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Back to the Future: Musings on Time and Utopia 1/3
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2007-11-12 07:43:33
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Abstract: While Jacques Derrida teaches that deconstruction is immanent within time, Henry David Thoreau believed that the genius that is the child in us starts with our original amazement. Because an origin exists, we can escape historicity and retrieve natural time. In contrast to the post-modern futuristic orientation of practicality aiming at goals, it is possible for us to become wonderers, amazed at what exists before us. The two positions can enlighten each other.

That man who does not believe that each day contains an earlier, more sacred, and auroral hour than he has yet profaned, has despaired of life, and is pursuing a descending and darkening way.” (Henry David Thoreau )

The above is a passage from Thoreau’s Walden. What is Thoreau calling into question in this passage? Nothing short of the sense of irreversibility that governs our ordinary understanding of time and historicity. Indeed if time moves irreversibly ahead, then we may well be on a “descending and darkening way.” Our being in time is redeemable only if we can escape this inexorable movement. Does that mean that, as Plato seems to advocate in the Phaedo, that we have to liberate ourselves from temporality? Thoreau seems to be saying that a person who is out to redeem time by escaping it has already “despaired of life.”

Time itself, Thoreau implies, opens up another possibility. If we have not despaired already, we may realize that in fact time does not move irreversibly forward because each day is “earlier” than the one that went before. How early? The “auroral hour,” while not outside time, does not refer to any prior historical moment since any such moment is located on the “descending and darkening” path that has to be escaped. The “auroral hour” of which Thoreau speaks is time before history. This kind of time is not irreversible; rather it recurs each immemorial morning.

The beginning returns eternally even if caught within historicity. But we fail to be present to this temporality of nature, perhaps because nature itself has been historicized by our appropriation of it. For this is the nature that emerges fresh from the hands of the gods. Thoreau speaks of the morning as “the most memorable season of the day.” Having returned to the origin, one no longer needs to hark back to it. Only when it has been lost, in the middle of the day, one needs to remember it. In the auroral hour one neither harkens back to a previous time, nor does one orient oneself in terms of a future that has not yet arrived: one is present in the present and present to all that is present in it.

The above begs the question: why is this presence located in the past? Why, in order to locate it are we required to leave the present with which we are familiar? For the simple reason that historicity has so displaced “natural time” that it has become almost inaccessible. Why is then historicity a “descending and darkening way”? Because it signifies the deconstruction of presence by the future. We do not live in the present at all but subordinate it into a means of “getting ahead.” Within historical time, work views the present from the point of view of a goal to be reached, it displaces leisure which alone allows the presence of what is present to manifest itself without reference to any “in order to.” In other words, appropriation of what is present takes precedence of contemplation of it, the use of things over appreciation of them. Historicity can be equated with profanation, rationalized as practical necessity.

Underlying that kind of rationalization is the drive to get ahead. What are we trying to get ahead of and what are we trying to get behind us? What prompts us to look past presence and privilege the future? This desire to get ahead, an integral part of any ideology of progress, seemed to Thoreau a kind of demonic appetite which enslaves the human heart. The image of historicity as a dark descent would suggest that Thoreau conceives of our being as caught in a tragic fall. For Thoreau, it is difficult but not impossible to awaken from the nightmare of history by retrieving the original experience which it has ruptured. Walden appears as sacred scripture, because it details the practice of this retrieval and does so via a poetic naturalistic language.

However, this account seems to have fallen prey to the metaphysics of presence which Derrida has deconstructed in such a devastating way. For in fact, Thoreau’s project of escaping historicity and retrieving natural time seems to require our believing not only that our origin exists but that it is separable from all that derives from it; i.e., the privileging of being over historicity, the natural over the cultural, the signified over signifiers; it promises us to avoid deconstruction. But this promise can be fulfilled only if the dichotomy between “natural time” and historicity is tenable; only if time is not a “descending and darkening way,’ only if deconstruction is not immanent within time itself. This is precisely what Derrida (as well as Heidegger) call into question.


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Sand2007-11-12 14:39:34
I have read fine print insurance contracts simpler and more obvious than this.

Emanuel Paparella2007-11-13 03:21:04
Indeed, it may prove wiser to stick to insurance contracts written in large print for simple-minded clients.

Sand2007-11-13 05:16:42
It seems to me a self defeating strategy for a writer to provide material so obscure and confusing that a reader gains no access to the ideas - unless there are no ideas. I had assumed that the point of writing was communication. If so, this piece is not writing.

Emanuel Paparella2007-11-13 10:43:06
When a robot talks to another robot or when they play chess with each other, there is communication going on but not dialoguing. The former is in the world of I-it, the latter in that of I-thou. There is an enormous difference but those who have tunnel vision will not perceive. They are on parallel universe, for they have reduced reason to mere rationality usually end up not only rejecting for themselves the world of the humanities but advocating the same for others. That is why Vico and Thoreau consider those advocates "barbarians of the intellect."

Sand2007-11-13 12:31:40
It seems inept writers have all sorts of excuses for not using simple and easily understood language and clearly defining their terms. They don't seem to realize that it is their purposes that are frustrated.

Sand2007-11-13 12:48:48
This passage from your article, for instance, seems particularly replete with puzzling and self contradictory ideas. I am not criticizing it as that would only be possible if I could make some sense out of it. Perhaps if you would be so kind as to simplify it for my robotic mind I might find grounds for accepting or rejecting it.

The beginning returns eternally even if caught within historicity. But we fail to be present to this temporality of nature, perhaps because nature itself has been historicized by our appropriation of it. For this is the nature that emerges fresh from the hands of the gods. Thoreau speaks of the morning as “the most memorable season of the day.” Having returned to the origin, one no longer needs to hark back to it. Only when it has been lost, in the middle of the day, one needs to remember it. In the auroral hour one neither harkens back to a previous time, nor does one orient oneself in terms of a future that has not yet arrived: one is present in the present and present to all that is present in it.

Emanuel Paparella2007-11-13 12:54:47
Try taking Rumi's advise: get up at dawn, when the light is fighting the darkness, and just contemplate that phenomenon. Do that for a whole month. See what happens. Then go back to re-read the article, better still read Thoreau's On Walden Pond. But I am afraid that it may be beyond what you yourself describe a robotic mind. The advice remains however.

Sand2007-11-13 14:17:28
Be aware it is not my rising habits that are in your target range, it is your own foot in the bullseye.

Emanuel Paparella2007-11-13 19:33:45
Indeed, a robot never makes mistakes and is always on target, in its own computer-brain; and that is why it is not a human being or it is one that has dehumanized himself and does not even know it yet.

Sand2007-11-13 20:19:48
It's ironically amusing how closely you have categorized yourself while you are totally unaware of it.
It strikes me that your writing style has been fostered by your classroom behavior. When you have a batch of students that are totally at your mercy insofar as they must undergo your tortuous and unintelligible prose and pry out some meaning to attain a satisfactory grade.
Your readers here are not at your mercy, they must be treated with respect in order that they accept what you can convey to them in terms that are clear and meaningful, a totally different situation than the classroom where you can dictate behavior to satisfy your oppressive ego. Of course, this assumes you have a real desire to convey something, an assumption that may be optimistic.

Emanuel Paparella2007-11-13 21:59:32
I see you have been at my classroom, in your ravings of course. Or were they the voices you hold conversations with? You must have also seen my students' evaluation via your magical powers. You must be a demi-god, for sure. What is intriguing is that none of the editors of the magazine have told me to shut up, yet. The only time I have been told to shut up was in your company where I appear as a clown memesis (Mr. W. was the second one I believe and he called us both assclowns, do you remember? That's ok. Truth reveals itself even under those comedic circumstances. And besides, you live in Finland as a citizen of the world, not me. To the contrary, one of the editor had the kindness to reveal to me that one of my contributions was the most widely read sometime ago. You were the only one who belly-aked about it while there are praizes for it and other contributions in other blogs and magazines. One prestigious magazine who is making a real contribution to the bridging of science and religion (Glogal Spiral read by some two million readers)has even requested of me a weekly column as of two months ago. One has to wonder about the motivation behind it all. One can expect now an aspersion of Global Spiral and Metanexus. You have alread done that for Yale. Indeed, they are two different worlds and the barbarian of the intellect always remains incomprehending of the world of humanities. Bull's eye for Vico in that respect.

Sand2007-11-13 22:15:18
Whatever the accolades you claim to have collected, it is of no use to me to make clear to me whatever your article intended to convey and for someone who cares about purveying his thoughts, you seem supremely careless about getting them understood.

Your continual reiteration that I am trying to censor or suppress your output indicates a paranoid streak of rather large proportions. I have told you repeatedly I have no powers in that direction but, on the contrary, only seek to perceive what you are so clumsily attempting to convey.

Emanuel Paparella2007-11-13 22:17:09

My prose is so obscure that Wikipedia Encyclopedia has not only understood it well but has placed it as one of the external links on line on the philosopher G. Vico. How does a rationalist square that circle? I am curious.

P.S. Since mpugning your interlocutor's veracity is one of the nasty habits of yours, repeatedly exhibited, I attach a link above.

Sand2007-11-13 22:32:39
Am I assumed completely ignorant of the procedures for including material in Wikipedia? Any damned fool can enter material there and it is evident many do so.

Emanuel Paparella2007-11-13 22:51:40
So much for Wikipedia! Does that apply to Ovi too since they continue to accept my contributions? Let us see how you square that circle. To go back to what you have not understood but continue to criticize. Try this piece just out today and then take a look at the long list of contributors and then, true to form, tell me that any fool con contribute to such a magazine. You can spit to the sky but it will only return on you, I am afraid. Here is the link to Global Spiral not so much for you that will not understand it without a modicum of humanistic education, but for the readers who may not have seen through your antics yet:


Sand2007-11-14 05:53:55
It is becoming very very obvious that you will squirm in five dimensions to avoid helping me in simple language understand clearly what your article says which is the only point of this interchange. I don't care if your wife butters your toast or your dog licks your face or the Pope has given you a medal or some university in Nigeria has offered you twelve million dollars to submit an article. I merely want a simple clear version that anybody of normal intellect such as myself can understand of the quoted paragraph I indicated. If you do not do so I can only assume that it is a grotesque form of academic baloney and you are totally incapable of presenting it in a simple direct form because there is no worthwhile content to expose.

Sand2007-11-14 07:10:24
Incidentally, this is what Google messages:
Your search - http://www.metanexus.net/Magazine/ArticleDetail/tabid/68/id/10201/Default.aspx - did not match any documents.

Emanuel Paparella2007-11-14 11:36:43
Do those nasty voices you listen to also advice you to asperse those you disagree with by impugning their veracity, those are the strategies of charlatans with nothing to say, or are there goblins in your computer? Be that as it may, for somebody proud of his robotic mind you could do better technically with your computer. What you do is highlight the link, then left click and press on copy, erase the address in the address box by left clicking again and press delete, and insert what you have copied pressing on paste, then press your enter key and voilà my daily columns for Global Spiral will appear. No need to go through Google. Those columns are there, at least in this real world. To turn the dictum up side down: beware of what you do not wish to find, for you will not find it. But I suppose to understand that one needs to come out of the box of rationalism.

Emanuel Paparella2007-11-14 13:09:24
If the goblins persist in their mischief, try the above and then clicl on columns, but don't talk to your voices or they may persuade you not to learn anything and simply get on your quixotic attack horse for another charge.

Sand2007-11-14 14:26:34
Still bubbling with animosity and no clarification of the material indicated.

Emanuel Paparella2007-11-14 17:49:43
I thought so!

Sand2007-11-15 15:31:08
An adventurous comment, Paparella, considering that thinking is so far out of your normal habits.

Emanuel Paparella2007-11-17 14:03:27

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