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Time and the African-American Experience: The Problem of Chronocentrism

Author(s): Ulfried Reichardt


Source: Amerikastudien / American Studies, Vol. 45, No. 4, Time and the African-American
Experience (2000), pp. 465-484
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Timeand theAfrican-
AmericanExperience:
The Problemof Chronocentrism1

Ulfried Reichardt

explainsRalph Ellison's invisibleman,"givesone a slightlydifferent


"Invisibility,"
sense of time,you'reneverquite on thebeat. Sometimesyou'reahead and sometimes
behind."2Timeis a dimensionthatstructures all facetsof humanexistence.Since both
the notionand the experienceof timeare sociallyconstructed and,hence,historically
and culturally variable,timeconstitutes a privilegedfocusforanalyzingprocessesof
dominationand emancipation, of intersubjectivity and interculturalcontact.Johannes
Fabianhas pointedout that"[t]ime,muchlike languageand money,is a carrierof sig-
nificance,a formthroughwhichwe definethe contentof relationsbetweenSelf and
Other."Consequently, "thereis no knowledgeof the Otherthatis not also a tempo-
ral,historical,a politicalact."3As the followingpaperswillfocuson specificareas of
AfricanAmericans'experiencesand culturalforms, I willsketchtheframework of this
collectionof essaysin myintroductory remarks.
Time is of singularsignificance as it toucheson or is impliedin everyaspectof life
and theoreticalthinking: "It is a genuinelytransdisciplinary Nevertheless,
category."4
whiletimeis universally present,conceptionsand experiencesof timethemselvesare
not universalbut ratherhistorically and culturally contingent. Theyare dependenton
and changewiththeirrespectivecontexts. Why is the notion of timecrucialforan un-
derstanding of the African-American in
experience?Writing 1994,JosephK. Adjaye
stressesthat"[t]o date thereis not a singlecollectionof studieson the subject,nor
have books on timeas a global phenomenonor on calendricalsystemsof the world
includedessaysdealingwiththe Black experience.J.T Fraser'sauthoritative publica-
tion,The Voicesof Time(1981) . . . includedcontributions on 'non-Western'societies
like China and India but conspicuouslyomittedAfrica."5The reason,as Bonnie J.
Bartholdpointsout,is thatin "Westernthought, timeand Africaare oftenmutually
exclusive.Thereis thecolonialofficialin countlessfilmswho remindsus that'Africans
don't knowthe meaningof time.'... In the languageof the press,Africais 'develop-
ing,'and partof whatis developingis time:Africais 'catchingup' withthe times,and

1 I takethenotionof "chronocentrism" fromRobertJ.Berkhofer,BeyondtheGreatStory:His-


toryas Textand Context(Cambridge,MA: The BelknapPressof HarvardUP, 1995) 127;Berkho-
ferspeaksof "chronocentric" histories.
2
Ralph Ellison,InvisibleMan (1952;New York:Viking,1972) 8.
3 JohannesFabian,Timeand theOther:How Makes Its Object(New York:Co-
Anthropology
lumbiaUP,1983) 1.
- JonnBenderand David fc,. Ine Construction
wellbery,"Introduction,"
Chronotypes: of Time,
ed. JohnBenderand David E. Wellbery(Stanford, CA: StanfordUP,1991) 1-15;1.
5
JosephK. Adjaye,"Timein Africaand Its Diaspora:An Introduction," Timein theBlack Ex-
perience,ed. JosephK. Adjaye (Westport, CT: GreenwoodPress,1994) 1-16;7-8.

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466 Ulfried
Reichardt

withtime."6If Africais traditionally


associatedwith"timelessness,"
it is crucialto de-
finewhatwe meanwhenwe speak of timeand temporality.

***

As JohnBenderand David Wellberypointout,the renewedinterestin timein con-


temporary culturalstudiescan be linkedto the precariousculturalclimatewhichwas
discussedunder the titleof "postmodernism" but now has come to be understood
more specifically as a period in whichmodernity and modernization became self-re-
flexive.7However,thereare also developmentswithinthe framework of contempo-
rarytheoryitselfwhichadd to thisshiftof attention.The structuralist
paradigm,domi-
nant in the humanitiessince the 1960s,favoredspatial metaphorsand synchronie
analyses.Thistrendwas gearedtowardsovercomingvestigesof theHegelian idea of a
singularmovementof history("the monolithictemporal frameworkposited by
Hegelianism")8as well as phenomenological investigations focusingon consciousness
("innertime-consciousness") ratherthanbeingconcernedwithlanguageas structure:
"Perhapsone could say thatthe structuralist intervention broke up the continuityof
time,but at the cost of freezingit or it
banishing altogether from discussionand inves-
tigation."9
Not only structuralism, and even the New Historicism
but also post-structuralism,
tendto ignoretimein the sense of the diachronic.The majorreason whydiachronic
notionslikecontinuity and developmentwererejectedcan be summedup in theclaim
thatWesternhistorieshave alwaysmarginalizedor excludedgroupsthathad lost in
social struggles,thattheyconceivedof colonizedpeoples as beingwithouthistoryand,
moreover, construed historyin termsof a lineardevelopmentleadingstraightto the
"now"of theWesternwriter. The conceptof "History"in thesingularis criticizedas a
retrospective legitimation presentformsof dominationwhichis usuallybased on
of
an evolutionary model of the processof civilization.In orderto thinkdifferent times
and alterityin the timeof our own thinking, as opposed to displacingthemto a for-
merstageof "our" development, MichelFoucaultrejectsthe modelof continuity, con-
ceivingof epochs instead as synchronoustableaux.Only if we analyze synchronie
spaces of strugglesbetweendominantand othergroups,he contends,can we recon-
structthe historiesof marginalizedgroups.The resultof thistheoreticalmove,how-
ever,is thathistoricalchangecannotbe describedanymore;instead,Foucaultinsists
on ruptures.10 But forgroupsthatwere leftout,ruptureis oftennot enough.Conse-
quently,they revise historyby writingthe past fromtheirown perspectives. Further-
more,agency and are
subjectivity neglected in models.
structuralist From a hermeneu-

6 Bonnie J.Bertholt,Black Time:Fictionof Africa,theCaribbean,and the UnitedStates(New


Haven:Yale UP,1981) 5.
7 "The recentemergenceof timeas a centralthemeof researchis no accident:
comparatively
our presentdoes not leave modernitybehind,but ratheraggravatesitsdifficulties, its
intensifies
concerns"(Benderand Wellbery, "Introduction"2).
8 Benderand Wellbery, "Introduction"14.
9 Benderand "Introduction"15.
Wellbery,
10See Foucault'sintroductionto his The Archaeologyof Knowledge,trans.A. M. Sheridan
(New York:Pantheon,1972).

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TimeandtheAfrican-
American
Experience 467

ticpointof view,the priority of structure over eventonlyrendersthe productiveand,


thus,temporal dimension of knowledgeinvisible;forthe observer'spresentis neces-
sarilyinscribed into the object of analysis.If you ignoretime,it willresurfacein dis-
guised forms.
Recent studiesof time,however,do not fall underthe verdictof structuralism, as
theygiveup the notionof a singular and universal time.Rather, as Bender and Well-
bery remark,in contrastto historicism and phenomenology, contemporary concep-
tionsemphasizetime's"pluralityand complexity." Time is no longerseen as a "single
mediumof consciousnessor a unifiedmovementin history. It is intrinsically
manifold.
Numerouschronotypes intertwine to make up the fabricof time These multiple
timescan become objects of contentionbecause individualsexperiencethemdiffer-
entlyand because theybear ideologicalimplications."11 Therefore, timeon thelevelof
individual,social and collectiveexperience,institutional organization, and powerrela-
tions,as well as philosophical,theoretical,religiousand spiritualthoughtoffersa rich
fieldof inquiryin respectto culturaldifference and cross-cultural contact.

***

The mostimportant insightintothe "nature"of timeis thatit is not a stablecate-


goryexistingobjectivelyin the worldor constituting an attributeof the mind,as Im-
manuel Kant argued.12 NorbertElias calls such positions"naturalistic-philosophical"
misconceptions about time.He counselsinsteada shiftto "a historicallong-term de-
velopmentalapproach to the problemof time "13 Such an historicalapproach
maintainsthattimeitselfhas a historyand is contingent on the respectivesocial and
culturalcontexts.14
ReinhartKoselleckwrites:"Historicaltime,if the concepthas a
specificmeaning,is bound up withsocial and politicalactions,withconcretelyacting
and sufferinghumanbeingsand theirinstitutions and organizations.All have definite,
internalizedformsof conduct,each witha peculiartemporalrhythm."15 CitingHerder,
he arguesthatthereis neveronlyone historicaltime,but rather"many,intersecting
times."16Differentsocial milieusas well as historicalstagesor culturalareas of the
worlduse and conceiveof timein radicallydifferent ways.WhileI cannotpresentthe

11Benderand "Introduction" 15.


Wellbery,
12ImmanuelKant,Kritikder reinen
Vernunft(Stuttgart:Reclam,1978). Time,forKant,is "a
pureformof sensualperception"["eine reineFormder sinnlichen Anschauung"](95; mytrans-
lation)."Time is thusmerelya subjectiveconditionof our (human)perception, . . . and as such,
outsideof the subject,nothing"["Die Zeit ist also lediglicheine subjektiveBedingungunserer
(menschlichen) Anschauung, . . . und an sich,auer dem Subjekte,nichts."](99; mytranslation).
Herder'snotionof theplurality of coexistingtimesis explicitly
a critiqueof Kant.
13NorbertElias, Time:An
Essay.Transi,in partfromthe Germanby EdmundJephcott (Ox-
ford:Blackwell,1992) 186-87.
14It is to note thatthehistoricization of timedid notonlyoccurin historyand his-
important
toricallyorientedsociology,but in the naturalsciencesas well.The crucialauthorhere is Ilya
Prigogine. Timeitselfis a partof evolutionary processes,naturallyand socially.
- Keinnartis.osenecK, tuturesrast (ramonage, ma: mu iress, lyO)xxii.
16ReinhartKoselleck,
Vergangene Zukunft:Zur Semantikgeschichtlicher Zeiten(1979; Frank-
furt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1989) 10.All subsequentquotesfromthissourceare mytranslations.

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468 Ulfried
Reichardt

historyof timein Europe and othercultureshere,17 I wantto sketchthe mostimpor-


tantturning point withinEuropean timeconceptions, whichoccurredin thelatterpart
of theeighteenth century.
In orderto understandthe conceptof historywhichframesEuropean observations
of Africanculturesand societies,we have to recallhow our modernnotionof history
evolved.Koselleck,who has investigated thisshiftmostthoroughly, emphasizesthata
new notionof timeemergedduringthisperiod.This shiftcan be subsumedunderthe
catchwordsof the 'temporalizationof time'and the 'historicization
of history.'
Timeis
"the a prioriof the modernworld."18 While historytraditionally
always took a geni-
tiveattribute("the historyof England,of the PeloponnesianWar"),the notionof his-
toryas a collectivesingularterm only evolved in the eighteenthcentury.Conse-
quently,modernformsof construinghistory, most importantly the ideas of progress
cannotbe understoodoutsideof thishistoricalframework.
and perfectibility, Kosel-
leckwritesthat
[o]urmodern notionof history is a resultof enlightenmentreflectionon theincreasing
complexity of'history as such'inwhichtheconditions oftheexperience ofprecisely this
experience increasingly can no longerbe grasped.Thisis trueforspatially extending
worldhistory whichis contained inthemodern termof'historyas such'as wellas forthe
temporal inwhichfromthenon pastandfuture
perspective alwayshaveto be relatedto
eachotheranew.Thislast. . . thesisis whatthecategory oftemporalization implies.19
He further argues that"insofar as contemporary time has been experiencedas an al-
ways new time, as Neuzeit, the challenge of the futurecontinuously increased."20 As
we can see, the mostimportant modality of time emerging within this shiftis the fu-
ture.As a resultof thisprocess,thepast loses itsstatusas a priviliged space of orienta-
tion.21Instead,historiansbegan to search forthe singularity of historicalsequences
and investigated the possibility of progress.22 Koselleckdescribesthisshiftas the dis-
covery of a specificallyhistoricaltime and as the "temporalizationof history."23 From
then on, historyhas been distinguished fromchronology, whichis connectedto the
"natural"sequence of events.Withregardto the evolutionof thismodernsecularno-
tion of historyfromChristianity, whichalreadycontaineda linear notion of time,

17See RudolfWendorff, Zeit und Kultur:Geschichtedes Zeitbewutseins in Europa (Wies-


baden:Westdeutscher Verlag,1980); and JuliusT. Fraser,ed., The Voicesof Time:A Cooperative
Surveyof Man's Viewsof Timeas ExpressedbytheSciencesand bytheHumanities, 2nd ed. (Am-
herst;U of MassachusettsP,1981),amongothers.
18Benderand "Introduction" 1. RicardoQuionesstressesthatin modernism"time
Wellbery,
is at the forwardpointof the changingconsciousness;it performs the functionof an indicator-
theme"(Ricardo J.Quiones,MappingLiteraryModernism:Timeand Development[Princeton:
PrincetonUP, 1985]4). The mostradicaltemporalization of thought,of course,is CharlesDar-
win'sevolutionism.In evolutionarythought, all aspectsof the worldare internallytemporalized
and dynamized.
19Koselleck, Zukunft12-13.
Vergangene
20Knseiieck. Vprpnnepnp
Zukunft12.
21As Alexisde
Tocquevillewrote:"Le pass n'clairantplus l'avenir,l'espritmarchedans les
tnbres."Qtd. in Koselleck,VergangeneZukunft47.
22Koselleck,Vergangene Zukunft56.
23Koselleck, Zukunft58.
Vergangene

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TimeandtheAfrican-
American
Experience 469

KoselleckremarksthattheLast Judgment has been temporalized.24Justicebecame an


attribute itsaim,and "truth"acquireda temporalvector.
of history,
The mostimportant however,whichlinksa linearconceptionof
aspectof thisshift,
is the new view of historyas somethingto
timeto the idea of the futureas progress,
be "made" byhumanbeings.As Koselleckwrites:
The dominanceof historywhichparadoxicallycorrespondswithits makeability, offers
two aspectsof the same phenomenon.Because the futureof modernhistoryopens into
the unknown, it becomesplannable,-and it mustbe planned.And witheverynew plan
something new whichcannotbe experiencedis introduced. The sovereignty of "History"
. . . Commonto both is the destruction
increaseswithits makeability. of the traditional
space of experiencewhichso farhad seemed to be determined by the past,but was now
destroyed.25
As a resultof thisdevelopment, historyhas been regardedas a termof actionrather
thanreferring to somethingto be endured.The crucialnotionof progressdoes not
onlyimplyoptimism, but ratherinsistson the conjunctionbetweenindividualaction
and the movementof history.26 Moreover,such a conceptionis also linkedto the in-
creasing mechanization of the European world-view. This developmentis decisivebe-
cause the future,or at least a conceptionof the futurein the modernEuro-American
sense,is preciselythe modalityof timewhich,as I willargue,is missingin non-Euro-
pean cultures.Consequently, the maindifference betweenAfricanand European con-
ceptionsof timedependson a ratherrecentdevelopmentin European culture,thatis
the redefinitionof the futurein the sense of its gainingabsolutedominancewithre-
gard to past and present.The importantelementswhichwere used to distinguish
European fromAfricanculturesin temporaltermsin theirstrongand emphaticsense
onlyemergedduringthelate eighteenth century.

As the difference betweenAfrican-American and Euro-Americanconceptionsof


time is usuallytraced back to Africanretentions, Africantime conceptsmust be
brieflydelineated.
John Mbiti argues that"the Africanconceptof time[is] the keyto
our understanding of the basic religiousand philosophicalconcepts."27WhenWestern
researchersfirstencounteredAfrican"natives"and observed theirconceptionsof
time,theyused theirown modernideas as a framework and point of referencein

24Koselleck,Vergangene Zukunft60.
25Koselleck,
Vergangene Zukunft61.
zoKudolt Wendorit
correctly pointsout thatthe idea of a linearmovementof timealready
evolvedin earlyJudaism, and is,of course,linkedto the inventionof monotheism: "Now every
historicalsituationwas focusedon the one God, therewas no moreanonymity, no evasionand
no ... uncertaintyanymore.This fixationon the one instancebeyondall timesgiveseverysitu-
ation a religiousstatusand bringseverything intoone line,one axis of time"(Wendorff 26-29;
mytranslation). The hope fora future(of salvationor the returnof theMessiah) renderslinear
timea basicconceptionof existence.Eschatologicalthinking in Christianity
also presupposeslin-
ear time.Nevertheless, sucha lineartimewas notopen to humanaction.The futureand history
werenotyetconceivedof as something to be "made."
27Qtd. in
Adjaye,"Timein Africaand Its Diaspora" 5.

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470 Ulfried
Reichardt

theirinvestigations and interpretations. Theircrucialmistakewas thattimewas con-


ceived as an attributeof the mindratherthanas an effectof the social and cultural
context.Thus,the anthropologist Lucien Lvy-Bruhlascribedthelack of moderntime
schemesin traditionalAfricansocietiesto backwardnessand to a primitive or unde-
veloped stateof mind. Lvy-Bruhl claimed that idea
"[t]heprimitives' of time remains
vague; and all
nearly primitive languages are as in
deficient methods of renderingre-
lationsof timeas theyare copious in expressingspatialrelations."28 Withinthedevel-
opmentof anthropology, an importantshiftoccurredin the workof Edward Evans-
Pritchardon "Nuer Time Reckoning" (1939). Joseph Adjaye states that Evans-
Pritchard"demonstrated thattimein Africaand otherprecapitalist societies- and,for
thatmatter,everywhere-is a productof cultureand the environment ratherthanin-
tellectualcapacity."29 Whilehis insightintotheorganic,contextualconstitution of time
was an importantstep towardsa betterunderstanding of Africanculture,Evans-
Pritchardneverthless interpreted such a conceptionof timeas a symptomof passiv-
The difference
ity.30 of the Africanconceptionof time,then,was stillimplicitly as-
cribedto a lack of strongwilland theabilityto thinkin abstractterms.
Contemporary studiesof Africanconceptionsof timeemphasizethattimein tradi-
tional Africansocietiesis radicallycontextual.In a small subsistenceeconomyand
smallvillageor tribalunits,themechanicsand logisticsof thecoordinationof people's
actions and the community'sfunctioningdoes not presuppose an abstracttime
scheme;thenetworkof actionscan stillbe coordinatedby wordof mouthand face-to-
face interaction. Consequently, thereis no idea of rational,abstractand mechanical
time;rather,timeis intimately linkedwithevents,rituals, naturalcycles,and the super-
natural.Time is not understood as beingunder the controlof humanbeings,notsome-
thing to be or
shaped filled; it is a dimensionof the surrounding world,includingthe
gods.31Mechanical time,therefore, onlybecomes necessary and functionalas soon as a

28 mindsdo not representtime


Lvy-Bruhlsumsup: "We know,however,thatthe primitives'
exactlyas oursdo. Primitives do not see, extendingindefinitely in imagination,somethinglike a
straightline,always homogeneousby nature,upon whicheventsfall into position,a line on
whichforesight can arrangethemin a unilinearseries,and on whichtheymustof necessityoccur
one aftertheother.To theprimitive timeis not,as it is to us,a kindof intellectualized
intuition,
an 'orderof succession'"(qtd. in Adjaye,"Timein Africaand Its Diaspora" 3).
29Qtd. in
Adjaye,"Time in Africaand Its Diaspora" 4. JohnMbitistatesthat"the traditional
conceptof timeis intimately boundup withthe entirelifeof thepeople,and our understanding
of it mayhelp to pave the way forunderstanding the thinking, attitudeand actionsof the peo-
ple" (qtd.in Adjaye,"Timein Africaand Its Diaspora" 5).
30Such an is notin theleastastonishing. I have shownin a detailedexplicationof
interpretation
thepoetryofJohnAshberythathismtonymie poetrygeneratestheimpression ofpassivity:
Every-
thingin hispoemsis contextual, ratherthandescribing a strongactingself.Thispointwas madeear-
lierby Roman Jakobsonin regardto Majakowsky'smetaphoricand Pasternak'smtonymie po-
etry.See my Innenansichten der Postmoderne: Zur DichtungJohnAshbery s, A. R. Ammons',
Denise LevertovsundAdrienneRichs(Wrzburg: Knigshausen& Neumann,1991) 64-78.
31It is to notethatmodernphilosophicalconsiderations of time- byHenriBergson,
important
WilliamJames,JohnDewey,George HerbertMead, and AlfredNorthWhitehead,not to men-
tioncontemporary theoriesof time- critiquemechanicaltimeand pointto its mere functional
qualityratherthanitsobjectiveor subjectiveone; theyalso pointout thattimeis contextual, dis-
continuous, and event-dependent (Whitehead).This insightobviouslyis also a major themeof
modernliterature, forexample,of WilliamFaulkner'snovels.Seen fromthisperspective, there-

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TimeandtheAfrican-
American
Experience 471

societyhas reacheda level of complexityat whichmoreabstractmeansof coordina-


tionbecome necessary.32 A further factoron whichconceptualizations of timedepend
of
is, course, the medium of communication used. Pre-literal
societies whichpass on
knowledgeorally in the form of will
story-telling certainly have a conceptionof past
and futurewhichis different fromthe one whichevolvedin writingcultures.Due to
the structure of the tribalcommunitiesor villagesocietiesin traditionalAfricaand
theirmediaof communication, timeis experiencedcommunally and collectively
rather
thanindividually.
Discussionsof the timeconceptsof traditionalAfricanpeoples focuson the ques-
tion whethertheyhave a conceptof the future.JohnMbiti,whose work is crucial
here,arguesthatthereis no conceptof thefuturein traditional Africansocieties:"Ac-
cording to traditionalconcepts, time is a two-dimensional phenomenon,witha long
past,a presentand virtually no future.The linearconceptoftimein westernthought. . .
is practicallyforeignto Africanthinking." Accordingto Mbiti,timein traditionalAf-
ricais completelycontextual, thatis non-abstractand qualitativeratherthanquantita-
tive:"[T]imehas to be createdor produced"and,therefore, "has to be experiencedin
orderto make sense or to become real." He concludes:"The futureis virtually absent
because eventswhichlie in it have not takenplace,theyhave not been realizedand
cannot,therefore, constitutetime Since what is the futurehas not been experi-
enced,it does not make sense;it cannot,therefore, constitute
partof time,and people
do not know how to thinkabout it."33Even while some scholarscontestthisview,
Mbiti'sargumentseemsconvincing whenseen in the framework of the evolutionand
function of themodernnotionof thefuturewhichI sketchedabove.
A privilegedepoch in whichconflicting notionsof timecan be studiedis the colo-
nial period.34As has been pointedout,one of the severestformsof imposingdisci-
plinein colonialregimeswas "the destruction of the precapitalistconceptionof time,
in whichlabor respondedto therhythm of nature,and theinculcationof thecapitalist
conceptionof time,in whichthe bodywas now requiredto respondto the tickof the

fore,pre-modern Africantemporalities are close to contemporary theoriesof time.As Bender


and Wellberyparaphrasea modernphysicist'sview of time:"Since Leibniz ... an alternative
conceptionof timehas emerged,which[BastiaanC] van Fraassencalls the relationaltheoryof
time(or, in the contextof modernphysics, space-time).On thisview,temporalorderis a func-
tionof therelationsthatestablishthecompatibility betweenevents"(Benderand Wellbery, "In-
troduction" 5). Mechanicaltimeis no longerseen as offering a moreobjectivemodel.Rather,as
NiklasLuhmannpointsout,timeis used bysystemsas a mediumof theiroperations.Thus,there
is no objectivetime,butthereare rathersystem-specific times.See NiklasLuhmann,Soziale Sy-
steme:Grundrieinerallgemeinen Theorie(1984;Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1987) 420.
32Elias writes:"In a
periodwherethe chainsof interdependency, especiallyin the economic
and military sectors,becomeverylong,in some cases even world-wide, timeevidently can repre-
senta synthesis at a higherlevel thanit can at a stagewherevillagestatesformedthe principal
survivalunitsand the highesteffective level of integration."
Time:An Essay (Oxford:Blackwell,
1992) 178-79.
33Qtd. in and HistoricalConsciousnessin Akan," Timein theBlack
Adyaje,"Time,Identity,
Experience, ed. Adyaje55-77;69-70.
34As NorbertElias shows,the transition frompre-colonialto colonialregimeswithregardto
conflicting temporalities is staged impressively in Chinua Achebe's novel The Arrowof God
(1964) (Elias, Time:An Essay 163-84).

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472 Ulfried
Reichardt

clock."35Legislationwas used to criminalizebehaviorbased on traditionalrhythms


and time-management. Fromthisperspective, the mainaim of colonialexecutiveswas
"to instillin theAfricana new cultureof workand labor based on thecapitalistframe
of time."36 Nevertheless,even whilemechanical,rationaltimeis constructedand cul-
ture-specific, the modern technicalworldwould be inconceivablewithoutit. Without
an abstractand context-independent timescale, modernexchangesand communica-
tions could not be coordinated.The accelerationof the exchange of information
throughcontemporary technologiesof communication is based on global synchroniza-
tion.Modernizationin Africadoes not advance withoutfuture-oriented calculation,
long-term planning,and investment. Indeed, socially,nobody can deal with moneyef-
fectivelyif he or she does not have a sense of the future. Time and moneyare intri-
catelylinked.37 The development of the global system cannot be turned back to a pre-
modernstage.
An evaluationof different timeconceptions, therefore, remainsdifficult.On theone
hand,it is clear thattherecan be no extra-,meta-or transcultural pointof viewwhich
wouldallow us to applycriterianot dependingon a particularsocial and culturalcon-
text.Thus,a cyclical,non-futuristic notionof timeis as functionalin the contextin
whichit evolvedas is modernWesternlinearand mechanicaltimein a Euro-Ameri-
can context.Yet,on the otherhand,thereis the irreversible factof modernization, of
globalization,and of the reignof technology. Remainingoutsideof the global econ-
omymeans not beingable to participatein its exchanges.Of course,beingpartof it
does notnecessarilyimplyequal access to themarketeither,as formsof neo-colonial-
ism,involvingtradebarriersfor"ThirdWorld"countriesforinstance,prove.What is
trueforevolutionin nature,however,is also trueforsocial evolution:once an innova-
tion has caughton, it makes a difference and has to be takeninto account.Accord-
ingly,mechanical abstracttime is the medium throughwhichexchangesand communi-
cationsare coordinatedin a globalizedworld.

***

Whenwe moveon to thewaysin whichAfricansand AfricanAmericanshave been


representedby whiteobservers,i.e.,to the politicsof knowledge,the mostimportant
aspect is that equalitypresupposescontemporaneity, that is, that both sides are al-
lowed to say "I" hereand now,and are heard.We owe themostthoroughstudyof the

35AlaminMazrui and
Lupenga Mphande,"Time and Labor in Colonial Africa:The Case of
Kenyaand Malawi/Timein theBlack Experience, ed. Adyaje97-119;98.
36Mazruiand
Mphande,"Timeand Labor in ColonialAfrica"99.
37As JamesSnead
putsit: "In European culture,financialand productioncycleshave largely
supplantedtheconscioussortof naturalreturnin blackculture.The financialyearis theperfect
exampleof thissortof Hegelian subsumptionof developmentwithinstasis Capital hence
will not necessarilycirculatebut mustconsequentlyalso accumulateor diminishdependingon
the state of the firm"("Repetitionas Figureof Black Culture,"Black Literature and Literary
Theory,ed. HenryLouis Gates,Jr.[1984;New York:Routledge,1990] 59-79;66). That modern
societieswouldnotbe able to operatewithoutmoneyand investment in thefuturedoes not im-
ply thatit could not be otherwise;nevertheless,the modernglobalizedmarketis based on the
linkbetweentime,money,and thefuture.

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TimeandtheAfrican-
American
Experience 473

conjunctionbetweentimeand power,betweena politicsof timeand domination, to


JohannesFabian and hisproject"to examinepast and presentuses of timeas waysof
construing theobjectof our discipline[anthropology]. If it is truethatTimebelongsto
the politicaleconomyof relationsbetweenindividuals, classes,and nations,thenthe
construction of anthropology's object throughtemporalconceptsand devicesis a po-
liticalact; there is a 'Politicsof Time.'"38He suggests, therefore, thatwe have to con-
sider "the ideologicalnatureof temporalconceptswhichinformour theoriesand
rhetoric."39 Of course,thereis a whole arrayof metaphorswhichhave been used to
distancethe "Other" fromthe time that is the presentof the Westernobserver.
Among these are "stone age economics,""savage," "primitive," "mythicalritual,"
"tribal,"and the more explicittermsreferring to cyclicalor repetitivepractices.40
Fabian sumsup that"[bjeneaththeirbewilderingvariety, the distancingdevicesthat
we can identify a
produce global result ... I mean a persistent and systematic tendency
toplace thereferent(s) of anthropology in a Time other than the presentof theproducer
of anthropological discourse"AX Accordingly, he arguesforsharedtime,thatis,therec-
ognition of the contemporaneity of members of othercultures. Anthropology's objects
are nothistoricalantecedents. Theirpresenceis notour childhood.Fabian'sexposition
helpsus to see how time,in a mostlyimplicitand unacknowledged manner,is concep-
tionallyused as a mediumof domination.
If we agreethatthenotionof "racialdifference" is a culturalconstruction and,thus,
inheresin formsof representation, the two majorformsthroughwhichit is produced
are metaphorand narrative. Figuratively, racistdiscoursetransfers, as David Lloydhas
argued,mtonymie descriptions-"skincolor forrace"- into metaphoricones,which
implyan hierarchical order.RacistmetaphorssituateAfricansor AfricanAmericans
on an earlierstage of eitherontogeneticor phylogenetic development, or ascribeto
them a state of nature.42Examples are termslike "savages," "primitivepeople,"
"boys"(meaningblackmen),the "child-race," or,morerecently, thenotionof "under-

38Fabianx. His centralthesisin


regardto descriptions and renderingsof theOtheris: "On the
one handwe dogmatically insistthatanthropology restson ethnographic researchinvolving per-
sonal,prolongedinteraction withtheOther.But thenwe pronounceupon theknowledgegained
fromsuchresearcha discoursewhichconstruesthe Otherin termsof distance,spatialand tem-
poral.The other'sempiricalpresenceturnsintohistheoretical abscence. . ." (xi).
39Fabian xii. "As soon as cultureis no conceivedas a set of rulesto be en-
longerprimarily
acted by individualmembersof distinctgroups,but as the specificway in whichactorscreate
and producebeliefs,values,and othermeansof social life,it has to be recognizedthatTime is a
constitutivedimensionof social reality. . . . Once Time is recognizedas a dimension,not just a
measure,of humanactivity, any attemptto eliminateit frominterpretive discoursecan onlyre-
sultin distortedand largelymeaningless representations" (Fabian24).
40See Fabian 30. Fabian also
suggeststhat "[s]ociallymediated'relativity' of PhysicalTime
would have to be identified... in historicalprocessesof mechanization(the technologyof
clocks) and standardization (the acceptanceof universally recognizableunitsof measuring).In
thissense of Westernclocktime,anthropologists have used PhysicalTime as a distancing device.
In most ethnographic studiesof othertime conceptionsthe difference betweenstandardized
clocktimeand othermethodsof measuringprovidesthepuzzleto be resolved"(29).
41Fabian31.
42See "Race under Culture/ Contexture:
Representation," Explorationsin Anthropology and
Literary Studies,ed. E. ValentineDaniel and Jeffrey M. Peck (Berkeley:U of CaliforniaP,1996)
249-72.

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474 Ulfried
Reichardt

developedcountries." Thisstrategyis fundamental to Westernself-ascriptionsof supe-


riorityand deniesother cultures'contemporaneity.
Narrativeis the specifically humanformof configuring time.Since the late eight-
eenthcentury, accountsof the progressof civilizationlocated culturesotherthanthe
Euro-Americanoutside of historyand interpreted themas static,as in a notorious
passage from Hegel: "The Negro represents the Natural Man in all his wildnessand
indocility What we actuallyunderstand by Africa'is thatwhichis withouthistory
and resolution."43 Scientificracismin the laternineteenthcenturydisplacedthisde-
scriptionfromcultureto biologicaldeterminism, butmaintainedthenotionof nonsyn-
chronicity and incapabilityof development.In anthropological writing,thisnotionre-
surfacedwhenAfricantimewas describednot onlyas cyclical,lackingthe dimension
of thefuture, butwhenthisconceptionwas interpreted as archaic.The Enlightenment
idea of progressive historywas seen as theonly"modern"and contemporary one. The
effectof thisascriptioninvariablyinvolvesdomination, as FrantzFanon emphasized:
"You come too late,muchtoo late.Therewillalwaysbe a world- a whiteworld- be-
tweenyou and us ... Z'44

***

Whenwe shiftto the African- Americanexperience,however,thingsget even more


complicated. As Africans had been transported to theAmericasas slavessincethesix-
teenthcentury, people of African descent in the new Worldhave livedin the midstof
Euro-Americansfora long time.45 I will firstsketchsome aspectsof African-Ameri-
can social time- the waysin whichlaws and institutions regulateindividuals'livesby
prescribing theiraccess to,and use of,time. Secondly, I want to ask whetherthereare
differences betweenAfrican-American and Euro-Americanconceptionsof time,and
whethertheycan be observedin narrative, and music.
literature,
If the aforementioned distancing devices are conceptual,thereare also differences
in thewaysin whichactualsocial timeis experienced.MichaelHanchardwritesthat
racialtimebecameone of thedisjunctive of bothWesternand Afro-Moder-
temporalities
nity,beginningwiththeemergenceof racialslavery.Racial timeis definedas theinequali-
tiesof temporalitythatresultfrompowerrelationsbetweenraciallydominantand subor-
dinategroups.Unequal relationships betweendominantand subordinategroupsproduce
goods,services,resources,power,and knowledge,
unequal temporalaccess to institutions,
whichmembersof bothgroupsrecognize.Whencoupled withthe distincttemporalmo-
dalitiesthatrelationsof dominanceand subordination produce,racialtimehas operated
effectupon thepoliticsof racialdifference.46
as a structural

43
Englishtranslationquoted in Snead 63. Compare Hegel's description-and dismissal-of
America,whichhe considersas beingoutsideof history as well.The reasonhere,however,is that
America is exclusivelyfocused on the future.Cf. his Vorlesungen ber die Philosophieder
Geschichte.
44FrantzFanon,Black Skin,WhiteMasks: The Experiencesof a Black Man in a WhiteWorld
(1952;New York:GrovePress,1967) 122.
451 have to leave out the
experienceof theAfricandiasporaoutsideof NorthAmerica.
46MichaelHanchard, Politics,and the AfricanDiaspora," Pub-
"Afro-Modernity:Temporality,
lic Culture27 (1999): 245-68;252-53.

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TimeandtheAfrican-American
Experience 475

Hanchard,whosepaper is an important contribution to thefield,proposes"threecon-


ceptual facets to racialtime that can be used to analyzethe unequal temporaldimen-
sionsof racialdynamics." The firstis "waiting,"the second "timeappropriation," and
the thirdone "is concernedwiththe ethico-political relationship between temporality
and notionsof humanprogress."47
As slaves,forexample,could be sold and could not move freely, it was difficultfor
themto make plans.Oftenbeingseparatedfromtheirchildren, genealogy as a wayof
shaping the future was denied to them; also, they did not have money, the thirdobvi-
ous mediumto investintothe future.It was a commonstereotypein thesetimesfor
apologiststo state thatslaves lived "happily"in the presentand did not care about
the future.The progressivist SouthernhistorianUlrichBonnell Philipswrotein the
late 1920s:"In the mainthe AmericanNegroesrulednot even themselves. Theywere
moreor less contentedly slaves,withgrievancesfromtimeto timebut no ambition."48
What slave ownersobserved,however,was preciselythe effectof a situationwhich
theyenforcedand thenused as a confirmation of theirviewthatAfricanswere inca-
pable of initiative.49 Moreover,the slaves' "timelessness"was oftenonlystaged as a
"mask"shownto the slaveowners. The slaves' struggle, therefore, concernedthe free-
dom to be mastersof theirown time,to do as theywishedand to investtheirwork
and timein theirown futures.
As Hanchardalso pointsout,"waiting"is thedecisivefactorthroughwhichAfrican
Americans'access to timehad been severelylimited.Segregationinvolvedconstant
enforceddelays.The sharecropping systemmeantthatmostpoor black land workers
were completelydependenton theirwhitebosses and thattheyhad to waitfortheir
pay endlessly, as it was usuallydeferred.In some cases,black laborersreactedwith
strategies of work slowdownor the refusalto be productive:"To be black in the
UnitedStatesmeantthatone had to waitfornearlyeverything. Legalized segregation
. . . meantthatblacks,as a consequenceof prejudicialtreatment, receivedhealthcare,
education,police protection,transportation, and a host of other servicesonly after
thosesame serviceswereprovidedforwhites."50 Postponement is also the basic struc-
tureof gradualism, whichIsaac McCaslinin WilliamFaulkner'sGo Down, Moses ar-
ticulatesmostsuccinctly when he says about the timewhen "racial" equalitywill be
achieved: "Maybe in a thousand or two thousand years in America .... But not
now!"51A seminalbook by MartinLutherKing is thusentitledWhyWe Can't Wait.52
In his "LetterfromBirmingham
Jail,"Kingstresses:"We mustuse timecreatively

47Hanchard256-57.
48UlrichBonnell
Philips,Life and Labor in the Old South (1929; Boston:Little,Brownand
Company,1963) 160.
49Hanchard
quotes a slave ownerin the U.S. South as havingsaid that"I have ever main-
tainedthe doctrinethatmynegroeshave no timewhatever;thattheyare alwaysliable to my
call withoutquestioningfora momentthepropriety of it;and I adhereto thegroundsof expedi-
encyand right"(qtd. in Hanchard255; he quotes MichaelJ.Mullin,Africain America:Slave Ac-
culturation
and Resistancein theAmericanSouthand theBritishCaribbean[Urbana:U of Illi-
noisP,1992]119).
50Hanchard263.
51WilliamFaulkner, Go Down,Moses (1942;New York:Vintage,1990) 344.
52MartinLuther
King,Jr.,WhyWeCan'tWait(New York:Harperand Row,1963).

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476 Reichardt
Ulfried

Now is the timeto make real the promiseof democracy.... Now is the timeto lift
our nationalpolicyfromthe quicksandof racial injusticeto the solid rock of human
dignity."53Accordingly,one of the crucialaims of the Civil RightsMovementwas to
achievean autonomoususe of time,and thus,of the future. Aspirationsmustbe capa-
ble of beingrealized.Therewas to be an end of "imposedtime."54
But ideologicallyprojectedas well as enforcedsocial nonsynchronicity impliesa
basic paradox: every actual contactforcespersons to synchronizetheirindividual
"times,"particularlyin dialogue.As Thomas Luckmannwrites:"In immediateface-
to-facesocial interactionsthe social categoriesof timeprovideexternaltemporalset-
tings.But interactionstill The "location"of the pre-
requiresconstant'tuning-in.'"55
sentis dependenton a speaker's"now."Luckmannspeaks of "socializedintersubjec-
tivetime."56 Thus,temporaldistancingof AfricanAmericanswas alwaysundermined
by the synchronicity of intersubjective exchange.If intimatecontactunder slavery
was acceptable,as slaves were by definition unequal,afteremancipation, face-to-face
simultaneity could only be preventedby the pernicioussystemof segregation.As I
have alreadystated,equalitypresupposescontemporaneity and dialogue ratherthan
the observationof behaviorwhichis thenascribedto a previousand more primitive
time.

***

Beforewe can proceedto a discussionof temporalstructures of African-American


expressivecultures, we have to point to the differencebetween cultureand society
withregardto continuitieswithAfrica.While contemporary black Americansobvi-
ouslydo not live in a premodernsociety,and thusare partof a moderndifferentiated
social system,so thatAfricannon-linearand premodernconceptionsof timedo not
have anysignificance forthemin theirsocial lives,black formsof culturalexpression,
are
nevertheless, distinctly at variancewiththoseof European-descendedAmericans.
These expressiveformscan be understoodas continuities withculturalformswhich
were developed in premodernAfricansocieties,in otherwords to "Africanroots."
TheysurvivedmuchlongerthanAfricansocial forms, as the pressuresof controland
the impositionof disciplinewere farless pervasivein the domainof communalrituals
and culturalpracticeswhichprovidethe sources of contemporary black expressive
forms.However,theydid not survivein a "pure" formbut ratherevolved in a com-
plex networkof exchangebetweenAfricanand European culture.African-American
cultureis neitherAfricannor European but a mixtureof these,and thereforea new
and specificculture.The social contextin whichit was formedwas characterizedby
the institutionof slaveryand later by segregationand racial discrimination. Black

53MartinLuther Jail,"Major Problemsin theHistoryof


King,Jr.,"LetterfromBirmingham
theAmericanSouth,vol. 2, ed. Paul D. Escottand David R. Goldfield(Lexington:D. C. Heath,
1990) 544-57;551.
54Hanchard265.
55ThomasLuckmann,"The Constitution of Life in Time,"Chronotypes,ed. Benderand Well-
bery151-66;159.
56Luckmann157.

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Timeand theAfrican-
AmericanExperience 477

Americanexpressiveforms, therefore,can be understoodas responsesto and negotia-


tionsof the imposedsocial timeI have describedwithina situationof asymmetrical
culturalcontact.Withregardto theirrepertoire of forms,theyare based on traditional
Africanformswhichwere reinterpreted and mixedwithEuropean forms.Of course,
the evolutionof black culturehas been a long process;it has changedand continues
to change,as everyculturedoes.
The decisivedifference betweenblack and whiteculturalformsconsiststo a large
degree in differentconceptionsand organizationsof time.JamesSnead has main-
tainedthat"[o]ne mayreadilyclassifyculturalformsaccordingto whethertheytend
to admitor coverup the repeatingconstituents withinthem."57 The mostobviousex-
ample is Adorno
music.58 's limited of
understanding jazz, forinstance,is based on his
Eurocentricpresupposition thatmusicshouldmanifesta lineardevelopmentand lead
to closure.The use of timeis crucialhere:Adorno associatesrhythmic repetition-as
opposed to melodic and harmonic development- with savagism, prehistory,and na-
ture.59The oppositionAdorno constructsbetweenStravinsky and Schnbergin his
Philosophyof New Music (1949) is relevantto our discussion,as Snead correctly
points out: "Interestingly, both Stravinskycompositions[Petrushka(1911) and Le
Sacre du Printemps(1913)] resembleblack musicalformsnot just in theirrelentless
'foregrounding' of rhythmic elementsand theiruse of the 'cut' but also in beingpri-
marilydesignedforuse in conjunctionwithdancers."60 Ratherthangraspingthecom-
plexityof the rhythmic work in Stravinsky'smusic,Adorno claims that in Sacre
rhythm is untetheredfromthe musicalcontentwhichforhimobviouslymeans "me-
lodic-harmonic thinking."61 Consequently, he regardsthe dominanceof rhythm over
harmonicdevelopmentas a formof the fetishismof the continualrecurrence of the
and
same.62Adornoequates repetition rhythm with that
stasis,implying onlylinearity
and themovementtowardsclosure,and in his philosophicalmold,towardsa telos,can
producea musiche can endorse.63 Adorno goes as faras to attack
In his invectives,

57Snead 60.
58For an
in-depthanalysisof theformsof timein music,see JonathanD. Kramer,The Timeof
Music: New Meanings,New Temporalities, New ListeningStrategies(New York: Macmillan/
Schirmer Books,1988).
59With Le Sacre du Printemps,whichhe discussesin the contextof the
regardto Stravinsky's
receptionof Africanartforms, Adorno reenforces his ascriptionof nonsynchronicityand of an
earlierstageof development: "The pressureof the reifiedbourgeoiscultureenforcesthe escape
intothe phantasmof nature,whichthenfinallyprovesto be the messengerof absoluteoppres-
sion.The aestheticnervestrembleto regressintothe stoneage" (TheodorW. Adorno,Philoso-
phiederneuenMusik[Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1978]137;hereas in all subsequentquotations
fromthiswork,thetranslation is mine).Repetitionand rhythm are thusseen as primitive,
"natu-
ral"and in contrastto an advancedand,mostimportantly, culture.
self-reflexive
60Snead 73.
61Adorno143.
62He writes:"Thereis not morebut ratherless rhythm thanwhereit is notfetishized,thatis,
onlydeferralsof theeversame and completelystatic. . . wheretheirregularity of thesame sub-
stitutesthenew"(143).
63Adorno himself and thusthe exem-
emphasizesthe relevanceof his critiqueof Stravinsky,
plarityof his thoughtforEuropean philosophicalaestheticswithregardto African-descended
expressiveforms, whenhe writes:"The close relationof thisstage of the ritualistic
in Stravin-
sky'smusicto thejazz whichbecame internationally popularat thistimeis evident.It reaches

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478 Reichardt
Ulfried

"motility" withoutclosurein musicas approaching"the gesturalschemesof schizo-


phrenics,"callingthem "catatonic."64 enough,it is preciselythe "cut"
Interestingly
whichSnead regardsas constitutive of black music whichdisturbsAdorno: "Frag-
mentsof memoryare strungtogether; musicalmaterialdevelopedout of itsown inner
force.The compositiondoes not realize itselfby developmentbut ratherthroughthe
fractures whichfurrowit."65
The crucialpoint for him is that music whichmoves ahead throughrhythmical
repetitionrefusesto develop its temporalmovement"dialectically," whichforhimis
the sine qua non of great music since Bach.66Stravinsky's compositionsand jazz,
therefore, are interpreted as striving for"timelessness":"There is no 'end': the piece
ends like a picturefromwhichone turnsaway."67 Whathe misses,of course,is closure
as synthesis.Thisprocess,whichhe analyzesas "spatialization," a commonverdictwith
regardto modernistart,forhim impliesgivingup (dialectical)processand thusthe
idea of utopia.
Adorno's commentssum up manyof the featuresI have discussedso farwithre-
gard to aesthetics:non-linearand repetitiverhythmic formsare seen as static,me-
chanical,and aimless.Consequently, theyare regardedas politicallypassive,and even
as reactionary. However,for Adorno,the categoryof time exclusivelyimpliesse-
quence, while he neglectsdurationand simultaneity, whichforKant make up time's
twootherconstitutive dimensions. Moreover, he overlooksthe factthatrepetitioncan
neverbe the same but alwaysimpliesdifference and variation.Finally,formsof art
whichrefuseclosureand synthesisare forhim symptomsof regression-infantilism,
wildness, and primitivism- , thatis,he drawson theconventionof assigningblack mu-
sic,and forms which emergedin negotiationwithit,to an earlierstage of humanand
culturaldevelopment. Whilethesefigureshave alreadybeen discussedabove,theyare
here explicitlyused as aestheticcriteriawhichfunctionto devalue black aesthetic
formsand implicitly also theculturetheystemfrom.68
In orderto understandAfrican- Americanmusic,therefore, one has to comprehend
the complexityof polyrhythm and the functionof repetition.Snead proposes that
"[i]n black culture,repetitionmeansthatthe thingcirculates. . . (the ritual,thedance,
the beat) is 'thereforyou to pick it up whenyou come back to get it.'"69The crucial
figurefor him is "the cut": "[Black culture]'cuts' back to the start,in the musical
meaningof 'cut' as an abrupt,seeminglyunmotivatedbreak . . . witha seriesalready
in progressand a willed returnto a priorseries."70As improvisation would not be

into technicaldetailslike the simultaneity of rigidmetricaltimesand irregularsyncopatedac-


cents.Accordingly,Stravinsky experimented withjazz formulasin theinfantilistic
phase" (157).
64Adorno164.
65Adorno171.
66Adorno171.
67Adorno172.
68WhileAdorno'saestheticshave falleninto
disregardin themeantimeto a certaindegree,his
thinkingis crucialformyargument, as it showsthecontinuity de-
of "racialtime"as a distancing
viceeven in theworkof one of mid-century's mostcriticalphilosophers.
69Snead 67.
/uSnead 67. In Snead s black culturestromfcuro-
reading,such an orientationdistinguishes
pean ones,whichare "never'immediate'but'mediated'and separatedfromthepresenttenseby

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TimeandtheAfrican-
American
Experience 479

possiblewithoutrepetition, such a formof organizingmusicaltimeimpliesa social


structure allowingparticipation and interaction. Therefore,"call and response"- the
antiphonal structure of black music and other expressiveforms-has a strongsocial
dimension.It can be seen as dialogicand interactive.71
Temporalorderingin African- AmericanliteratureretainsmuchfewerAfricancul-
turalelementsthanmusic,a factwhichcan be explainedby its politicalfunction. A
case in pointis the crucialrole of the autobiographical formwithinthe emergenceof
African-Americanwriting. It has been convincingly demonstrated thathistoriography
and autobiography developedsimultaneously. They are based on the same strategy of
the
organizing past retrospectively into
by transforming necessity what seemed contin-
gentwhen experienced.Accordingly, slave narrativesare also based on the idea of
progress, individual self-realization,and linear development.Many late-nineteenth-
century novels similarly employteleologicalmodelslike uplifting the race.Slave nar-
rativeswerea meansforex-slavesto enterintowritten cultureand to developa mod-
ernformof individuality, to fashionan individualself,throughtheuse of writing. Oral
traditions,in contrast, are muchmorecloselylinkedto communalexperience.Thereis
no individuality in our modernsense withoutwriting.72
In contemporary African- Americanliterature, however,elementsof the vernacular
"oral" traditionare incorporated intothe writtennovelform.The crucialpointis that
theoral transmission of thepast is performative: thepast mergesintothepresentreci-
tation.When theseculturalelementsare integratedintothe novel,non-lineartimeis
juxtaposedwithlinearprocesses,to the effectthattheyintersectwithand perspec-
tivizeeach other.73 Contemporary African-Americanrevisionsof thehistory of slavery
have preciselyreinscribedthe crucial dimensions lacking in white authors' repre-
sentationsof slaves:the future, agency,but also historicaland culturalcontinuity for
black people.Theyrepresentthe African- Americantraditionas havinga temporality
different fromthe one of whiteculture,whichneverthelessis linkedwithit. Thus,
David Bradley'sThe Chaneysville Incidentand Toni Morrison'sBeloved in the 1980s,
in different ways, combine the repetitiveand recursivetemporalstructure of the trau-
maticreturnof therepressedwitha tentativeprogressive movement: by repeatingthe
it and
past,by revisiting imaginatively dialogically, they sketch a possiblefuturethat
mighthelp theircharacters to break out of the traumatic deadlock of the after-effects
of the past of slaveryand the continuingracial discrimination, one in whichcultural

itsown future-orientation." through"thismagicof the'cut' attempts


"Black culture,"in contrast,
to confront accidentand rupturenotbycoveringthemoverbutbymakingroomfortheminside
thesystem"(67).
71"The of black musicmeansthatthereare at least two,and usuallymore,
typicalpolymetry
rhythms goingon alongsidethelistener'sown beat" (Snead 68).
72See, in thiscontext,Olaudah withrespectto gettingto knowa book
Equiano's observations
culture:TheInteresting Narrative of theLifeof Olaudah Equiano,or GustavusVassa,theAfrican,
Written byHimself(1789;New York:St. Martin'sPress,1995);see also HenryLouis Gates,Jr.,on
the "tropeof the talkingbook" in TheSignifying Monkey:A TheoryofAfrican-American Liter-
aryCriticism (New York:OxfordUP,1988) 127-69.
73On the
temporalstructureof contemporary African-Americanwriting by women,see Karla
F. C. Holloway,Mooringsand Metaphors:Figuresof Cultureand Genderin Black Womens Lit-
erature(New Brunswick, NJ:RutgersUP, 1992).

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480 Ulfried
Reichardt

differenceand the acknowledgment of contemporaneityare bothpossible.The speak-


ingpositionsof the former "subjects"introducethe memoryof modernity's costs,thus
the
repeating past with a critical
difference,
renderingpast and presentheterogeneous.
in postmoderntextsin whichthedisruption
Particularly and critiqueof closure,homo-
and objectivity
geneity, is a crucialfeature,African-Americanand non-Europeancul-
turalformshave been takenup emphatically.74

If Africanconceptionsof timeare understoodas beingmorecomplexin themean-


time,theyare onlyrelevantto AfricanAmericans'experienceto a limiteddegree.As
soon as Africanswere forcedto set footonto a slave ship,theyenteredWesternhis-
tory.This facthas threeimportant consequences:Firstly, any ascriptionof ahistoricity
to Americanslaves and laterfreedmenis obviouslyunfounded.Secondly,Afrocentric
modelsseem ratherunconvincing, as theyignorethe Westerndimensionof the Afri-
can diaspora'sexperienceand thought. And thirdly, thehistoryof theWestnecessarily
became pluralized,heterogeneous,and polytemporalby the advent of Africansin
America.Consequently, modernity has to be reconceptualizedfromthe slaves' point
of view,particularly
withregardto future-oriented actslike slave revoltsand therevo-
lutionin Santo Domingo.But thisalso impliesthatAfrican-American cultureis irre-
versiblylocated withinthe framework of modernity.75 It can be regardedas an inter-
nal other,yetdoes notexistoutsideof theWest.
How,then,can we mediatebetween,on the one hand,the notionof different "cul-
turallyspecific"timeswhich render any notion of a single historical
presentuntenable,
and, on the other,counterholisticconceptswhichsee culturesas isolatesthatare in
dangerof ultimately beingincapableof communicating witheach other?One model
to go beyondthe dichotomybetweencontinuity and discontinuity has been proposed
by Homi Bhabha. Takingup the post-structuralist concept repetitionwitha differ-
of
ence,he insistson thedisruption of thenotionof a singlepresentnotonlybypointing
to differentculturesand theirrespectivetimes,but also theirconflicting histories.
Post-
moderndiagnosesjuxtaposeculturesand subjectivities paratactically and,thus,
neglect
the historicaldifferenceswhichclash and have to be negotiatedin any givenpresent.
To counterthisahistoricity,groupsthathave been excludedreimaginethe historyof
modernity, of whichslaveryand colonialismare constitutive Thus,forexam-
aspects.76
ple, one cannotunderstandpresentrace relationsin the U.S. withouttakinginto ac-
countthe heritageof slaveryand segregation.The speakingpositionsof the former
"subjects"introducethe memoryof modernity's costs,thusrepeatingthe past witha
criticaldifference.
The intricateintersections and interdependencies betweenmaster

74IshmaelReed ends his novelMumboJumbo


(New York:AvonBooks,1972) withthewords:
"Timeis a pendulum.Not a river.More akinto whatgoes aroundcomesaround"(249).
75Cf.Paul and Double Consciousness(Cambridge,MA:
Gilroy,The Black Atlantic:Modernity
HarvardUP, 1993).
76Homi K. Bhabha,"'Race', Time,and the Revisionof The Locationof Culture
Modernity,"
(London:Routledge,1994) 236-56.

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TimeandtheAfrican-
American
Experience 481

and slave,black and whitebecome visible.77I wantto end on thisnote and stressthe
hybridityof theAmericanand,increasingly theEuropean,present.Anybeliefin a ho-
mogeneouslyprogressiveEuro-Americantime would be as reductiveas the belief
thatAfricanAmericanslive in a different, forexample,a cyclicaltime.Rather,what
we have is constantnegotiationas well as exchangebetweendifferent temporalities.
The timeof thepresent,thus,is renderedmultipleand intrinsically
manifold.78

**

The essays includedin this collectionapproach the theme of African-American


timesfroma wide rangeof perspectives. The firsttwo papers,writtenby historians,
probe the usefulness of rethinking historyof theAfricandiasporain theAmericas
the
withregardto theclashof temporalities as well as to theconstruction of differenthis-
tories.In his paper,"PossiblePasts:Some Speculationson Time,Temporality, and the
Historyof AtlanticSlavery,"WalterJohnsonuses the notionof the culture-specific
"nature"of timeto discuss"the temporaldimensionsof the Atlanticslave tradeand
New Worldslavery."He investigates the waysin whichdifferent conceptionsof time
shapedtheslaves'perceptionof theslaveholdersand vice versa.Accordingly, he is not
primarily interested in theculturallydistinctconceptionsof time,but ratherin thepo-
liticalimplications of the captureand later enslavementas theycan be observedin
"explanatory" narrativesof thissituation.He refersto Olaudah Equiano's shiftfrom
regardinghis capturers as "bad spirits" to understanding"deliverance from
heathenism"as a favor,since he then was able to fightagainst slavery.Johnson
stresses:"Vassa's [Equiano's] timetravelremindsus thatglobal historicalprocesses
are understoodthroughlocallyand historically specificnarratives of timeand history."
However,he also emphasizesthatthe different aspectsof temporality were mixedup
in narratives of slavery, thatthesedifferent
suggesting temporalities"reflectthepoliti-
cally and historically embedded circuitsthroughwhichtheywere transmitted." To
probe the historical he
consequences, investigates slave in
revolts America and the dif-
ferentwaysin whichslave leadersand slaveholdersviewedthem.He ends by discuss-
ing the two main interpretations of these revolts,one as a struggleforfreedom,the
otheras a partof a longerprocessof acculturation. He contendsthatbothinterpreta-
tionsoverlooktheslaves'pointof view.
In her contribution, Mia Bay discussesthe character,contentand antecedentsof
modernAfrocentric thought.CriticizingAfrocentrism as a mode of understanding
whichpositsAmericanblacksas eternallyAfricanand whiteAmericansas Eurocen-
tricin a way thatis unchangeable,she arguesthatAfrocentric ideologyhas antece-

77Nevertheless,
as I have arguedelsewhere,Bhabha'sconceptionof thetimelag remainsstatic
and does notcontaina clearlydelineatednotionof thefuture;see my"Hybridity, Time,and Re-
cursivity,"Proceedingsof theSymposium"HybridTexts, Gender,and Ethicsin Literary
Ethnicity,
and VisualWorlds"ed. ThrseSteffen(Tbingen:Stauffenbure, 2000) 13-21.
78Snead thereforecontends:"The outstanding factof late twentieth-century
Europeanculture
is its ongoingreconciliationwithblack culture.The mystery maybe thatit took so longto dis-
cerntheelementsof blackculturealreadytherein latentform,and to realizethattheseparation
betweenthecultureswas perhapsall alongnotone of nature,butone of force"(75).

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482 Reichardt
Ulfried

dentsin theracialthoughtof nineteenth-century blacknationalists, butalso in theide-


ology used by white supporters of the colonization movement which wantedto send
all black Americansback to theirAfricanhomeland.Her paper discussesthe com-
plexityof the continuities and discontinuities in African- Americanracialthoughtand
argues that it has changed over time, and the ways in which Afrocentrism reconfigures
historicaltime.
WithFritzGysin'spaper,we shiftto investigations of African-American literature
and itsuse of structures, rhythms, and notionsof timedrawnfromblack music.He fo-
cuses on NathanielMackey'snovelsBedouin Hornbookand Djbot Baghostus'sRun.
These are twoepistolarynovelswhichattemptto use jazz elementsin fiction.In these
postmodernnovels,timeis playedwithon a micro-level. Gysinconcentrates on three
aspectsof timethe novelsaddress:Sequentialrelationsare invertedand compressed,
time as process is deconstructedexperimentally insofaras different time schemes,
speeds,and formsof accelerationand decelerationare superimposed. The thirdaspect
concernsrhythm, whichis testedwithregardto the problemof how to transform mu-
sic intolanguage,but also enactsa shiftto spiritualrealms.Gysinends by suggesting
thatthe novelsbelong to whathe calls the thirdphase of postmoderntheory, which
insiststhatwhathas been seen as postmodernist strategies "alwaysalready"char-
has
acterizedso-calledmarginalpeoples' culturalexpressions, as theyhave livedwithreal
absences.Finally,he linksthese appropriations of jazz temporalities to the musicof
thepost-bobarea.
WilfriedRaussertalso looks at the linkbetweenjazz and African- Americanlitera-
turewithregardto time.He arguesthatthe processof culturalhybridization charac-
teristicof Americanculturecan best be observedin regardto the dimensionof time
whichagain is mostclearlyarticulatedin music.Accordingly, his focusis on "the ways
in whichthismusicaltimeadopts varioustimelevels and mediatesbetweenthem."
Most significant is,of course,rhythm. Accordingto Raussert,"jazz 's unique sense of
timeis called swing,"whichhe characterizes, followingCarlo Bohlnder,as "changing
same." By lookingat African- Americandance,New Orleansjazz funerals, blues tech-
niques, and free jazz, he emphasizes the notion of shared time joining performance
and receptionin the now.Such a performative present,as he suggests, is expressiveof
a communalexperienceof time("call and response").In thesecondpartof his paper,
Raussertinvestigates jazz influencesin black literature, focusingon Ralph Ellison's
InvisibleMan,a novelin which"jazz's negotiations betweenvarioustimelevelsrepre-
sentthe majoraestheticmodel."Jazz'stemporalcomplexitiesare linkedwiththe cen-
tralthemeof invisibility and providea means forthe protagonistto come to terms
withhispredicament. Also,Ellisonuses shifting temporalities and improvisation in the
changes of the narrative voice.
AlexanderWeheliye, in a bold move,offersa cross-reading of contemporary DJ cul-
tureand W. E. B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk (1903). His guidingmetaphoris
"themix,"hiscentralconceptis whathe calls "sonicAfro-modernity." The mix,he sug-
gests,"as it appears in black cultural productionthroughout the twentieth centuryhigh-
lights the combination of its components as much as it does the individualpartsthat
constitute it,providing us witha modelofblacksubjectivity and culturalpracticethatis
rootedand routedthroughhearingand sounding,ratherthanlooking."This argument
can be linkedto MartinJay'sanalysisof the move againstocularcentrism, the domi-

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TimeandtheAfrican-American
Experience 483

nanceofvisionin terminology, metaphorsand categories, in twentieth-century thought,


yet with the twist that the logicof racism is conjoined with thehegemonyofvision.We-
heliye'scentralargument, then,is: "By analyzingthe role of visionas it relatesto the
mechanisms of racism,sound emergesas a space whereblack subjectivity is not fixed
by the look of white subjects, but is instead articulated dynamically by black subjects
themselves." Withthisfocushe can pointout theshortcomings ofDu Bois's use oftrun-
catedexcerptsofgospelmelodies,yetalso relatethemto contemporary mixingsofme-
dia and musicin thepracticesof DJs.The linkagebetweenDu Bois and DJingmakes
an argumentfora continuity of pluraland discontinuous culturalaestheticformsand
existences.They '"mess' withthe stricttemporality of Westernmodernity in orderto
present us with a fragmented, non-linear, and 'mixed-up'modernity."
RuthMayerinvestigates recentrevisionist representations of the Middle Passage in
the visual arts,in literature, and pop musicand discussesthese in the contextof the
movementof "Afrofuturism." The termrefersto revisionsof African- Americanhis-
tory in a fantastic mode. As there are no stories by Africans about the Middle Passage,
Africain theserepresentations is suspendedbetweena farawaypast and an alien fu-
ture.Recreationshave, as Mayer argues,to "ventureinto the realm of fantasyand
mythto compensateforthe lack of concreteand indubitablematerial."The impossi-
bilityof depictingthe horrorsof the Middle Passage was alreadythestructural theme
and thematictopicof Melville's"Benito Cereo" (1855). Space narrativesin Sun Ra
and his Arkestra'sperformances, and fantasticstoriesabout underworldcreatures,
stemming fromthe Middle Passage,as told by the electronicduo Drexciya,are narra-
tiveswhichfindimagesforblackpeople's experienceof beingaliensin America.What
characterizesall these attemptsto reviseblack historyin music,literature, and art is
the endeavor"not so muchto rewritethe historyof the Africandiaspora,but to sys-
tematically deconstruct it,renderingAfricaan 'alien future.'"Otherexamplesare the
science fiction novels of Octavia E. Butlerand Samuel R. Delany.
The last article,"LivingTime:Ancientto the Future.Conceptsand Fantasiesof Mi-
cro- and Macro-Timein Contemporary Jazz" by Peter Niklas Wilson,analyzes the
temporal structures of recent jazz forms. While rhythm is the crucialcategoryof jazz,
he arguesthatpolyrhythm as the mostimportant featureof Africanmusicsis absent
in earlyjazz forms, wherethe mainstructure consistsin the "figure-and-ground dual-
ism"betweenthesoloistand thebasic pulse.Yet,sincethelate fifties therehas been a
reintegration of Africanformsand also an integration of versionsof contemporary
Westerncomposedmusicintojazz. Discussingthe musicof Lennie Tristanoand An-
thonyBraxton,amongothers,Wilsonanalyzes"polymeter-the simultaneousrealiza-
tionof twoor moreindependentmetricallayers"as an important dimensionof recent
jazz and relatesthese formsto innovationsin the musicof Charles Ives, Karlheinz
Stockhausen,and JohnCage. However,musiciansdescribeconstructions withtimein
contemporary jazz as rendering"mythic, sacred time"- a notionwhichis understood
as a culturalcritiqueof thepositionof AfricanAmericanswithintheWest.Therefore,
notionsof "development"or progressin musicare radicallyundercutin the musicof
Sun Ra, forexample,throughthe combinationand coexistenceof "varioushistoric
layersof African- Americanmusic,"likeswingand advancedelectronicsound.
Obviously, contributions
the to thiscollectiondo not cover all possibleaspectsof
the temporaldimensionof the African-American experienceand of African-Ameri-

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484 Ulfried
Reichardt

can culturalforms.Neverthless,I hope thattheyopen up a space of inquiryand raise


issueswhichcan be followedup by further Focusingon thecategoryof
investigations.
timerenderspossibleanalysesof African- Americanhistory, culture,and artwhichem-
ploy an abstractcategorystructuring
every cultureand societyto studylocal,particu-
lar and specificphenomena.Such a double focusis thenecessarytheoreticalprecondi-
tionforcomparativestudieswhich,as is now generallyacknowledged,willconstitute
thedisciplinary framework forinvestigations
of culturaland social developmentsin an
increasinglytranscultural
and transnational
world.

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