They Have Clocks, We Have Time: Introduction



Chronocartography Leopold Lambert
Chronocartography of the content of my book États d’urgence: Une histoire spatiale du continuum colonial français (States of Emergency: A Spatial History of the French Colonial Continuum, PMN, 2021). It attempts to bridge space-time that would ordinarily be assumed as distinct, as well as to show the stretchability and compressibility of what we designate as “time.” The red areas visualize phases of state of emergency or other legalized exacerbation of colonial violence in Algeria, Kanaky, Tahiti, the French banlieues, and in other so-called “oversea territories.”

Welcome to the 36th issue of The Funambulist. With it, we conclude our sixth year of publishing, thanks to the continuous support of our subscribers! Allow me to begin the introduction to this issue with a personal anecdote that is only slightly older than this magazine. In the spring of 2014, I recorded a few episodes of The Funambulist podcast in Vancouver. One of them was with legal scholar Renisa Mawani about the question of the archives. Being familiar with my work about the weaponization of architecture, she offered me some advice: “Your work is very interesting Léopold, but you think too much about space; you also need to think about time.” If I’m being honest, I had no idea what she meant. “Time is time,” I thought; “what is there to think about?” Renisa’s words have remained imprinted in my mind, and like every good advice, it prepared me for a transformative encounter. This encounter came two years later when Kandis Friesen introduced me to the work of Rasheedah Phillips and Black Quantum Futurism, which led to four contributions by her to the magazine. Consequently, my entire understanding of time in relation to eurocentrism, colonial rule, and temporal resistance is energized by what I have learned from her work these past five years. Her text “Dismantling the Master’s Clock/Map,” in our 18th issue (July-August 2018) remains one of my very favorite writings that we published — I know that many readers have been struck by it too. I am therefore particularly happy and honored that she accepted to be part of the magazine, both with a text and the cover artwork, in an issue fully dedicated to time.

The issue’s title, “They Have Clocks, We Have Time” is an expression that I have heard a few times in Kanaky (“Eux, ils ont des montres, nous, on a le temps”) that we wanted to honor here.

The issue’s title, “They Have Clocks, We Have Time” is an expression that I have heard a few times in Kanaky (“Eux, ils ont des montres, nous, on a le temps”) that we wanted to honor here. The idea that people living under colonial rule “have time” can seem counterintuitive at first glance. We can associate this to another idea: the perspective of colonialism as a temporal parenthesis, as Kanak President of New Caledonia’s Congress Roch Wamytan articulates. Both of these ideas related to time may seem presumptuous to bring forward for us, who are not experiencing colonial violence. Yet, there is something undoubtedly potent in refusing the temporal scale of colonialism as the alpha and omega of stolen land. In this regard, allow me a second anecdote. In 2018, a few anticolonial activists in Paris organized an event in solidarity with the Kanak independentist struggle. At the end of it, a friend and I were talking with a Kanak person who was in the audience. At some point in the conversation, my friend asked him how old he was. With a big smile, he answered: “I’m 3000 years old,” referencing the amount of time Indigenous people have been living in Kanaky. Thinking of time through indigenous nation time or even a geological time makes colonialism appear much less as the insurmountable horizon that it wants us all to believe it is. The cyclity of its clocks might comfort the colonial power, as Emily Jacir shows us in Ireland and Palestine, but its end is only… a matter of time.

The cliché that says that “history is written by the victors” does not constitute a politically productive vision of this notion of history. It conceptualizes history as a retrospective narrative that materializes when written in books or carved in the stone of statues. I learnt a lot from Meryem-Bahia Arfaoui (also a contributor to this issue) when we worked together, in particular that histories exist within people (understood as both a sum of individuals and as a collective), and that colonial violence does not write history as much as it annihilates histories. The Middle Passage that over 12 million abducted African peoples were forced to complete across the Atlantic Ocean by European powers between the 16th and 19th centuries is one of the most striking examples of this. In The Colonisation of Time (2012), Giordano Nanni (often cited by Rasheedah Phillips) reminds us that such journeys across the Ocean, from the settler colonization of the so-called “Americas” to the transatlantic slave trade, were only possible thanks to time instruments that would help position the latitude of the ships.

What we call “time” is thus inextricable from space. The notion of continuum, as conceptualized by physics, can help us make sense of this: by envisioning a four dimensional topological surface — something I personally represent in my mind as a sort of magma — we can distinguish continuum as the relationship between two space-time nodes that would ordinarily seem unrelated. This is a method I attempted to use in my most recent book States of Emergency: A Spatial History of the French Colonial Continuum (2021). This research used the colonial history of the French state of emergency in Algeria (1955-1962), Kanaky (1985), Tahiti (1987), and the French banlieues (2005, 2015-2021) as a constellation of space-time in which anticolonial uprisings were met with an exacerbation of colonial violence to trace some parts of the French colonial continuum. In the representation of this colonial continuum, time is both stretchable and compressible, and one day (such as October 17, 1961, during the Algerian Revolution) or one week (such as the last week of October 2005, during the banlieue uprising) can be seen as “lasting longer” than entire years. Through this method, we can also envision the infinity of temporal layers (past and future) that allows each space to co-exist simultaneously upon another. This is an exercise we made with Mogniss H. Abdallah and Hajer Ben Boubaker in the working-class neighborhoods of northeastern Paris in our 34th issue The Paris Commune and the World (March-April 2021). We excavated the political geology of these neighborhoods from the 1871 Paris Commune to the Algerian Revolution, to more recent anti-racist organizing… This is also what propose in this issue: Kevin Bernard Moultrie Daye with his concept of extraorthographics applied in San Francisco, and Miriam Hilawi Abraham and Nasra Abdullahi who look at a tectonic shifts and temporal scales in the Horn of Africa.

Fundamentally challenging both the uniformity and the linearity of time can significantly alter our understanding of reality and our political engagement within it. A notion such as that of “memory” for instance can be interpreted in a radically different way, perhaps if memory is perceived as a present experience rather than a past one, as we try to suggest with Michael Rothberg in a conversation that ties together the collective memory of the Holocaust with the collective memory of the 1960s decolonizing movement. In her text, Syma Tariq challenges the notion of event as “punctuality,” when it comes to the Partition of the Indian subcontinent. In addition to “memory” and “event,” a third temporal concept questioned in this issue is that of “waiting,” as we discuss with Shahram Khosravi: making people wait, between Kafka (The Trial) and Beckett (Waiting for Godot), as a means to assert power upon them, but also waiting as a revolutionary gesture. I hope that this issue will contribute to multiplying these questions around time and the eurocentric hegemony of its application. I wish you an inspiring read. ■