Berber Bevernage. Contemporaneity, Politics of Time and the Crisis of Historicist Pastness


Berber Bevernage examines the concept of the historical present that manifests itself in connection with the crisis of historicist pastness.

The central question of this conference—to which time do we belong?—strongly resonates with a broader preoccupation with the theme of "the contemporary". Numerous artists and academics have recently reflected on the nature of the contemporary and contemporaneity and these notions have become the objects of major intellectual criticism, concern and confusion. "Our time" seems a time in relation to which many struggle to see what is new or particular about it and in what sense “we” all share it—thus raising the question whether it can be called “a time” and “ours”. Bevernage will argue that this concern about the contemporary is closely related to a more profound crisis of what he calls “historicist pastness”. First, he will discuss several sources and manifestations of this crisis of historicist pastness— including post-colonial criticism, the so-called memory boom, changing hermeneutical and aesthetic sensitivities etc. Secondly, Bevernage will argue that this crisis of historicist pastness has major implications for how we conceive of the contemporary because the latter notion critically depends on socio-cultural mechanisms though which a particular historical present is constructed by declaring other parts of reality to belong to "the past" or to be anachronistic or obsolete. Bevernage calls this process “preemptive historicization”. Finally, he will discuss how the crisis of historicist pastness creates important opportunities to analyze the politics of time and to critically rethink the enigmatic notion of the pastness of the past. Bevernage will propose to conceive of (historicist) pastness not in ontological terms but as a socio-cultural or political category which is actively produced in the (chronological) present and in its turn enables the construction of a (historical) present (“the contemporary”).



Berber Bevernage is an Associate Professor at Ghent University, Belgium, in the Department of History. His research focuses on the dissemination, attestation, and contestation of historical discourse and historical culture in post-conflict situations. Berber is (co-)founder of the interdisciplinary research forum "TAPAS/Thinking About the PASt" which focuses on popular, academic, and artistic dealings with the past in a large variety of different cultural and social areas. Together with colleagues he established the International Network for Theory of History (INTH) which aims to foster collaboration and the exchange of ideas among theorists of history around the world. He is the author of the book History, Memory, and State-Sponsored Violence: Time and Justice (Routledge, 2011), which was based on his doctoral thesis. He has published in journals such as History and Theory, Rethinking History, Memory Studies, Social History and History Workshop Journal.