On Temporal Bifurcation
Lethargic rapidity, frenetic lethargy and other seeming contradictions.
For a time, the editor of The Mallard maintained his own Substack under the name Sporadic Meditations. The three notes are not particularly worth revisiting, since political thought elsewhere (newer and older) surpasses their relatively shallow depth. However, the thoughts entitled “The Hypocrisy of Time” remain inviting for further development alongside a couple of topics I have discussed before.
A little over a year ago, I wrote an essay for The Mallard magazine concerning the heroic in popular culture in which I suggested postmodernity could be reoriented on its own definitional logic. Instead of its current existence as essentially more (albeit especially self-critical) modernity, it could take its Latin prefix literally as ideas beyond or after modernity. I do not see what I wrote then as necessarily wrong now, but whatever era succeeds what we perceive as modernity will almost inevitably call itself something other than postmodern. We cannot really talk of eras as post-ancient or post-medieval except as a redundant descriptor, so it follows that postmodern is an aberrative term. The fact we can identify something as postmodern without having a distinct idea of what is after modernity indicates we are witnessing an era having run its course without an adequate future or enablement thereof occurring.
This leads one to the subject of time. Of course, time itself continues moving forward no matter what humans do. The manner we treat our expressions for it (past, present and future), however, is more controllable. Currently, asoutlines, the present is too fast because we perceive too much is happening. Indeed, the most popular parts of the digital realm thrive on relentlessly overstimulating their subjects into a mindless and persistent stupor. Contemporary society has an absence of incentives towards decreasing time preference and far too many encouraging the opposite. This is why a subset of society desires the present’s motifs to be grafted onto ever more forms which should engender stability, although from these observations they cannot always grant themselves the agency or capacity for this.
If one manages to avoid becoming mentally overloaded by the present’s forces and reflects awhile, one might conclude that the present dominates but nothing really happens. This adds another seeming contradiction to an emerging web that must be tackled by anyone wishing for anything substantively new, although some authors in recent years have effectively diagnosed parts of this problem. The cultural theorist Mark Fisher argued through hauntology that cultural forms have stagnated for various reasons and now only revive elements from the late twentieth century on higher-definition screens, leading to the emergence of “lost futures” in modernity’s past. When applied to politics, this country is trapped in a paradigm of the 1990s, with a pale imitation of approximately 1970s politics to its left and the same of 1980s politics to its right. In history, there is Francis Fukuyama’s infamous declaration of the “end of history” in 1989 and its many discontents. More broadly, the anthropologist Alexei Yurchak coined the term “hypernormalisation,” a state where one is so surrounded by a malfunctioning system that imagining any alternative to the present state of affairs becomes impossible. This originally described the Soviet Union, but was popularised regarding the Anglosphere in a thorough documentary film named after the concept by Adam Curtis. Fisher discussed similar ideas within his framework of “capitalist realism.”
Consequently, our postmodernity acquires the impression of modernity breaking down under its own weight. The scope for the past and the future has diminished under the dual pressures of the present’s superficial freneticism and deep-seated lethargy. This is not so much a situation of temporal hypocrisy as one of temporal bifurcation, where oppositional characteristics are growing more pronounced and hence more distant from one another. Somehow, things are expected to continue under these conditions. Could the present rip itself apart? Even in the abstract, it would be foolish to answer such a question. Equally, anybody claiming to have a perfect solution to this phenomenon of temporal bifurcation is most likely kidding themselves. I severely doubt every mind subjugated by the most dastardly whims of machines can be fully restored in its functions.
In one sense, these thoughts could be brought back to their beginning by restating the need for a more literal postmodern era. My instincts lean towards something which bypasses the present in its considerations, in other words bringing forth the future via inspiration from the past. This avoids the particular qualities of restlessness and exhaustion resulting from the contemporary societal approach to time. It may also become too idealistic or utopian and thus inapplicable to reality. With more certainty, I believe going beyond modernity will require a return to the steadfast embodiment of perennial virtues in a new era’s characteristics and principal manifestations. Modernity dissolved those in its Faustian pact and postmodernism disregards embodying anything.
So much for the Italian Futurists’ belief in speed in their paintings. With the level of industrial technology before us nowadays, it all just seems so tiring.
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