Wednesday, March 13, 2013

It's About Time

Time filters experience in ways you do not always understand at the moment.  Even then, when the experience is completed and filed in the folder of The Past, your understanding of it may be flawed by something seen, such as an attitude or agenda, or it may be skewed by something unseen, such as understanding or information, or a report from another source that may have been present at the time.

You are in effect held hostage by time.  You hope to learn what it wants from you and what the cost of the ransom will be.  Then again, you might not yet be aware you were being held.

Sometimes, when you find yourself considering an event in the past such as your behavior or attitude, your awareness of the circumstances prompts you to hire the psychological equivalent of a lawyer, a process in which you construct an elaborate defense based on the urgency of your needs at the time, or perhaps your equivalent of a lawyer Johnny Cochrane's you into playing the survival card, where you did what you did out of self-defense.

You may think yourself mixing the metaphor in which you bite the temporal bullet by admitting what you did was wrong, misguided, inappropriate, hoping your sense of frankness and your own awareness of your embarrassment will  broadcast the impression that you have already suffered enough and have paid your debt.

To whom is your debt owed?

Time, much in the manner of Reality, has no agenda except to elapse in a continuous procession, shifting much in the manner of sand dunes at some swath of desert or beach, piling up on itself. Perhaps Time is the sorcer's apprentice, its power run amok.  Perhaps Time is Reality on steroids.

For certain, Time has seen fit to dabble in the arts.  Story, music, acting, photography, dance--all these recognize the passage of Time, some with symbols and notations, some with suggestions for tempo, expressed in French or Italian.  A paragraph indentation, a period en ding a sentence, a colon, a two-line space break are every bit as significant to the reader and writer as the valueof a note on a musical score:  whole note, half, quarter.  Sixty-fourth?

A convincing visual presentation for the description of electricity refers to the term as the passage of electrons past a certain point, leaving us to give names to the speed of these electrons, the size of the point which they pass, and among other things, the density of the material through which they pass.

Events rushing past a point at a particular speed begin to represent story.  If there are enough elements and the medium through which they pass offers sufficient resistance, we may be sure there is story, wishing to run in a series or parallel path, depending on the whim and purpose of the designer of the current.

The writer Wilkie Collins once observed with respect to the flow of story events, "Make 'em laugh, make 'em cry, make 'em wait."  What a glorious observation.  A significant element of story is the withholding of information, in effect slowing the passage of time or manipulating it in ways Collins understood only too well.

A splendid example of his manipulation of time comes from the simple yet effective switch of point of view in one of his most famous novels, The Moonstone, which begins with a narration from the young male lead, Franklin Blake who, we discover, has a serious and sincere romantic interest in the female romantic lead, Rachel Verinder, the attractive young lady who has just been given the eponymous gem, the Moonstone, on the occasion of her birthday.  But of course the lights go out, and when they go back on, the Moonstone is gone, stolen.  Blake is stunned by the theft, but so are we, because the equivalent of act one ends with Rachel breaking off her engagement to young Blake with the accusation, "You took the Moonstone.  I saw you with my own eyes."

We have to wait through additional revelations and complications as seen through the eyes of an ensemble of characters.  You could say The Moonstone is a variation on a theme of the Rashomon stories.

As noted, Time has no agenda except to pass, nevertheless Time has effects on our own species and all the other living species as well as inanimate objects.  We, it, and they age.  Some of them and us age well, others poorly.  Some of us age poorly as a result of our attempts to age well or in some way negate or divert the passage of time.  You have only to consult Aldous Huxley's novel, After Many a Summer Dies the Swan,  based on a particle from a poem by Tennyson about an individual who is granted eternal life but by no means eternal youth.  As he does with many of his novels of ideas, Huxley invokes a good deal of irony, a condition relating back to the earlier observation here of Time taking some of us and our events as seeming hostages.

Looking forward to events that have not occurred, we cast our hopes, agendas, and intentions, in effect buying emotional futures in the marketplace of human affairs.  Looking backward at events that have passed into history, we attempt to discern meanings and to attribute the more noble and deserving of those meetings to our individual causes.

This is not to suggest that we are the only species with agendas and intentions.  Time has worked its way into all living things, in some ways even more pronounced in the insect levels.  A common denominator worth examination is self-interest, a matter that manifests itself according to the ruling personality of a species.  This is also not to suggest that mankind of all species seems more on a likely path toward social evolution and, thus, is any more enlightened or admirable than various animals, birds, and reptiles.  We all of us respond to time in our own, species-friendly way.

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