Institute of Para-Enactment Research
Softcore Historicism and Embodied Heritage


Queer temporality

On her book Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories, Elizabeth Freeman outlines the term “queer temporality” as the process of queering (questioning, troubeling) our normative relationships with time. She refers to an affectively-based relation to history that encounters the past in the present and registers this encounter through the sensations of the body,  or what she calls, doing Erotohistoriography.

Freeman´s contribution to the field of queer historiography brings the embodied and the affective as structural positions from which queer temporality operates. Sensuality and eroticism present an alternative to previous queer, psychoanalytic, and Marxist historicisms based in melancholia and trauma, proposing “a potent tool for representing alternative relations to history and time that exceed those consolidated by the dominant culture”.  As outlined in the work of Elizabeth Freeman, Lee Edelman and José Esteban Muñoz, queer temporality operates towards the past as an utopian place against a future dominated by heteronormative time based on reproduction and lineage.  The past is the terrain of potentiality and contingency, and the body is the machine in which such terrain is captured and experienced. The following text was written by Tyler Bradway for a review of Freeman´s Time Binds:

“Freeman’s primary example of an untimely, queer performativity lies in her in concept of “temporal drag”—the revivification of an anachronistic gendered habitus. Temporal drag extends Judith Butler’s account of performativity, but it also complicates Butler’s conflation of novelty with subversion. Freeman views the body’s surface as the “co-presence of several historically contingent events, social movements, and/or collective pleasures” (63). Rather than focusing on gender transitivity, then, she seeks a “temporal transitivity that does not leave feminism, femininity, or other so-called anachronisms behind” (63). To my mind, temporal drag captures a key pleasure of drag—namely, the experience of “lovingly, sadistically, even masochistically bring[ing] back dominant culture’s junk” and evincing a “fierce attachment to it” (68). Yet temporal drag expresses more than identification; it can unleash the “interesting threat that the genuine past-ness of the past… sometimes makes to the political present” (63). Freeman marshals temporal drag in her second chapter (“Deep Lez”) to refute the generational model of feminism’s progression in forward moving “waves.” She values, instead, the undertow, the pull backward of temporal drag, as a non-heteronormative form of archival transmission.”

︎︎︎Bradway, Tyler. “How to Do History with Pleasure.” Postmodern Culture 22, no. 1 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1353/pmc.2012.0001.

This is an extract of Freeman´s Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories”text:

“Homi Bhabha has elegantly described this unheimlich “place” of ante- riority, where in the postcolony time is always several and any historical moment correspondingly consists of many.5 But it is also a crucial one within which queer politics and theory must dismantle the chronopolitics of development. If in 1990 or so, “queer” named a pressure against the state’s naming apparatus, particularly against the normalizing taxonomies of male and female, heterosexual and homosexual, now it must include pressure against state and the market periodizing apparatuses.6 I say “queer” not to overwrite postcolonial theory with a singular focus on sexuality—indeed, there is an emerging body of powerful work on the intersection of these two domains. Rather, my version of queer insists, following Cesare Casarino, that “we need to understand and practice time as fully incorporated, as nowhere existing outside of bodies and their pleasures.. (…) Against the chronopolitics of development, and also extending post- colonial notions of temporal heterogeneity beyond queer melancholic his- toriography, this essay advances what I call erotohistoriography: a politics of unpredictable, deeply embodied pleasures that counters the logic of development. Particularly in light of the liberal transformation of a queer sex revolution into gay marriage reform and Marxist condemnations of queer theory’s focus on matters libidinal,10 I would like to take the risk of the inappropriate response to ask: how might queer practices of pleasure, specifically, the bodily enjoyments that travel under the sign of queer sex, be thought of as temporal practices, even as portals to historical thinking? ”

︎︎︎Freeman, Elizabeth. Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories. North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2011.

To conclude, Freeman’s definition of temporal drag extracted from her previous text “Packing History, Count(Er)Ing Generations”

“Let us call this "temporal drag," with all of the associations that the word "drag" has with retrogression, delay, and the pull of the past upon the present. This kind of drag, as opposed to the queenier kind celebrated in queer cultural studies, suggests the gravitational pull that "lesbian" sometimes seems to exert upon "queer." In many discussions of the relationship between the two, it often seems as if the lesbian feminist is cast as the big drag, drawing politics inexorably back to essentialized bodies, normative visions of women's sexuality, and single-issue identity politics. Yet for those of us for whom queer politics and theory involve not disavowing our relationship to particular (feminist) histories even as we move away from identity politics, thinking of "drag" as a temporal phenomenon also raises a crucial question: what is the time of queer performativity?

(…) Though "temporal drag" is always a constitutive part of subjectivity, exteriorized as a mode of embodiment it may also offer a way of connecting queer performativity to disavowed political histories. Might some bodies, in registering on their very surfaces the co-presence of several Historically-specific events, movements, and collective pleasures, complicate or displace the centrality of gender-transitive drag to queer performativity? Might they articulate instead a kind of temporal transitiv-ity that does not leave feminism, femininity, or other "anachronisms" behind? I ask this not to dismiss Butler's work—which has facilitated all kinds of promising Cultural Studies projects that depend upon the decoupling of identities and practices—but rather to use her to think specifically about the history of feminism, bringing out a temporal aspect that I think is often overlooked in descriptions of her important turn from performativity to what she calls the psychic life of power. As I will go on to argue, Butler does indeed provide a way of thinking about identity relationally across time, of "drag" as a productive obstacle to progress, a usefully distorting pull backwards, and a necessary pressure upon the present tense. But the form of drag I would like to extrapolate fr om her work moves beyond the parent-child relation that has struc-tured psychoanalysis, and might therefore usefully transform a "genera-tional" model of politics. For though some feminists have advocated abandoning the generational model because it relies on family as its dominant metaphor and identity as the commodity it passes on,' the concept of generations linked by political work or even by mass entertainment also acknowledges the ability of various culture industries to produce shared subjectivities that go beyond the family. "Genera-tion," a word for both biological and technological forms of replication, cannot be tossed out with the bathwater of reproductive thinking.”

︎︎︎Freeman, Elizabeth. “Packing History, Count(Er)Ing Generations.” New Literary History 31, no. 4 (2000): 727–44. doi:10.1353/NLH.2000.0046.

︎︎︎ Berlin, 2022

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