phases and periods

I’ve thought quite a bit about what is entailed in breaking up history into periods. Mostly, I am against periodization, or at least against periodization as a comfortable shearing off of one era from the next. Too often a temporal boundary is simply the enabling condition of scholarly attention, dividing what is to be discussed from what is to be ignored. There is a politics to every gesture of exclusion. We know that life is not lived in self-contained periods, but we imagine for the sake of professional convenience that literary history was. It is important to balance an assessment of change with an assessment of continuity. It is important not to mistake a professional convenience for knowledge about the past.

Increasingly, I am asking the word phase to do some of the work that period used to do. It’s a subtle but significant difference. Whereas periods are marks of temporal punctuation, phases come and go unpredictably. “It’s just a phase.” Phases blend into one another. I like the dynamism of phase when, in the course of analysis, I need to designate some tranche of time. Try it!

Further reading

Weiskott, Eric. “Futures Past: Prophecy, Periodization, and Reinhart Koselleck.” NLH 52 (2021): 169-88.

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