this is the final text of the “HOW MUCH WAR IS GOING ON” performance I’m showing in 3d-space here — https://wartime.space — it’s free to share, I’d also really appreciate it if you could share the link to the project and recommend it to your friends; I plan to show it further. thanks!
I’ll start by telling you a little bit about myself. My name is Vitya Vilisov, I am an artist and researcher. I spent almost the entire year of 2022 in a complex affective experience of the flow of time. Many people are familiar with those evenings in an empty apartment when you are preparing to go to bed or have already gone to bed, and the evening horror comes: thoughts of death, your own or your loved ones’, and in general of everything going away creep into your head; almost all my evenings in 2022 were like that. But there was something else about that year that I’d never had before. I refocused completely on time, and thinking about it and experiencing its flow spread from my evenings to the rest of my life. I walked the streets and looked at people and thought not about who they were, how they dressed or how they lived, but what time was doing to them and what they were doing with time: how they were growing up or aging, whether they felt in control of their time, what traces they were leaving in the present. I would look at faded signs or shabby facades and think about how they were once relevant and now they aren’t, and what now of the people who looked at them with still fresh eyes. For almost the entire year I have been worried about how quickly the current time mold and the people in it will disappear.
Of course, this was caused primarily by the war. With the outbreak of war, I felt for the first time in my life that my time did not belong to me, that something disproportionately larger than me had arisen, that was colonizing my time right now. War next to emphasize the fragility of human life is an obvious thought; but war also does something to time that I felt very keenly. War is a hyper-event that painfully unites us all around the expectation of its end, and radically alters our sense of the present. I felt that time broke with the outbreak of war — and it changed who I am and who and how I feel about myself. Because it affected me personally, on a bodily level, I wanted to explore it.
I did a lecture on what war does to time, and war time does to human identity — personal and collective. This lecture will last a little over eighty minutes. First we’ll deal with identity, then we’ll add a time dimension to it, and then we’ll look at what happens to both concepts when war breaks out.
To many of you, I think it seems perfectly natural to ask yourself from time to time: who am I? Who am I? When you meet someone and talk about yourself, you use a number of markers — professional, personal, gender, nationality, and many others — to outline to the other person the landscape of your identity. It seems impossible to function in society otherwise. But identity as we understand it today is a relatively new invention, just over seventy years old. This is what researcher Mary Moran writes, who, researching the history of identity, found that until the 1950s there was no talk in the public sphere at all about sexual, political, gender, ethnic, national, consumer identity in the modern sense; no one talked about the loss or search for identity, nor about its crisis.
But from the ‘50s through the ‘70s, identity becomes what the theorist Raymond Williams calls a “keyword,” a term critical to describing and analyzing modernity. ::You see a graph showing the number of English-language books with the word “identity” in the title: 37 such books were published in the 1950s, and more than ten thousand in the ten years from 2010 to 2020.
The question “what is the subject? what is the self?” and the conversation about selfhood has had a place in public discourse plus minus forever, since the time of ancient Greek philosophy, but, as Moran writes, the very possibility of construing the self as a human bearer of identity (individual or collective, which can be acquired or lost) is an invention of the middle of the last century.
It was made possible by two processes: commercialization and the politicization of particular traits of an individual or group. Through commercialization, the idea of personal identity is formed: since the beginning of the 20th century, and especially after the Second World War, the culture of consumption through fashion, with its practices of imitation and differentiation, spread for the first time in history from elite groups to mass society, to working class families. The idea of defining oneself through consumption emerges. As philosopher Herbert Marcuse writes, people began to “recognize themselves in commodities: the automobile, the music center, the two-story house, the kitchen equipment.” Overlaid on this was the formalization of psychotherapy as an industry that helped people find themselves and simultaneously adjust to the demands of mass society. Personal identity offered to find oneself through participation in mass consumption: to stand out, that is, to be individual, and to be similar to a group close to you in terms of consumption, to belong to a certain class.
Social identity, or group identity, emerges through the politicization of difference. In the 20th century, movements against discrimination flourished: against blacks, women, sexual and gender minorities, people with physical and mental disabilities, and decolonial movements. The relationship of these movements to identity involves a contradiction that is still relevant today. In the first half of the last century, movements against racial segregation and for women’s rights argued that differences in skin color and gender were not really as important as racists and misogynists believed, and that we were all human beings and therefore deserved equality and the same rights. This idea caught on perfectly well in Western societies and helped to make much of the structures of discrimination a thing of the past.
But by the end of the 60s it became clear that the struggle for universal equality did not take into account the specific lived experiences of different discriminated groups: that, for example, women were discriminated against in one way, black women in another, and black lesbians in an even more subtle way. It has become clear that racism, misogyny, and other types of oppression lie much deeper than unequal wages, access to the vote, or jobs. They are found in colleges, in bed, in the kitchen, in store lines, in culture. The personal becomes political; a theory of intersectionality takes shape, describing how different levels of discrimination or privilege can intersect and overlap. And this is where what is now called identity politics is born. The civil rights movement for black people is being replaced by the Black Power movement, emphasizing black pride and the need for their own political institutions that take into account their particular experiences; the idea of women’s rights equal to men’s rights is being replaced by a movement for women’s liberation from the structure of patriarchy; there is a shift in the ranks of LGBT+ movements from the idea of same-sex marriage to full-fledged queer liberation from the bars of heteronormativity. New waves of activism and theory build politics around emphasizing difference as a source of knowledge for societal change, and call for practicing solidarity and resistance based on it rather than flattening it.
Historian Philip Gleason, in an article on the semantic history of identity, links its modernization to an identity crisis in American society: against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the racial crisis, American identity was no longer as attractive as it had been, and citizens began to emphasize their ethnic identity. He also connects this to the “national character” studies conducted in the U.S. after World War II, and writes that the questions “who am I?” and “how does an individual live in a mass society?” were very acute at this time. The concept of identity offered answers.
As a result, we enter the 21st century with two conflicting ways of thinking about identity: one that downplays the importance of difference over common humanity, and one that emphasizes it. Added to this is the fact that differences themselves can be understood essentialistically, as something given by nature or god or homeland (as primordialists and followers of the theories of psychologist Erik Erikson think), or constructivistically, as something produced by society (as interactionists think) — these are two more branches within the identity debate. Either way, identity is still seen by many as some kind of social constant in which a person is frozen plus or minus for life.
Sociology professor Linda Nicholson proposes a third way for identity: to view a person’s or group’s distinctive traits as a system of social meanings that can be interpreted differently in different contexts. Being a dark-skinned person in apartheid South Africa is not the same as being in the Republic of Congo; being a Queer in Ingushetia is not the same as being a Queer in Lisbon, where the tension and attention around that part of your self is radically reduced. We know that so-called minorities and the Other (capitalized) are constructed by members of normative culture: a white heterosexual man can have the identity of a father or husband, but cannot have the identity of a white heterosexual man (at least, until recently, he could not), because within the normative world this is the universal man, the zero category from which all others are counted: homosexuals, women, queers, people of color, and so on.
To this we add Mary Moron’s important idea that identity is not something that changes with post-industrialism and consumer culture, but that the very construction of the individual and group community in terms of “identity” is caused by capitalist lifestyles. Moron suggests that we should agree that identity is not an intrinsic unchangeable property of individuals or groups, but also not just a flexible social construction, but a modern technology of categorization. Roughly speaking, it seems inevitable for us today to have an identity, but Moron writes that it is only one way of categorizing people that is specific to our time. So something beyond identity is possible.
The category of identity operates differently in different contexts, so it produces different political effects. On the one hand, the fact that identities multiply and fragment contributes to the fact that more and more medium groups huddle around their unique experiences, demand exclusive privileges, and refuse to cooperate. Liberals see this fragmentation as a threat to the general harmony of civil society; some on the left see it as a threat to general class solidarity; people with right-wing and fundamentalist views generally believe that identity politics is destroying the nation, traditional morality, and individual freedom. On the other hand, many liberation movements have been able to build political solidarity on just such fragmentation. For example, the rights and experiences of trans people or the rights of the visually impaired could easily get lost in the larger labor movement; they need special attention.
Mary Moron writes that the intensification of market processes in neoliberalism has inflated the importance of personal identity at the expense of social identity to the point where identity is now increasingly just a motivation to consume. It seems to her that the radical identity politics of the 60s are a thing of the past. And here it’s interesting how identity politics strategies are now being appropriated by conservative wings suffering from resentment: nationalists, ultra-right-wingers, people of privileged classes; “men’s rights movements” are emerging, white workers are saying that the progressive narrative has forgotten about them, but they too have their own unique experience of discrimination, the regressive wing of feminism insists on women’s natural identity and denies rights to transgender people, and so on.
Some groups draw attention to the constructed and interactionist nature of identity in order to expand their rights. Others practice the so-called strategic essentialism proposed by the Indian philosopher Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, who suggested that discriminated communities, in order to achieve political goals, overcome internal differences and unite on the basis of supposedly natural differences, even if they do not agree that they are natural.
The main thing we need to remember from this is: ::identity today is not just a neutral description of a person or his or her membership of a group; it is a crucial political locus, a nodal point through which political solidarity is mobilized and political structures are developed or contested. Identity today is both a site and a means of reorganizing the world.
How is identity formed? This process takes place within the individual person, but it is inextricably linked to their environment. Psychoanalyst and philosopher Jacques Lacan linked the formation of identity to the acquisition of language. According to Lacan, the subject’s psyche is formed in three overlapping phases: when a child is just born, it is still connected to the space of the Real, it has nothing but basic needs; after a short time comes the phase of the Imaginary: The child begins to separate his body from his mother’s body, looks at himself in the mirror and gradually views himself as a separate entity — comparing and identifying; with the entry into the space of language and narrative, the child finds himself inside the Symbolic order, hence his identity is formed. Some essential distinctions are imposed on the person even before he or she is able to understand language: for example, gender or ethnicity. Growing up, the person internalizes these signifiers and internalizes them, or comes into conflict with them. A person’s sense of self is formed through interaction with the society around her: learning its norms and orders, and internalizing how people like her behave in that society. Without participation in society, no identity is possible.
Why is it important for a person to have an identity? The answer of psychology and social psychology is pretty obvious: to be able to navigate the world. We live in society, it is a complex system where many actors (individuals, groups, institutions, states) are located in relation to each other and every day have to make decisions about how to interact with each other. To make certain choices, a person needs a point of reference: how would a person identical to me act in this case? Identity is necessary for establishing social ties, for adapting to change, for marking and expressing one’s desires and boundaries, and for moral and ethical development. Psychological research points to a link between a strong sense of identity and a high quality of life, the ability to feel happy and fulfilled. Philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah writes in The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity that identity carries three main traits: they are the labels we apply to ourselves and others; they determine how we act and behave in life and our ideas about how we should act; and they influence how other social actors treat us.
Personal identity is inextricably linked to group or collective identity; more often than not, they are mutually defined. A sense of belonging to a group is also necessary for orientation in the world. For some people it is more important to be a Russian or a Buryat than to be a mother or a wife or a lesbian; for others, group religious identity comes to the forefront, and sometimes it comes into conflict with personal gender or sexual identity. Interestingly, language plays as decisive a role in shaping collective identities as it does personal ones: British sociologist Benedict Anderson, in his breakthrough book Imagined Communities, shows how the emergence of nation-states was made possible by print capitalism and printed languages that united people of different dialects. Anderson emphasizes that a common language does not form national identity; it becomes a mechanism for imagining, inventing nations and other imagined communities.
The concept of identity in the social sciences is controversial; some theorists, such as Rogers Brubaker, suggest abandoning it altogether, replacing it with related procedural terms: identification, categorization, self-understanding, social localization, community, and group cohesion. Mary Moron, on the contrary, believes that identity should not be abandoned, but that it should be thought of discretely and used where it promotes solidarity and political mobilization, and not used where it strengthens divisions or oppression. Either way, it has a huge place today in how we think and talk about ourselves and our place in the world.
I suggest we move beyond this, keeping in mind not only that any person has multiple identities, but also that even the deepest and most stable ones — based on place of birth, skin color, gender, or sexual preference — can change over the course of a lifetime, lose or gain meaning, and be interpreted differently in different contexts, manifested or dissolved. It is also important to remember that the category of identity in Western societies is not universal across the world. Despite globalization, people in other parts of the world and other cultures may feel self and belonging differently. Finally, there are also people for whom defining oneself in any category is not very important at all: my personal feeling is that there are more and more of them among very young people today.
— The way we understand ourselves and our belonging to a group today is largely shaped by and linked to capitalism and consumer culture; it is a historically new situation
— Identity is a social construct, a system of social meanings that can be interpreted differently in different contexts
— Group and personal identities are interrelated and mutually determining
— Identities are necessary for orientation in the world, but they can change, mutate, acquire and disappear: both from the personal life movements of a person and under the influence of external circumstances.
— Identities have a deep political dimension; they are political tools and can serve both solidarity and oppression
In the 1960s, humanity had a problem: it had to agree on what a second was. The fact is that in 1955, British physicist Louis Essen invented the so-called cesium-based atomic clock: this clock measures the periodic oscillations of the atom’s electrons rotating around the nucleus. And these oscillations are so stable that they’re ideal for measuring time.
Before the discovery of the atomic clock, the concept of the second had already changed several times: until the early twentieth century, hours, minutes, and seconds were measured as the average part of a solar day. But since the solar day lasts differently in different regions and at different times of the year, this was a rather approximate calculation. The starting point was then taken as a year, during which the earth goes through a cycle of rotation around the sun. But the problem is that the earth rotates slower every year: 600 million years ago, one day on earth was 21 hours, not 24. The 50’s and 60’s came, computer technology developed, the first GPS satellites were launched, against the background of the space race and the Cold War, the military and other industries demanded even more precise time measurement, even more synchronization of information systems.
And then the atomic second is discovered and it turns out that the atomic second is a little shorter than the average solar second; and in addition, the average solar second also changes its duration over time due to the slowing down of the earth’s rotation. Each Earth day today is about 2.5 milliseconds shorter than the previous one. As a result, people have two seconds of different durations on their hands, and they need to switch from the average solar second to the atomic second; how do they do that? In 1972, a decision is made, which developers would call a crutch, that about every year and a half, one whole second (called a leap second) will be added to mean solar time to keep world time in sync with that measured by the atomic clock. Thus arises the time standard UTC, universal time coordinated or world time coordinated.
The story doesn’t end there. Right now, mankind is moving to an even more accurate way of measuring time — based on molecular clocks that observe the vibrations of strontium atoms. This means nothing to the average person, but it can, for example, increase the accuracy of GPS navigation from meters to centimeters.
Why am I telling you all this? For the purposes of this lecture, it is important for us to realize that there is little natural or natural about time, time is produced and constructed by humans, and standards for measuring it are a matter of convention or imposition. For example, in the late 19th century, France, unable to convince the United States and England to adopt their metric system, refused to join the Greenwich Mean Time system, and entered the 20th century with Paris Mean Time, 9 minutes and 21 seconds out of sync with the rest of the world.
The new molecular clock will be embedded in a huge network for determining global time: international organizations such as the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, national and independent laboratories, expert groups, cross-national collaborations of scientists, and so on. This entire network of actors and institutions relies on a vast technological infrastructure: satellites, computer networks and atomic clocks, laboratory equipment, and the supply chain that supports this infrastructure. In turn, the timing infrastructure supports other large technological systems.
As we know from physics and, in particular, relativity theory, time does not exist objectively in the universe as an independent variable, you cannot simply measure time, you need a reference point; time is the fourth axis in the four-dimensional geometry of spacetime. Philosophy professor Jenanne Ismael, in a book with an introduction to the theory and physics of time, writes that time does not unfold in space as it seems to people, nor does it have a linear directionality; time is already-dated in the universe, and the sense of its directionality arises from the thermodynamic gradient, the movement of the universe from low entropy to high entropy. One need not be under any illusion that people know exactly how time works; this introduction is necessary to shake the everyday belief that there is some unshakable and human-independent dimension — time — within which events unfold. Time is a very strange thing.
And this can be understood by the way each of us experiences time. We are all familiar with those moments when it turns out that more or less time has passed than we thought; behind some activity time flows subjectively faster or slower, the feeling of available time changes depending on the planning horizon, current tension, dependence on other people — and so on. How the subject experiences time is explored by time phenomenology. The founder of phenomenology, the German philosopher Edmund Husserl, in his work Phenomenology and Time-Consciousness, introduces three key terms for analyzing time consciousness: praempression (this is the first sensory impression, the current moment), retention (this is the ability of consciousness to hold traces of what has just passed in the present, to construct continuity), and protention (the ability of consciousness to anticipate a future moment).
French phenomenological philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, in his work on the phenomenology of perception, also addresses the sense of time. He writes that human consciousness is not a passive recipient and recorder of time; rather, consciousness is necessary for the construction and constitution of time; time does not exist without operations in human consciousness. Even Merleau-Ponty writes that the consciousness of time is inextricably linked to the subject’s bodily reality and its relations with things around it. The fact that consciousness determines the sense of time and this is related to bodily living is very important to remember in the context of talking about the impact of war on time and sense of identity.
Different scientific disciplines have different ways of categorizing time: sociology, philosophy, anthropology, geology, and other sciences deal with temporality in different ways. The Norwegian sociologist Sigmund Grønmo, for example, suggests dividing time into three categories: ::mechanical (defined by clocks and calendars, it has a linear character), natural (defined by the change of day/night, tides, seasons and biological changes in the human body, it has a cyclical character) and social::: (defined by the rhythms of social processes, it combines elements of cyclical, linear, as well as point character).
Social time is the most complex and changeable of the three, and it is the most important for us in the current conversation. We owe the concept of social time, its heterogeneity and variability, mainly to Pitirim Sorokin and Robert Merton, who wrote a paper on time in sociology in 1937. They defined social time as “the change or movement of social phenomena through other phenomena taken as a point of reference.” We have already seen how mechanical time is constructed by humans, but it is even easier to see this in the case of social time. For example, social time in pre-industrial societies was centered on everyday tasks that needed to be accomplished and was largely governed by natural time. With the transition to industrial societies, the role of mechanical time in measuring, coordinating, and synchronizing work increases, and this radically changes social time: it becomes increasingly global and singular. The time of human societies is increasingly determined by large technological systems: industries, computer networks, public transportation schedules.
Social time can also be categorized. For example, sociologist George Gurvich in his 1964 book The Spectrum of Social Time suggests as many as eight types of social time: enduring time, deceptive time, unstable time, cyclical time, delayed time, alternative time, advance time, and explosive time. We will not expand on each of the categories, but this should give us an idea that different social agents can function in different temporalities and produce different types of time: the time of a university is different from the time of a church or an army, the time of a stock exchange is different from the time of a refugee camp.
To move on, we need to familiarize ourselves with the notion of temporality. It is a term from Aleida Assmann’s book, borrowed from Hartmut Rosa, that describes how people feel and relate to time, how time functions in a particular historical period, what values, desires, and hopes this regime mobilizes and what it excludes.
The temporal regime largely determines social time, and how social time or times function sets the characteristics of the temporal regime. Some researchers have attempted to describe a global temporal regime: for example, in his book Assmann describes how the temporal regime of modernity is being replaced by a modern temporal regime in which there are no longer clear boundaries between past, present, and future, the future itself has been dramatically devalued, and we live in an infinite present.
Many theorists have written that time has accelerated since industrialization and with the entrance of digital capitalism. Marxist geographer David Harvey writes that the acceleration of the movement of capital and social life has led to a decrease in the meaning of space and an increase in the meaning of time. Hartmut Rosa, too, describes the modern condition through the logic of social acceleration. The French philosopher Paul Virillo writes about the globalization of time and the dissolution of local times into the immediacy of the present; he writes that today real time eats real space. Philosopher Byung-Cheol Han, on the contrary, is convinced that the era of acceleration is already over, and we live in an atomized time that has lost its direction and in which it is impossible to find a point of reference. The sociologist Sigmund Bauman similarly developed a theory of fluid modernity with its fluid, unstable time.
Certainly, some temporal modes can be and are dominant. For example, Andrew Hom, in a 2010 article on the dominance of Western Standard Time, showed how the linear temporal regime that emerged in Western Europe was imposed on the world through colonialism and established as universal through two world wars and post-colonialism. Nevertheless, to speak of a single temporal regime encompassing the entire planet is erroneous. I suggest we move forward with the model of heterotemporalities proposed by political science professor Kimberly Hutching in her 2008 book Time and International Politics. She writes that several different temporal regimes coexist simultaneously in the world, which can overlap and influence each other. As with identities, it is worth remembering that members of non-Western societies may experience time and temporality differently.
Personal and collective identities do not simply have a temporal dimension — identity in general is impossible without time. Researchers such as Mark Freeman and Brent Steele define identity as a sense of one’s own duration or ontological security through time. Since identity, as Judith Butler writes, is “a semiotic activity in which people produce meaning,” this activity unfolds over time. The Austrian philosopher Alfred Schütz wrote back in 1932 that the problem of meaning is a problem of time, that the subjective meaning of any action is inextricably linked to the subject’s internal time. The point is not only that identity is performative and therefore requires time, but also that any identity is, first of all, a story about oneself, a chronological narrative. Identity is formed through the ability of an individual or collective to hold its past in its head, and on the basis of that past to act in the present and project the future.
Finally, it is critical to keep in mind how time is related to regimes of power and politics. Spanish philosopher Daniel Innerarity writes in The Future and Its Enemies about chronopolitics, a term found in Paul Virillo, who has also written about the relationship between power and time. Innerarity writes that today time is at the center of political interests, and that politics today is essentially chronopolitics, the management of time in the need to control democratic rhythms, to balance the speed of different social systems. He quotes Paul Virillo and Jeremy Rifkin, who write in almost identical terms that today’s conflicts are essentially time wars. The colonization of territory is being replaced by the colonization of other people’s time: through acceleration, impatience, or delay. Temporal regimes favorable to nation-states and supranational structures are being imposed on people. In capitalism and its neoliberal variant, time is the main currency in the labor market, and at the center of neoliberalism is the hyperactive subject who is always doing something. Israeli sociologist Eviatar Zerubavel, in his 1985 book Hidden Rhythms, showed how the introduction of schedules contributes to the formation of social hierarchies. Anthropology professor Johannes Fabian, in his classic Time and the Other, describes how European anthropology uses time as a repressive tool, a “distancing device,” denying modernity to the non-Western societies and subjects it studies.
Benedict Anderson writes about how the construction of nations required the homogenization of time. For example, France’s revolution proclaimed a new calendar in which each month lasted 30 days and weeks were replaced by decades. Since 1949, Mao Zedong has made all of China live in the same time zone, which means that in the westernmost regions of the country the sun rises at 10 or 11 o’clock; in the same regions, the Uighur population, persecuted by China, lives on their own time, two hours earlier. Finally, researcher Elizabeth Cohen introduces the concept of “temporal injustices,” where the distribution of resources and opportunities is limited by certain groups’ access to control over time, and the policies of many regimes are determined by short-termism, instant interests within electoral cycles. We need to remember that time is a resource unequally distributed among people, and it is not just the natural state of affairs.
— Time is constructed by social actors: people, groups, institutions, states; time does not exist outside of human consciousness, and corporeality and psyche play a large role in the perception of time
— Subjective and social time are different; these temporalities may not coincide
— Heterotemporality means that several temporal modes can coexist on earth at the same time; however, some of them may be dominant
— Time is a political tool; today, controlling people increasingly means controlling their time and/or attention — so-called chronopolitics.
— Time is a resource unequally distributed among people, and there are political reasons for this
— Identity is impossible without time
## war ##
A war is starting. But — what counts as the beginning of war, and the end, and what counts as war? In international relations studies, the approach “we know it when we see it” has developed, we recognize war by seeing it. Thus, a war is only called a war — not a massacre, a shooting war, terrorism or a civil conflict — once it has already begun. The beginning, end, and duration of war are fundamentally unpredictable, and this is one of its main temporal characteristics.
Researchers Andrew Hom and Luke Campbell, in an article on the history of the term “wartime,” describe how it has evolved from a deterrent tool that delineated the temporal limits of extreme violence in the 20th century into an unrestricted part of everyday life. They attribute this to the U.S. war machine on its way to global hegemony and then the Cold War, which placed the war industry on permanent alert, and this readiness became so much the norm that the so-called war on global terrorism could become nothing more than a timeless mandate to use violence where and when it seemed right to the state. Since World War II, the number of inter-national conflicts involving regular armies has been declining (as we thought until 2022), but war mutates and the boundaries of the time of war invented in the last century blur to the point of indistinguishability.
In my movie NEW TYPES OF WAR, I talked about the phenomenon of liberal pacification: when, behind the apparent decline in interstate warfare, we fail to notice how war descends to lower and more imperceptible levels, how violence becomes pervasive and smeared. It is hard to say whether, under such conditions, we can talk about the beginning and end of war. We can see right now how flimsy the issue of calling a war a war is with the example of Russia: aggressors try to give wars names that disguise them as something else, less significant, but they cannot declare wartime because it threatens the stability of their regime. In addition, some acts of killing civilians are called terrorism, while others of the same kind — when legitimized by states — are called retaliation or adequate force response. Does a war end with a ceasefire? Or when the military withdraws from the line of contact and withdraws equipment? How far should they withdraw? Or should disarmament take place? Does a war end after a peace treaty if there remain groups with blossoming resentment, resentful, wanting territory back? Resentment may flare up in 5 years, 10 years, or 50 years.
The question of the temporalities of war is even more complex in the case of intra-national armed conflicts. The question of the end of war is not just a formal one, it is important from the point of view of implementing international programs for the protection of victims of armed conflicts, refugee processes and national reconciliation. Judith Butler in Frames of war writes how the conceptual frameworks that call war a war are formed, and how these frameworks determine whose lives are considered mourned and worthy of protection and whose are not. There are times when war has formally ended, but people continue to die, whether from military hardware or so-called slow violence.
The end of World War II was an epochal event, followed by a remarkable reorganization of the world. And today, many of us have high hopes for the end of the war in Ukraine — as something that will significantly change our situation. But in the example of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which ended in 1995, we see how indistinguishable that can be. Anthropology professor Stef Jansen, in an article on temporality in postwar Sarajevo, quotes locals for whom the end of the war was not at all as speculative as expected. They say that they “just stopped shooting,” but people continued to survive like that, with no one much to help them. After the conflict, they were left with the feeling that time stood still. Jansen retells a local anecdote in which a Bosnian traveled to Sweden and tells another that Sweden is 20 years behind Bosnia because the people there are still living well.
War produces several temporal modes at once for different social actors in terms of their degree of involvement in the war. Let’s start with those who are directly at war. Researcher Sheryl Wells, in her book Civil War Time about temporality and identity in Civil War America, uses the term “battle time” — battle time. This is the climactic time of the war when direct combat occurs. She writes how this time, as it emerges, overrides all others: the personal, religious, and natural time of soldiers, civilians, medical personnel, and military prisoners. At the same time, she describes how other temporalities do enter the battlefield: fresh groups of soldiers unaccustomed to battle time fall out of formation to fetch water, pick berries, or simply exhale; this — like the onset of darkness, for example, and the lack of a common time clock among commanders — slows the progress of military units and affects battle time and the process of warfare as a whole.
Fighting time is next to boredom; Norwegian researchers Paul Brunstad and Bard Maland, in their book Enduring Military Boredom, describe how participants in wars from the late 18th century to the present day cope with boredom. The authors write that war is 95% boredom and 5% terror. Two other researchers, Peter Hancock and Gerald Krueger, examine the psychological affects of such times on military and national security personnel: they show that the radical shift in temporalities from times of boredom to times of extreme activity negatively affects the military, functioning as a time gap. Participants in armed conflicts spend a lot of time inactive, while under constant tension from possible dangers.
French writer Henri Barbusse, who fought in World War I, describes in his novel Fire how soldiers become a waiting machine:
We wait. You get tired of sitting; you get up. Joints stretch and crackle like wood, like old door hinges. Dampness makes people rust like guns, slower but more thorough. And again, in a different way, we wait. In war, you always wait. You become a waiting machine. Now we’re waiting for soup. Then we’ll wait for letters. But there’s a time for everything. When we’ve eaten soup, we’ll think about letters. Then we’ll wait for something else.
And here is a video taken on October 1, 2022:: on it a Russian contract worker in Belgorod region waiting to be sent to Ukraine describes his boredom, agonizing waiting and frustration from inability to get vodka.
In a report by Wurstka about Russian soldiers using substances on the front lines, one of the users said: “They use out of boredom. War is when you are constantly waiting for something and occasionally praying for it to go away. When I smoked salt in the dugout, I didn’t give a fuck about possible paranoia. Boredom is much worse.”
Soldiers do little but keep busy with the enormous process of war, which colonizes their time entirely. Participants in the war lose the ability to find their place in the linearly unfolding time. Inside this machine, it is impossible to be included in the narrative of progress, impossible to discern a finality.
War is a hyper-event that gathers everyone’s attention and changes time even for people who are far away from it. We know from physics that near black holes time begins to slow down, as well as at the boundaries of any supermassive objects with a high gravitational field. In this sense, war is an object with a very high gravitational mass, it attracts attention, resources, engages, slows down or dissolves time. Think back to the first days of the war in Ukraine or the key clashes that followed — we were all sitting on our phones and dumscrolling, it was very difficult to focus on matters in localized time. When the October war broke out in Israel, people I knew from there were tweeting how they’d walk into stores and all the employees were watching the news or scrolling through the feed, how hard it was for them to be distracted by customers in local time.
War is always a fat point of reference in personal and group chronologies as well as identities. I left Russia the day before the war, and every time I meet a new person and tell a narrative about myself, that is, try to outline my identity, the war inevitably comes up as a point of rupture: before it I was one person, after it I am a different person: with a different place of residence, a different idea of my activities, a different planning horizon and feelings about the future.
War is a conveyor belt of violence. In order to understand the impact of war on time and identity, we need to turn briefly to the temporality of violence, which the anthropologist Robert Thornton, for example, examines in his work. He writes that acts of violence are always unpredictable, even if statistically probable. Violence can only be labeled as such when it has already happened or begun to unfold, and since war-tire-violence brings destruction and sacrifice, people inevitably try to figure out why it happened, to make sense of it. They look at the past and from the present they try to interpret it in a certain way, to understand retrospectively why the act of violence happened.
Thornton writes that most myths about the origins of anything — a nation, people, or other community — begin with militant revolutions, acts of liberation, or wars. The emergence of many nation-states involves extreme violence: whether it is resistance to colonialism, or ethnic conflict, or the displacement of indigenous populations to build a new state. Violence therefore seems to many to be inevitable or constitutive of group identities: for example, it is now said that Russian aggression has strengthened Ukrainian identity, a point we will address below. But, writes Thornton, it is a mistake to think that war or violence is the cause of identity formation, because violence cannot give birth to anything, it is chaos; it is only the occasion for the birth of a new narrative, brought about by the need to re-interpret the past after a time of crisis. He also writes that it is a mistake to understand violence as an instrument of power — on the contrary, it is dangerous to power and cannot be controlled. This overlaps with what philosophers Deleuze and Guattari write about war or the war machine: that it is always bigger than the state, that power is incapable of actually controlling war. And we see in the example of Russia today that this is indeed true.
If violence does not produce identity, it absolutely produces trauma. Trauma is one of the key concepts in talking about the impact of war on identity. War violently ends many people’s time of life, and traumatizes many others: physically and psychologically, even if those people are not in close proximity to the war. We know from research on post-traumatic stress disorder, discovered and described in the 19th century and refined in the 20th, that psychological trauma can do monstrous things to personal and group temporality. Husserl defined a person’s perception of the present as a “dense” present that simultaneously contains both past and future. Human identity is based on the ability to stretch oneself from past to future through the present. Trauma makes a rupture in this stretching. When a person goes through an extreme experience, through something unbearably horrible or painful — this is primarily a temporal rupture, the persona is disoriented in time, and this affects how she feels and realizes her identity.
American psychologist Robert Stolorow writes that the traumatic experience appears frozen in an eternal present that is doomed to return to the person’s consciousness again and again. Symptoms of PTSD, in addition to extreme anxiety, depression, nightmares, panic attacks, and outbursts of aggression, can include dissociative reactions — when a person is convinced that the traumatic events happened to someone else, not to them, or amnesia — literally forgetting who you are. These are the most extreme forms of personal identity ruptures caused by war.
The symptoms of PTSD show how strangely time works in general and trauma time in particular. The flashbacks inherent in PTSD are the constant bringing of the past back into the present; memories are reactualized and can retraumatize the victim. What’s even creepier: some experiences are so unbearable that they cannot be processed by the human psyche, and are repressed. It can be a source of psychological problems, remaining unconscious, or it can suddenly resurface after a time — even after several years. In psychoanalysis, this is called delayed action: when a past event is activated and lived out in a truly traumatic way due to a later minor event — that is, the present forces a person to truly live out a past event for the first time.
Another effect of trauma in relationship to time is hyper-vigilance and avoidance syndrome — a persona’s attempt to avoid future trauma through looking for signs of past trauma in the present: in such cases, the person is so fearful of re-traumatization that they hyper-attentively scan the present for triggers. We also know that victims or survivors of trauma often have problems with temporal tasks: organizing, planning, prioritizing-they are disoriented in time. Clementine Morrigan, in an article about the queer temporality of traumatized consciousness, writes how she can recall traumatic events from years ago exactly, but feels unsure when recalling yesterday. Often PTSD is accompanied by a loss of the sense of linearity of time necessary for a stable sense of identity. The idea that time is directional and that there is a past, present, and future is a mental construct based on cognitive functions such as object recognition, orientation in space, and temporal reconstruction. Many people have seen this video of a Ukrainian girl crying in a car stopped outside her bombed-out kindergarten. She is completely confused and mechanically answers the question why she is crying, but it is clear that something happens to her sense of identity at this moment, when she no longer finds a familiar and stable object in a familiar space. There is a disconnect between past and present in her mind.
It’s not just that people need a stable sense of identity, but they also need a sense of stability and predictability in the time in which their identity unfolds. The concepts of hope and despair are important here. Psychologist Erik Erikson theorized hope as essential in the process of identity formation; hope generates motivation and engagement in life. Psychologist Rick Snyder confirmed this intuition through clinical research; he writes about how a sense of a realizable time, a better future, is formed through hope. But war takes hope away from people — both those who have been physically taken from their homes, loved ones, or health, and those who have not been physically touched, such as myself. I finally said goodbye to the possibility of my future in Russia directly because of the war. One must realize that the imagined future affects who we feel we are in the present. Identity formation itself already contains an element of inequality; how hope and despair are distributed (and redistributed because of the war) in the world affects changes in personal and collective identities, as well as levels of inequality. In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian war of 2023, we all want security for civilians; but in Israel, civilians live in apartments with so-called mamad, fortified shelter — and this level of privilege shapes a very different situation of hope and despair during war than the lives of Palestinian civilians living in overcrowded, poorly fortified dwellings.
War inflicts not only personal but also collective trauma. Different political regimes deal with such traumas in different ways. Here it is important for us to include the term “historical memory” or “collective memory.” Just as personal identity requires the subject’s memory of the self, group identity requires collective memory in order to construct as coherent a narrative and hope for the future as possible. The topic of collective memory is a very broad one, and has been particularly active in the last 50 years, as can be seen in Aleida Assman’s exhaustive book The Long Shadow of the Past. She shows how personal, group and cultural memory intersect, how nations and collectives remember or forget different events, and how this affects their identities. Using Russia as an example, we see that one of the worst collective traumas of the last century — participation in World War II — is now interpreted in triumphant tones. Extreme violence, the cannibalization of the military and political leadership, injustices and the huge number of victims are shaded in favor of the identity of the victors. And this identity, flimsily glued together, is used to legitimize the invasion of Ukraine — that is, the production of new violence. The aggressor uses time as a tool of humiliation, pointing out that Ukrainian statehood did not exist before the 20th century and that their history — and their collective memory — is too short for sovereignty.
The war — and its hot phase — has indeed significantly altered Ukrainian collective identity and the personal identities of Ukrainians — here I draw on recent research by sociologists Volodymyr Kulik and Andrew Wilson, based on opinion polls in Ukraine over the past 10 years. For a long time after independence, Ukrainian identity was based more on the idea of an ethno-cultural community, it was difficult to agree on common values, and in the East people defined themselves more as citizens of a particular region than of the whole of Ukraine. But after Euromaidan, and especially after Russia’s full-scale attack, the differences between the regions began to smooth out, and Ukrainian identity began to actively form as a civic and political community and is now shared at the mass level, not just by political and cultural elites.
Philosopher Umberto Eco in his work “Constructing the Enemy” notes the primary imperative of man to define himself through the enemy, through the other. The Italian semiotician Paolo Fabbri also writes that to identify ourselves, we must see the Other, the unfamiliar. These theories can be disputed or regret that the process of strengthening Ukrainian identity was launched only against the backdrop of a horrific war, but the research confirms what was already clear at the level of common sense: the unjustified attack only united the Ukrainian people and further strengthened Ukraine as a political community. By post-Soviet inertia, the main war in Ukraine’s master narrative has so far been World War II, but this will no longer be the case.
Even a war that has not touched us physically changes our personal and collective identities. Many have seen all those memes about how disengaged Russians evasively answer the question — where are you from. Just as American identity became toxic in the US against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, so too is Russian identity today. And simultaneously with the tragedy of the war, in many ways it works productively: there is a surge of local ethnic identities in the Russian Federation, there is serious talk about decolonization of Russia, people in Georgia, Armenia, Kazakhstan and other countries of the former Soviet Union are also inevitably involved in this process: the prestige of local languages increases or orientation towards Europe increases. In general, a wide variety of people who have not yet problematized their identity as Russians or citizens of post-Soviet states are beginning, perhaps for the first time in their lives, to think seriously about who they are. This applies not only to citizenship or nationality, but also to professional, sexual, and gender identities.
In this regard, the term individual identity innovations is interesting:::, which researcher Jennifer Todd introduces in her book on identity change in post-conflict societies, using Northern and Southern Ireland as an example. She describes how people practice discursive and practical distancing from certain ethno-religious, national or other norms, thus gradually changing their identities. She writes that identity change does not necessarily occur only when one, conventionally, changes one’s group label: one may retain it but problematize some parts of it through strategies of privatization, pluralization, or transformation. This is exactly what is happening to the identities of the inhabitants of Russia and the states around it today.
War around the world produces disabled people, victims of sexual violence and slavery, underage soldiers. This is how identities are being forcibly reshaped. War also produces refugees and migrants in huge numbers. These are the categories of people in whose experience the temporal ruptures produced by war are most visible. The experience of refugees is one of waiting in uncertainty: they wait at the border, after the border, they wait in refugee camps, they wait in the corridors of bureaucracy, they wait to be assigned to courses, they wait for decisions on visas or residence permits, they wait to be hired or receive benefits, all while having just been deprived of their homes and traumatized by war, perhaps having lost relatives or loved ones. For this lecture, I read ethnographic studies of Syrian refugees in Turkey, in Germany, in Norway, refugees from Afghanistan, from Ukraine — their lives are lives in limbo, people literally killing themselves from unending uncertainty. Psychological studies of how refugees live through time show that they lose their sense of linearity and direction to the future, they feel trapped, powerless and unable to influence anything, they develop negative self-esteem, memory problems and difficulties in localizing themselves in space-time, disrupted connections with other people and passivity.
It’s hard to call Russians who left because of the war refugees, but I myself spent 9 months in 2022 without a permanent home, and the home I have now still feels like a temporary one, and of course I feel a powerful temporal and spatial disorientation that didn’t happen by my will.
In doing the drawing for this lecture, I read the work of researcher Yafa El Masri, who was born and lived for 26 years in a stateless Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. She quotes her conversation with an elderly camp resident where she asks how old he is and he replies that he doesn’t know, but he knows he was born in the winter in a tent camp in Beirut. Palestinian camps are an extreme case study: they have existed in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank for nearly 75 years. The one million Palestinian refugees evicted by Israel in 1948 and 1968 have turned into more than five million in that time, people live in these temporary camps for generations and die in them. The processes of urbanization that architect Kato Gunevik describes in his work are set in motion there: these camps cannot expand horizontally, so they grow upwards, with people building floors for their children on top of flimsy structures. But at the same time, it’s important for Palestinians to maintain the temporary nature of these camps because it indicates their right to return to their homeland. Imagine — a few decades of living in conditions that are by definition temporary. Today, Ukraine is appealing to European states not to launch processes to integrate Ukrainian refugees because it expects them to return home after the end of the war. At the same time, no one can guarantee the exact or even approximate date of its end. It turns out that the state is calling to keep people in limbo for an indefinite amount of time.
It could take up to forty years to demine Ukraine after the current war. But extreme violence also lays temporal bombs in the ground — personal and collective traumas that take a lot of time and resources to work through, which can explode decades later. Researchers of transit and post-conflict societies describe the temporal complexities that people face in states that have gone through war or the worst genocide, like Rwanda. There, there is a radical mismatch between the rhythms of international organizations and state agencies-which are interested in moving on sooner after formal reconciliation and putting traumatic experiences behind them-and the personal timing of the victims of the violence that occurred, who cannot simply forget what happened to them. Some can’t, and some don’t want to, because keeping the memory of extreme violence and injustice alive is important. As Aleida Assman writes, an absolute historical innovation happens in the 20th century — the politics of recognition replaces centuries of history and practices of non-recognition — victims finally have a voice.
Here emerges what sociologist Natascha Müller-Hirt calls the temporalities of victimhood, the temporality of victimhood or being-victim. Her interviewees, who lived in apartheid South Africa, describe how they went from being popular victims to unpopular victims because everyone was tired of the memory of apartheid. Neoliberal economics requires the country to move fast and reparations processes or court cases, on the other hand, are very slow — most victims were already poor and marginalized, states always make the poorest wait the longest, they can’t afford to stop waiting and this takes away even more control over their lives and future. That’s why they talk about surviving violence in the present tense, because in fact it continues, they live in a liminal state that way. The past lives in the present. One of her interlocutors says that he is told to forget about apartheid, but he cannot forget how two or three times a month he went to the funerals of his associates and how he was tear-gassed at every rally. The survivors of the Rwandan genocide can’t just forget, either — that’s why they support memorials where coffins containing the remains of those killed are displayed — to restore dignity and value to them. The people of Rwanda are critically traumatized by the genocide, and as the memory of it is passed between generations, this trauma will continue to shape their lives and identities for a long time to come.
Many territories mutilated by wars and colonialism are now stuck in a vicious cycle of being denied modernity because they are not developing fast enough, because they have been sucked dry by extreme violence, and justice has not been done. During the Iraq war the US used white phosphorus and depleted uranium shells, in total over 250 tons of uranium was left in Iraqi soil, which continues to affect the number of deaths from cancer. It’s what researcher Rob Nixon calls slow violence — “pervasive but elusive violence with delayed effects.” Like depleted uranium in Iraq, the personal and group memory of wars and other organized violence will long affect its bearers, shaping who they are and who they can become.
— War is always sudden, even if it is statistically probable; calling war a war and violence a violence can only be retrospective
— Wartime in the 21st century becomes an unlimited mandate for violence at the discretion of the state; war sprawls into less visible levels of social life
— War is a conveyor belt of violence that traumatizes people; trauma affects the human body and consciousness, causing temporal ruptures and identity problems
— Wars rob people of hope and increase despair distributed in the world; this prevents identities from functioning positively
— Wars produce different temporal regimes for different social actors; war is also a hyper-event that pulls time around itself, colonizing the time of participants and observers.
— Group identities do not emerge from war or violence, it is the need to re-interpret violence that becomes the backdrop for the emergence of new master narratives and group identities.
— War leaves traumas in collective memory that require deep elaboration and healing; the temporalities of state and international institutions tend not to coincide with those of the victims of war, so healing takes even longer time
In one text on the temporality of refugees, Oslo researchers quote an interview with Damir, a twenty-year-old Syrian in Norway:
I. Do you miss your home?
Damir: My home?
INT: Mhm. Do you long for it, miss it?
Damir: I like my home, yes. I forgot my home.
INT: You forgot?
Damir: Yes, I also forgot Aleppo.
INT: Have you forgotten it?
Damir: Yes, I forgot also Syria. I just remember Norway
INT: But do you dream about it? do you remember difficult, bad things that have happened?
Damir: No, no. I do not remember anything, no, nothing. I do not remember my house. I forgot everything in Aleppo. I forgot Syria. Yes.
INT: Do you remember the bombs and the war?
Damir: No, no. Don’t remember.
INT: Maybe it is good that you do not remember?
Damir: Yes, it’s good. It’s good for me.
INT: But what about your family? Do they remember much?
Damir: My family, I don’t know. They don’t remember either. My mother has forgotten. My mother forgot. Also my sister forgot. My little brother, he remembers nothing.