heterochronia, Paul B. Preciado

narrator Paul B. Preciado
term heterochronia
published 14 July 2014, Barcelona, Spain, Europe
affiliated institution MACBA

The term “heterochronia” tries to address the question of the politics of a time (chronopolitics) by looking into the relationships between language (representation, narratives), power, and temporality. This is both an epistemological question and a methodology for constructing history. Michel Foucault borrowed the term “heterochronie” from the biological language in the lecture “Des spaces autres” (1967) to interrogate the modern Western construction of time and its relationship with hegemonic historical narratives. Heterochronia does not refer to time as an abstract dimension of physics but rather to time as a social and political construction. Foucault thought of archives, libraries, and museums as “heterochronias”, political dispositifs that “accumulate time.” A museum works as a time machine that configures chronological and visual fiction (Stephen Kern). What are the times that museums are accumulating? And what other times resist conventional narratives and reject accumulation as a historical method?


Building upon a critique of naturalized time already developed by Mikhail Bakhtin and Henri Lefebvre, Foucault’s notion opens up the possibility of understanding the museum as collective abstract machine to construct “other times”, not only to question the storyline of the past but also to invent “other” futures. By claiming “other times”, this project focuses on those temporalities that suspend, neutralize or reverse the dominant narratives of art history: those coming from linguistic, national and political minorities, feminist and sexual “molecular” movements, as well as other modes of perception and cognition (disability movements).


Heterochronia relates to a series of concepts coming both from the art practices after the 1960s but also from political movements and critical theory: the notion of “chronopolitics” (Paul Virilio) stresses the links between capitalism, technology, and temporal production; ephemerality and performativity can be understood as – “operations within time” (Judith Butler), modernity as a “time in ruins” (Marc Augé); anachrony as the “opening up of history” (Didi-Huberman) and the political intervention as the possibility to “switch temporalities” (Rancière); the “contemporary” as a site of experimentation with multiple times (Agamben); and “unproductive time” as a strategy to resist “acceleration” as the dominant time of modernity (Harmut Rosa).


Heterochronic reading as a historical method is an effort to produce “situated knowledge” (Donna Haraway) to subvert history in terms of a single threat of linear time (“the time of progress and the time of the winners”- Walter Benjamin) and to critically engage into a proliferation of (vertical or fractal) layers of time that fight to produce other histories.


We are currently exploring this critical methodology at the MACBA with the exhibition project Past Disquiet. Narratives and Ghosts from The International Art Exhibition for Palestine curated by Rasha Salti and Kristine Khouri. The International Art Exhibition for Palestine was inaugurated in Beirut (Lebanon), in March 1978, and was intended as the seed collection for a museum in exile. Inspired by the Museum of Resistance in Exile in Solidarity with Salvador Allende, the museum took the form of an itinerant exhibition that was meant to tour until it could ‘repatriate’ to Palestine. During the Israeli siege of Beirut in 1982, sustained heavy shelling destroyed the building where the works were stored as well as the exhibition’s archival and documentary traces. Incarnating the multiple themes and interrogations that have guided the investigation Past Disquiet will stitch together forgotten histories and map lost cartographies from recorded testimonies and private archives. Past Disquiet interrogates exhibition history and the historiography of artistic practice and perception, and will also address the problematics of oral history, the trappings of memory, and writing history in the absence of cogent archives. The project will also revisit the significance of political engagement in the 1970s, specifically in universes neither deemed vanguard nor mainstream, and thus rarely studied in prevailing contemporary historical narratives.

Mikhail Bakhtin (1984) Rabelais and His World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Walter Benjamin (1969) “Thesis on the Philosophy of History”. In Illuminations.Essays and Reflections.London: Schocken.

Georges Didi-Huberman (2000) Devant le temps: Histoire de l’art et anachronisme des images. Paris: Minuit.

Michel Foucault (1986) “Of other spaces”. Diacritics 16 (22-27)

Michel Foucault (2000) “Space, Knowledge, and Power”. In Power: The Essential Works 3. J. Faubion (ed.) London: Penguin (349-364)

Tim Horder (2006) “Heterochrony”. Encyclopedia of Life Sciences. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.

Stephen Kern (1983) The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918. Cambridge: Blackwell.

Henri Lefebvre (1983) The Production of Space. Cambridge: Blackwell.

Harmut Rosa (2013 )Social Acceleration. A New Theory of Modernity. New York: Columbia University Press.

Christine Ross (2012) The Past is the Present; It is the Future Too. New York: Continuum.

Marita Sturken (2013) “Imaging postmemory/renegotiating history”. Afterimage, Vol. 26, No. 6.

Paul Virilio (1986) Speed and Politics. New York: Semiotext (e).

* In biology, the term heterochrony was first introduced by German evolutionary zoologist Ernst Haeckel in 1875. It designates an evolutionary change in the timing of development producing differences in size or shape in an organism. Stephen Jay Gould has recently redefined this term referring to changes in patterns of development.


associative terms


associative narrator

seminar recordings

Paul B. Preciado, heterochronia, 16:37 min, 2014, MG+MSUM

draft version

heterochronia, Paul B. Preciado, May 2014