A Memory of Now
If you’re of a mind to direct your thoughts away from the particulars of the day — shootings and bombs and recession and government expansion — David Goldman’s essay on the use of rhythm and expectation to imbue a sense of the sacred into music is worth your time. There is a point, though, where our imaginative limitations strain the grand theories:
Augustine is not concerned with time in the abstract, but rather with the possibility of communication between God and humankind. “Lord, since eternity is yours, are you ignorant of what I say to you? Or do you see in time, what passes in time?” Aristotle’s Prime Mover has no need to communicate with humans and, for that matter, no means of doing so. Aristotle’s static time can have no interaction with the eternity of the biblical God—which means that if Aristotle’s description of time as a sequence of moments were adequate, we could not hope to commune with an eternal being.
But Aristotle’s theory, in Augustine’s view, leads to absurdities. To consider durations in time, we must measure what is past, for the moment as such has no duration. Events that have passed no longer exist, leaving us in the paradoxical position of seeking to measure what does not exist. Augustine’s solution is that memory of events, rather than the events themselves, is what we compare. “It is in you, my mind, that I measure times,” he concludes. If the measurement of small intervals of time occurs in the mind, then what can we say about our perception of distant past and future? If our perception of past events depends on memory, then our thoughts about future events depend on expectation, and what links both is ”
“consideration.” For “the mind expects, it considers, it remembers; so that which it expects, through that which it considers, passes into that which it remembers.”
Expectation and memory, Augustine adds, determine our perception of distant past and future: “It is not then future time that is long, for as yet it is not: But a long future, is ‘a long expectation of the future,’ nor is it time past, which now is not, that is long; but a long past is ‘a long memory of the past.'” This is the insight that allows Augustine to link perception of time to the remembrance of revelation and the expectation of redemption.
If one knows the rules that a particular piece of music is following, then the musical moment has a sort of intrinsic memory even apart from the past and future, telling the tale of what’s been and what is yet to come. In life, this is especially true. Imagine that you could freeze everything else but you in time; you could pick somebody you don’t know and inspect the incidentals of his or her life and learn quite a bit the individual’s past and future. Layer into that an ability to measure momentary emotions, and differences in perception of the passage of time aren’t really an obstacle to communication.
My point is this (I suppose): We communicate with each other and with God through our actions. Indeed, it’s central to the Christian understanding of Jesus that God communicated with us in precisely that manner.
Of course, my remarks, here, are wholly tangential to Goldman’s discussion of the intersection of philosophical and musical theory, which, dealing in two human conventions, can be complete of its own accord.