Friday, 7 July 2006

The Memory of Time

In the absence of a direct correlation between mind and matter, how is the movement of thought experienced? The thinker—sometimes the philosopher—constructs a body of work, occasionally a system, in which the category of progress is conferred. An important move takes place: in order for the interiority of time, articulated as thought, to be experienced, the representation of thought as in development must be involved. Here, it is as much a question of conceptual biography as it is the strength of the ideas themselves. Thought takes place alongside a previous incarnation, gaining its identity in the present by negotiating with an object placed in a previous time, a procedure dialectics renders explicit. To parody this:

Alongside this desire for movement, the erasure of previous modes of thought becomes necessary. Thought takes place, soon to abdicate its position in the dialectic, by concealing what has preceded it. If the movement is said to “sublate” thought, then it is only by concealment that a system of thought maintains its place in time. What follows is determined by what had existed previously. In this way, progress and development converge, instilling a symbolic representation of time which calls upon the Christian image of the ladder, latter adopted by alchemy. The struggle for movement, termed despair in Hegel’s dialectic, rewards the thinker with a broadened perspective, marked by the territory already covered. With that movement, the ladder as the mode of ascent becomes redundant as the plateau before descent beckons.

In temporal terms, the plateau comes to assume the position of discontinuity. In Time and Free Will, Bergson asks: “Has true duration anything to do with space?” The question can be translated as: How is the place you have come from remembered? It is this question which hangs over the future of thought, aspiring toward a narratological path of definite movement, where movement means progress. To remember the place you have come from: progressive thought wants to shadow the old place, building on its memory, while being in a position to simultaneously reject those memories. As with Hegel’s pathway of despair, the assimilation of memory to the present is vital for the necessity of time.

But time seldom fulfils its supposed endpoint. Instead, continuity reaches a standstill and duration becomes uncertain. Hours become melancholy, lose their definition: this is the zone of unmarked occupancy. Unlike Bachelard, Bergson is cautious to avoid this metaphysical lacuna, exposed as duration considers its next move: “It cannot be denied,” Bergson admits, “that the formation or construction of a number implies discontinuity” (Bergson, 2001, p. 82). In spite of this admission, the symbolic order of represented time is Bergson’s own ladder to overcome this submission to disruption. Duration delivers time from its dependence on representation and spatiality. Progressive movement, meanwhile, becomes sensed rather than thought; an inversion which allows Bergson to construct a model of temporal consciousness as dualistic.

Does this same dualism not implicate a dialectical mode of consciousness? Bergson will go on to assert the binding properties of memory, which “causes these images to permeate, complete, and, so to speak, continue one another” (Ibid., p. 124). Duration, he infers, does the work of hermetically sealing the memory of time, so that the disconnect between past and present precludes such a memory from existing. Perhaps it is enough to disprove Bergson that we are able to have memories of duration. The memory testifies to a death of time. And yet the death does not cause memory to be erased or concealed. Instead, it lays motionless, no longer serving the role of bringing temporal order together, but remaining as a remnant of an order that once existed. We are faced with an interior spatiality, a landscape which contains the discarded fragments and ruins of previous modes of temporality.