Queering Time and Final Thoughts

In the throes of graduation and during this awkward, liminal period—in personal growth, in academic and vocational career, in my life in general—I was struck by, What’s That Smell, the article from Halberstam. His exploration of prolonged adolescence as a subversion of heteronormative culture and its time is so beautifully illustrated through music and queer subcultures. The pressure Halberstam puts on the binary of youth and adulthood not only calls into question the conventional narrative of human life and reproduction but also questions gender binaries and power structures. Halberstam creates space for a more expansive understanding of temporality; space to consider unlimitedness within conceptions of identity, time, and their interconnectedness. 

During my sophomore year of college, I took a class called Women in Early Modern Drama. It focused heavily on Shakespeare and his contemporaries and viewing them with a feminist lens. I wrote my final paper around the idea of eternal girlhood, which I described as kind of extended youth for femmes. I thought of it as a rejection of the social prescriptions for women and womanhood and an indefinite period of living and lively girlhood— a queer state of existence with innocence, with riotousness, with restlessness and whimsy and anger and fiery love and community. 

Halberstam’s article brought me back to this idea and this period and made past current, already doing what it discusses—queering time. I thought it acted as a really useful nightcap to the semester; it brought together so much of the theory we discussed and exemplified ways time shapes identity. One of the primary things I took from this semester, in fact, is that expanding our comprehension of time is a way of expanding our conception of identity. In this class, I was forced to reckon with all of the ways in which individual concept of time is acutely local. From our exploration of how incarcerated people experience time differently, of how timely expectations vary across the globe and between cultures, how interaction with time changes for those with PTSD, how the 24-hour day or 12-month year arent’ innate organizations of time which have always existed, and so on. I realized truly how much of human temporality is diced up and divided by human constructions. 

I believe that the project of understanding time is becoming knowledgable about time—in its glittering kaleidoscope of complexities and loops—so that we may queer time, queer history, and disrupt oppressive, congested normativity. This confluence of deconstruction and expansiveness erodes white, Western, patriarchal, heteronormativity. It is a project that resists reductive understandings of temporality and identity and, to quote Halberstam, “disrupt[s] simple models of continuity and linear understandings of cultural influence.” 

What I fall forward with, from the knowledgable nest of our class, is a broadened interpretation of human temporality and identity. This intellectual asset harkens back to my sophomore literature class, and to almost every class of my college career—which so imminently comes to a close—that at the core of many fields is an interrelating thread of the drive to make sense of human existence. That is, indeed, what time is: trying to organize and make sense of our being. 

Johannes Brahms and Lost Things

A mere couple of days ago I was writing about the ways in which I feel I impede myself with my conceptions of time. I mentioned a book called No Boundary and a theory of an infinite present, and talked about how I build partitions into my mindset and then become frustrated when I run into them. 

Now I’m here to talk about Brahms.

Yesterday, I seized the lovely opportunity of the Philharmonic’s Free Fridays. Anyone 13-26 can sign up Monday at noon for a ticket, gratis, on a first-come-first-serve basis for their Friday performance. Last week a friend of mind who is an organist and can hum entire symphonies off the top of her head, informed me of the chance for tickets, and lo, we got them and went. While I am not quite as classically trained or educated in the works of great composers as my friend, I love a good orchestral performance. There’s something alive about it. 

SO. I am sitting in seat G21 of David Geffen Hall, and while I am told by my companion that it would actually sound better to be elsewhere in the hall, due to inconsistent acoustics from design flaws, I am transported. The swelling crescendos of the choir crashing into the tide of the cellos, the harps, the brass section, the soloists, the all of it. Music such as this makes an hour without intermission feel like five minutes and a thousand years. That was one way this made me reflect on time, this experience’s ability to bend it and fold it back. 

However, what I am truly struck by about live music—the kind that takes a village of completely in-sync musicians and a collaborative consciousness, the kind that doesn’t tell you but takes you—is its ability to free up old, tethered down memories like a good therapy session. While I wasn’t able to point out tiny technical nuances that are communicated better in person, I found myself overwhelmed by a resurgence of old memories I forgot that I’d forgotten. Somewhere around the middle of the second movement, I remembered the grain on the dresser in the spare room of the home I grew up in, the oxidized brass knobs, the way sunlight caught in the dust on top of it. I remembered the smell of Marlbolo Reds and Fresca on my uncle’s back porch in the summertime. I remembered my fourth grade classroom and a family trip to a tiny bed and breakfast in South Dakota. I remembered dead friends and caught frogs and wet dirt and the way my Easter dress looked when I spun. I remembered a red wagon, I was crying.

This all sounds very dramatic and maybe I was projecting nostalgia onto a moment of meditation that I don’t always find space to allow myself in the course of a week. However, I think it is a very human thing to remember, and I oftentimes find that I remember far more of my life than I give myself credit for. In fact, the ease with which the music elicited the memories…it didn’t feel like remembering at all; it just felt like having. 

And thus we are back to the idea of a limitless Now. How lucky I was to have caught a glimpse of the ever expanding phenomenon of consciousness. If Brahms isn’t your thing, try another form of music, or staring at some painting for a while, or lying down in the dark and listening to yourself breathe. I don’t know. Whatever strikes you. But I encourage taking an inventory of self that exceeds beyond a current understanding of yourself in the context of whatever it is you consider to be this current time. Allow yourself to wander to the obscure and buried, and find thrill in your ability to surprise yourself with a wealth of mentally stored minutia. It was moving and strange. Yesterday, I was not focused on the amount of light time let reach me, but rather how much I saw when I stopped fixating on that and let my pupils adjust. 

Time as a Boundary

The founder of quantum mechanics, Erwin Schroedinger, once said, “…Now, today, every day, [Mother Earth] is bringing you forth, not once but thousands of times…For eternally there is only now, one and the same now; the present is the only thing that has no end.”

I came across this quote most recently in a book called No Boundary, by Ken Wilbur. The book looks at many different philosophies and religions, from both Eastern and Western traditions, in his conversation advocating for unity consciousness. Wilbur describes unity consciousness as a framework of the mind free from self and societally imposed boundaries. I won’t go much more in depth about all of the particulars of this book. There’s too much in it to talk about. But the way the book approaches time is one that I have come back to again and again. 

Wilbur explains how our concept of time is often very linear—so much so that we often think of the past as being to the left of us and the future as being to the right. Time is that linear to us, that constrained, that real. Yet he persists that this linearity and structure we project onto time is just that—a projection. The boundaries we create between past and present and future are only there because we put them there. Flowers would still bloom and Earth would still turn if the words past and future had never existed. 

Still, we put so much weight on these words. I keep using an ambiguous “we”. I put so much weight on these words. I lose sleep over them and feel like I’m drowning under them. And why? Do the ways I try to name time give me power over it? 

Even my version of eternity—the anti-time—is the kind of time that contains all time. In No Boundary, Wilbur says “eternity is not an awareness of everlasting time, but an awareness that which is itself totally without time. Wilbur quotes another esteemed thinker Meister Eckhart: “Time is what keeps the light from reaching us.”

I’ve been thinking lately about the way I let time keep the light from reaching me. How do I self-impose names and ideas to create my own obstacles? Perhaps my reason for impeding myself is because I am afraid of how I’d see things if I freed myself from limitations. Sometimes I think I beat myself up with time and time lost just because it’s what I’m used to. How would the way I greet my rotations of the Earth change if I didn’t? I don’t know! But it is an idea I am journeying with, and I’ll have to keep you updated throughout my subsequent posts. In the interim, I hope I’ve offered you something to think over, or play around with and if you can get your hands on No Boundary (it is an old, weird book), I highly suggest it! Until our next meeting…