Prior to the break of day, the earth resembles outer space. First, it is
silent. It’s a kind of silence that triggers a sense of vitality rather
than thought. The body becomes much more palpable with its parts and
functions: you have a skin, a head, feet, respiration. Then, it is dark.
Without sunlight, the visibility range extends further into the space,
and you see other luminous bodies, such as the stars. It is also cold,
so that when you step out into the fresh air, you don’t want to sleep
anymore, you are awake.
At 5:40 on the island of Patmos, all three of my fellow travelers are sleeping. Their rooms, with open doors, merge to a vast balcony that protrudes from a hill. I am there. Barely a few minutes ago I was also sleeping, tucked under a giant blanket in infinite comfort. But the determination I feel now, and the wait for the sunrise, an almost journalistic wait, is better.
Often, when I am awake to see the sunrise, I actually don’t see the sun rising. Morning often comes with a series of incremental changes of color, which escape observation, but which I am trying to observe now. For example: red slits appear in the sky. Widening, they form screens in the foreground, in which you could watch clouds pass at a depth. The clouds move as slowly as, and look like, camels. Initially, everything seems to be done with pencil dust; but soon colors claim boundaries and intensify. Of all the preceding obscurity, green emerges with such brightness that it becomes impossible to mistake for another color. But it is orange, for some reason, that is reflected on the sea. An ephemeral win in the competition with blue, which is eternally reflected on all seas.
The sun moves, and morning finds a different longitude. It is an occurrence that comes once a day only as observed from our vantage point, but morning itself is continuous.
And then there are other mornings, concurrently taking place by the rise of other suns over other sets of planets. Cycles of light and darkness alternate around countless spheres, which themselves circle gigantic orbs distributed in the vast texture of the universe. Without halt they spin and whirl in a hardworking order like the insides of a mechanical watch.
It is a day, again.
If you’ve ever tried to write down or remember your dreams, you must have noticed that dreams dissipate with the day. It is other words, especially, that break them apart: to hold a dream you must neither speak about nor hear anything else, and nor should you read. Just like a night’s dreams, dreams of life are often diluted by the unsculpted body of the everyday until they have no density of their own. Here we have our first rift.
Although all evidence points to the contrary, I actually don’t like to
think in dichotomies. But placing my job as a data analyst side by side
with my dream to become a novelist, I can’t help but conclude that they
are, in many ways, fundamentally contradictory to each other.
It is not only that data analysis is a defining tool of our times and novel-writing essentially a 19th century craft; consider above all how these two things approach complexity. Data analysis starts out from a plethora of complexity and tries to reduce it into simplicity, and that’s how it makes sense of things. Literature, on the other hand, escalates the complexity even further by unfolding the pleats of life. It adds yet another character; yet another story; yet another world to ours. It shows every minute detail; it opens up, up, up, until we have splinters so small, they can serve as the building blocks of a bigger thing. A bigger thing which we have known, we have felt, perhaps even lived through, but haven’t been paying attention to; literature gives it shape and expands it into a defined universal truth, and that’s how it makes sense of things.
Their tolerance to complexity governs their approach to time. Data analysis is always in a hurry to compute, whipping time’s back, while literature has a richness and warmth that makes time malleable, where you can write a hundred pages over a period of months to describe two or three minutes. They embody such different spirits; yet there they are, both of them, in my life.
Kronos is a Titan in Ancient Greek mythology who eats his own
children and represents sequential time. I perceive chronology as a
shared and external yardstick, which lets you meet a friend at the foot
of a tower, say, exactly at noon.
The rhythm and repetition implied by the notion of kronos undoubtedly exist in nature: the motion of celestial objects, sleeping and waking up, seasons, the month, the day. We call this time linear, but it is also evidently periodic. A year comes, then a year after that: if we didn’t number them, would we fall into a loop?
Then again the world, just like us, has an end; one to which it moves closer and closer with each passing year. The number of years is therefore also not a mere construct. It is a continuous progression through repetition like turning wheels, which carry the car along the road.
So it is real, kronos, like a giant clock hung above the sky, and I like it because it gives us synchronicity and unites us this way.
Kronos was the word Ancient Greeks used to designate time, but it wasn’t the only one: there was also kairos. Kairos means weather in modern Greek, but it is still the word they use for time when they say, for example, “It’s time for me to leave”. Kairos takes into account the singularity of each moment like beads broken free from the chain of chronology. It is defined as the opportune moment to act: now is the time to release the arrow, now is the time to rise, now is the time to confess.
Kairos seems to me to be some inner measure that comes from the wisdom of how to live. It is an answer and a contribution to the world; it is your waters into its majestic river.
Just like we don’t see the rule but we see the apple fall, is time
something that we don’t see but is as fundamental to life as gravity?
Then what do we see as its manifestations? What is in this world that
comes from the heart of time; is not time itself, but is
Let’s think of sheet music: all notes are there on paper, existing simultaneously. But to hear the piece, one must play the notes one after the other. This is the way how we, humans, perceive music. In the same sense, time could be a method in which we perceive reality. What other methods could there be? Can one trace the score with her eyes and feel the music all at once? Or as Rabindranath Tagore says, a butterfly would simply eat the paper and that would be how it understands the music. But we comprehend things when they are put into narratives and presented sequentially: take stories, career paths, life itself with birth and death as its tremendous beginning and end. So, is chronology central to us after all? Is linearity not to be held in disrespect?
For a few months a few years ago, I used to wake up very early in the
morning and read War and Peace. Tolstoy doesn’t seem to believe
in free will and makes fun of Napoleon and the Russian general Kutuzov
for buying into the illusion that they can make anything happen. What
they actually do, especially in times of war - as far as Tolstoy is
concerned - is claim existing situations as the outcome of their own
decisions. What happens happens like in the progression of a giant
machine or the temperaments of an ocean. Tolstoy was a firm believer in
Ironically, I felt both very much in control and completely free those mornings when I woke up around five or six to read. Yes, I understand that my actions, even if not predestined, are completely contingent: the sun is unveiled and I move my chair a little to the right or a little to the left. But this is normal, since I am a unit among others. It is only understandable that my actions depend on the position of the sun, the hour my bus arrives at the station, a sentence my mother says, or the coming of spring.
A more disturbing hegemony than that of the sun finds the form of an employer, to whom I hand over my freedom for the working day to decide what I do, when I go to lunch, when I come to work and when I leave. In my case, my employer has decided I leave at 17:30 - a twelve-hour rupture from the freedom of my mornings with War and Peace. Or it would be, if we ever really left work, if the rest of one working day was in fact not a recuperation to be able to serve the next.
Why is it, that we use “free” as an adjective to indicate having time, and say, for example, Are you free tomorrow? What is it that makes us unfree when our time is taken from us, or is tied up to a particular task - are we still not free if that task is of our own choosing, our own aspiration? Or is having one’s time to oneself connected with freedom? “Time be thine,” was a farewell for the characters of Shakespeare. What a confidence, what a wish. Time be mine!
Let me ask: but isn’t freedom an essential thing? Is a free being not always free? Always, in captivity as well as in workplace?
Or is freedom an action?
I believe that waking up is the closest thing to being born, but of
one’s own free will. By waking up one re-enters the chronology, the
sphere of common time. There, inside this time, are our contemporaries.
These are the people we hold responsible for all present adversity; and
this is true, since there is no one else. But for the same reason, they
may well be the most invaluable of all beings: those with whom we share
an intimacy, and a destiny, of having met here.
One of the most prominent traits of despair is that one doesn’t want to get out of bed. Why? Perhaps because it is not easy to step back onto unconducive land. A dignified life requires coherence between speech, act, and truth; but the prevailing method is imitation of false success. Appalled, one succumbs to inertia.
Courage comes from the Latin root cor, meaning heart. An ancient definition of courage was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. Waking up willingly is an act of courage; it is a way of saying “Yes, today I want to live again.”
But there is one more step, one more itch. The courage to live is so hard to gain that when we gain it, we seem to celebrate it for its own sake. But with what to fill life after that? Once the courage to live is there, how to live? What should be the content of life, its essence?
The light from the day I was born has yet to reach a planet thirty
lightyears from the earth. The poet Ethel Adnan says that we live “in
immortality’s split seasons”. I think of mortal lives as heads above the
water: taking a breath, diving back. But isn’t this tremendous? I read a
poem that went like this:
even in paradise
all I could think of
was the earth.
There is a scene in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, where a young shepherd is squirming in anguish: he is choking, a black snake coiled around his neck. Zarathustra, seeing this view, tries to help; but fails to tear the snake away from the shepherd’s throat. Only one thing remains to be done. “Bite the head off! Bite it off!” he cries hysterically to the young shepherd. The shepherd bites off the snake’s head and spits it out, jumping back on his feet, laughing like crazy, completely transformed.
This is the joy of breaking the eternal return - the cycle in which everything will come again, forever. Could mortality be the cause of such joy?
Would you repeat your life as it is?
Long mute to me – silence them all – silence the grand – silence to know
– silence the form – the hue – the call – silence the final – silence
insurance – resemblance – the flat way of time – silence –
In their dust a ripe absence sprout – I took the first bone of being in my hand – it was as me – motion inbent, holds own arm – far from all sculptors – my bone and I – as we happened – faithful and odd – gazed at the other with unformed eyes – gazed in fear of losing sight – in a purest breath – wide, wide a season – the joy of our birth – a wriggle of itself – in breeze – without scope – opened like a bold fruit – we rose above time – there was nothing – an eternal flight, a flight – the ultimate – the First! – we are ever – to remain in the wind – the heard – the dust – the flaw – of nothing – again – again – again – again – swashed and hauled by perpetuity – we will – come – the two of us – again – !
The greater whole which we make up must have a character, a life. This
must be the thing we all partake of with our smaller lives. How else
would I possibly feel my connection to it so poignantly?
Think of air, for instance, that runs out of trees, into my lungs, back to other flesh, from the oceans to the sky, and then to rain and smoke; almost as if we were cells to a body, and it was a connecting fluid, like blood.
If this first connection were horizontal, then there is another one we could call vertical. The philosopher Schelling wrote that, since we are creatures unfolding through time, we are, just by being, in an unmediated relationship with the most ancient past itself. My smallest particles were formed in explosions in the early universe and are older than the earth. I already existed piece by piece, and took this form after billions of years. Now I carry memory and evolution in my body; I bear within me the ability of the world to think about and know itself. Could we say, then, that the world has no intelligence of its own? Could we say it doesn’t live, when we, as alive as hell, are its components? How can the sum of so many lives end up becoming lifeless - no, that is not possible.
If all time is guarded within us, and if we are bound to the undivided physicality by virtue of our breath, if by nothing else, we must be both the entire being itself, and also, tokens of simultaneity.
But time is not only part of our substance, it is also a topography distorted by events. I remember how, one week left to my university entrance exams, I saw the time ahead of me as a mountain to surpass. That week was built of tissues so fundamentally different from a week that I would spend, say, by the sea. Or think of falling in love, or having a sudden revelation. Aren’t they moments of finding someone or something at the exact location where you are on ever-present time? Is this what kairos is?
I wonder if death belongs to the same topography. I wonder if it is also a distortion, shaped like… a garden? an alcove? a sinkhole? When I think of death, its most defining characteristic seems to be its irreversibility. It reminds me of other irreversible things, like time and entropy. Increasing complexity might be inherent not only to literature, but also to life itself.
It is inevitable that one day I will leave this spectacle. My body will dissolve, become a thing, and find a million siblings.
But that doesn’t happen now. Now I must live. I must navigate my way at a scale between the universe and the atom, a scale that precisely overlaps with me. So I return to being human with everything it is made up of; I return to art, to philosophy, to science, to language, to culture, to oblivion, to anxiety, to the void: I return. Here I am. What now?