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 Image Karl Schlögel

Reading time through space
On the History of Civilisation and Geo-Politics

Carl Hanser Verlag
München 2003
ISBN: 3-446-20381-8
567 pages


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"History takes place." The spatial implications of this statement are clear. The fact that history occurs in a certain location and time and space are equally important for the interpretation and understanding of that which occurs was something that the scholars of classical antiquity understood as a forgone conclusion. However, the disciplines begin to develop in entirely different directions at onset of modern writing of history in the 18th century. It is true that Kant described historiography as the "discipline of the consecutive" and geography as the "history of the simultaneous", but the increasing division of the disciplines is unstoppable and leads to a marginalization of geography beginning from the middle of the 19th century.

The way Karl Schlögel sees it, we are ready for a "spatial turn" after all of the radical changes in time and space in the 20th century in view of the "impact of the globalization process" and the rapid prevalence of new technologies. The catalytic effect of both of the "spatial revolutions" of 1989 and 9/11 is, according to Schlögel, not to be underestimated.

Reading Time through Space is a collection of 50 essays that illustrate just how historiography will look when it refers to the location of the event. In the section "Reading Maps" Schlögel devotes himself not only to the history of charting maps, in which the changing world manifests itself from classical antiquity up until the present, but rather he shows how specific map material can become documents of historical moments: the map of the siege on Sarajevo or the depiction (notation) of inhabitants of the Kowno ghetto makes the subjectivity of the historical experience stiflingly clear. Moreover: one of the central demands on Schlögel is to allow subjectivity to enter historiography. Much like Herodot or Humboldt the researcher should get involved with his subject, observe it closely, and understand its daily routine. He has to fully grasp the space in which history unfolds in order to understand the history itself.

Maps are not the only "documents sui generis" for Schlögel. Address books, schedules, ground plans and even landscapes, when "read" correctly, can also be distinct testimonials to man-made changes and developments. The section entitled "Eye Work" intends to sharpen the senses for the historical perception. Seemingly Schlögel only randomly grasps at varied material. When he describes the rapid progress of the transportation technology in the European infrastructure, analyzes Berlin address books between 1931 and 1947, or speaks of the association between surveying and seizure, by way of schedules and course books, these individual studies come together to form a general impression. Schlögel not only considers the larger context but also the smallest units of the social system. The role of location in the Curriculum Vitae of every individual, the history of houses in which personal and social histories take place, and even the interior of these houses are given the status of relevant documentation Schlögel. It stands to reason that, because of its linear nature, speech has difficulty in reproducing anything other than something "consecutive", but Schlögel nevertheless presents an alternative.

"Diaphanous Europe" is the title of the last section in this book. The national perspective on current events always denotes a restricted range of vision. Even the boundaries of national territories are randomly laid down and cannot serve as suitable spaces for long-term observation. This is all to clearly shown in the changes that Europe has experienced in the last fifteen years. In this manner, Schlögel encourages one to think of "Europe as a whole" and gives some examples if how this might effect historiography. His essay on the life and effects of Sergej Pawlowitsch Djagilew, the "syntheticist par excellence", who, with his circle of friends from St. Petersburg, brought modern Russian ballet to Europe and attempted to transplant the Wagnerian idea of the "total art work", is only one example of "artistic creation" that truly crosses borders. In addition, one finds studies on the cemeteries of Europe, the monstrous and mostly involuntary population movements in Europe in the 20th century, or the great assignment to plant the new political borders in the minds of Europeans.

At the close of his book, Schlögel demonstrates, using two "daring but artfully cast literary pranks "as Jürgen Osterhammel said in "die ZEIT", once more, exactly what a close "look" could mean: he put his venerable Herodot in the Moskow of 1937 and lets him, the passionate observer, examine the streets and houses, read the newspaper headlines, and soak up the atmosphere that is simultaneously the product of and the prerequisite to the barbaric system. Walter Benjamin's (fictitious) view of the panorama of the seemingly endless non-city Los Angeles and speculation on the literary treatment of this experience resolve Schlögel's stimulating and informative plea for the rediscovery of the spatial aspect of historiography.

Heike Friesel

[Translated by Nedra Bickham]



  
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