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  • Writer's pictureTashroom Ahsan

Collecting Time

Abraham Joshua Heschel begins The Sabbath with a bold declaration: “life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.” He writes that we should focus more on the realm of time where “the goal is not to have but to be.”1 For Heschel, we ought to be concerned less with having and more with being. Unto this end, he recommends that we observe the Sabbath, which offers “an opportunity to mend our tattered lives; to collect rather than dissipate time.” His prescription, poetic as it may be, makes little sense. He elucidates it a bit, claiming that the Sabbath allows us to “stand still and to embrace the presence of an eternal moment.” But his statements remain confusing. What does it mean to collect time? How can we be in time without space? What is an eternal moment; how does “eternity utter a day?” To address these questions, we must investigate the nature of time itself.

To be collected to make a mended life, time must be something which can be scattered and put together to make a whole, like the segments of a wheel line. Time must have units: individual parts which can both cohere and be separate. To allow us to only be in time, time must be for the sake of itself. It cannot be mediated through anything else, and we cannot access it through another realm; otherwise, we would be in that other realm. We need an account of time which has units and is unmediated.

Kant offers an account of time which has units. He begins by describing time closely with space; while space is “the form of all outer appearances of outer sense” and “makes outer intuition possible,” time is the “universal condition of the possibility of appearances,” and “nothing other than the form of inner sense.” Space is the form of everything outside of us. Time allows for us to conceive of their possibility, to bring these outer appearances inside of us. Kant goes on to describe time as “the mediate condition of all outer appearances.” For Kant, time is instrumental in allowing space to unfold within us.

This instrumental quality is all that time is, in Kant’s eyes. He writes, “the representation of time [as a line] is itself an intuition, since all its relations can be expressed in an outer intuition.” Time is something that we only see unfold in outer intuitions, or in space. As a “line progressing to infinity,” with a “series that is of only one dimension,” time is seen as a set of “parts of successions” of outer intuitions.7 Time, to Kant, is a single dimension that inner sense flows through which we find by examining how appearances in space relate to one another in a successive manner. As a single dimension, time is a homogeneous medium for him. Things in time can be measured against the one dimensional line of time, and succession can be identified. Its “parts” are discrete units.7 It can be broken up into sections that can move around, such as seconds or days. These sections can be conceived of as wholes, for they have a beginning and end. Time, as contained parts of time, can be complete. Kantian time is a realm that allows outer appearances to potentially exist, but is only intuited by means of those appearances. The succession of those appearances allows for time to be conceived of as a line with units.

Most notably, Kant notes that time is “the way of representing myself as object,” and not an object itself. Time allows for “myself” to have relations to outer intuitions, or the appearances of outer things. For Kant, time exists for the sake of space. It allows us to conceive of space, and is only understood through space. The line, the way we understand time, is in itself a spatial rendition of time, comprehended by the succession of things in space. Time can be broken up into parts, or segments of this line, which can be seen as discrete units, or wholes, just as space can be broken up into inches and feet. Time bridges us to space by making us an object and allowing space to unfold within us. Because Kantian time is primarily concerned with space, or outer intuition, his account of time is ‘outer.’ We shall refer to it as ‘outer time.’

Kant’s outer time allows us to see time as something to be collected. If it is made up of parts, then these parts can be stitched together into a larger whole. But his account of time is still primarily concerned with space; one cannot be within Kantian time without being in space, without concerning oneself with objects of space. We need a different account of time in order to understand it as something which one can be within without space.

Bergson offers a necessary alternative account of time. To him, when we think of time, it appears to us as Kant describes. But we live through time in a different manner. Hence, for him, there are two ways of understanding time: time as projected into space, which he calls ‘homogeneous’ or spatialized time, and time as we experience it, which he calls ‘duration.’ Duration is how we live through time, and is required for us to construct spatialized time. To Bergson, we typically think of time as spatialized, which Kant does, even though it is experienced as durative. First, we will trace Bergson’s account of duration, and then we will see how spatialized time emerges from it.

Duration consists of consciousness holding a “multiplicity of conscious states.” This multiplicity is qualitative, rather than quantitative, which means that “consciousness makes a discrimination [between states]...without any further thoguht of distinguishing them as several.”10 There is not a set of many conscious states in duration; rather, states “succeed” one another by “melting into one another and forming an organic whole.” Different states “interpenetrate” one another.11 Successive states do not simply follow one another as they would in a line. Rather, they accumulate and affect one another, such that they cannot be separated nor be seen as identical. Because states cannot be separated, duration lacks units. Bergson writes, “duration properly so called has no moments which are identical or external to one another, being essentially heterogeneous, continuous, and with no analogy to number.” Unlike Kantian time, duration cannot be broken up into segments because there are no identical parts within it, precluding units. One moment in duration is not the same as any other; each moment is experienced differently because of the other moments which inextricably affect it. A moment now is different from a moment three minutes ago, because in those three minutes, my experience of ‘a moment’ has shifted. As a non-homogeneous medium which we, in consciousness, move through, duration is distinct from Kantian outer time. We shall call it ‘inner’ time as it is concerned only with internal states of consciousness, not with objects of outer sense, and does not need outer appearances to exist.

However, Bergson does not entirely dismiss Kant’s notion of time. Rather, he relegates it to merely a kind of time, which he calls ‘homogeneous’ time. To describe homogeneous time, Bergson first identifies space as a homogeneous medium. He writes, “space alone is homogeneous, objects in space form a discrete multiplicity, and every discrete multiplicity is got by a process of unfolding in space.”9 Space, to Bergson, is a homogeneous medium where objects can exist as both wholes in themselves and parts of a whole; as units. Homogeneous time, to him, is “the space employed for the purpose [of externalizing states in relation to one another].”10 Externalizing states from one another converts states of consciousness, the non-discrete units of duration, into entities analogous to objects in space. States, inseparable in duration, are separated to become discrete units in homogeneous time. Time appears like space in homogeneous time.

To Bergson, we typically conceive of time spatially because of motion. He writes that, with motion, “we have a series of identical terms, since [we have] always the same moving body.” Observing motion, we “know the same objecting cause is at work, [so] we cut up this progress into phases which we then regard as identical; and this multiplicity of elements no longer being conceivable except by being set out in space, since they have now become identical, we are necessarily led to the idea of a homogeneous time, the symbolic image of real duration.” Because states in motion appear identical to us, but time passes between them, we assume that successive states are identical and discrete. In reality, states in motion are not identical; each moment in motion is a synthesis between “former positions” and “actual positions.”12 Regardless, we extrapolate the appearance of identical motion into the passage of time in general because of our “insatiable desire to separate.”11 Motion allows us to think of non-discrete states in time succeeding one another. When we conceive of time through motion, we spatialize it. This is how we normally ‘think’ of time.

Our inner sense of time is separate from space. It is not experienced through discrete succession, as Kantian time is, and is not homogeneous. It is experienced only through the melting of continual psychic states which are constantly one whole. From the non-homogeneity of duration, Bergson concluded that “there is neither duration nor even succession in space.”9 Each exists only within duration, and the latter can only be projected into space. Our inner sense of time is entirely separate from our sense of space. We do not sense time through space. Kant, to Bergson, “substitutes the symbol [of real duration] for the reality [and] perceives reality only through the symbol.”11 Spatialized time is just a cognitive symbol of duration. Duration, then, is never ‘for the sake of’ space. It is not necessary for us to cognize space, and we can live through it without space. It is always whole, not requiring space to complete or see it. Because it is whole and needs nothing else, we can live for the sake of duration. It is an end in itself.

Bergson’s account of duration offers an account of time for the sake of itself, unconcerned with objects of outer sense. But inner time lacks the completion of outer time. Outer time, by having units, allows us to extract ‘complete’ segments from it. It has parts to be collected. Inner time, by lacking units, cannot be ‘collected’ as such; it is always a singular whole with no parts. Inner time is always incomplete, as each state is constantly melting into the next while duration perpetually unfolds; it never ends. In order to ‘collect’ time for us to solely be within, we need a unity between inner and outer time. We need an account of time which allows for it to have units and be complete, as outer time does, while always being for the sake of itself, as inner time is.

Heschel offers this account by means of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is just one day of the week, one repetitive unit in the cyclical repetition of seven days. Yet, for Heschel, this one day is what the weekdays are for the sake of. The Sabbath, by virtue of being one day of seven, extends into each day and imbues it with meaning by giving them an end. Imbuing every other day with its spirit, the Sabbath permeates throughout the entire week. All days are sanctified by the Sabbath. Yet the Sabbath remains a unit, one day of seven. The days of the week remain there to be collected, while each moment throughout the week attains spirit.

As a “moment of eternity,” the Sabbath possesses the qualities of both inner and outer time. Eternity is the totality of time; time strives towards eternity, for Heschel. As the end and consummation of time, eternity completes time, just as outer time is complete by virtue of the finite succession of segments. Eternity is a temporal telos, a telos within time that time itself strives for. It makes time one total, coherent whole. The moment being of eternity implies that each moment, imbued with the spirit of the Sabbath, possesses the completion of eternity. Each instant is complete. But each moment, as a moment, possesses duration. Because the moment of the Sabbath is unconcerned with space, for Heschel calls it a time to ‘be in time’ and not space, it is purely durative. It is unconcerned with space, for we do not cognize it through space. We imbue it with meaning in itself, carrying the weight of all the states we bring to it. Since we refuse to project this moment into space by being in time, we exist in eternity duratively. By uniting the moment with eternity, Heschel allows for time to be for the sake of time itself, by being both unconcerned with space while striving towards eternity, and also be complete.

“Collecting” time to make life coherent, then, is to allow for each day to carry the weight of eternity. It is to gather the days into one. Unifying all days under the collection of eternity, Heschel coheres time. He aims time towards an end within time; towards eternity. With each day carrying the weight of eternity, each moment possesses the end of time itself. To live in collected time is to allow each moment to be the fulfillment of the end of time. By making the end of time eternally present in every discrete day, the Sabbath unifies inner and outer time. It completes time, retains it as units, while allowing for time to be for the sake of itself.

We began by asking ourselves how we could collect time in order to make life coherent and to be in time without concerning ourselves with space. Collecting time implied discrete units of time, unified and made complete, so we approached the question by thinking of outer time. Outer time, as depicted by Kant, gave us a sense of time which allowed for it to be collected, but failed to allow time to exist for its own sake. To find a time which exists for its own sake, we forayed into inner time as described by Bergson. His account told us of a time which exists purely for its own sake and not for space, but his inner time lacked the capacity to be collected. To answer how time could be collected and lived in for the sake of itself, we found that we had to unify inner and outer time. We, then, returned to Heschel, who told us of the eternal moment, and of an eternity which utters a day. Because the Sabbath is one day out of seven, it is a unit. Yet it dissipates its spirit into all other days while remaining a day on its own. In this way it unifies inner and outer time. By dissipating its spirit into all days of the week, the Sabbath allows for all moments to possess the spirit of eternity. As moments of eternity, these moments possess the durative qualities of Bergsonian inner time, allowing them to exist for their own sake, tend towards the end of time, and retain the completion of eternity. The Sabbath allows for all moments in time to exist for themselves while retaining the discrete units of days, enabling each day to be collected while every moment possesses their ends in themselves. To collect time, then, is to live with the force of eternity, the end of time, at every moment.


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