I find myself struggling for words about the murder of forty-nine people in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. The violence, the hate, the mechanisms, the stalemate non-conversations are all too repetitive to memorialize these individual human beings or to count as effective political action. I need words I haven’t said before–words that aren’t simply a reiteration of the language we held between ourselves and the horror at Sandy Hook or Mother Emmanuel or or or or…
I don’t have that language now. The obscene slaughter of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in Orlando should provide a karotic moment, a juncture at which speech and action can create new practices and new institutions by shaping collective will in response to collective problems. It should, but it doesn’t: the massacre of our neighbors has moved from the exigent time of kairos into the periodic time of chronos; the problem remains, but the unique urgency of the present has passed.
Real political action does not appear in mundane chronological time, and, if we cannot invoke kairos and its “fierce urgency of now” (as King phrased it), then we are left with the eschatological hope of the future to come or the moment of appearance (what Derrida calls l’avenir). L’avenir is not a future moment of the mundane chronos, not an abstract or distant hope that the future will be better than the present. L’avenir is the present moment’s participation in a future appearance that will fracture the everyday and bring about the deferred presence of Justice. It has much the same relationship to the future that Benjamin’s revolutionary history holds with the past: both reject a notion of empty time filled like a container with historical events and insist, instead, that the unending work of Justice always hangs in the balance of the present, that the past and the future take their shape from and give shape to actions taken in the present.
This week I have been thinking of a messianic future dreamed by Walt Whitman in 1860 as part of the “Calamus Cluster” in Leaves of Grass:
I DREAM’D in a dream, I saw a city invincible to the attacks of the whole of the rest of the earth;
I dream’d that was the new City of Friends;
Nothing was greater there than the quality of robust love—it led the rest;
It was seen every hour in the actions of the men of that city,
And in all their looks and words.
Whitman has many names for this “robust love” in the Calamus Cluster: the love of friends, brotherly love, manly love, the love of comrades, even American love. This love is intimate without being private, public without being impersonal; it is bodily, embodied and accepting. This is the love Lin-Manuel Miranda spoke of in his sonnet at the Tony Awards the night after the massacre in Orlando, a love that must live now, a love whose promise is always the future.
My wife’s the reason anything gets done
She nudges me towards promise by degrees
She is a perfect symphony of one
Our son is her most beautiful reprise.
We chase the melodies that seem to find us
Until they’re finished songs and start to play
When senseless acts of tragedy remind us
That nothing here is promised, not one day.
This show is proof that history remembers
We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;
We rise and fall and light from dying embers,
remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love
cannot be killed or swept aside.
I sing Vanessa’s symphony, Eliza tells her story
Now fill the world with music, love and pride.