cw: war, terrorism, death
“A moment is a very small particle of time. It is so small that one day is made of 6,400,099,980 moments.” Jiko Yasutani pg. 484
Within the Zen tradition a moment is a very small unit of time especially when compared to the Medieval moment which is just 90 seconds. There is also a moment in classical mechanical physics that is a bit outside my understanding, but seems to be the scientific mirroring to explain Zen moments. (To be honest the correlation would probably make a very interesting blogpost if I could only comprehend it. Here’s the wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moment_(physics) )
When I first starting reading this book I was very confused by the phrase “for the time being.” Rather than seeing “time being” as a noun about “being in time” I saw it as a series of moments in time. The sentence “I’m doing homework for the time being” is an example of the phrase’s colloquial usage. These series of moments correlate to section of time during which the participant is involved in an action. Instead of the segment in time however the term “time being” is used to identify an object that segment. Nao is the time being in her now. I know this concept was clearly explained within the text, but I find the term used to be fascinating because it can refer to not only a string of moments but also the moment dweller who drives the segments actions. As old Jiko said on page 484 ” (a) snap equals sixty-five moments.” Your action of a snap embodies all of your personal time being that is your now, your 65 moment now.
A Tale for the Time Being calls back memories of The Sea and Summer when discussing Nao’s father. The theme of job security and the emotional effects of losing one’s job recall the beginning of the book, when the family become designated as swill following their father’s suicide. Although these are not equally drastic situations, they both explore the effect of the loss of a job on the breadwinner of a family (both times, the father). It is regularly pointed out (sometimes jokingly) that “there is no ethical consumption under late capitalism” but similarly both of these books seem to remind us that there are no fair ethics under capitalism whatsoever, and that its effects on a family caught up in a wave of misfortune can be devastating, both economically and psychologically.
On a more unrelated and focused note: the scene where Nao watches Jiko’s death also called to mind a theme I had been observing throughout the semester, which is the general disbelief that a life can really be over, as though there is a mental block that stops one from understanding that death is most certainly a thing. Nao talks about watching them roll Jiko onto her back and lay a sheet over her, and worries that she might be suffocating under the sheet even as she is aware that the sheet, completely still and unmoving, cannot cause Jiko any harm anymore. She compares Jiko’s skin a day letter to “a sack, a skin bag”, needing the coldness of dead skin to confirm that Jiko was no more.
In A Tale for the Time Being, Nao comments on the fleetingness of “now”, of the present, alive only in theory, for once it’s spoken it disappears. As I type “now”, this nowness has been lost. The present exists only in theory, time consisting of future and past more than the present. There is no now, only before and after, the beginning and the end. While beating a drum at the temple, Nao contemplates the present, the line between silence and noise, the moment of the drumbeat, the presence of sound. “Finally I achieved my goal and resolved my childhood obsession with now because that’s what a drum does. When you beat a drum, you create now, when silence becomes a sound so enormous and alive it feels like you’re breathing in the clouds and the sky, and your heart is the rain and the thunder. Jiko says that this is an example of the time being. Sound and no-sound. Thunder and silence.” (289) Because the concept of now is so difficult to grasp, it’s simpler to see now in the context of it’s opposite “then”. Teetering on the edge between sound and silence, now exists as a qualifier of time rather than a moment in time. The moment now is acknowledged, it vanishes, as quickly as a single beat of a drum. Dōgen Zenji’s views on time materialize here: all moments are interconnected, time is forever changing and existence is as fleeting as the now.
For both Nao and Ruth, moving away from nowness provides a necessary escape. Both women have experienced displacement, a sense of being the “other” in their own life. Both were uprooted, Nao moving from California to Japan, and Ruth moving from the city to a secluded rural island. Nao’s diary exists in a vacuum of sorts, the age of her writings unclear, her words occupying space that is neither past nor future, but a theoretical now, a theoretical space in time. The space of now provides an escape and a seclusion, a spot where Ruth and Nao can meet, and their ideas can converge. Despite the separation between the two women in terms of timelines, their experiences and thoughts align, transcending time and reaching for the ultimate presence, the ultimate interconnectedness. Moving past the concreteness of time, the novel aims towards a more flexible view of time, one that is frustrating if contemplated too deeply. Suffice it to say, time works in deeply mysterious ways in the novel, connecting the disparate and providing a space for interconnectedness that transcends all typical notions of time.
“Does the half-life of information correlate with the decay of our attention? Is the Internet a kind of temporal gyre, sucking up stories, like geodrift, into its orbit? What is its gyre memory? How do we measure the half-life of its drift?” –A Tale for the Time Being (143)
In a normal scenario, an object occupies a space, and it remains in this space as long as it has not run out of time. Time can be preserved physically, such as that of a living, acting person, or it can be preserved linguistically, such as knowing the life history and deeds of said person. When the person dies, everyone they knew dies, and their legacy has faded away, they have stopped existing in time, and their position as a time-being is no more. The internet as an object of space and time seems to run counter-current to Ozeki’s theory on how these vectors influence knowledge and retention.
In Ozeki’s own words the internet acts like a gyre, retaining information instead of water. Time can still decay and die (servers can eventually go down), but this process can be greatly slowed. The efficacy of search-engines insure that points of data that have once been connected maintain that connection. No matter their importance, all information feeds into other information, and since deletion form irrelevancy is almost non-existent, nothing is destroyed. Traditional time-beings function as energy; and to maintain balance old energy must be destroyed as new time-beings emerge in space. The internet betrays this law, as it contains practically infinite space. It is an input with no pressure for an output.
The gyre does not produce flotsam, nor can anything be even jettisoned from it. Somewhat paradoxically, the attempt to remove the information sparks an investigation of the information, which produces more hits and creates more connections, lengthening the life-span of the information. In fact, this phenomenon patterned itself so many times that it was given a name: The Streisand Effect. Even after the moniker of this theory ceases existence as a time-being, the Effect will remain for all to observe. A fitting immortality for this new world of knowledge accumulation.
The guiding question that prompted my paper, “The (Mis)Sight of Whiteness: An Argument for Phenomenological Anthropocentricity,” is: what happens when we reject the specificity (note: uniqueness/specificity ≠ exceptional, better) of the “human” standpoint? Are there phenomena we loose the ability to address when we depart from the idea of a human phenomenological reality?
In “X-Ray,” Timothy Morton argues for a departure from nature romanticized, “green” nature, nature with a capital N. This departure, from what is an “anthropocentric construct, even and especially to the extent that it appears to lie entirely outside of the human domain,” requires a simultaneous transcendence of phenomenological anthropocentrism, or the human perspective and experience of reality. To decenter us from this anthropocentric positionality, Morton utilizes developments from the emergent field of OOO. In my paper, I critique Morton’s departure from anthropocentrism, particularly the OOO emphasis that naturalizes distortions or “departures” between and within beings, on the basis that it risks rendering us unable to address the specific distortions that arise from, or in the very least, are heavily influenced by the human phenomenological standpoint.
I look at Muriel Rukeyser’s “George Robinson: Blues” to argue that certain types of phenomena, certain types of “withdrawal”– such as the withdrawal of the “blackness” of George Robinson under the pervasive cover of white silica dust, and the pervasive, assimilative scope of the white gaze, both entwined in the poem– can only be addressed in contexts that account for the specific phenomenal experience and impact of the human. Morton’s main objection to phenomenological anthropocentricity is the correlationist notion that there are only phenomena, and that reality is only real when measured (by “man”). Veering away from this, he points us in the direction of OOO, to a realm of being that is real regardless of human phenomenal perception. In this movement, Morton posits an equal field of being, where humans exist among other objects, united through the “radical withdrawal” of all things, which is part and parcel of existence.
My argument concerns not so much the irrevocable nature of anthropocentrism, but rather the potential damage that naturalizing “departures” or “withdrawal” between appearance and essence– particularly as it negates the human standpoint as possessing unique phenomenal access and impact to and on the world– can do to those groups of beings, both human and nonhuman, who are impacted by human reality. I examine the expanse of silica dust in “George Robinson: Blues” as marking the literal and metaphorical erasure of blackness that occurred in the abuse at the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel incident. The lines “nobody could have told which man was/ white./” highlight the “withdrawal” of blackness, of the black body, the black reality– which, in this case, is entwined with the silica, a lethal combination, resulting in a literal “departure from reality”: death. The connection between whiteness and the death, the erasure, of black lives at Hawk’s Nest Tunnel tragedy is not incidental or simply metaphoric. Morton gestures that death is a sort of “perfect resonance”; here, death is the result of the “perfect resonance” between the dehumanizing and blind white gaze, which subsumes all difference through negation (death) or assimilation (in this case, also death), and the predominately black bodies who are covered, through an act of lethal neglect or blindness, in the silica which renders them visibly white, accentuating and reifying their invisibility under the white gaze.
My concern is that naturalizing all distortions in reality through a movement to OOO, à La Morton, which does not entertain specifically and uniquely human distortion, such as racism, will render us unable to adequately address, account for, and prevent the harm that can come from “our” own misrepresentations.
If we speak of the “radical withdrawal of all things, paired with the lack of a unique “human”, in this case, “white,” distortion of reality, how are we to account for the “withdrawal”– the gap between appearance and reality which is more than the mismarking of skin color, but a complete erasure of racialized bodies– of the black bodies that died or were otherwise harmed from the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel catastrophe?
Contrary to what Morton suggests, without sufficient access to “our” own human situatedness, “our” phenomenological reality, certain forms of withdrawal or departure, such as the etiolation of the black miners through the neglect of the white gaze, may be left unnoticed or uncriticized, or worse, naturalized: it was a product of the silica, an unfortunate environmental interaction. Like the x-ray, the dominant white, male perspective may be a force of “illumination” that proves lethal in its modality of (mis)sight.
“Vision is always a question of the power to see– and perhaps of the violence implicit in our visualizing practices. With whose blood were my eyes crafted?”-Donna Haraway, The Persistence of Vision
In The Sea and Summer, Alison Conway begins by describing the idyllic pretensions of climate-change induced weather, which harkened back to her summer days: “Roses like sunflowers, dandelions a half meter tall, pansies like velvet plates! It’s the extra CO2, explained the neighborhood know alls, it feeds some plants but it kills others. Which others? We saw no others; they had died off and gone away…” (21). This description, with its attention to the complexity of vision, underscores a central theme throughout The Sea and Summer: the situatedness of vision with respect to sociomaterial positionality. It highlights the visual, literal, and metaphorical effacement of marginalization from the position of the privileged.
The motifs of vision and visual-experiential accessibility through embodied sociomaterial positions directed my thoughts to Donna Haraway’s The Persistence of Vision. In this piece, Haraway revitalizes a “much maligned sensory system in feminist discourse: vision.” Emphasizing the embodied nature of vision, she attempts to “reclaim the sensory system that has been used to signify a leap out of the marked body and into a conquering gaze from nowhere,” which has been intensified with technological advancements mediating access and inquiry, cultivating the sense of an “infinite vision.” The “conquering gaze from nowhere,” has all too often correlated with the Rational White Male, but more generally correlates with the insular nature of dominant objectivity, which stems from a privileged and often “disembodied” position— lacking diversity in the sociomaterial textures of gender, race, sex, class, etc. and their intersections. Veering away from this “infinite vision,” Haraway proposes a conception of feminist objectivity as “situated knowledges,” which is quite simply about limited location and partial standpoints, both of which are situated in particular, embodied, sociomaterial realities, which are only accessible through partial connections: “there is no immediate vision from the standpoints of the subjugated.”
In The Sea and Summer, our primary access to the shape and texture of the Sweet/Swill divide comes from the perspective of the Sweet, with the exception of Swill-born Sweet, such as Nick, whose narratives relate primarily to practical elements in the plot concerning his line of work, which does not correlate with the typical Swill lifestyle or experience. Though we do have access to certain Swill realities— such as that of Billy— they are demonstrated from the standpoints of the privileged Sweet. As the novel unfolds, primarily through the narratives of Teddy and Alison Conway, we see an evolution in a Sweet (or Fringe), orientation to the Swill world, which touches upon the systemic social structure and its enactment of divisive boundaries. Teddy and Alison both begin to reflect upon the genesis and nature of the boundaries which insulate Sweet from Swill reality (and, in some ways, vice versa), as well as their own socioecological relation and interdependency to the Swill reality. Alison begins to acquire a sense of the “knowledge of the faraway,” despite the fact that she “did not starve,” herself (162). Teddy experiences guilt “because all we fortunate Sweet shared responsibility for the existence of this corridor and hundreds like it.” Capturing the implications of Haraway’s question “With whose blood were my eyes crafted?,” Teddy notes that “the revolting smell of the place was the smell of our own bathed and cleansed but forever dirty hands” (222).
My question while reading The Sea and Summer is why do we not have access to the standpoints of Swill? This is a complicated question, for as Haraway writes, “there is no immediate vision from the standpoints of the subjugated,” unless, of course, your standpoint is that of the subjugated. Given the sociomaterial situatedness of the author, it may have been inappropriate or irresponsible to try to include narrations from Swill characters, but I still find myself feeling that Turner’s implicit critique of the Sweet/Swill divide would be more robust if more Swill standpoints had been included. Haraway writes, in accordance with her principle of feminist objectivity, that “the only way to find a larger vision is to be somewhere in particular.” Could Turner have pushed his critique of the Sweet/Swill divide further by incorporating more particular Swill standpoints into the work? Does the lack of Swill standpoints further or unnecessarily encourage their partial erasure in the work, a reflection and reification of the divide itself?
Macroscale figure showing plastic influx and concentration over time (via)
This GIF, showing the macroscale aspect of our computational model, provides structured guidance on the locations of the most highly polluted parts of our oceans. It clearly shows how plastic enters the oceans and subsequently gets trapped in the rotating currents. It also shows that the North Pacific gyre contains one of the highest concentrations of plastic pollution. The resolution of the models used in this part of the world is 1/12 of a degree at best, which corresponds in average to about 10 km.
I didn’t include them here, but if you follow the link, there are also maps of micro and meso scale distribution.