Stephen Kern is an honorary distinguished professor of history at Ohio State University. His field is modern European cultural history. He is the author of The Culture of Time and Space 1880–1918 (1983); The Culture of Love: Victorians to Moderns (1992); A Cultural History of Causality: Science, Murder Novels, and Systems of Thought (2004); The Modernist Novel: A Critical Introduction (2011); and Modernism after the Death of God: Christianity, Fragmentation, and Unification (2017). His books have been translated into a half-dozen languages. He has been awarded Rockefeller, Guggenheim, and National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships. He is currently working on a study of time and space for the years 1890–1930 and 1980–present that compares and interprets changing ideas about those two topics across those years.
The Culture of Time and Space a Hundred Years Later
This talk surveys a shift in the way leading artists and intellectuals thought about, created, and concretely experienced time and space in the periods 1890–1930 and 1980 to the present. It focuses on the nature of time—its number (one or many), texture (atomistic or a flux), and order (irreversible or reversible). So, as a contrast to Joyce’s Ulysses on the counting of time, it surveys Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams; as a contrast to Henri Bergson on the texture of time, it surveys Gilles Deleuze and Michel Serres; and as a contrast to the earlier reordering of time by the electric light and cinema, it surveys the later reordering by the Internet and World Wide Web. These changes evince a specificity-uncertainty interaction: namely, that as thinkers and artists came to understand the elements of time and space more specifically, they opened up vast new areas of uncertainty. This new epistemology fills the gap opened up by the declining persuasiveness of the more fixed Judeo-Christian view of time and space. New technologies, most significantly the Internet, directly shaped the new scales of time and space. Some final remarks consider how the Bauhaus elimination of ornament and the principle of form following function created a new texture of positive negative space in design and architecture. This innovation is evident across the cultural spectrum in the earlier period in Bauhaus design as well as in cubist interspaces, Futurist force-lines, and Mallarmé’s blank spaces. From the later period, Mark Danielewski’s novel House of Leaves (2000) evinces a dynamic updating of positive negative space.