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Time central to our experience of the world

Martin Midekke

Visiting Research Fellow looks at representations of time in Irish literature

After a year of centenary events to commemorate the 1916 Rising, it might come as a surprise to some to learn that until October of 1916, Irish time was exactly 25 minutes behind GMT time. This changed with the Time (Ireland) Act 1916, which brought Dublin Mean Time in line with Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

This was something Professor Martin Middeke (University of Augsburg) noted in his recent Fellow in Focus at the Trinity Long Room Hub as a Visiting Research Fellow, and his current project looking at the ‘Representations of Time in Irish Literature: 1800 to the Present.’

Speaking to Professor Chris Morash (School of English, TCD), who is a joint partner in this project, he told an interdisciplinary audience ‘time is everything’ and that the function of narrative is to ‘articulate the experience of time.’ 

‘The modern discourse of progress firmly rests on the assumption that time, after all, can be controlled by scientific measurements, by linear chronologies or by memory. In contrast to this, artists or arts however, have ever since focused on the non-linear, on the circular, on the paradox, think of Beckett for instance – the paradox looms large in Beckett, and on the contingent sides of the experience of time’, said Professor Middeke.

He said that developments which took hold in Western Europe and elsewhere in the 19th century overwhelmingly changed our relationship with time; however in Ireland, these developments came at a different pace, resulting in what he describes as ‘wrinkled time.’

The weight of the past and the reverence to the past is something omnipresent in Irish culture, Professor Middeke observed. ‘Irish culture, and Irish writing, from Yeats through Beckett to contemporary writers, has a distinctive divided temporality, self-consciously moving back and forth between (rural and historical), myth and mythology and (urban, capitalist and imperialist) time patterns of modernity.’

The representation of contemporary Ireland is also a concern for the Professor Middeke who says that ‘art in many ways works as a counter-discourse to the narrative of modernisation highlighting the dysfunctional or alienating sides of modernisation.’

The joint project, which will analyse the process of modernisation in Irish society, and show the sometimes diverging parallels of developments elsewhere in Western Europe and the United States, is closely aligned with Trinity’s Making Ireland research theme, which looks specifically at how a globalised Irish studies is conceptualised. ‘We can begin to ask how the temporal formations that shape a globalized Ireland relate to the cultural (and temporal) formation that preceded it’, Professor Middeke commented.

To listen to the full discussion click on the podcast below.

Professor Martin Middeke is Chair of English Literature in the University of Augsburg.


Contact: Aoife King, Communications Officer | Trinity Long Room Hub | aoife.king@tcd.ie | 01 896 3895