Illustration Ragni Svensson

Illustration Ragni Svensson

Lectures On the production and suspension of time

More than anything else, the avant-garde is the area of the production of the past: the colossal amounts of memoirs, artefacts, and photographs that are accumulated in archives — in different kinds of archives, including personal ones, but also state archives, and many others of different kinds.

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds BW 2019:3, pp 86-93
Published on on December 30, 2019

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I must apologize for starting with trivialities. However, it always happens that as soon as one chooses a very general framework one immediately drowns in trivial things.

Modernity is very often associated with the idea of linear history that moves from the past towards the future, and the future seems to be more important for this kind of historicism than anything else. For a long time, a period of unstoppable movement towards the future was called progress, and organized modernity was its moving force. To some extent, this determined the temporal reorientation of Western civilization towards the future and towards the endless production of the new, a factor that, in a way, can be seen as a key to the extraordinary success of the West.

The idea of progress emerged as early as the 18th century, but in the 19th century Nietzsche already severely criticized this kind of historicism. He attacked the very idea of linear history, and his invention of eternal recurrence was in itself an interesting and symptomatic reaction against linearity. By the early 20th century, we already see a lot of statements concerning the end of history, and I should certainly mention Spengler’s The Decline of the West. However, this idea of the arrest of history can easily be traced back to Hegel who was probably the first to talk about it. Later, the idea is repeated again and again. I should mention Alexandre Kojève, for instance, who was most influential in the general reflection about the end of history, or Francis Fukuyama, more recently. In 1952, Arnold Gehlen coined another term to characterize our time, posthistoire, the modern feeling of living in a time when history is over and the movement towards the future has stopped. We must admit that now, this is exactly the feeling shared by everybody in the present day. There is no clear feeling in the public that we are moving towards any kind of articulated vision of the future. This feeling of posthistoire is becoming generalized, so that post-modernism is also to some extent a reflection of this arrest of time’s movement towards the future. In this context, among a great many thinkers who reflected on this situation, I will only mention Marc Augé, the French anthropologist, who called his book Où est passé l’avenir? [What has happened to the future?], and François Hartog, a scholar of Greek antiquity, who published a highly influential book in which he talks about the modern era as a time of presentism. Their message is that we are living in an undetermined present that is not open to the future, and such a present finds a reflection for itself in social phenomena that have no clear temporal perspective, such as hedonistic consumption. I am not alone in thinking that there is something enigmatic about the fact that the view of history as moving forward had such a very short life. It starts in the 18th century, but as early as the 19th century we can already observe the first symptoms of crisis, and the 20th century becomes a perpetual crisis of this kind of historicism.


The theory of secularization was an attempt at an explanation that gained much influence because it came quite early. It has been, and should be, criticized — important criticism can be found in the German philosopher Hans Blumenberg’s significant book on the legitimacy of the modern age. The idea of secularization was most strongly promoted by Carl Schmitt, and later re-interpreted by Karl Löwith, a student of Heidegger who published a book on meaning in history in 1949.

What, briefly, are the implications of secularization? It means that the modern idea of history is presented as a projection of the theological concept, the original formulation of linearity in relation to time in which history starts at the Fall and moves towards an eschatological event, the coming of the Messiah. The progress of time is directed towards salvation, a theological teleology that projects onto the secular vision of history, the secularization of history. This modernist vision of history is commonly thought of as simply replacing the idea of salvation by a different teleology, that of a social utopia: communism in place of the eschatology of salvation, or the Nazi Thousand-year Reich, or a social-democratic utopia of equality and justice — in short, the theory of secularization tells us that whatever the destination is, we are moving towards a substitute for the eschatological event.

Carl Schmitt, however, proposes a different idea: that secularization itself causes the crisis of history. When God is removed from the picture and replaced with a utopia — such as those that followed one after another throughout the 20th century — the result is to cancel the meaning of history and produce movement without a goal, where the movement remains, but the goal disappears. Then, people start talking about the acceleration of time — a very popular topic in current discussions. An interesting situation arises, with time accelerating but the future disappearing.

Hermann Lübbe, the German philosopher, is specifically interested in such ideas of temporality. He discusses the acceleration of time as a dynamic in which the endless chase seeking to produce something new results in the immediate obsolescence of everything. What we produce today is already dated tomorrow. By trying to produce the new we only accumulate an enormous amount of the old. Also, instead of producing the future, the acceleration of time results in enormous amounts of the past. Because everything appears as something already obsolete, and as immediately obsolete from the start, it equally immediately accumulates in the ever-proliferating archives and museums. The exponential growth of the museumization of everything is the by-product of time’s acceleration. Works by modern painters are almost immediately acquired by museums, while formerly an artist had to wait for at least fifty years. In technology museums, you find computer models that are only ten years old displayed as if they were archaeological antiquities.

For Schmitt, secularization was a complex process of the transformation of theology into a philosophy of history and of philosophy of history into politics, economics, and fundamental technology. Technology becomes the moving force of progress. Now every kind of progress is technological progress. We do not believe in a bright future, but we do believe that a new iPhone model will contain no defects or mistakes. Technology becomes the moving force of all innovation. What Schmitt was talking about was technological neutralization of meaning –i.e., technology’s perceived ability to provide for the kind of neutralization that in earlier times had been expected from philosophy, and before philosophy, from theology.


Interestingly, what is happening nowadays appears to be that the process of acceleration has brought about “the shrinking of the present”. The present shrinks as it is immediately transformed into the past, and Lübbe noted in this connection that the avant-garde is precisely the thing that appears dated; it feels more dated than old styles because it is incorporated into the production of the new to a considerably greater degree, and therefore becomes obsolete almost at once. More than anything else, the avant-garde is the area of the production of the past: the colossal amounts of memoirs, artefacts, and photographs that are accumulated in archives — in different kinds of archives, including personal ones, but also state archives, and many others of different kinds.

What archives produce is not immediately integrated into history — I will explain that later — but only into a spacious virtual archive for history that I call memory. Even though it is not part of history, memory is important because it can be historicized. This is what historians do when they look for traces of memory in archives and then reinterpret them so that they can be incorporated in the historical narrative.

Inscribing memory in history is a complex process: it looks as if traces are arranged into a chronology, into a linearity of time, dates coming one after another. But this is not exactly the case. In Heidegger’s early article “The Concept of Time in the Science of History” (1916) he declares that dates have no meaning for history.

The historian can do nothing with the mere number 750 in the concept of “hunger crisis in Fulda in the year 750”. He is not interested in the number as a quantity, or as an element which has its particular place among the ordered numbers one to infinity, divisible by 50, etc. The number 750 and every other date in history is significant and of value in the science of history only with regard to the historically significant content. <…> If I ask “when” concerning an event in history, then I am asking about the position in a qualitative historical context, not “how much”.

Fundamentally, this is something that deals with incorporation in certain configurations of dates, of facts. Georg Simmel, who developed his philosophy of history somewhat earlier, wrote that in order to be inscribed in history, an event must be necessarily atomized and individuated: the historian has to produce historical dates or events as discrete elements that can be placed into configurations to produce meaning. If they are presented as simply constituting a chronological line, it will be not possible to produce any meaning at all, and whichever dates there are, whether 750, or 760, or whatever, will mean nothing. They need to be related to other events, becoming part of history only when incorporated in a structure of meaning.


Simmel argues that in order to become historical, an event should be articulated; it should have an individuality and differentiation, and this is the only way for it to occupy a defined and permanent position in time. Fundamentally, in order to create history, Simmel continues, you must know how to place the event into the development, since only such atomized instances can participate in structurally meaningful interactions. An event must simultaneously participate in unfolding time and allow understanding beyond time. Unless meaning is projected onto what is going on, this will not be historical but remain an amorphous accumulation of events that makes no sense. In this connection, I cannot help thinking about the unfortunately forgotten German-Jewish philosopher Theodor Lessing who titled his 1919 book Geschichte als Sinngebung des Sinnlosen, [History as the projection of meaning upon the meaningless]. This is exactly what Simmel was trying to do.

But what is interesting in this process of historization is that in order to enter history, an event should be taken out of chronology. You must create an atemporal configuration of events in order for this configuration to become historical. This is very important to me: the fact that history is always produced by taking a step out of time. If you remain wholly in the linearity of unfolding there is no history; in order to make sense of history, you must interrupt its unfolding.

A discussion that I find absolutely fundamental in this respect can be found in Gaston Bachelard’s critique of Bergson. Bache-lard wrote two books against Bergson, Intuition of the Instant (1932) and The Dialectics of Duration (1950) in which he claims that Bergson’s idea of duration — la durée — was wrong because we cannot develop a consciousness or experience of time as pure continuum of this kind. Time is made of interruptions. That is why Bachelard proposes rythmanalyse, i.e., time as a rhythmical structure that combines moments of rest with sudden leaps forward. This dynamic is similar to what Heidegger would describe as ecstasies. Here, time is produced in various modes of temporalization: existence turned toward the future; thrownness turned toward the present, and facticity turned towards the past. Time is always producing complex configurations, and without this complexity at the moment of choice, at the moment of rest and arrest of motion, of virtuality — there is no time at all.


This is important because history always deals with such moments of atemporality, such instances of the arrest of time. But, as Simmel writes, there are also such events that cannot be incorporated in history. The battle of Zorndorf in 1758 was an important encounter between the Prussian and Russian armies during the Seven Years’ War. As an isolated totality, this battle can be easily inscribed into the history of the war, but that would be merely a constructed totality. On the contrary, the “genuine” event — the fight between two soldiers killing each other — does not constitute a historical fact, does not constitute part of a configuration of events that is made sense of by taking it out of time. Such elements are not inscribable in history; they only belong to memory. History needs the establishment of temporal positions for the understanding of things, while memory remembers otherwise than by creating models and is not based on understanding in this sense — and therefore it resists historical inscription.

As I have already said, nowadays we are dealing with gigantic and ever-increasing amounts of archival material, text and objects making up the body of collective memory, that storage of virtuality waiting to be transformed into history. However, there is a different side to this, directly related to heritage, — I propose to return to this later. Here I must just note that this relation between linear unfolding of an event and simultaneously the breaking of the linear unfolding is a complex movement that plays an important role in the history of museums. From its very beginning after the French revolution, the museum has been trying to solve the problem of what it collects and exhibits: For it is not quite clear what exactly is preserved and displayed exhibited in museums. There are basically two approaches: one is to collect masterpieces, the other, to demonstrate the history of art. Even now, different museums rely on different principles of collection. In museums like the Hermitage or the Louvre you are shown a lot of what is called “secondary artwork” whose presence in the display is justified because it provides a broader picture of historical development. But there are also other museums that only collect masterpieces, to represent the timelessness of great artworks without any context organized around them. Art historian Hans Belting describes this contradiction: the museum’s desire to trace the historical development in art in its entirety that is compromised by the status of the artwork as an object of admiration and an embodiment of perfection, that, it was feared, was in danger of slipping away. The artistic marvel transcends history. As soon as you attempt to insert beauty into history it loses its absolute status and thus the idea itself of the masterpiece is undermined when object is inscribed into the narrative of historical unfolding.


This reminds me of a wonderful fragment by Alberto Savinio, brother of the artist Giorgio de Chirico, from his book Maupassant et “l’autre” [Maupassant and “the other”]. Savinio writes about the great Homer, Dante and Shakespeare, defining them as writers who challenge genealogy. It is impossible to explain Homer genealogically, as following in the footsteps or being under the influence of someone else in literature. Rather, these writers are oases, or islands fully isolated from history. Savinio suggests that if the work and all memory of those giants suddenly disappeared, the world might lose in value, but its destiny would not suffer any loss. This is indeed interesting: Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare all have tremendous and fully atemporal value — which, paradoxically, makes them quite irrelevant historically.

This complex relation between history and memory is nowadays increasingly taken care of by the state. It is remarkable that historicizing archives, for instance, is not seen as a task for an individual, but represents an enterprise for the state. There are also, as we know, museums, archives, and historiographies developed by universities, that are not under the state’s direct control but in a close relation to the institutions which in their turn are dependent on the state. Thus, the state is responsible not only for preserving memory but also for organizing the passage from memory to history.

As I already said, the work of the historian is to find those elements in the archive that remain unincorporated and to rewrite them into history. A good example is women’s history that had been ignored for a long time before it became an important field of knowledge, thanks to the feminist movement. Certainly, the role of universities is unique in this work of creating meaningful configurations of historical facts and events out of bits and pieces of collective memory.


The role of the state is to normalize the pathologies of political and historical discourses. This is also the normalizing function of history: projecting meaning means projecting norms. The Historikerstreit ([historians’ quarrel] of the 1980s was fundamentally a controversy around the issue of normalization, a debate between the French and German schools in history writing and between two outstanding historians, both dealing with the history of the Holocaust: Saul Friedländer, the author, among other works, of the seminal Nazi Germany and the Jews and Martin Broszat, a prominent German historian. Both were highly respected scholars, their work indispensable for Holocaust and WW2 studies, and both of Leftist convictions. Ideologically they shared more or less the same approach, but Broszat, a proponent of the structural method in history, claimed the necessity to historicize Nazism, to place Nazism into a logic of historical development. Friedländer opposed this idea, claiming that finding a structural logic in Nazism would normalize it and destroy the uniqueness of the Holocaust as a horrendous phenomenon beyond normalization.

Broszat justified his approach against “mournful and accusatory memory“ of the Jews “who remain adamant in their insistence on the mythical form of this remembrance” (a turn of phrase that enraged Friedländer, the witness of the Shoah). Broszat’s point was that this “mythical form”, the product of a mournful attitude, required a correction for otherwise it would not be possible to understand the events historically: in order to historicize, memory should be neutralized. Friedländer responded by pointing out that writing history always flattens the event and destroys its shocking character by inserting it into a series of comparisons, antecedents, and analogies. Friedländer claimed that German historians were unconsciously seeking to diminish the tragic significance of the Holocaust and this also led him to deny Alltagsgeschichte — another influential movement that had emerged in Germany in the 1970s, a movement in which Broszat was also active and which proclaimed memory the object of history (of the everyday).

Alltagsgeschichte, the history of everyday life, is now an extremely popular direction in historical research, with series of books dedicated to a wide variety of subjects: for instance, the everyday life of French troubadours or of prostitutes in Rome. Essentially, the history of everyday life is precisely a massive attempt at the historicization of memory, dealing with objects that do not constitute big historical events onto which meaning can be projected — yet this is exactly what it does. On the other hand, this is in opposition to the historical discourse of the Shoah, with Shoah historians like Friedländer (who, in the spirit of Claude Lanzmann’s film, preferred the name to ‘the Holocaust’) being inclined to think of history in messianic terms.

This re-emergence of teleological history (as I discussed earlier) with its messianic element in the reflection of history is nowadays very much associated with Walter Benjamin — but not only him. At the opposite pole, we find the history of everyday life is completely opposed to the idea of the messianic interpretation. These are the two mutually opposed directions in contemporary history theory: one heading towards a teleology, the other towards a normalization of history.

Friedländer certainly had grounds to criticize Broszat for “flattening”. In his history of the Nazi state, Broszat wrote about the German bourgeoisie who lived through the Nazi period without even noticing that anything particular was happening. Bavarian peasants continued the same way of life during the years of Nazism as they had done before and would do after the Nazis’ defeat. Everyday life is presented as a reality in which the Nazis did not exist at all. Their regime became inscribed in the historical narrative as part of the time’s normal course, with nothing exceptional about it.


What is important here is that this transformation of memory into history happens parallel to the appropriation of memory by the dominant political discourse, by the state. The Holocaust is the most important topic for both history writing and for memorial construction — that ongoing process of Holocaust memorialization that started in the 1970s, and since then has been steadily expanding year after year, indistinguishable from a victim cult, with victims’ memory becoming so dominant that, in my opinion, the result will be that eventually the Holocaust will indeed finally be normalized in terms of political discourse.

Enzo Traverso in his book Left-Wing Melancholia: Marxism, History and Memory, — a highly controversial book — states that the memory of the Holocaust allows for sacralization of the fundamental values of liberal democracy, such as pluralism, tolerance and human rights, the defense of which takes the form of ”a secular liturgy of remembering”. In principle, I think, I agree with him. There is indeed a trend to use the memorialization of the Holocaust for the promotion of liberal and social-democratic values, paving the way for the eventual incorporation of this unique and horrifying memory into a historicizing political discourse.

I would like to mention another moment here, also a fundamental one in what concerns secularization: strong criticism is directed at the idea of secularization claiming that the Christian idea of history is not historical at all because it relies on the notion of the suspension of time. After parousia, i.e., the coming of the Messiah, time will stop. It would be therefore wrong to interpret it as a model for modern history because this whole interval between the parousia and the Last Judgment is a period in which time is suspended, when there is no more time.

Carl Schmitt claimed that it is possible to historicize the non-historical theological vision of eschatology. He quotes St. Paul’s words about the Antichrist: “And now you know what is holding him back”. Paul’s ‘to katechon’ relates to the last days when a secret power of lawlessness is at work that postpones the revelation of the Second Coming and will continue to do so until it is removed at the promised time. This means that with the stopping of time, chaos will reign, and order and structure will collapse. But something will intervene and prevent this chaos. Without clearly defining what where to katechon is, Schmitt returned to this concept many times throughout his life both before and after the war, as he believed in ‘to katechon’ as a political reality of the present day. To katechon was his idea of the 20th century’s reality, living in a situation described by Paul in his second epistle to the Thessalonians, between parousia (the Second Coming of Christ) and the last judgement, and not falling into complete chaos thanks to a katechon, “an original historical force” preventing things from falling apart, holding them back. Schmitt claimed that this force was the state, the empire. It intervenes in chaos by producing institutions and laws.


What I find most interesting in this statement is that Carl Schmitt is talking about the “original historical force”. I will quote from him, that “…  as a figure of κατέχον [katechon] however remains capable of overcoming the eschatological paralysis that would otherwise occur.” (ibid., 169) As soon as time is suspended, the possibility to open history appears. While the teleological dimension is outside history, it is the state that intervenes to start history. History emerges in the act of holding back chaos, or, as Schmitt expresses himself in an important fragment:

… history that is not merely an archive of what has been but nor is it a humanistic self-mirroring of a mere piece of nature circling around itself. Rather, history blows like a storm in great testimonies. It grows through strong creations, which insert the eternal into the course of time. It is the striking of roots in the space of meaning of the earth. Through scarcity and impotence, this history is the hope and honor of our existence.

We might recognize here the Benjaminian idea of history as a storm. But what is specific to Schmitt is the definition of history as something that inserts the eternal into the course of time. Schmitt’s eternal is order. History introduces order through injecting the eternal into the course of time. This is yet another way of normalizing.

But if we return from heaven to earth, the state, of course, is not really a katechon, but it is still very important for the creation of the future in history, though in a different sense. The state not only creates the transformation of memory into historiography; the modern state with its history is a warranty for the existence of the future. The future is opened very much due to the functioning of the state. What do I mean? When we retire, we believe that we will receive our pension in future, and the state will take care of us. When we enter the university to obtain a degree, we believe that the diploma will be valid and will have a certain value in future. Both beliefs are associated with the state that allows us to think like this. All kinds of values that are issued by the state are important for our lives because they give us guarantees for the future. It is partly thanks to this katechon that is the state, a highly economic and political one, a katechon that retains things.


The invention of paper money was a seminal event in this context, since paper money is based entirely on faith in the future. The Bank of Scotland started printing paper money at the end of the 17th century. Metal money served as an antecedent for paper money in the creation of value. A promissory note was something out of which paper money eventually evolved. You go to a bank and hand over some gold to the banker, and in exchange you receive a promissory note as an obligation from this banker to return the gold to you when you need it, for instance, to travel to another country. Then you go to a branch of the same bank and hand in the promissory note which has certain value because you previously exchanged money for it: in other words, something exists in the past that creates the value for the future. We accept paper money in payments only because we believe in future. We believe that the banknotes will be accepted next day or in a year: the state provides us with guarantees that the future will unfold in a certain organized way. Paper money has the power of actually creating this feeling of the future.

There is a great book by Brian Rotman in which he also discusses the story of paper money. He writes there about the scandal that paper money brought about, that of the loss of anteriority: since the value of assignations relies on the future, there remains nothing in the past that could create value. Krzysztof Pomian in his classical essay La crise de l’avenir [The crisis of the future] also writes about a reversal in the order of time because of this current association of value with the future and not the past.

This process emerges at the same time as modernity develops, projecting life into the future. However, faith in the state is weakening considerably nowadays. We do not believe in our currencies any longer; they are no longer as stable as they used to be, and we doubt the ability of the state to guarantee the value of our degrees since nobody knows if they will provide employment. So there is a general decline of this reversal from the past to the future, Pomian’s basculement du temps (ibid., pp. 8–9) — a decline that creates presentism, as I mentioned earlier, and that I find quite remarkable. Parallel to this, we observe everywhere the disappearing charisma of leaders and a waning faith in political institutions and political organizations. In general, faith is losing its potential to serve as katechon and create a temporal perspective for us.

As I promised, against this background I now come back to the problem of heritage, an important dimension of time as heritage. Heritage represents precisely the case of the eternal being inserted into the course of time, but at the same time, value is only produced in relation to the future, i.e., without an antecedent. In this situation, a problem arises of continuity on which the state itself could be based, since people must establish the state on some solid foundation in order to believe that it creates a future for the nation. Heritage becomes a resource for the creation of such an atemporal basis for the state, providing it with a sense of continuity.

I am thinking, as an example, of the episode in the 1920s —30s when the Soviet state organized a series of sales abroad of art masterpieces from Russian museum collections — a gesture that could be interpreted as the negation by the state of the importance of continuity for its own existence. The state appeared to be projecting itself entirely into the future and seemed to have no interest in preserving these treasures for itself as its own symbolic foundation that it was leaving behind. In monetization, this kind of basis in cultural heritage disappears, and with it, a system of social values and a warranty for the future also disappears.


I now move on to the final part of my presentation in which I will try to introduce the factors of money and economy into my analysis, a connection between heritage and money that is both profound and not quite evident.

First, let us recall that different types of production, including industrial production, are associated with specific temporalities and ideas of history. For instance, standardized industrial mass production bears within itself the utopia of universal accessibility of products and consumption equality. Ford’s Model T was designed as a vision of a car to be used by everyone, in standardized cities, and eventually in a new mass society organized on principles of equality and social justice.

It is only the new that has value in this mode of production, since a mass-produced object is not worth buying if it is already used. A certain configuration of value and time is inscribed into the production and circulation of things.

However, if the future disappears from the social horizon — as I claimed at the beginning of my presentation — a disappearance that we are registering in our society nowadays — this mode of production also loses its significance. This starts the process of de-industrialization of the West and the relocation to the third world, where developing countries start producing cheap mass commodities without any prestige to them, that are consumed without any symbolic value at all. However, these are exactly the kind of products that in the 1920s were associated with a certain social utopia and derived a certain value from this association.

Nowadays, sociologists register a paradoxical turn of economics towards the past. In 2017, Luc Boltanski and Arnaud Esquerre published a book that very soon gained considerable influence, under the title of Enrichment: A Critique of the Commodity. By enrichment, they do not mean simply increasing wealth by getting more money but rather use the word in the sense of transformation, a technical meaning as used in metallurgy, for instance, where the technology of enrichment (beneficiation) is applied to improve the quality and value of the metal. Thus, enrichment is the accumulation of value in something that already has value. It is not the production of new value but increasing the value of something by manipulating it. Boltanski and Esquerre describe the current state of capitalism as an economy of enrichment.

Their reflection is directly connected to what I have been talking about because theirs is a kind of economics that does not look to the future for the increase of new wealth, but additional wealth is extracted out of value that is already there. In order to make the present value grow even further you must add a narrative to this already existing object, to enrich it (as iron is enriched in iron ore) by adding symbolic value to the value that it already has.

I include here, in my awkward translation into English, the following long quotation from this book; I hope it will explain what the authors are claiming:

The economy of enrichment corresponds not only to growing specialization in the area of culture and to a more evident symbiosis between culture and trade, but also to an original mode of the creation of wealth based on a much more intense exploitation of special deposits that accumulate over time and to which narratives add values. It is an economy that extracts its substance from the past. This economy of the past is not based on the industrial production of standard products to be sold new but on the valorization of what already exists, like antiques or vintage items, or objects from the less remote past, or monuments, or real estate sites, i.e., on the domain known as cultural heritage. But this [economy of enrichment] is also valid for works of art, even by contemporary artists, when these are considered as if they belong to a temporality that extracts them from the present and allows us to think about them from the point of view of the future, as if they already belong to the past, or maybe to eternity because they are destined to be preserved forever by the museums.

This is the process Boltanski and Esquerre call patrimonialization (from Fr. patrimoine, patrimony, cultural heritage). In the logic of the economy of enrichment, everything transforms into sites of heritage: we eat historical cuisine, increase the value of wine by claiming that it originates in a historical terroir — in this way one can transform anything into something more valuable. Boltanski underlies specifically UNESCO’s role in enriching the value of the past by creating its ever increasing list of sites to be preserved because of their cultural value, which in its turn increases the value of real estate there, and so on and so forth. Alongside the de-industrialization of Europe, a parallel process of its culturalization and patrimonialization is taking place.

I would like to quote some truly impressive figures from Boltanski and Esquerre: In 1974, almost 5,900,000 people in France worked in industry. Since then, France has lost 40% of its labor force; the country has deindustrialized by the same percentage. However, during the same period, internal consumption has doubled: the French are producing almost half the amount while consuming almost twice as much.


Here are some figures characterizing international tourism, because tourism is, of course, a big industry that flourishes due to the patrimonialization of everything. In 2012, international tourism involved 1.035 billion people travelling the world. In 1950, there were only 25 million. In France, 1.3 million people work in tourism businesses on a permanent basis, plus another 1 million temporary jobs.

What is more interesting is how culture is becoming an industry in a most extraordinary way. The following statistics come from France, but these figures are more or less characteristic for the rest of the Western world. 700,000 people in France work in cultural production, a 50% increase as compared to 1990, and in the context of a sharp decrease in manufacturing jobs. In show business, the increase is 95%. In jobs associated with literature, it amounts to 58%, in the arts to 44%, and in design and decoration to 123%. Painters and photographers are now more numerous by 21% and 20%, respectively. Importantly, 77% of these people are below of the age of 40. Another significant fact is that between 2000 and 2007, growth of 23.3% in family spending on culture was observed, that is, an increase of almost a quarter.

A characteristic scenario of patrimonialization is when a center of industry becomes a cultural center. A good example is the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, formerly an industrial city that has developed into a major center of cultural life. Cultural activity helps to valorize, and valorization is strongly dependent on various forms of heritage around which cultural activities are organized and proliferate. Here, we can differentiate between two ways of increasing value. One is the creation of narratives around places (for instance, where some artist once lived) and landscapes (that the artist once painted) — thus places and landscape develop additional value as objects of cultural heritage.

Another method of patrimonialization is restoration — in my opinion, a process that is starting to replace the process of production. Instead of producing, we restore; we make material investments in the past to achieve material actualization of the past as a commodity. Restoration is fundamentally different from productive labor, because productive labor creates value, as many economists have argued from Adam Smith and Marx onwards, measured by time invested in the production of objects, therefore with a conditional beginning and a conditional end. Production became standardized with the introduction of the machine because machines require the same amount of time to produce the same object. Productive labor, as you know, produces use value that transforms into exchange value when this object moves from production to trade. Exchange value does not depend on the invested time, but on the conjectural prices in the market. It is created by the object’s relation to other objects circulating on the market and therefore represents movement, if you will, from diachrony to synchrony, if by diachrony we understand linear time and by synchrony, a system of relations in their entirety. In either case, exchange value is no longer determined by the measurable time of production.

As for the restorer’s labor, it is specific because it does not produce use value. The value of a restored artwork cannot be measured by the time invested in restoration. It does not matter how long the restorer has worked to restore the piece. It is not the time that produces value but the historical narrative that is attached to the object and refined (enriched) by the process of restoration, a process for producing (cultural) riches with an economy different from that of commodity fetishism. It is central to all the practices and institutions of the past, nowadays subsumed under heritage preservation.

Local narratives stand in a complicated relationship to the diachrony of history and in even more complex relations to memory — but this presentation is hardly a proper place to go into these complexities. To finish, I would like to say that, in my opinion, in order to understand the relation between value, time, culture, and heritage, we have to take into consideration the permanently changing and very complex organization of time and temporality, more complex than the circular time of myth or the linear time of ideology. Rather, the temporalization we are dealing with nowadays is a suspension of time. This suspension becomes most evident in its complexity when applied to the issues of heritage; therefore it is a problem that concerns both history and memory today: how to place heritage into a historical context, and thus to historicize and temporalize it.

Thank you for your attention. ≈

Note: This lecture was given as an open lecture at the Centre for Baltic and East European Studies, Södertörn University, March 13, 2017.

The lecture was a short version of Mikhail Impol’skii, Bez budushchego: kul’tura i vremia [Without a Future: Culture and Time], SPb.: Poriadok slov, 2018, 8–46. This is an edited version. Transcription by Anna Kharkina



  1. Marc Augé, Où est passé l’avenir? Essais (Paris: Éd. du Seuil, 2011).
  2. Hartog, François, Regimes of Historicity: Presentism and Experiences of Time (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015).
  3. Blumenberg, Hans, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1983).
  4. Löwith, Karl, Meaning in History: The Theological Implications of the Philosophy of History (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1949).
  5. Hermann Lübbe, Im Zug der Zeit: Verkürzter Aufenthalt in der Gegenwart (Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag, 1994).
  6. Technology providing for “…a minimum agreement and common premises allowing for the possibility of security, clarity, prudence, and peace.. the absolute and ultimate neutral ground of technology … a domain of peace, understanding, and reconciliation.” Carl Schmitt, “The Age of Neutralizations and Depoliticizations (1929)”, in: Schmitt, Carl, The Concept of the Political, Expanded ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 89 —91.
  7. Martin Heidegger, “The concept of time in the science of history”. In: Heidegger, Martin, Becoming Heidegger: On the Trail of His Early Occasional writings, 1910—1927 (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2007), 75.
  8. Georg Simmel, The Problems of the Philosophy of History: An Epistemological Essay (New York: Free P., 1977), esp. Chapter 3, “On the Meaning of History”.
  9. Belting, Hans, The Invisible Masterpiece (London: Reaktion), 27 —49.
  10.        Paris: Gallimard, 1977
  11. Nazi Germany and the Jews: The Years of Persecution, 1933 —1939 (New York : HarperCollins, 1997); Nazi Germany and the Jews: The Years of Extermination, 1939—1945 (New York: HarperCollins, 2007); also, Memory, History, and the Extermination of the Jews of Europe, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993).
  12. For instance, The Hitler State: The Foundation and Development of the Internal Structure of the Third Reich (London: Longman, 1981).
  13. Broszat, Martin and Friedländer, Saul, “A Controversy about the Historicization of National Socialism,” New German Critique, No. 44, Special Issue on the Historikerstreit (Spring–Summer, 1988), 85 —126
  14. Traverso, Enzo, Left-wing Melancholia: Marxism, History, and Memory (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016), 15.
  15. Carl Schmitt, “Three Possibilities for a Christian Conception of History.” telos 147 (Summer 2009), 167 —170.
  16.        Ibid., 170.
  17. Rotman, Brian, Signifying Nothing: The Semiotics of Zero (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1987)
    Le Débat
    7 (1980), 5—7.
  19. Boltanski, Luc and Esquerre, Arnaud, Enrichissement. Une critique de la marchandise (Paris: Gallimard, coll. «NRF essais», 2017)
  20.             Ibid., 73 —74.
  • by Mikhail Iampolski

    Professor in Comparative Literature at New York University, and a specialist in aesthetics and philosophy, critical theory, art history and theory, film studies, culture theory and Russian cultural history.

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