Friends, readers, fellow conspirators; critics keen to judge and judges quick to condemn; supporters and disciples who celebrate me, undeservingly, as the unforeseen reillumination of a flame long ago snuffed out; enemies, implacable and unresting, whom my numberless acts of criminal wrongdoing have accumulated over countless lifetimes; birds of the air, beasts of the field, fishes of the sea, insects of the soil; angels of heaven and devils of hell; ghosts and spirits pervading all worlds, beneficent and malign alike; gods and goddesses who, stupefied by the comforts of the higher realm you presently occupy, improvidently forget your fortunes are subject to reversal; beings unknown, creatures unnamed, and deities unacknowledged: I greet and salute you all without discrimination at the beginning of this new year, extending my warmest regards and sincerest best wishes on this third day of the first month of 2012 when the moon is in its waxing phase, the celestial influences or diamones awakened from dormancy by the Quadrantid meteor shower moving my passive hand, stationary just moments before, and prompting me to write these mysterious but true words which you are reading now, words which, before they are written, and before they reach you, enter my mind as if transferred through an unknown conduit from another dimension.
The foreseen yet nevertheless unsettling surprise of the new year’s arrival affords us the perfect opportunity to reflect on the concept of time. And so, dear reader, I exhort you: instead of reading, between the four walls of your room, the words of the discourse to follow, go out and reflect. Reflect while languishing in the tropical sun or while trembling on the edge of an iceberg. Wander through the desert dying of thirst and reflect. Get lost in the forest and, trapped in a maze of trees as darkness falls, reflect, quaking with terror. Reflect as you descend into the valley. Reflect while seated, legs crossed, on the hazy heights of a distant hilltop. Betake yourself to the coast and reflect as the waves batter the shore, foaming water at your feet; or, if you prefer, go inland, traveling so far from the sea that you can no longer remember what falling waves sound like—and reflect. Reflect amidst the knotted vines and mossy bark of the trees of the jungle, listening to the snake’s hiss, the cockatoo’s song, and the tiger’s roar, and inspired by these alien sounds of nature to pursue your reflections beyond the limit of what would be considered sane, like an athlete of the intellect straining toward the threshold of some unreachable truth.
Where you reflect doesn’t matter, just so long as you reflect elsewhere, far from the false light and mesmerizing influence of this computer screen you sit before now, and the world dedicated to death which produced it. And take heed: when you go to the desert or the forest or the jungle or the mountain or the valley or the coast to reflect, bring no electronic device with you. And if, through inadvertence, forgetfulness, or force of habit, you find that you have brought one along, destroy it as soon as you realize your mistake, and, by dint of this one radical gesture, liberate yourself from the alluring prison of digital life. Flee these cities full of the blind movements and false pursuits of famished ghosts. Escape to some place where no cellphone tower can be seen, where not even the most technologically advanced individual knows what an internet connection is. And supposing you haven’t sufficient enterprise to find this place, this intellectual and spiritual El Dorado? Then seek out a cave—or, better still, go underground, not like a character out of Dostoevsky, but like those animals who fear suffering and death as much as man on whom man has trampled remorselessly from time immemorial: the ant, the worm, the mouse, the mole—all the invisible victims of the neverending hecatombs performed by that two-legged flesh-eating fiend, that paragon of cruelty and perversity, who, though he could subsist on a diet of leaves as happily as a triceratops, elects instead to quit each night’s banquet with the blood of cornered beings defenseless against his attack dripping from his beard.
But wait—you’re still there? pinned to the spot by the poisonous glow of the screen I have so justly proscribed, your eyes scanning the words I have so wisely advised you to disregard? Stop now. Read no further. Averting your gaze from the noxious rays emanating from the Cyclopean eye of this technological monster, turn instead—if you dare—toward your inner light, allowing it to guide you to some remote location, a place unknown to any map, unmonitored by any GPS, a secret even to God Himself. Yet you remain there, where you are, reading.
. . . And so, as I was saying, since you insist on listening and won’t be warned off for your own good:
Time . . .
The concept of time, like every other concept, is meant to make existence more comprehensible to us—but who can comprehend it? To contemplate time is to feed the confusion we’re born into and escape only by fits and starts through the magic of deluded reasoning or the vice of self-deceit. Had we a clear idea of what time is, our manner of expression would mirror our perspicuity, but it doesn’t; on the contrary, where time is concerned, our use of language is so inconsistent as to border on chaotic. We entertain none but contradictory ideas of time—ideas which diverge, clash, and violently contradict each other. Time passes, we say, it marches on. But then, in what seems like the same breath, we proclaim that we’re passing through, or moving forward, in time. Does time pass or is it a passageway? Do we move through it, or is it moving past us? Don’t count on the clever being who invented the concept to decide: he’s too busy playing with metaphors, prompted by a craving to quench his thirst for novelty by multiplying incompatible visions . . . Maybe time is more like water: it slips by; or a clever fugitive—always getting away from us; but then again, we are so liable to lose track of time that perhaps it would be more appropriately compared to a rapidly escalating debt or the labyrinthine plot of one of those overloaded novels. Of time it is also asserted that it can be used well or wasted, and reproach is customarily cast on those culpable of the latter: so maybe time is a precious resource rivaling the diamond in scarcity. But what wonder if, in a society where every pair of hands is all but welded to a steering wheel, a society where you must search with a bloodhound’s nose and detective’s magnifying glass for a place free of that menacing and alarm-provoking apparition of nightmarish impatience, the driver’s face—what wonder if, in a society like this, the prevailing view of time is that it is a road along which we are moving forward? Never mind if time resembles a rug far more than it does a road: a rug that is being pulled out from under our feet—pulled in slow motion, perhaps, but pulled all the same, steadily and unstoppably, a little more each day, each week, each month, year and decade. Which is doubtless why the longer we live the more we lose our balance, if not our faith in the existence of a solid foundation beneath us. Then suddenly, much sooner than we expected, comes the one moment we never planned for (the only one that counts), when, in the grip of a bewilderment almost as great as the one which seized us at birth, we go flying backward, hit our head against our own absence of self as if against a hard wooden floor, and everything around us—once again—goes dark.