Conference Paper

What if this present were the world's last night? Simultaneity and Interval in the Temporal Museum

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The thing which joins us with, and separates us from, objects and the material world might appear to be space. But our relationship to the physical environment is nowhere near so simple. Our experiences and our interpretations of those experiences have about them a temporal quality. The raw physicality of the material world, when encountered by sentient minds, is not just a landscape, but a timescape: a describable, relativistic context generated by unique phenomenological encounters and the environment in which those encounters occur. Timescapes, spontaneous and fleeting as they are, will form the basis for this paper. The intention is to define and use the concept of the timescape and a particular method and theoretical background for interpreting it within the context of the museum space to explore the notions of interval and simultaneity raised in the call for papers. The analytical method employed has its roots in the tools of the creation, description and analysis of literature. Deployed within the museum environment, narratology, grammar, semantics and prosody can give an acute and nuanced reading of the particular temporal peculiarities of each gallery and exhibition space. Museums are particularly interesting sites at which to study the interval and simultaneity, for they are manipulated and manipulative spaces wherein the experiences of the visitor and the nature of the spatial and objectual arrangements are deliberately heightened and accentuated. Examples taken from the University Museums of Oxford will serve as illustrations. The first section of the paper will discuss two different concepts of simultaneity, inclusive and exclusive. To do so, it will use literary concepts of transtextuality, anachrony, icticity and vraisemblance, and the strange disjunction between language and its designated referent. Secondly, the paper will discuss the interval, and how it arises through rupture or lacunae, using that same linguistic/material dissonance, along with mimesis and vraisemblance, hypertextuality, auracity and framing, to analyse how breaks and gaps are made resonant in the museum environment. Discourse, the artifact and the body are all blurred, made complex, and estranged by this analysis. Both material and incorporeal, the combinatory analytical method reframes how the discourses of reality and of the museum space are understood. Temporal and spatial, imagined and tangible, the artifact is given protensity in many dimensions of understanding. Finally, singular and many, discrete and collective, sanctified and profane, the body and its mind, become an active and passive element in the generation of comprehensible space. Between them, in the interlude, joining and distancing them, is the timescape.

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