On Time, gleanings from the Journal of the Kirk (source tapes 1986, written 2003)
Go said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear much reality.
Time past and time future,
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
T.S. Eliot. - Burnt Norton
So, Now I'm thinking, what does photography do? It catches something of a speck in time and mashes it across the years. When I hear a trumpet blast for some seconds in duration, what do I hear? What gives it the sense of time? This point that is the present – the ever present now – Does is have a dimension? … But how can a sequential series of points be stacked if they have NO dimension.
There must be a smear. Even so, one mili-second past the present, the thing exists in the past. And what is the past?
It seems to be like nothing at all … except that it keeps changing the face of the present. The thing which “was” must somehow be catapulted back into the now, by virtue of electric soup and impact. So, does the sound exists as a unit by virtue of a chemical process? When I hear 5 seconds of sustained blast, what am I hearing? .000000……000000001 of something “new” and the rest by food and memory and bulldozed energy that curls the past back into the present like an ever advancing wave… But if the curl itself can have no back dimension, or is pushed forward onto an ever-advancing needlepoint, how can one moment contain the “illusion” of duration? How can something long be held in a point?
I DON’T GET THIS! The past is gone – unless it’s somehow still in the present. The future isn’t here, and never will be (cause then it ain’t the future) – and the present has no dimension. Yet I still hear Music! And voices.
Do I hear into the past? But if I can’t, how could I ever understand a single word.
This is strange too. When I hear a piece of music I have a sense of time during the piece, so that I can hear a note played for several seconds and remember it as such. I know the difference between a note played for a second and one played for thirty, yet I can’t hear a thirty second sound inside myself. My immediate memory seems to hold a few seconds with some clarity so that I hear it “at once”, but I can not hear the whole of the score at once. Even to hear it in my mind I must play it back in time, even as my brain slides through time.
So, how can I hold anything of duration inside myself when I am constantly sliding forward living on the edge of a point?
This then is the now. One atomic moment of something new riding on a tidal wave of the just-happened being hurled with it (by memory) so that it can have meaning.
Note 1: in analyzing this thought, I have indeed come to the conclusion that we hear most “visibly” for only a few seconds at time. When I listen to the radio or conversation, it seems only about half a sentence stays directly with me until it fades like a comet’s tail just seconds after delivery. This is a hard idea to make sense of, but I think even the pace of our language and length or our words reflect the limits of our short-turn saturated hearing.
Note 2: I have since heard this phenomena called the psychological present.
Note 3: perhaps (and this isn’t my idea) God lives in a physiological presence that is eternal – In both our directions. He holds the past as well at the future, with as much clarity as I know my now…
And perhaps then, this ability to understand even a few moments as a sustained thing, is a picture of real time – the all encompassing now. Perhaps memory is a spiritual phenomena!
I've heard of folks who lose their short-term memory. And that makes sense if the thing forgotten fades in an hour or day … but if the thing lost were lost just milli-seconds after the phenomena … nothing in life would make sense. Every moment would be so new that nothing in it could be fathomed.
I remember just after I hit my head on the diving board. When I was in the hospital and in a mental fog, I kept looking at the clock to know the time. True to style, I had my recorder in my pack that accompanied me to the hospital. My mom found it and recorded multiple hours of speech with me in which I awoke slowly from a concussionary fog
The tapes contain numerous instances – maybe a hundred in which I ask what time it is – sometimes just seconds after the former query. Mother betrayed no fear and answered each time as if the question had never been asked before. Gradually the fog eased, and I would make declarations such as … I am beginning to think clearer now – Only to make the same self sure declaration a minute later with the thought that it was a fresh statement of fact. I have long held the entire experience as a reminder of the problem of self-evaluation. But more on that later.
In evaluating my ever-unfogging brain, I would watch the clock. I would study it, then study it again. And it seemed to me that time was going faster than it should. Almost like every other moment slipped off the retaining slate. By virtue of a damaged memory – time sped up. So what should happen if I retained only one memory “peg” every twenty seconds? The clock would race at twenty times the normal rate? And what if memory were to diminish to the point of nil. Would each successive frame of sight be my only thought? Without reference to the past every fragment of sight would be new and I would view the clock as never having seen it before and it would appear not to move at all – though in fact each sighting would be different so that I would perpetually be seeing something new but think it static …or would I simply cease to see at all. Can one see at the speed of the present?
Dear, I feel crippled. To hold even this thought, something of that thought must be crowding forward to inform the present. ….. the present holding all time……
Whew…. The though is just too big.
On Time: Snippets, continued:
The past isn't dead, it isn't even the past – William Faulkner.
Oh, now this is interesting. I think it’s interesting when we think of the past, we tend to see it – or I do – in the manner in which it has been preserved and hurled forward. I think of the sixties as washed weak-color with grit. The forties in black and white. I see the turn of the century in sepia and the Civil war with scratches in the air. Not really, but certainly as something less than the bright real world we walk in. Who knows, maybe the skies of 1917 really did throb and flick in high contrast.
I find it something to think, that the soldier in the Civil war really did bleed red. It is something to think that the world back then had the same force of color, the same smell of rose, the same earth of kiss, the same blue of sky. The kiss of my beloved would fall on my lips as wet. The sun feels (felt) as real to them as it does to me … the same break of heart hurt with the same kind of pain. The same now of now.
Just listened to this. Is it worth keeping?
Odd idea insert: I have said in the past that the past is like nothing I can fathom. I believe in “it” by the most obvious kind of faith; So much so, that it seems like no-faith to acknowledge that the world and we and everything in it has been here before this last second. But try as I might, I can only touch the present. The past seems at once like everything. And nothing at all … and I feel like I’m grabbing at air to contain it.
Sci-fi aside, it seems that the past is without recovery. We may say for instance, that in looking at dinosaur bones, we are looking at the past; but the fact is that every bone we look upon is in the present tense. Or we could say that we are seeing the past when we view the sun … the light from that great fire takes some eight minutes to reach our eyes; The thing could have disappeared some five minutes ago … and it will be three more minutes till the light goes out. The sun that we see now is not the sun that IS now. But then again it is. It is the sun that exists eight minutes from its source. It is the sun as it exists beyond its “borders” – light radiating through space and filling the hall. The sun that we see tells the present tense truth about the really big sun, the sun that exists beyond the visible flame. And should we ever get so fast, that we speed out the past the light of our past (as it speeds into space) Wouldn't we just be living in a more complex present?
So then, maybe the past never really disappears – it just makes the NOW that much fatter.
While I believe the past as the past, is without recovery … it seems that I have never known anything but the past. The present is just too short. And, I have never seen or experienced the world in absolute present tense. If it takes some millionth of a second for the light to enter my eye, and another millionth of a second for the message to travel to my brain, and another millionth of a second for my brain to analyze and decode the signal, then I am already seeing three millionths of a second behind. I do not experience the present as it occurs, but rather milliseconds after the event. So, who knows … the world may have ended two millionths of a second ago … and it will be another millionth till we discover it!