This essay examines the significance of time to the production of black ontology and thus to the field of black studies. It takes as its point of departure the field-changing call to think more critically about the enduring legacies of chattel slavery, particularly how this imperative has cultivated an anticipatory logic that helps to forecast the conditions of blackness and to analyze the nature of black ontology. It argues that alongside the large-scale, transhistorical modes of structural analysis that characterize this approach, attention to the more local, everyday experiences of black people—particularly their feelings—is critical to understanding the ontological conditions of blackness. Examining plays and performances by black artists and civil rights activists Lorraine Hansberry and Nina Simone, it proposes that, while fleeting and ephemeral, these feelings not only inflect black existence but also are rife with epistemic value that is as crucial to understanding black ontology as the social, political, economic, and discursive structures that underwrite the modern racial order. Critically analyzing the shifting interrelation of time, feeling, and black ontology renders the act of proclaiming who is dead or alive, free or not, a more complex and reflexive enterprise. It shows that no singular structure or network of structural relations can fully anticipate or explain away black ontology. This calculation is always and everywhere a question of time.

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