The 59th Street Bridge Song

Slow down, you move to fast 

You got to make the morning last

(Paul Simon, Feelin’ groovy/The 59th St Bridge Song)

I grew up with vinyl. My family was an aspirational almost hippy immigrant family.  The 1966 album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme was a ‘go-to’ album, as was the (also) 1966 album Revolver. Seemingly child friendly, Simon and Garfunkel and the Beetles infused our household with songs in which we were encouraged to slow down, talk to lamp posts, and live communally in yellow submarines.

Late capitalism has done everything it can to eradicate that possibility from my life.

I heard these songs in the deep recesses of my mind as I was preparing my tenure file earlier this year. My entire being entered into a space of stillness, staring resolutely into the belly of the beast in order to maintain some semblance of resistance to the deep anxiety that is structurally integral to the evaluation process of tenure. I took longer walks, barely responded to emails, slowly stopped talking to others and preferred to count my breath. With every formatting issue or question related to the subjective criteria of excellence, I slowed down even more, questioning in each moment why academic labor had entered into these frameworks of exploitation. The first person I saw upon submission of my file was a colleague of mine who is brilliant, and an adjunct who teaches at three colleges just to make ends meet. My self-indulgent slowness entered into a space of silence. 

I have been thinking and working with a design collective called slowLab, and in doing so have been reconsidering how one might approach slow archaeology. As an archaeologist, I have always considered transdisciplinarity the key to a successful field project. And so, in the same way I meet with ethnopaleobotanists and geologists, I met with artists and designers to talk about possible collaborations related to slowness. This active step was taken after years of thinking and writing about intimacy, ingestion and slowness in relation to the archaeological process. I wanted to explore how a regime of care (as per Alejandro F. Haber’s suggestion) might unfold. At the time, I was also starting up my second research project on the East coast of United Arab Emirates (UAE) and it felt like slowness as critical theory would be significant in understanding my process in that new context.

In the past five years, slowness has emerged within the literature mainly through archaeology of the contemporary as a methodological feature that allows for a deeper and more nuanced approach to recording and experiencing information. This has also manifested itself in relation to sensorial archaeology, such as Yannis Hamilakis’s work, or deep phenomenological approaches, like the use of peripatetic videos in Chris Whitmore’s work. Some, more public articulations of slow archaeology, such as Bill Caraher’s blog posts on The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World, are still mired in discourses of expediency and return to the seemingly pragmatic aspects of archaeological work, which in my mind, misses the mulitvalent posibility of this concept within critical theory.

Working now in the UAE for the past few years, on a resistant coastline, I cannot consider efficiency the hallmark of knowledge production. The landscape is not inhospitable, but rather, it continuously and graciously offers provocations and interrogates my assumptions related to decolonizing methodologies. I say it is resistant because it does not efficiently provide archaeological knowledge. In slowing down and getting to know these landscapes, knowing must be understood, as Donna Haraway has encouraged us to think through multi-species-becoming-with or co-making, as a sym-poiesis of sorts. I would include all things. By that extension, the coming together of information and knowledge sharing is part of a response-ability of the landscape itself. A part of understanding that response is to be able to understand our relationships with these landscapes and their responses, rather than demanding more and more information from them in an exploitative manner.

I’m still working much of this out for myself in relation to what it might mean in the UAE context, and more immediately local, what it might mean for me to consider my junior colleagues work for tenure in a less exploitative manner. In slowing down, we not only resist the late capitalist desire for an exegesis of everything, but we might also be able to appreciate things simply for what or who they are.

Maybe The Yellow Submarine was just written as a children’s song and not an exposition on drugs or war.

Uzma Z. Rizvi

Uzma Z. Rizvi is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Urban Studies at The Pratt Institute of Art and Design, Brooklyn, NY. She is also a Visiting Scholar in the Department of International Studies, American University of Sharjah.

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