Civilizations and conceptions of time
Sharmat
One of the main methods of encapsulating what a culture is about is it's conception of time. By this I mean their understanding of eras (or lack thereof), their opinion of change, whether it is inherently good or evil and the general teleology of humanity. While every civilization has it's own understanding of time, I think it can generally be categories into three modes of thinking, directly corresponding to modes of governance:

  • Eternal stasis: The view that the world exists in a perfect order imposed by the gods. Usually corresponds with theocratic despotism where the despot is tasked with the maintenance of the hierarchy. Art usually contains no movement and is meant to install a sense of imposing stability. Change (usually expressed through chaos) is inherently considered evil and associated with decline. Humans generally given little to no agency. Ancient Egypt most like this, along with the bronze age near east generally.
  • Messianic suspension: The view that the world is in a preparatory period for the coming of a messiah who will redeem man and the community at large. Traditional Christianity, Mahayana Buddhism and Vashnavite Hinduism most like this. Man is usually considered to be in a degraded state wherein his agency is limited by his negative traits. Art is usually explicitly utopian and oriented either to the redeemed community or the messiah himself. Usually associated with a clergy in ascent within a warrior culture, which is viewed as a sort of "age of men".
  • Progressive time: The view that with human effort man can improve his conditions. Involves a more acute concept of epochs and an improved ability to categorize time generally. Usually associated with dynamic mercantile cultures. Human agency is both possible and celebrated as the main form of legitimacy of action. Divine imposition either takes a backseat to human agency or is revealed through it, with divine favor possibly being measured through ones wealth. 18th century English and the Dutch are most like this.

Tell me what you think of such categories. Should more be added? What are the factors that give rise to them? Is there a physiological/racial element to this? Do they persist even after their associated form of governance falls?
Guest
There's certainly a great deal of overlap between these categories, with there being various historical examples of one leading to the other following the fortunes of a state/society.... Classical Greece and Rome seem to me ideal examples of 'progressive', in a physical against their ideas of degeneration from a previous golden age, the goal of perfecting man/state through cultivation and being far more individualistic than their archaic periods that later turns to messianism when the perfectibility of classical man/state fails leading to despair and then stasis in the fellaheen form of Byzantine/Islam once a messiah is agreed to have arrived, coinciding with demographic/cultural collapse. Germany could be seen as example as well with the confident materialism of Bismark empire to Messianic inter-war years to stasis of thousand year Reich/ DDR/West Germany.

Perhaps the looser social bonds of euro's due to their environment/geography predisposed them to developing individualist progressive societies... but even among gauls, germanics, or ameridians even, individualism was still subsumed into the tribe, with 'progressivism' arising in the cramped urban context of the Mediterranean, where conflict would be more personal in nature.
Guest
Something like Time and Western Man by Wyndham Lewis might be of interest to you...  https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.226089
Vitilitagation
I will use this thread to, once again, shill for Jan Assmann, in my opinion not only the best egyptologist alive, but the best historian, period. His book The Mind of Egypt is full of details on the ancient Egyptian conception of time; which, far from spenglerian generalities, evolved across the thousands of years of egyptian history through many different processes. My own impression is that Egyptian culture evolved from a very "still" view on time to one increasingly more dynamic as different events and disgraces took part in Egypt, and as more centuries of memories accumulated behind of them. Egyptian culture was obsessed with bending time: from making a prayer last forever through its engraving, to trapping eternity inside a sanctuary.

In any case, a good excerpt that could serve as intro for this thread.

[Image: Captura-de-pantalla-de-2022-03-13-16-57-14.png]
Guest
“Hmmm so cyclical time is longhouse and linear time is Cindy.”

What do you think about Yu-Gi-Oh? It made me an egyptophile at a young age. A lot of the aesthetic is brilliant, especially earlier in the franchise and with regards to Ancient Egypt. I don’t remember much about the plot. The main character is the reincarnation of a great Pharaoh. There a few golden “Millennium Items” bearing the Eye of Horus that give the bearer psychic powers. I don’t remember if any involve manipulation of time.
BillyONare
“Hmmm so cyclical time is longhouse and linear time is Cindy.”

What do you think about Yu-Gi-Oh? It made me an egyptophile at a young age. A lot of the aesthetic is brilliant, especially earlier in the franchise and with regards to Ancient Egypt. I don’t remember much about the plot. The main character is the reincarnation of a great Pharaoh. There a few golden “Millennium Items” bearing the Eye of Horus that give the bearer psychic powers. I don’t remember if any involve manipulation of time.
Sharmat
(03-13-2022, 10:58 AM)Vitilitagation Wrote: I will use this thread to, once again, shill for Jan Assmann, in my opinion not only the best egyptologist alive, but the best historian, period. His book The Mind of Egypt is full of details on the ancient Egyptian conception of time; which, far from spenglerian generalities, evolved across the thousands of years of egyptian history through many different processes. My own impression is that Egyptian culture evolved from a very "still" view on time to one increasingly more dynamic as different events and disgraces took part in Egypt, and as more centuries of memories accumulated behind of them. Egyptian culture was obsessed with bending time: from making a prayer last forever through its engraving, to trapping eternity inside a sanctuary.

In any case, a good excerpt that could serve as intro for this thread.

[Image: Captura-de-pantalla-de-2022-03-13-16-57-14.png]

Got the same recommendation from smeed when I discussed the topic with him, I guess I'll have to check the book out. You can kind of see this element of warping time persist into modern Egyptian religious rites, particularly in coptic liturgy. A big part of coptic liturgy is the concept of the cyclical ebb and flow of the Nile, which the liturgy matches in theme with the aim of immortalizing the fertility of the Nile. A seperate thread could be made on cultural continuity between ancient Egypt and modern Egypt, or even just Coptic egypt and Islamic Egypt. It's a fascinating topic.
Vitilitagation
If you wanna check Assmann, you might want to watch some of his conferences. Sadly, most of them are in german, but I found him an excellent speaker.

Sharmat
(03-13-2022, 01:35 PM)Vitilitagation Wrote: If you wanna check Assmann, you might want to watch some of his conferences. Sadly, most of them are in german, but I found him an excellent speaker.

Thank you, I will listen to it tonight. I've been meaning to ask you for a while, what fascinates you so much about ancient Egypt in particular?
Vitilitagation
It's the most fascinating culture until the arrival of classical Greece, the place where Western Civilization started, and has a very rich artistic and symbolic tradition. Akhenaten, in particular, was beyond a doubt one of the greatest men that ever lived. "The first individual".
Vitilitagation
Somewhat related, but have you read Paul Fussel's The Great War and modern memory @ezrapoundlover ?
Vitilitagation
(03-16-2022, 05:37 PM)ezrapoundlover Wrote:
(03-16-2022, 11:20 AM)Vitilitagation Wrote: Somewhat related, but have you read Paul Fussel's The Great War and modern memory @ezrapoundlover ?

I have not, what do you think of it?

I am reading it myself, taking a break from The Deluge, and it's incredible. The author wrote Poetic metre and poetic form, which is probably why he's most well known for (the go to manual for basic english prosody), but he was also a condecorated military officer with many years in service and who fought in WW2. He uses his knowledge in both fields to write a book of sociology on how the way WW1 was fought (mostly by the british) and was, later on, remembered, influenced the men they fought on it. It also treats how the conception of time shifted in western civilization during WW1, so far, mostly on how the view on time signifiers did: there's an excellent passage on how the concepts of "sunrise" or "sunset" changed before and during the war, and how being on a place where the only outside reference was the sky infused both events of a previously unsuspected value. I will post it when I come back home.

It's a very interesting book. It's mostly an essay, so don't expect anything other than Fussell's own personal observations, but they are very good and cultivated ones. As you may imagine, the book also doubles as a history of the context of literary modernism. As he says very early in the book, after yet another excellent few pages on the losing of both innocence and outdated formalities in language.

[Image: Captura-de-pantalla-de-2022-03-17-08-29-44.png]
Guest
(03-10-2022, 07:49 PM)Sharmat Wrote: One of the main methods of encapsulating what a culture is about is it's conception of time. By this I mean their understanding of eras (or lack thereof), their opinion of change, whether it is inherently good or evil and the general teleology of humanity. While every civilization has it's own understanding of time, I think it can generally be categories into three modes of thinking, directly corresponding to modes of governance:

  • Eternal stasis: The view that the world exists in a perfect order imposed by the gods. Usually corresponds with theocratic despotism where the despot is tasked with the maintenance of the hierarchy. Art usually contains no movement and is meant to install a sense of imposing stability. Change (usually expressed through chaos) is inherently considered evil and associated with decline. Humans generally given little to no agency. Ancient Egypt most like this, along with the bronze age near east generally.
  • Messianic suspension: The view that the world is in a preparatory period for the coming of a messiah who will redeem man and the community at large. Traditional Christianity, Mahayana Buddhism and Vashnavite Hinduism most like this. Man is usually considered to be in a degraded state wherein his agency is limited by his negative traits. Art is usually explicitly utopian and oriented either to the redeemed community or the messiah himself. Usually associated with a clergy in ascent within a warrior culture, which is viewed as a sort of "age of men".
  • Progressive time: The view that with human effort man can improve his conditions. Involves a more acute concept of epochs and an improved ability to categorize time generally. Usually associated with dynamic mercantile cultures. Human agency is both possible and celebrated as the main form of legitimacy of action. Divine imposition either takes a backseat to human agency or is revealed through it, with divine favor possibly being measured through ones wealth. 18th century English and the Dutch are most like this.

Tell me what you think of such categories. Should more be added? What are the factors that give rise to them? Is there a physiological/racial element to this? Do they persist even after their associated form of governance falls?

Eliade's the Myth of the Eternal Return is on this subject. What you call stasis is more correctly conceived as 'Cyclical time'; it is a warding off of history, change and development. Often these cycles are accompanied by incredibly complex and ossified social rituals and hierarchies that serve to divert energy away from change. This is the default mode of all people; all of Africa and Papua New Guinea is like this. 

The Messianistic time exists in an uneasy suspension between the latter and progressive time. The Jewish religion cannot decide whether the time leading up to the Messiah is cyclical or progressive. Secular jews lean towards the latter, Haredim and Hasids the former. 

What is important is that progressive time kind of time allows for capitalist accumulation along with it's associated disruptions and rapid changes. It is the backbone of the worldview of civilization.
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