Prospections

Editorial
03/12/2021


No Linear Fucking Time

 

“Dates die fast,” Raphaël told me. “We don’t care much about their temporary logic. Dates can be like the lines of hopscotch—we can jump around between them. The thing they are useful for is this: discovering the hidden order. After that they vanish. The important date is the one coming.”

But order too wears away and goes. We’re never done with our outrageous ancestors, comic paladins, lost in the savannas where we forgot them. The present endlessly increases with their defused words. Your head is overloaded with them. You fall into the maelström.

—Édouard Glissant, Mahagony

 

The titular tree in Édouard Glissant’s novel Mahagony (1987) stands as a witness to centuries of anticolonial struggle and survival in the Martiniquan landscape. Offering shelter to maroons and becoming an arboreal record-keeper for collective memory, the ancient tree tells stories that move back and forth over hundreds of years. A basic chronological outline is offered at the start of the novel, and there are recurrent dates throughout the narrative which relate to the colonial history of Martinique, but as the character Raphaël observes in the passage above, dates “can be like the lines of hopscotch—we can jump around between them.” The story told here is ultimately one that can only be told through the undoing of chronological order; the mahogany tree is part of an ancestrally imbued landscape, where relations forged across long durations come to sense what Glissant describes as “the mutter of time that rumbled over the land.”[1]

This focus of Prospections similarly engages a multitude of temporal registers through shifting scales and rhythms. As an integral part of the exhibition and discursive project No Linear Fucking Time (2021–2022), the impetus is grounded on an apprehension that presently dominating constructions of time—as an abstracted linear flow that runs autonomously and ineffably—promote a worldview that is ultimately world-destructive, and is desperately in need of reexamination. Throughout this Prospections focus and the broader project, various temporal ontologies are woven together. These include understandings of extra-corporeal and non-normative durations, ancestral presents and pan-temporal solidarities, and practices of “reclaiming time” through embodiments of slowness and interruption.

One underlying commonality in the contributions published in this first current of the NLFT Prospections focus is an attunement to non-anthropocentric temporalities. Two commissioned creative essays focus on entities that are entwined in human existence while exceeding the temporal confines of present corporeal lifespans. In “Dearest Xen (Letters to Lichen),” artist and scientist Adriana Knouf looks to lichen—the composite symbionts of fungi and algae or cyanobacteria—as intimate partners in future collaboration. Through the lenses of “xenology” (Knouf’s term for the study, analysis, and development of the strange, alien, and other) and trans temporalities, she explores ways of learning from, and ecstatically participating in, cross-organismic intimacies and exchanges. Poet and writer Marianne Shaneen’s “Immortals: On the Ancient Future Lives of Stone and Plastic” compares stone and plastic, two very different substances which both exceed and intertwine with biological life. These elements are fascinating examples of material duration and symbiosis, one that has undergirded all Earthly life from the beginning, the other that is increasingly affecting planetary existence day by day. In an essay that blends epic lengths of time with dystopian presents and new materialist futures, stone and plastic substances come together as fellow travellers through alternate temporal ontologies.

In the essay “Reclaiming Time: On Blackness and Landscape” (first published in PN Review 257 in 2021), poet and writer Jason Allen-Paisant recounts that before he started writing poems about trees (his collection Thinking With Trees was published in 2021), he had been busy “writing poems about the police and white cops killing Black people and black anger and rage and that kind of stuff.” While acknowledging the ongoing necessity of writing in reaction to racial violence, Allen-Paisant describes his more recent work as an expression in “reclaiming time.” Thinking about colonial history and antiblackness in terms of severed ties with the landscape and “the robbery of time from Black life,” he describes how poetry can offer a practice of slowness and a deepening of time, through which new forms of connectedness—amongst and beyond humans—become possible.

Allen-Paisant’s poem “Right Now I’m Standing” (an excerpt from which appears within the “Reclaiming Time” essay), centers on the remains of a tree in a woodland clearing, where the trunk is split open and partly rotting away, but new green leaves and other forms of life are also emerging out of it. “The raspberries feed on its breath,” he observes, “and beetles thrive in the slurry middle / where the bole rots.”[2] This co-existence of a plurality of temporal scales and directions is something that can only be sensed through practices of stopping and slowly observing—practices which Allen-Paisant insists on throughout this poem. “Though people / look suspiciously,” he writes, “stand and listen           do not go anywhere.” “Right Now I’m Standing” ends with these lines:

 

We have been property

 

When I talk about reclaiming time

I’m just thinking about my body

standing in the middle of this woodland

              and

doing nothing             nothing

 

Living the Not-Yet,” a conversation with writer and activist Walidah Imarisha, (first published in Toward the Not Yet: Art as Public Practice (2021)[3]), also deals with forms of “reclaiming time,” by actively envisioning other possible worlds within this one. Drawing from her work as a prison abolitionist, and speaking specifically to movements and ideas led by Black struggle in the United States, Imarisha presses on the importance of being able to sense “this immense, pulsating, moving thread of liberation that wraps around itself and curls and flows.” Characterizing the construct of linear time as a “method of social control,” she calls for modes of “decolonized subversive time travel” which can take up the “liberation dreams of our ancestors” and “pull the future into the present.”[4]

Also originally published in Toward the Not-Yet, critical theorist and filmmaker Elizabeth A. Povinelli’s “In Some Places, the Not-Yet has Long Been Already” reflects on the notion that many, including Povinelli’s collaborators in Karrabing Film Collective, have been witnessing the “catastrophe of the present” for ages. While liberalism’s hopeful orientation toward the horizon is troubled by the coming catastrophes of climate collapse, Povinelli writes from an understanding that the horizon of futurity has not been so brightly lit with possibility and promise for everyone. The ancestral catastrophes of coloniality and enslavement operate in a very different temporal order. “Ancestral catastrophes are past and present,” Povinelli writes, “they keep arriving out of the ground that colonialism and racism tilled, rather than emerging over the horizon of liberal progress.”[5]

We are also pleased to be republishing “The Clearing: Melismatic Palimpsest” and “Dysfluent Waters,” two parts of artist and musician JJJJJerome Ellis’s multi-faceted project The Clearing—a book published by Wendy’s Subway and an album of the same name released by NNA Tapes in 2021. Critiquing exploitative, ableist temporalities of homogenized speed and efficiency, Ellis’s project is concerned with Blackness, music, and dysfluency—including stuttering and other forms of non-normative speech—as “forces that open time.”[6]

“How is fluency secured by dysfluency?” Ellis asks. “The two terms seem to suggest that fluency is the norm, and dysfluency deviates from the norm. But what if fluency were called dysdysfluency? How could we suggest that fluency is a narrowing of the fullness of dysfluency? What if dysfluency were called parafluency, a parallel flow, an alternate flow, a flow that ends up going in a different direction, to another country, only accessible via babbling brook?”[7]

While syllabic singing attaches each syllable with a single note, the melismatic song distends the syllable through multiple notes (as in the “Aa-aa’’ at the start of Amazing Grace). In thinking about the kinds of gathering that can be facilitated by the suspended and elongated syllable, Ellis turns to a live recording of Aretha Franklin singing Amazing Grace in 1972.[8] “She takes a hymn she knows most people in the church will know and makes clearings all through it,” Ellis writes. “She reminds us that a syllable is an opportunity for tarrying, for dilation, for divergence, for abundance. This is a rebuttal to “time is money:” Aretha and the congregation gather their wealth around them in the ample time she takes for the hymn. Hymn as a palace where everyone has a room.”[9]

Sam Keogh’s contribution Pig Eater features the script to a monologue which was first performed as part of the artist’s installation Sated Soldier, Sated Peasant, Sated Scribe (2021). Accompanying the text are details of collage elements from the installation, with drawings of flowers and worried cartoon clocks layered onto the image of a Microsoft Teams calendar with all the days cut out. De-functionalized as a system for standardized time-keeping and bureaucratic scheduling, the calendar—taken apart and riddled with holes—can be repurposed for other means; Keogh’s character in the monologue explains that he will use the cut-out days to construct a shelter to sleep under, and with the rest of the calendar he might make a trellis for the flowers.

The flowers, we learn, were all drawn during online work meetings on Microsoft Teams. “It looked like I was taking notes,” Keogh relates, “but I wasn’t. I was drawing pretty flowers on thin layout paper.” This reclaiming of time from inside a guise of worker obedience recalls cultural critic Michel de Certeau’s concept of “the wig,” from the French la perruque, where an employee is officially “at work,” but disguising their own work as work for their employer—de Certeau uses the example of a secretary writing a love letter while on “company time.”[10]

The floral motif throughout Keogh’s collages also relates to the artist’s interest in the famous medieval Flemish tapestries The Lady and The Unicorn (c. 1500, unknown artists) and their millefleur (“thousand flowers”) backgrounds, where many different kinds of plants and flowers are shown in simultaneous bloom. With seasonal fruits and flowers that would normally arrive at different times of the year shown all together, these backgrounds offer an image of anachronistic, temporally illogical abundance. Keogh fantasizes that after following the designs that were set for the foregrounds of the pictures, the tapestry weavers were able to improvise their millefleur fields, reimagining time beyond productive efficiency and disciplinary linearity, and encoding secret messages for the future:

. . . their detailing could slow the work of the weaver to their own pace, using the flowers’ beauty as an alibi for a less strenuous production process, and this might have been a kind of premodern sabotage, siphoning as much time and money and silk out of the aristocrats who commissioned the work in the first place, to make beautiful surfaces of impossible plenty, whose emancipatory message would fly over . . . no . . . under the heads of the rich and powerful and be legible only to the dispossessed of the future.[11]

Keogh’s messages for the future, like Knouf’s messages from the future, and the time-travelling, anachronistic, and ancestrally imbued propositions in all of the works gathered here, resonate with this original conceit of Glissant: by listening to a multitude of voices from multiple nows, a clearer picture of a more plurally determined and sustainable future may come to the surface.

Finally (for now), as an additional contribution and complement to the research in the overall project, we are publishing a bibliography of many of the research materials consulted by the project over the past one and a half years of planning. The document has been compiled by researcher Natasha Matteson, who assisted and consulted on the project in several stages. In order to make it more useful and actionable, keywords are added to the selections, as are relevant links where available. The constellation of research around the politics of time is ever-expanding, and we are always adapting our understandings of the fields and ideas it reaches toward. As such, we will continue adding to this resource over the course of the project, and beyond.

In March 2022 we will be launching the second current of the NLFT Prospections focus, with new contributions including an essay by artist Timur Si-Qin, who writes about how the temporalities of Christian apocalyptic ideologies divest people from empathic relations to the land and each other; and a text by artist and writer Joel Spring, who is researching material histories of Aboriginal shell middens and the violent imposition of linear-colonial time in the land now known as Australia. There will also be a conversation between Amelia Groom and the theorist of queer temporalities and “erotohistoriography” Elizabeth Freeman, and the republication of an interview with artists and activists Black Quantum Futurism (Rasheedah Phillips and Camae Ayewa), who draw from Afrofuturism, quantum physics, and “Afrodiasporic traditions of space and time that are not locked into a calendar’s date or a clock’s time.”[12]

We would like to express our deepest admiration and appreciation to all these contributors, for their efforts in fucking with this world’s oppressive regimes of temporal extraction, deprivation, and subjection—and for assembling here in these virtual pages.

— Rachael Rakes and Amelia Groom, November 2021

 

[1] Édouard Glissant, Mahagony, trans. Betsy Wing, (1987, repr., Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2021), p. 6.

[2] Jason Allen-Paisant, “Right Now I’m Standing,” Thinking With Trees (Manchester: Carcenet Press, 2021), pp. 38–39.

[3] Jeanne van Heeswijk, Maria Hlavajova, and Rachael Rakes, eds., Toward the Not-Yet: Art as Public Practice (Utrecht and Cambridge, MA: BAK, basis voor actuele kunst and The MIT Press, 2021).

[4] Walidah Imarisha, Rachael Rakes, and Jeanne van Heeswijk, “Living the Not-Yet.”

[5] Elizabeth A. Povinelli, “In Some Places, the Not-Yet has Long Been Already.”

[6] JJJJJerome Ellis, “The clearing: Music, dysfluency, Blackness and time,” The Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies 5, no. 2 (December, 2021), p. 216. This text will be republished on Prospections “No Linear Fucking Time” in March 2022.

[7] JJJJJerome Ellis, “The Clearing: Melismatic Palimpsest.”

[8] Aretha Franklin, “Amazing Grace (Live at New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, 1972),” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBKwV6oNYvw.

[9] Ellis, “The Clearing: Melismatic Palimpsest.”

[10] Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven F. Rendall (1984, repr. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1998), p. 25.

[11] Sam Keogh, Pig Eater.

[12] Black Quantum Futurism (Camae Ayewa and Rasheedah Phillips), Rachael Rakes, and Jeanne van Heeswijk “Practical Futurism and the Local Otherwise,” in van Heeswijk, Hlavajova, and Rakes, eds., Toward the Not-Yet, p. 81.

 

COLOPHON

Editors: Amelia Groom and Rachael Rakes

Managing Editor: Wietske Maas

Copyediting: Aidan Wall

Proofreading: Wietske Maas and Aidan Wall

Editorial Assistance: Natasha Matteson and Lou Rosenkranz

Translation (English to Dutch): Julia Alting

Graphic Design: LeftLoft and Sean van den Steenhoven for LeftLoft

Website Support: Babak Fakhamzadeh

Editorial Board: Maria Hlavajova, Wietske Maas, and Rachael Rakes

 

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