Response

I’d like to begin with Ben Davies’s concept of “slow reading” as a way of marking the deep pleasures, anxieties, and inspiration I felt reading these responses to Time Binds.   “Through reading slowly,” Davies writes, “we put ourselves at risk with the (textual) other.” Indeed, and I thank these scholars for taking such risks.   The same risk comes with being read slowly and carefully by such a rigorous set of interlocutors. Whatever the afterlife of Time Binds, it has been, it seems, at least momentarily good for them to think with, and for this I am grateful.   The challenge here is not to be too bound to my own text, to defending its unity and coherence—i.e., to treating it as a work. Rather, these essays allow me to see what the book binds with and how, and also what it refuses to bind with: its b(l)ind spots, if you will.

Davies reminds us that intertexts exemplify the kind of frisson between disparate moments and histories that I wanted to capture with my term “erotohistoriography.” And it is astonishing to see Time Binds become, itself, intertextual beyond the range of my own citations: with Susan Stryker’s powerful trans* manifesto, with Anne Enright’s novel The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch, with physics and the Occupy movement. It is the zones of contact, where texts, concepts, objects, people meet one another across temporal boundaries, that interest me above all. This is why, as Jessica Cadwallader is right to point out, the Frankensteinian body is at the center of Time Binds. For the monster’s stitched-together corpse parts make literal the somatic and affective entanglements that make time always heterogeneous.   And the connection of these bits of past flesh to the living monster and to Victor Frankenstein make literal the temporal heterogeneities that always inflect our every connection to another.

Cadwallader argues that the trans* body becomes coherent to the sex reassignment industry via the flattening out of personal history into one, true, originary and enduring desire, and a future purged of any regret. Indeed, this is how institutions produce identities: think of the coherent progress narratives required by would-be citizens, or the closeted gay adolescence mandatory to the coming-out story, or the requirement that romantic partners understand themselves as having been destined for one another. The idea that “I was always already that/I always wanted that, but I didn’t know it yet” is necessary to so many modes of recognition and belonging. But I find my keenest analytic pleasures in tracing back over the flattened parts of these narratives, finding the hidden bumps and seams and textures that distinguish specificities from one another, even when these textures unexpectedly hurt. This is a slow process, to be sure, but it is also a close process, an intimate and even sometimes unbearable one: for instance—and I learned this from Lauren Berlant who learned it from Michael Colacurcio who learned it from I don’t know whom—a historical allusion can take me back to a scene of terrible violence, or toward a scene of pleasurable excess or both.[ref] The single best assignment I ever received came from Lauren Berlant: “Find a historical allusion in Hawthorne, find the primary documents that detail what he is alluding to, find the distortions Hawthorne introduced, and make an argument about why he might have done so.” I was later to learn that this was Michael Colacurcio’s method in The Province of Piety.[/ref] Davies remarks that “[close reading] does not suggest sensuality, an encounter, or queerness,” but I am not so sure. The leisure, patience, and attentiveness of slow reading threaten to become mere contemplation without the delicious or terrifying threat of coming too close, in one’s reading, for comfort.

This interest in textural and temporal edges may be why I often feel paralyzed by radical negativity: lack, the Real, the void, the unrepresentable. Eve Watson’s essay offers an instance of potential blindess in Time Binds, asking if my focus on the finger “forgets the void” that structures desire. Reading this, I found myself thinking about the moment that I asked why Freud recasts a bodily sensation—a toothache—as tumescence or engorgement, why the “gaping hole” of the mouth is recast in terms of male genitals. “Where goes that interestingly aching hole,” I wanted to know, “symptom of a certain desire to be filled up by—let us risk—a vulgar referent?” (Time Binds, 13) But I think that by hole, I might not mean void. The Lacanian model strikes me as just true, logically, yet it leaves me cold: are our choices really succumbing to the fantasy of absolute presence and plenitude or identifying with the negative? Holes and gaps interest me because they have edges, however fantasized or projected, that perhaps you can feel, or that themselves throb, ache, demand. As material thresholds, they can engulf or entangle us in ways that a pristinely distant void might not, and this requires us to see our own boundaries as contingent and malleable. But I could be wrong, or a bad Lacanian.

The question of the void brings me to the other word that stopped me short in these essays, Maria Mulvany’s characterization of pleasure as a “supplement”: she speaks of “‘pleasure’ as a potential supplementary source of historical and narrative spectrality,” of “supplemental ways of engaging with the past,” and of “bliss as a supplementary mode of queer historical inquiry.” On the one hand, this might seem to suggest that pleasure is an add-on, an exteriority to pain that we can take or leave as we pursue the more properly political project of tracking loss and hurt—and I’ve wanted to insist that queers just don’t have the luxury of seeing pleasure as secondary. On the other, though, I think Mulvany means to echo Derrida’s sense of the supplement as productively dangerous, as the seemingly outside force that unsettles the priority of that which it purports only to enhance or prop up.   And the supplement is, itself, a force against chronormativity and developmental time: “The entire art of pedagogy,” writes Derrida in “That Dangerous Supplement,” “is a calculated patience, allowing the work of Nature time to come to fruition, respecting its rhythm and the order of its stages. The dangerous supplement destroys very quickly the forces that Nature has slowly constituted and accumulated.”[ref] Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Corrected edition (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 1998), 151.[/ref] Effusions of pleasure, then, do not take place within historical analysis or historiography, as interruptions or digressions from cumulative time. They upend our historicizing techniques and certainties, they demand that we ask, again, what historical consciousness is, what it means to do history, to be historical, to encounter the past and move in relation to it. Here I find myself turning to Frederic Jameson on the phenomenology of dialectical criticism: “There is a breathlessness about this shift from the normal object-oriented activity to such dialectical self-consciousness – something of the sickening shudder we feel in the elevator’s fall or in the sudden dip in an airliner. That recalls us to our bodies, much as this recalls us to our mental positions as thinkers and observers.” [ref]Marxism and Form (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1974), 308[/ref] Jameson means only to analogize sensing and thinking, but recall that we seek out these “sickening” shudders on rollercoasters, through cinematic special effects, through specialized sex techniques, and so on. Can these manufactured effusions, then, be not appendages to or analogies for critical thinking, but actual ways of apprehending our place in a larger structure, diachronically as well as synchronically?

Derrida also writes that “the supplement will always be the moving of the tongue or acting through the hands of others” (147). He is not speaking about sex, political activism, or friendship here, but he could be. For the problem with the supplement, its danger, is that it comes too close, is less a substitute for the original than a worm at the original’s very heart, burrowing through its seeming coherence and presence, moving the original’s body—tongue, hands—in ways that make that body other, too. Michael O’Rourke notes that Karen Barad calls this “intra-activity,” and Catherine Keller names it “creaturely entanglement.” O’Rourke goes on to connect it to the Occupy Wall Street movement, about which I’ve also written with Peter Coviello for another Periscope dossier.   Coviello and I were captivated by, among other things, the way that the Occupy movement demanded and produced for its participants a being occupied – being inhabited by other movements, by affinity groups, by projects—and a mode of residing in space that was temporally complex: what engaged us was “the intimate co-presence of ways of dwelling in public, and dwelling in protest, that do not sit in easily genealogical relation to one another—that do not seem to have as their object a singular set of problems, grievances, or for that matter longed-for interventions—but are not for that incoherent.”[ref] Peter Coviello and Elizabeth Freeman, “Never the Usual Terms: A Song for Occupations,” Social Text Periscope (28 March 2013), at http://socialtextjournal.org/periscope_article/never-the-usual-terms-a-song-for-21st-century-occupations/[/ref] In other words, Occupy was for us, and I think it is for both the scholars O’Rourke cites and for O’Rourke himself, a scene of noncoincidence where encounters and entanglements were unpredictable.

But what to do about the people who are still bound in and by time, often by literal chains?   Anne Mulhall reminds us, crucially, that nonsynchronous temporal modes, slow time, and pregnant pauses have “their instrumental use within contemporary strategies of governmentality.” Slow time is slow death for many, and Mulhall points to an affect that suffuses our own (and maybe every?) historical moment: dread. Speaking to the Irish context, she describes the asylum-seeker’s experience of never-ending waiting in inhumane conditions as marked by “chronic temporality.” My own work has also turned toward this form of time, via Gertrude Stein and disability studies, but never mind: Mulhall situates it in a phenomenon that is more clearly about now, the state of emergency and concomitant suspension of human rights that have become the condition of everyday existence for so many.

I would never posit S/M as a solution to this, of course. But I do see S/M as one particular working-out of the same kind of condition, in which black people, young black men in particular, have from the moment of their arrival in the Americas been treated by white people as an ongoing emergency: as the case of Trayvon Martin and so many others clarify, the very existence of a young black man is, in this country, justification for acts of extreme brutality that punctuate a constant and corrosive denial of opportunities, rights, and futures. This is slavery’s present form, and the sexual violence and coercion that organized slavery for both black men and black women is still with us too. So S/M between a white top and a black bottom can hyperbolize the condition of being an ongoing emergency, theatricalizing both the privation and the attacks that supposedly constitute a legitimate reaction to this ongoing emergency, and offering a fictional end to it. This may be temporary relief, but it is not nothing. In my recent work on chronic temporality, I’ve wondered if the pauses, dilations, and suspensions that mark this form of temporality, and that are, as Mulhall rightly points out, also tools of governmental and customary cruelty, can be seized—however momentarily—by means different than S/M. I’ve turned to another use of “the chronic,” the use of high-potency marijuana by both the chronically ill and by young black men. Among many other things, weed is a taking-back of slow time, and a use of it to open unpredictable encounters of the sort O’Rourke describes.

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?” Not being a social scientist, I can’t answer that with empirical evidence. I can say, though, that Occupy is one way to think about that: sitting and waiting en masse, refusing to budge or go home, turn the prison or the barracks inside-out. Perhaps those inside actual barracks and/or subject to legally-sanctioned illegalities have few ways to take back or reconfigure the time of waiting (though I imagine there are moments of temporary reappropriation: cigarette breaks, games, gossip, sex, naps?).   But those closer to the outside can mimic and clarify the chronic by ourselves becoming a chronic condition that the government, the 1%, and so on cannot ignore—an army of Bartlebies cannot lose. Putting our bodies on the line, as it used to be called, involves close encounters with others, with the gaps and holes that separate us and yet bind us, with effusions of pain and pleasure that may be a way in to understanding rather than blocking it, with hope and with disappointment and with no guarantees. And again, one aspect of Occupy that Coviello and I explored was that if power is now inconsistent and composite, made up of multiple modes once thought to be historically specific (the feudal, the patriarchal, the colonial, the bourgeois, etc.) and deployed in strategic assemblages without a coherent long-term plan, then it made sense for Occupy to reflect that image of power in its critiques, resistances, and reconfigurations.

So then, this incoherence, this time of historical assemblage, is the time of revolution as well as of oppression. The human microphone that O’Rourke so adroitly dissects via John Protevi’s work strikes me as a perfect figure for this idea. Acting and speaking “in concert,” in synchrony, however momentarily, are part of mass movement—whatever fear of totality or universalism these actions call forth, they are necessary, and they amplify the space of politics and turn belonging into a physical experience of sound waves and vibrations entering and exiting bodies. But the echolalic structure of the human microphone also splits the seemingly homogenous time of synchronic politics (and I should say, I’m also working on synchrony!). The human microphone stalls the quick time of comprehension by making people strain to hear what is said and repeat it. It allows for inflections and distortions: repetitions can rise and fall or be misheard and repeated inaccurately.   It brings the speaker’s words back to him or her from a later speaking situation, a future. The time of revolution, then, must encompass both a momentary homogeneity of action and an ongoing heterogeneity of reflection, recapitulation, and repetition with a difference. It is not, in the end, completely unlike the time of writing: I appreciate this opportunity to experience how Time Binds has reverberated, and to feel it come back to me in the form of better ideas.

 

Related Posts

Après-Coup in extremis: Futurism and A-Historicity in the Work of Freeman, Lacan and Woolf One of the many achievements of Beth Freeman’s Time Binds is its persistent interrogation of how temporality produces subjectivity, as opposed to the other way around. This preoccupation which is defined by Freeman as "queer temporality" is a queer project that is attentive to "the gaps and losses t...
No Kid Play   Of the many questions raised in the academy as well as the blogosphere, one stands out for its poignancy and compassion: are we as a society capable of loving queer kids? Artist David Wojnarowicz's 1990 image, Untitled (One Day This Kid...), takes on this difficult question by juxtaposing a g...
Bridging Feminist / Queer Theory and Practice   At this point in my career I find myself situated in two different worlds of the university: I teach for gender and sexuality studies (my course at the moment is called "Bodies Out of Bounds"), and I co-edit a journal on feminist pedagogy; at the same, I direct the campus women's center, a pl...
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. “adomasochism offers u...

Elizabeth Freeman