Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Process, Product, Moment

A process unfolds in time. Its product occupies space. A moment is a coordination of time and space. When Virginia Woolf said that she needed "money and a room of her own" to write she meant that she needed a moment for herself. (A room is a space. Time is money.) Henri Bergson said that "time is that which keeps everything from happening all at once". Space, I add, is that which keeps everything from piling up in the same place. As a "process philosopher", Bergson also believed that everything is always happening, that nothing simply "is", that every being is forever also becoming, that the ostensible "product" is merely a stage in a longer process. Even a mountain does not simply exist. It endures.

In a moment, a "here and now", space and time find their finitude, a volume and a duration, in imagination, which is infinite. A process may be very long or very brief, but it is never unimaginably long or brief; a product may be very big or very small but never unimaginably so. While imagination is infinite, we might say, an image is not; an image suggests a finite space, a finite time, though it is itself nothing and nowhere. In a moment, we form an image of something by associating a product with its process, or a process with its product. We see the drawing, for example, and imagine making it with our hands. Or we make the drawing as we imagine how it will look when finished. In that moment we experience the thing definitely; we imagine how we make it look on the page. To imagine is to appreciate one's finitude.

P.S. As I was writing this post, it at one point occurred to me that I should apologise for how "philosophical" it is. I hope I'll be forgiven. I'm trying to suggest, I suppose, that Kant, Kierkegaard, Bergson, Heidegger and, say, Deleuze were "making progress". On Friday, I'll try to translate these reflections into some practical advice for writers. Today, then, I'm inclined to agree with them that their problems are profoundly metaphysical. Why does it embarrass me to work earnestly on sentences like this? Why is it strange to want to get them right?


Jonathan said...

Interesting that I was teaching concepts of verbal aspect today. There is a different verbal form for actions or states in the past depending on whether they have definite duration (or end or beginning) or are discrete actions taking place a determinate number of times. In the present, we have different aspects depending on whether we are writing (now) or "we write" but not necessarily right now this very moment. We have continuative aspects: sigo pensando... voy entendiendo... In other words, what you are talking about in your post is not time (present future past] but verbal aspect. Durations, progressions, continuations, beginnings and endings.

Thomas said...

Hmm. I'm not sure I'm talking about a grammatical notion. My sense is that I really am coordinating time and space. But I guess grammar does do that. Or has done it. Or will be doing it. Or just does it.

Jonathan said...

I was just looking for a metaphor for what you were doing.

Thomas said...

Ah, I see. Yes, and I am in fact trying to figure out if there is a kind of (perhaps metaphorical) "grammar" of organising these days. Sort of like Lisa Robertson's "Prosody of the Citizen".