On the Flying Time


Allegory of time, Hans von Aachen, 1626

From Lapham’s Quarterly:

Presentism—the notion that everything that exists is only what can and does exist right now—is countered in metaphysics by eternalism: the idea that time is not a process but a dimension, and in that dimension all reference points have equal validity, and thus all time, past, present, and future, exists at once, extending (like space) in all directions. Augustine believed that while we live along the vanishing knife edge of the present, God has the eternalist view: God perceives time as a block, everything existing simultaneously, all complete to his sight. Teilhard might say: time is Christ’s body, and once in it we too will know all of time at once, and share that eternalist perspective.

You could say that a calendar, which seems to mark time moving from future to past, is actually an eternalist device: all possible pages, all possible dates, are already present in it, endless marchers around a Möbius strip of here-and-nowness. Most calendars measure only a year, but they also measure any year; they keep our old appointments and anniversaries forever, Christmas an eternal December 25, only the moveable feasts sliding within their fixed round of possibilities as the moon comes and goes.

I’ve never been good at keeping calendars, and my family says that I am lax on anniversaries and insufficiently moved by feast days (though I do love fireworks and Thanksgiving dinner). I keep one calendar, though: one so singular and private I can’t know if everyone, or even anyone else, has one like it—though I suspect some must. It’s without dates; the occasions that fill it have no fixed number and don’t recur in any sort of chronological order. Each is a return of some long-ago circumstance in a kind of momentary entirety: the flavor, the taste, the total sensation of it; a past moment in the present. Marcel Proust [Paris, page 132] tasting his teacake was led to remember in detail an earlier, a first instance; and (I suppose) other bites of similar cakes produced that moment for him again ever after, though perhaps with diminishing intensity. For almost all of mine I can’t discover an original, though I believe an original is what I am visited by. I can’t keep them; the calendar is self-erasing.

These instants give me nothing to ponder or to celebrate; they aren’t joyful or somber, express nothing but the intensity of felt existence. Some return many times, some never again.

“Time After Time”, John Crowley, Lapham’s Quarterly