A Question of Being Human (3)
Past and Future (Past Experience)
As we perceive… what there is to perceive… as we perceive ourselves, so we know we are in time; from the slipping away of the immediate past… to the (very different experience of) memory of what has gone… (before). As what has gone, is gone: is brought back before (us); the imagined, the retained, the learnt descriptions; and on the basis of this return, this repetition (the perception of this repetition), the abstracted… all the rhythms and returns of life as constituting our social rituals (from minimal meeting and recognition to festivals of renewal and collective community recognition, social time; remembered collective time as history). But for now; we have only our present, our memories and our prognostications; the high tide of our present emotions, the tide mark of the previous (time) receding, and other associations brought on by our present setting, or compulsive return of memory (theme or task, or un-mourned loss). Unresolved anxiety turns this memory ‘forwards’, the window opening out onto the future; not the same as the approach of perception with its longeurs and surprises… proof of this edge’s (the edge of our present’s) difference with the imagined future…
Our defense against the instability of this: having a home, room, place of ones own, furnished to taste, or anyway familiar, confirming; a context which does not change nor challenge (is free from fear or unwelcome distraction).
Or our desire for instability: the search for novelty, challenge, refreshment, fresh stimuli – in wait for a ‘surprise’; the self out for a stroll in life’s unpredictable byways, ‘a walk on the wild side’.
Of being in time, or more precisely, in the eternal present… time, as we experience it, our temporality, our being a part of this (time being, apart from this, a question of measure, narrative or external, third person perspective). Implications: everything (ultimately) takes place inside, within the eternal present, including (as reframed within this) our ‘sense’ of past and future - and our notion of an ‘outside’, also strangely eternal, mirror image of our interior state, assumed, indeed needed, for stability to be felt as such… ideals and foundations, beginnings, all are placed ‘there’ (all placed nowhere, so, in reality, in our imaginations alone) an admission that otherwise they would be open to contingency...
Finitude. Not a question of authenticity, but of a built-in agon; experience of the eternal present opposed to our (experience of) knowledge; that we are finite creatures. Which we know only through others, part of our unavoidable accretion of sediments from the past which make us what we are, and which -thanks to the arrow of time- we can not undo. Not a question of authenticity; but of shape, of form… (an aesthetic made of passing generations) for finitude looses the endless line implied by the eternal present, and suggests a form; how will we be our own artist and draw this line, elicit this form? What shape will we give it… give ourselves?
‘After all’ (again). Helpless though we are in the face of the past (we can not change it – only reinterpret it, have the last word) we are, after all, its last laugh. Our perception even, its latest thought, rendering it always one step ahead of itself, because… one step before. (Or better, we are always one step behind). Living all our yesterdays; after all (all that came before). We are… (that which comes) after all. (That which is given) after all.
After all (a cut, opening, in the all). Our thought, an after-thought. Our awareness, a late-comer, a late-coming, uninvited, accidental, a gate-crasher arriving after midnight. Taking all as our gift. As our right. Without thanks. So leading a thankless existence. Unburdened by responsibility (debt).
Possibly to be superseded (or otherwise absorbed) by another kind of cut, a parallel and very different form of thought, one we have manufactured ourselves. Rendering our experience transitory, a passage between organic and inorganic intelligence, or stages in intelligence. Unwitting parents to a second attempt at matter with awareness. (Stages of Spirit).
Inseparable as we are from the future. As every registered perception, every thought, word or image, bidden or not, arrives not on virgin land, but one touched by the past which… informs us that our every registered perception, every thought word or image (bidden or not) implies a future… has implications for our future. A future that, in one sense, never comes (like ‘tomorrow’) because it comes… after all.
If past and future are at once windows opening in the present, openings that we take as record or possibility, then they are also ordinal, coming from the past (even if we misremember) and moving towards the future, our (imaginary) arrow of time.
So into ‘the cut’ of ourselves, there can be seen to open other ‘wounds’, those of the past and future and branching out from these many routes and passages (our virtual, digital worlds are but an extension of this, a copy of this, but also a means by which we may in turn objectivise ‘this…’ understand ‘this…’
Learned habits, short-circuiting the self (re-wiring the self). Even ordering our perception … before it reaches us… All operations we suspect performed… elsewhere.
Made out of the (absent) past, or hidden, and an evaporating yet persistent present… What a porous, tenuous, yet tenacious thing, this self is… The frame of the present sustaining the illusion of ‘the self’, a frame reechoing with perception, thought and memory… the latter - all we really have apart from the eternal present - unreliable, blurred, second order, yet in so many ways the necessary scaffolding, invisible lines of association, that support the self in the on-rush of the eternal present (all outside of the self as dimly felt) as preconscious, our predispositions (linguistic and other cultural habits). No surprise then that animals are (relatively) unchanging, survival in the present is all, and our distant ancestors too developed very slowly, until the advent of written memory, stored memory: then exponential development – leaving less and less to the vagaries of personal memory, and more to socially stored memory, finally materialized memory and its specialized interpreters – in effect the repository of our culture. Without it we would quickly be back in the Paleolithic (but probably with better memories).
And so perception (the river) unidirectional, our arrow of time, moves past us (flows under the bridge) the frame which gives us our sense of position, our belief in a self (on which we stand), moves past us (current determined by forces activated elsewhere) in the past that was their origin, whether inside of us or outside of us (prior), from zones we intuit and infer, but can not immediately point to (assumed but not apparent).
The river flows under the bridge on which we stand, current determined by forces activated elsewhere, prior, assumed but not apparent.
Copyright Peter Nesteruk, 2012