Narrative time and chronological/cosmological time

Time is important to diversify possible alternative plots. Probably, it is not very difficult to imagine that if you had 28 hours a day, what you can do would become different even if in varying ways. What time is, however, remains obscure since St. Augustine. I would define time as evidence that human beings are capable of perceiving changes and deriving particular regularity from such perceived changes.

Then, what does time so defined have to do with the project of diversifying plots? Time concerns our innate ability to relate seemingly fragmentary and innumerable stimuli to one another. As actors who share this ability interact with each other, certain rules emerge, become segmented and renovated continually. Time, in other words, can be understood more as creation of negotiations between actors who are capable of constructing particular sequential orders by associating relevant stimuli with one another, than as objective and value-neutral means of measurement. Hence, while time must be originated in movements of material objects, which are perceived by human actors, and from which certain regularity is derived, there is no such thing as time in physical material world. Rather, time had better be conceived of as something that is constructed. Thus, following Faulkner, I believe that it is possible to construct time by means of words as well as mathematical equations.

So, what does time constructed by words (‘narrative time’ as I refer to) look like? It cannot be found on a watch or a clock. We can or ought to read it in words. So narrative time, first, brings about interesting effects to readers, which are typically relevant to the diversification of plot. As I have explained, one can perceive changes/movements and derive particular regularity from them. At the same time, we are able to discern instantaneously certain patterns comprised of innumerable elements by identifying similarities/dissimilarities among such elements. To read narrative time from words, therefore, one needs to know that words contains two different temporality: synchrony that provides us with information about timeless, thus, permanent aspects of the world, and diachrony that tells us that things are continuously flowing from particular beginnings to particular endings by showing particular relationships between events and phenomena sequenced into particular orders, thus preceding events affecting subsequent ones in particular ways. Typically, the latter represents not only processes by which to construct stories but also our mundane practices of remembering the past.

By so understanding, we will be reminded that we are fated to be confronted by uncertainty about our own understandings of reality. Put in another way, we are forced to come up with a sense of appropriateness about our ways of understanding reality at a certain point in time and space in either rational scientific, or ethical political, or religious theological terms, simply because we are unable to know of any absolute, foundational or universal truth. Remembering that our abilities to deal with two different temporality can be traced back as far as at the level of simple and crude perception, human beings can be regarded as innately evaluative, thus by implication, moral beings as well as cultural and societal beings.

By more consciously reading time in words, thus, we will become able to understand that our experiences consist of three distinct but interrelated realms: that of things or quasi-things with mutually non-contradictory identities, which can be understood to be governed by certain universally applicable causal logic; that of actors who negotiate each other over norms, rules and contextually relevant ways of acting; and that of imagination, poetic move and a variety of irrational and contradictory sentiments. Reading narrative time draws our attention even to untold stories.

Besides, narrative time not only reminds but also provides means to analyze chronological/cosmological time as a critical part of social institutions that exerts significant power. More specifically, from the point of view of narrative time, power of the conventional chronological/cosmological time can be read from words and analyzed as different parties’ different capacities to deal with others’ experiences in the form of abstract words. In order to understand the interesting relationship between narrative time and the power/rule constitution, I will relate these to three distinct agencies that words bestow in the next post.


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