Explorers on the Edge of Time
We have mentioned in the past that our turbulent times very much resemble the fragmentation and disintegration and incoherence (or entropy, if you will) of the civilisation of the Late Middle Ages, also known as “Christendom” or “Holy Roman Empire” or “Age of the Church”. And yet this period of great unrest also saw the emergence of early Renaissance and Age of Discovery, both premissed on the revelation or disclosure of space and spaciousness and the urgent need to organise this spaciousness. So it also witnessed a shift from the Age of the Church to the Age of the Nation State as part of this new re-organisation of space.
But today the emphasis is shifting from space to time, and it would be very appropriate to consider ourselves explorers at the edge of time.
Let’s highlight that: the emphasis now shifts from space to time, and time is the “new frontier”. The navigators of old who embarked on their voyages of discovery (and that includes also the perspective artists of that period) were still under the impress of the medieval worldview, for the most part. They fully expected to encounter the monsters and fantastical creatures predicted by the medieval maps of the world — mermaids, androgynes, and hermaphroditic or hybrid creatures both male and female and beasts both beautiful and foul. Some explorers even reported seeing the creatures predicted by the maps (the manatees were mistaken for the expected mermen, for example).
For the most part, these strange creatures of the medieval imagination have shifted from space to time future, in some cases, like androgynes and transsexuals, already visible, or the “reptilons” of the conspiracy theorists. The modern bestiary is as fantastical as the medieval one. The old fear of “here be monsters” inscribed on the flat two dimensional medieval maps now is written on the maps of time future.
As social theorist Rosenstock-Huessy suggested, we are all now Émigrés and immigrants of time rather than through space. Old World and New World no longer orient the mind in space but,, now, the emphasis is temporicity. We are like explorers of a new world, but it is a world emergent in time rather than in space.
This has profoundly disturbed the space-obsessed mind accustomed to thinking of reality, and what is real, only in terms of the three dimensions of space, extension, and expansion. We recall, here, Jean Gebser’s remarks in The Ever-Present Origin on Plutarch’s great anxiety when, after his ascent of Mount Ventoux in late Middle Ages/Early Renaissance, he caught sight of the great expanse of space laid out before him at the summit and his attempt to retreat from the mind-boggling vision back into Scripture. A very similar anxiety must have seized Pascal when he remarked that “the silence of the infinite void terrifies me”, and by all accounts he also retreated from it into a very austere form of Christianity.
The situation is by no means different when it comes to this shift to the dance of time and timelessness. But our attempt to impose on time our logics evolved for the organisation and manipulation of space and spaces is doomed to be frustrated, and this also becomes a source of great anxiety.
We are, then, explorers at the edge of time. The old logic explored the dance between finite and infinite spaces. This logic is not suitable for the things of time and change processes. A new logic is necessary that also accounts for the dance of time and the timeless. That is the theme of Gebser’s philosophy of consciousness as well as the “time-thinker” Rosenstock-Huessy’s social philosophy, which we have explored somewhat in earlier posts.
I would suggest that you can avoid succumbing to fruitless reactionary attitudes in these turbulent times by thinking of yourselves as being likewise explorers at the edge of time. Be open to that. Survey the new world that is emerging before you like the navigators of old. You will make mistakes, like confusing manatees for mermaids, etc, but you will also (hopefully) learn from those misperceptions.