Time. Newton visualized time as an arrow flying toward its target. Einstein understood time as a river, moving forward, forceful, directed, but also bowed, curved, sometimes subterranean, not ending but pouring itself into a greater sea. A river cannot flow against its current, but it can flow in circles, its eddies and whirlpools regularly break up its strong press forward. The riverrun is maverick, there is a high chance of cross current, a snag of time that returns us without warning to a place we thought we had sailed through long since.
Anyone to whom this happens clings faithfully to the clock; the hour will pass, we will certainly move on. Then we find the clock is neither raft nor lifebelt. the horological illusion of progress sinks. the past comes with us, like a drag-net of fishes. We tow it down river, people and things, emotions, time’s inhabitants, not left on shore way back, but still swimming close by.
A kick in the current twists you around, and suddenly we are caught in the net we made, the accumulations of a lifetime just under the surface. What were those stories about townships at the bottom of a river? Lost kingdoms tantalisingly visible when the water was calm? It is well-known that mermaids flash through the dark sea to swim like salmon against the river.
The unconscious, it seems, will not let go of its hoard. The past comes with us and occasionally kidnaps the present, so that the distinctions we depend on for safety, for sanity, disappear. Past. Present. Future. When this happens we are no longer sure of who we are, or perhaps we can no longer pretend to be sure who we are.
If time is a river then we shall all meet death by water.
IV. DEATH BY WATER
Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.
(jeanette quotes The Love Song of Alfred J Prufrock in The Passion – “till human voices wake us”)