Guðbjörg R. Jóhannesdóttir
Thinking... 1) into Sequences... about time and reality
I hear time passing by in the sounds of water flowing endlessly onward onward onward. I sense it passing by with every word and sigh that fall out of my mouth. What is my perception of time and what can I say about it? How do time and realiy meet in our perception and experience? Here I sit and stop to contemplate time, but time never stops, or what? It keeps on running onwards onwards onwards like the water.
(Sigh)... This thing with time, we have been taught to understand it as... linear... that it moves from past... into now, into future... but... time [went for a walk and thought „Time is in the tree, time is in me“... seeing the autumn leaves and thinking about the climate and age we can read from the tree‘s rings... all the events and actions (weathers, reaching out towards the sun, absorbing water and nutrition from the soil) that are this tree... its life process, its forward moving (circular?) process, IS time. That is how we perceive time in reality, we don‘t perceive it as a long line of separated events and actions, but rather we perceive it in the organic living processes in ourselves, others and our environments... When I see, touch, or hear a tree or a glacier or a mountain or a person, I can sense the time it has been there, how it has moved. Gendlin has a great term that we can use to describe ourselves and everything else as the relational resonances 2) and processes we are: organism-person-environment process.3) Last winter when I stood by a little mountain stream above the town of Seyðisfjörður I suddently sensed how this term „made sense““ to/in me: The stream, the rocks, the mountain, the town,the trees, the ocean, the buildings, the roads, me, the people living there, the dogs, the birds; all these are their own organism-person-environment processes at the same time as they are all part of one and the same organism-person- environment process. If we use this term it makes sense to say that time is in me, time is in the tree, time is in you, time is in that wall, time is in this desk, time is in this word] time is perhaps more... (like water?) We have become used to measuring time with our calendars and clocks, but what happens then to time as it is lived? Time passes in different (unmeasurable) ways depending on whether we live it through waiting and looking forward or through joy and flow. How did we live time before the days of clocks and calendars? Through the rythms of bodies and nature; sleep, wake, heartbeat, breathing, menstrual cycle, growth, decay, birth, death... cyclical movements. (Sigh) if we allow ourselves to think with and acknowledge the fact that as human beings we are organic living bodies [organism-person-environment processes]...then we can understand through Husserl‘s concept of retention 4) ... and through Jonna Bornemarks use of that concept in her phenomenology of pregnancy 5) that.... just like the foetus (sigh)... somehow senses holistically... in the womb... without divison into inner/outer, before/after... and how this holistic sense 6) ...it somehow...that whole sense [felt sense of a situation 7) ] at each moment... it... implies 8) ... or it somehow... nourishes the next moment and the next and the next, so it builds up in layers... and that is what retention is... unthematized memories... (sigh)... memories that build up in the body and become patterns that make up everything that we are... and if we think about it in this way... what happens with time?... Then perhaps we could say that the past is also in... is always active in the now... of course it is... so what are we adding to that? ...that the now can change the past because it can change the way the past is active... change some pattern perhaps... if there is some sort of... shift... The idea that there is some holistic sense [felt sense]... of the past and that we can access patterns from the past... (sigh)... and change it in the now [is me too an example of such a shift of pattern?]... and then the past is changed in the way that it is active... and in that way time is not linear but rather [sigh]...circular maybe? (water?)... What about the future then? ... precisely, what is in the now and in the past...also acts in the future....there is always an implying... (sigh) and we could say that it can be seen... in the same way as landscapes... everything that has happened in the past...is layer after layer after layer what the landscape is today (sigh)...and because landscape is not only a physical object, if it were then its past could never change...but if we talk about our perception of it... that is what can change... (sigh)... (art often helps us change our perception of landscape, i.e. the old houses in Seyðisfjörður that Dieter Roth photographed, the photos changed people‘s perception of the houses and the processes that created the houses, they started to feel respect for the history of the houses) and the way we perceive something in the now can affect the future.... Now I think of the story I was once told about the time when the plan in Reykjavik city was to tear down all the old buildings by Tjarnargata and the story of the time when the plan was to harness Gullfoss waterfall for hydroelectric power... (sigh) at the time perhaps people‘s perception of... the past, or the processes that Tjarnargatan and Gullfoss were the result of....people didn‘t perceive Tjarnargata and Gullfoss as worth protecting, as it was perceived later and is perceived today, well some people, like Sigríður from Brattholt, did perceive it back then as something to protect... and by making that decision to protect Tjarnargata and Gullfoss the futures that are Tjarnargata and Gullfoss today became possible...(sigh)... futures that could have been very different if people had not changed their way of perceiving back then... and then these stories of almost loosing Tjarnargatan and almost loosing Gullfoss...also affect the way we sense these places today... we sense some sort of gratitude and...(sigh) somehow...when you sense that something could have been lost then you sense its importance more strongly... So every body; animal, plant or human body... IS (sigh) everything that she has perceived... and all that she perceives today... so somehow perception is the core of everything... it is so powerful, it can do everything, it can change the past... in a way... This is about putting perception of time at the core of it all rather than having a linear order of time at the core.
1) ... = sound of water in background = implying
2)See more on the concept of resonance: Hartmut Rosa. Resonance: A Sociology of the Relationship to the
World. Polity, 2019.
3) Eugene Gendlin. Arakawa and Gins: The Organism-Person-Environment Process. In Saying What we Mean:
Implicit Precicion and the Responsive Order. Edited by Donata Schoeller and Edward Casey. Northwestern
University Press, 2017.
4) Retention is a concept that Edmund Husserl used with the concept of protention to describe perception and
time. Maurice-Merleau Ponty wrote the following about these concepts:
„Husserl uses the terms protentions and retentions for the intentionalities which anchor me to an
environment. They do not run from a central I, but from my perceptual field itself, so to speak, which draws
along in its wake its own horizon of retentions, and bites into the future with its protentions. I do not pass
through a series of instances of now, the images of which I preserve and which, placed end to end, make a line. With the arrival of every moment, its predecessor undergoes a change: I still have it in hand and it is still there, but already it is sinking away below the level of presents; in order to retain it, I need to reach through a
thin layer of time. It is still the preceding moment, and I have the power to rejoin it as it was just now; I am not
cut off from it, but still it would not belong to the past unless something had altered, unless it were beginning
to outline itself against, or project itself upon, my present, whereas a moment ago it was my present. When a
third moment arrives, the second undergoes a new modification; from being a retention it becomes the
retention of a retention, and the layer of time between it and me thickens. […] Time is not a line, but a
network of intentionalities. (Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, þýtt af Colin Smith, London/New
York: Routledge, 1958/2006, bls. 483-484).
5) Jonna Bornemark discusses the feutus‘s being in the womb and how it‘s perception is of another character
than perception is outside of the womb in her writings on the phenomenology of pregnancy. She shows how
this level of perception that is awakened first in the womb is also with us outside of the womb as the
foundation of all perception that we don‘t pay attention to: „But perception is here [in the womb] of another
character. Vision is less important, and hearing takes precedence. There is taste and smell (of the amnioitic
fluid) – but not connected to feelings of hunger. There are no objects in the sense of autonomous and
thematized “things” that are identified as one and the same in the stream of perceptions. The perceptions
are thus not understood as belonging to objects, but flow in a stream, intertwined with other perceptions. These perceptions also linger, in what Husserl calls retention: i.e. non-thematized memories. As retentions
they linger and affect the following experiences. The layers of perception are still few, and each moment is
more filled by its presence than by earlier perceptions or expected later perceptions. Patterns are formed
through what Husserl called passive synthesis, in which layers of experiences through retention are put on
top of each other and form patterns. Some of these patterns are continually there: the rhythm of the mother
breathing, of her heartbeats, of the foetus’s heartbeats, and more sporadically of the mother’s intestines.
These rhythms are felt and heard in a perception where touching and hearing are not separated. Every
sound or pulsation is also magnified through the amniotic fluid. The kinaesthetic feeling of movement is not
yet connected to movement in a world, and there are no bodies experienced as entities that would be held
together, neither of the self nor of others. Instead there are a lot of motions going on, though these are not
yet separated into inner and outer.“ (Bornemark, Life Beyond Individuality: A-subjective Experience in
Pregnancy, í Phenomenology of Pregnancy, edited by Jonnu Bornemark and Nicholas Smith, Södertörn Philosophical Studies 18, p. 255).
6) This situation can be further understood through Husserl’s analysis of experience as two kinds of intentionalities, which he developed in his analysis of inner time consciousness. Husserl distinguishes between
a transverse intentionality and a longitudinal intentionality. Through transverse intentionality, we experience
an object as one and the same in many different and overlapping perceptions. The object is also often
understood as independent of the one experiencing it, and it can be understood as existing “before” it was anticipated and “after” it left our memory (or retention). Longitudinal intentionality, on the other hand, does
not constitute objects, but is present in every transverse intentionality. This intentionality forms the consciousness of the continuity of the movement itself, instead of the continuity of the objects. Through this
intentionality, consciousness is aware of its own unit. This unit is not thematized, and thus objectified, or
put at distance from itself; kinaesthesia is intimately connected to this longitudinal intentionality since the
feeling of the living, moving body always is there as a background experience. The experience of the foetus
could be characterized as an experience where transverse intentionality is unusually inactive, and where the
longitudinal intentionality is prominent. The kinaesthetic longitudinal intentionality of the foetus includes the
rhythms of the mother’s heartbeats and breathings, since these have always been there and are constantly
present. These movements affect the foetus that moves with it: what is later understood as inner and outer
are thus closely intertwined here” (Bornemark, p. 256)
7) Felt sense it a concept that Eugene Gendlin uses to describe how we sense situations in our bodies, as sort of
inner auras or inner landscapes. See Saying what we mean: Implicit Precicion and the Responsive Order. Edited by Donata Schoeller and Edward Casey. Northwestern University Press, 2017; and Eugene Gendlin. Focusing Bantam: New Age Books, 1982.
8) Eugene Gendlin thinks the concept of implying in his book The Process Model, Northwestern University
Press, 2017. These reflections were written into the thoughts that came up in a workshop on the book that
was held by the research project Líkamleg gagnrýnin hugsun/Embodied Critical Thinking in august 2019.
Guðbjörg R. Jóhannesdóttir is an assistant professor in the Department of Art Education at Iceland University of the Arts and a post-doctoral fellow at the Institute for Philosophy at the University of Iceland.