A child can learn to “tell time,” but telling time in American studies and cultural studies is anything but simple—not least because time is crucial to the act of telling, the work of narration. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “time” tautologically, as “a space or extent of time” and “a system of measuring or reckoning the passage of time.” It eventually suggests that “time” can signify a “period or duration,” but after a lengthy entry including “time out” and “time after time,” the concept of time remains unspecified. As these circular definitions indicate, time often seems self-evident—it either needs no explanation or has no explanation, perhaps because its meanings are so prolific and so various.

Scholars in American studies and cultural studies have sought to unpack some of these meanings, starting with the distinction between time understood as a natural phenomenon and time recognized as a social construction. If you …

This essay may be found on page 243 of the printed volume.

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