Madtime is a renegade rhythm, a radical mode of doing and feeling time that coincides with phenomenologies of madness. This essay details four variations of madtime: the quick, restless time of mania; the slow, sorrowful time of depression; the infinite, exigent now of schizophrenia; and the spiraling, zigzagging now-then-now-then of melancholia. Madtime is unruly, smashing clocks, tearing calendars, building makeshift time machines, dancing to the voices in its heads, disobeying the dominant beat, and swerving instead into the metaphysical offbeat. In the process, it defies the Eurocentric, heteronormative, capitalist, rationalist clock-bound time that prevails in the modern West (what I call “Western Standard Time”).
To bear out (and sound out) madtime, this essay reveals those radical temporalities in black expressive cultures, most especially black music. Sampling songs from Buddy Bolden, Nina Simone, Charles Mingus, Lauryn Hill, Kendrick Lamar, and Frank Ocean—and occasionally lyrical literatures from Amiri Baraka, Toni Morrison, and Adrienne Kennedy—this essay unfurls a medley of “interludes in madtime.” Indeed, madtime functions as an existential time signature in black radical music-making and self-making. Throughout these pages, readers are invited to ponder how madtime might also serve as a rhythm and schedule for black protest movements.