It was an interview with Philip Larkin that commandeered my night, not the interview itself which is mostly unremarkable, nor the appeal of Larkin, which in my case is negligible. It was his reply to a trite question about his daily routine, to which he replied:
My life is as simple as I can make it. Work all day, cook, eat, wash up, telephone, hack writing, drink, television in the evenings. I almost never go out. I suppose everyone tries to ignore the passing of time: some people by doing a lot, being in California one year and Japan the next; or there’s my way—making every day and every year exactly the same. Probably neither works.
As you might imagine, the passing of time is a central preoccupation, hence the naming of this blog. Though it has been many years since I last read Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, the book exerted a powerful influence on my perspective. Csíkszentmihályi theorizes that in a state of complete absorption temporal concerns evaporate. In this ideal ‘flow’ state ego, disappears and time ceases to pass.
Probably due to commercial inducements, Csíkszentmihályi’s work has fallen down the ‘positive psychology’ rabbit hole, but there are elements of Flow that are profoundly intelligent. It isn’t easy to generate complete absorption, and if you try too hard failure is certain, but, for me, listening to Schumann’s late work or to Arvo Pärt, reading Kafka, Coetzee or Aristotle can transport me to that place where I forget myself and the passing of time.
Stemming the passing of time is also a way (the only way?) of recapturing a sense of the enchantment that is supposedly absent in our alienated modern world. I’ll end this rambling with a passage from Philip Fisher’s lucid Wonder, the Rainbow, and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences:
The moment of pure presence within wonder lies in the object’s difference and uniqueness being so striking to the mind that it does not remind us of anything and we find ourselves delaying in its presence for a time in which the mind does not move on by association to something else.
This reminds me of a lecture (Que savons-nous du temps) by physicist Etienne Klein, who explains that time doesn’t exist, or rather that time doesn’t “pass”.
I put some excerpts here :
The entire lecture is available on dailymotion, but there are no subtitles…
I like this very much, Alexia, this idea that time doesn’t pass; it is reality that passes, and that time’s ‘function’ is unceasing renewal of the present. Thank you.
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Yes, one of the notions in physics (not to my knowledge one that has been properly tested or yet made capable of falsification, though I could be wrong on that) is that time is a perceptual phenomenon. The mathematician/physicist Martin Rees wrote a book on the topic. We perceive a passing of time, but all instants exist equally. It’s been addressed in SF a few times of course too though it’s hard to make dramatic fiction from it.
I do sometimes experience flow, and sometimes it feels very much like that’s the right word as if something crystalline is flowing through me with me but a conduit for it. At times like that it’s easy to see how people can come to believe they’re experiencing the divine, though that’s not my interpretation. I can’t induce it though, that kind of absorption needs for me to occur naturally, if I chase it then the chasing itself prevents the absorption.
I haven’t read the Rees book, but have heard of the theory. This fits with the idea that it is reality that ‘passes’ while time is ever-present.