There is no theme that has been more studied and scrutinised than that of time. And the greatest thinkers, philosophical, religious and scientific, in all civilizations, have struggled to understand what this concept could be, whose reality is intuitively obvious, but which escapes any theoretical definition: Is it a material reality? an invention of the mind? Does it have a beginning? If it does not have a beginning, how can we think of an infinite time in the past; and if it does have a beginning, what existed before the beginning of time, and who decided its beginning? Is it reversible? Irreversible? Is time measured by ageing or is it alien to it? How can we explain that the present moment is immediately replaced by another present moment? What is there in time beyond death?
All philosophical thoughts have been shattered by these questions. All religions have tried, in vain, to provide an answer. Science is still groping: after having considered it as a material reality, then as a universal abstraction, then as a relative concept, because there are as many times as there are observers, science is now stumbling over the relationship between the space-time of quantum physics and that of general relativity; some people thought they had found an elegant way of reconciling them, by adding other dimensions, through the string theory, which remains unsatisfactory and is now on the way to being overcome.
In the prosaic reality of our lives, the complexity of time is just as great: there is universal time, which gives rhythm to the great geological, biological and climatic evolutions. There is political time, which belongs to whoever has power, whether religious, political or commercial, and which is revealed by the highest position of the clock, on the church tower, the façade of the town hall or the entrance to the station. There is economic time, which is imposed by the factory time clock and by the accounting of working hours as a measure of the value of things and the exploitation of employees. There is personal time, which remains occupied by the fear of death, which each person furnishes in his or her own way: by praying, reading, working, consuming, writing, learning, loving, playing. This personal time is now divided into ever shorter moments; into hours, then minutes, then seconds, then milliseconds. It is as if we had to obtain gratification as often as possible, in the form of purchases, clicks or likes, all of which are translated into increasingly pervasive market values. For the omnipresent capitalism, not a second of our lives should be without consumption. For politics, not a second of our lives should be without reflection. And for all that, not one second of our lives should be shared: only solitude drives consumption and forbids true reflection. Company is an opportunity for conversation, pleasure, love, the negation of commercial exchange. Capitalism hates the meal, an opportunity to converse and to speak ill of itself. It loves fast food, social networks, online shopping sites, or digital subscriptions. He doesn’t even offer us meditative solitude in return. Just a whirlwind of crowd activity, to make us forget death by tyrannical artificial novelties, and by the accumulation of real or virtual possessions, which reassure us by leading us to think that we cannot die before we have really consumed them. Thus we destroy the world, nature, the climate, humanity, by wanting to escape our fear of dying.
If we want to get out of this suicidal slide, we must at all costs rediscover the value of shared time, outside of all market activities and all totalitarian constraints. Time for conversation, music, meals, sports, live shows, rebellion, becoming oneself. It is by marvelling at the time of the Other, (in particular the unborn, who are waiting for us on the other side of time) that we will give meaning to our own.
Painting: Nicolas Poussin, Allegory of Human Life or Dance of Music and Time, 1640