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Lecture Michael Kempe

Multiple Western modernities. Lost and hidden concepts of time and history in early modern Europe.
Michael Kempe

Today it seems to be not wise any longer – at least, many people think so – to ground our theories and political practices in notions of progress and linear historicity formed in Western modernity to meet the challenges of the 21st century. But before searching for alternative conceptions of time and temporalities to move forward without jumping onto the fast train of modernization we should check the correctness of our understanding of Western modernity to find out if there might be some alternatives within this concept of modernity itself. In other words: it seems to be worth to examine if some of the shortcomings of modernity might base, at the end, on the shortcoming of our idea and interpretation of modernity. Thus, it might useful to question our understanding of Western modernity.
Therefore, I would like to highlight some of the so far neglected, lost or hidden reflections of time, temporality, history and change within the train of thoughts in early modern European thinking to widen our narrowed understanding of the Western tradition of modernity. To avoid any misunderstandings: this lecture does not imply an apology of Western modernity. But instead, it offers an historical differentiated picture of early modern discourse about time, temporality and transformations. This could be a first step to disclose possibly undiscovered potentials and possibilities with the tradition of early modern thinking to escape modernist framings – in the sense of a reduced interpretation of such a frame.
In this way I like to start to show that it would be a shortcoming to reduce early modern thinking about time and temporality to a mere model of linear progress. Instead it can be observed, for instance, even in a concept of sacral history an entanglement of different timelines, composed of a combination of linearity (time’s arrow) and cyclicity (time’s cycle). Then, I will give further examples of non-orthodox thinking of time, history and transformation. For instance: alternative models of history even within the tradition of biblical chronology (in confrontation with the Chinese chronology), the (heterodox) view of the relativity of Christian claims of universality (the discourse of the theory of Pre-Adams), the fictive dialog of a French missionary with an Indian philosopher about the deep past of time, concepts of simultaneity and non-simultaneity, the possibly ecological future of the planet or ideas of parallel and possible worlds and the relativity of time. Concerning the latter it can be shown that even intellectuals that were usually held as straightforward thinkers of linear time concepts of change and progress, like Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, have had unconventional, non-linear and contradictory ideas of time, transformation and temporality.

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