• Thoughts on time

Thoughts on time

I would like to convey some hopefully meaningful thoughts on the passage of time as the year draws to a close and send you my best wishes for the New Year.

The discussion around AI and the absurd as explored in the last three essays will be continued in detail in the New Year.

Perhaps the sales statistics of the book trade are correct, that calendars with pictures from the field of fine arts, especially those from painting, have the highest sales figures.  There is something strange about this fact, as works of art are works of art because, among other things, they contain timeless statements, i.e. they embody timelessness, whereas a calendar shows us precisely what is temporal and transient, day after day, week after week, month after month for an entire year.

The philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775 - 1854) formulated in his fundamental work: "Discourse on the Relationship of the Fine Arts to Nature":

"Art, by depicting the being in that moment, is lifted out of time; it makes it appear in its pure being, in the eternity of its life."

It is therefore part of the essence of art, of the nontemporal. This is its historicity: at any time, in any place, art can always be experienced and understood anew by every viewer. This is often wrongly criticised as art's "claim to eternity". Art never makes a claim of its own. It only acquires meaning in dialogue with a subject who wants to perceive art.

Are we humans perhaps seeking to escape time and thus to withdraw from what we ourselves once brought into this creation given to us, namely the measurement of time?

I am reminded of the diary entries from 1948 by the painter Max Beckmann (1884 - 1950), which I quoted in an earlier essay: 

"In the beginning was space, this uncanny and inconceivable invention of omnipotence. Time is an invention of mankind; space is the palace of the gods."

The sense of time only really emerged among humans when their senses were opened up to earthly space. Before that, people lived "timelessly" in our modern understanding, without perspective, as it were. What was important was important and this was moving, not the passage of time.

Music gives us a sense of time in a truly artistic way. Music is in time, it is a pure art of time, nothing earthly clings to it: the sound resounds and fades. What remains is the experience of harmony within us: the timeless!

The pre-Socratic philosopher Pythagoras (c. 570 - c. 495 BC) developed a theory of harmony from the measurement of tones. His intention was not to establish a theory of music, but a harmonic measurement of the course of time.

In the course of the year we experience the seasons, rhythms that connect our blood circulation with creation. In the same way that we repeatedly absorb new growth and transformation from the rhythm of nature in a way that gives us vitality, the passage of time reminds us of the transient and the finite. Perhaps this is why people experience time, their own invention, as one of the greatest horrors? Time frightens us: it is fleeting and uncanny, shapeless and unfathomable, a point of intersection between two uncertainties: a past that is no more, barely understood, but which nevertheless continues to be involved in our present, and a future that is not yet, but which already weighs mightily on our present. Surrounded by the facts of the past, let us call them facts of memory and the plans of the future, let us call them at best imaginations and utopias, both of which we experience as fixed entities, time itself appears as something that has no ties, purely as movement, a constantly moving centre between past and future and can only be experienced in the present moment. In the face of this presence of the spirit characterised in this way, people are completely devoted to the material, seemingly blind.

Instead of accepting this gift of the spirit, people live in the feeling that this exquisite dowry, which the spirit of creation constantly offers them, does not belong to them. They cannot grasp it. Like hunters, people chase after time in order to seize it, possess it and, of course, control it. What a mistake! They think they can control this reality between past and future. And so the apparition dominates the blind. They are obsessed by it. They chase after time like a phantom that is called "tomorrow" but can never be reached.

And then the sobering realisation comes:

"I always took care of the most urgent things, but I never got to the essential, namely to myself, to me as a being. Because I am actually a completely different person, but I never got there."

I would like to conclude my thoughts on time with one of my favourite poems. It is by Andreas Gryphius (1616 - 1664), who wrote it during the terrible times of the Thirty Years' War:

“The years are not mine,

That time has taken from me.

The years are not mine,

That would like to come.

The moment is mine

And if I cherish it,

It is mine,

Who made the year and eternity.”

Let us remember the quote from Schelling at the beginning and we are in the realm of art.

© Sibylle Laubscher & Martin Rabe