Saturday, June 21, 2008

Time is an Invention: Nathan, Einstein, Zappa & Monasteries

One fine day (I don't even remember what continent we were on),
I spotted St. Nathan (pictured here in the middle with two other world-class and world-travelling studs for Christ) wearing a T shirt with an intriguing motto:

"Time is an Invention."

I simply said something like "Cool shirt!."

Nathan, always quite Christlike, did the only thing he could do.

He literally gave me the shirt off his back.

I couldn't complain; he had chapter and verse.

Moral: Be nice to Nathan (pictured here in Cambodia with yet another cool shirt, and eating mystery meat)...
...but beware telling him you like his pants.

The "Time is an Invention" motto is intriguing and attention-getting. I wore the shirt and its message all over L.A. yesterday.

Even there it got some looks.

The case could be made that it is not a random saying; but consistent with no less than Einstein's theory.

I got home today, and googled the phrase to see if I could trace an original source...

..besides Genesis 1:1.

Of course there are lots of versions and variations of it (like this French version in which it was invented by those who don't know how to love.

I should have known that
it would also be attributed to Douglas Adams (at least in its "Time is an inventio. Lunchtime doubly so." version...Actually, though, it appears Adams said "illusion," not invention).

and/or Frank Zappa!

Ah, yes, two of my favorite zany and profound non-Christian Christian theologians.

(see Zappa and Hackett lead in prayer...finally
Prove to. St. (?) Frank Zappa...from the church...that God isn't dumb)

This blog post, and its comments, made those two connections.

The Zappa connection may be tenuous as well, but its paraphrase by Zappa is embedded in his bizarre piece/opus "The Adventures of Greggary Peccary."
I recall it was partly a sly and hastily-recorded throwaway to his record company at the time, fulfilling his contract to a company who wanted something more commercial.

Yeah, right.

It was twenty minutes long.

As usual, even here, Zappa's quirky genius inevitably leaks out.

Here is some of its instrumental suite ("am elaborate event") performed by Zappa and Jan Luc Ponty:

Check out the lyrics here.
It's hardly "Tommy,"
"The Wall,"
"Supper's Ready"....

or even "Joe's Garage"...

but it does introduce us to the proffered inventor of time...or at least the calendar.
And perhaps chronos.

And he (of course) is a gregarious wild swine.
And he (of course) is a prophetic dude.



And with that, GREGGERY turned and strode nonchalantly into his dinky little office with the desk and the catalog and the very hip water pipe, and proceeded, with a vigor and determination known only to piglets of a similarly diminutive proportion, to single-handedly invent THE CALENDAR!

With his eyes rolled heaven-ward, and his little shiny pig-hoofs on the desk, GREGGERY ponders the question of ETERNITY (and fractional divisions thereof), as mysterious ANGELIC VOICES sing to him from a great distance, providing the necessary clues for the construction of this thrilling new TREND!

Angelic Voices:





And thus THE CALENDAR, in all of its colorful disguises was presented to the bored & miserable people everywhere!

GREGGERY issued a memo on it, whereupon the entire contents of the Steno Pool identified with it STRENUOUSLY, and WORSHIPPED IT as a WAY OF LIFE, and took their little pills by it, and went back 'n forth from work by it, and paid their rent by it, and before long they were even having BIRTHDAY PARTIES IN THE OFFICE by it, because NOW, AT LAST, GREGGERY PECCARY's exciting new invention had made it possible for everyone to find out HOW OLD THEY WERE!


What hath GOD wrought?


Unfortunately, there were some people who simply DID NOT WISH TO KNOW, and that's why, on his way home from the office one night, GREGGERY was attacked by a RAGE OF HUNCHMEN!.....
(full lyrics here)

One should also rememeber Whitehead's assertion (quoted in my quixotic"Time Travel: Sabbath Novels, Clockless Monasteries,Toyota Corollas and the Gospel of the Kingdom") that religion may be the most "secularizing force" in all history; particularly via the religious institution that "baptized" clock time; at the great expense of the intended outcome (kairos and Kingdom).

Time, by this definition, was a terrible (and "timeless") invention:

"A tool or a machine (any form of technology) is a constituent of man's symbolic recreation of his world. Moreover, machines that have been owned and operated by only a few members of a society have often influenced the entire society.

Movable type, for example, completely altered, within a relatively short time, the entire concept of medieval man and socoiety. As McLuhan notes in 'Gutenberg Galaxy.":

Printing from movable types created a quite unexpected new environment-it created the PUBLIC. Manuscript technology did not have the intesnity or power of extension necessary
o create publics on a national scale. What we have called "nations" in recent centuries did not, and could not, precede the advent of Gutenberg technology any more than they
can survive the advent of electric circuitry with its power of totally involving all people in all other people...The unique character of the 'public' created by the printed word was an intense and visually oriented self-consciousness, both of the individual and the group.

There is, however, probably no better illustration of technology altering Western culture (and eventually, the world) than the invention of the clock.

Before the clock, and until darwin's theory of eveoilution began to sink into the stream of commly held ideas, peple knoew that the world about themm--the world of reproducing plants and animals...-has always exisited, and that its fundamental law was eternal periodicitry. Cosmolological time,a s well as the time perceived in daily life, was sort of a complex repeating and echoing of events. Howeber, with the emergence of the clock and its sudden position of dominance dutiong the Industrial revolution, a transformation in man occurred. Instead of merely living in the natural world he became, nautures alleged master.

Lewin Mumford calls the clock, not the printi g press or steam engine 'the key machine of the moerrn industrial age.' In his 'Technics and Civilization,' he desribes how during the Middle Ages the ordred life of monasteries affected life in the communities adjacent to them:

The monastery was the seat of a regular life...The habit of order itself and the earnest regulation
of time-sequences had become al,ost second nature in teh mosatery...The mosareries--at one time there were 40,000 under the Benedictine rule -helped to give human enterprise the regularcollective beat and rhythm of the machine; for the clock is not merely a means of keeping track of the hours, but of synchronizing the actions of men....By the thirteenth century there are definite records of mechanical clocks of mechanical clocks, and by 1370 a well-designed "modern" clock had been built by Heinrich von Wyck at Paris. Meanwhile, bell towers had come into existence, and the new clocks, if they did not have, till the fourteenth century, a dial and a hand that translated the movement of time into a movement through space, at all events struck the hours. The clouds that could paralyze the sundial...were no longer obstacles o time-keeping: summer or winter, day or night, one was aware of the measured clank of the clock. The instrument presently spread outside the monastery; and the regular striking of the bells brought a new regularity into the life of the workman and the merchant. The bells of the clock tower almost defined urban existence. Time-keeping passed into time-serving and time-accounting and time-rationing. As this took place, Eternity ceased gradually to serve as the measure and focus of human actions.

-John W. Whitehead, "The End of Man," pp. 112-13

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