Time as a Pressure
The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.Rilke
I am presently reading a book (nearing the conclusion) by Christopher Dewdney entitled Soul of the World: Unlocking the Secrets of Time. It’s mostly the personal memoir of one man’s impressions of time. Mostly, it’s value lies in demonstrating how time now weighs heavy on the contemporary mind as a kind of pressure or stress. This is the implication of Rilke’s remark which Gebser, I think, would approve. For what Rilke is describing there is also what Gebser would call “concretion” or “presentiation”.
What Gebser calls “the irruption of time” into consciousness, especially since the late 19th century, is probably identical with what he calls “the Law of the Earth”. Time now acts as a pressure on the contemporary mind and everything hinges on how we respond to this pressure, which induces anxiety. In Rilke’s terms, we don’t make the future, we are respondents. Time is the paradox as both an ending and a beginning, for it is both entropic pressure (and therefore death process) as well as “neg-entropic” as birth process and the evolutionary force, and this double-character of time is what is described as “thanatos” and “eros” in psychoanalytic descriptions for what Gebser calls “death-pole” and “life-pole” of psychic energy.
Ironically, this pressure of time becomes acute (as what Gebser calls “intensification”)_ even as people celebrated “the end of history”. But with this emergent dimension and pressure of time, so too we become acutely sensitive to the Buddhist “law of impermenance” or the Heraclitus’s panta rhei.
Time as future, then, is already within us and active within us, which our ego-consciousness experiences as an intensity or a pressure, and this is what we mean by the term “emergence”. Emergence is experienced as emergency, therefore a kind of distress. If we think of the future as something barrelling down upon us like a runaway locomotive, we’ve just projected it outwards when it is, in effect, inwards. “Man is something to be overcome”, as Nietzsche put it. But, of course, his “two centuries of nihilism” was also one aspect of that. In other words, evolve or perish.
It is in this respect that we should consider what Gebser means by saying “everything hinges upon our knowing when to let happen and our knowing when to make happen”. It’s interpretation lies in knowing the truth of Rilke’s statement that the future is within us now and acts as a pressure to transform us. I once likened that to feeling as though stuck between the hammer of God and the anvil of the Earth. Such is how jewels are made, however, or the alchemist’s crucible.
“And in today already walks tomorrow.” Coleridge isn’t saying anything different here from Rilke. Prescience or clairvoyance isn’t fortune-telling. It’s perceiving in the present the emergent reality of the future. If you’ve made yourself familiar with Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” model, the factuality of anything is the last phase of a fourfold phase of realisation that begins with the imperative, vocation or summons (as the future), passes to the subjective response (to affirm or negate), passes then to the historical acts which bring it about, and only then does the event take its place in spacetime and in reality as “it is so” or “it is thus”. And this pretty much corresponds to David Bohm’s phasic process of realisation that he calls “the rheomode” or flowing mode of thinking.
We can think of Gebser’s remark about how everything hinges on knowing when to let happen and when to make happen in terms of Rosenstock-Huessy’s cross of reality process. The “irruption of time” into consciousness is the imperative event — the summons from the future. Our response, as affirmation and consent to this imperative, is the phase of “letting happen” which then passes to the historical acts necessary to bring it about, ie “to make happen”, and then the final phase of “factuality” or realisation corresponds to Gebser’s “concretion” or “presentiation”. So, when you have accomplished all four phases of the process of realisation, you’ve formed a mandala. It is fulfilled.
This, then, is how to understand Rilke’s statement: “The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.” The future enters into us as the imperative (eg, “work out your emancipation with diligence!”). It is potentiality. It then passes to the subjective response of affirmation or denial. If affirmed (called “inspiration”) the process continues. If denied, the process of realisation is aborted. If affirmed, it then passes on to the phase called “practice” — the acts that are necessary to fulfill the imperative. In the case of Buddhism, it is study of the sutras, meditation, mindfulness practice and so on. This likewise may succeed or may fail, in which case it does or does not then pass on to the final phase of realisation or manifestation called “suchness” — it is so.
Judeo-Christianity follows the same process (which becomes fully manifested in the form of Christ on the Cross). The initial commandment or imperative “Fiat Lux!” — let there be light is the entry of the future. It penetrates the eternal silence called “Void” as inspiration. The Void (as Bohm’s “Infinite Potential”) is stirred. It responds affirmatively. There then follows the Great Work of the creation of seven days. Finally, the pronouncement, “it is done, and it is good”. It is not so much the story that is relevant here as this pattern.