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Throwing a Brick Using Crip Time Theory : An Essay on the Politics of Disability and Temporality

Updated: Oct 7, 2023

by Charlie Chamber-Randell (@8unnyteef)


How do you throw a brick through the window of a bank if you can’t get out of bed? (Johanna Hedva, Sick Woman Theory, 2015)

In order to have the privilege of existing in the public sphere (Arendt,1997), and inherently being political - you must have the privilege of not only the physical ability to exist in those public spaces (as Judith Butler speaks on in their critique of Arendt’s theory in 2015) but also the privilege of time. Within this essay I will discuss the politics of not only reclaiming slurs to self identify separate from cisgender - heterosexual - able - bodied society, but also that of reclaiming the privilege of time.

The term “Crip”, in regards to Crip Theory (McRuer, 2003), Crip Artist and Crip Time (Kafer, 2013) is a reclaimed slur used by those with a disability (usually but not limited to physical). The term “Crip Time” (Kafer, 2013) therefore defines disabled people’s experience with time and temporality in acknowledgement of the restrictions they have around experiencing time in the same way able bodied people do, often not having structures like a 9-5 job accessible to them, often times not being able to get out of bed, or having extreme amounts of time taken up by the intervening of medical institutions. Crip theory (Mcruer and Bérubé, 2006) too speaks on this, how corporate strategy produces and then eliminates both disability and Queerness. Instead of accepting this, Crip theory rejects “demands for tolerance, normativity and assimilation and advocates for access, transgression and systemic critique of ability and ideal bodies and minds” and from this rejection births Crip Time. Crip Time (Alison Kafer, 2003) is then a way of looking at time and temporality from the perspective of disability.

Time and temporality have long been subjects that artists and theorists alike have taken fascination within - the ability to explore time, and inherently take time to do so, is a privilege of those who have agency over it. Heteronormative time (Warner, 1991) is a theory that dictates a structure lived by mainstream society usually consisting of : birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, marriage, reproduction, anniversaries, retirement and then death. Deviating from this structure in any way would “Queer ” (see below “Queer and Crip time”) your experience with your own temporality, and outcast you - usually because the reason you digressed from the structure is due to what is described as deviancy. This term refers to the rebellion away from an ideology, and within this context means that you are either disabled (medical institutions describe disabled bodies or minds as deviant and in need of treatment), Queer (“the rejection of the here and now” according to Jose Esteban Munoz, 2009) or otherwise marginalised. I must preface before I continue by stating that in discussion about deviating from Heteronormative time I will at this time be speaking only on Queer and Crip experiences with time and their intersection in relation to the work of Johanna Hedva, but I freely acknowledge the struggle of the privilege of time’s disproportionate effect on black people, indigenous people, people of colour, the working class and any other marginalised groups that are failed by the concept of Heteronormative Capital.

Heteronormative time promotes capitalism and capital time, the idea that you as an “individual”, spend your time working and then coming home to spend time with your (nuclear) family. It also assumes and suggests that “deviant ” behaviour (note the use of this contrast with disabled existence as deviant) is assigned to specific time periods in the ageing process - for example rebellious and impulsive behaviour being inherently teenage and something that will be grown out of. This deviant behaviour that this theory suggests individuals will “grow out of” usually represent Crip or Queer ideals and the familiar phrase of it being “just a phase” - whether that refers to the self identification in this case of Queerness or in the self identifying of complex behaviours one may see as sickness (“coming out” being a term used intersectionality and identified as having such similarity by Ellen Samuels, 2003). Disabled people deviate from this timeline by having a “body [is one] that cannot be sold for labour” (Hedva, 2015) and Queer people resist this by not only never being able to recreate the nuclear family model by use of same sex partnerships, non binary and fluid gender roles and the emancipation of such roles, but also by displaying what is referred to as the “no future” model within Queer theory - posing the ideology of Queer people being “deviant” as they refuse to continue the capital model of reproduction (Edelman, 2004). (Arguably this completely ignores the straight passing T4T (trans for trans) couples who decide to reproduce “the old fashioned way”, but I believe that they still Queer this narrative as it opposes the woman being only made a mother once she physically gives birth at the hands of a cisgender, heterosexual male.) The intersection between Queer and Crip deviancy is uncanny, and for this reason I will be talking about the theories of both side by side as a direct critique of the assumption of objective truth around temporality.

Heteronormative Time also produces work around temporality that is mild to moderately insulting to Crip and Queer artists who have spoken on their experiences on time - “when then unmarked body comments outside of the mainstream theory they are celebrated but there is no broader acknowledgement of the cultures they experience” (Monaghan,2019). For example, see below Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory (1931). One of the most recognisable paintings, arguably, of all time, seems to appear as an incredibly mediocre take on temporality that was popularised by the mainstream (even though Surrealism as an art movement seemed to be somewhat controversial), because a cisgender heterosexual man commented on a universal experience (“the able-bodied need for an agreed-on common ground” McRuer, 2006) that prompted enough, but not too much as to break the capital, thought. Dali had the privilege of examining time and memory like this. He had both the privilege to create this work taking time that was not interrupted or borrowed, and to critique the time itself - but not the wider issues of capitalism, simply the individual ideals of memory and dreams using self administered psychedelic drugs (the irony between this drug use and able bodied naivety in comparison to forced institutionalisation and medication related trauma for disabled people is not lost on me). He also chose symbolism that was incredibly recognisable, the clock as a symbol of the objective truth of time - of Heteronormative and Capital time (which he, as the unmarked body dictates as his perspective being the right one), as well as the fields of what seems to be a recognisable landscape - but not for those frequently institutionalised and stuck in bed who do not have the privilege of seeing such settings and experiencing them in the way he decides we are meant to. Pieces like Dali’s Persistence of Memory are not lone aggravators. The refusal to create work around time that properly critiques time and temporality under capitalism continues as people stay ignorant to the struggles of those not blessed with time as an assumed and objective truth.

The Persistence of Memory, Salvadori Dali, 1931

Another example of this ignorance is from Sun Yuan and Peng Yu who created Can’t help Myself, which manifested as a robotic arm that continuously scoops oil towards its centre base, the oil actually flooding the electronic joints and slowly slowing it down until it stopped working. The premise itself, without reading about it, for me - as a Crip Queer artist, seemed harmless and impactful - I personally interpreted it as speaking on the grinding gears of the capital whilst trying to hold trauma in and not allow emotions to spill out and harm the surroundings - hurting ourselves in the process. I thought of how brilliant it too was to present it in this way as a neurodiverse and physically disabled person - how often ND people are compared to robots due to tone regulations and isolation from social “norms”, the painful and creaky joints of chronic pain that get worse over time with overwork - as well as the effect emotional trauma has on the body, as spoken on in The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk. Instead this piece speaks on the “laziness” of artists and their “lack of will and drive to create”. Once again having a tone-deaf take on time and temporality - unable to escape the ideals of Heteronormative and capital time to examine it, but instead speaking within the bounds as to not be deviant, and to create a mechanical representation of individual issues to be displayed to the world without clear critique of the capital. It is a privilege to be ignorant towards broader issues outside of your scope of being. I also believe the lack of empathy towards the robotic arm, and its responses, by the creators are very representative of the oppressive nature of unmarked bodies (Monaghan,2019) within art especially when juxtaposed with the object empathy and hyperempathy often experienced by the neurodiverse people I referenced before when relating my own interpretation of this piece.

Can’t Help Myself, Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, 2016

It’s arguable that these pieces of art, much like other pieces created by those whom Heteronormative time works for, are just expressions of their narcissism and naivety towards issues outside of themselves - and interestingly, Johanna Hedva says that in order to beat the capital we must erase the idea of the ego - this erasure as an idea that eastern spiritual practices like Buddishm encourage. We erase the ideals of the self and its divide between self and other. We all share love. We all share pain. Radical Kinship and compassion means that violence against one is violence against all.

Hedva’s theories, opposed to the previous artists, come directly from their own experience as a marginalised person. They also speak on their own experience with Cripness and Crip time within their text Sick Woman Theory (2020) as well as their talk, My Body Is a Prison of Pain so I Want to Leave It Like a Mystic But I Also Love It & Want it to Matter Politically (2015). A key point of theirs is this idea that Crip time is far from Heteronormative time but Crip time and the concept of disability is an inescapable one as the society that we live in disables us rather than the individual identity of being disabled.

Spoon Theory (Miserandino, 2003) is a theory that helps disabled people (also referred to as a result of this as “spoonies”) manage time and energy levels. The idea is that being able bodied (however this theory may also apply to anyone who doesn’t identify with Arendt’s unmarked bodies - as this means they are subject to oppression under capitalism that affects their relationship with their own temporality) means you have an unlimited amount of spoons (each activity you complete throughout the day regardless of energy level takes a level of “spoons”), and so called “Spoonies” have anywhere from 0 on a bad day to 24 on a good day. “Spoonies” may also experience what’s known as “Spoon Debt” that refers to when a disabled person has overworked themselves to the point of being restricted to bed. The widespread acceptance of Spoon Theory (Miserandino, 2003) is political in the same way that Crip Time (Kafer, 2013) is - spread through word of mouth within the network of able bodied companions I talk on in the conclusion - as well as the rejection of the need for academic institution’s validation for a theory to be widely accepted - not only rejecting the validation of an institution that is another cog in the capital wheel but also one that outcasts said “Spoonies” through systemic oppression best shown in strict attendance policies within educational settings. Accepting and practising a theory that has not been validated in the same way the Crips using the theory have been invalidated by another system that is inaccessible to us.

Crip Time may also be spoken about in relation to Spoon Theory (Christine Miserandino, 2010) - both of which arguably are ways of explaining disabled temporality to able-bodied audiences, however, I argue are both rebellions against Heteronormative time. Much like Queer time, Crip Time defines time according to the perspective of the Crip in question - it takes into accordance how much time is spent by disabled people recovering from health flare ups, preparing for them, organisation around and time spent within medial institutions, time separated from the workplace and the capital usually through one's own “inability to work”, time spent in bed recovering from daily activities or time spent unable to get out of bed, much like Hedva’s original quote around activism for chronically ill people.

Amalle Dublon and Constantina Zavitsanos’ Caduceus ( 2016), a piece of the collective Multiple Canaries’ release “Notes from the waiting room”, is a perfect example of art about Crip Time. The pamphlet released by the artists within Multiple Canaries speaks of trauma and mistreatment under medical institutions through the medium of satire forms and information packs mocking the forms provided “in the waiting room” of American health institutions. The below image Caduceus, created by Amalle Dublon and Constantina Zavitsanos, Crips the assigned timeline that is given to disabled people to make their time more “manageable” often in an attempt to make said individuals more productive. This piece describes how unset and chaotic time living with a chronic illness is. It observes that activities like “the problem of motion” will occur at 12pm, referring to the inability to get out of bed and the pain it causes, then the word work is crossed out ,as well as many other words and phrases blacked out - referring to the inability to work and the ignorance of the medical institutions assumptions around what disabled people can and can’t do as a whole. This piece states a realistic, albeit comedic, timeline for disabled people and mocks the instruction to state this Cripped timeline on a diagram to make it palatable to their able bodied counterparts , as well as infantilising them and their own intelligence levels and ability to understand and fill out said forms.

Amalle Dublon and Constantina Zavitsanos, Caduceus, 2016. From the series involving individual contributions by multiple Canaries, “Crip Time", 2016. Published in Notes for the Waiting Room, 2016

Another piece that encapsulates Crip Time is that of Untitled (Perfect Lovers) (1991) by FelixGonzalez-Torres. It takes a different, more heart-wrenching approach torepresentations of Crip Time and Queer time in the context of the AIDS crisis, wherethe intersection of these two communities is made known throughmedical/institutional violence. Untitled consist of two clocks at the samelevel that start at the same time, then slowly un-sync as the batteries die. The clocks slowly start operating on their own time and represent the dwindling time of a person with AIDS. This work, like a lot of Torres’, speaks on the grief of losing his partner to AIDS and watching him get progressively more ill. The text that accompanies this piece, in the form of a letter that Torres sent to his partner reads : “Don’t be afraid ofthe clocks, they are our time, the time has been so generous to us. We imprinted time with the sweet taste of victory. We conquered fate by meeting at a certain TIME in a certain space. We are a product of the time, therefore we give back credit where it is due: time. We are synchronised, now forever. I love you.” This is another take on Crip Time that speaks on the intimacy of identifying the difference between CripTime / Queer Time and Heteronormative Time (in this case we are speaking on the compulsory able-bodiedness (Mcruer, 2003) that birthed Heteronormative time rather than Heteronormative time itself) and the intersection between Queerness and Cripness. Monaghan (2019) on Queerness and Temporality: “life narratives to the eight hour workday, to premature ejaculation, the AIDS crisis, the Queer Past and Future, the lived experience of being LGBTIQ”. This piece also link with the ideathat “disability [and Queerness as well as] is a political and contested identity” (Feminist,Queer , Crip by Alison Kafer, 2013) and that the declaration of loving someone whooperates on Crip Time and publicly announcing the medical institutions failure duringthe AIDS crisis is another way to throw a brick when you can’t get out of bed (alsosee Torres’ Untitled (Billboard of an empty bed) 1991).

Felix Gonzalez-Torres Untitled (Perfect Lovers) 1991

Crip time is not only a way of explanation but redefines time on our own terms as disabled people. It challenges the able bodied people in our life to redefine their time in relation to us and to also Crip (deviate from Heteronormative time) their time. The spread of this through the network of disabled people and their able bodied friends, family, partners is a political movement that is being done (in different variations) from bed (Hedva, 2019). And I Believe this answers Hedva’s question. Throwing a brick, in this instance relating to Crip Time, is the reclaiming of a slur used against us and using it to redefine our own time, and then spreading that agenda, Cripping the time of our loved ones and using their privilege to spread it.


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