Alright, this goes back a little from what we’ve recently been reading about in class, but in chapter six of A Good Book, In Theory by Alan Sears & James Carins, Sears & Carins discuss the concept of time. As the world became more industrialized, and technology advances, there becomes a stronger and stronger reliance on “clock-time”. The clock literally runs our lives now. We watch this mechanical object as it breaks down time into literally measurable moments and marks them for us. As you sit in the classroom of a long lecture, or you anxiously await the end of your shift at work, your eyes drift to the clock, marking every second that more often than not, seems to move excruciatingly slow. This idea of “clock-time” is socially constructed. As our societies have advanced, we’ve become more reliant on a way to mark and measure time.
In order to understand the concept of time, we have to be able to apply it to history. This is where the concept of historical imagination comes into play. “We begin with the simplest idea: we cannot know the future,” (Sears & Carins, 144). We cannot know the future. Let that resonate with you for a moment. Got it? Alright, so, if we cannot know future, then we must rely on the past to predict what may or may not happen in the future. We go on everyday planning out tomorrow and the next day and the next until we’ve planned out our entire week. But we cannot know that that week is actually going to happen. In the movie, The Vow, a young woman, Paige, ends up in a tragic car accident from which she suffers injuries to her brain. As most patients who suffer brain injuries, she’s kept in a medically induced coma until her doctors see improvement and healing in her brain. When Paige is woken up out of her coma, she’s woken to a world she doesn’t know. Her concept of the present and her recent past is gone. There is a man in the hospital room with her when she wakes up, along with another woman. The man, she finds out, is her husband, Leo. Her memories of roughly the past five to ten years of her life are gone. As the film goes on, Paige tries to put together the pieces of her recent past to see if her memories will come back. She even makes a timeline of some photographs, describing a decent amount of the pictures as being “in the lost years”.
“Our understanding of society and of our own lives is necessarily retrospective. We look back from the present, which is the latest moment in the process of development. We can understand the world around us only by asking how it got to be this way,” (Sears & Carins, 147). Throughout the film, Paige continuously asks questions about her recent past, and the things that she cannot remember. By doing this, she is trying to find ground to stand on in the world she is living in, but does not recall. Children, and adults alike, do this very same thing, often without more than a moment’s thought. As we go throughout our day, we don’t consistently ask, “How did that chair get there?”, “Where did ‘x’ come from?” unless we’re analyzing a new area (or just doing some strange math problems). We know that these things are there and/or that these things happen, because they have been there or have happened in the past, so we understand these things to be a sort of constant. A young child, however, doesn’t have a vast knowledge of history (personal or social), so they continually ask the adults and older children around them questions who’s answers may seem obvious. As such, they are the prime example of how we understand our world only by asking how it got to be this way.
Tying this all together now, we understand time, and life within time, only through the society in which we live. Our concept of time in America is not the same as it is for someone living in a country in Southeast Asia. Our society, our culture, sets up the framework for our understanding of the past, the present, and the future. It is through our memories, our teachings, and our social interactions that we are able to understand time in the way that we do. We know the past is the past because we are told that it has happened before the moment we are currently residing in . However, as Sears & Carins put it “…the past is the present.” We are living off of the events that have happened in order to form a prediction, of the future. Time then, is a method to our madness, if you will.
Note: The above image is of Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory”. I found the image rather fitting when talking about time, historical imagination, and the past. It reminded me of the concept of time, not just because of the clocks, but because the clocks are seemingly melting. My mind interpreted that image of clocks melting as “Time is slipping away”. Memory is more than essential to being able to understand time. Without memories, it would be rather difficult to sort out what is the present, what is the past, and what the future may hold. Which reminds me a lot of those with dementia and Alzheimers, which is a topic for a later day. Also, the title of the piece seemed rather suiting as well (and I have only borrowed it for this blog post).