Spatial Time

More from Edward S. Casey’s Getting Back Into Place:

“Following Bergson’s lead, we can note that many of the descriptive terms and phrases that we apply unthinkingly to time are spatial in character: a ‘stretch’ or ‘interval’ of time; indeed, a ‘space of time.’ Notice also that when we talk about being ‘before’ and ‘after’ in time, we are invoking a spatial distinction, as is evident when one object is said to be placed ‘before’ or ‘after’ another. Yet we can trace the distinction between before and after still further back — all the way back to place. ‘The before and after,’ avers Aristotle, are ‘in place (en topoi) primarily.’ The ultimate source of the distinction between before and after resides in the way that a given place disposes itself: as having both a ‘forward’ area that is accessible to and continuous with our own embodied stance and a ‘back’ region in which the same place eludes our grasp and view.”

And a little further on:

“Or take Saint Augustine’s offhand observation that ‘we speak of a ‘long time and a ‘short time,’ though only when we mean the past or the future.” But where do we first understand the sense of ‘long’ and ‘short’ themselves if not from our experiences of being in more or less accommodating or demanding, more or less extended or compressed, places?”

2 thoughts on “Spatial Time

  1. Hi Michael,

    You always seem to bring up interesting topics, not precisely sure the reasoning behind this one, other than perhaps your expansive (seemingly) reading list. Nonetheless, this spurred more thinking on my end, something I’ve been touching on here and there anyway for the past few years as I started noting correlations and relationships in space or area, and how they might creatively overlap and be defined or delineated.

    My approach to this is from a designer’s perspective, that all things must occupy space, and we get this ‘intuition’ from the fact that we, as biological beings occupy ‘space’ within the context of this world, our atmosphere, the ‘spaces’ that we live in. I have a feeling, and it’s strong as well, that we attribute ‘spatial conception’ to ‘time’ as it were because we have a very specific understanding of ‘area’ which we experience daily. Even when looking forward in time it is tenuous, for we can’t see the future anymore than we can see the past, save through memory, be it memory of mind, or memory of media. Media indicating pictures, be they paintings, photographs, illustrations or what have you. Generally other media besides memory in the human sense are far more accurate to be sure, because the human mind loses it over time. But the ‘forward’ of a space, may well be conceptual in that you may not be able to see this ‘forward area’ any better than you can see the back, or rearward area. You can only experience the here and now, again, a spatial characterization in ‘here’, meaning ‘this place’ or ‘where one stands/sits/lays’.

    In any case, I think that ultimately we view time as a spatial recognition because our recognition of everything less conceptual in nature is predicated by our understanding of the space we occupy and how other things around us occupy the space we move in, and how we can interact with those objects. We also tend to consider time as moving forward (future) or backwards (past) by our own understanding of how we move within our space. Either stepping forward or stepping back. Even though, it’s not time itself moving anymore than ‘space’ itself moves. It’s how we move through time and space in relationship to other things moving in that same instance and example.

    And so given that I think that spatial recognition of time, and the essence of relationship between time and space is always to be linked by the nature of being human and our perceptions of our environment.

    1. Hey Jamie,

      As I started reading your post, I thought that you really ought to read Casey’s book because he’s getting at a very similar to point what you are making. Then as I kept reading I realized you’d already more or less arrived at the heart of Casey’s argument, which is that our embodied experience of space/place structures our conceptual understanding of time. Interestingly, this is also what Lakoff and Johnson argue in Metaphors We Live By. Our metaphors are more or less drawn from our primal embodied experience. Very interesting stuff. Do check out Casey’s work on this, and if you’re really interested in this stuff you could also take a look at the work of Merleau-Ponty.

      Thanks for the taking the time to make this very thoughtful comment.

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