“The ordinary man has always been sane
because the ordinary man has always been a mystic.
He has permitted the twilight."
GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Chronos Ex Mechina
We have engines, machines today which count a certain kind of time. By watching in awe at the seemingly perfect little mechanisms that tick seconds away with little hands, that illuminate the minutes on little screens, or colored bars that slowly flood across a line we meditate on the unbending linearity of time. We wonder at this straightness of temporality, because it is so unfamiliar to us.
Our time is in the flesh. Our heart’s palpitations, our muscles rhythm of tensing and relaxing, our breathes, gasps, long exhales, the stormy firing of nerves and neurons, these are how we know time. A day for us is not twenty-four hours, but the time we can stand with our eyes open before we succumb to weariness and must lay down and shut them. A life is not 30, or 50, or 70, or 90 years, but the time in which the universe exists for us and we exist for it.
The line does not exist in our time. It runs in flows, curves, cycles. At points, time turns a corner and all things are new again. We cannot look down the line or stand beside it, because when we look back we see the swirling of partial, relative views that cling to our eyes and our memories. These views exist in our mind and in the artifacts we carry. They are marked in our scars and in our bones. Time can thus erupt from these objects and bring portions of the past into the present. Multiple temporalities exist side by side at any moment, with different conceptions of past, present and future. The sane man and the mystic feels these competing worlds in his flesh; wisely keeping one foot here and one stretched out in fairylands.
A stone which changes slowly, moves slowly and does not easily yield to the flights of quicker time may regard a whole decade as a present moment. For a fly, the minute may be like the distant past. For a mouse in the field, the future may only exist as far as the next hill. The run across the wide territory where the birds of prey hunt may be an eternity in which all time will exist together in the mind and body of the rodent. And for the human, whose child lays on the edge of death at the hands of a sudden but mortal disease, there may be no future; only the hellish landscapes of a past full of what ifs and if onlys.
Love has its own time. Eros has another. Each body, each city, each network and nation have their own temporalities; as each has their own epic narratives. Narrative and poetry have their own time. Poems may exist all at once, like a perfect little eternity, or running forward and back like complex mazes of here, now, then, and theres. And temporalities compete and interact. Eros tells us to run fast and explode as love tells us to hold on and endure. Time, as our flesh, is schizophrenic.
For the teenager just beginning to taste the buds of sexuality and eros, each pang of joy and heartbreak are like none that have ever before existed. And they are, because in the universal time of that body, it has never felt such a hurt. Its temporal immediacy and the uncertainty of the future is such that no joy and hurt may ever be as great. This moment, this present, consumes all time, as it overcomes the flesh with Saturn’s fire.
And for the schizophrenics, for the mystics, they may experience many lives and many deaths. Many sufferings and many joys. Many heavens, hells and purgatories. The past may come to speak through them. A chorus of voices may be present and speaking at once. The future may be foretold, as it may see the many potential futures at once and speak to us of the tapestry before us. The panopticon is not an empty sanctum but a noisy crowd, packed together, telling a confusing prophecy where past, present, and future, all that is, may be, and never was bursts out and expresses itself.
Then there are those that dream of nothing. No future. No past. Theirs is an empty present in which the lack which defines their existence screams forth like a strangled orgasm. It is perfect, because it is a circle. Nothing comes from nothing. For all eternity. It’s holeyness is holy. It knows only desire. It’s time is ever in wait. Ever in the state of potential. It waits for Godot, because it is alone. And it will wait forever, or until the nightmare lasts; which in the flesh of the sinthome, is one and the same. All things are one, just as there is only one time, one mind, which perceives itself, creating the illusion of two or three, perfectly alienated selves. It is alone. It knows only desire. And it would devour all other things, times, and loves if it could; until all becomes the self again. Until it is left alone again to its eternal solitude.
Thus differing ethics too have their own experiences temporalities. Anger and vengeance are felt as either cruelly straight roads that march on hell or high water, or else as pendulums which swing back and forth, blow for awful blow. Sorrow and despair are sinking times, which feel the terrible end of time creeping forward as a future already determined in the present. We move at time with an anxious speed or a depressed slowness, but the last sand in the hour glass has already fallen for us. Hope has its own time, strangely similar to sorrow. It knows it shall sink into the quick sands of death, but holds on against it, in ever lengthening seconds as the number of seconds get fewer. It holds on against time for the sake that something irrational, something unexpected, something miraculous may happen on this side of the darkness, or else in its depths.
Peace has its lazy limbs extended, as though it has always been and shall always be. War holds its limbs close. It fights as though its always been fighting, but it does not expect that it will ever escape into the past or the future where it used to stretch itself. Defeat looks down at the ground, making curses and pledges, wishing that time no longer held it enslaved as its conquerors hold its body. Victory dances, laying open its vulnerable flesh, dancing naked and drunk, with a careless and aimless time that has thrown off the bondage of war’s armor but still feels the ache of its straps.
Theft has its own time. It has stolen time from the bags of those who have made it into a possession. The thief too regards time as something to be gained, taken, lost, gambled, or won. Capitalism is a temporality of thieves. The markets are all black markets; and many of the bodies from which time is taken on behalf of the comfortable are indeed black or dark bodies. Or else they are made black by the lack of light which surrounds them, thrown into the dungeons below the great clocks of industry. They keep the great clock-towers running, so the wheels of industry may ever push on and on; so greater clocks may be built. Ours is not a linear time run by machines, although we do marvel at our inventions. Outs is a time of thievery and murder, as we take and take and take, until there is no more. When the wells of flesh and time are gone, we move on; leaving our machines behind to rust and decay on top of the rotten and scabbed over blood and oil which fueled their engines.
Time in the flesh is not the ticking hands of a machine. It is not linear. It is a flight and fight. It is joy and despair. We are told that the path behind us and the road before us are the only ones we will ever know, but if we attend to the noisy chorus of temporalities which surround and occupy our bodies we may find that we may forge our own time. We may stand and we may escape into liberation. But in any case we will feel the whips of others attempting to keep us on the road and marshaling us forward. We may even fear that we shall not see that shining city. But be forewarned, that may not be where the road ends. Or, if it is, it may be merely a gloriously well lit slaughter house. Either way, if we do not at very least bend our heads for another view, we may never know where our perfectly timed train engines and rails carry us.