Symbolism of Place
IV. The Place Of Time
In this section of the book we move from a classification of places to a consideration of the abstract qualities associated with these places. We suggest these qualities are time, space, phenomena, color, numbers, elements and psychology. The major investigative method in the previous section centered around description. The dominant method in this section centers around discovering relationships between places and these qualities and also the particular types of related stories. We are less concerned with describing these qualities than we are with examining their relationships to place.
As we have noted, the Theory of Correspondence proposes relationships between various realms of the world. Qualities associated with places may be analogous to these correspondences. In fact one might define of this group of place qualities as "correspondences" of place. For example, one important hypothesis of the Theory of Correspondences is that it is a relationship between various sensory data. Perceptions based on sight are hypothesized to have relationships with those based on sound, taste and touch. A particular color has a relationship with the vibrations of a particular sound which also has a relationship with a particular taste and a particular touch.
We propose a similar relationship between place and the qualities of time, space, natural phenomena, color, number, elements and psychology. For example, the place of East is related to the time of birth and Spring, the space of above, the phenomena of a clear sky, the colors of yellow and white, the number two, the elements air and fire and a psychic feeling of hope and renewal. In addition there is also a correspondence with the particular romance story genre. Obviously, we cast a wide net for qualities related to places. Hopefully the reader will come to agree that our net is not cast too wide and that we are not claiming too much under the "umbrella" of the symbolism of place.
We begin this section with the phenomena of time. It is something that the Bhagavad Gita notes "has engendered everything that has been and will be." Of all the aspects we will discuss, time is probably the most questionable as a prey for the "net" of our investigation and a concept to include within the symbolism of place. One can argue that time is not a place but rather a phenomena, a particular way of perceiving the world. In this chapter we attempt to show that time has a strong relationship to place. While time does not necessarily contain places, places always contain time.
The subject of time has been a pervasive one throughout history with many thinkers from all over the world investigating it and attempting to discover its secrets and mysteries. One of the major observations they have arrived at is the paradox expressed as the basic dicotomy of time. This dicotomy involves the observation that the nature of time is both linear and cyclical. The major symbols of these two characteristics is the line and the circle. It is seen as both a creator or life and a devourer of life and is concerned with descent from origins as well as a cyclical return to origins.
This dichotomy can be seen in some of the more pervasive historical symbols of time. The linear nature of time is represented in symbols such as the hourglass, the clock, the scythe and the Reaper. The linear aspect of time suggests a constant movement away from the past into the present and toward the future. In this forward movement, time is seen as a type of devourer of life. The Upanishads says that "time, which in progressing, destroys the world." And The Black Kali depicts time as the pitiless destroyer. In this sense, time is viewed as moments which are lost forever when they fade into the past. The cyclical nature of time as a type of circle are seen in symbols of the serpent and the turning wheel.
The dichotomy of time seems to have relationships with a number of other universal concepts, motifs and world views particularly the world views of the Greeks and Christianity. Early Christian religion expresses the linear concept of time while the cyclical nature of time is found in Greek philosophy. This point is underlined by Henri-Charles Puech in his essay "Gnosis and Time" from the Eranos Yearbooks volume on Man and Time:
"...the Greek world conceived of time as above all cyclical or circular, returning perpetually upon itself, self-enclosed, under the astronomical movements which command and regulate its course with necessity. For Christianity, on the contrary, time is bound up with the Creation and continuous action of God; it unfolds unilaterally in one direction, beginning at a single source and aiming toward the future; it is one, organic and progressive..."
There are also relationships of these two views of time with other things such as the primitive and modern world and with eastern and western cultures.
The cyclical nature of time is brought forward through much of the writings and thought of Mircea Eliade and especially in his book The Myth of the Eternal Return. One of the major points Eliade makes is that time is not linear to primitive religious man. It does not possess a lost beginning in the past and an always retreating end in the future. For religious man of archaic cultures "the world is renewed" annually.
This belief can be observed in relation to rites and festivals and especially those centering around the New Year. For ancient cultures the time of each new year recovers the original sanctity, "the sanctity it possessed when it came from the Creator's hands." New Year involved a symbolic "abolishing the past year and past time." It was not simply a matter of a temporal interval coming to an end and another one beginning. As Eliade remarks:
"...all the 'sins' of the year, everything that time had soiled and worn, was annihilated in the physical sense of the word. By symbolically participating in the annihilation and re-creation of the world, man too was created anew; he was reborn for he began a new life."
He notes that this was a method for primitive man to symbolically become "contemporary with the cosmogony" in that "he was present at the creation of the world."
The method of repeating creation was a symbolic method for regenerating time. It was a technique for emerging from linear, historical time and recovering primordial time. In this way time was able to begin again as sacred time. Eliade remarks that by "participating ritually in the end of the world and in its re-creation, any man ... was born anew." This recreation was accomplished chiefly through festivals and rituals. Eliade observes that a "festival always takes place in the original time" involving a "sacred event" which is "ritually made present". The participants in the festival become contemporaries of the mythical event.
The abolishment of time practiced by primitive man in rituals was related to spiritual concerns and also to another quality of place, that of space. While this absence of time symbolized the path to enlightenment and eternity, it also symbolized the place of the sacred center which is at rest and immobile. In La pensee de l'Asie et l'astrobiologie, Rene Berthelot notes that this center of time was closely associated with the division of space and most particularly the division of space represented in the seven days of the week. It was this awareness of the seven directions of space (two for each of the three dimensions plus the center) that gave rise to the projection of the septenary order into time. Sunday, the "day of rest", corresponds to the center and, since all centers are linked with the "Center" of the divine source, it is therefore sacred in character. The idea of rest is expressive of the notion of the immobility of the "center", whereas the other six directions are dynamic in character. The reader should take note of the correspondences above between place, time, space and numbers.
1. Linear Historical Time
With linear and historical time we are interested in time that does not repeat itself but moves forward from an original beginning towards a final end. Within this framework there are the concepts of past, present and future. Our concern is to show relationships between place and these dimensions of time and various types of story forms or genres.
Of course the concepts of the past, present and future extend far beyond story genres to encompass world views and entire philosophical systems. Orientations towards one of these dimensions serve as the basis for religions as well as cultural and historical systems. Our purpose here is certainly not to investigate these various orientations towards time but to simply show that we are touching on only a small part of their dimensions and this part only in a brief and cursory manner.
For instance, one could argue that the various systems of psychology involve either past, present or future orientations towards time. In this sense, the theories of Jung, Freud, Skinner, Rank and Becker might be viewed on a type of time continuim basis. For Carl Jung, the past orientation focuses on the "collective" past beyond the individual past, the places made accessible to us in dreams. Sigmund Freud focuses on the personal past of the individual and the strongest symbolism of place is associated with early memories and fantasies. The present is the focus of B.F.Skinner's work and behavior is explained in terms of immediate stimulus and response to immediate environment, or place. For Otto Rank and Ernest Becker, the place of the future is the focus of inquiry and man's psychology is to be understood as a positioning towards this future place.
While this type of speculation might be interesting and worthwhile it can lead us far off our present course. Psychology though does need to be kept in mind as an aspect of place.
For our current purposes we can make a general observation relating to the use of linear time in place and stories. While cyclical time becomes more of a part of the dramatic movement of the particular story, linear historical time tends to define particular types of genres.
In the following sections on past, present and future time we attempt to simply touch on these areas and suggest a few examples. The topic is broad and is the subject of current and future work of other investigators.
Story genres which use the past as a setting involve interpretations of the world as it once was. On an international scale of course the myth, fairy tale and fable focus on this past time. In America the type of story forms where the use of the past is most evident are in the genres associated with epic, adventure, western, war, detective and gangster stories. While the general focus of the epic and adventure genres has been on a world past, the focus of the western, detective and gangster genres has been on an American past.
The subject of civilization's past is associated with epic biblical films from the earlier years of American cinema such as The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur and Cleopatra. These films concern the mythical time of the creation of civilizations when Gods ruled the world. The distant past of the ice age and the age of the cave man has been the subject of American interest evidenced by the animated television series The Flintstones and the novels of Jean Auel such as The Clan Of The Cave Bear.
The American cultural past finds its most popular expression in the genre of the western and particularly western films of John Ford. On television, the myth of the American past has found popular acceptance in such popular television series as Little House On The Prairie, Wagon Train, Rawhide, Gunsmoke and Bonanza.
The past of the twentieth century finds expression in a number of popular genres such as detective, gangster and war. Each one of these genres focuses on a specific period of twentieth century American history and the major types of heros from these periods. The gangster genre focuses on the prohibition era of the 20s and 30s and the hero is the urban lawman such as Eliot Ness from the series The Untouchables who battles the gangsters. Sometimes the gangsters switch positions and become the heros such as in the movie Bonnie And Clyde. The detective genre of film and the parallel hard-boiled genre of literature celebrate the era of the 40s and the individual detective hero working against organized crime. And of course the war genre focuses on the Second World War.
The past we have discussed above represents the historical and cultural past. Within the general dimension of this past dimension there is also a personal past of each individual. This personal past is a product of the human capacity for memory and centers on the period of youth and the emerging consciousness of the individual from unconsciousness. The distinctive mode of this past we can define as that of romance and nostalgia for a golden time that once was and will never be again. It is an important point which is not forgotten by the best-selling romance writers in creating historical romances, that sub-genre of romance which leads all literary genres in popularity.
The present time dimension probably found its most extreme expression within the literature mode of storytelling and the "stream of consciousness" technique. Around 1900, writers with an interest in technique began to explore the minds of characters in a new manner. The term was created by William James in his book Principles of Psychology. Truth is viewed as a constant process rather than a state. In The Novel and the Modern World, David Daiches says:
"Novelists who employ the stream of consciousness would deny that character portrayal is possible for the fiction writer at all: character is a process, not a state, and the truth...can be presented only through some attempt to show this process at work."
The form was developed and practiced by James Joyce in Ulysses and Virginia Woolf in To The Lighthouse. It probably found its greatest expression in the words of Molly Bloom in the closing pages of Ulysses. Here is part of the famous monologue of Molly Bloom:
"theyre so weak and puling when theyre sick they want a woman to get it well if his nose bleeds youd think it was O tragic and that dyinglooking one off the south circular when he sprained his foot at the choir party at the sugarloaf Mountain the day I wore that dress Miss Stack bringing him flowers the worst old ones she could find at the bottom of the basket anything at all to get into a mans bedroom with her old maids voice trying to imagine he was dying on account of her to never see thy face again though he looked more like a man with his beard in the bed father was the same besides I hate bandaging and dosing when he cut his toe with the new razor paring his corns..."
It was a focus on the unfolding of the present to the almost total exclusion of other time frames of reference.