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What Time is It There?



What Time is It There?

Serge Gruzinski

ISBN: 978-0-745-64753-1 January 2011 Polity 200 Pages

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What Time is it There? is a history of worlds that encounter each other without ever meeting. The title comes from a film by Tsai Ming-liang which explores the desire to conquer the barriers of space and time by abolishing time differences and inventing substitutes for a coveted elsewhere. This preoccupation with other worlds and consciousness of the differences that separate them have become a persistent theme of our world today, shaped as it has been by the complex flows of people, images and ideas that we have come to associate with the term 'globalization'. But the dismantling of closed worlds that gradually opened cultures and peoples to one another is by no means new.

In this remarkable book, Serge Gruzinski takes us back to the early modern period and examines two testimonies that require us to navigate between America and the Islamic world long before the images of 9/11 had entered our heads. One is a chronicle of the New World compiled in Istanbul in 1580, the other is a Repertory of the Times written in Mexico in 1606, which dwells at length on the Empire of the Turks. Why and how did the Turks come to know so much about America, and what made readers in Mexico ask questions about the Ottomans?

Gruzinski conducts a dialogue between these two texts that emphasizes the singularities of the two visions, that of Islam and that of America, each already keeping a watchful eye on the other and yet irreducibly different, with this question always in the background: what did it mean to 'think the world' at the dawn of modern times?

Acknowledgements vi

Introduction 1

1 Istanbul/Mexico City: The Eye of the Sages 5

2 ‘What Time is it There?’ 19

3 The International of the Cosmographers 39

4 Antwerp, Daughter of Alexandria 55

5 Histories of the World and of the New World 73

6 The History of the World is Written in the Stars 91

7 Islam at the Heart of the Monarchy 111

8 Islam in the New World 129

9 Thinking the World 145

Conclusion What Time is it There? 158

Notes 161

Bibliography 196

Index 205

"This essay, written with the fluency and liveliness that one has come to expect from Gruzinski, juxtaposes, compares and contrasts two texts, one written in Istanbul and the other in Mexico, offering reflections on early modern history, geography and astrology and showing that the globalization of information has a longer history than is generally thought."
Peter Burke, University of Cambridge

"Gruzinski's provocative argument explores the linkages of Christian Europe, Islam and the Americas that created a Renaissance global vision, not only through political or economic ties and parallels ,but through the millenarian and apocalyptic hopes and fears of the time. Learned and innovative, this essay explores the process of globalization at the very origins of the modern world."
Stuart B. Schwartz, Yale University

"Serge Gruzinski offers a brilliant multi-sited comparative study for an alternative history of modernity and globalization. Goa, Istambul, and Mexico City displace Amsterdam, London, and Paris."
Jose Rabasa, Harvard University

  • A unique historical contribution to the origins of what we now think of as ‘globalization’.
  • Gruzinski shows us that the opening up of cultures to other worlds is not new and occurred at the dawn of the modern age.
  • The author takes us back to the late 16th and early 17th centuries and, by juxtaposing texts from Istanbul and Mexico, shows that people in the Ottoman empire and in the Americas were keeping a watchful eye on one another. Through a careful analysis of these texts he sheds fresh light on what it meant to ‘think the world’ at the end of the Renaissance.
  • This book is written in a very lively and accessible way and makes use of contemporary films like Tsai Ming-liang’s ‘What time is there?’
  • Gruzinski is one of the leading historians of the early modern period.