Time’s Passing

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.

The Long Life by Helen Small

Youth and Old Age – Antonio Ciccone (1960)

Plato thought 50 an appropriate age to begin the study of philosophy. The Long Life is Helen Small’s pre-emptive (she admits to 42 at the time of writing her book) appraisal of old age in Western philosophy and literature.

Each of the chapters begins from a philosophical perspective – Platonic epistemology, Aristotelian and neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics, narrative theories of lives, rational arguments about life-planning and distributive justice, Parfit’s ‘Reductionist View’ of persons, one (far from standard) account of metaphysics, and recent arguments through a consideration of literary texts (Death in Venice, King Lear, Le Père Goriot, The Old Curiosity Shop, Endgame, poems by Philip Larkin and Stevie Smith, more recent novels by Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, J. M. Coetzee, Margaret Drabble, Michael Ignatieff).

Taking Beauvoir’s La Vieillese (1970) as her starting point, Helen Small, a professor of English Literature,  attempts to “show what might be required if we are to become more seriously philosophical about old age”. Small’s close-reading of both philosophical and literary texts is frequently enlightening. Some chapters work better than others; her analysis, in particular, of Adorno’s late lectures on metaphysics, read against Dickens and Beckett, is vividly brilliant. The comparative reading of Parfit and Balzac yielded less. Her parallel reading of Coetzee and Roth is a remarkable work of literary criticism. It is an erudite and rewarding book.