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Oceans of Longues Durées

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020


Anyone in literary studies who has looked recently at titles of books, conferences, research clusters, and even syllabi across the field cannot have missed two key words, borrowed from historical studies, that are doing substantial periodizing duty for literary and cultural criticism: one a chronological unit, the longue durée, and the other nominally a geographic unit, the Atlantic world. While it may not be obvious, each of these terms has spatial as well as temporal dimensions that reflect their shared origins with Ferdinand Braudel. Braudel first developed an application of the concept of the longue durée (pioneered by Marc Bloch) during the 1940s when, as a German prisoner of war, he wrote the initial draft of his book The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II; later, in 1958, he published his famous conceptual piece on the longue durée in Annales. Braudel posits that time moves at different speeds, defined as geographic, social, and individual, each corresponding to a different durée (literally, a duration of time). The longue durée (usually translated as “long perspective” or “long term”) is the slowest-moving, operating on the scale of centuries, in which historical changes are humanly imperceptible. Braudel's Mediterranean constructs a geography commensurate with his theory of time, the methodological and conceptual frameworks of his book-its geohistorical plan, its comparative approach, its macrohistorical, multidimensional perspective, shifting from the longue durée to the courte durée of political events, embodied in its tripartite division into structures, conjunctures, and events, each section proposing a different mode of periodization and time scale. Braudel's Mediterranean thus consists spatially of multiple seas unfolding temporally over the longue durée and as such simultaneously provides literary studies with a flexible tool for revisionist periodization and Atlantic studies, both historical and literary, with the powerful model of a region as a unit of geographic and chronological analysis.

Theories and Methodologies
Copyright © 2012 by The Modern Language Association of America

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