Heterotopian Multilingualism

The Westinghouse Time Capsule (1939)


  • Johannes Endres University of California, Riverside


The article investigates the multilingual features inherent in one of the most elaborate and erudite time capsule projects of the early 20th century, the so-called Westinghouse Time Capsule of Cupalloy, contrived for, and deposited at, the 1939 World Fair in New York. In its endeavor to pass on an authentic snapshot of the material and intellectual culture of its time to a distant future, the Westinghouse Time Capsule had to solve a number of technical and logistic problems. For instance, it had to come up with a paratextual apparatus to keep its message intelligible to those who will receive it in the year 6939, the capsule’s ambitious target date. Part of its paratextual apparatus is a Rosetta Stone-like ‘key to the English language’, which, together with other internal and external provisions thought up by the capsule’s creators, functions much like similar provisions at work in the canonization of classical texts. Central to the classicalness of certain texts and the longevity of the time capsule is an internal multilingualism, which operates underneath a seemingly monolingual surface in order to assure the readibility and timeless significance of the cultural legacy at stake.

Author Biography

Johannes Endres, University of California, Riverside

Endres (PhD, University of Trier 1995, Habilitation, University of Leipzig 2004) is Associate Professor for Nineteenth Century Art and Literature at the University of California at Riverside; Research areas: German and European literature and art of the ‘long’ nineteenth century; intersections of text, visual arts, music, intellectual history, natural sciences, and the history of science. Recent publications: Fetischismus: Grundlagentexte vom 18. Jahrhundert bis zur Gegenwart, Suhrkamp: Frankfurt/Main, 2017; Friedrich Schlegel Handbuch: Leben – Werk – Wirkung, J.B. Metzler: Stuttgart, 2017. His personal Website is here.