Present Tense: An Iconology of the Epoch
4:00 pm | 10/29/2020 | Live on Zoom | Until 5:00 pm | 10/29/2020
W. J. T. Mitchell, Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor, The University of Chicago
“Present Tense 2020: An Iconology of the Epoch” is an essay written in the present tense about a tense moment in human history. Instead of asking the classic philosophical question, “what is time?” it switches our attention from ontology to iconology, asking what pictures metaphors, and narratives capture our sense of the mood of the times in which we live, and our larger pictures of time as such. The image repertoire of the essay thus includes iconic moments and figures from current events, but it is grounded (anachronistically) in the three basic figures of temporality provided by Greek mythology: Chronos (linear, clock time); Aeon (Cyclical time); Kairos (the opportune or critical moment of decision), all linked to the dynamic concept of Parousia, the sense that something is coming, and that we inhabit an epoch of unprecedented intensity in human history. Special emphasis will be placed on time-scales, from the split second of police decision-making to the “deep time” of climate change and species extinction, as well as the “affective temporality” of a historical epoch when these scales collapse and the times are routinely described in the language of madness. Inspired by Nietzsche’s aphorism, “insanity in individuals is rare; but in groups, parties, nations, and epochs, it is the rule,” the essay re-visits the question of the epoch and the epoché as the critical historical concepts of our moment.