Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 14. Nr. Mai 2003


Empirical Categories

Herbert Arlt (Vienna)


"Time" is a central category in contemporary thinking.(1) And even if one speaks again and again about "pure science," then all the more does precisely this category seem suited to reflect on "purity" and empiricism in a changing world - and to be sure in that complexity of experiences, interests, viewpoints and ways of thinking as well as of construing, as represented by the results of the conference published in TRANS 14 (2)

In the framework of the conference "The Contemporary of the Uncontemporary" (Vienna, 6 to 8 December 2002) we were successful in bringing together completely different worlds of experience, which shared in common much more than just the time of the conference. The presenters differed in their linguistic, professional and cultural experiences. And there was no question of "purity." Of interest was the world in its multiplicity, the matters shared in common and the sense of community of the participants.

Concerning time, there are contributions of politicians, who above all connect it to contemporary (transnational) processes.(3) These contributions correspond to the reflections of authors, which have likewise been published in TRANS 14 (Sabine Scholl on Changing Portugal, Constantin Severin on the Adoption of "Post"-Thinking in Romania), of a theater intendant (Walter Weyers of the Landestheater Schwaben in Memmingen) on Theater and City, of a director for Robotronics from Buenos Aires (Jorge Bauer), of Germanists from South Africa, the Ukraine and Japan (Peter Horn, Larissa Cybenko und Naoji Kimura) on areas of contradiction and disagreement in contemporary processes of development. Suddenly Bachyt Spikbajeva, Dean of the Language University in Almaty, and Herbert Arlt examine the category of time. And whether mediated or unmediated - the central aspect remains that the category "time" cannot be resolved by humans and their experiences. Rather the reports of the sections (by Steven Totosy, Juri Mosidze, Iris Gruber, Penka Angelova, Gertrude Durusoy, Herbert Eisele, Alessandra Schininà, Olga Rösch and Gabriella Hima) show that precisely the investigations based on experiences are what have made this conference particularly valuable - on the basis of an understanding of time as an empirical category.

Naturally it is not just a question of "simple empiricism," of the arranging of individual phenomena of agricultural life (which shape contemporary language), astronomical observations (which, despite all their range of seeing, still remain very limited in their empiricism), mathematical constructions (which because of the impossibility of verifying them empirically still exert their fascination today), pension laws (in connection with which, for example, 45 years simply cannot be credited as 45 years, without under some circumstances violating the principle of social justice, because the cultural dimension of time is not taken into account), the time of memory (in which seconds become eternity) and machine time (an essential basis of contemporary empiricism). It is also a specific question of religious dimensions, philosophical categories, of ways of thinking, of metaphors, literary constructions, psychical processes and above all of cultural dimensions.

In the framework of the conference "The Contemporary of the Uncontemporary," the importance of reproduction and innovation were shown. Again and again people act as if art and science were purely innovative, yet individuals and groups usually devote the greatest part of human life to assimilating knowledge that already exists - and the same is also true of artists and scholars. This form of reproduction gains especially in importance, whenever different methods, disciplines and cultures collide, whenever it becomes a matter of the determination of (transnational) social dimensions. In this encounter, in this speaking, however, innovation is exactly also most possible and can be seen to have occurred precisely in these discourses. One can find this particularly in those contributions in TRANS 14, which have engaged the discourse of the project, which already have the perspective in view - the conference on the topic "The Unifying Aspects of Cultures".

Even the category "time" is therefore to be understood as an empirical category (Umberto Eco). It is (even in its natural scientific analysis and representation) not "pure," only conditionally binding in general and always connected with cultural processes. Precisely the dimensions of the category "time" make clear the importance of considering cultural processes from multiple, diverse perspectives.(4)

© Herbert Arlt (Vienna)

TRANSINST       Inhalt / Table of Contents / Contenu: No.14


(1) Stephen Hawking: Eine kurze Geschichte der Zeit (A Short History of Time). Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag: München 2001. (The fact that this is one of most purchased books in the world shows how much importance is attached to this theme. And the sales figures also show the kind of distribution that natural scientific speculations can find.)

(2) Umberto Eco: Kant und das Schnabeltier (Kant and the Duckbilled Platypus). Verlag Carl Hanser: München, Wien 2000. - A book about categories and the world.

(3) See the contributions of Walter Schwimmer, Giorgio Ruffolo, Erhard Busek, Karin Scheele, Eva Glawischnig in TRANS 14.

(4) Cf. for another central category of contemporary thinking the main focus of the theme "space" in the journal "Jura Soyfer. Internationale Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften" 4/2002.

For quotation purposes - Zitierempfehlung:
Herbert Arlt (Vienna): Herbert Arlt (Vienna): Empirical Categories. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 14/2002. WWW:

TRANS     Webmeister: Peter R. Horn     last change: 15.5.2003    INST