30 October 2009

Spatial History

The past cannot exist 'in' time, because time cannot be any sort of frame within which anything can exist. By western definitions, time is something other than space, and yet it is incessantly portrayed as something spatial: as a line, a frame, a background, a landscape, and as having orientation. In common usage, the past is behind us and the future is ahead. We speak of the distant past and the gulf of time that separates us from the ancients. These spatial metaphors for time are ubiquitous because they are grounded metaphors, arising from the spatial experience of time. In nature, time—by itself—has no being whatsoever. It is a mere measurement of spatial motion. But human, or lived time is another matter. Experiential, memorial time is very real because it takes place. The past cannot exist in time: only in space. Histories representing the past represent the places (topoi) of human action. History is not an account of ‘change over time,’ as the cliche´ goes, but rather, change through space. Knowledge of the past, therefore, is literally cartographic: a mapping of the places of history indexed to the coordinates of spacetime.

//David Ethington, "Placing the Past: 'Groundwork' for a Spatial Theory of History", 465-6

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