'In Our Time' Postgraduate Symposium, University of Malta, March 2015

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Department of English, University of Malta
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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us ...
A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
The poet—the contemporary—must firmly hold his gaze on his own time. But what does he who sees his time actually see?
'What is the Contemporary?' – Giorgio Agamben

The phrase 'in our time' can—simultaneously—evoke both 'nowness' and nostalgia. In its direct appeal to community, it expresses something less impersonal than more lofty notions of zeitgeist, or the spirit of the age. It evokes a sense of temporal belonging that might perhaps be understood in the context of what Raymond Williams, in The Long Revolution, termed 'shared structures of feeling'—put simply, the shared values of a particular group, class or society. It focuses attention on contemporaneity, but the perspective afforded can be marked by a sense of disaffiliation rather than identification. That is to say: 'our time' can coincide with the contemporary ('Our time is now'), or alternatively it can be out of temporal joint with the present ('It was different in our time'). Either way, 'our time' is a fiction, a shared construction to which 'we' tacitly assent.

Indeed, in his essay 'In What Time Do We Live?', Jacques Rancière asserts that 'the state of things'—another way, perhaps, of referring to the shared structures of feeling that characterise the time that might be identified as ours—'is a fiction'. But he cautions: 'A fiction is not an imaginary tale. It is the construction of a set of relations between sense and sense, between things that are said to be perceptible and the sense that can be made of those things'. What, then, is the nature of those relations in our time? And how is the fiction of our time reflected and represented in literature, culture and, indeed, in language itself?

We might also ask what it means to be in our time? To be able to claim some sort of possession over, or identification with, a particular social or cultural period, one must, in some sense, inhabit that time knowingly. But this requires perspective, and perspective requires distance. Might it be said, then, that to speak of 'our time'—to be in our time—one must, in some sense, be out of (our) time? Agamben certainly thinks so: 'Those who are truly contemporary, who truly belong to their time, are those who neither perfectly coincide with it nor adjust themselves to its demands. But precisely because of this condition, precisely through this disconnection and this anachronism, they are more capable than others of perceiving and grasping their own time'.

Finally, what are we to make of this time, ours if for no reason other than it is the time of our lives? We may imaginatively force temporal disjunction and ask: what will our time have been? But, at least in some respects, we surely already know: our time is one of rapid technological and digital change, a time of consumption and gross inequality, a time of environmental precariousness and—recalling the origins of the phrase 'in our time'—it is a time of war. In this light, what is the relevance of contemporary (post-)literary and cultural practice?

The organisers welcome 250-word abstracts that address these and similar issues relating to the theme of 'In Our Time'. Abstracts, accompanied by a brief biographical note, should be sent to inourtime2015@um.edu.mt by 22 February 2015. Confirmation of accepted papers will be sent by the 28 February 2015. The organisers are planning to publish selected Symposium papers in the postgraduate journal Antae (www.antaejournal.com).