“But if the present is only a time because it is passing away, how can we say that it exists, since the reason for its existing as time is that it will soon not be, which means we can only say it exists because it is on its way to non-existence?” Augustine, Confessions, Book Eleven, III, 17 (Penguin Classics).
Guess what? Speech has just three basic components: waffle, prattle and wank.
Waffle is making something out of nothing. Prattle is making nothing out of everything. Wank is making everything out of something. Depending on which voice you heed, the evening appearance of the Warrior sky might mean something, everything or nothing. It might portend the end of an Indigenous initiation season; it might illustrate a fundamental observation of the nature of time, that any configuration of the sky first appears before dawn, finally appears after sunset, then disappears into the afternoon; or it might serve as an example of dependent arising, one delusory form among the many snares of human suffering. We say we ‘pay something no mind’ when we simply fail to register it among more pressing concerns, when it doesn’t enter our ‘space’.
Did ancient Australians measure time by the motion of the Sun? When they erected their stone circle on the rise overlooking the river now known as Little River, and invested the West with the significance attested to by the three enigmatic boulders facing the extinct volcanoes of the Anakies in that direction, did they dance to the left, like the inner clockwork of Big Ben? Even primary school children know the loss of country suffered by Indigenous people under colonization, but who appreciates the cultural upheaval of learning to tell the time clockwise?
Like any map, the stereographic whole-horizon projection can be difficult to orientate. You need only keep in mind that the Earth rotates to the east–that is the very definition of East–then you will instantly see that the stars appear to revolve clockwise around the South Celestial Pole, and anti-clockwise around the North Celestial Pole, unless it’s not the sky’s face we’re looking at, but its body. Look up, and you see the face; look down, at a map of your sky, or through the ground at your Underworld, and you see the body. Furthermore, your face is at the bottom of the chart, and everything over the Prime Meridian is projected upside-down. Tilt your face back far enough from the daytime direction of the Sun and imagine what is going on behind you as the experience of a night sky on the other side. Don’t get it? Perhaps your gamma wave needs some work?
Or try this exercise revealing everything connected to everything else: raise your arms in opposite directions, rotate them in tight circles the same way, and notice that one hand is in clockwise motion and the other anti-clockwise, and that an observer beyond either arm would see the opposite motion to what you think it’s describing. Think about that the next time you query the meaning of retrograde motion, adopt identity or hear your habitual inner voice: perhaps, for example, something is being made out of a prattler’s nothing. And I assure you, on the face of it, any resonance in the influences of exactly opposite stars, the so-called stargates, must be pure wank, since I projected them seven years before the Breamlea Zodiac.
Voices and their words, the concepts they communicate and the behaviours they influence are all embodied in culture, in turn embedded in history, and like the clockwork of Big Ben and the psychology of colonization (and gender for that matter), are coming at you from the opposite side of your face, out in the ageing body of the world into which you were born and cast your narrative. No matter how successful you are in wresting back the clock-face of your heartbeat and breath, the body of time has fossilized your life-span. When you try to share your life, you cannot free it from a narrative the Other creates.
Of course my conjectures are just more waffle, commemorating like a plaque a shared ‘space’ in time, for old and young, ‘right’ and ‘left’, male and female, native and exotic. The fact is, I would waffle you out of your wounds, contrived by the spatialization of time, of displacement and historical injustice, into this time-space I also call ‘Country’, an empty space made of now, pulsating with codependent, reified, numinous historical forms such as the body, the clock, real estate, difference, evil, the mere male and the warrior, the whore and the mother, the psyche, and even consciousness itself.
Behold the reconciliation of separate perspectives, of geographical hemispheres, of consciousness and sleep. The markings on the clocks indicate different ways of going, but the signs are in the same temporal houses. Thus does space wed time, body wed mind, self wed other. “Spacetime tells matter how to move; matter tells spacetime how to curve” (John Archibald Wheeler).
The essence of human existence, which it shares with all animate and so-called inanimate entities, and which Buddhism knows as dependent arising, materialism knows as history, and we all know as culture, is within time, not space. Life is within death. Body is within change. Mind is within experience. Connection is within habit. Death is not a place. Its essence is permanence. Culture is not a structure. Its essence is freedom. Identity is not a thing. Its essence is relationship. The world is not a thing. Its essence is clockwork.
We are beguiled by the prospect of making the world a better place, but we are pinned like dead butterflies to a map, and the market of cultural interchange is located in a cul-de-sac. We embarked long ago on a project of what Fromm called ‘rootedness’ to make all of the categories of existence we could imagine into spaces within themselves. The psyche, once a transcendent identification of life and self, air and breath, became merely a compartment of being along with the body. Community became an assembly of individuals, heredity an arrangement of DNA. The world became a jigsaw-puzzle and death became part of eternal life. Consciousness forgot how to be unconscious. The horizon formed a space, seasons and phases were fixed on calendars, language banished the nameless, heaven was subsumed by distance and light extinguished the night.
This all happened in a period of not more than twenty thousand years. The next twenty thousand years is a mystery which defies compartmentalization, and yet we are already within it. Voyager 1, which was launched half a life-span ago, accompanied by two time capsules, will take twice as long as the spatialization of being to reach the vicinity of the nearest star in its path, but nonetheless is already nearly five times further from us than the outermost planet of our system. It is already beyond our within of light-minutes from Sol, the nearest star. Soon it will be beyond the within of light-hours, but even after forty thousand years, it will still be connected to any descendants still here, and to us now, though we be long dead, by the momentum originating here, in our neighbourhood of heaven.
The spatialization of the alienated self continues apace. “Keep ‘it’ buried in the not-me, and ‘I’ am what remains, blameless, shameless,” is prattle. No, comforting Jeremiah, putting definitions and boundaries in the right context, requires us to embrace time as the essence of self. Every ‘thing’ is indeed not connected to everything else, because ‘everything’ is an error, a closure, a linguistic confusion of ‘is’ and ‘is not’. The land and the inhabitant, the artefact and the commodity, the violater and the victim, each breathe history into the other, but the mantra, ‘always was and always will be’, is an absurdity. Country is not ‘timeless’. It obliges fearless familiarity with change. Whereas separation is emergent in space, connection is emergent in time: the meaning of a foreign language, the lifespan of a cemetery, the scar made out of flesh, the village’s love for the newborn, the faith in whom we have chosen which makes us the right choice, the barely perceptible dying breath of a machine in the silence between stars, and the knowledge of a warrior staring up at someone’s Underworld.
Think of time as waffle, prattle and wank. It is embedded like a signature on the treble clef of speech. The Moon and the stars chant its music, have you noticed, not on the horoscope page, but at the hour you sometimes remember to look out?