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Wave as eigenzeit: A meditation on medial time


Time accelerates because of modern technologies. Or maybe it’s the other way around: technologies are so compelling because time was already speeding up. The economic principle of acceleration – and by extension the logic of increase – permeates the way social activities are conducted. Harder, better, faster, stronger. Doing more with our time is more desirable. The linear and circular structure of clock-time, while corresponding in the broadest sense to the human idea of time, temporalises within and through technologies that crystallise time. Time acts. It creates, exacerbates, denies, compensates, delays. When we are confronted with time on our hands, a sort of crisis emerges: time in surplus is wasted time, and wasted time is besieged into intervals.


Waves of time wash over our psyche, but they make no sound. The silence of time in crisis is the void our mind creates so it could empty itself out. It is 3:00pm in New Haven - 6:00am in Melbourne and 2:00am in Saigon. I know as much because the world clock function on my phone tells me so, in clear digital numbers. Staring at those number, I try to imagine what my loved ones are doing. Time has become a sort of anchor as our mind drifts away from the physical being-in-time. Yesterday all restaurants and pubs in Connecticut closed down to help decelerate the spread of covid-19; Yale itself has been closed for a week. People wonder if it’s time to go home. People race against time to come home, to make up for the strain time has put on space. Few things hurry people up more than telling them to slow down. But then everything comes to a halt. A wave is just that: a loop of motion and counter-motion. There is no wave without resistance. The Latin root sistere – to stand firm – requires going back again and again. Time is also what prevents everything from being given at once. Bergson says, this must tell us that there is indeterminacy in things. That time itself is this indeterminacy.


Heterochronia. The existence of more than one time. It is morning in the Southern hemisphere, afternoon in the Northern hemisphere. Time in transit for those who leave, time in waiting for those who stay. On Twitter, there is no time we can afford to lose. On my walk down a deserted Old Campus, time is everything there is to lose. Eigenzeit – self-time – is only meaningful insofar as it divorces itself from the time structures of others while longing for them. Eigen-time goes haywire; without constantly assembling small and standardised units of time so that it could be replicated into infinity, time fizzles out. Pressed from both above and below, waves spread out in circles. Time is absorbed by the medium through which it passes before its lull. Electromagnetic waves carry a synchronous time structure that homogenises our collective perception of time. It is through this simultaneity that we come to experience the unbearable weight of duration. Of time elasticated, congealed, concealing. Leaving your Facetime call overnight – why not – so you could feel more connected, less confined. Like you have figured out a way to cheat time and fool space. Like time and space have come together at last: continuity cuts through the force of a pandemic and stops in the middle. An interval. An oncoming wave. Defiance without cease. A wave radiating in all directions is a wave slowing itself down into a transfiguration: the shape of time flattens out into a horizon stretched at both ends.



*This post has been republished on the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at The University of Melbourne research blog

*This post will appear in the Vietnamese Students Association at Yale's magazine in Fall 2020


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