Friday, 10 November 2006

The Duration of Twilight

And new Philosophy calls all in doubt, the element of fire is quite put out; the Sun is lost, and the earth, and no mans wit can well direct him where to look for it.
(Donne, An Anatomy Of The World)

The recession of moments, their gaze positioned at the instant of departure, held in time like a solar depression. Is this where things ceased to be as they were? Soon after, nothing more exists of a certain place other than that which we carry in our bodies. The body becomes a world, vast in its potential to be haunted. And yet it too follows where memory leads. A world which remains, now floating toward the present, glacial and obscure.

Looking toward the heat death of the universe, memory also falls into spatial uncertainty, held together only by glimpse of movement. Thus gravity and entropy have been waging an interstellar war. Gravity, the region of arch rationality, loses its persuasion while entropy forces things toward dispersion and chaos. The tension, like Heraclitus’ backwards-turning bow and lyre, maintains the balance of the universe. With the “Stelliferous Era,” the tension, manifest as the destruction and creation of stars, carries with it the prospect of life and continuity.

In the present, the fallout of memory sometimes renters the rhythm of duration. This, indeed, is a strange convergence, whereby the Bergsonian symbolic order of time is obliged to make room for the debris of duration. A glance is made, marking the passing of the Stelliferous Era to the Degenerate Era. Brown dwarfs, white dwarfs, and neutron stars all proceed to decompose, thus producing the horizon of a dead galaxy. Destruction, understood as the trace of creation, falls toward time. In the fall, the identity of the remembering universe is forced to reappraise itself. How shall we place this black hole of altered time which invokes the image of the universe and memory as a half-lit, decaying, resonant of previous times?

In a section titled “Digression of Air,” Robert Burton writes thus in his 1651 work Anatomy of Melancholy: “‘Tis fit to be enquired whether certain rules may be made of [direction], as 11 degrees in London; at another place 36, etc, and, that which is more prodigious, the variation varies in the same place, now taken accurately, ‘tis so much after a few years quite altered from that it was” (Burton, 1927, p. 408). Burton’s melancholic nostalgia for a world in stasis was symptomatic of the 17th century failure to reconcile mutability with place. The decomposition of the stars instigates a disruption in time. Time is punctured: the moment withdrawn from the clean lines of bound memory, resulting in a spectral shadowline.

Thus the Dark Era of the universe. The great and protracted expanse of cosmic annihilation. Remains. Remnants. Traces. Particles. A tremendous coda, which proceeds toward the renewal of already decayed materials, until finally thermodynamic equilibrium is attained. And now, tonight, in this room. The remains of the universe seep in through the windows. Why, Robert Burton asks, “are [the stars] so confusedly, unequally, site in the heavens, and set so much out of order?” (Ibid., p. 418). Two worlds, divided by time and the rupture of memory, cross each others interstellar paths, the view able to be observed from remote off-world regions. In time, the stars lose their place, and only become positioned geometrically. To remember the location of the galaxy is to admit the end of place. Yet because of this limitless end, the unexpected return of cells of time and place thus morph into the present. Already, the Dark Era takes place on a microcosmic scale. The surging and withdrawing of a polymorphous cosmic landscape played out in the night which refuses to give itself over to the unmediated present.