What Time Is It?

On an old record, years ago, a lackey of the Disney corporation (one of the educational voices of the ruling class) informed children: “You don’t tell time; time tells you.” A brief, but pointed expression of the fact that we live in a society that uses time as a means of enslavement.

Grasped by the ruling order, time is standardized into quantifiable units that can be stuffed into clocks and calendars, datebooks and schedules. It ticks by, eating away the past and present, and making the future a perpetual rush to be “on time”.

If once the hours were rung in the town square, an occasional reminder easily ignored, now clocks are everywhere. Not just on our bed-stands alarming us to wakefulness each morning, or on our wrist propelling us from appointment to appointment, they are also in our phones, our computers, our stereos, our stoves, in all the little technological trinkets that tie us to our daily slavery.

There is no doubt that this is time enslaved. But in its enslavement to quantity and social necessity, it becomes our slavemaster, our overseer.

And yet, time is merely a concept. It dominates only as a spook. But spooks can be powerful. God, country, morality, humanity are spooks whose rule can only end with their destruction. But time is different. No one worships time for itself. Rather when we follow its dictates, it is in the name of something else, something allegedly higher or more important. So maybe we could make time our own.

Time has been conceived in many ways. The most obvious and widespread are linear time, cyclic time and what some have called the “eternal present”. In different societies, one or another of these seems to be predominant, but it seems that all societies have some awareness of all three. In fact, if societies in which linear time predominates are the most likely to quantify time, they wouldn’t be able to do so without a concept of cyclic time. Even digital clocks have to return to the beginning of the series to operate. And even in predominantly foraging societies where the “eternal present” predominates, there is an awareness of cyclic concepts like day and night, moon phases and seasonal change, as well as linear concepts such as descent from mother to child, aging, the planning of a hunt or a gathering expedition.

And beyond these broader shared perceptions, there are myriads of personal perceptions of time, amazing expansions and contractions based on passions and personal experiences, the capacity for what is perceived in one circumstance as an instant to expand into an eternity due to a sensation, a memory, an emotion, even an idea… This raises the question: What if we could each wrest time from its social service, its quantification? Could we each make it our own? What then would it be? These are questions that can only be answered in experimental practice. So what would that mean?

Grasping time as my own

I could destroy it

I could send it spinning like a top

I could launch it as a dart toward a target

Or I could weave it into landscapes so fluid and surreal that no one could map their contours