The tracing of ongoingness in a networked, transversing way11 – See thorax gives a sense of its non-linear dimension, for to go across in plurality is to disrupt a causal reading, that courageous attempt at achieving a long life. It is not that these sideways movements have opened up multi-temporal possibilities, rather that ongoing is inevitably multitemporal or atemporal, depending which layer of time is under consideration.22 – “Many discussions of the concept of time are confused because they simply do not recognize its complex and multi-layered aspect. They make the mistake of not seeing that the different layers are independent.” Carlo Rovelli, The Order of Time (London: Penguin books, 2017), p.171
What is made distinct is the time as perceived by humans and the time of ‘quantum’ and ‘loop theory’; here I am loosely using ‘multitemporal’ in relation to the former and ‘atemporal’ in relation to the latter. Here I intend to discuss ongoingness and time in a twofold approach, in a way that relates to potential: the first looks at a conception of time in materiality, one of element, and the second as temporality, as one experienced and lived in, which is heavy with history.
On a macro scale, we know of the relationship of time in the gravitational field, of curved spacetime, its relativity to mass and speed; that rather than singular time we have multitudes of local times that evolve relative to each other.33 – Ibid, p.15 in discussion of Einstein’s General Relativity Ongoingness is inherently multitemporal as it exists in this conception of multitude times, where interaction occurs across numerous times and adapts them, a responsive, ever-curving field.44 – “A field in physics is something that has a physical quantity associated with every point in space- time. Or you can think of it as a pattern of energy distributed across space and time.” Karen Barad ‘TransMaterialities’, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies (North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2015), p.394 Though of course this is not enough - this is just a confirmation of the states of things as they interact; it points to occurrences rather than outlines potentials. Potential happens on a smaller scale, in time’s diminution into quantized exchanges and movements of energy.
Karen Barad turns to the notion of indeterminacy of matter as part of a questioning of ‘nothingness’ and ‘naturalness’ (among other questionings) in ‘TransMaterialities’, in which the void is determined to not be vacuous but rather “a living, breathing indeterminacy of non/being”.55 – Ipid, p.396 This is in opposition to the classical conception of the void as a “vacuum of complete emptiness”,66 – Ipid, p.394 which Barad rejects by instead turning to Quantum Field Theory (QFT) in which fields (or patterns of energy) are quantized into discrete rather than continuous forms;77 – This distinction also separates the ongoing from the continuous, as the ongoing embraces discrete values/forms as well as continuous ones - see bulbs the void therefore being comprised of virtual particles rather than these existing of the void, an empty space. These virtual particles are potentials of energy to be/become, charges that dis/appear, or materialise; the void is a lively place.88 – “The void is a lively tension, a desiring orientation toward being/becoming. The void is flush with yearning, bursting with innumerable imaginings of what might yet (have) be(en). That is, virtuality is the material wanderings/wonderings of nothingness; virtuality is the ongoing thought experiment the world performs with itself.” Karen Barad, ‘TransMaterialities’, p.396 “Time” in such a conception, is a continuous energy exchange, moving in no specific direction - it is actively atemporal.
“The quantum vacuum is more like an ongoing questioning of the nature of emptiness than anything like a lack. The ongoing questioning of itself… is what generates, or rather is, the structure of nothingness. The vacuum is no doubt doing its own experiments with non/being. In/determinacy is not the state of a thing but an unending dynamism.”99 – Ibid, p.396. A large part of ‘TransMaterialities’ is devoted to explain macro phenomena that show quantum effects, or demonstrate quantum theory macroscopically. One of these is lightning, which tests out a multitude of paths to the ground before the typical ‘lightning bolt’: “a lightning bolt does not simply proceed from storm cloud to the earth along a unidirectional (if somewhat erratic) path; rather, flirtations alight here and there and now and again as stepped leaders and positive streamers gesture toward possible forms of connection to come.” This is seen as a “quantum form of communication” Karen Barad, ‘TransMaterialities’, p.398
The comparison of lightning to matter comes together in George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo (Bloomsbury, 2017), where an event known as the “matterlightblooming phenomena” transfers inhabitants out of the Bardo to the beyond - perhaps to be thought of as a quantum event that transcends realms. For the materlightblooming phenoma in relation to endings, see abdomen Barad’s emphasis of ‘ongoing’ is particularly interesting here. A shift in this statement, which positions this ‘ongoing questioning of itself’ as the very structure of nothingness, leads to the conception that nothingness is able to carry on (as nothingness) through questioning: questioning is essential to the structure of nothingness, but it is a continual, non-stop, ongoing form of this questioning that enables a persistence, or even a non/existence. It is an ‘over and over and over’ that is dynamic. This is more than just simple continuance, this is an ongoing as the determination of non/being.
There is a slight risk in this line of thought that purports ongoingness as abstract materiality, to belong singularly to ‘nothingness’ in a certain form (as questioning), when perhaps it is Barad’s turn to multiple occurring potentials that should be embraced. Barad describes matter as ongoing inter-activity, one of response-ability, a reconfiguring - it is “not mere being, but its ongoing un/doing”.1010 – Karen Barad, ‘TransMaterialities’, p.411 A continual playing of matter amongst and with itself. This leads to a significant figuring that nature, which for Barad is material, is an “ongoing question of itself - of what constitutes naturalness...nature itself is an ongoing deconstruction of naturalness”.1111 – Ibid, p.412 The ongoing in Barad is in material forces, of energetic throbbing, becomings & unbecomings, configurings & reconfigurings; the ongoing is not just fluctuations but dynamic movements, that are exercised from nothingness itself all the way to a deconstruction of naturalness - of what is - from quantum levels to the macro-scale, an opening up to possibilities. It is ongoingness in this conception that enables deconstructions, potentials, possibilities. The ongoing is a constituent of matter, the ongoing fundamental to matter’s ongoingness.1212 – Perhaps it is worth reinforcing the relationship to time here: on the quantum level, it is the movement and exchange of energy that is at play, no longer the perceived idea of successive time/s (and these quantum plays are occuring in the spacetime field)
A shift to a different layer of time, away from quanta, and a change of tone. To look at an example of ongoingness as temporality, experienced, where potential can lie and be sought there...
Christina Sharpe uses the term ‘the wake’ in its numerous definitions, such as the “track left on the water’s surface by a ship”1313 – Christina Sharpe, In the Wake (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2016), p.3 and “a watch or vigil held beside the body of someone who has died”,1414 – Ibid, p.10 in order to piece together a description and conceptual framework of and for living blackness in “the precarities of the ongoing disaster of the ruptures of chattel slavery”.1515 – Ibid, p.5.
n.b. My inclusion of Christina Sharpe here is particular to the structuring of ongoingness in her work, which I aim to work alongside to build on a wider examination of ongoingness. I of course make no claim to expand upon her ideas specific to black experience. The afterlives of slavery condition the present, they texture ways of being in and of the world.1616 – Ibid, p.5 In reference to the temporality of ‘disaster’, Sharpe quotes Maurice Blanchot who, referring to the Holocaust, states: “The disaster is its immanence, but since the future, as we conceive of it in the order of lived time belongs to the disaster, the disaster has always withdrawn or dissuaded it; there is no future for the disaster, just as there is no time or space for its accomplishment.”1717 – Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, quoted in Christina Sharpe, In the Wake, p.5 - for Sharpe “Transatlantic slavery was and is the disaster.” In other words, the future is already preconditioned by the disaster: it does not formulate outside of it, and it cannot go beyond, escape, and by no means settle it. Ongoingness here is a weighted thing; one that is centuries old across all modes of non/being in that it continually conditions being’s possibilities, or their lack.1818 – “slavery’s violences emerge within the contemporary conditions of spatial, legal, psychic, material and other dimensions of Black non/being as well as Black modes of resistance”, Christina Sharpe, In the Wake, p.14
In this framework there is a suggested impossibility of any form of coming-to-terms-with, as an ongoingness constantly provides new formulations of disaster. As Sharpe writes: “How do we memorialize an event that is still ongoing?”, “How does one…”come to terms with” (which usually means move past) ongoing and quotidian atrocity?”1919 – Ibid, p.20 What Sharpe proposes is a way of working in the wake that relies on a knowledge of it - it is in knowing this very ongoing, quotidian atrocity that accounts for the possibilities of resistance, for “particular ways of re/seeing, re/inhabiting, re/imagining the world”.2020 – Ibid, p.22 Sharpe terms this as ‘wake work’, which is made distinct from melancholia and mourning due to the complex ongoingness of disaster that resists memorialization.
Although I am unable to fully explore the means and possibilities of wake work here, I want to highlight its particular position within the ongoing. Wake work becomes a necessity set against an ongoingness of disaster, one that figures the future, and is conditioned through multiple means that are both event and reporting. This is the orthography of the wake, and for Sharpe is the ‘weather’2121 – Sharpe’s four categories are ‘the wake’, the ship’, ‘the hold’, ‘the weather’ - the wider climate that normalises and produces Black death. The manifold disasters arrive “by way of the rapid, deliberate, repetitive, and wide circulation on television and social media of Black social, material, and psychic death.”2222 – Ibid, pp.20-21 In this way the conventions of antiblackness are produced both in the present and are kept in motion into the future; they become part of the reporting mechanism, continually replenishing through groundwork that they themselves have laid, constructing the conditions for their recurrence.2323 – A similar point was briefly touched on in head, in relation to the louse who weasels their way into things and sticks in the mind for nights afterwards, about the media’s relation to continuing racist, Anti-semitic and Islamophobic beliefs They are ongoing through time by constructing their own momentum - whilst establishing their own archive and precedent - managing to articulate amongst developing media channels and varying forms of presentation. Once again, it is amongst and under the strain of this weather that ‘wake work’ can be undertaken - it is only with the knowledge and awareness of the weather system that it can be re/seen and a potential for working amongst/against it formed.
Although these two considerations of ongoingness and time differ greatly, I have focused on Barad and Sharpe in order to express ongoingness not solely in relation to time, but also in relation to potentiality. Both Barad’s use of QFT to articulate the ongoing-interactivity of matter, and Sharpe’s conception of being in the wake and of ‘wake work’, relate to ongoingness in a way that enables alternatives, that sets up potentials. However, they do so in radically oppositional ways.
In Barad, ongoingness can be seen as a positive agent - it is a constituent quality of matter, and through recognising this as fundamental, the very nature of ‘naturalness’ (and indeed ‘nothingness’) are opened up to reconsideration. For naturalness consists of constant reconfigurings, and it is in its continually deconstructing itself that it is defined. This sets up all manner of potentials, for if this ongoing deconstruction is naturalness, then the possible imaginings, reconfigurings, queerings, recalibrations (all as material) feel freed from limitations.
Conversely, ongoingness in Sharpe is part of the formulation of the wake - it is that ongoing and quotidian atrocity or disaster that constitutes non/being. Ongoingness is no longer a positive agent, but instead is an oppositional constant, one that, in having an awareness of it, potentials are opened up against it. The re/seeing, re/inhabiting and re/imagining that follow from ‘wake work’ are not produced by possibilities enabled by ongoingness, but instead are brought about by an informed departure. Working against ongoingness’ constant motion, whilst inevitably contained within it.