The Convivial Society: Vol. 4, No. 4
Thank you for this beautiful encouragement. My students (and journalists everywhere) remark most frequently, upon observing ChatGPT, on how FAST it is, how little time it took to spit out its clever bit of words. And this speed, outpacing our native intelligence, makes all of us think, "Do I matter?"
It's a way of asking whether my labor, work, and action will be in sync. Lacking purpose (as we presume the mind to possess, and ChatGPT not to possess), technologies have only instructions, and can define their synchronicities only mathematically. But there's more to math than digits.
And that "do I matter?" from my students is a competitive, time-based response. It says, "I can't keep up with that." Moreover, our new digital technologies outpace us: They don't need light or dark to operate, moreover, as many capitalists of the old school might celebrate, they'll work all night. So my students ask, "Will I have a job? I need to sleep!" Blend time and space, then, and your musings about time and rhythm also blend space into the temporal question: here, and now, and we here and now (you and your daughters on the trail).
So there's something fluid vibrant, and living, in the moral-communal undertone in your essay, that the mechanical clock cannot admit--and which suggests that we should not count (!) on a measured, digital morality. "Human techniques" include methods for helping togetherness dance with separateness.
The word "community" invokes an overlap of time and space. When we say, "We," there's a sense of present-ness in spacetime. The "right" time as felt by a singer, for example, is the one that makes the harmony happen. The same might be said for that beautiful moment in the dance when one dancer catches another falling.
I'd like to see you speculate next about the role of mathematics in human music. There's a convergence, there, that your thoughts, here, seem to draw forth. Talk about dusk...
I very much recommend Jenny Odell's 'Saving Time'.
Personally, I enjoy running at sunrise (or as close to it as possible) as a regular reminder that life occurs along and among different scales of time (that of birds/other animals, for instance, or of the world itself, turning with or without me).
Yes to all of that - here’s another very inspiring essay about the nurturing aspects of natural darkness: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/oct/31/jeanette-winterson-night-guide. Since I lived and worked in Nepal for a couple of years in the 1990’s - where people mostly still live in the sanity of the natural seasonal rhythms and those of day and night - I have tried to get up @ sunrise and go for a dusk walk when I can, to mark each full moon with a communal ritual, and to celebrate the old seasonal festivals. It makes a huge difference to retaining proper perspective as you say, to develop full awareness of the earthly snd cosmic rhythms around us, to which our bodily rhythms are subtly attuned. Common sense really, which is unravelling at alarming speed.
The lamp is lit, I will venture into the convivial space you have drawn. Smile. Not so much because of an absence of danger, rather perhaps you were actually safer in the woodland with your daughters? In the state of wide attention there is an alertness, perhaps a default condition for moving safely at home with probability, with contingency? Hmm ... how often do we feel so 'normal'?
I wonder about our species as we moved North away from the noon-day world, from the quick nightfall and different seasons on the savannah? A curious doctrine emerged which served for a long while, 'as above - so below', to illuminate the woven nature of life and time and reasonably define our limits? Techne or no techne, it looks as though we are stuck with being human. Jeremy Naydler is very good on clock time, but then he is a gardener; (In the Shadow of the Machine).
We have had a very snowy winter, with mornings that are difficult for our usual bicycle commute to work, even with studded snow tires. (The heavy wet sort of snow can jam under fenders, sometimes bringing us to a standstill.) So, we've been driving our car more than we have in decades.
It has made me realize how much the slow transition from night to day, (we leave the house at 6:00 a.m.), and the slow transition from being at home to being at work, is important in some way that I really cannot fathom.
I think to myself that the extra hour of being at home will be, on its own, a nice and relaxing start to the day, and there is something nice about it, but it does not allow me the same transition, and I believe it is related to the heart of your post.
A few years ago, we changed our route so that we actually bicycle away from our workplace in order to get to the start of the Santa Fe River Trail. We ride up the toward the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, next to the river, (which is often just a dry river bed). There are one or two lights along the way, and there are houses, and porch lights, but it is, by and large, dark. This time of year, it is very dark. As we ride, we hear the birds waking up, and the sky above the mountains lightens, and the clouds, if there are any, change from a dark wine-red, to pink and orange to white. Right before the time change, the sun was peeking over the mountain tops and shining right into our eyes. We get a little bit of a respite for a few weeks, before the lengthening of the day catches back up.
We've been primarily bicycling since the mid-nineties. When we use the car, everything feels out of joint. (And I first heard of Ivan Illich from other bicycle advocates in relation to his writing about bicycles in "Energy and Equity".) I can see how electric light can throw everything out of joint as well. We just don't experience the darkness often enough to know.
I wonder, now, just how this commute to work, along a largely dark river basin, with the growing of dawn's light, helps to keep me properly in tune with the beginning of the day.
As a child, and still today at 63, I enjoy a blackout as well as a relatively benign natural emergency like a snow storm. Time seems to slow way down. People come outside (or now text message) to see what's going on and how everyone is. You can stay up late or walk in the street as the rules are suspended. In the midst of these happenings we are given back to nature and a world we do not control. I know there is genuine hardship at these times. But many people just experience life in a way that feels simultaneously more local and more expansive. Neighbors talk. Kids play. People deal with inconvenience in a good natured way. Even when I was young I recognized this as something already lost and briefly brought back.
I want to thank you for your reflections here!
I am a birder and sometimes “outdoor time” feels more real to me than “indoor time.” I like to think sometimes that the cycle of events in nature and those cycles within cycles in the bird world (the winter irruptions, the spring and autumn migrations, the spring mating season, etc.) are the liturgical seasons of the natural world while the day to day, from sunrise to sunset, are the daily offices. Everything moving and unfolding to a prayer that is perhaps beyond us to comprehend fully, but I am trying.
This is quite, uh, timely, as I've been making an effort in the last few weeks to decrease the amount of light in the house in the evening by turning off the overhead lights and turning on smaller lamps (and the same in the morning, but to a lesser degree). This was precipitated by losing power at our home for 6 days at the beginning of Lent, where we had no choice but to use minimal light after dark. I realized that I rather appreciated how the reduced light in the evening made me feel, and how it enforced a sort of non-productivity (i.e., rest) on me. It's not that I couldn't do things that required light, but those things required a high degree of intentionality.
Perhaps one of the problems of the excessively human-built world is that it contributes to the delusion that we are the masters of the world (and space and time) and the source of every good (and bad) thing that comes to us. In such a world there is little room for gratitude, and an immense capacity for despair, for when we fail at being the gods we think we ought to be, where else do we turn? There is nothing left but ourselves and our creations.
Just a couple thoughts:
1) I love that you posted this just after we all moved our clocks forward. I find that other crepuscular moment, dawn, is something I tend to notice more than sunset, probably because I'm up early. The clocks move forward and suddenly I'm getting up in the dark again. That's more unsettling to me than the lost hour of sleep. Seeing the sunrise really makes a difference to my mood for the day.
2) Another place where I've recently noticed the interplay of different temporal systems: I always take pictures of spring flowers as they emerge. Because my phone dates all the pictures, I'm realizing that everything is happening a month later than last year. I had a vague sense of lateness, but I like being able to see the difference, one year to the next. Unexpectedly, it creates a connection to last year; that time isn't gone, it's relevant to the present.
Your closing comments recall to me Bachelard's beautiful musings in The Flame of a Candle.
"Of all the objects in the world that invoke reverie, a flame calls forth images more readily than any other. It compels us to imagine; when one dreams before a flame, what is perceived is nothing compared to what is imagined...."