s invention of the pendulum clock in 1656, clock time was not always associated with quantitative precision, given that “the vast majority of timepieces sported only a single hand, delegated to mark the hour.”

[13] The simultaneity of secular and nonsecular temporal regimes was true of both Turkey and Iran in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As Touraj Atabaki (2007: 7) writes, “If the reception of the 24-hour clock in the public sphere was rather swift, in the private sphere, dawn, noon, sunset and prayers for a long time remained the point of reference for the majority of commoners.” I thank Samuel Hodgkin for this reference.

[14] “The leftists are mysterious, stubborn and ignorant. The rightists, who believe they are nationalists, are all ignorant and arid. The ones in the middle are disheveled. Almost all are dull and hard to be tolerated. Those who have taste and understanding are jealous. Alas, how lonely I am” (Tanpınar quoted in Kaya 2019: 286).

[15] This claim follows memorable jeremiads against postsecular thought. Aamir Mufti (2013) argues that the postsecular concept is reliant on positivism to a fault: the fact of a quantitative increase in believers does not inaugurate a new postsecular worldview in itself Citizens of Western countries, he adds, have never been the legatees of secular Enlightenment rationality, which reduces the post in postsecular to an empty signifier.

[16] Bergson (1991: 149-51) addresses this seeming contradiction in Matter and Memory. It is not that the past preserves itself in an eternal present but that our human apprehension of the present is necessarily belated: once we have registered the present, it has already entered the realm of the past. “We never perceive anything but our immediate past,” Bergson writes. “Our consciousness of the present is already memory.”

[17] The spatialization of time, Hägglund (2012: 15-16) adds, is itself subject to time and, by extension, to the threat of loss. But the crucial fact for his account remains that time, understood as a self-negating substance, requires space if it is to endure in this finite life.

[18] Arthur Schopenhauer (1969: 257) frames this sui generis quality of music in different but adjacent terms: “Music is by no means like the other arts, namely a copy of the Ideas, but a copy of the will itself.”

[19] Alongside Schwarz, Pamuk (1995), in an essay about Tanpınar, worries about the effect of importing “alien ideologies” abroad—one of them modernism. Ertürk (2012: 4) takes up this theme in a wide-ranging essay, arguing that the “failure” of Turkish modernism “is itself essential to a deeper grasp of the difference that Turkey makes in, to, and for a new modernist studies which risks remaking the extra-European in its own likeness.”

[20] That said, Esty (2011: 208) suggests that to read a form “in a cross-cultural or transhistorical way serves not so much to enshrine a genre’s European origins but to underscore the iterative, belated quality of its conventions even in their supposedly original form.”

[21] Peter Fenves (2010: 16) offers a powerful reading of Benjamin’s conception of time that is consonant with its spatial interpretation: “The course of time is captured by a curve that is everywhere continuous yet nowhere differentiable: it is so sharply ‘turned’ at every point that it proceeds without direction, neither progress nor regress, and every one of its stretches is not only like every other but also like the course of time as a whole. For the same reason, every time recapitulates— without ever exactly repeating—the whole of time.”

[22] Ashis Nandy’s (1983: 57) notion of an “all-embracing, permanent present, waiting to be interpreted and reinterpreted” could also profitably describe this essay’s approach, but Auerbach’s figural reading better encapsulates the simultaneity of discrete temporalities— a concept distinct from Nandy’s “permanent present” of undifferentiated times.


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Tanpınar, Ahmet Hamdi. 2014. Beş Şehir. Istanbul: Dergâh.

Tanpınar, Ahmet Hamdi. 2015. Saatleri Ayarlama Enstitüsü. Istanbul: Dergâh.

Tanpınar, Ahmet Hamdi. 2018. Five Cities, translated by Ruth Christie. London: Anthem.

Weber, Max. 2004. “Science as Vocation.” In The Vocation Lectures, translated by Rodney Livingstone, 1-31. Cambridge, MA: Hackett.

Williams, Raymond. 1977. Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wishnitzer, Avner. 2015. Reading Clocks, alla Turca. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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Comparing Literatures: Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, Turkish, Urdu

Comparative Literature has spent the last few decades expanding its focus beyond Europe and the Anglophone Americas. But has it succeeded? Departments around the world include scholars working on Hebrew, Persian, Arabic, and to a lesser extent Turkish, Urdu, and other non-European languages. But the desire for coverage remains a chimera, always tempting with the prospect of inclusion: "if only we had somebody who did…" What would success, even if we subscribed to such teleology, look like?


One answer is that we would simply know more. We would have more information, more data, to answer the questions with which the discipline is concerned. Some of those questions are older: What is literature and what does it do? and some are newer: What happens after/beside humans? A representative selection of questions can be found in the 2014-15 Report on the State of the Discipline from the American Comparative Literature Association. Doubtless, information from outside the Anglo-European sphere is improving this conversation.

Is it enough to know more and ask the same questions? What happens if there are different questions? It is hardly a surprising observation that literatures outside Europe have different constitutions and concerns. Trying to render them in a vocabulary intelligible to European or Anglophone audiences is a translation problem, and it becomes sharper when the ideas being translated are themselves self-conscious theories, attempts to carve reality at different joints from those at which Comparative Literature is accustomed to cut.

These observations push us to realize that the direction of travel is critical: do we build theories in European languages and then test them on the world, or vice versa, or neither?

This goal of this Colloquy is to ask and start to answer these questions: what should it mean for Comparative Literature to engage outside Europe? Where is the field now, and what could change? What does Comparative Literature look like when thought through the literatures of Persian, Arabic, Turkish, Hebrew, or Urdu?

The languages of this Colloquy broadly reflect the interests of the participants, many of whom come from a constellation of literatures with roots in a part of the world given various names: the Middle East, the Near East, the Islamic world, the Islamicate world, West Asia, and so on ad nauseam. The nausea comes from the inevitable problems of power and agency: the East was only Near or Middle for European colonialism, and academic neologisms such as Islamicate or West Asia scarcely have the power to hold sway within the ivory tower, let alone outside where the words people use have their own genealogies. Our aim in this Colloquy is not to readjust all the names and labels but rather to start with the literatures we know, and ask questions of our disciplines (literature, anthropology, translation) in the hope that some answers may prove useful when we think of other literatures around the world.

The Colloquy includes conversations that took place in recent years, book chapters and articles, and current think pieces—in addition to original scholarship, translation, and performance. It is open to new submissions.

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