A second opinion on time
Fred Lebain (via Designboom) takes pictures of scenes, then takes pictures of those scenes super-imposed on the same scene. The nod to Magritte’s “La Condition Humaine” (1933) goes without saying, but what really struck me was how similar the light was in both scenes, the shadows aligning perfectly with each other. We will assume Lebain took note of the exact time of day for both initial and ultimate scene, reminding me of Monet’s cathedral series, for which the painter kept tedious log entries tracking the seasons and times of days for each particular scene, as each painting took him a cycle of years to complete. In painting, the challenge is to preserve time, to box it in one moment.
The challenge of the novel, or even the short story, is to nudge time along in a way that is intuitively understood without being noticed. The minute you sense the author “try” to move time (i.e. “two weeks later, John had a bagel”) the artifice is broken. Likewise, they say the best score for a film is one you never hear. What’s more difficult is to implicitly toggle between times, backwards and forwards, in a way that makes sense. Faulkner, in my mind (damn, per Amy McDaniel’s grammar lesson(s) every assertion is “in [one’s] mind”), is a master at this. One cannot experience a novel as one incident; time, its actual/external transpiration, is inextricable to the reading experience — causing a duality between represented and actual time.
We cannot witness our fingernails grow even though they are. Reality is time-sensitive. A second is just an arbitrary ratio of what is called day, another arbitrary thing which owes itself to the rotation of a wet piece of clay relative to its rotation around a larger ball of flaming gas. Sorry to get all cosmically existential on you, just sayin’. Some smart jackass once wrote TIME DOESNT EXIST / CLOCKS EXIST and he may have a point. Going back to Lebain’s series of photos: you think he took the pictures in the same day, with a rush job at the printers? Or did he simply come back and take the second picture the next day. Or was it the same time next year? It seems that the meaning is derived from its intrinsic fragmentation between the two incidents of each photo. This is less about mimesis and more about lineage, the staunch implicit narrative of time. Match up the shadows, and time implodes.
This post is turning into a very pot-friendly one, so why stop here? Let’s go back to “La Condition Humaine,” that window (represented canvas) within a window (represented) inside a window (actual painting). Bill Gates, in one of many fits of genius, made little windows on the screen and called his operating system Windows. There was something comforting in that — the allusion of something better at the other end. The contemporary light at the end of the tunnel is the screen. Here we are 40 years later, looking at this website through what is called a window: that reasonable rectangle promising the world inside is worth looking at.
For the records, I’ve never smoked pot. I don’t need drugs; just give me some NyQuil and I’ll fuck yer shit up. Oh Magritte, I love you but “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” No, it’s a bong. Now take a deep breath, and try to relax.