Transnational Modernism and the Problem of Eurochronology
|Preprint||Özen Nergis Dolcerocca|
James Joyce’s vision of hell, in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, is a “great hall,” dark and silent, with a “great clock” ticking unceasingly. Marcel Proust’s memorable narrator in In Search of Lost Time complains of the insolent indifference of a clock that chatters on at the top of its voice as though he is not there. Virginia Woolf in Orlando points out the extraordinary discrepancy between time on the clock and time in the mind. All three examples by canonical figures of modernism show a pronounced preference for time of the mind over time on the clock. Clock time is perceived as an empty and uniform resource that lends itself to be exploited by rational and calculative behavior, utterly detached from the particular. Periods, like the clocks of these modernists, are convenient terms of time measurement: they are retrospective temporal concepts that we use to understand and interpret past events. Some are insolent and indifferent to histories of different regions, chattering at the top of its voice a choronotype as though they are not there. Some are visions of hell for historical thought, imagined as one big great clock ticking nonstop in a universal telos. The discrepancy outlined by Woolf between the time on the clock and time in the mind might as well be imagined between periodizations and the multiplicity of the lived experience in the past. These modernists’ concern for temporal calibration is thus not far from problems of periodization in historiography.
Modernism is a critical term that is, and has always been, subjected to a number of descriptions and definitions over the years. While the term refers to a body of innovative works produced during a period of extraordinary cultural, social, economic, and political transformations, most critics disagree about almost every aspect of its definition: its nature as an artistic phenomenon, its cartography and its chronology are all being contested. Hence, we now refer to modernisms in the plural, much like the Renaissances in the plural explored in this volume. Engagement with time, however, is an established characteristic of literary modernism. It is a dominant concern, if not a signature aspect, of modernist fiction on many levels. Modernists are alert to the time of history that surrounds and permeates their works; they problematize representation of time and temporality in fiction, and finally, they experiment on the time of fiction, that is, narrative time. The Proustian oeuvre, in addition to its trademark device of mémoire involontaire, is taken as an extensive menagerie of other temporal devices. The celebrated device of stream of consciousness, on the other hand, lets the time flow through subjectivity, and it also slows down the flow of time to arrest the present. With Joyce, the epic enlargement of a single day is introduced, with an overwhelming sense of temporal density, while Woolf makes time progress by slowing it down. The world of experience is now overflowing with perception and with the labor of recovering the lost time. This signature topos of the modernist aesthetic begs the question: what are the historical periodizations and chronotypes attributed to a literary and artistic movement that is so engaged with time? When does modernism start? When does it end? Where does it end? Or, does it refuse to die, casting a long shadow over post-modernism in a linear succession? If ‘post’ is a temporal marker, then what is late modernism? Early modernism? High and low modernism? The answers to these questions are generally debated and contested, much like the term modernism itself.
Modernism is a unique movement where philosophy, art, literature and historiography come together around the question of time, be it historical, narrative, phenomenological or mnemonic. Working on modernists’ experiments with time thus requires a critical approach to literary history, that is, analyzing periodizations, as well as cartographies, that categorize them as modernists. And yet, for the literary movement that problematizes historical time, such problematization is not afforded to it in literary history. In other words, modernists who critically engaged with time are contingent on arbitrary periodization. Modernism remains first and foremost a Euro-American endeavor, generally squeezed in the inter-war period, overdetermined by what some critics have called Eurochronology.
Bringing history, literary studies and partly art history together, this essay asks cross-disciplinary questions regarding modernism and its contested chronologies and cartographies. In the same manner as a number of essays in this volume that apply terms of literary formalism to historiography—namely, Bakhtinian polyphony and dialogic heteroglossia—I argue for research in the humanities that includes, without appropriation, a number of voices, sometimes in conflict, and for multi-lingual research practice. The discipline of Comparative Literature has much to offer in rethinking historical periodizations and reworking historical categories that go beyond nation-bound interpretive paradigms. It is in many ways a meta-discipline, always in crisis of identity and self-definition, in search of new methodologies, genealogies and typologies. The field was, and it partially still is, defined by Eurocentric assumptions, a concerted effort to consolidate the European universal library in literary and cultural terms, assimilating other societies and their literary and cultural creativity. It also strives to define a transnational and interdisciplinary literary sphere beyond the nation-state and center-periphery models, with remarkable studies that cross chronological, cultural, disciplinary, linguistic, and national boundaries. Edward Said, who himself was first and foremost a comparatist, once said of the field:
to speak of comparative literature therefore was to speak of the interaction of world literatures with one another, but the field was epistemologically organized as a sort of hierarchy, with Europe and its Latin Christian literatures as its center and top.
This is the conflict within the discipline of comparative literature, and comparative humanities: while it tries to hold the center at the core of Western European histories, it also oppositely spreads out its limits, finding other cores, building transnational geohistories.
The question of periodization has recently taken on a new urgency for the discipline of Comparative Literature around the question of world literature. Chris Prendergast, in his edited volume on world literature, borrows the term Eurochronology from Appadurai’s Modernity at Large, to describe the “ethnocentrism of literary-historical periodization.” He is concerned with the adaptation of the long temporal and spatial reach of world history to the idea of world literature, since the parameters of inquiry are not identical. As an example to the Eurochronology in the study of world literature, he cites the prioritization of printed literature, particularly modern cosmopolitan literatures, over oral and traditional literatures. He argues that world literature in practice concerned itself with printed literatures that, by some mechanism or other, have entered into relations with others, whose historical point of departure is usually the European Renaissance and the development of national literary traditions, and whose terminus is the literary world ‘marketplace’ of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. It is important to note that Prendergast is here referring to Pascal Casanova’s La République Mondiale des Lettres, A book that has as many merits as it Eurochronolgic assumptions, it has incited fierce debates on global literary comparativism—much like L’Histoire Monidale de la France also discussed in this volume. Hence, the ‘world’ in world literature does not mean global (in the sense of all the literatures in the world) but rather international structures and transactions with their inbuilt chronologic disorders. Building on the concept of ‘Eurochronology’ proposed by Arjun Appadurai and Chris Prendergast, Emily Apter points out the Eurocentric assumptions inherent in literary categories and to overcome these, she proposes a transcultural approach to world literature that would rely on the ‘untranslatable’—a conscious mapping and mining of conceptual difference across languages.
The humanities have largely remained invested in Eurochronology, that is the idea that diverse literary traditions and historical practices unfold on a single predestined course, which is of course the Western European calendar that poses as universal time. This chronologics (and its ill-logic) in turn creates its hereditary disorders, that is, its inborn categories and typologies, like the Renaissance, world literature, or genres like the novel. Eurochronology is a useful concept that brings out a time-space continuum in literary history, uncovering the euro-centric in its chronologics, showing how cartographies determine periods. A euro-centric geography also leads to a euro-centric understanding of literary periodization, so a literary movement like modernism that is defined by its extreme consciousness of time, remains essentially a European category and its chronology depends entirely on European history. And when I talk about the Eurochronology of modernism, the geography contains British and French literatures, anything West or East of that features only marginally, if at all. The treatment of Spanish modernism is a good example. You have of course token North Americans and authors writing in German. Once modernism is periodized as such, the non-European, or any literary agency outside of that cartography, inevitably and necessarily figures as deviations, failures or late emulations.
Modernism, in this regard, is a strongly contested typology: from the debate on when and where it begins and ends, to its less known Latin American etymology, it has become a literary category where Eurochronology is most practiced—as in “Late Modernism,” “Inter-War Literature” or “Men of 1914”—and simultaneously most contested—as in geomodernisms and planetary modernisms. Susan Friedman, who coined this last term, details the spatial politics that periodize modernism in her essay “Periodizing Modernism.” She shows that whether conceived as a loose affiliation of aesthetic styles or as a literary/artistic historical period with at least debatable beginning and end points, modernism contains an unacknowledged spatial politics that suppresses the global dimensions of modernism through time, and the interplay of space and time in all modernisms. Friedman calls for spatializing literary history of modernism, and reminds modernist studies of the agencies of writers, artists, philosophers, and other cultural producers in the postcolonial world, cut off by its unproblematized periodization. Although Friedman’s main concern here is the play of cultural differences in postcolonial contexts, other studies have followed in complicating histories and maps of modernisms.
Despite the plethora of attempts at defining modernism under different agendas, literary critics and cultural historians seem to agree on three aspects: a period, a cultural response to modernity and a particular style. The first one defines modernism as the literature of a particular chronology, which is again inflected with geography. While the British genealogy, which constituted the early scholarship on the movement, sets 1910 as its birthdate, later studies emphasize the cultural production in France takes it back to the nineteenth century Paris. The movement is considered to decline after the Second World War, although some critics argue that it still continues, especially outside of Euro-America. This last point is particularly important to re-consider: the continuing legacy is reserved for the global south, confirming the ‘late emulation’ chronotype mentioned earlier. This re-consideration should in no way be seen as an attempt at delegitimizing these chronologies; each works in their particular cartography. Any definition or history inevitably bears implicit or explicit exclusions. What is proposed here is awareness of the internal logics of periodizations.
Modernism is also defined as a reaction and response to modernity and the changing conditions of modern life. Literature that is concerned with mechanization, urbanization, impending wars and conflicts, and that responds to new ideas in philosophy, psychology and science, is considered modernist. Finally, we can think about modernism as a particular style: the new literature that employs experimental styles and techniques, such as stream of consciousness, fragmentation of narrative time and multiplicity of perspectives. If we consider these last two definitions, many works outside of the initial chronological definition can be considered modernist. However, most of these works do not make it to most anthologies, curricula or critical works.
As Sanjay Subrahmanyam suggests in this volume, moving scales creates many periodizations. If we scale modernisms according to the last two categories, we will see that the particular chronology of modernism would have to change. National and local modernisms have tried to limit the scale to a particular geography while extending modernism outside Europe. National frameworks, such as studies on Brazilian or Chinese modernism, have developed their own canon outside Euro-America. This framework, however, does not necessarily challenge Eurochronology. As long as the non-European claim to modernism is inflected with select few locations or authors, even a Swiss-German modernist like Robert Walser at the heart of European cartography, for instance, will only figure marginally within modernism in German, which is reserved for Kafka and Mann, based on the problematic logic of resemblance. Aijaz Ahmad in his article, “Show me the Zulu Proust,” demonstrates a similar point with biting sarcasm. Ahmad here argues for the re-invention of World Literature from a South-South perspective rather than from a periphery-center one. The formula is clear: show me the Zulu Proust, so that I can appreciate, and appropriate, the Zulu author, through his or her resemblance to the authentic modernist. This understanding demonstrates a kind of periodization ill-logic which writes literary history of the non-West through Eurochronologies. There are many other examples of this rationale in critical studies: the Balzac of the Arabic novel is Mahfouz, which is an effortless translation of the nineteenth-century French realism chronotope into the 20th century Arabic novel—which is in itself a problematic cartography. In the Eurochronology of modernism, Tanizaki figures as Japan’s Kafka, and Tanpınar as the Turkish Proust. This is not a comparative methodology; this is, in Aamir Mufti’s terms, the logic of orientalism re-packaged as world literature, which produce narratives of European diffusionism and influence studies.
Let us go back to modernists’ clocks. The question of time and temporality is a fundamental aspect of modernist fiction, in particular the dialectic between the past and the present. While staying informed by this modernist legacy, which seems to have dominated the critical work on the relation between philosophy of time and literature, we need to draw a polycentric and plural map of modernist temporality. These signature topoi of the modernist aesthetic are not the only examples early-twentieth century literature provides of the diversity and fragmentation of temporal experience. Other works have produced parodies of managed existence, poking holes in any stable form of time-keeping, or chronometry, including the cardinal modernist mode of recovering lost time and streaming it back to consciousness. One such figure is the Turkish modernist Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar. While Joyce’s vision of hell, Proust’s insolent clock and Woolf’s time of the mind are part of modernism’s key tropes, Tanpınar’s narrative experiments in diversity and fragmentation of temporal experience point to unexplored directions in modernist studies. Temporal disorders, irregularities and chronopathologies, through parody, pathos, satire, narrative instability and mutually cancelling ambiguities, are epitomized as a state-sponsored frenzy in his 1961 novel The Time Regulation Institute (TRI).
Ahmed Hamdi Tanpınar, born in 1901, bore witness to a series of momentous historical events including the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the British invasion of Istanbul, the Independence War, the replacement of the Monarch by the Turkish Republic, as well as an exhaustive series of reforms from government structures to everyday life practices, and two World Wars. He became a professor of nineteenth-century Turkish literature at Istanbul University, where he remained until his death in 1962. Two years before his death, Tanpınar wrote “Letter to the Youth from Antalya” addressed to a high school student, and considered it to be his literary manifesto. In this letter, he lists his two main influences: the prominent poet (and Tanpınar’s mentor) Yahya Kemal, who taught him to “appreciate the old poetry,” and who developed the idea of “perfection” and “sublime language” in modern poetry, and, secondly and most importantly, French symbolism. Tanpınar names Baudelaire, Mallarmé and Valéry, as well as Hoffman, Poe, Goethe, Bergson and Proust as main influences on his writing. Standing at the crossroads of the Ottoman literary tradition, modern Turkish poetry and European modernism, Tanpınar incorporates this multiplicity in his writing and considers this condition of in-betweenness with an exilic consciousness (daüssıla) as an essential component of Turkish literary modernity.
While the modernist canon sustains the idea that fragments of lost time can be retrieved and streamed back into consciousness, Tanpınar produces a parody of managed existence, poking holes in any stable form of chronometry. TRI presents a chaotic multiplicity of temporalities. In contrast to the heroic model of recovering lost time, as in stream-of-consciousness novels, his work produces and functions with an offset hero: Hayri Irdal, with an inexhaustible list of professions, including a fabulist, alchemist, spiritualist, mental patient and finally a bureaucrat. Born and raised during the fall of the Empire, overwhelmed by chaotic and ceaseless social, political and cultural transformation, the protagonist Hayri is an anti-hero with an anxiety-driven compulsion for stability. Trapped in a cycle of infernal repetition, he inhabits a series of roles and eventually exhausts himself in the effort to stand still and survive in the face of his rapidly changing world.
In TRI, questions regarding time, change and rupture are displayed in symbolic and metaphorical characterization of clocks. Time machines gain multiple meanings: they are personified, turned into objects of desire; they double, submit to and subdue the human. Watches here reflect the inner flow of time. They are stripped of their actual, objective and spatial existence and become reflections of the autonomous and non-spatial temporality of their wearer. They also reflect their owners’ unconventional political persuasions, concealments and idiosyncrasies, embodying multiple temporalities. Their rhythms change according to the prudence or rashness of their owner, to her private life and “political creeds,” which here refers to the authoritarian regime of Sultan Abdülhamit II (1876–1909). Assuming the essence of its owner, a watch “thinks and lives” as she does, until “they are as one.” In this view, time is not a neutral abstraction that exists independently of lived experience. Time here is a function of something other than itself: every event, process, revolution or fate (talih) has its own particular time. Time is not one time, but an infinite number of times. In the image of anthropomorphized watches Tanpınar recognizes this temporal diversity and their simultaneity in order to reimagine the process of change itself.
Staying within the bounds of eurochronology that still defines the field, results in the calculated or inadvertent exclusion of many authors. Their works are either subsumed within a national framework, e. g. Turkish modernism, or they appear in transnational studies along with other works both from the center and the periphery. In both cases, the ill-logic of resemblance and of orientalism accompany these mostly well-intentioned projects. Much like the arms of the “west” in Perjovski’s drawing (Figure 1), the west embraces, surrounds and absorbs the “non-west,” which is always defined with respect to what it is not. In the case of Tanpınar, for instance, we can see his evolution into a national cultural product of exportation: he resembles the center just enough to be the Turkish Proust, and he is local enough to be branded within a national framework. As he gradually becomes the second token Turkish author of world literature (after Orhan Pamuk), with recent international interest in his work, there is a need to contextualize and critically examine such local and global appropriations. Modernist studies still rely on the metropole-periphery distinction and Europe generated criteria of cultural legitimation. The double-bind of this view is this: eventually, both local and global reception end up celebrating “nationally and ethnically branded differences, niche marketed as commercialized identities.” The image of the Bosphorus as the effortless metaphor for the composite of east and west, has become a similiar commercialized identity for Turkish literature. It has become a literary property that is culturally unique, nationally branding, personally self-defining. Tanpınar, however, offers more than such synthesis of east and west; he understands novel as a chronicle of political instability and crisis, with a compositional heterogeneity, and even linguistic pluralism. We thus need to avoid making claims to authentic “local” literary categories, nor hold his work up to the global standards of readability.
I would like to end with Joyce, whose exilic literary career has drawn considerable attention from comparative and transnational literary studies. His somewhat voluntary exile from Ireland has been interpreted as part of the transnational and cosmopolitan roots of modernism. He spent many years working and writing in Trieste, Rome, Paris and Zurich. One such stay of Joyce was in Pula, Croatia, where he spent a year in 1905, writing a part of Dubliners and Stephan Hero. I want to think about Joyce in Pula as this moment of transnational or a transregional contact zone for the modernist studies, as some scholars of what we may call global Joyce have done. But I can’t. A local scholar, Ivo Vidan, who studied Joyce’s stay in Croatia, notes with disappointment and a hint of nationalist pride that Joyce, a “new-fledged language teacher,” did not even know what the spoken language was in Pula: “They speak Italian, German and Slav,” Joyce wrote in a letter. Vidan is quick to make a sarcastic remark: “He could have said just as well: ‘Romance, Teutonic and Slav,’ since a language called Slav does not exist. In this cosmopolitan port city, where Mitteleuropa and the Mediterrainean meet, Croatian, Italian, Ottoman, German and Serbian would have been among the languages spoken at the time. Joyce was not part of this picture. The relation between the exiled Irish author and the (Croatian, or then, Austrian) cultural scene of Pula was a non-encounter, a non-contact zone, a non-relation. And yet, there are other encounters to uncover in the history of modernism, missed encounters, marginal or regional ones, through which we can think about transnational modernism, unshackled from diffusionist stories, theories of influence and center-periphery dichotomies. My aim here, unlike Vidan, is not to reproach Joyce for his lack of interest in the local culture; it is rather to critique literary history and its periodization of modernism.
Without an understanding of a shared modernity and its particular temporal imaginations, we fail to grasp the heterogeneity and inherent contradictions of literary modernisms. In order to overcome such limitations of the national canon framework, on the one hand, and to avoid a comparatism reduced to questions of originality and mimicry, on the other, this project examines specific problems of temporal ideologies (if shared asymmetrically) by many national and regional literary modernisms.
 James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Dubliners, ed. by Kevin J. H. Dettmar (New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2004), 116.
 Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way: In Search of Lost Time, ed. by Christopher Prendergast, transl. by Lydia Davis, vol. 1 (New York et. al.: Penguin, 2004), 8.
 Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions, 1995), 47.
 Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism, 1st Vintage Books ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 1994), 45.
 Christopher Prendergast, ed., Debating World Literature, 1st ed. (London, New York: Verso, 2004), 6; Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Public Worlds 1) (Minneapolis, Minn: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 30.
 Emily Apter, Against World Literature: On the Politics of Untranslatability, 1st ed. (London, New York: Verso, 2013).
 See Laura Doyle, Laura A Winkiel, Geomodernisms: Race, Modernism, Modernity (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005); Susan Stanford Friedman, Planetary Modernisms: Provocations on Modernity Across Time (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015).
 Susan Stanford Friedman, “Periodizing Modernism: Postcolonial Modernities and the Space/Time Borders of Modernist Studies,” Modernism/Modernity 13, no. 3 (2006): 425–43. For a similar analysis on periodization of modernism, see Eric Hayot, “Chinese Modernism, Mimetic Desire, and European Time,” in The Oxford Handbook of Global Modernisms (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 149–70.
 Aijaz Ahmad, “‘Show Me the Zulu Proust’: Some Thoughts on World Literture,” Revista Brasileira de Literatura Comparada 17 (2010): 11–45.
 Aamir R. Mufti, Forget English!: Orientalisms and World Literature (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2016).
 Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, The Time Regulation Institute, transl. by Alexander Dawe, Maureen Freely (New York: Penguin Classics, 2014). For a detailed analysis of the novel, see Özen Nergis Dolcerocca, “‘Free Spirited Clocks’: Modernism, Temporality and The Time Regulation Institute,” Middle Eastern Literatures 20, no. 2 (May 4, 2017): 177–97.
 Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, Yaşadığım Gibi (İstanbul: Dergâh, 2000), 350–51.
 For a critique of this understanding of modernism, see Raymond Williams, Politics of Modernism: Against the New Conformists (London, New York: Verso, 2007), 31–36.
 Ivo Vidan, “Joyce and the South Slavs,” Studia Romanica et Anglica Zagrabiensia: Revue Publiée Par Les Sections Romane, Italienne et Anglaise de La Faculté Des Lettres de l’Université de Zagreb 33–34–35–36 (May 15, 1972): 265–77, 266.
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