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Alternative cosmologies of Time

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Organizer: Ben Van Overmeire

Co-Organizer: Kedar Kulkarni

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We are obsessed with time. In one sense, the question has become societal and existential, with the potential to deeply affect our and other species: how long before anthropogenic climate change renders life on earth impossible? In another sense, a transformation in time-management since the industrial revolution has culminated in the rhetoric of productivity. Time has become a valuable commodity: ensuring that working hours (and days) are as productive as possible, and that time off is spent for maximum relaxation.

Against these oppressive logics, queer theorists have long since mapped out how time is made political: how notions of childhood and adulthood, past and future, are themselves outgrowths of normative heterosexuality. The biological process of human reproduction, therefore, recreates a sexual hegemony, and perhaps also requires us to reproduce the original division of labor. But productive as this critique remains, it remains tied to a western, monotheist cosmology that sees time as an arrow pointed ever forward.

Such a view of time as ever moving forward is both attested and contested in, for example, ascetic movements. According to Gavin Flood, ascetic bodily practices are “the reversal of the flow of the body, which is also an attempt to reverse the flow of time.” Through their actions, ascetics aim to undo the move towards the ever new, to return to an eternal tradition located outside of time altogether. Important for this discussion is the idea that time is located in the body, which points to a notion of time distinct from mechanical clock time, namely time as experienced, that Henri Bergson called the durée.

Ruth Ozeki’s thoughts on time and narrative enable us to refocus on the role of literary texts in revisioning time. Paraphrasing the Buddhist thinker Eihei Dogen, Ozeki suggests that narrative is a time-being. Narrative is in part the organization of reality into a framework that makes sense out of the senseless. In the words of one Michael Bamberg, narration is “the answer to non-human, a-temporal, and discontinuous chaos.” Part of that organization is making events cohere around a clear chronology of events. If narrative has the power to create something out of nothing, to create time where there was no time, narrative can also interrupt time.. 

We invite contributions that engage with interrupted time, embodied time, the nature of experience within time, particularly from non-western/global-south positions, not limited to South/East Asia. We also invite productive comparative work, that may account for say, Dogen and Ricoeur, or asceticism and Bergson in the same framework. These may be narrative literature, or philosophical; it may be about cosmologies of the human, history, and temporality, but also about the non-human and the cyclical. Is there a Time as a form of resistance against commodified time? How can we think beyond the apocalypse?

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