John Berger on time, imagination, and love.
“The modern transformation of time from a condition into a force began with Hegel” (38).
Summary: Berger argues there is a phenomenological problem with conceiving of time as a unilinear and uniform flow; this is an unchallenged residue of the 19th century. It is a phenomenological problem because only human consciousness can conceive of time in this way. Such “remorseless time” causes the past to be lost, to fall into nothingness (37). “It follows that one no longer counts what one has, but what one has not. Everything becomes loss” (38).
“That life may be seen as a Fall is intrinsic to the human faculty of imagination. To imagine is to conceive of that height from which the Fall becomes possible” (emphasis added, 39).
It was imagination that enabled the invention of linear time, and imagination that can reclaim a dimension of time that remains intractable to it. Berger explains:
“…hidden within the conceptual system that allows man to measure and conceive of such boundlessness [i.e., the distance which light will travel in one year] is the cyclic and local unit of the year, a unit which can be recognized because of its permanency, its repetition, and its local consistency. The calculation returns from the astronomic to the local, like a prodigal son” (37).
At the local level &emdash; of you and me experiencing the passing of time &emdash; are “two dynamic processes which are opposed to each other…The deeper the experience of a moment, the greater the accumulation of experience. This is why the moment is lived as longer. The dissipation of the time flow is checked. The lived durée is not a question of length but of depth or density” (all emphases added, 35).
As a natural example (countering artificial limits of “culture” or “subjectivity”), Berger describes the accelerated growth of plants in spring and early summer: “These hours of spectacular growth and accumulation are incommensurate with the winter hours when the seed lies inert in the earth” (emphasis in original, 35).
“If there is a plurality of times, or if time is cyclic, then prophecy and destiny can coexist with a freedom of choice” (34). Berger ties the exercise of choice to language:
Time is linked with death, because if time is a cycle it must move in one direction against a force moving in the other direction. “The body ages. The body is preparing to die. No theory of time offers a reprieve here. Death and time were always in alliance. Time took away more or less slowly: death more or less suddenly” (36).
Against death, with time, is the sexual urge: “The impersonal force of sexuality opposes the impersonal passing of time and is antithetical to it” (41). We are all biological. 🙂
“Differently, the ideal of love is to contain all. ‘Here I understand,’ wrote Camus, ‘what they call glory: the right to love without limits.’ This limitlessness is not passive, for the totality which love continually reclaims is precisely the totality which time appears to fragment and hide. Love is a reconstitution in the heart of that holding which is Being” (emphasis added, 41).
“History…has changed its role. Once it was the guardian of the past: now it has become the midwife of the future…thus people live a new temporal dimension. Social live which once offered an example of relative permanence is now the guarantor of impermanence. Given the actual condition of the world, this offers a promise. But equally, it means that people find themselves more alone than they used to be, before the enigma of the two times of their lives [the time of the body and the time of consciousness]. No social value any longer underwrites the time of consciousness. Or, to be more exact, no accepted social value can do so. In certain circumstances &emdash; I think of Che Guevara &emdash; revolutionary consciousness performs this role in a new way” (12).