World Time and the Time of the Clock, Artistically Re-Presenting the “Disaster”:
A Modulation Toward Resurrecting Time and Human Presence

 by J. M. Magrini


The importance of reflecting on "Time" as related to the human condition became evident with the passing of my father; the interruption of death shattered the continuity of my existence. Maurice Blanchot refers to such events as "disasters," extraordinary moments that rattle our ontological foundations, moments in which we are forced to confront and deliberate the essential characteristics that define us as sentient, ephemeral creatures: finitude, fragility, and mortality. It is often the case that our encounters with the "disaster" lead to the production of works that are constructively philosophical, which is to say, the violent and tumultuous nature of the events are re-produced imaginatively or artistically.

We might imagine the creative acts of many great thinkers resulting from their life-altering encounters with the disaster. Plato wrote the death of Socrates, Kierkegaard wrote the rift with Regine Olsen, and Nietzsche poetized the highly disruptive vicissitudes of his persistent illness. According to philosopher Karl Jaspers, creative philosophy not only begins as "wondrous rapture," it also erupts in the thralls of extreme skepticism and uncertainty. Through the acute sense of existential abandonment, in moments of profound suffering and confusion, an "inner upheaval" occurs, which alone determines its goal and unique creative path.

In presenting my series of photographs, World Time and the Time of the Clock, it is not my intent to suggest an artistic-intellectual kinship with the aforementioned philosophers. Rather, the collection serves to illustrate that in the case of the disaster, we are all summoned, in one way or another, to give form or expressive "voice" to that which is ineffable. In striving to re-present the disaster, we endeavor to mediate, repair, and rejoin, to the best of our natural aptitude, those aspects of life that personal catastrophe has torn asunder. Creative responses come in a variety of forms, for example, the poetic act of bringing a work of art into existence or the philosophical process of deep, reflexive thinking both represent creative attempts to understand the "disaster."

The "disaster"is of a compound makeup. On the one hand, it is always relative to the particular individual. On the other hand, there exists a universal aspect to the phenomenon, namely, its ability to disrupt lives by pushing our humanity to the limits of an absolute breakdown. However, as Blanchot is careful to point out, this is not to indicate that the "disaster" is fatal to those who experience it. "The disaster ruins everything," he writes, "all the while leaving everything in tact." Despite living on the heights of despair, those who undergo the "disaster" remain alive.

After the initial pause, which follows in the wake of the "disaster," engulfed by its rumbling silence, questions concerning human identity and future potentialities are invoked. The need to create arises, and we attempt to work out some sort of a solution to the aporia, or "waylessness" that we experience. For Blanchot, this occurs through the process of authorship, however, it is possible to imagine the urge to respond creatively as cutting across the genres of aesthetic expression to include the fine artist, dancer, composer, and so forth. Although the process of re-presenting the disaster through art appears cathartic, it is not a surefire remedy for cure, purging us of our existential affliction. It is impossible to cleanly suture the wound(s) inflicted by these devastating events, and in effect, leave no trace of emotional scarring. We cannot, as it is common to say these days, bring a sense of closure to the drama, and mark a return to normalcy. The wound always remains open to some degree, and when resolute to this fact we project ourselves into the future with grievance, anguish, and agony in tow, and we come to see ourselves in a different light. The disaster attunes us in such a way that we understand and inhabit the world in a different way. Because of the disaster, things have undoubtedly changed.

And so it is with the phenomenon of death, when those we love depart the world and leave us behind to continue on without their lingering, palpable presence. But, is it really the case that what is gone, or past, is by definition, irretrievable? Is it possible to imagine a radical conception of time and life in which the relationship to the Other calls for a radical reassessment of human existence as defined by science or traditional philosophy? Addressing this concern, Henri Bergson and Martin Heidegger provide revolutionary re-readings of time, which necessitate the reassessment of what it means to be human, and beyond, what it means to "be" at all. Their critical contributions to the history of ideas have inspired my artistic reflections, influencing my attempt to live and re-present the "disaster." In what follows, I briefly examine the notion of existential reclamation of the deceased through the redemption of suffering and loss.

Death is the loss of someone never to be seen again. It is the sudden absence of a unique and familiar person. Death is the ultimate moment when all of our would-be possibilities, dreams, and hopes are abruptly and permanently closed off. Death changes the world. This fact is beyond dispute. Yet, the dead are with us, and in fact, many times seem more alive to us than the living; this too, I would like to suggest, is beyond dispute. I believe that those with whom we move through "time" and "history" remain with us despite their physical extinction. This is because of the solicitous relationships we share with loved ones and friends, this is because of the way that we are with Time.

Many believe that the legitimate overarching meaning of one's existence is possible by way of reflective analysis. Privileging our vantage point in the present moment, we cast our glance back over the expanse of the past, in order to take a toll, in order to arrive at an objective assessment of one's deeds and accomplishments. However, such historical reflection never accurately grasps the authentic meaning of one's existence, if by this we mean how one lived in relation to mortality, how one chose in the light of finitude to live with the most extreme possibility of existence, namely, nonexistence. The flawed idea of life as a coherent, understandable totality begins from an erroneous conception of time, which finds its corollary within the following inaccurate presuppositions: Time is linear and quantitative, death is a singular, extreme point on the "line of time," human nature is knowable in its universal objectivity, and that which is not sustained in the "presence" of our mind's eye as "substance," true being, or whatever, is therefore not authentic being, judged as either spurious, deceptive sensate phenomena or non-being, plain and simple.

Time is not linear. The duration, or length, of time cannot be measured scientifically by way of mathematical symbols, for time has no length. While intellectual-based modes of knowledge accurately measure the medium of space, they are powerless to calculate, gauge, and represent the nonspatial medium of time, with its dynamic flow and flux. The future does not rush toward us as we stand in the present moment, only to disappear forever into the irretrievable void of the past. Neither the wall-clock nor wristwatch properly represents time. According to Heidegger, by treating time as a quantitative phenomenon, measurable in length, in its extension, we "lose" our time, our human temporality. The clock attempts to show us "what" time is, but misses the more substantial ontological matter of "how Time is," which is to say, the way in which we enact time when living as temporal, existential beings.

Time is far more complex than the clock would have us believe; we are far more complex. Perhaps a significant part of what it means to be human is inextricably bound up with a radical notion of time in which past, present, and future is united, indivisible, perpetually working in concert within the moment of our present. This moment of the "present" is more an event of en-presenting (revelation) than a mere point in time situated between future and past. It is the moment in which the world, beings, and entities reveal themselves in the context of meaningful situations, in the opening of the present, things show themselves in ways that matter. This moment of vision is possible due to the convergence of past and future; this suggests that the past circles round to meet us, from out of the future, and thus is never legitimately gone. The fact that we have a past cannot be overlooked or skirted, as it represents our being thrown into the world in a specific and unique manner. However, the past acquires meaning, only when we authentically project it into the future, which represents our unique, or ownmost, possibilities (from out of the past) coming to meet us.

To exist authentically, is to envisage a life in praxis, life as a process of taking over our existence through a process of decision-making, in the act of legitimizing our thrown-past in the service of making (and remaking) our future being. We are Time as "care," which is the ontological structure, or foundation, of the human's being. In essence, the "care" structure embodies the three moments of "ecstatic temporality": (1) we are always out ahead-of-ourselves in the projection of a future, (2) we are always alongside others in the world, and (3) we are always already in the world as a thrown being, as someone with a past, a history and heritage. When considering such a model of Temporality, of which "clock time" is merely derivative, it is crucial to acknowledge that the past, which comprises our heritage and history, is sewn into the very fabric of our being. To repeat, the past is continually at work influencing and shaping the moment of en-presenting through its ever attendant presence. The past serves as the source of our life and future, for in the instant of willful choice, we redefine the present by making decisions regarding possibilities that arise as a result of the past, which is at once the historical ground of our existence.

It is inevitable that we leave the world alone, for no one can take another's dying from her. However, it is not the case that we enter the world in the selfsame manner. This because we are thrust into existence as factically determined beings, as members of a family, as the populace of a community. As people with a history and heritage, we are called to appropriate the past into our existence, and through our choices, the history we are born with becomes our authentic history, or "historicality," as it merges with our life. What is given by our forebears as heritage is a gift that continually influences the manner in which we enact our destiny, until we too must take death upon ourselves, and in turn, pass along our history.

With such a notion of Time and life, we might imagine a way in which the presence of the deceased continues to exercise an enduring effect on our lives. The authentic remembrance of the deceased is never a mere recollection. Rather, authentic remembrance is the "recovery" of a living experience as represented in the calling forth of their being into a living presence that powerfully strikes from beyond the grave, beyond the horizon of death, exerting its monumental force on the history of the living. This process represents something resembling a modulation toward the resurrection of human presence, in the sense that the dead live within our deeds as the continued re-enactment, reevaluation, and re-creation of their history as it inspires our history in the instant of "en-presenting."

As described, we are beings that project our possibilities into the future from out of a "thrown" past as history, therefore, we are always in the process of recovering and repeating some inherited possibility. When living authentically, we appropriate freely this past, as the source of the future. From this description, it is possible to imagine that our deeds are intimately linked to the deeds of our departed ancestors, and their history is inextricably bound to our history.

If there is secular redemption for the memory of suffering and loss, exists within the life that calls us to be beholden to the time of the past and assume a caring and responsible attitude toward the time of the future. Such an idea of existence would be inconceivable without the importance of the memory and presence of those who are forever with us in the spirit of their historical being, in the moment of the time of the present, preserved within the spirit of our historical being.

My closing remarks focus on what it means to do philosophy, which is first and foremost a form of thought that cannot be understood outside of its relationship to time. It is an attuned form of thinking - (colored) by the world in which we reside with others, influenced by the urgency of the situations in which we find ourselves. Philosophy is anything but a detached form of contemplating "essences." Further, it is not something we learn directly from a text. It cannot be applied practically, with mathematical precision, in a direct and absolute manner to the problems of existence. Lastly, it cannot be judged by its usefulness in the same manner that we judge the success of a scientific method or economic theory. And yet, by its nature, philosophy is a form of thinking that necessitates all inquiries concerning human and worldly knowledge and values. Thus, the scope of philosophy's enquiry is profoundly broad and vast.

The human is a complex being. However, as Heidegger states, "Philosophy need not be high flown, it is enough if we dwell on what lies close and immediately in the here and now." Anyone can follow the path of meditation, thinking in her own manner, within her own limits. I have referred to philosophy as a creative type of problem-solving, but perhaps a better definition would refer to philosophy as a form of thinking that is never truly at an end, never completed, a process of thought that is always on-the-way toward understanding ways to solve the problems we encounter. We might consider philosophy a discipline that first seeks a proper understanding of the issues, which often entails a reformulation of the initial questions that we ask, which amounts to an enquiry into the questions themselves, in order to clarify the manner in which to best approach the problems.

While its scope is grand and its issues many and varied, philosophy most often finds its subject-matter, its place and home-ground, within the immediate realm of our day-to-day lives. For example, it is possible to think seriously and philosophically about such things as this patch of earth, this present time of history, this life with other members of the human race, or, as was my focus, the time and worldly proximity that we have shared, and continue to share, with those loved who have passed on.

The End