Time’s Tangles

Elizabeth Freeman admits that in this book she is committed to overcloseness, to an overreading practice as overdetermined as queerness itself.[ref] See Colin Davis, Critical Excess: Overreading in Derrida, Deleuze, Levinas, Žižek and Cavell (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010).[/ref] She explains that “’Queer’ cannot signal a purely deconstructive move or position of pure negativity” because that would “risk evacuating the messiest thing about being queer: the actual meeting with other bodies and with objects.”[ref] Elizabeth Freeman, Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010), xxi. All subsequent references cited parenthetically in the text.[/ref] However, I want to argue that there is another kind of deconstruction which is messily queer and just as committed to entanglements with other bodies and objects. My own reading practice will be equally tangled as I move between the bodies (of writing) of Freeman, Judith Butler and Karen Barad.

Quantum Hauntology

Barad’s work in quantum physics folds in fascinating ways onto Freeman’s which is arguably all about the physics of queer and temporal entanglements. As Barad describes her own book: “Meeting the Universe Halfway [is a] meditation on quantum physics; entanglements of matter and meaning; diffraction as synecdoche of entangled phenomena; intra-active meta/physics; difference; diffraction as methodology: reading texts intra-actively through one another, enacting new patterns of engagement, attending to how exclusions matter.”[ref] Karen Barad,”Quantum Entanglements and Hauntological Relations of Inheritance: Dis/Continuities, SpaceTime Enfoldings, and Justice-to-Come”, Derrida Today 3.2 (2010): 240-268, at 243. All subsequent references cited parenthetically in the text.[/ref] Queer is, Freeman argues “a differential [and I would add différantial] meeting of eros and time, body and timing” (44). Queerness is, for both Freeman and Barad, about messy quantum entanglements (Barad even calls this “quantum queerness” since it radically undoes identity). Barad’s project is to think with and through dis/continuity, to render time and space out of joint, to entangle the here and now, the then and there. This fugitive project of temporal and spatial disorientation is ghostly for both Barad and Freeman. Indeed, Barad goes so far as to name it a “quantum dis/continuity” (244). We might even claim that it is a quantum hauntology.

Quantum dis/continuity sounds a lot like Freeman’s wayward temporalities which loop, twist and elongate time. Queer time “appears haunted” (x) and it is “neither fully continuous with continuity or even fully continuous with discontinuity, and in any case, surely not one with itself” (Barad, 244). The time is decidedly out of joint and the time of (over)reading Time Binds is dis-joining and dis-orienting as we move through the various scenes in Freeman’s text.[ref] See also the responses by Davies and Cadwallader in this dossier.[/ref] There are “multiple entanglements, differences cutting through and re-splicing one another” (Barad, 245). We jump from one scene to another and yet “still have a sense of connectivity through the traces of variously entangled threads and of the (re) workings of mutual constitution and unending iterative reconfiguring” (245). What is transmitted in this “dis/jointed movement” (245) of chance encounters “is a felt [my emphasis] sense of différance, of intra-activity, of agential separability—differentiatings that cut together/apartthat is the hauntological nature of quantum entanglements” (Barad, 245). I emphasize felt because for Freeman these encounters describe a corporealized historiography which she variously terms erotohistoriography (xxiii), haptic history (123), epidermal temporality (134). This diastemic and arrhythmic “erotics of hauntology” (Freeman, 14) only becomes intelligible when bodies have chance collisions with other bodies (and objects).

Barad’s quantum queerness (247) requires a new sense of “a-count-ability, a new arithmetic, a new calculus of responsibility” (251). And Freeman reminds us it was Derrida’s Specters of Marx which contributed to queer theory “the idea that time can produce new social relations and new forms of justice that counter the chrononormative and chronobiopolitical” (10; but, in her view, Derrida “consistently displaces his radically porous ghost-host into a visual and occasionally aural economy (seeing and being seen, calling and responding) and Specters of Marx also insists that the ghost can only be, at best, a prosthethic body” (10). Her work is an attempt, like Barad’s, to open up other possible worlds and is committed to “bodily potentiality that neither capitalism nor heterosexuality can fully contain” (19). However, Barad’s sense of a new a-count-abilty accords a materiality to Derrida’s hauntology whereas Freeman sees it as relentessly dematerialized. Freeman’s queer “accent” (29) which emphasizes the “rhythmic” and “biorhythmic” aspects of the word, sees Derrida’s spectrality and justice in a different key to Barad.

Barad radically cuts up the coordinates of space, time and matter which become all one word: spacetimemattering; there are “co-existing multiplicities of entangled relations of past-present-future-here-there that constitute the wordly phenomena we too often mistake as things existing here-now” (264) but what if, Barad asks, “the ghosts we encountered in the flesh, as iterative materialisations, contingent and specific (agential) reconfigurings of spacetimematterings, spectral (re)workings without the presumption of erasure, the ‘past’ repeatedly [were] reconfigured not in the name of setting things right once and for all … but in the continual reopening and unsettling of what might yet be, of what was, and what comes to be”? (264) In this a/poretics the reconfigurings of spacetimematter occupy the ghostly temporality of the à venir, the to-come, “what was/ is/ to-come” (264). These entanglements are risky, as Freeman recognizes, insofar as they undo us and time. And our responsibility towards what/who was/is/to-come is to answer a call, to be responsive and responsible: “responsibility is by necessity an asymmetrical relation/doing, an enactment, a matter of différance, of intra-action, in which no one/ no thing is given in advance or remains the same. Only in this ongoing responsibilty to the entangled other … is there the possibility of justice to-come” (Barad, 264-5).

Freeman gestures towards just such an open reconfiguration and intra-action when she writes that “nonsequential forms of time can also fold subjects into structures of belonging and duration” (xi) as she stakes her claim “for a counterpolitics of encounter in which bodies … meet one another by chance, forging—in the sense of both making and counterfeiting—history differently” (xi). These “microtemporal reappropriations” (52), she asserts, “could, at least theoretically be used for a new physics, for the making of new life-worlds” (52). This new physics is one which works with quantum dis/continuities or Barad’s agential cuts which dis/join: “agential cuts/intra-actions— don’t produce (absolute) separation, they engage in agential separability—differentiating and entangling … Agential cuts radically rework relations of joining and disjoining… Entanglements are not a name for the interconnectedness of all being as one, but rather specific material relations of the ongoing differentiating of the world” (Barad, 265). So, for both Barad and Freeman, entanglements are sticky relations of ob-ligation, of being bound to the other.

Fugitive Pre-Occupations

Freeman also thinks about alternative temporalities in terms of being bound to others in a capitalist system which regulates bodies and tries to rein in queer excess. However, “that capitalism can always reappropriate this form of time is no reason to end with despair: the point is to identify ‘queerness’ as the site of all the chance element that capital inadvertently produces, as well as the site of capital’s potential recapture and incorporation of chance” (xvi). There is room for rebound effects, diffractions and dispersions. And this involves a resocializing and recatalyzation (148) which “refuses to abandon the terrain of basic bodily need” (xviii). As Barad encourages risking oneself in an ethics of enfolded obligation Freeman exhorts us to experiment “with our bodies and those of others, with affiliation, and with new practices of hoping, demanding, and otherwise making claims on the future” (xxi) . Ethicality necessitates entangled corporeal choreographies of difference/différance where neither the self nor time are coincident.

But, in the face of capitalism’s inexorable chrono-bio-normativities Freeman wonders “what is the time of queer performativity?” (62) What she “can’t offer” she warns, is a “projective logic that queer cultural productions so often derail: a neat translation of theory into policy, a program for better and more radical living” (xxiv) but she does hope for a “capacity to connect to a group of people beyond monogamous, enduring coupledom” (3) which is “crucial to revitalizing a queer politics and theory that until recently has focused more on space than on time” (3). The Occupy Movements have offered a way into the question of the “time” and the space (timespacemattering) of queer performativity. Catherine Keller shares Freeman’s sense that time “binds a socius” (3). In her “Occupy Wall Street: On a Theological Pre-Occupation” she queries: “to have faith in what— the people? Democracy? Political process? A better future? A just and sustainable planet?“[ref] Catherine Keller, “Occupy Wall Street: On a Theological Pre-Occupation”, The Theology Salon, October 24 2011, http://theologysalon.org/2011/10/24/occupy-wall-street-on-a-theological-pre-occupation/ [/ref]And continues on: “Hope again? Can this ground hold? Can this movement continue to grow? The very trope of occupation, of taking hold in space and time, of a movement that is not going away—all this tempts one to think that it might last”.

The two grounds for this hope, she thinks, are the counter-apocalypse’s rising and creaturely entanglement, the latter a term clearly silently borrowed from Barad’s work: “We are all, the 99.99% of us in this together, in this creation, this creaturely condition. We come as the quantum physicists now admit ‘nonlocally entangled’. In this ecological condition of quantum entanglement Keller wonders if this process “might release new flows of democratic force?” and responds that it “makes possible a new kind of politics, a symbiotic politics of con-viviality, life-together, amidst our impossibly diverse situations”. Both Keller and Freeman share a sense that the body’s “microtemporalities”, the energies which are collated so that the socius can sustain itself, “preserve fugitive and resistant delights” (Freeman, xii). We could just as easily, in light of Freeman’s own re-theorizations of the chronic and the ephemeral, read that as fugitive and persistent delights.

Persisting Together

Judith Butler has also emphasized persistence in the con-vivial alliance of bodies and “creaturely entanglements” that Occupy Wall Street has afforded. In her Washington Park address she, like Freeman, has emphasized the temporalities of drag, suspension, waiting, attendance: If hope is an impossible demand, then we demand the impossible” she said, but, she went on “of course, the list of our demands is long” and she continued to outline some of those impossible demands before closing with the powerful line, “But we are here, time and again, persisting, imagining the phrase, ‘we the people’” [my emphasis].[ref] A video of Butler’s speech on 23 October 2011 OWS can be found here: http://www.salon.com/2011/10/24/judith_butler_at_occupy_wall_street/ The full transcript is here: http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/765-if-hope-is-an-impossible-demand-then-we-demand-the-impossible-judith-butler-at-occupy-wall-street-video [/ref] Persistence, endurance, obduracy, refusing to go, to go home is held in tension here with the Derridean im/possible, im/passible, the indeterminacy of moving towards what is to-come. But, I want to jump back, “hop the time line” (Freeman, 113) as it were, to an earlier moment, a lecture by Butler in Venice in September 2011, “Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street”, which addressed that summer’s many “mass demonstrations on the street—often motivated by different political purposes.”[ref] Judith Butler, “Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street”, September 7 2011. The text can be found here: http://www.eipcp.net/transversal/1011/butler/en [/ref] In each case, “something similar happens: bodies congregate, move and speak together, lay claim to a certain public space”, and I would add, lay claim to a certain time. Butler comes close to Barad when she claims that the creaturely entanglements extend to the material environment itself—the pavement, the architecture, trucks and tanks are “actively re-configured and refunctioned”. Butler emphasizes the ways in which we are all, as bodies, supported in the world, and the time of the popular will (Freeman calls it “the politics of the gap” [79]) is opened up by acting in concert. As with Freeman, Butler tries to understand how acting together opens up both time and space “outside and against the temporality and established architecture” of the regime of chrononormativity and how this time of the interval might lay claim to “materiality, lean into its supports, draw from its supports, in order to rework their functions”. Again, the trace of this reconfiguration lies with intra/actions: bodies that act together rework what counts as public and what counts as the space, and again I would add the time, of politics.[ref] More recently see the dialogue between Butler and Athena Athanasiou in Dispossession: The Performative in the Political (Cambridge: Polity, 2013).[/ref]

In answer, perhaps, to Freeman’s earlier question about the “time” of the performative exercise Butler writes that it “happens only “between” bodies in a syncopated space that constitutes the gap between my own body and another’s. The body only ever acts in concert, never alone, when it acts politically. Occupying time and space is a form of persisting with others, of asserting a right to (corporeal) persistence, presenting an obdurate challenge to chronobionormativity which would seek to dispossess those very bodies and their capacities for perdurance.

Justin Timberlake, poster for In Time, http://wide-wallpapers.net/in-time-justin-timberlake-time-is-power-wide-wallpaper/, accessed 13 June 2014
Justin Timberlake, poster for In Time, http://wide-wallpapers.net/in-time-justin-timberlake-time-is-power-wide-wallpaper/, accessed 13 June 2014

In forming bodily alliances, quantum/creaturely entanglements, bodies and material environments (or supports) become inter-dependent in more durable and non-anthropocentric ways. However, as Freeman reminds us time and again, there are spatial and temporal restrictions on when and how bodies may appear. Occupying space and time means actively taking up space in ways which recognize and are responsive to our material embeddedness with others and the world. For Butler this requires fashioning spaces of appearance. Freeman supplements this by suggesting that the political no less requires an iterative re-opening to the time of appearance.

Queer Bio-Rhythms

Butler and Freeman can agree that it is in the “kinetic tempos and the prosodics of interactions between people” (Freeman, 29) that we can find “new ways of being”, “portals into futurity” (116) enmeshed in social relations which are temporal as well as spatial. “Queer pleasures are at once matters of the body, matters of timing, and tropes for encountering, witnessing and transforming history, with a capital H and otherwise” (58) and these “atomic collisions” (59) are, for Freeman, a “story of disjunctive, sticky entanglements and dissociations”(70). Another element in this story of “jamming” the inevitable (173) is the human microphone which reiterates every word of Butler’s Occupy address. As John Protevi points out “the way the human microphone works is quite literally to amplify the constitution of political space by assembled bodies” thereby producing an “intermodal resonance”[i]. These collective rhythms in turn produce an affective experience, a feeling of being together, an ecstasis as José Muñoz puts it in his book on the then and there of queer futurities.[ref] José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (New York: NYU Press, 2009).[/ref] These biorhythms are perverse in the Freudian sense because, as Freeman explains, Freud’s perverts transport genital sensations outside their proper zones and use other parts of the body (fingers, anuses, fists, nipples) as “substitutes for genital satisfaction” (161). In this case the bodies chanting in concert use body parts (chests, tongues, guts, throats, ear drums) as oral/digital stand ins for genital satisfaction. In this haptic enfolding of bodies, space and time are created for, as Protevi says, a politically suturing affect of “joyous collectivity”, a “becoming-collective-across-time” (Freeman, 11) which allows for hauntings by “bliss” (120), “undetonated energy” (xvi) to erupt. What gets shaped in these bodily alliances are “residues of positive affect” (120) and riskily experimental practices of “somatic critique and carnal hope” (162). And, finally, as my glomming and gumming together of Freeman-Butler-Barad in this re-accounting for “syntaxes of encounter” (169), tangencies and “tenses of sociability” (169), materiality and deconstruction, has, I hope, demonstrated, is that there is no getting away from ethics in this account of “rigorously responsible” (162) mattering. An eroto-hauntological ethics of entanglement is a material act imbued with somatic hope and the tangles of time oblige us to make sensual connections and commitments, to bind ourselves to others and the flesh of the world.


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