A Question of Being Human (12)
The ‘Eternal Present’; reliable then, as the rising of the sun, predictable, always there – till it ends (something the ‘I’ as I can, constitutionally, know nothing about, can not experience, can only know in the place of another, as third person experience). Yet the concrete outcomes of our lives are (with this one exception) unpredictable…
Can we have a second person experience of another’s death, I of yours (or you of mine)? It seems this is something we must surmise from corporeal evidence. That sense of ‘another’ as anyway an imaginary relation, assumed; in ‘you’, in there… And what a difference it makes! Do we ‘kill’ the ‘you’ in the other every time we wish it so, every time we forget them, every time I forget you, every time I do not think of you? (So distracted, we are killers all). Communication, is it a mix of second person ‘you’ before me in the eternal present, and third person projections based on past experience of what ‘others’ (and specifically ‘he’ or ‘she’, ‘they’) do, or rather did? Remembrance then (ritual remembrance) is it second or third person? Or both as we conjure up the dead. For those that in the past we were intimate with (and perhaps this is only true for them), it is a ritual that frames the continuing conversation with an absent you (in our imaginations) leaving us again ‘face to face’ with the dead…
The Eternal Present, in its diurnal everydayness, its eternal return, predictable; in its specific outcomes, unpredictable. (Eternal… return? Yes, whilst we persist, or so it seems… in the midst of this ’return’ our life’s rhythm, in our imaginations, an infinite extension, and in our desire - even as we know our days are numbered).
(In this sense ritual as born of repetition may be read as underpinning everything, from the identity of objects and the meaning of words, to the identity of self and others, and the meanings of collective life. Fruit of repetition and the sharing of our eternal placement in community - so knotting together recognition and identity).
Everyday time and its rituals depend upon the input of memory into the Eternal Present. Memory reminds us that everyday time is made up of ‘return’s; the diurnal ‘eternal return’ with its sub-divisions and multiplications into cycles within cycles. Within the day, we witness the punctuation occasioned by the consumption of food, washing rituals and other events (related to given patterns of work and leisure). As the arch sprung from night to night, an arc spanning dawn to dusk, with its moods and habits, its set-times and cycle of appropriate moments, follows the sun in its path across the sky. The succession of days, of course, is shaped into the calendar appropriate to our geo-cultural time zone. Whilst the succession of years is differentiated by the flavour of historical change, as well as our place, rooted within a given generation. With respect to the internal and external point of view (the former as the remembering of the past mirrored by the projection of the future as such a receding and approaching succession, and the later as an imagining of this succession as a single line we look upon from without), there is no priority of moral force (the former seems originary and the latter a creative derivation, ‘inauthentic’ only if requiring that the actual condition of enunciation be ‘real’). Both may be enabling or debilitating. The greater arc of birth to death whether experienced from within or pictured from without, anyway has its own rhythms, its own shape, and shaping force, based upon generation, a horoscope fixed by a birth date and then following the fixed cycle of the human seasons, the culminating stages of maturity and the planning of a life.
So the Eternal Present itself is susceptible to division: the punctuation of its periods of presence, our punctuated period of presence; and the subdividing of its uninterrupted periods. The diurnal cycles that form other yet larger cycles, and the diurnal cycle as a single unit, with its internal punctuations and overall shape…. All subject to repetition.
(…and at night, perchance to dream…) Stuttered nocturnal return of our day’s events, presences and anxieties. A stuttered misremembered poem, shadowy, yet vivid in its estrangement, surreal, offering a genre of art and mode of perception. Fading with the dawn of the eternal present (in whose light they fade faster than other memories, other perceptions… melting away as mists do on the occasion of the rising of the sun).
The repetition of cycles: abstract/formal/quantitative; seconds, minutes, hours, day, week (the week versus the weekend) months, years (decades) centuries and millennia. Cultural/geophysical/qualitative: the four seasons, the patterns of leisure and work life (education, work, holidays and retirement) the ‘tagging’ of decades, the characterization of centuries, the conjuring of historico-cultural periods and epochs. Transitions, hinges, beginnings, all oft marked by festivals… ritual writ large across the face of our culture.
‘Long Day’s Journey…’ The day and its shape; whose beginnings and endings, the borderlands of the Eternal Present, frame the sucking into our skull of the period evolution has rendered (under the influence of our planet and star) our most fundamental division. As the sun is our witness. ‘As the day is long’. The diurnal cycle; our most basic unit of being. And its sub-divisions; the ‘times’ of day (morning, noon, afternoon and evening, length and light dependant on season and urban or other setting). Themselves subject to our pattern of eating (and the recovery there from…). The longeurs of the afternoon (for some a mid-way caesura; a mid-day nap, snooze or siesta). For others (those of us who can not sleep during the day) just a short period of day-dream or light reading. Evening as the last period of diurnal sub-division, another (the third) short work shift (all punctuated by meal times), or perhaps play, or reflection... To complete the journey; a return to horizontal posture to complement the sun’s return to the horizon, the journey ’… into Night’ (now illuminated by electricity, a 24/7 culture, and the night shift).
The ‘time of day’, which when answered as if as a response to a question, is always ‘now’ ; to give someone the time of day is to give them a privileged presence in the eternal present. Gift of our time.
Vita. The single pulse, wavelength, sudden illumination of the flare of biography. Overall shape perceived. Our personal meta-set; which we can not know, not directly, only ‘in medias res’ (but then there is no shape, only current culmination, as every now.-moment in the Eternal Present is a culmination of all that has gone before). Or only in the imagining of self as (if) other, as resembling the life history of another (the act of auto-biography), and it will do, it must, for there in no other guide, outside astrology… Yet in a way under taboo, a taboo we must (in our re-imagining of our selves) transgress every time we reflect… as impossible as the prohibition on reference to a meta-set in axiomatised logic, a ‘level’ not permitted to first person thought (whence we slip into the third…). From the point of view of the Eternal Present, we are always divided into two, past and future, behind and ahead, after birth and before death. In medias res. Narrative, as we imagine it (he/she, third person) tracing the single line from birth to death, the cycle of (a) life (child, adult, senior) one line, story told, experienced only in the place of others (not our place, from that place we ‘see’ only ‘in front’, ‘behind’, and the whole is anyway only available after our demise), all available only as other, as self (in the place of the self) not possible, as the end is the end of thought itself, of thought and self (of itself only the ‘it’ is left). Visible -for a while- to others.
Repetition of the same as constituting form (empty time projected forwards, as ‘repetition backwards’; a ‘repetition’ of the different, ‘repetition forward’, as its actual content, which always changes with context, whence the logic of ‘historicism’, ‘post-modernism’, ‘pastiche’, hybridity, et al. All hostage to the brute fact of a new context (and every actual repetition takes place in a new context). Repetition is difference (otherwise how would we recognize it…).
Repetition. The key to quality and quantity; duration and intensity, time and feeling. Repetition as basic form or ordering, marked by rituals as key repetitions of identity formation and maintenance. Ritual as marked repetition; marking as degrees of value, of making sacred, from self as value, place (of self) as value, as giving the gift of value… Ritual as all is revalued, renewed, through sacrifice, burnt offerings (even if only of time, precious gift from a finite store as part of an appeal to eternity). Ritual, from the everyday, small, ‘emotional charge’ – passing, but important for recognition; to the big national, annual or larger ritual markings of the culmination of a cycle… a ‘re-charging’ where the emotional (and other) expenditure may be high. Ritual as charged repetition… from neutral (negative, if it misfires - mis-recognition) to an event carrying an altogether higher charge (sacrifice, official and unofficial). Also true in the case of recognition as based on object purchase, the truth of recognition as individual value, as of cases that demand a bigger sacrifice to identity (official and unofficial, festival and pogrom). ‘Exchangeability’ (our predisposition to do this).
The meanings of consciousness, like those of words (in the case of meaning as ‘last word’), are made by their context – indeed it is the context of consciousness that determines the meanings of words in use. The content of consciousness is its context – the converse… the refusal of novelty, denial of difference. The context of consciousness is its content – the converse… culture-shock!
Copyright Peter Nesteruk, 2012