We lack an internal organ for time

“The time element of music is singular: a segment of human earthly existence in which it gushes forth, thereby ineffably enhancing and ennobling life. Narrative, however, has two kinds of time: first, its own real time, which like musical time defines its movement and presentation; and second, the time of its contents, which has a perspective quality that can vary widely, from a story in which the narrative’s imaginary time is almost, or indeed totally coincident with its musical time, to one in which it stretches out over light-years. A musical piece entitled “Five Minute Waltz” lasts five minutes – this and only this defines its relationship to time. A story whose contents involved a time span of five minutes, however, could, by means of an extraordinary scrupulosity in filling up those five minutes, last a thousand times as long – and still remain short on boredom, although in relationship to its imaginary time it would be very long in the telling. On the other hand, it is possible for a narrative’s content-time to exceed its own duration immeasurably. This is accomplished by diminishment – and we use this term to describe an illusory, or, to be quite explicit, diseased element, that is obviously pertinent here: diminishment occurs to some extent whenever a narrative makes use of hermetic magic and a temporal hyperperspective reminiscent of certain anomalous experiences of reality that imply that the senses have been transcended. The diaries of opium-eaters record how, during the brief period of ecstasy, the drugged person’s dreams have a temporal scope of ten, thirty, sometimes sixty years or even surpass all limits of man’s ability to experience time – dreams, that is, whose imaginary time span vastly exceeds their actual duration and which are characterized by an incredible diminishment of the experience of time, with images thronging past so swiftly that, as one hashish-smoker puts it, the intoxicated user’s brain seems “to have had something removed, like the mainspring from a broken watch.”

(pages 531-532)

Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain. Trans. John Woods. New York: Knopf, 1995.

Borrowed from Mile End Branch, Bibliothèques publiques de Montréal. First published in German as Der Zauberberg in 1924.

The idea of the public intellectual

“The idea of the public intellectual in the 21st century should be less about the intellectuals and how, or where, they ought to come from vocationally, than about restoring the highest estimation of the public. Public intellect is most valuable if you don’t accept the construction of the public handed to us by current media. Intellectuals: You—we—are the public. It’s us now, us when we were children, before the orgy of learning, or us when we will be retired; you can choose the exemplary moment you like. But the public must not be anyone less smart and striving than you are, right now. It’s probably best that the imagined public even resemble the person you would like to be rather than who you are.”

Mark Greif. “What’s Wrong with Public Intellectuals?“In The Chronicle of Higher Education. Web. February 13, 2015.

Found via social media.

Pure body bound to time

“Can one narrate time – time as such, in and of itself? Most certainly not, what a foolish undertaking that would be. The story would go: “Time passed, ran on, flowed in a mighty stream,” and on and on in the same vein. No one with any common sense could call that a narrative. It would be the same as if someone took the harebrained notion of holding a single note or chord for hours on end – and called it music. Because a single story is like music in that it fills time, “fills it up so nice and properly,” “divides it up,” so that there is “something to it,” “something going on” – to quote, with the melancholy reverence one shows to statements made by the dead, a few casual comments of the late Joachim, phrases that faded away long ago, and we are not sure if the reader is quite clear just how long ago that was. Time is the element of narration, just as it is the element of life – is inextricably bound up with it, as bodies are in space. It is also the element of music, which itself measures and divides time, making it suddenly diverting and precious; and related to music, as we have noted, is the story, which can also present itself in successive events, as movement toward an end (and not as something suddenly, brilliantly present, like a work of visual art, which is pure body bound to time), and even if it would try to be totally here in each moment, would still need time for its presentation.”

(page 531)

Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain. Trans. John Woods. New York: Knopf, 1995.

Borrowed from Mile End Branch, Bibliothèques publiques de Montréal. First published in German as Der Zauberberg in 1924.

A coherent system for reading images

“I don’t know whether such a thing as a coherent system for reading images, akin to the one we have devised for reading script (a system implicit in the very code we are deciphering), is even possible. It may be that unlike a written text in which the meaning of the signs must be established before they can be set on clay, or on paper, or behind an electronic screen, the code that enables us to read an image, though steeped in our previous knowledge, is created after the image comes into being – in much the same way that we create or imagine meanings for the world around us, bravely constructing out of such meanings something like a moral and ethical sense with which to live. In the last years of the nineteenth century, the painter James McNeill Whistler, allying himself with this notion of an inexplicable creation, summed his craft up in two words: “Art happens.” I don’t know whether he said it with a feeling of resignation or of joy.”

(pages 17–18)

Alberto Manguel, Reading Pictures: A History of Love and Hate. Toronto: Knopf Canada, 2000.

Borrowed from the Bibliothèques publiques de Montréal.

Is time a function of space? Or vice versa?

“What is time? A secret – insubstantial and omnipotent. A prerequisite of the external world, a motion intermingled and fused with bodies existing and moving in space. But would there be no time, if there were no motion? No motion, if there were no time? What a question! Is time a function of space? Or vice versa? Or are the two identical? An even bigger question! Time is active, by nature it is much like a verb, it both “ripens” and “brings forth.” And what does it bring forth? Change! Now is not then, here is not there – for in both cases motion lies in between. But since we measure time by a circular motion closed in on itself, we could just as easily say that its motion and change are rest and stagnation – for the then is constantly repeated in the now, the there in the here. Moreover, since, despite our best desperate attempts, we cannot imagine an end to time or a finite border around space, we have decided to “think” of them as eternal and infinite – in the apparent belief that even if we are not totally successful, this marks some improvement. But does not the very positing of eternity and infinity imply the logical, mathematical negation of things limited and finite, their relative reduction to zero? Is a sequence of events possible in eternity, a juxtaposition of objects in infinity? How does our makeshift assumption of eternity and infinity square with concepts like distance, motion, change, or even the very existence of a finite body in space? Now there’s a real question for you!”

(page 339)

Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain. Trans. John Woods. New York: Knopf, 1995.

Borrowed from Mile End Branch, Bibliothèques publiques de Montréal. First published in German as Der Zauberberg in 1924.

The work of art remains always outside its critical appreciation

“If the world revealed in a work of art remains always outside that work, the work of art remains always outside its critical appreciation. “Form,” writes Balzac, “in its representations, is what it is among us: just a trick to communicate ideas, feelings, a vast expanse of poetry. Every image is a world, a portrait whose model appeared once in a sublime vision, bathed in light, ascribed by an interior voice, stripped bare by a celestial finger that points, in the past of an entire life, to the very sources of expression.” Our oldest images are bare lines and smudged colours. Before the pictures of antelopes and mammoths, of running men and fertile women, we scratched lines or stamped palms on the walls of our saves to signal our presence, to fill a blank space, to communicate a memory or a warning, to be human for the first time.”

(pages 14–15)

Alberto Manguel, Reading Pictures: A History of Love and Hate. Toronto: Knopf Canada, 2000.

Borrowed from the Bibliothèques publiques de Montréal.

The smallness would have been quite irrelevant

“Once the cosmic character of the “smallest” bits of matter became apparent, any objection about the “smallness” of these stars in the inner world would have been quite irrelevant – and concepts like inner and outer had now lost their foundation as well. The world of the atom was an outer world, just as it was highly probable that the earthly star on which we lived was a profoundly inner world when regarded organically.”

(page 279)

Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain. Trans. John Woods. New York: Knopf, 1995.

Borrowed from Mile End Branch, Bibliothèques publiques de Montréal. First published in German as Der Zauberberg in 1924.