Increasingly, in all of my work, especially of a medieval studies historicist nature, I find myself wanting to take better account of all the ways in which certain supposedly obvious "connections" are not so easy to always make. For example, it may not be true, a la Foucault, that all events are, to one extent or another, "effects" of various forms of power. It may not always be true, a la Benjamin, that history is always written by the victors. It may not always be true that for every act of oppression or subjugation that there is a clear-cut and straightforward ideology attached to a specific political power that is primarily to blame. History is as chaotic and inconsequential and random as it is often also purposeful and organized and directed to a specific end for specific reasons, which may be better or worse reasons depending on where one stands when making judgments. And so on and so forth. It's almost too easy, isn't it, to, let's say, blame the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib on the specific directive of a specific branch, or branches, of the government, who gave said directive on the basis of an idea, or philosophy, or belief, rooted in a notion of American "democracy" or "empire building" or "economic interests" or "hegemony." Much harder is to ask ourselves: what, and who else, for reasons or non-reasons, for specific purposes or because of a lack of purposes, participated meaningfully and with material effect in--not the "chain"--but the constellated "array" of events that led to the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib? Which of those actors or actions contributed to flows of physical energies that might have existed completely outside any streams of "American" this or "American" that, outside, further, of any "chain of command" and the purposes behind it, but nevertheless contributed some particle of direction, without which the torture might not have happened, or happened differently?
. . . which came back to me with more force this morning as I was re-reading Chapter 6, "Democracy and Time," of the political theorist William E. Connolly's brilliant book Neuropolitics: Thinking, Culture, Speed [Minnesota UP, 2002], where he writes . . .
I . . . reject the cyclical image of slow time adopted by many ancients. But I also find myself at odds with progressive, teleological, and linear conceptions of time. . . . [Against these] I embrace the idea of rifts or forks in time that help to constitute it as time. A rift as constitutive of time itself, in which time flows into a future neither fully determined by a discernible past nor fixed by its place in a cycle of eternal return, nor directed by an intrinsic purpose pulling it along. Free time. Or, better, time as becoming, replete with the dangers and possibilities attached to such a world. [p. 144]To better illustrate his point, Connolly cites the moment in Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra when Zarathustra is addressing the "vision" and the "riddle" of time in a debate, before a gateway on their walk, with a "dwarf" who embodies the spirit of gravity:
"Behold this gateway, dwarf!" I continued, "It has two faces. Two paths meet here; no one has yet followed either to its end. The long lane stretches back for an eternity. And the long lane out there, that is another eternity. They contradict each other, these paths; they offend each other face to face; and it is here at this gateway that they come together. The name of the gateway is inscribed 'Moment.' . . . do you believe, dwarf, that these paths contradict each other eternally?" "All that is straight lies," the dwarf murmered contemptuously. "All truth is crooked; time itself is a circle."In Connolly's reading of this passage in Nietzsche,
In every moment, the pressures of the past enter into a dissonant conjunction with uncertain possibilities of the future. The fugitive present is both constituted by this dissonant conjunction between past and present and rendered uncertain in its direction by it. Often enough that uncertainity is resolved through continuity; but below the threshhold of human attention indiscernible shifts and changes have accumulated, sometimes finding expression in small mutations and sometimes in large events. So occasionally time forks in new and surprising directions. A rift in time, engendered by the dissonant conjunction between complex systems with some capacity for self-organization and unexpected events not smoothly assimilable by them. A rift through which at any moment a surprising fork may emerge, ushering microscopic, small, large, or world historical shifts into an open future unsusceptible to full coverage by a smooth narrative, sufficient set of rules, or tight causal explanation. [p. 145]
Ultimately, for Connolly, "it becomes wise to fold the expectation of surprise and the unexpected into the very fabric of our explanatory theories, interpretive schemes, religious identities, territorial conceptions of politics, and ethical sensibilities. And to work on ourselves subtly to overcome existential resentment of these expectations" [p. 146].
So, for me, in relation to many of the conversations we have had on this blog and elsewhere about how we account for particular historical events and identities, and in relation to Karl's work with the categories, philosophies, and material forces that coalesce around the historical processes of becoming-human and becoming-animal, and also in response to JJC's comments, in his Afterword to BABEL's Palgrave book, Cultural Studies of the Modern Middle Ages, which Karl quotes in his Identity Soup post, that certain material objects in the present, such as a pig or pig soup, can function as "temporal archives" that are also "wrinkles in time," I wonder if we can't spend some time here collectively ruminating how we might be historians of these "moments" of time-becoming, of these rifts and forks of time that often lie beneath our scholarly attention, or are even willfully ignored by us because they do not meet with our already-established explanatory theories? As regards what happened, and is still happening, in places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, but also in post-Bloc Identitaire France and pre-Norman Conquest England, I find that I desire historical explanations that would account for "the dissonant conjunction between complex systems with some capacity for self-organization and unexpected events not smoothly assimilable with them"--is this, perhaps, what is meant to be accomplished by Foucault's archaeological method, or is that something else entirely? Could medieval studies be well poised to write what I might call counter counter-history? Where and how has this already been done, and what aspects of or events within the Middle Ages might be well-served by this method? [I am thinking here of JJC's work, in two instances, on Gerald of Wales and St Guthlac, both of which studies would seem to fit this model; what does everyone else think?]