Daniel Alexander Jones

“I really believe love dilates time.”

Daniel Alexander Jones was one of our guests to our first Lab roundtable. He shared two things: a music video in homage to Saturn and the text from the introduction to his book of plays, Love Like Light:

Go with me here. The legendary actress Beah Richards once said she believed identity had something to do with love——with the degree of love that can be absorbed. Some questions for you: What do you look like when you are loved? How do you move? How do you breathe? What can you see that you might not otherwise? If I extend “you” from one to many (y’all) I might ask: What do we look like when we love ourselves? What can we move together when we are loved and when we love? Can we alter/altar our states of being to welcome it? 

I was loved. That may be the defining aspect of my being. I was loved by a family and a community fractured by the seismic wake of the serial assassinations of the Civil Rights Era and the subsequent rightward political landslide; a family and a community whose commitment to love was greater, for a time in time, than the impediments they faced. I was forged in a multivalent environment that held a distinctive Blackness borne of the meeting of Great Migrants and their children and their children’s children with New England Blacks and Caribbean folks; that also, however improbable this may seem to readers today, held a range of white folks including immigrant and first-generation workers, and, as in the case of my own mother and grandmother, folks who transgressed their whiteness in intimate and transformative ways through radical acts of love and surrender. The dignity of work was centered and the currency of local connection and community responsibility were upheld. I have said a million times this love didn’t have anything to do with people necessarily liking one another. It was not a shallow, sugary love. It was the love that asked us to face blind spots and willful ignorance, and to dare to name the unspeakable horrors in our histories. The sound of that love echoed through the air even as the occluding and corrupting force of Reaganomics strangled the vitality of the Northeast Corridor and forced people into dire choices born from cruel material circumstances. It was the love worth dying for because it was the love worth living for. It was the love spun between upheaving Uranian sparks and limiting Saturnine rings. 

I was loved. And I loved. That love was an extension of will. A clear-eyed intention. That love was a choice——a series of choices, in fact. That love was a bedrock bond of community that depended on each individual’s contribution to the jam. That love was a force——a revelatory, binding and animating force. If identity has something to do with the degree of love that can be absorbed, as Richards pronounced, I say remembering and rememory (Morrison’s concept) has something to do with the force of love’s light. The clarifying fire that allows us to see trans-temporally, to crack open the silences, and to, as the Egyptian Book of the Dead says, “give a mouth to Osiris.” The myriad violences of the United States’s meta-narrative deform not only our capacity to prefigure but also the health of our memories. May light shine for all we who communicate across the ragged edges of our corrupt inheritance, who know that scrapes and deep cuts await, but who trust the scars as warrior marks, the near misses as echolocation, the continued practice as prophecy. ❑

I really believe love dilates time. I think it is a force, when applied, that helps us to experience something. Talking about that eternal versus the quotidian, the materiality——it helps us to experience the ways in which we have been settled, colonized, by these external systems. 
And when we have a passion for something, whether it be for our work, for another human being, for a cause, for life itself writ large——time starts to move in different ways in our experience.  

And this was very heightened for me when I worked on the Saturn video. Two years ago, my mother passed away and just this Friday my father passed away. And I was with him last week while he was in his hospice. And one of the things that was so funny——my brother and I were there together——we would look up and we would look at each other. We’d be like, how long have we been awake? What did we eat? It just felt like time suddenly became this other thing than something that would be measured by a clock. 

And internally, there was a different kind of energy that I had. Like most of us, as a result of the pandemic, I’ve been so scattered, so distracted, having so many things on my plate. Suddenly I was able to focus on one thing and be at my father's bedside for eight hours in a row without even knowing that that much time had passed. 

I've always been interested in——when I think about the historical continuum of all of our cultural traditions that have in some way or another been violently affected by settler colonialism and its legacies——what it means to still find our unimpeded connection to love and how that love can create space that there's no way for them to settle. You can’t colonize that thing, right? But you can prevent us from being habitually engaged with it. We can be blunted, we can be wounded, we can be distracted.

A black and white profile photo of Daniel Alexander Jones.
Daniel Alexander Jones extends traditions of art-making rooted in Black & Queer histories of performance, music, literature, and civic practice. 2023 marks his thirtieth year of professional practice. This year, Jones released his new album Aquarius; presented May as Well Be a Rainbow, an offering commissioned by the McCarter Theatre honoring Toni Morrison and her archive; and Altar No. 3: I Choose to Remember Us Whole, an installation at The Henry Gallery in Seattle & public processional produced by The Meany Center at University of Washington. As his "altar-ego" Jomama Jones, he has released six albums and toured widely to critical acclaim. Jones’s ongoing ALTAREDSTATES initiative is housed at CalArts’ Center for New Performance and may be encountered at www.aten.life. A collection of his plays and performance texts, Love Like Light, is available from 53rd State Press alongside a volume of conversation with Alexis Pauline Gumbs entitled Particle & Wave. All These Things, a volume of discussion with Sharon Bridgforth, is forthcoming in Summer 2023.