Wednesday, November 07, 2012


"If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know." -- Augustine, Confessions IX
I used to love Henri Bergson's philosophy. It was wacky in the way that only French and 18th century British philosophy can be, because it simply ignored the prior centuries and conversations and asserted a thing and then followed the implications. If the maestro is correct about time being a perception rather than a physical reality, then you're off and running, or at least trotting, beside him as he works out the myriad consequences.

I do not know if anyone ever exactly said why his philosophy was a door stop, why it shuttered the building and silenced the rest, but it did. There were few followers, because there was little to follow. It wasn't like Nietzsche, where the system sort of ends in a great, guttural growl, but once time is only perception, pretty much everything else gets idiosyncratic. You have to think about it a while, but you'll see that you can't reason on any subject, really, without time being something that we agree upon.

Even as Einstein would say that the physics property called time was relative, the human quality called time could never be more flexible than local. Oh, you -- you can say that time is a fiction, but I bet your computer clock is set. Like language and the myth of "slippage" that the deconstructionists wittered on about, it's true that absolute time is false and that we are all locked into a contract. Our time is nothing greater, in the end, than a network of contracts to go and do things, and between those actions we say time exists. The universe knows not "8:00 AM."

Our "8:00 AM" only means something between it comes between "7:00 AM" and "9:00 AM," not because there is any magic in the number or the time. Our "butterfly" only has meaning because of the contexts embedded in the signifier, not the magic of the sound. Yeah, yeah. The world is so, like, enslaving, man.

(I'd like to see the deconstructionist free herself from the paradigm of the clock.)

Time is not a fiction, if it's a shared delusion. If we share it, then it's not imaginary, because we've never been able to enforce universal fantasies. However, it's also not a reality, if none of us can talk about it rationally or even know how we keep speaking of it. It's this ongoing activity, but we can throw it into a pool, hurl it into futurity, and slice it into segments, and all without a definition or apprehension.

Do you feel time passing? I know. . . reading this would make anyone aware of time passing.

Anyway, the cruel lights of the sky, the poorly disguised commands of the economic machine, and the way the earth stumbles like a disoriented dancer through three hundred plus spins to get back to where it began all sound out a loud chomp of regularity and regulation. Things are regular, and we think they are timing.

Our souls wait for the Lord as surely as the watchman waits for the light of dawn. In that waiting, there is no time. Do you know why, all through the Psalms, the singer talks about waiting for the dawn in anxiety, why Jesus told two parables about people setting watch for the night? I doubt the least aware shepherd doubted the sunrise or was confused about the seasons, but waiting is a quality of time.

In the eternal, there is no beginning or ending, for "eternity" means timelessness, and without time such terms have no sense to them. We wait for the Lord just like the watchman waits for dawn. In the period of endless extension (waiting, dark), the solution goes by its own schedule (dawn, God). At the moment of coming, it is no more waiting. Time kicks in.

Time is not a fiction. It is a narrative.

We take our strands of life, our yarns, and the card spins us together. We accept the narrative of work, the narrative of season, the narrative of paying bills, and even the narrative of death, but time isn't responsible for any of these things. Time is the result of them. Here, we can lose our memory, or just lose our control over memory, and we can lose the power to imagine, but that is not time. Time is when we comply, put stickers on the planner, adjust our gait to the dance floor, and have a thing to tell or be told.

There are tribes and groups that live without a future tense. There are some with low number counts (how many? hrair!), but they still have a sense of time because they tell stories and have history. My sparkle-brained puppy cannot tell anything, and she has no time: she carries in her skull memories and a blurry pocket of "now" that might be fairly long, but not time.

I have grown sick of the tale.

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