Saturday, 18 April 2020

Coronavirus Kairos: #1 Time

This post is the first under the umbrella of Coronavirus Kairos. These entries will look at various cultural, sociological and/or political aspects of living in the time of Covid 19, taking a predominantly philosophical approach to a number of themes that affect our lives. I hope you enjoy them.


Many individuals are noticing a change of temporal perception during lockdown. Some of these 'feelings' around the passing of time are also somewhat contradictory: one can feel that time has slowed down while in the moment, but when looking back over a period of days, or weeks, time can also seem contracted.

A recent article in Aeon, entitled 'Time alone (chosen or not) can be a chance to hit the reset button', by a psychologist, examines solitude and the effects of it on our emotions, offering a term called 'dispositional autonomy' that is presented as being more significant than that of the introvert versus extravert dichotomy in dictating whether, as individuals, we cope better with extended time in solitude.

While today's psychologists might take a specific and very contemporary look at the effects of time in lockdown, philosophers and scientists have been discussing and measuring time for millenia, with various terms being invented to describe it. In Classical Greek philosophy two specific terms can be associated with time: kairos and chronos. Kairos is tied to action, which have an effect in regard to being applied to a specific set of circumstances. Chronos is concerned with the order of time (its sequential nature) and is seen as being consistent and external to individual interpretation.

These two terms could be considered to be connected through another term, telos, which means 'end' and 'goal'. For G.W.F Hegel telos was attached to history inasmuch as it progresses in a temporal fashion, phenomenologically influenced by the becoming of all the factors that underpin its flow towards this endpoint, its purpose. Of course, for Hegel, this is always influenced by the immanence of spirit as an expression of God. We can see here how kairos, as an action, can be attributed to historical moments in time, with chronos being the bedrock in which these take place - the underlying directional structure that propels time 'forwards'. In our current "corona time" (as I like to call it) we could view telos as being the historical place covid 19 has - and more importantly, will eventually have retrospectively - in the timeframe of a greater history, as yet not unfolded. Kairos could be the actions we take in this period that will affect that history.

Another useful time-related phenomenological term is one formulated by Edmund Husserl: "standing streaming". Standing streaming is concerned with the "living present". This term, I feel, is more relevant to how we are all coping with "corona time", thus: "It does not flow through time; it is, rather, that time flows through, or wells up, within, it - the absolute, living source-point of all constitution" (Smith 2003: 98). Here we can see articulated how living in the moment feels. It is the experience of the lived experience, in a sense, inasmuch as it is specifically individual, with a sense of self that becomes the linchpin of that experience. I like to think of standing streaming as being the 'I' that recognises the 'I' in the moment, however, I am not absolutely sure if Husserl sees it that way. Actually, there is probably a better model that would describe that effect, which is second-order observation (a term associated with autopoieses, which is about observing oneself observing something - see Maturana and Varela). I think second order observation coulod very useful for some people at this moment. It may help us watch our own thought as if we are an observer, providing some much needed critical distance if we are feeling anxious.

I would like to just take a look at one more approach to time. In Difference and Repetition Gilles Deleuze sets out his own definitions of the past, present and future (I find this book really difficult, The Logic of Sense is a walk in the park in comparison). For Deleuze the event is a process of becoming and differentiation. It is also not something that takes place between the past and future - which is how we would normally consider it and, even, experience it. It is, rather the the processual nature of becoming inasmuch as a 'happening' does not culminate in an event as such, it is always in flow (I hope I have go this right). "The event is not what is rather inside what occurs, the purely expressed. It signals and awaits us (Deleuze 2004: 170). For Deleuze, everything is present!

Deleuze, G. 2004. The Logic of Sense. Continuum.
Smith, A.D. 2003. Husserl and the Cartesian Meditations. Routledge.