Thursday, 15 May 2008

Recording Time

Time recorded by means of a number is an abstraction from human experience. Time isn't experienced as passing to begin with: we cannot look in the rear-view mirror and see it receding as we accelerate into the arising future.
As an organ of utility mechanical time does its prosaic work admirably, allowing us to coordinate our activities within the framework of a public sphere, a public sphere whose nature is a necessary corollary to this division of reality into segmented time. That we are creatures of intelligence shouldn't necessitate, however, our becoming slaves to our creations, such as time and money. One numerical symbol- mechanical dissection of flowing reality- feeding another numerical symbol. Thus the equation Time is Money. One set of abstract numbers signifying another.

My real interest here, though, is not the mechanics of the everyday, but time at its historical level. Whether our experience of life resonates in any real sense with recorded time is debatable. Does ten years mean anything in terms of felt experience? Time isn't experienced in its passing, and while a number representing time may make sense to a mechanical device such as a computer, this numerical understanding equates little with human consciousness, though this is the framework with which we are taught to comprehend experienced time. Useful obviously, but as an organic lens to understand human history it is arid.

And the longer the time spans the more useless is such a means of representing reality. If ten years means so little, what of seven hundred years? As a possible aside, time in the modern sense is more apparent( apparent in the sense of appearing to be) the more a mechanised world can conform to its dictates. And so fifty years today in the post-Industrial Revolution age is a very different phenomenon than fifty years in the preceding aeons. And this modern notion of time presumably almost wholly non-existent within eras such as the ancient Egyptian or Chinese.

With this in mind a far more resonant method of understanding historical time than the numerical device is to think in terms of human lives, with, say, a human life equating to seventy years. Think of ten people you know and their lives lived consecutively, and thus these lives equate to seven hundred years, bringing us back to around 1300, the time of Dante, and around the death of Kublai Khan. And ten more lives bringing us back to 600 AD and the life of Muhammad, while another eight or nine lives sends us back to Jesus and Julius Caesar. Twelve more and we are in the vicinity of Homer.
Another example being six lives bringing us into the midst of Shakespeare. This theoretical lens awakens the past as a medium within which life has been lived and within which we ourselves have our place in a way numerical time is almost wholly useless to effect.

5 comments:

elberry said...

Very few western people born since WW2 have any idea how artificial and imprisoning our highly rigid and mechanised sense of time is.

There's a good painting here:
http://web.mac.com/davewhitlam/Site/Paintings.html#15

by David Whitlam, a guy i temped with, i feel this expresses well the horrors of a nine to five job.

One of the things i really hate about office work is the enforced obedience to clock time. i'm always late.

elberry said...

It's the fourth row, last column. Can't link to it directly, it seems.

Lloyd Mintern said...

I like this. You might enjoy my current piece called PREPONDERANCE, covering similar terrain.

Andrew K said...

That's some excellent art there. A kind of medieval temperament.

Thanks Lloyd. I'll give it a look.

elberry said...

Like you, he's an advocate of mind-altering substances, though in person he comes across as a stolid, unflappable type.

i am the proud owner of his oil painting 'Ascent to Nothing', which i bought with the deposit i finally got back from my old landlady, after threatening her with the courts.