I have just read the text that your last paragraph links to: Walter Benjamin, On The Concept of History (1940). It has been weeks since we last communicated. I am watching two strangers chat each other up in a bar. From what I can glean of Benjamin’s essay in this context, messianic time is a dramatic intervention into history. The translator says it ‘connotes an objective interruption of a mechanical process, rather like the dramatic pause at the end of an action-adventure movie, when the audience is waiting to find out if the time-bomb/ missile/ terrorist device was defused or not.’
Today, incidentally, is the day the Mayans are said to have predicted the end of the world: 21st December 2012.
As you say, our paper is without basis. It is baseless, directionless, formless, with no reason for itself except for itself – its own readings, or other people’s. I wonder if this is a non-hellish kind of undifferentiated clamour, in which thoughts and ideas are sprinkled liberally into the mix, waiting for their realised selves to wake them with a kiss, and leave the others sleeping. Their value lies in their potential, manifest when combined with a lens from the future – which is of course the place that knows whether or not the car will explode.
So far in South London, the world has not ended. People are saying, didn’t you know that actually the Mayans never predicted the end of the world; just the end of an era.
I am listening to Chopin on my ipod. I am not sure I agree that a disordered hell is a hell written by the rulers of History. I think the hellish aspect is the lack of time – that Nowness of the network which you describe. In answer to a direct question you posed earlier, I do feel an absence of hope, which is not altogether a negative feeling. It is the absence of time, or the slipperiness of it, as it slides out of my twitter feed, or my RSS feed, or the ticker tape running underneath the news story. I experience the Nowness of the network as a kind of opportunity and oppression combined: a terrible pressure to act NOW, and the simultaneous comfort that very soon NOW will be OVER. This is hopeless, because it is impossible to imagine the future except as a place in which you will fail (again) to meet the potential of the moment.
The woman sitting behind me has a voice loud enough to disturb Chopin’s loudest concerto. The confusion over the Mayan calander is clearly no different to the apocalyptic fantasies at the end of the last millennium. I wonder why calendar dates matter so much, and I think it’s because we are really concerned with the past not the future. [What do I mean by we? Human beings I think, or socialised ones, which is to say – human beings that communicate to each other through stories.] The future is unknown, but the past can always be rewritten. Perhaps that is in fact the comfort of the network – its own inevitable move into the past. And that is also the oppression of the network – its canabalistic progress to the new present.
My own method of making peace wiith the oppression of NOW (which includes the oppression of excessive information and global responsibility) is to limit my actions to whatever is possible in the moment. In effect, I am differentiating the clamour: of the clamour I can see, I will only approach one hour of clamour in relation to the paragraphs you have written most recently on a day in which the world won’t end. The man and woman in front of me have stopped speaking, but flick their eyes at each other occasionally to reassure themselves that this is still interesting. The woman behind me is concerned about Christmas. It has been weeks since we last communicated. The Guardian newspaper online has started a blog about the end of the world.
Is messianic time a type of pause or false ending? A moment where the reader’s breath is held long enough to understand the potential of a thing, as seen from the future? Is this paper a kind of false ending? A viewing platform alongside the main event? A moment where the reader’s breath is held for a second or two, before she decides what to make of her own performance/ writing/ networks?
In effect, I am not only differentiating the clamour around me but also within myself. I have created a kind of ‘invented persona online’ (she is not academic or nostalgic, and yet she fears the future). And so have you (he is well read, inquisitive and never writes what he already knows). As you say, there is no difference between honesty and errant behaviour here. It is all errantly honest – or as honest as it gets, right and for NOW. And that is how our paper, baseless and formless and as slippery as time itself, nevertheless arrives somewhere. One half of the flirtatious couple has gone to lean over a bannister and make a phonecall. Some of this information is useless, much of it forgotten between the reading and the writing and the reading again. But there is this: a point of departure – the network; and a place to end – hope, time and a vision of heaven/ hell.