Temporal Dislocations

I have spent most of the past fifteen years of my life thinking about the creation of space in Shenzhen. However, the trip to Switzerland provoked me into thinking about time – the other half of that ever useful phrase “chronotope”.

Before I left for Switzerland, I sat in front of my computer and imagined what might connect Switzerland and Shenzhen and came up with rather banal pseudo-statistics like: (1) Switzerland has a population of 7 million, and Shenzhen has a guestimated population of 14 million, that means we can stuff two Switzerlands into one Shenzhen; (2) Switzerland is as large as the Pearl River Delta Economic Zone, which means (a) those 7 million people have a lot more room than we do in Shenzhen and (b) there are about 70 million living in the PRD, so we could stuff 10 Switzerlands into the Delta; (3) there are lots of fake Rolexes for sale in Shenzhen, possibly even more than there are real Rolexes for sale in Switzerland.

“Temporal Dislocations”, a two panel image-poem was the temporal unfolding of my thinking, travel, and reflection on Switzerland and Shenzhen. First, I made the panels: Swiss Times, which used maps of Switzerland and Rolex watches to map Shenzhen and note key historical moments in the creation of the SEZ’s chronology and Shenzhen Speed, which departed from Marx’s insight that in capitalist societies “all that is solid melts into air” in order to express the experience of capital accumulation in Shenzhen. Next, in Switzerland, writers and other food-scape participants, wrote various comments about time in general and/or our times together on the scrolls. Finally, back in Shenzhen, I made frames out of snapshots from the trip and the events that led up to the Swiss visit. So chronologically, one frame begins where the other ends.

However, as I have marinated in the idea of time, I have realized that there are at least three ways that the social production, use, and valuation of time in Switzerland and Shenzhen might be interestingly compared. So, a bit of anthropological musing, which might be understood as theorization without a literature review (and any real in depth fieldwork in Switzerland):

(1) Time as an expression of personal character. I’ve already speculated on the whole “以人为本” sense of time. Here, I’ll just mention another example of the personalized vs externalized experience of time in the public expression of “ability” versus something like “respect” (yes, I need a better word, please suggest). In Shenzhen, there is constant talk about “firsts” – the first person to do something, the first person to earn something, the first person to achieve something… that first sets the parameters for everything that follows. This means what is important is pride of place, rather than the actual means needed to grab it. However, In Switzerland, I had the impression that respect for the externalization of time through amazingly efficient clocks seemed to make punctuality function within discourses about respect and equality, so that vying for first place, especially elbowing one’s place to the front of the line, would definately come off as nouveau riche. So in Shenzhen, being first means one has “ability”, where it seemed that in Switzerland, being punctual meant one was “respectful of others”.

(2) Time as a way of making a living. The time as a way of making a living envolves different relations to the measurement of time. In Switzerland, people make watches, so they are actually involved in the mechanicalization of time. Click. Click. Click. Whereas in Shenzhen, the city has flourished because of high-speed mass production, which is in fact our competative advantage. The factories and assembly lines, the construction sites, all run 24-7, unless there’s some kind of electrical rationing going on or a recession in the United States.

(3) How history is materialized. In Switzerland, much social value was created by saving wonderful examples from the past. They invested much in preservation so that what came out of history were unique buildings and objects that could not be replaced. In contrast, Shenzhen focuses on being in front of developments, what is actually pursued is the future, which appears as blueprints and models. Once built, there is a sense in which the value is less than the next, great project.

(4) What needs to be theorized is the way in which it all connects through international finance. “Interest” is, of course, a product of rules about making money simply because life unfolds. (And once upon a Catholic time, wasn’t usury a sin?) All those Swiss banks. I don’t know how they’re connected to Shenzhen. I do know Switzerland was the first country to sign a bi-lateral trade agreement with the PRC (Feb this year). I suspect there’s lots of Chinese money in Swiss bank accounts. I know that many Chinese students attend Swiss schools, especially those that grant degrees in hospitality.

(5 – just because numbers make it all seem logical) What’s also interesting to me is that different kinds of city’s grow out of these different value systems. So, Switzerland has cities that are dedicated to the production of watches, and cities that are beautifully preserved tributes to past worlds – Romainmotier and St. Gall, for example. Likewise, the different areas in Shenzhen are defined by manufacturing and the next area to be developed – Gangxia and huge tracts of Houhai, for example.

Anyway, Temporal Dislocations may be viewed here.

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