Thursday, 9 July 2009

The first book of Milan Kundera's The Book of Laughter and Forgetting features a wonderful anecdote about the airbrushing of Clementis from a photograph in which he was standing next to Klement Gottwald, the communist leader. Clementis was charged with treason and subsequently removed from the photograph; the only evidence that remains of his existence at that particular space-time juncture is his fur-hat, which still remains on Gottwald’s head. Kundera’s narrator views history as an alterable event, one that has no permanence, and Clementis’ hat is the proof of this.

The hat is a decoy however. Clematis is that which is sought through absence. What of this concept? Permanence as an indicator of absence. No, not permanence - presence. Presence as an indicator of absence. The presence of Clementis' hat on Gottwald's head communicates to us of Clementis' absence. Forget space for a moment, forget spatiality and the existence of an entity within a physical realm. Think of time, think of temporality, think of presence as an indicator of absence.

Time is that which has been described elsewhere as the universal condition of the possibility of appearance. Presence in this respect is appearance. What symmetry! Here, with the hat, we have appearance conjuring the possibility of disappearance. All this is of course rooted within time as a continuum; both appearance and disappearance still abide to temporal rules. They are simply lights switched on and off within that continuum.

So, is that erasure atemporality? Surely not. Is photography atemporal? Surely not. Can such ruptures really affect the continuum of time? When we remove something or erase something, does it really disintegrate time as a mode of perceiving events? The answer is only yes if Clementis can exist as two states simultaneously. Simultaneity is the only aspect which can destroy time. If Clementis can be present and absent simultaneously, then this act of erasure, arrived at through the hat, is a rupturing of time, it is the arrival of atemporality.

If Clementis can be present and absent simultaneously then this airbrushing, the evidence of the hat, the photograph, and these words describing all of those things, instigate atemporality. The question for now (and how I loathe to end on a question, it is the coward's way) is whether our current networked existence allows for simultaneous presence and absence? Can a person, through web networks, exist simultaneously in different temporal realms?

When the web both abstracts existence (virtualisation, avatars, online presence) and takes it upon itself to deem that an experience of time is subjective (time stretching, future archiving, digital echoes) then simultaneity is approached. The real question is whether this is something unique to our time, or whether the web simply gives a temporal and spatial representation to an atemporality and aspatiality that has always been present within our thinking.

For me, perhaps, novels were the first artistic manifestation of both atemporality and aspatiality within human thought, not just as a representation of the concept but as an embodiment of it. Is the internet just a giant novel? More questions, more questions. The day draws on already and I have accomplished nothing. All this from a fur hat, I ask you. Time to give it up.

No comments: