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Posts Tagged ‘time’

How long was the Twentieth Century? If you spend most of your time studying classical antiquity, that may sound like a trick question, but since Eric Hobsbawm published Age of Extremes: the short twentieth century in 1994, the idea that the 19th Century persisted until the shattering of the European political order in 1914 (not a new idea, of course; it’s found in Stefan Zweig’s Die Welt von Gestern, for a start) and the 21st Century began in 1989 with the collapse of Soviet communism has been widely recognised as a useful discussion point, if not as a definitive reading. There’s been a flurry of debate on this issue in the last week, with blogs on the topic from Brad DeLong and Branko Milanovic, plus multi-faceted exchange on the Twitter.* (more…)

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The legend of the great Fernand Braudel, one of my historiographical heroes, is that he completed his doctoral dissertation in his head while sitting in a prisoner-of-war camp in the Second World War, and that in the course of his captivity the core thesis was turned upside down: from a conventional study of the Mediterranean policy of Phillip II of Spain, to the now-familiar revolutionary vision of how the Mediterranean – its environment, its climate, its underlying structures – shaped and limited the reign of Phillip in ways of which he was barely conscious. (more…)

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Crooked Timber is running an online¬†book seminar about Jo Walton’s ‘Thessaly’ novels, The Just City and The Philosopher Kings, and the main aim of this post is to point you in that direction forthwith. My contribution reflects on the books as meditations on different aspects of the classical tradition, and I would hope that most visitors to this blog with an interest in classical reception will need little persuasion to take a look at them. However, I had far more things to say than would fit comfortably into a more or less coherent blog post, and so I’m going to take this opportunity to try to persuade sceptical historians, ancient or otherwise, that they should be just as interested in a fictional exploration of Platonic political philosophy, its limits and its implications. (more…)

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The next episode of the User’s Guide to Thucydides will be posted by the end of the week, I promise – not least because there may then be a pause as I flee the country for a bit of rest and relaxation before the Classical Association Conference in Bristol after Easter. However, I wanted quickly to jot down a few comments arising from the lecture by Brooke Holmes of Princeton yesterday evening (yes, we’re having a really rich period of intellectual stimulation at the moment, with Liz Irwin a week ago, and coming up on Tuesday is Josephine Crawley Quinn on Carthaginian infant sacrifice).

Brooke’s paper was on the French theorist of the history of science Michel Serres, and his reading of Lucretius’ place in scientific development. In brief, as I understand it, Serres presents Lucretius as having had genuine insights into the true nature of the universe, in a way that we can recognise only today as a result of more recent scientific developments – and at the same time being thoroughly non-modern. (more…)

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At the top of my list of ‘projects I really wish I’d got around to finishing before it was too late’ is a piece on J.G. Ballard and historical time. I’m a massive Ballard fan, especially of his short stories, and I’ve always been struck by his concern with the human experience of time – explored above all by changing the things that we take for granted, such as when the earth ceases to rotate and it’s always early evening in Casablanca, or when the sleep trigger is artificially disabled in some experimental subjects, or when (for unknown reasons) people start to suffer from narcolepsy, their days getting ever shorter. Most striking – or maybe it’s just because it relates to my research interests in ecology – is his focus in the brilliant ‘The Voices of Time’ on the relation between human time and other times, not only geological time but cosmic time.

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