I write this in the midst of a widespread consensus of which I am anecdotally and personally aware. Everywhere I turn, in different political quadrants and places, I hear the refrain “Time is speeding up.” Opining about busy lifestyles and our lack of time is now a tired cliche. Time Management: a buzzword invoking “micro-habits”, to-do list apps and GPS re-routing around traffic congestion burning fossil fuels; more adequately Time Management is a codeword for capitulating to the late capitalist mode of re-rendering human life as mechanized expediency. On Demand: the immediacy of PrimeNow lambasted by Ronny Chieng. Screen Time: the boogeyman of behavioral psychologists, parents, and the sleep-deprived. “Just not enough hours in the day”: the magical utterance banishing all of the chores left undone, thoughts left unthought, places unwent, friends unseen. Nightmares of lateness, latency, running out of time, time on the run. Time well spent: duration monetized. All of this despite the fact that some scientists now contend time is objectively slowing down.
This is a project about types of time. Here I collect and compare different concepts and experiences of time in order to induce in the reader a direct access to what the philosopher Jean Gebser calls “time-freedom”, the achronon.
What is gained from such an inquiry? An enrichment of words, paths, and signs regarding other zones and channels, alternative ways of experiencing time. Modes of being and becoming in differing time-climates: an ecosystem of types of time. Timelines, coincidences, timespirals, instants, percolations and synchronicities, infinitudes and magnitudes, the time of apps and tech, spiritual time and story time, time as light and weight, time as horror and awe, planetary time, lost time, time as root and branch, time as tissue, organ, health and virus, the times of objects and the times of people, the time of gods. What is liberation from time?
An early mentor of mine, the late Tom Christenson, a man made of stories, once spun the tale of a child dismantling a grandfather clock after being told “Clocks measure time!” Removing piece after piece, becoming increasingly disturbed, asking adults within earshot “but where does time enter the clock?” while searching for a scale, or a tube of some mercury, or an entry and exit point for the flow of time through the measuring device. The conceit that the clock measures time lies open and evident – the clock does not measure, it “tells”, but really: it cuts, it rings, it alarms, it wakens. Clock-time divides the day, the week, the year, the life, the story.
There is no doubt that our average experience of time is primarily linear, and can be contained in images such as the timeline (left=past, right=future, or more recently, top=newest bottom=least new), the calendar, schedule and watch. Questions of time are invariably bound up with issues of free will, destiny and fate, or in the everyday sense questions of choosing, planning, prioritizing. We “face” the right – the future is before us, the past spread behind us. Our modes of thinking and feeling often distance the future and the past from the present, or obsessively lean in one direction or the other.
Physicists, in positing the fourth dimension as “time”, seem to conceptualize the 4th as a kind of timeline, for example a human life in this dimension is a line of events from birth to death. Perhaps consult this relatively easy to understand video introducing dimensions, or consider the image of time from Donny Darko (2001):
The concept of time-freedom, and the impetus for this inquiry, came to me through the work of philosopher and poet Jean Gebser and his gigantic visionary work, The Ever-Present Origin. Gebser helps us see, imagine, and think this origin of consciousness by leading us through the art and philosophy of previous mutations of consciousness: the experience of time from Stone Ages to the present day is one subject of his giant tome. Geber’s theory is that consciousness as we know it today exists as one in a series of mutations which have occurred throughout history. Gebser thinks the mutation of consciousness through 5 main structures: the archaic, the magical, the mythical, the mental, and eventually the integral. Every human person and society today is composed of varying ratios of influence from all five, even though the integral mutation of consciousness is yet-to-come, futural, or just now arriving. Today we live in what Gebser calls the deficient form of the mental mutation, a hyper rational mode in which Galileo’s command reigns supreme “Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so.“ According to Gebser, in our current hyper-rational mode “we have space but no time; time has us because we are not yet aware of it’s entire reality.” [my italics].
Rich in space, but poor in time. We are rich in space through the moon adventure of Apollo 11, through the anatomist’s knowledge of the body’s inner space, through the Netflix streaming documentaries of drone footage and the cartographic horizon of Google Earth, through the yogas of “holding space” and meditating on the akasha.
Gebser thinks mutation from an unperspectival world submerged in nature to a world obsessed with perspective (such as a world where every person is always running out of time while holding a looking glass and a camera), to a future aperspectival integral world beyond the vanishing point of the individual. Gebser suggests that the thrust of this mutating consciousness will take us beyond linear time, and into a world with a multiplicity of time structures. This is a thought that is very challenging to think. My essays in this collection are an attempt to think this thought, the thought of a polytheism of time.
In this attempt to think through types of time, I am oriented by Martin Heidegger, who in the tumult of the late 1930s in Germany abandoned completion of his massive project Being and Time and turned attention to thinking the unfolding of philosophy, culture and technology from the “first beginning” with the early elemental Greek philosophers, such as Heraclitus and Anaximander, to the totalitarian states and technological hegemony of our present day. Heidegger posits that no alternative future is possible for humans if we cannot think through the beginning or origin of today’s world: we always turn to beginnings (both ancient and potential) out of a sense of plight, that there is something to be lost or gained.
We can only attain an “other beginning” by bringing to awareness the origin of today’s elements of experience, including how we arrived at clock-time and timelines. Our ways of being-in-the-world are determined by concepts which have lasted centuries and millennia. Heidegger insists that we listen very closely to ancient thoughts before attempting to say anything new, or even moreso that it is only possible to originate a new beginning within view of the old.
Jeremy Johnson, in his Seeing Through the World: Jean Gebser and Integral Consciousness (2019) concisely restates the plight of time: “Having fully mastered the dimension of space within themselves, time itself became the next venture for human consciousness. … Time, in the late perspectival age, the age of the mental-rational structure of consciousness, manifests as guilt. We are forever out of time, and time itself becomes vacuous, devoid of any inherent quality, and needing to be filled by our activities,” (Johnson 35). Check out Jeremy guesting on the Weird Studies podcast for an entry-point into Gebser.
And Gebser again, on our modern perspective toward time:
As we approach the decline of the perspectival age, it is our anxiety about time that stands out as the dominant characteristic alongside our ever more absurd obsession with space. It manifests itself in various ways, such as in our addiction to time. Everyone is out to “gain time,” although the time gained is usually the wrong kind: time has transformed into a visible multiplication of spatially fragmented “activity” or time that one has “to kill.” Our time anxiety shows up in our haptification of time, already heralded by Pope Sabinus’ hourly bell-ringing and is expressed in our attempt to arrest time and hold onto it through its materialization. Many are convinced that “time is money,” although again this is almost invariably falsified time, a time that can be turned into money, but not time valid in its own right. A further expression of man’s current helplessness in the face of time is his compulsion to “fill” time, he regards it as something empty and spatial like a bucket or container, devoid of any qualitative character. But time is in itself fulfilled and not something that has to be “filled up” or “filled out.” – The Ever-Present Origin, 1949. Translated by Noel Barstad and Algis Mickunas. Ohio University Press 1985.
Gebser points to time-freedom as one aspect of the next major mutation of consciousness: “… if he realizes that ‘time’ denotes and includes all previous time forms, he is free.” It is my suggestion that time-freedom has been experienced in varying degrees by humans in a plurality of social, religious and historical situations throughout world history, and to chronicle here their terminology and phenomena in order that time-as-such can be dislodged from the seemingly inescapable procession of the past into the future. By listening to Heidegger and Gebser, I attune my ears to the first beginnings of our modern world. When I listen to the Greeks, they point to Egypt as the even further arche and origin of their own beginning. So it is from the other side of the Mediterranean that I will take my departure into exploring types of time.
Future chapters may include, according to my own whim and not necessarily in any order:
- Ancient Egypt: the First Time and the circuit of the gods
- Ancient Greece: Chronos, Aion and Kairos
- Apocalypse and Millennium: Christians and Gnostics on the End of Time
- Pulses, Circulationss, Textures: on the Body’s Time
- Is Time in Your Brain?
- Doing Time: justice & time held in the prison
- Measurable Duration: Modern and postmodern typologies of time