Cosmin Nicolae explores the prospects of new temporal labyrinths that are stemming from this space that we have collectively come to call Eastern Europe. To escape geo-trauma is to engage with space meta-geographically. To make sense of the future, Eastern Europe must exist polychronically. Essay originally published in Kajet Journal 05, On Easternfuturism.

To imagine the future is to trace a trajectory into the long-term, a category that is as divorced from our present as the scientific Deep Past of the prebiotic soup. It forces a reckoning with the present, a coming-to-terms with the teleological approach of the dominant narrative imposed by capital oligopolies and bureaucratic authorities. A feedback loop of malaise is generated in a traumatic loop as the unfolding story comes under the attack of the apocalypse market: a cornucopia of end-of-times offerings from climate catastrophe to cybernetic fallout, from rogue AI divination to pharma-collapse and global supply chain disruption.

If the present is con-sensual, the future is non-sensual: the latter has ceased to exist as a pleat of time, the legendary Time as a series of cause and effect phenomena that become intelligible history. The past is accessible not merely in archival form, but as a co-existing dimension of the present, a folder of experiences to tap into which blurs temporal borders. The present becomes an accomplice, an accessory, a continuously generating cauldron of aspects and notions that expands horizontally.
A common conversation topic during the pandemic is the skewed perception of time. Either artificially elongated by the onset of pathological boredom, or compressed by Zoom-ified artifices of simulated contact, time has become a fluid machine, with a synthetic engine that bewilders its engineers. It is the time of psychedelic expansion into permeable membranes which respond to foreign tactility. The prospect of a progressive force of enlightenment sweeping through societies on automatic pilot now seems cartoonish, faced with the seemingly absurd theatre of current events.
The end-of-history logic flaunted at the fall of the Iron Curtain is warped into the very literal viral metaphor of contagion, as state failure haunts the West in an upside down crucifixion of world powers. The death of capitalism is not just unavoidable, but desired: burn-out societies short themselves on the stock market of time, betting on their inability to produce new meaning. Self-perpetuating 20th century myths keep playing on the hi-res screens of 21st century infotainment terminals. The expansion of market-driven techno-globalist entities of control and communication have sparked the abolition of the nation state and the emergence of billions of individual nano-states, all vassals quarrelling amongst themselves in exchange for data privilege and attention-real estate. Times as resource, time as weapon, time as commodity. Big Time.
The Deák Ferenc tér bus station in Budapest (1957). Fortepan, UVATERV, 4593.
As the trope goes, Eastern Europe is X years behind the West in terms of production and accumulation of wealth, societal mores, or local infrastructure—where X is determined by its closeness to an area of hypothetical alignment. Indeed, that space remains a free zone never to be reached, a vacuous DMZ of an immanent transition. Condemned to a process of perpetual catching-up, Eastern Europe belongs to a non-space of corroding histories, trauma seeping through the walls of its colourful mausoleum. There is no détente, time keeps pressing, the West keeps folding on itself, multiplying its strata and pushing against its own coordinates.
Chronemics sees a distinction between monochronic and polychronic cultures. Time management gurus will point out that Western cultures seemingly adhere to performing singular tasks to perfection, while those in the East/South prefer multitasking. Focus requires different parameters and levels of commitment vary wildly across geographical lines. The rigidity of monochronicity is key to understanding the production of time, as well as the generation of futures: where time is flexible, where it bends according to context, futures appear virtual—not an abstract point down a linear time, but a stimulus device of substantial consistency.
As attempts are made in the West to decolonise thought and memory, the East deals with its own recalibration of the past—its very recent one, the one that is blurred into the now. Consolidated (private and state) efforts to brush the peripheral dirt off its rusty effigies conspire to reframe the East through the hyper-aestheticisation of its Brutalist architecture of living, romanticising its visual propaganda, or reinterpreting its exports via the toolkit of nostalgia and retro-efficient buzzfeedification. The outcome is the suspension of lived experience at the expense of a temporal collapse. The East is related to a space of the re-imagined, its otherness renegotiated in ontological freeze-frames equivalent to an episodic meta-mockumentary. Revelations of its past are screened as simultaneous micro-narratives fraying in and out of each other, embryos of a regurgitated history in biostasis. If the West is in perpetual forward motion, assembly lines moving at quantum speed, Eastern Europe is the infinite excavation site, condemned to a lifetime of archaeological reference.
The Prior department store in Bratislava (1971). Fortepan, Bercsényi College Photo Circle, 134441.
To devise a future for Eastern Europe is to imagine a project that’s different from a pliable imitation, an assemblage without the hard-coded identitarian detritus and libidinal introversion. It involves a redesign of its tactics, applying the curative powers of postmodernity on its regression anxiety: every policy is under scrutiny, for fear of succumbing to a demon of the past, becoming a victim of the before-times. Here comes the necessity of a vector switch, the implacable requirement to jack into a different source, the multi-voice cry to occupy the liminal space between time- consumed and time-unformulated.
Esoteric impulses from a sacral time meet digital outbursts of hypermedia collages, virtual discharges of enunciated projections. On post-colonial terrain, information vehicles travel at abyssal depths, avoiding the asperity of uncouth surfaces. Post- colonial truth is insurgent, no longer the dominion of state actors but correlated with a mesh of rigorous innovation. No longer enslaved by linear time, detached from its laggy systems, delimited from the calendar and postulated in the moment. Unitary historical time belongs to a gerontocratic concentration of power, wielded sporadically in spasms of delusion: the tele-evangelical mass hysteria of American theocracy, the mouldy decay of Brexiteer anticlimax. Its negative structures cling on to an obsolete script run on defunct machines.
Overproduction of discourse creates digital shantytowns: robbed of a global audience, voices of the periphery retreat in their deterritorialised bubble. They are tribal and unpredictable, proliferating through obsolete symbol systems: family, nation, glory, sacrifice, duty, rituals. The discourse camouflages as social reality, but, in fact, it is a repository of trauma, a black hole of time.
For a creative reimagination of Eastern Europe, an even re-distribution of Time must be forced into being. As capitalism is on its path of continuous crisis, producing its prolonged criticality, cultural micro-engineering comes into effect. The Eastern European body must be deprogrammed, its precocious limbs must fit into tactile space, reconstruct the modules it uses to access reality. Historical trauma: the dark matter, the rogue code of its past, a malignant, intolerable excrescence waiting to be extirpated. Pain is irreducible, memory lingers, until it becomes unintelligible. The East as a space of superstition, of primitive ritual, of pre-Christian sensibility, becomes Time-Travel.
Man travelling (1989). Fortepan, 5709. 
If Western Time is delirium time, Eastern Time is fossil time. Its metastatic complexity is immune to reprocessing: future is not a phase to gradually transition into, but a spasm to be radically shocked into. Switched off from a machine to be plugged into another. There is no time to monitor and adjust, it must be propelled into the uncanny without the veneration of authority, but with the gall of the prospector. The Eastern European Time Machine must divest of its fascination with the despotic, the puritanical, the patriarchal.
Imagination, activity, design are subsumed into a positivist public current of exponential growth that is never fully actualised under the current division of labour. Any moderate revolutionary act impacts the precariat. The gig economy routinises, reprogrammes, and regenerates the vestigial shackle of feudal rapport. The skyscrapers of corporate utopian futures don’t exist without migrant workforce, without the underpaid precariat, the invisible. Their bodies, when evaluated, are ripe for labour extraction, as well as for the absorption of time, which are both detached from them and coagulated into the mainframe of the project. The west Coast tech cult denaturalises the precariat as it forces reality consensus through UX design. Without adequate representation, the precariat will succumb crushed under the logic of top-down decision-making and deregulated, anthropophagic problem-solving.
Peco gas station in Timișoara (1989). Fortepan, the Tamás Urbán collection, 4711.
The investment-income class derives wealth from time-management schemes, conforming to scales and theories of profit maximisation. Dehumanised wealth escapes bourgeois flows to become engulfed in a self-regulating, auto-cybernating market that dictates its own outbursts and value. Panic reactions in the neocolonial world-system releases the dopamine that feeds machistic moves on trade markets resulting in political collapse, economic meltdown, and cultural disenfranchisement.
Out of a nebulous anti-climactic Y2K, Eastern Europe is shedding its Turbo Folk thick skin, drains its racket-infested marshlands in a coordinated tyre-burning frenzy, tearing at the fabric of its polarised patchwork history: acquiescence of its heteroclite destiny, to linger in the hyperstitial and to feign an exotic, cursory brilliance. For this to materialize, the experimental praxis, the ruthless deconstructors, the critical recontextualists, the labyrinthine, the tortured anti-philosophers, the dysphoric self-starters, the dissimulated and the uninhibited must be encouraged. For it to flower against its traumatic despondency, interrogative overstimulation must exceed its corrosive, domestic limits.
To withstand the brutal shock-wave of post-colonial monochronicity, Eastern Europe must re-aggregate Time away from hegemonic superstructures of valuation and inflate its alterity.
To escape geo-trauma is to engage with space meta-geographically. To make sense of the future, Eastern Europe must exist polychronically.
TV anchor Judit Lénárd on Magyar Televízió (1965). Fortepan, the Radio and Television Newspaper collection, 56557.  

Cosmin Nicolae is an anti-disciplinary artist working with image, sound, text to produce works of intimate reflection at the intersection of autoethnography, psychogeography, and possible futures. Lives and works in Berlin and elsewhere.

Cover image: Advertising photo (1969). Fortepan, the Main Photo collection, 207419.

Essay originally published in Kajet Journal 05, On Easternfuturism.