Elevate Difference

Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories

In a temporally queer attachment of my own, I was bound to Time Binds before it was even published. With versions of the preface, introduction, and three out of four chapters having already appeared in academic journals, Elizabeth Freeman’s arguments had already made an impression on me. This is not to say that Time Binds is a redundant publication. Bound together, the individual pieces only gain in strength, displaying Freeman’s commitment to theorizing the intersections of temporality, queer theory, and the body.

In what might by now be described as a new turn in queer theory—a more self-reflexive turn, a turn that seems to be a pulling back, a slowing down—Freeman is surely one of the leading voices. She describes feeling as though “the point of queer was to always be ahead of actually existing social possibilities.” Instead of this ‘kind’ of queer theory, Freeman describes her commitment to a politics of “trailing behind,” as being “interested in the tail end of things, willing to be bathed in the fading light of whatever has been declared useless.” Time Binds contains captivating and powerful arguments for the need to understand temporality as physical, history as erotic, and the body as a sight that can challenge the temporal limits of heterosexuality and capitalism.

In the first chapter, Freeman focuses on Diane Bonder’s film The Physics of Love (1998), and Bertha Harris' novel Lover (1976), two texts that explore the mother-daughter dynamic. Freeman considers these texts as they utilize the body and the body’s “bad timing” to present a queer challenge the heterogendered and class-marked temporality of familial intimacy. She unpicks how capitalism and heteronormativity depend on a certain temporality and suggest that the body and its queer pleasures may be a site to contest this keeping of time.

In the second chapter, Freeman turns to Elisabeth Subrin’s Shulie (1997) and the work of Canadian artist Allyson Mitchell to consider how ‘lesbian’ and ‘lesbian feminist’ pull on ‘queer'. She introduces and works through what she calls “temporal drag” to consider how the pasts of movements might productively surface in the present, insisting that there is transformative potential in moments that are not quite past, but not entirely present.

In chapter three, Freeman describes “erotohistoriography” as a method for encountering the past as already in the present and the body as a tool “to effect, figure, or perform that encounter.” The body, and its pleasurable responses, in Freeman’s usage, becomes a “form of understanding,” a means to do history. Through tender readings of Frankenstein and Orlando, Freeman pieces together a history of history as physical and considers how bodies in these texts become sites where history is felt—staging the “very queer possibility that encounters with history are bodily encounters, even that they have revivifying and pleasurable effect.”.

Finally, in the last chapter Freeman analyzes Isaac Julien’s The Attendant (1992), following through with her arguments to a site that, she admits, potentially poses troubling conclusions. Namely, the body in sadomasochistic practices as it iterates the past, particularly the horrors of the slave trade. However, through her reading of Julien’s work and S&M practices more generally, Freeman argues for their role as erotohistoriographic practice, and as such they present erotic means of challenging history and rewriting bodily possibilities.

Concluding her thrilling book with a new queer manifesto, Freeman stakes her claim as an influential voice in contemporary queer theory, and asks us to join her, to “use our historically and presently quite creative work with pleasure, sex, and bodies to jam whatever looks like the inevitable.”

Written by: Sam McBean, April 2nd 2011