Time is a lot of things. It’s precious, it’s money, it’s irreversible. It measures change and is defined by change. And, as I was proud of deducing early on (when I still thought of the world as consisting of either-or pieces), time is easy to measure: you’ve got an eternity ahead of you, until you have not a moment more.
Now here’s how Anne Carson thinks about Time at the beginning of a chapter in her verse-novel Red Doc>. (I discuss the book’s unusual structure in my previous post, The Not-So-Mild Hallucinations of a Musk-Ox).
Time passes time
does not pass. Time all
but passes. Time usually
passes. Time passing and
gazing. Time has no gaze.
Sense or senseless? Let’s see, Time by Time in the Quote:
- The first is a paradox. (Time is elusive)
- The second is a quibble, a bridge between the two extremes, as is the third. (Time is finicky)
- The fourth introduces a new theme of gazing, as we’d gaze from a car in passing. (Time is aloof)
- The fifth denies the gaze. (Time is blind to our differences)
But that’s just the beginning. This chapter is fifty-one lines long, and she goes on to give another twenty-four instances of Time, most of which follow this pattern of starting a sentence with the same word—an example of the figure of speech called anaphora.
What makes the chapter special beyond the hammering of a repetitive element, however, is how Carson employs examples of Time to describe other human afflictions.
I’ve chosen to showcase some of her best ones (I quote her lines verbatim in italics, but I’ve left out the formatting). My interpretation is in square brackets.
- Time as perseverance. [Patience]
- Time as hunger. [Pain]
- Time when you were six the day a mountain. [Childhood, Past]
- Time if you are bankrupt. [Poverty]
- Time if you are Prometheus. [Eternity, Punishment]
- Time in jail. [Different kind of Eternity, Punishment]
- Time as overcoats in a closet. [Boredom]
- Time between the little clicks. [Continuity]
- Time compared to the wild fantastic silence of the stars. [Ineffability]
- Time for the man at the bus stop standing on one leg to tie his shoe. [The Everyday]
- Time taking Night by the hand and trotting off down the road. [Open to interpretation]
Some words contain the world in them. I’ve already mentioned eternity and infinity before, similar is Time. You can do a lot by repeating it in different contexts—it’s versatile.
You could argue that most words lend themselves to creative applications, but it’s a difference in degrees.
For example, forks are used to describe many things: fork in the road, in life, in decision making, fork as a weapon, to fork a piglet (no, that does not involve eating or harming her or him—see here and here and here), the clicking of silver forks (to indicate wealth), the fork of Poseidon (to indicate power) … but, as you see, things start to get far-fetched. In other words: the ease with which universal issues are addressed is directly proportional to the complexity of the associative chain the reader needs to make. Time has lots of quick, easy associations; fork, less so.
When I read Carson’s quote, I was curious what other words worked in place of Time.
Well, Books, of course.
With small variations, using her pattern, I got similar, if not identical interpretations.
- Books as perseverance. [Patience]
- Books against hunger. [Prevention]
- Books as a child. [Childhood]
- Books when you are bankrupt. [Bootstrap]
- Books to read by the fire of Prometheus. [Invention]
- Books in jail. [Hope]
- Books as shelf candy. [Vanity]
- Books between two telephone calls. [Productivity]
- Books compared to the the infinity of Borges library. [Ineffability]
- Books for the girl at the bus stop who missed her last bus home. [Escape]
- Books taking Night by the hand and trotting off down the road. [Open to interpretation]
Can you think of any other words that would work?