Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Presence of Time

“Everything begins and ends in the ‘real’ world, but that is not ‘our’ world. ‘Our’ world is a shifting play of images, and maps that locate and generate these images” (Gell 1992:241)

In my sink there is an assemblage of artifacts, a present of traces or echoes of past presents and future pasts both habitual and indexical. There are retentions and reproductions, the former being traces of food the latter being the image of similar assemblages.  As an archaeologist of the present having just finished reading Alfred Gell’s The Anthropology of Time, how do I approach this assemblage and begin to understand temporality as something fundamentally real and avoid reducing it to the “human time” of phenomenological perspective?

There is real time within the series and frames, within the habit and boundaries of a shifting and stable assemblage. There is a location; this is my apartment in New York City. It is September 25, 2014 at 3:35 am (picture A), September 25, 2014 at 3:38 am (Picture B), September 25, 2014 at 4:07 am (Picture C).  The process of washing dishes was temporarily concluded on September 25, 2014 at 4:14 am (pictures D and E).  The assemblage only exists as an assemblage within these frames, but is exists.

Picture A
Picture B
Picture C

Picture D

Picture E

One of the most serious questions for contemporary archaeologists is that of temporality.  How do we do and what is an archaeology of the present, of the contemporaneous? Sitting though workshops, lectures, and presentations the one dilemma that every contemporary archaeologist is forced to address and wrestle with is that of a continuous present, both experientally and physically. This positioning within the present makes establishing boundaries, categories, frames of reference, and archaeological distance difficult.  One approach to the paradox that is contemporary archaeology is reducing it down to a phenomenological experience that is composed of the impressions and perspectives of the archaeologist (human time). This approach definitely has its uses, but typically only as a means of capturing a present state, a tensed state, that as it comes into being is rendered false an in need of revision.  The conundrum is that human time is how we experience and know the objective “real” time, and yet real time is always present in the frames we create and tokens we identify.