At the “end” of the year, as we are, one can’t help but think about time.
Time “passes.” And we can “waste” time. But in a very real sense “time” is not a “thing” in the same way as other nouns.
We are bound to our temporal space. We can “remember” prior times but we can’t really go there.
But we can recreate pieces of the past, and inhabit them.
I like to cosplay–wear costumes–and it’s remarkable how that helps me inhabit another persona. I recall the comedian Dana Carvey saying in an interview something like “when I do an impression of Dennis Miller, my vocabulary is better.”
Our imaginations are amazing. We can simply decide to speak like someone else.
I think about a therapy session where it was suggested to me that I carry inside me voices of parents, family. When I “know what my mother would say to me” about something, that’s a feat! My mother is a decade in the past, but in some sense I carry inside me a model of what she would say.
Which brings me to the idea of “atemporality.”
I first encountered the idea of atemporality through the author William Gibson.
Prince and Frank Zappa can still put out new music, but they have been dead a while.
Gibson famously coined the term “cyberspace” and is famous for being part of what was dubbed the “cyberpunk” movement.
I first encountered Cyberpunk in 1983 and the idea of it – technology is wondrous and yet prosaic – it’s terrifying and thrilling — and the street finds its own use for things. My worldview is 100% filtered through the ideas of Cyberpunk. When a group of K-Pop fans group together to disrupt a political process — that’s cyberpunk. When email archives are shared out to the internet; when a snippet of video goes viral; internet memes: all cyberpunk.
Using a set of ideas to look at the world is not exactly what I mean by atemporality. One idea of atemporality would be something along the lines of Pennsylvania Dutch or Amish – people who adopt a culture that is aside from the current moment. But that’s not what I mean. I mean that when I watch the film Smithereens from 1982 on demand that is a tiny piece of atemporality. I see kids on Instagram choose to only listen to music from the 1980s and that’s a particular kind of atemporal choice. We can pick and choose the cultural artifacts we engage with because so much of prior culture is available to us on demand.
I think about hot rod culture, rockabilly style, and the fashion associated with all that. All of that is from the 1950s, and a person can choose to live in that style, to drive a Mercury Coupe, to wear a pompadour hairstyle. Such a life choice has been possible a while, there’s a finite amount of 50s culture. Moving forward, it is easier to make choices like this.
The Present is deeply weird. There’s no coherent zeitgeist. There is little way to get a handle on it. Different people use a term like “millennial” and depending on who you talk to they might mean it to be a pre-teen or someone 35. I see a term like “boomer” get thrown around and hit people who by no means meet the established criteria of being part of WWII babies, and yet, the usage makes a certain kind of sense. Time as a definer of who we are is becoming a less valid criteria to understand people.
Musings for a Thursday morning.
When are you reading it? I can’t know.