Friday, November 03, 2006

TimePass(ing)


Last week I found myself shocked by the realization that I’ve only been in New York for slightly over two months.

Already it feels like I’ve been here for a year or something. And it hasn’t even snowed yet. (But strange things happen to time anyway, when leaves fall. And they have been falling …)

Would you say that the opposite of ‘timeless’ is time-full? The ‘timeless’ East has never been that; but here in this city, my time has been full. Books and films and conversations and friends and sights and sounds and tastes. Looking back on months seems looking back at years. So much to read, think, see, experience. Way too much caffeine. The last time that felt so full of time was Delhi in the winter of 2000-01.

Last weekend I attended a conference on ruins. Jetztzeit was mentioned. Benjamin’s time of the now. History is the subject of a structure whose site is not homogenous, empty time, but time filled by the presence of the now. [Jetztzeit].* Thus, to Robespierre ancient Rome was a past charged with the time of the now which he blasted out of the continuum of history. The French Revolution viewed itself as Rome incarnate. It evoked ancient Rome the way fashion evokes costumes of the past. Fashion has a flair for the topical, no matter where it stirs in the thickets of long ago; it is a tiger’s leap into the past.

On the 2 train heading uptown, an impromptu fashion show, catwalking and catcalling in the aisles by astoundingly beautiful young black people, one of them with Josephine Baker hair. They were the Jazz Age come back to life, as a friend said, we rode the 2 with the Harlem Renaissance.

I keep photographing stationary cycles. Locked and falling apart, abandoned. Out of time. Like the ruins of Delhi, that other photographic subject of mine, abandoned by history, outside the flow of recorded/recordable events, flotsam. To take a photograph is to already mourn a passing, a moment always past, always outside the flow of time. What does it mean to put a frame, to isolate what is already ‘timeless’, to return to that phrase. What sort of a double exposure is that? What strange desire to stop time?

The initial day of a calendar serves as a historical time-lapse camera. And, basically, it is the same day that keeps recurring in the guise of holidays, which are days of remembrance. Thus the calendars do no measure time as clocks do; they are monuments of a historical consciousness of which not the slightest trace has been apparent in Europe in the past hundred years. In the July revolution an incident occurred which showed this consciousness still alive. On the first evening of fighting it turned out that the clocks in towers were being fired on simultaneously and independently from several places in Paris. An eye-witness, who may have owed his insight to the rhyme, wrote as follows: Who would have believed it!
we are told that new Joshuas

at the foot of every tower, as though irritated with time itself, fired at the dials in order to stop the day.

Whether or not imbued with historical consiousness, they tried to stop time in Delhi too last week, the seemingly endless spate of demolitions and sealings that seek to alter the histories and geographies of the city. Schools and shops were closed for a three day bandh. The clocktowers are all defunct. But they threw stones at the Metro. As a symbol of progress, as a sign of the future having arrived, of the time of Delhi moving too fast for its people?

On the Q train from Brooklyn last Sunday morning, I noticed that my wristwatch was suddenly an hour ahead of the time on my mobile phone. Daylight Saving Time had ended, and I had unwittingly gained an hour while sleeping. Destinations were an hour further away, we laughed at this unexpected, precious fullness of time, a twenty fifth hour added to the day. An hour spent in Strand, browsing through books, and jumping with joy in the wind and light of a bracing cold fall day.

Back on my street at two in the morning, a taxi stood parked by the kerb. The driver had spread a small carpet on the pavement, facing East, towards a sun still many hours from rising, and in the cold and dark and silence, he prayed, towards Mecca. A single, silent worshipper on a near deserted, long past midnight street. A different order of time.

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