This essay argues that the African American literature of the nadir, written during a moment when concepts of evolution and departures from linear time were deployed to the detriment of black life as well as in its defense, is a rich archive for analyzing the unpredictable politics of multiple temporalities. I discuss several books from the period before focusing on Charles W. Chesnutt’s 1901 novel The Marrow of Tradition, in which white supremacists weaponize nonlinear temporalities while punctual black characters express faith in linear progressive historical time. This novel, I argue, ultimately suggests a genre of temporality that neither appears as a type of linear time nor ruptures it utterly, and the book implies that temporal suspensions or holds can potentially be useful—not as inherently liberatory but as means of making way for productive disagreement. Within the novel, I identify a provocative fermata, theorized here (drawing on the work of Christina Sharpe, Hortense Spillers, and Édouard Glissant) as a temporal hold, that both exists within and ruptures linear time. This essay, then, responds to the common association of linear time with oppressive institutions and nonlinear time with liberation; instead, I argue for an expansive conception of critical temporality.

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