Dead Time: Queer Temporalities and the Deportation Regime

Analyzing the sexual citation of chattel slavery in interracial S/M role play, Freeman reaches a hopeful conclusion from what might seem unpromising material, given the structural racism that has endured into the present as one legacy of colonial dispossession and enslavement. “[S]adomasochism offers up temporal means for reconfiguring the possible” Freeman holds and offers some potential modalities: “the ‘slow time’ that is at once modernity’s double and its undoing, the sensation that discombobulates normative temporal conditionings that serve the status quo, the deviant pause that adds a codicil of pleasure to a legacy of suffering.” (169) Such acts and affects queer the regulatory synchronizations of time and history: “unbinding time and/from history means recognizing how erotic relations and the bodily acts that sustain them gum up the works of the normative structures we call family and nation, gender, race, class, and sexual identity, by changing tempos, by mixing memory and desire, by recapturing excess.” (173) Freeman’s engagement with the eroticization of the dynamics of racialized domination and subjugation in S/M is fully cognizant of the dangers that such an analysis risks. One such risk is the investment of radical potential in temporal modes – the fragmentation of time, the affectively volatile time of waiting, the ambivalent suspended time of the pause – whose other side is their instrumental use within contemporary strategies of governmentality. Freeman is, of course, aware of this other side: it is implicated in the central ethical and political problem of S/M practice, explicit in the citation of slavery and the camp. The dark potentialities of volatile temporal modes cast a shadow, for me, over the tentative utopian possibilities that Freeman’s analysis of interracial S/M roleplay seeks to open out – specifically, the centrality of such temporal modalities as waiting, suspension and fragmentation in the administration of racism and the regulation of racialization within “the regime of biopower” (Berlant, 97) that describes the migration and asylum regimes of contemporary Fortress Europe. These regimes are more accurately articulated by the temporality of ‘slow death’ than by the intensified moment of the catastrophe – a catastrophe that happens within and as part of the logical operation of slow death. Ghassan Hage describes this as the process of “colonial rubbishing”: “Exterminating people by ‘rubbishing’ them is always less dramatic than when it is done through massacres. It is more like dumping a truck that one has destroyed somewhere on one’s property and letting it slowly rust, corrode and disintegrate.” (“Against Colonial Rubbishing”)

The queered temporal modalities that, in Time Binds, “gum up the works … of normative structures” have very different effects on differently positioned bodies, unevenly distributed effects that, as Jasbir Puar notes, demonstrate and embed the uneven distribution of the “multiple temporalities” of precarity across populations differentially marked, particularly by race and class. In a European context, racialization and migration are symbiotic operations: the term and category “migrant” is by now a racializing technology, and particular racialized populations are subsumed into the category “migrant” regardless of the duration of their presence. Duration as a mode of affiliation to the collective, particularly the collective form of the nation, however tenuous such a form is in juridical terms in contemporary Europe, measures the symbiotic workings of temporal, spatial and geneaological dimensions of engroupment and belonging. In the Irish context, the space of engroupment is not necessarily coincident with the territorial space of the nation-state nor with the island of Ireland itself, but rather extends to particular diasporic spaces where duration is gauged not in time lived on the “home ground” but as filiation, “blood relation” extending through generations, a form of duration that is grounds for citizenship even though those thus absorbed into the body of the nation may have never set foot on the territory of the Irish State. For the migrant in Ireland, however, duration – time served on the ground – is not necessarily calibrated to belonging, in any of its senses – legal, social, cultural. This asynchrony is correlated to the gradations of precarity: what part of the world the migrant has arrived from, how she or he has arrived, her or his race, ethnicity, residence, work status, the resources she or he has to hand upon arrival. [1] This draws, of course, on Sara Ahmed’s work on disorienting and reorienting arrivals in Queer Phenomenology. “Belonging” for the migrant racially marked as an “outsider” isn’t an accretive temporal calculus. Instead, this form of duration morphs, from the migrant’s standpoint, into another mode of passing time – waiting.

In Freeman’s analysis of Isaac Julien’s The Attendant, the texture of waiting is fundamentally hopeful. The violence that is one potentiality of the pause before the whip hits the flesh transforms into something else: an opening out to the possibilities of an unknowable futurity. Quoting Carla Freccero, Freeman suggests that passivity, in “The Attendant’s attendance”, “is a suspension, a waiting, an attending to the world’s arrivals (through, in part, its returns). (147) Freeman here argues that this mode of waiting as attendance has, in interracial S/M roleplay, the potential to supplement (rather than displace) the spectral, haunting history of racial violence with a queer-of-color erotohistoriography. It supplements pain with pleasure, and in thus fracturing the binds of history opens up to future potentialities that cannot be foreseen but must be attended and attended to. This texture of waiting is determined, in Freeman’s reading, by the pause, which she locates as the structural center of the libidinal and temporal dynamics of S/M. A focus on the pause necessarily asserts the priority of the masochistic position as the structural center of the S/M relational and temporal dynamic. So, in relation to The Attendant, “a large part of sadomasochism’s power lies less in pain itself than in the pause, which the film figures most insistently as the frozen moments of suspense between the crack of a moving whip and its contact with a body that will flinch.” (152-3) The attention here is to the prone anticipating body rather than the sovereign power that cracks the whip. In this, S/M (as Julien and Freeman conjugate its relations) potentially fractures the future as always already determined by the sovereign’s power of domination that is above the law. Instead, attention shifts to the subjugated body – the zone of exception, the ‘beast’ in Derrida’s terms consigned to the space of non-recognition outside the law – as the place of an unforeseeable ‘to come’ whose promise is held in that moment of the pause: “a suspended temporality, that is, a temporality of anticipation, poise, readiness”. (153) In this “switch” from a temporality determined by the “top” to a temporality opened up from the “bottom,” Freeman is specifically addressing the violence of race and racialization, particularly in relation to the US. The possibilities opened up in this fracturing of sovereign power seem to be, as Freeman articulates these, predominantly if tentatively hopeful. But of course there can be no guarantee that what is to come will answer to the hope that we invest in it. From the vantage point of conditions in the present – a present that Freeman’s analysis tends at this point to leave unattended – dread rather than hope might be the dominant affective texture of these multiple modes of waiting.

Attending to conditions in the present unfolds other valences of waiting, then, other less hopeful potentialities held in suspense in the pause. These more chronic experiences of waiting are likewise regulated by the administration of racism and racialization. Waiting is, as Hage puts it, “an affective mode of being”. (12) Against the passivity that it implies, waiting is a texturally, affectively motile temporal mode that fluctuates between the extremes of excitement and boredom, anticipation and apprehension, hope and dread. Such motility is nowhere so clearly apparent than in the racialized temporalities of belonging and exclusion. Maree Pardy describes the affective difference between “acute waiting” – “anxious, anticipatory and sometimes hopeful” – and ‘chronic waiting’”, whose “symptoms” are “flatness, resignation, defeat and hopelessness.” (200) For the asylum seeker in Ireland, suspended indefinitely in a state of deportability, the experience of acute waiting co-exists with, is folded into chronic waiting, and this mode of temporal suspension corrodes the person who waits: “where the longed-for object is constantly deferred or postponed, waiting itself begins to settle on the body, thus transforming (or making) that body-self”; the body wilts in the temporal condition of “prolonged suspension” (200), transforming “anticipatory, hopeful waiting to tedium.” (200) The present realities of the asylum process, where time is explicitly co-opted as an instrument of domination, involves deployments and experiences of waiting and the pause that assure the corrosion over time of the subjected person, a wearing down that is in part secured by “time management.”

The asylum seeker’s experience of this suspended, chronic time is part of the systemic logic that Hage calls “colonial rubbishing”, with the rubbishing of the person achieved through the process of gradual corrosion across time. The direct provisions system, first introduced in Ireland in 2000, is one Irish branch of this systemic rubbishing. The asylum system acts as pre-deportation vestibule, to use Michel Agier’s term. Here, the asylum seeker waits to be afforded some grudging, tenuous foothold in the zone of the human. It is a process that converts humans into human waste, and yet is simultaneously the space-time where the person being “processed” must wait in diminishing hope, for most, of admittance to humanity. Speaking to the convergences between “humanitarian operations” and “police operations” – between UNHCR refugee camps on the one hand, and “holding centres” for “managing the detention, selection and deportation of undesirable foreigners” on the other, Agier notes that this convergence is clear in the contradictions that are common to both forms of ‘vestibule’ and their administration: “contradictions of time – an emergency that lingers on”, and contradictions “of territoriality – in which ‘locked up outside’ equals ‘kept isolated inside.’” (43) Free time in this mode wilts into the stasis of dead time, time served waiting in the shadow of deportation. This dead time is itself volatile, subject to the temporal crises of dawn raids and deportation procedures. The motility of long periods of “deceleration” fractured by frantic “acceleration” (Griffiths, Rogers and Anderson, 19-21) is at the extremities of slow death, the corrosive wearing down over time of racially marked people and populations. In his review of Seaview, a 2009 documentary film that focuses on the lives of asylum seekers in Mosney, a former family holiday camp that was “re-purposed” as the largest direct provisions in the country, Gavan Titley describes this modality of waiting, and its cancellation of a hopeful future to come: “this waiting is haunted; what if deadened time is not the antechamber to a new life? Hope, as Ghassan Hage writes in Against Paranoid Nationalism is ‘… the future that one can detect in the unfolding of the present’ (2003:10). On direct provision, however, it can’t be assumed that the present unfolds.”

And yet, at this point I am given pause for thought. The bleak other side of queer temporal rifts and fractures that my response attempts to articulate does an injustice to Freeman’s project. It also risks an injustice to those this response would attempt to “speak for.” Does a critique of the temporality of life in direct provision as total paralysis within “dead time” risk a further diminishing of the person seeking asylum, a denial if only through elision of the lateral agencies that people exercise even in situations of extreme dehumanization? Freeman’s thoughtful and generous response to this dossier has caused me to reconsider. The images that accompany this piece are taken from Asylum Archive, a photographic archive of the direct provision and deportation regimes in Ireland. The artist Vukasin Nedeljkovic initiated this project, and remains its main curator. Listening to Nedeljkovic speak about this project at a panel we collaborated on recently, I was struck by his reflections on “slow activism” in relation to the political work of the artist, and on the ways in which communities of disenfranchisement disrupt, refuse and resist their suspension within the punitive temporalities of the state of deportability. In her response, Freeman notes, correctly, that even within the restrictions of “chronic time”, the force of the marginalized, the institutionalized, the incarcerated is not entirely contained by the regime that would annihilate that force. She asks a key question: “What is it, then, that asylum-seekers in Ireland already do to reappropriate or disrupt chronic temporality? How and by what means do prisoners to various so-called states of emergency ‘do time?’” Reflecting on his own time incarcerated within the direct provisions system, Nedeljkovic insists on the resistance that such acts of reappropriation and disruption constitute: I created a home with my fellow asylum seekers within the walls of direct provision. Together we resisted institutionalism, poverty, social exclusion …Direct provision centers are not only sites of incarceration. They are sites where different nationalities have existed and persisted, collectively sharing the same locality and resisting national policy.” Collectivity and community, however provisional, however fraught, are garnered from “unpredictable encounters,” to use Michael O’Rourke’s term, that cannot be appropriated by the operations of institutional time. Such moments, as Freeman says, are “not nothing.” Rather, such acts, encounters, and the collectivities garnered from them in defiance of “dead time” fracture the total annexation of life that the logic of “securitization” would compel. They are the very condition of possibility for a politics of hope.


Asylum Archive. The talking ball, found object in the Railway hostel grounds, displayed in glass box, 37 cm L x 37 cm W x 37 cm H, 2011.
Asylum Archive. The talking ball, found object in the Railway hostel grounds, displayed in glass box, 37 cm L x 37 cm W x 37 cm H, 2011.

For information on migrant-led campaigns to end direct provision and deportation in Ireland, see the websites for Anti Racism Network Ireland (ARN) and Anti Deportation Ireland (ADI):


Works Cited

Agier, Michel, ‘The Camps of the Twenty-First Century: Corridors, Security Vestibules, and Borders of Internal Exile’, Irish Journal of Anthropology, special issue: ‘Managing Migration: the Politics of Truth and Life Itself’, eds Mark Maguire and Fiona Murphy 12.3 (2009):

Asylum Archive

Berlant, Lauren Cruel Optimism (Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2011).

Freeman, Elizabeth. Time Binds: Queer Histories, Queer Temporalities. Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2010.

Griffiths, Melanie, Ali Rogers, and Bridget Anderson. ‘Migration, Time and Temporalities: Review and Prospect.’ Oxford: COMPAS Research Resource Papers. March 2013. Accessed 27.10.13.

Hage, Ghassan ed. Waiting. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2009.

—–, ‘Against Colonial Rubbishing’, Critical Legal Thinking, August 4 2013 Accessed 27.10.13

Nedeljkovic, Vukasin. ‘Asylum Archive: the (im)possibility of cultural diversity in Ireland.’ Conference paper. ‘Critical Ecologies’. ACIS (American Conference of Irish Studies). University College Dublin. 12 June 2014.

Puar, Jasbir. ‘Ecologies of Sex, Sensation and Slow Death’, Suicide: A Teach-In, Social Text Online, Periscope Dossier, November 22nd, 2010 Accessed 27.10.13.

Titley, Gavan, Review of Seaview, The Irish Journal of Anthropology 12.1 (2009)


1 This draws, of course, on Sara Ahmed’s work on disorienting and reorienting arrivals in Queer Phenomenology.

Anne Mulhall