Everyone says, “Time is money.” But isn’t it more true that space is money?
I can’t increase the amount of time I have. In fact, I can’t possess time in any real sense because, in a very real sense, time doesn’t exist.
Time is not; it’s more like the is-ing or is-ness of everything. (I think a Nazi philosopher once wrote about this.)
By contrast, I can increase the amount of space (actual, physical space) that I own and control. In fact, through rents and the extraction of natural resources, this space can be fairly easily converted into money.
The notion that “time is money” is the expression of a wish: the wish for immortality. If time were something that we could accumulate and hoard, then we could, through force of will, stave off death, the end of our specific time.
But time doesn’t work that way.
Nor does money.
If you have never attended the MLA or any other conference in the humanities, then you may not be aware that the traditional mode of presentations at these affairs is “slow reading.” That is, people sit at a skirted table and slowly read their papers to the audience.
Towards the end of my own academic career, I became frustrated with this mannered and boring format and vowed never again to read a paper at a conference (a vow I have kept, opting to “present,” rather than read).
With the MLA Convention in town, a friend on Facebook was lamenting the persistence of this practice and wrote, “I only wonder sometimes if the slow-motion paper reading isn’t analogous to the glacial change we’re enacting for the students.”
What connects this stilted method of recitation and the glacial pace of institutional change, particularly in the humanities, is a shared temporal horizon. Academic time is cyclical, seasonal and mythic. It’s a pastoral time, following the rhythm of the harvest, on the one hand, but also a timeless, monastic time in which scholars toil insulated from the hectic pace of the secular world.
Scholarly work relying on immersion in texts, contemplative reflection and artful writing seems to require solitude and a remove from the world. The academic institution, however, needs to engage with the world in order to maintain itself and thus enable and support such remove.
The challenge faced by the humanities lies in reconciling this circular time, this time beyond time, with the restless, linear time of the outside world—for that time, is the time of change.
Went to see a jazz trio called “Fly” last night: Mark Turner (saxophone), Larry Grenadier (bass), Jeff Ballard ) drums. Their performance reminded me how much I love improvised music played by intuitive and gifted people who know how to spontaneously combine harmonic complexity and dynamic subtlety with a searching and startling lyricism.
Just as we’re taught that a line contains an infinite series of points; music, for it’s part, shows us the infinite divisibility of time. The limits of this division are set, on the one hand, by the frequency of tonal or rhythmic variation attainable by the musicians and, on the other, by the patience, attentiveness, and perceptual acuity of the audience.
Events apparently never exhaust the between of instants, which always allows for ever more vanishingly brief happenings. By contrast, a moment is not a measure of time, but a state of consciousness. Music, like the music I heard that night, ebbs and crashes around this moment of awareness causing us to ask not how soon is now, but how long?
Image Courtesy of overdrive_cz.