The disjointed temporality of political life

I’ve long been drawn to accounts of the everyday lives of politicians. This isn’t so much a matter of biographical curiosity, as much as a preoccupation with temporality. It is not that the temporal character of our lives moulds us but rather that the things which do are always inflected through temporality.

I’m convinced you can learn a lot about why someone is the way that they are through understanding how time operates in their life. There’s a really rich description of the disjointed temporality encountered by senior American politicians in Joe Klein’s novel Primary Colours, a fictionalised account of Bill Clinton’s run for president in 1992. From pg 11:

Politicians work—they do their public work, that is—when civilians don’t: mealtimes, evenings, weekends. The rest of the time, down time, is spent indoors, in hotel suites, worrying the phones, dialing for dollars, fighting over the next moves, living outside time; there are no weekdays or weekends; there is sleep but not much rest. Sometimes, and always at the oddest hours, you may break free: an afternoon movie, a midnight dinner. And there are those other, fleeting moments when your mind drifts from him, from the podium, and you fix on the father and son tossing a ball out past the back of the crowd, out in the park, and you suddenly realize, Hey, it’s Saturday; or you glance out a hotel window and spot an elderly couple walking hand in hand, still alive in each other’s mind (as opposed to merely sharing space, waiting it out). The campaign—with all its talk of destiny, crisis and mission—falls away and you remember: Other people just have lives. Their normality can seem a reproach. It hurts your eyes, like walking out of a matinee into bright sunlight. Then it passes. He screws up a line, it’s Q& A time, it’s time to move.

What is it like to live like this? How would it shape you if large swathes of your life are lived in this way? How does it influence your sense of what is normal and what is not? It’s a fictionalised account, produced by a political journalist but imputing experiences on the basis of second hand experience, leaving it accuracy a rather ambiguous matter. But it such a rich description that it’s interesting to reflect on the significance of these experiences, if accurate.

Posted In:

2 Comments

  1. I would have to disagree with the premise that temporality does not mould us. Everything that we learn about the social world from the time we are born is based on temporality to some degree. Reference: Barbara Adam (1995) “Timewatch: A Social Analysis of Time” where she points out that by considering how temporalities mould us socially, we can bridge the micro and the macro; we can connect the ideas of Symbolic Interaction of Goffman & Mead with the structural aspects of Marx & Durkheim. It’s a theory that gets little attention in Sociology.

    Also reference: Helga Nowotny (1989) “Time: The Modern and Postmodern Experience” where she points out that apparatuses of power, especially in neoliberalism is based temporal considerations. She makes the clearest case (on the macro side) of how temporalities (how we experience time) moulds us, especially from a hegemony viewpoint. If politicians are anything, they are supporters of neoliberal apparatuses of power.

    From my background in Economics, I can say that “time” poses serious challenges in Economic analysis. Economists love their math to explain the social. The most common problem in economic modeling is that time can never be accounted for in the math. People have “tastes & preferences” that drive markets, but they never have “time.” Time cannot be modeled. This problem in economic modeling supports Notwotly’s idea that the temporal is given too little attention in perpetuating neoliberal hegemony.

    So when I put your quotes (and subequent questions) in the context of the Adam & Notwotny’s arguments, it makes perfect sense, and all of your questions are answered.

    1. That was a poor turn of phrase on my part. I agree with what you’re saying. I meant it more as a statement of how temporality moulds us; by shaping the conditions within which we choreograph our lives rather than being efficacious in and of itself. Though you have made me wonder if perhaps the latter is a straw man position and no one actually holds it. Have meant to read both books for ages, thanks!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.