Comments, EdgeNotes, In Focus

City Time, or ‘spending time in the city’

Thinking more about the nature of urban time, following from my two previous columns, I realise there is an expression of simultaneity in the city’s plurality.


Steve Latham


There are so many time-lines, happening at the same ‘time’; no single mapping of meaning onto the diversity, but a polyphony of styles, senses, and sensations.

Each person, and each community, pursues their own purposes, moving side-by-side; on tube, bus, pavement – unaware of the destination each other are travelling towards.

This movement, of moments and masses, articulates the co-existence of an apparently pluriform past, present and future, within one space.

This simultaneity may appear within a given individual. For example, the Modern and Mediaeval cohere in my neighbor: a scientist researching AI, but also into Zen Buddhism and Kabbalah mysticism.

The presence of immigrants from the Global South in the western city seems to mirror this with shops for occult paraphernalia sitting next to stores for the latest mobile phones and hi-tech gadgetry.

Furthermore, a person may be more attuned to the time-zone of their ‘home country’: its elections, music, and cuisine – even while their ‘home’ is in London.

Following the connectivity of the internet, we engage within a single, global, virtual, city-space – whether international business people, online gamers, or chatters in chat-rooms looking to hook-up.

The logical end-game of this process is the ambition to upload ourselves into our computers. But we are necessarily bodied creatures.

Meaningful interactions cannot avoid ‘face-time’, but between actual faces; the meat sack is essential, (of our ‘essence’), the exchange of bodily fluids indispensable for the messy business of encounter.

Nevertheless, it’s possible to spend time in the city, without ever experiencing ‘city-time’ itself: viz those who always go away, to the country, at weekends; or who limit their interactions to those ‘like them’.

It’s possible to live in our own little enclave, a psychic equivalent of the gated community; adopted for security, but locking us in, as much as keeping others out.

While we may be adept at crossing the city, utilising its mass transit system, to access cultural facilities for the elite, we may not cross actual thresholds into other people’s lives, or especially their homes.

The city can, however, be a liminal space, a place of encounter, with the ‘other’ – if we allow it. Otherwise we remain trapped in our solipsistic monoverse.

This is the exact opposite of ‘city-time’. If apparent residues or relics of the past continue to exist, that suggests they aren’t actually ‘past’. Nor is the seemingly ‘futuristic’ really (of the) future.

Rather these re-present (present to us in the present), (simultaneous) con-temporalities, reminding us of alternative possibilities, potentialities.

Here we’re in the realm of ‘The Contemporary’ (an art-theory category I’ve written about before) – multiple, side-by-side, contemporaneities – people’s and cultures’ living manuscripts, texts, of meanings.

This overturns the prejudice of so-called ‘progressivism’, which assumes that their (western, North Atlantic) notion of ‘progress’ is superior to the ostensibly ‘primitive’. City-time is contemporary time, our time, everybody’s time, now.

(Photos: Pixabay)

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