Friday, June 15, 2012

"Only A Man Who Lives Not In Time But In The Present Is Happy"

"Only a man who lives not in time but in the present is happy."  So wrote Ludwig Wittgenstein.  (The statement appears in his Notebooks 1914-1916, as translated by G. E. M. Anscombe.)  Easier said than done, of course.

                               Duncan Grant, "Girl at the Piano" (1940)

"To-morrow -- double Janus-headed to-morrow -- blessing and curse of frail humanity.  But for thee, the pleasure of to-day would be Heaven, but for thee, to-day's load of misery could not be borne, but for thee, we should be immortal, and but for thee, I should make my will this instant.  What art thou?  Nothing -- here in Time, where all is to-day.  Everything in that eternity which is but a succession of To-morrows."

Mary Coleridge, in Edith Sichel (editor), Gathered Leaves from the Prose of Mary E. Coleridge (1910), page 217.

Coleridge's references to immortality and eternity are reminiscent of something else that Wittgenstein wrote:  "If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present."  Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Proposition 6.4311 (translation by David Pears and Brian McGuinness).  An alternative translation (by C. K. Ogden) is:  "If by eternity is understood not endless temporal duration but timelessness, then he lives eternally who lives in the present."

      David Chatterton (1900-1963), "Vase with Yellow Chrysanthemums"

All of this can quickly become too abstract, too hard to get a grip on.  The goal -- again, easier said than done -- is to free ourselves of the tyranny of the clock and the calendar.

                         Empty Room

The clock disserts on punctuation, syntax.
The clock's voice, thin and dry, asserts, repeats.
The clock insists:  a lecturer demonstrating,
Loudly, with finger raised, when the class has gone.

But time flows through the room, light flows through the room
Like someone picking flowers, like someone whistling
Without a tune, like talk in front of a fire,
Like a woman knitting or a child snipping at paper.

A. S. J. Tessimond, The Walls of Glass (1934).

                                            Norman Clark (1913-1992)
                            "Flying Kites by a Gas Works near Bexhill"


Dave Lull said...

Too much of a good thing?:

“Alzheimer’s is about living in the present”–ELIZABETH KADETSKY, “Living in the moment, NYTimes, July 8, 2009, 10:15 pm:

A commenter on this NYTimes article, Elizabeth Fuller, points out:
"The cessation of the fluctuations of consciousness may sometimes signal a higher, healthy state, but it can also signal dysfunction and, taken to the extreme, death. We the living need to be bothered and angered and saddened by what we see around us. We need our memories and our projections into the future in order to make progress–scientific and otherwise. From time to time we need to stop and smell the roses, to live in the moment in order to refresh ourselves for the work ahead or to learn to accept those things we must accept, but we ought to thank our lucky stars we can choose to do so . . . ."

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Lull: thank you very much for those links. Yes, this living in the present business is, as I say, easier said than done. Even Ryokan and Han Shan needed to gather firewood and visit the local villages with their begging bowls. And they often bewail their loneliness. We cannot throw everything over. But, still . . .

As always, thank you for visiting.