Friday, January 18, 2008

Musings on Time

I read an article on time recently, and it was really fascinating. Today we think of time as a continuous line stretching out into the future, but for a long time people thought of time as a much more cyclical phenomenon. We still have seasons and a sense of what that might have been like, but for the most part time marches forward. What the author was proposing was that it was the incarnation of Christ that forever changed the cyclical view of time, because suddenly there was an event (at least in the mindset of the Western world) that was unrepeatable. Thus the circle of time was broken and unfurled like a scroll. It was only later on that this radical shift in the conception of time fully took root, but it is interesting to note that during the Enlightenment, even in the midst of the "de-enchantment of the world" the idea of time remained a vector. The kingdom of God was replaced with ideas of progress, etc. The World Wars (and for some like Wordsworth and Blake, the Industrial Revolution) brought disillusionment with the idea of progress in a merely physical, mechanical universe. The imagination and art became perhaps the main way people struggled to re-enchant the world. The imagination took place and usurped the role of a spiritual plane (perhaps analogous to Plato's forms?). The imagination as we define it today was barely thought of 250 years ago. Now with ever increasing leisure time and technology, our ability to enter into the inner realms of another's imagination has increased dramatically. At the same time, it seems like this realm has offered an escape rather than engagement. We have been cut off not only from the concept of time and history due to this but even each other. So what do we do now? On this trajectory of time, trying desperately to re-enchant the world with art, trying to make our lives like art, failing so often. I speak as one who is tragically stuck in this pattern. Can a poem be a sacramental thing? If so, we have lost consubstantiation to the symbol, and the incarnation to a fairy tale. So anyway. That's all for my reductionistic thinking tonight. With that I leave you with a W.H. Auden quote that I think is interesting but slightly connected: Like everything which is not the involuntary result of fleeting emotion but the creation of time and will, any marriage, happy or unhappy, is infinitely more interesting than any romance, however passionate.

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