Tuesday, October 16, 2007

sometimes you fuck time, sometimes time fucks you

reading through a post on in the middle, specifically the part in the comments section of eileen joy's recent post on queer temporalities. regarding fucking time and time fucking you and how bodies and the touch all work into this. i'm going to keep this out of the discourse there, because having not yet read much dinshaw or sedgewick or schulz or any of the other players here, i feel like i might be missing something. but i also think that the debate there seems to be missing out on what i feel is a key line between the physical and the mental (metaphysical if you will, but i think i won't). dinshaw's short essay on touch refers to barthes' analysis of how a photograph works - all physically/mechanically. light through bouncing from objects through lenses to film, film developing into photo, finger to photo is a several-steps-away touch of the past. the revolution with the camera, assuming that there's no conscious photomanipulation, is that all of this is physical/mechanical. we can talk about this touch because there's no real mediation of the mental. now, this allows for some incredible directness when we talk about touching the past. but it also makes for a merely two-way touch - we touch the past, it touches us, along a continuum. sure, this messes up the linearity of time - time can go backwards, it can go forwards. dinshaw's touch makes this all very real. we can, in some senses, "fold" time (when i think of folding time, i am referring mostly to madeline l'engle's wonderful "a wrinkle in time" books). but there are two ways to think about such a fold. you can consider how two places along the line are brought together thanks to an ability to fold (like dinshaw), or you can consider what happens within that fold, where the time goes when it's pushed out of the two-dimensional line. this is what i was talking about below when i say that graphs give us a lovely metaphor for thinking about physical/mental space as well as linearity. consider a painting, instead of dinshaw/barthes' photograph. we have a lot of the same characteristics - light touches the objects, the paint is placed on the canvas, we can touch the paint. the key difference is the mind of the painter. the light enters the mind of the painter and... something happens that is fundamentally different from the photograph. this breaks up the beautiful physical simplicity of the touch that you get from the photograph, but also gives us another field to play in. the painter's mind gives us the ability to not just fold time, but to travel within the fold, and therefore in some senses outside of time.

so back to the "in the middle" post. in the comments, dan talks about "fucking time," and eileen worries that time can only fuck you. eileen's ideal university, though, seems to allow for both of these kinds of fucking to talk to each other. in the musée histoire, time fucks you, invariably and inevitably. in the musée fedora, though, you have imaginative space to deal with this fact, and this imaginative space i think allows for the possibility that you can imaginatively fuck time. this doesn't, of course, change the body's march towards death. but in the same way that, for example, language can invoke sense-based mental reactions that transcend what the "real" senses can experience, art can invoke body/time-based mental reactions that transcend the boundaries and strictures to which "real" bodies or time are held.

this is one of the reasons that i get all excited about dali's paranoid-critical method, in perhaps a much broader way than he intended it to function. the idea is, you learn to "see" objects with your physical body, but train your mind to distrust your senses so that that the physical object becomes merely a ground for a willed hallucinatory experience. the difference between yourself and a mad(person) at that point is... you're not mad. i think that we have to react the same way to these questions of history and time, especially as regards a history so far away from ours that we cannot even know whether we should or should not think of it as ultimately "other."

i take eileen's point about the absolute fact that time fucks you, but i also think that a major function of art, narrative, and even many kinds of semi-speculative history is that it allows you to suspend your disbelief for long enough to fuck time as though in a dream. yes, you'll wake up. but if you're changed (here's where the fine line between mental and physical becomes very strange, on the chemical level), have you not somehow brought a trace of that ability into our own temporality? there's a kind of subversion there that i think is very productive, but we're often too cynical, i think, to take it seriously.

this is also why i don't just want there to be a bridge between the eileen's musée fedora and musée histoire. i understand the need for conceptual divisions between art and history, and between artists and historians... but those divisions need to be kept fuzzy, and i think venn diagrammed together (where does the vesica pisces come into queer/historical/theological studies?) my goal is really to live in that in-between space. i.e., (perhaps in a somewhat different way, but i'm not sure) in the middle.


dan remein said...

This breaks up the beautiful physical simplicity of the touch that you get from the photograph, but also gives us another field to play in. the painter's mind gives us the ability to not just fold time, but to travel within the fold, and therefore in some senses outside of time.

You will need to clarify here. How do we think this without a)brazen pyschologizing, b)a generally problematic model of "genius" and subjectivities that takes us away from what i think is at stake in Dinshaw--Bodies and PLeasures being disciplined, and their ability to fuck that disciplinging-into-the-norm procedure, c) a stilling of time or escape from time which is religious (in both the M. L'engle sense and the sense in which the new Critics are all a lot of Gnostics)?

Just poking, like I do. I really like the stuff about Eileen's bridge. see, I agree (and this is why I think it is marginalia and juvenalia for her), the problem is that the builings need to just be smashed into the same space. That middle. At the same time--it is a practical image for the unveristy--the dual role of creative and critical that the secular critic ocupies a la Vico. So I like the stuff at the end of this lovely post, but need the stuff in the middle, to all of our dismay, ironically, clarified.

Eileen Joy said...

A Musee Fedora/Musee Histoire/Lycee "smash-up"! Dan, you're brilliant, and let's go for it.

Sarah: sorry for taking a while to travel over here and say something in response to your provocative thoughts here [this time of the semester is just, um, impossible!]. If you can believe this, when I was at the University of Cambridge in 2004 working on various things, and I was kind of losing my mind from so many days in the Library, I got out my notebook and made a sketch for "ten models of time for a future Beowulf-studies" [I may have posted on this at In The Middle last summer but can't quite recall] and one of the ten models was L'Engle's "wrinkle in time," or folded time, with Grendel as the "fold" or "the shortest distance between two points which is *not* a straight line" which knits together the modern time of terrorism and the Anglo-Saxon time of the poem. It was all rather murky and ended up in a drawer somewhere in my study, but it occasioned my re-reading of L'Engle's book and I couldn't believe how good and wonderfully strange it still is. In any case . . . .

I like very much the way you transpose my thoughts on time-fucking-you and you-fucking-time to the Musee Fedora and the Musee Histoire: what you say makes some sense, although I'm also liking Dan's thoughts on a smash-up, although at the same time I think we will likely need [at the level of the university, anyway] to always carve out some space for historians to work at what they might want to believe is a kind of "documentary" practice of history and then we will also need to carve out a special place for artists who don't even want to pay attention to history at all [if that's possible: it might be], and the students of such a place could go about making spaces-within-spaces, which might be something like your "folds" or "venn" area--I mean, yeah, my original drawing is just too strict in terms of its divisions. And yes, I do believe that art can sometimes accomplish a transcendence of the limits by which the body itself is sometimes oppressed, especially if it lasts a thousand years or so! But let's face it, eventually, everything kind of decays, one way or another: even this "little world, made cunningly" [both our individual selves but also the earth] will one day cease to exist: the end-point of history *will* be complete oblivion, whether we like it or not, which is why I really like historicist studies that are focued on the present and in *affective* ways: I want to *feel* something now, because later . . . well, later is for someone else. So I guess I also agree with you about subversive [and I'm hoping this is also the pleasurable part] ways of reading history that might really be dreams, from which we can choose to wake: history must, on some level, be *for* us in the here and now. But we must not forget, either, about all those who *also* at one point had a palpably material stake in history and maybe lost their chances: part of our job, I think, is in delineating those *alien* desires and connecting with them. And this is a type, or practice, of love.