Lapham’s Quarterly Fall 2014: Time

Perception is reality.  (Isn’t it?  Sometimes?)

Time is a ring.  A year of time is a ring, that is.  It stands vertical as though one were facing it and the year proceeds counter-clockwise (of course), from right to left over the top of the ring, down the left side arc, across the bottom arc, and up the right side to the top again. January is at the top of the ring where 12 o’clock or North or up would be, July at the bottom. The solstices occupy their places in June and December, slightly SSW and NNE respectfully. via via

There is no front or back to the ring, nothing in the center or outside the ring.  The months go around the ring.  January proceeds left into February.  April at 9 o’clock. Spring moves down into summer and July at 6 o’clock.  June can be hot in Colorado, July and August most definitely warm.  September and October cool and move up the ring toward winter and cold November and December through March.  There is no gravity, no struggle to climb the ring, no speed going down the spring side.  The months go by, along with their weather.

The previous year or the next one occupy the same ring.  (This is time, not space or space and time.)  Go counter-clockwise on the ring to recall the previous year, forward to plan ahead.  Many years in history become linear, stretching in a line from right to left, back back back.  The months of each year are on a ring (of course).  Future years are just numbers, mere concepts of what ‘could’ be.

I the perceiver do not really face the ring.  I can’t get behind it.  I am ON it in whatever month it is.  I am ‘in’ time.

IMAGE: February (detail) from Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, c. 1412. via http://Lapham'
IMAGE: February (detail) from Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, c. 1412. via http://Lapham’

Seconds, minutes, hours are ‘on the clock’.  A day is sort of an oscillation or a sine wave. The low is around 6am for me, the hours rising through the day until midnight when the wave turns down toward 6am again.  Yes it’s not even, except it is.  It’s time, not space.  (Don’t try to confuse me with so-called facts that time is space is time and you can’t have one without the other.  We all know time is money.  End of discussion.)

Days can be gradations with the months on the ring.  I see them often as the weekly lines on my calendars, paper and digital.  It’s the ring that matters, and the virtual climb from birth towards an indefinite but finite end, death.  Life is a long uphill slope, hopefully with lots of years, and lots of rings.

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Unless you’re Einstein of course.  On p. 127 he proves that perception of time is not always reality.  He gives the example of a train moving along next to an embankment.  Lightning strikes the embankment twice at the same time, once forward of the train and once behind the train.  Light from the strikes reaches the midpoint between them on the embankment at the same time, but the train is in motion toward one strike and away from the other.  Light will reach people on the midpoint of the train sooner from the strike forward of the train, because the train is moving toward that strike.  Thus the strike forward of the train will be perceived to have taken place before the strike to the rear of the train, even though they both occurred at the same time.  As Einstein says: “Every reference body (coordinate system) has its own particular time; unless we are told the reference body to which the statement of time refers, there is no meaning in a statement of the time of an event.”  (Extract here.)

What a spoilsport.  I’m no Einstein but I’m not sure I agree.  ‘Every reference body… has its own particular time…’?  Isn’t there just one particular time, one single instance of now, for the entire universe?  Hmm.


The extended essay The Grand Illusion by Jim Holt in the Further Remarks section at the end of the issue elaborates on Einstein’s extract.  It receives my coveted double-asterisk annotation as one of the best in the issue.  I side with Newton’s quote at the beginning of the essay: “Absolute, true, mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature, flows equably without relation to anything external.” (p. 187)  I’m with you Isaac.  As long as there is existence, I say, there is time all pervasive, everywhere, instant by instant, regardless of relative reference point.

Holt concludes his essay: “If there is one proposition about time that all scientifically inclined thinkers can agree on, it might be one due to the nonscientist Hector Berlioz, who is reputed to have quipped, “Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils.” (p. 193)

Read Holt if you have this issue or can find it online.  Lapham’s Quarterly online has a beautiful new format rich in art and content but at first glance it seems a little harder to find the freebies.  I can’t blame them as many of us have paid subscriptions and the publisher still relies on a 501(c)(3) organization for funding.  I did find the Holt essay on the site.  Check out the website.  It is very nicely done.

Other extracts I found exemplary:

* c. 398: Hippo – St. Augustine (p.31).  Noteworthy observations IMO on time as a word and mind game.  “If we suppose some particle of time which could not be divided into a smaller particle, that alone deserves to be called the present. Yet it flies in so headlong a way out of the future and into the past that no bit of it can be fixed in pause. If it paused, its earlier part could be divided from its later. Thus the present itself has no length.”

* c. 175: Dalmatia – Marcus Aurelius (p. 34). “…the passing minute is every man’s equal possession, but what has once gone by is not ours. Our loss, therefore, is limited to that one fleeting instant, since no one can lose what is already past, nor yet what is still to come-for how can he be deprived of what he does not possess?”  As an aside L.Q. notes “Aurelius observed, “We all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.””

* 1872: London – Jules Verne.  An extract from his fictional Around The World In Eighty Days.

Banking on time?  The Broker Restaurant, Denver CO.
Banking on time? The Broker Restaurant, Denver CO.


* c. 750: China – from a ballad among documents found in a temple cave along the Silk Road.  “A Woman’s Hundred Years”.
screenshot(p. 69)

* 2006: New Jersey – Michael Lewis on high frequency stock trading.

2006: Cambridge – Stephen Hawking.

* 1871: Oxford – Lewis Carroll with a superb extract on the convolutions of time from Through the Looking-Glass And What Alice Found There.

1963: Birmingham, AL – Martin Luther King.
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the op-
pressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.  Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was “well-timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word wait! It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘wait’ has almost always meant “never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”” (p. 111)

* 1979: Seattle – Bill Russell.  The basketball legend waxes philosophical on sports and time.

* 1975: Hamilton, NY – Terence des Pres on time in WWII death camps.

* c. 49: Rome – Seneca the younger on the eternal past.  “But life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear the future. When they come to the end of it, the poor wretches realize too late that for all this time they have been preoccupied in doing nothing.” (p. 153)

Conversations.  Ruskin, Thucydides, and de Tocqueville were noteworthy.

Marking Time.  Another superb graphic from Haisam Hussein.  A portion:

Crop portion of Marking Time graphic by Haisam Hussein.
Crop portion of Marking Time graphic by Haisam Hussein.

“Man is the only being that knows death; all others become old, but with a consciousness wholly limited to the moment which must seem to them eternal. We are time,” writes Oswald Spengler in The Decline of the West.  (Miscellany, p. 213.)

Perhaps I should end with the beginning, Lewis Lapham’s always eloquent and insightful preamble, this issue Captain Clock.
1.  The philosophy and contemplation of time is not settled.
2.  Time in nature was enough for Man to live by, for a long time.
3.  The CLOCK has altered the course of mankind.  (Oh the artifice, the power, the utter domination of the clock.)

Crop from p. 19
Crop from p. 19 L.Q. Time

The three sections of this issue are:
Keeping & Killing
Making & Doing
Spanning & Stopping

Don’t forget about Lapham’s newly formatted website.  I found an excellent additional essay on the masculinization of wrist watches, ZERO HOUR by Joanna Scutts.  (The banner image of trench watch at the top of this page is from the L.Q. website and essay Zero Hour.)

Find Lapham’s Quarterly.  Read it.  Read, subscribe, donate, rinse, repeat.  If you have time.

Find time.  Make time.  Take time.


8 thoughts on “Lapham’s Quarterly Fall 2014: Time

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