published in The Short and The Long of It, Mousse Publishing, Milan, 2011
Transnational shipping routes traverse time zones invented to synchronize the sun’s uneven impact on a globe girded by continuous capital flows. The world as calibrated in an electronic panel showing navigation or stock market data. The universality of exchange requires a homogeneous time. The principle of risk management is control of time; at the same time, entropy creates profits in a differentiated system. To dub this a rationalized time, and oppose to this a local and dense experience of lived time would be to misrecognize the abstract conditions of lived experience, whether this be the pure intuition of time as a blank medium for the human relation to the world or the really abstract time of capital, just as it would be admitting the claims of the rational in the same spirit in which they’re made. Homogeneous and empty time puts us all to work, and whatever survives is the carcass of time. How to stop the state machinery of time? As Benjamin notes, it is by stepping out of the time of everyday experience that experience can again be possible. Because there is no reality outside time, changing time underlies all modern political and artistic attempts to transform reality, from revolutionary calendars and Communards shooting the clocks, to the malleable time of experimental cinema to cut-up chronologies in the novel and the veritable agonies of durational performance. Robert Smithson’s ‘humorous dimension of time’ has some bearing here also, capable as it may be of bridging the utopian contretemps with time and postmodernism’s elision of history, marked by gentle and homiletic ironies: it is this latter sensibility that informs today’s reversions to modernism.
As always (perhaps), the most conclusive instances of a cultural thesis are the involuntary ones. The episode of cargo ships trapped in the Suez Canal for eight years, following the outbreak of a war that officially lasted just six days does rather evoke a giant performance piece, read in its geopolitical and social context. Or a mythic time: the Egyptian blockade of the canal meant to halt the incursion of the Israeli army was not unlike casting a spell over the major navigation channel. It is baffling that the spell was so effective. What about the cargo? What about the profits? Where were the airlifts? It is hard to imagine such a lapse of efficiency in any global trade circuit, much less the high-churn, containerized shipping industry we know from today. In ‘The Short and Long of It’ project, incorporating the video ‘Yellow Limbo’ named after the ‘Yellow Fleet’ of 14 ships marooned from 1967 to 1975, Uriel Orlow tries to re-imagine this little-known incident.