The most interesting thing about atemporality – the term we’ve given to the collapse of multiple historical, hermeneutic contexts into the same experiential frame – is that it is not ahistorical. Rather, atemporality is a function of materially-rooted phenomena of media.
Think of your average Tumblr, with its pastiche stream of images from the 50s and an hour ago. Both the glut and pace of nostalgic novelty fosters a collapse of interpretive frameworks, effacing the political, material, and historical context of those images, rendering their relations somehow invisible.
Atemporality is thus an evil, yes?
What I’d suggest is this: first, pause for a moment, and listen to “Chori Chori” (above) as sung by Meesha Shafi during the third season of Coke Studio Pakistan.
Okay, are you back? Good. Now, return to Massive Attack’s Blue Lines or Mezzanine. In fact, do it all. Listen to “Kamlee” by Hadiqa Kiani and then return to Tricky. Take “Mori Bangri” by Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad and then go back to Portishead.
The thing to ask is this: how might one draw a historical line connecting each? Which would come first? Are Shafi or Kiani’s haunting, lilting vocals part of a historico-cultural trajectory, appropriated by the British, that ‘led to’ triphop? Or is it Shafi who has listened to Massive Attack in an apartment in Lahore, and then ‘taken’ their sound? Is the rhythm behind Ayaz and Muhammad’s modern qawaals simply a function of westernization? Or is there a pre-existing overlap already there?
Or perhaps, is it that drawing out a clear, singular line of influence becomes impossible? That what you would instead have is a mess of lines, overlapped and criss-crossed, scrawled in wax so that, once melted in the heat of analysis, they must be redrawn again, and then again?
The point is not to say that atemporality is disconnected from history, or that it necessarily foregrounds apolitical presentation. Instead, it is the overlapped flows of capital and culture that manifest in the impossibility of a linear chain of origin, one in which there is a clear starting point leading up to the singular cultural referent we designate as “the aesthetic object”, closed and whole.
The atemporal nature of “Chori Chori” is about a kind of inextricability or indivisibility – a rhizomatic, multiple, non-linear chain of influence.
It is not so much that “hybridity is virtual”, though - that the aesthetic object as site of mixture hovers in an impossible third space waiting to recuperated by the magical invested listener. Rather, the hybridity of something like “Chori Chori” is an effacement of a hierarchy of origins as in that very effacement it also roots itself in global historico-material processes, refuting a linear chain of aesthetics as it grounds those very aesthetics in the conditions of their production.
Fusion can thus be a form of atemporal aesthetics, which in turn are a refusal of teleology, of the originary, and of ends. It is their backward-forwardness, their refusal of the tree in favour of the rhizome, that renders them atemporal–and their atemporality that renders them ideal politicized art.