Timing is Everything Symposium: Paper Abstracts
DAY ONE October 24, 2014
Since his death in 1993, the musician, writer, and composer Sun Ra has become a frequently referenced touchstone for cultural producers of various stripes, from American pop music phenomenon Janelle Monae to French interdisciplinary artist Lili Reynaud Dewar. Ra’s continuing appeal derives, in no small part, from his self-styling not as a mere earthbound jazz pianist, but as an intergalactic prophet hailing from Saturn by way of ancient Egypt. While commentators have made much of Ra’s brilliant troping on black alienation, particularly his embrace of outer space, equally important to his intellectual project was a radical rethinking of the logics of Western temporality. In this paper, I aim to explore Ra’s model of space-time and its implications for contemporary artists who identify with his utopian aspirations and who have subsequently taken up the challenge thrown down by his life and work, including Edgar Arceneaux, Rashid Johnson, Mai-Thu Perret, and Cauleen Smith. Ultimately, I argue, Ra’s thinking, as formed and deformed by such practitioners, points us toward new criteria for the evaluation of contemporary art that take seriously both the recursiveness and simultaneity of time as it unfolds within, beyond, and across the black world.
Mark Salber Phillips
“What Time Was History Painting? And What Time Is It Now?”
In common usage, historical distance refers to a position of detached observation made possible by the passage of time. I argue that distance needs to be reconceived in terms of the wider set of engagements that mediate our relations to the past, as well as the full spectrum of distance-positions from distance-near to distance-far. If temporality is conceived in relation to the range of mediations entailed in historical representation, historical distance is freed from its customary linearity. Rather, time is molded by other distances that come from our need to engage with the historical past as (simultaneously) a realm of making, feeling, doing, and understanding. Thus for every representation we need to consider at least four basic dimensions: form, affect, summoning, and intelligibility. My current work makes use of this framework to examine changing constructions of distance and temporality in history painting — one of the oldest traditions of Western art. Traditional history painting pursued elevation by invoking the time of the gods, but by the 19th century “history” became bound to the specificities of time and place, even as notions of historicity became ubiquitous. Modern efforts to revive history painting have struggled with the tension between these two understandings of history and time, and have sought to revitalize their art through self-conscious experimentation with the plasticities of distance.
“The Temporality of the Voice: Umm Kulthum and the Queer Reverberations of Egyptian Nationalism”
Umm Kulthum (1904-1975), the uncontested diva of the Arab world, refined during her long singing career “the voice of Egypt”, as she herself was called, and the modern Arabic song. Perhaps the clearest feature of her vocal prowess was her ability to hold a long phrase and extend it on end. She deployed such lung-bursting elongations, sometimes against the literal meanings of her lyrics, in ways that created an erotics of delay. Such instrumentalization of delay was animated by the singer’s low contralto voice, rumors of queer sexuality, and history of cross-dressing, as well as by a nationalist politics of delay, which celebrated belatedness, suspension, and slowness as key features of an anti-colonial “Egyptian time”. Examining Umm Kulthum’s performance of delay thus allows exploring how time was vocalized, gendered, and politicized in colonial and postcolonial Egypt.
Jade C. Huell
“Bodytime: Towards a Radical Corporeal Spacetime”
That our bodies hold senses of time, times which are embedded and culturally learned, is not a novel idea. Mikhail Bakhtin describes the chronotope as the process by which time “takes on flesh, becomes artistically visible; likewise space becomes charged and responsive to the movement of time, plot and history.” Noting the potential of chronotopes for performance theory, Judith Hamera reminds us that “chronotopes are corporeal as well as textual,” that they are enacted by people doing things. In this essay, I explore the radical potential in theorizing the “body as time” rather than the body in relation to time, utilizing and introducing bodily vocabulary as multidisciplinary praxis.
Bliss Cua Lim
“Temporality and Archival Fragility in Philippine Cinema”
Fragile material conditions and acute temporal pressures constrain scholarship on Philippine film and media, which must always contend with a fragmented, partial archive. Such research is characterized by the scarcity of films available for study and pervaded by ineluctable archival loss. Prior to the establishment of a National Film Archive of the Philippines in 2011, film restoration and preservation languished due to a dearth of funding, lack of state support, and the deterioration of media storage formats.
Drawing on Jacques Derrida, Akira Lippit defines the anarchive as the necessary complement to the archive, the inevitability of loss that shadows forms of historical survival. Accordingly, the talk explores the anarchival temporalities that emerge in response to the impending deterioration of surviving works, as well as efforts to combat the expectation of archival decay. While the archive may be broadly understood as the enabling condition of possibility for history writing, the notion of constraint gestures at issues of loss and access as limit-conditions for historical knowledge.
“A History of Time across Long Time”
“From the recent experiments and efforts of history, an increasingly clear idea has emerged—whether consciously or not, whether accepted or not—of the multiplicity of time, and of the exceptional value of the long time span.” So argued Fernard Braudel in his essay “The Situation of History in 1950,” the very title of which suggests the tension between the event – “ 1950” – and an understanding of history that resists the false illumination of the moment and can only be made visible through an analysis of mentalities across the “longue durée.”
Thus for Braudel, and the Annales school, the “multiplicity of time” requires a new kind of history. It is a history that requires multiple disciplinary perspectives – from anthropology and linguistics, philosophy and intellectual history, artistic and literary analysis—one of the characteristics that marked the turn to literary theory since the 1960s. These shifting perspectives help us to recognize patterns across deep time, what Braudel and others called “mentalités.” Braudel never fully elaborates the theoretical basis for these structures or “mentalites,” and the Annales historians tended to develop them from the texts that they analyze. As Marc Bloch argues, this mode of historical transmission is linked to writing:
“Still more strongly, between even widely scattered generations, the written word vastly facilitates those transfers of thought which supply the true continuity of a civilization. Take Luther, Calvin, Loyola, certainly men from another time – from the sixteenth century, in fact. The first duty of the historian who would understand and explain them will be to return them to their milieu, where they are immersed in the mental climate of their time and faced with problems of conscience rather different from our own. But who would dare to say that the understanding of the Protestant or the Catholic Reformation, several centuries removed, is not far more important for a proper grasp of the world today than a great many other movements of thought or feeling, which are certainly more recent, yet more ephemeral?” Marc Bloch, The Historian’s Craft
The process of historical interpretation is at once textual and locked into the time of their production. This is not a “simple” call for intertextual analysis, rather, this paper argues for a need to explore metaphorical patterning across deep time. Following Bloch’s suggestion, I will sketch textual patterns that underlie the shifting understanding of time in the wake of the Reformation. If the model of time incorporates a shift from one state to another, from point A to point B, time is understood, metaphorically, as a spatial change. This change can be either either structured or random, circular or open-ended. Two powerful models, each transformed by literary texts that both embody and transmit their respective interpretations of such changes, are Augustine’s reading of Genesis as a fall from Eden through sin, and a desired return to God, and the Lucretian understanding of creation as a random swerve in falling atoms. While these models appear to be spatial, in each case, a crux moment constitutes a change from “before” to “after,” a change that completely alters the nature of existence.
What is particularly useful and interesting about these two models is the contrast between an understanding that rests on human decision-making in relation to a higher authority and one that rests on unplanned encounters that prove either productive or destructive. These options dominate to a greater or lesser extent across the centuries, making it possible to examine the understanding of time in terms of the way metaphors attached to these models are deployed in texts. For the sake of this paper, I will examine one such metaphor, the idea of the fall or falling.
“Out of Joint: Shakespeare’s Untimely Ghosts”
DAY TWO October 25, 2014
“Alternative Ontologies – Challenging the Limits of Representation”
The body of work on the notions of time and temporality is constantly growing. Not only is time a central aspect of our existence, which has raised philosophical questions for centuries, it is also a socio-political instrument that orders our (every day) life and biographies. Critical scholarship and activism from post-colonial, gender and queer studies has critiqued the political dimensions of time as producing normative orders. Contemporary queer and postcolonial studies have investigated the ways in which biographies, their temporal courses and canonizations, are responsible for the appraising of some biographies, historical or cultural narratives over others. This scholarship seeks to produce alternatives to a developmental concept of time, alternatives that counter the temporal cycles of nation states and capitalist markets, which also find their articulation in arts and aesthetic strategies. And it coalesces in the desire to displace colonial concepts of non-coevalness and normative ideas about the body by which some groups are characterized as progressive and others as regressive. The paper will thus lay special emphasis on the notion of time as a political tool within artistic practices on the example of the photographer Leslie Hewitt as well as the HowDoYouSayYamInAfrica Collective. Whilst focusing on the concurrence of multiplicity and temporalities in aesthetic productions, these aesthetic claims not only challenge the limits of Representation they also set into motion the ontology of queer of color subjectivities. These ontologies are not formed within a linear or dialectical frameset, but have to be understood as an epistemic disobedient approach operating through and with the Opaque.
“Unlearning Our Lines: Number, Line, and the Politics of Synchronization”
In the contemporary global ecumene, time, line, and number intertwine so intimately as to render reckoning time without using numbers almost unfathomable. Yet the mutual intimacies of temporality, linearity and numeracy we experience as universal, natural, and eminently sensible are historically contingent and culturally specific rather than immediate or simply given. My paper historicizes and provincializes such familiar, numerically focalized timelines by reading the essays of classicist Dennis Feeney on Greek and Roman practices of synchronization in the absence of number against Tim Ingold’s work on lines and recent anthropological approaches to “number as an inventive frontier.” Departing from Ingold’s proposition that (contra the assertion that “alterity… is non-linear”), “colonialism… is not the imposition of linearity upon a non-linear world, but the imposition of one kind of line on a another,” I argue that rethinking our usual modes of bringing time into articulation with number is perhaps the single most crucial step in thinking our way out of the usual lines of our time(s).
“Temporalities of Seeing/Temporalities of Doing: The Monumental Stones at Chavin de Huantar”
Can the emerging post-textual present open up preliterate pasts? Faced with enigmatic monoliths from an ancient Peruvian temple, twentieth century researchers responded by flattening the stones’ massive materiality into forms more amenable to textual interpretation, such as the line drawing and the linear narrative — modern artifacts that reduced the fragmentary, multiple temporalities the stones impose on their viewers into something more comprehensible to a modern audience of literate Western consumers. But the twenty-first century is a different kind of present. Cosmopolitan global audiences are decentering European and Euro-American scholarly hegemonies, and viewers are moving from strict dependence on the linearity of the printed text into a sensory and cognitive world saturated with multiple, mobile visual/verbal forms that move and intersect in variable temporal directions. As our own temporalities of viewing change, we can engage anew with the ancient stones. Instead of suppressing their capacities to create open-ended, unpredictable encounters between human and non-human, we should make the capacities a subject of study. Non-Western, premodern temporalities of seeing and doing not only offer a richer understanding of ancient artifacts; they may also help decolonize our own ways of seeing and knowing the material world.
“Tactics and Poetics of Networked Time: Performance Constellations”
Performance art, performative protests, and studies of performance have traditionally centered on a politics of liveness and co-presence that privileges the shared here and now of the performance event. Besides the challenges posed to this position by scholars of embodied memory and utopia, contemporary technologies of network communication have provided artists and activists with tools that enable forms of multi-sited and asynchronous collaboration that I call “performance constellations.” In this presentation, I deconstruct the various timings tactically and poetically employed by activists confronting defunding and indebtedness. I focus on two protest performances by the Chilean student movement of 2011 in which body-based collective action was assembled with social media practices mobilizing contrasting notions of temporality aimed to de-link bodies from neoliberal management. The flashmob Thriller for Education and the three-month relay run 1800 Hours for Education are compelling examples of ways in which not only occupying public space but also reshaping embodied action in time offer opportunities to contest the logic of failed futurity at play within neoliberal investments.
James J. Hodge
One of the most important questions regarding digital media concerns their operation beyond the thresholds of human cognition and perception. Human experience, it seems, exists at once outside of both the micro-processural operation of code as well as the global or macro-scale dynamics of digital infrastructure. How then does infrastructure come to matter for human experience? This paper begins from Jacques Derrida’s theorization of différance as a spacing giving rise to temporalization. Given the extreme miniaturization of digital inscription, this talk argues that digital media phenomenally de-couples time and space, thus giving rise to a newly ascendant and pervasive regime of “lateral time,” or a domain of time operating alongside yet in large part beyond the purview of consciousness and perception.The paper continues to argue that long duration moving image works, especially Barbara Lattanzi’s Optical De-dramatization Engine, or ODE, running in 40-hour cycles online, represent a potent aesthetic catalyst for considering how digital time has become newly unhinged from previous technical modes of yoking together space and time such as cinema but still continues to affect contemporary life.