The other day I got a call from an insurance company that offered me two options: I could go see them and they would make me an offer for the insurance, or they could "send a man" to me. A third option was of course also available — to decline as I had done many times before. Life had been pretty quiet lately which made the idea of a visit from a stranger seem kind of exciting. Somehow, it felt fitting — fragile and slightly uncomfortable, just how I had been feeling. I’d also been thinking an unusual amount about life insurance recently, so I took this as a clear sign to get things done. And then he arrived, the insurance agent, at noon one day. Exactly as I’d pictured him, in a suit and with a briefcase — which was soft, not hard like I’d imagined it. He stood before me, younger than I’d expected, his dark grey suit shining slightly – like damp concrete. Before I could say it was unnecessary to remove his shoes, he’d slipped them off and stepped onto the parquet in his light brown socks. I offered him coffee, which he accepted. Before he arrived, I’d broken chocolate into pieces in a little bowl. Standing in front of the bowl in the kitchen, it became clear to me that the chocolate was too intimate, too personal, almost rude. I shouldn’t put it out. I walked into the living room with the coffee and noticed that he wasn’t looking around. It would have been fine with me if he had. If he wanted to ask about the books, the pictures on the walls, or the stones on the window sill. This is probably something they’re required to do when they go into people’s homes — to pretend they’re not quite there. Somehow it didn’t really fit his character. He wasn’t the closed type, more transparent, I’d even go as far as saying he was “emotionally available” — which is a very good quality, but of course not really necessary for our interaction. The light in the living room revealed that he was a redhead, which was a pleasant surprise. I hadn’t noticed that in the windowless hallway. We sat opposite one another at the dining room table, each with our computers in front of us, playing some kind of insurance poker, where I couldn’t tell him what my terms were with my insurance company. My favourite part was when he walked me through the basics of health insurance and explained the four different disease categories to me. The insurance companies organise the diseases into these categories — in consultation with doctors, I guess. He said: You go blind. It doesn’t matter how you go blind, whether you lose your eye in an accident or develop an eye disease, you just go blind and you get ten million. But then later on, you go deaf and you don’t get a thing because deafness is in the same category as blindness. If you get cancer though, you’ll get another ten million because cancer is in a different category. He was so calm and clear when he said all this that I felt all at once mesmerized and distressed. In the end, the offer he made was only slightly better value than what I already had, which clearly disappointed him. He added some extra benefits and I said I’d “think about it” and at the same time, I wondered if there was a more boring phrase — or a more boring attitude towards life — so I added, “though I’m aware that neither disease nor death gives you a chance to think about it.” He said nothing, but bent down on his left knee to put on his shoes. I saw under the sock on his left foot and it had rubber grips — like children’s socks — to not slip on the parquet.
Margrét Bjarnadóttir (b. 1981) is a multidisciplinary artist working in the fields of dance, performance and visual arts. In the past years she has moved between choreography, photography, text work, drumming, glass cutting, video pieces and writing. Margrét´s most recent works include the choreography for Björk´s Cornucopia and the guitar ballet, No Tomorrow, which she created with Ragnar Kjartansson and Bryce Dessner for The Iceland Dance Company.
Margrét H. Blöndal
These crags I knew of yore,
when I was but a youth;
amongst them I had many a door,
wondrous cupboards are there. 1)
Pinch me when I space out
When I don’t know where I’m stepping
or about to fall into slippiness.
I can’t figure out floor plans.
Yes, I wanted to run into the bright summer night
wanted to sing in a backyard with friends
pulled by still another force.
Square metres are alien to me.
Sometimes presence muddles and the words are lost
— sometimes absence sharpens and the words find their way.
Lion's tooth, lion's tooth when were you a dandelion?
Um… wait — what do you mean — just now — yesterday?
In tight bushes
and tall grass
the eye traces a path,
while the foot none.2)
1) From Jón Árnason’s collected Icelandic folklore.
2) Traditional Icelandic verse.
Margrét H. Blöndal (b. 1970) lives and works in Reykjavík. She completed her MFA at Rutgers University. Recent exhibitions include solo shows at Fort Worth Contemporary Arts (US) and Reykjavík Art Museum (IS). Her work has featured in numerous group exhibitions, including: the 6th Momentum, Moss, (NO);Manifesta 7, Trentino (IT) and Kunstverein Baselland (CH). In 2009, she was the artist-in-residence at the Laurenz Haus Stiftung, Basel (CH). Margrét has taught studens from kindergarten to University level. Margrét is represented by i8 galleri Reykjavík.
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 process3). 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 retention4) ... and through Jonna Bornemarks use of that concept in her phenomenology of pregnancy5) that.... just like the foetus (sigh)... somehow senses holistically... in the womb... without divison into inner/outer, before/after... and how this holistic sense6) ...it somehow...that whole sense [felt sense of a situation7) ] at each moment... it... implies8) ... 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.
to explain the division of the senses
No sound to reflect
the radiance of time“
to explain the division of the senses
No sound to reflect
the radiance of time“
(Patti Smith & Fred Smith, It takes time)
The concepts “real” and “time” are necessary deceptions – made-up constructs that cannot withstand any close scrutiny but nevertheless represent, however uncomfortably, the fundamental framework of our self-reflection as well as our spatial and interpersonal relations.
Each of us decides – as if this was any other mundane task – what constitutes “real” in the world. This requires, however, that most of what presumably actually is “real” is ignored – the perceived “real” world arises through the filtering of the senses and our inability to process more than a small fraction of the vast amount of information that we are presented with.
The collective imagination that we share a single common “reality” is a coarse but typically unavoidable approximation. A part of this approximation of an imagined “reality” is the idea that we jointly participate in a flow of time – time that we can neither see nor measure, but without which we can have no existence, no voice, no imagination.
When discussing “time,” we often treat the future practically as a concrete entity, in spite of it never having existed and the fact that, by definition, it will never be experienced. Similarly, it can be argued that the past can be viewed only as an abstract construct – a combination of all possible pasts. We build a mental picture of the so-called past from the entangled network of entities that we sense in the present, entities that (seem to) pile up more rapidly than they disappear or decay.
What we are left with, therefore, is the present moment alone. This small (but not infinitesimally small) interval that we are stuck in is, however, similarly elusive – we do not share our present with others and not even with our closest environment. We do not know how to define the extent of the present, we only know that it is fleetingly short and never-ending – when it ends, everything ends.
The physical laws of nature are generally symmetric with respect to the direction of time and, consequently, any discussion about time passing forwards or backwards is meaningless – with the exception of the inevitably increasing entropy of the universe, seeking to wipe out everything to which we ascribe meaning. In this context, our existence and our creativity can be considered as instances of time locally flowing backwards. Were the universe to start contracting instead of expanding, this would be reversed, meaningful entities would spontaneously and constantly come into being and those possessing the ability to find ingenious ways of temporarily halting the ceaseless universal creativity would be called artists.
It is quite possible that paradoxes involving the unreality of time and reality are best “solved by walking” – solvitur ambulando – as Diogenes of Sinope allegedly did when presented with Zeno’s argument for the impossibility of motion. This judgement, however, is best left to the readers to render for themselves.
Kristjan Leosson holds degrees in physics, engineering and philosophy. During the past two decades he has mainly focused on applied research in optics, materials science and nanotechnology, within academia, industrial research institutes and start-up companies. He has also participated in many collaborative cross-disciplinary projects with specialists from a wide range of fields, from biology and pharmacology to design and visual arts. He currently works as Technical Director of the start-up company DT-Equipment.