I have been thinking about two much-heard statements: at the airport, announcements thanking boarding and disembarking military personnel for their “service”; on reality television, the claim, “this is my time.” In one frame, these two statements seem to come from completely different worlds. Service, military and militarized, exists outside the “my.” Time is suspended, indefinite, prolonged, repeated, as tours of duty become indefinite loops. “Mission Accomplished” expresses the hope of those not paying attention that others are similarly inattentive. Granted, to say that military service exists in an alternate temporality requires little thought.
Yet, as military time has become militarized time over the past few years, time itself, what is defined as “my” time, has ceased to exist in any meaningful way. We are in the time of service.
Service is, of course, a euphemism. Yet one that tells us something very true about the logic of empire. Empire depends on militarized time, on creating and destroying temporal possibilities: the time leading up to the bomb, the time of the bomb, the time after the bomb, the time of evacuation, the time when evacuation is impossible, the time of prolonged dying.
Again, banal observations: time and service matter.
I have been unable to watch the presidential debates, unable to watch empire perform itself as empire. Stuck in militarized time, indefinite, unending, cruel, repeated, I am unable to join the affect-time of debate wins and losses, unable to care about what appears to be another kind of time that I am unable to name as “progressive” and can only name as “less bad than,” understanding that naming as a function of my desire. Obama will be “less bad than” only works depending on one’s geography.
It has taken some time for me to think about what feels as “disengagement” and “silence” and “retreat” as a function of the militarized time I now occupy and understand as routine.
The fantasy of “my time” requires the time of “service.” “Service,” indefinite, prolonged, delayed, repeated, looped, enables a conception of time as owned, personal, willed. Yet, we can read this insistence on “this is” as marking a certain anxiety over time, an anxiety that is itself a function of militarized time.
The anxiety that marks “this” as the “only” possible time, a time that will not recur, cannot recur, indexes, if only partially, the sense that militarized time is limited time: a loop can only re-play for so long; bodies can only be suspended for so long. Fantasies of the indefinite meet the finitude of embodiment. Even as the seemingly endless number of bodies to be deployed and destroyed suggest that militarized time is indefinite time. The video game will never end.
If we have learned to think of militarized time, the time of service, as indefinite time, we have also learned to think of “our” time as “this time,” as limited, spare, threatened.
I am interested in how we react to this time of indefinite threat—the flat and sharp, depressive and manic, hyper-active and apathetic. I am interested in how we cycle through these feelings, in how their temporalities are in and out of sync with military and militarized time. Interested in how loops disarrange and disorient, discipline and fracture.
“Thank you for your service.”
Military labor is always abstracted: understood as “service,” “victory,” “loss,” “tragedy,” “accident,” “coincidence,” “fake,” “thinkable,” “unthinkable.” I am interested in what it means to privilege “service,” how “service” renders military and militarized labor visible.
I am interested, as well, in how militarized time becomes visible; not as spectacle, which might be one approach, but as formal repetition: replayed images, recurring beats and rhythms, repeated phrases, the re-discovery of cliché.
Because I am so interested in repetition, in the indefinite and the recurring, I am wary about, even uninterested in, the new. Instead, I’m interested in persistence and survival, key terms for Audre Lorde, who continues to be my guide in this indefinite now.