All things converge

[Rembrandt - The Anatomy Lecture]


But from time to time. From time to time. What tenderness in these little words, what savagery.
--
From Beckett's Molloy


I was studying Books X and XI in Augustine's Confessions tonight, reading his inquiry into the mysteries held in the one phrase: "In the beginning God created the heavens and earth." He wonders about time, about how we can speak of past, present and future as existing when they have no duration or real existence at all. He eventually realizes that time, if anything, is a mental construct, it is individual and subjective. It is merely the mind's way of fusing memory, experience and expectation. We create time in order to deal with our world, to deal with change and motion and duration.

As I followed his inquiry, some part of my mind was moving between the words I was currently engaging with and other ideas of time which have been recently encountered. Alan Lightman's book Einstein's Dreams, which I finished yesterday, deals entirely with time, imagining worlds without time, with discontinuous time, with sclerotic time, with subjective time -- worlds where time is fluid and not contained, where people spill over from one time into the next, wake up to find themselves crouching in a hedge, trying to hide their anachronism.

There are also the tubercular notions of time, as I've recently found in Barrett's novels, and previously in Magic Mountain. Poor Hans is always at the mercy of time -- from his first ascent to the mountain to the nosebleed that transports him back to the schoolyard of his childhood:

Time and space were abrogated—so intensely, so totally, that one might have thought a lifeless body lay there on the bench beside the torrent, while the real Hans Castorp was moving about in an earlier time, in different surroundings, confronted by a situation that, for all its simplicity, he found both fraught with risk and filled with intoxication.


Intoxication -- the heady feeling of finding oneself outside time for a moment --of feeling in control instead of controlled. In some of Lightman's worlds the people feel so constrained by their sort of time that they never leave their beds, never do a thing, so content are they to let time flow on inexorably. And then there's Molloy -- I stumbled upon him randomly this evening, copying out some passages which have long been collecting dust on my nightstand. I open the book to a marked passage and immediately I'm confronted with the above passage: What tenderness in these little words, what savagery.

It's amazing -- the sense of annihilation. I was sitting outside earlier this evening, it was cold despite the daffodils and budding trees. The stars were bright in the sky and it was quiet. I stared up at the sky, thinking of time, of moments, even of Lucretius' rain of matter cascading through time. I sat there, eventually closed my eyes, and began to remember what it was like to feel myself spread out -- to let my mind play tricks with time.

I had forgotten about making space, about creating silence. It's been some time now, but I believe Whitehead, in talking about the bloom of life, the growth of actuality, talks about the necessity of space. Creativity must work in the blank spaces of potentiality for any novel thing to be. It's so hard to find blank spaces, to find some emptiness to just dwell in -- I remember sitting in Central Park, in the northern corner on a cold day watching the leaves and the birds and wondering where one ended and the other began. I remember the light of that day, cold and clear like water, I remember the hard, gravely stone of the bench I was sitting on, and I do not remember what I was reading but I remember that it made me think of Rembrandt's doctors as they peered lasciviously into the secrets of man's anatomy.

Time stretched in those moments, but it all ended when voices and bodies intruded into the place and time I had boxed off for myself. I remember that as I walked back to my apartment that day, taking a shortcut behind the botanical gardens, I slipped on some wet leaves and tore my glove.

From time to time.