“Endliness Is an Irritating, but Genuinely Modern and Ubiquitous Time Regime” – 5in10 with Erik Martin
Erik Martin is a scholar of Slavic studies and works on conflicting time regimes in Russian literature, ecocriticism, and Eastern European Realisms. He is currently working as a postdoc researcher in the project “Europäische Zeiten / European Times – A Transregional Approach to the Societies of Central and Eastern Europe” (EUTIM) at the European University Viadrina, Frankfurt (Oder). Erik completed his habilitation in 2021 with a manuscript entitled “Endlichkeit als poetologische Ressource in der polnischen und russischen Literatur von der Aufklärung bis zur Nachmoderne”. His upcoming publication is a co-edited volume on “Figuren der Endlichkeit in der Europäischen Romantik“ that will appear with De Gruyter in 2023.
How would you explain your research to someone who’s not an expert?
Most people would assume, that (Western) Modernity is all about liberation from traditional restriction and deconstruction of existing boundaries. However, the so called Great Acceleration a surge in growth rate across a large range of measures of human activity that began roughly in 1750 and led to an explosion of material wealth and technological progress in the West, was fueled by fossil energy. This energy source is, of course, in contrary to sustainable energy forms like regrowing timber ultimately finite. The ‘discovery’ of finitude was also made in other discourses: Extinction of species in biology (Buffon, Cuvier) and even extinction of peoples during colonisation (Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans (1826)), the constant decrease of exergy postulated in thermodynamics, and in general, the temporalization of history itself, that is the insight into the transience of all historical life forms, which was forcefully shown by the French revolution.
However, endliness does not interest me in the quite depressing sense, that the end is somehow near. Rather, I try to analyze endliness in those cases where it is not a hindrance that one need to overcome, but as a possible condition for certain modern concepts and practices. This can lead to surprising insights. So the term ‘Modernity’ itself seems to presuppose endliness, since it claims to stand for a radical novelty in history. This, in turn, implies that ‘non-modern’ history has come to an absolute end.
What intrigued you when you started your academic journey?
As a literary scholar I was always fascinated by the ability of art to show the world in its radical openness. There is a meme on the internet: “There are two kinds of people”. Say for instance, the kind that pours cereals before the milk or the kind that pours the cereals in a bowl full of milk. In everyday life there is actually not much more of an option. However, Fryderyk from the novel Pornografia could pray in way that the institution of the Holy Mess itself would collapse (No doubt, he would mix milk and cereal in the most unimaginable way). How could he do that? Well, you have to read Gombrowicz.
Literature transcends the seemingly narrow possibilities of our everyday life. This openness is by no way escapist, relativist, or ‘mere fiction’. It is rather a challenge to every reader to question and eventually change his or her believes and even ways of life.
What were formative encounters or challenges?
Actually, I found the concept of Endliness quite challenging for a long time. Endliness is an irritating, but genuinely modern and ubiquitous time regime. Irritating because it has not been sufficiently conceptualized by the humanities yet, though if you focus on this concept you can discover it everywhere: Kant’s and Foucault’s concepts of (historical) a priori, Kuhn’s ‘paradigm’ and so on.
One great privilege of being a scholar are the numerous encounters with so many people from different cultures and disciplines. That’s why I am so glad to work in the EUTIM project which is interdisciplinary in approach and with such diversity of members.
What do you consider to be the role of the humanities and social sciences in times of up-heaval, fragmented publics, and authoritarian transgressions?
As the humanities share a common root with humanity there is obviously a moral imperative in our job. However, I don’t think that the political problems of our time lie in the fragmentation of publics or that the voices of intellectuals are not loud enough. One major problem in our politics and society lies in the logic of polarity itself which is so incredibly powerful for mobilizing one’s own party and so pitifully impotent when it comes to true understanding of your vis-à-vis. I think, that the role of the humanities is to call to mind, that any decision about right or wrong involves a consideration of many factors, some of them are to recalcitrant to be put in a ready-made assumption. This often tiresome process, which is sometimes called (maybe mistakenly) objectivity in science, is in effect an attempt to perceive the world in its irreducible plurality.
What book, article, film, exhibition or song would you recommend, and why?
Next to the Staatsbibliothek where I sometimes work there is a exhibition on Donatello. I would recommend it because I appreciate Renaissance art and because Donatello often does not get the appreciation that he deserves. I also would recommend it because one should always break free your daily routine into the realm of art.
Citation:“Endliness Is an Irritating, but Genuinely Modern and Ubiquitous Time Regime.” – 5in10 with Erik Martin, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 07.12.2022, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/42940