The Time that is Hashima (1)

To think of Hashima as a ruin is, perhaps, to locate it outside of the modernist progress of time embodied in the rise of Mitsubishi, the growth of Nagasaki Prefecture as an economic hub, the stocking of Japan’s imperial navy, and the fuelling of the country’s Meiji Restoration. Hashima seems to signify an oppositional moment to this tempus, as the quickening rhythms of production and reproduction stutter and finally unravel into a chaotic ensemble of materials and forces that exude a ‘stillness,’ or imperviousness to time passing. The proffered tourist encounter with Hashima, wherein a guide explains daily life on the island, and the careful carving of metric time here as well as space, becomes a matter of recalling, and marking, a trajectory that, now, will never be realised. We are called to witness a ‘lost hope’ for a modern Japan, wherein it succeeded in bringing forth a new, Pacific-centred, world order. Nagasaki Prefecture becomes the site of this other Japan’s birth and death.

Current efforts to ‘conserve’ Hashima as part of a broader landscape of production, and associated avant garde architectures, would seem to confirm this setting aside of an imperialist tempus. Such historical stratagems put the dead in their place. What is more, the allure of haikyo (manifest in visions of a deathtopia), would appear to build on Hashima as a prudent lesson for proponents of present rhetorics of progress, as Japan’s economic bubble continues to dissipate. To encounter Hashima as ruin is to become dis-located from, and to mourn for, the fragile tempus we are remembered, and anticipated, within. As Carl has intimated, this encounter itself becomes dis-located, dream-like; it exists, in part, as a form of collective remembering that requires prompts, autocues, and moments of slippage between the now and then.

Yet, does not an imperial temporality itself rely upon such dis-locations? A renewal of time, again and again? For David Harvey, creative destruction is (he rightly observes) a spatial ‘fix’ for extant and emerging falls in profitability. So too the ruin is a site of creative destruction, offering up times future. The ruin becomes here the symbol not of death and decline – the sublime ‘Fall of Empire’ — but of a contingent and adaptive tempus that enfolds stillness into irruptions, revolutions, gentrifications, and rapidly extending presents.

For me, this renewal of time is interesting not because it is predicated on, or resists, death. This anthropo-centric framing of temporality has been much discussed elsewhere. Rather, I’m interested in,

(1)    The spatio-temporal displacements that allow for a rhythmic production/reproduction to occur in sites such as Hashima;

(2)    How such temporalities are read through an extant natural history. (And here I would reference Walter Benjamin on the German baroque and petrified landscapes, as well as Achille Mbembe and Janet Roitman’s essay ‘Figures of the Subject in Times of Crisis.’);

(3)    How such temporalities rub up against, and are enfolded within, what we might call ‘earth times’ of subduction and weathering, fracturing and corrosion; temporalities of the past, present and future that are the concern of earth scientists (or, as Carina has termed them, earth detectives), but which are all too often subsumed or dismissed by historians. (Here, I would reference the work of Deleuze, of course, on the dynamic between a Chronos and the Aion, as well as de Landa on time. But also the speculative realists, who have so much to say about an inhuman cosmos, and the feminist material philosophers, who reach between the quantum and the flesh.) And;

(4)   How ruination itself both inhabits and exceeds its denotation as a modern, Western topoi.


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