Time as conflict: a scientific and humanistic study, by J. T. Fraser

The books introduction begins with an assertion that deductive reasoning is only useful in tandem with intuitive passions. This sensitive opening statement allows Fraser to tackle many aspects of the human experience of time. He addresses mathematical physics, behaviour and art. The conflict of time is immediately brought to the fore as Fraser pits the clockmaker against the cycle of nature illustrated by the annual opening of a pinecone.

Underneath our technical skills, as well as beneath our reflective modes of dealing with time we may suspect, therefore, the presence of the existential tension of man clockmaker and clockwatcher. (Fraser 1978 p.19)

Fraser establishes several levels of time that enable his handling of the topics in the book. He gives the label Temporalities to the levels of time and then goes on to define each one. He also states in what way each temporality is relevant to the purposes of his argument. For example, atemporality is encountered in physiological experiences and eotemporality is encountered in the organic functions of life. There is work in later chapters on measuring neurological timescales. Here is a basic breakdown and summary of Fraser’s Temporalities;

Atemporal There is no event, no before/during/after.
Prototemporal This is the first level, there is barely a difference between now and then. Prototemporal entities are countable but not orderable.
Eotemporal There is succession but not direction, “…Time may be said to flow, but past-present-future cannot be distinguished from future-present-past…” (Fraser 1978 p.23).
Biotemporal This is determined by living creatures. Maintaining autonomy of creatures, in the “creature present”. Futurity and pastness become polarised.
Nootemporal Nootemporal is of the mind. “…Beginnings and endings are well defined and form the bases of private cosmologies whose central theme is personal identity…” (Fraser 1978 p.24).
Sociotemporal Fraser states that his book hopes to point towards this temporality as it is the only one that has the potential to exist outside the individual and is related to the progress of human experience.

In chapter XI Freedom of the Beautiful, Fraser discusses temporality in the arts. The opening section entitled Timelessness, exemplifies sensations of timelessness through various states of ecstasy that are accompanied by Fraser’s temporalities. An example is the ecstasy of the dance, which is described as a

“…method of lessening the burden of individuation. The tension of selfhood lessens, the direction of time retreats from consciousness, and the Umwelt of the mind is again eotemporal…” (Fraser 1978 p.282).

Fraser lists the temporalities and relates each to works of art in a section called The Moods of Time. According to Fraser, Atemporality is demonstrated in the mood of a poem by Nishida Kitaro and prototemporality is hinted at in the second movement of Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite. Berg’s Suite has an unpredictable structure and the sounds are “…purposely incoherent…” (Fraser 1978 p.284). Fraser explains however that like Dada, Berg has not achieved prototemporality “…because a striving for meaninglessness remained meaningful…” (Fraser 1978 p.284). Eotemporality is most simply exemplified in art by cubist paintings. As Fraser puts it “…Cubist doctrine demands the combination on the canvas of various views which belong to the same structure, but are not perceivable at a single instant; cubism insists on an eotemporal mood.” (Fraser 1978 p.287). Fraser also cites Egyptian art for its ability to evoke a flow or progression of time within a single image. The biotemporal mood in art is described by the construction of temporal parameters. Fraser references Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut and describes how the mood of the story evokes a sense of constructed time. He also quotes Marcel Proust in Remembrance of things past. Proust’s description implies that objects are fixed because our perception fixes them. In identifying the nootemporal mood in art Fraser gives examples from Hieronymous Bosch, Max Ernst and Pablo Picasso. He sets out with focus on the observations of Freudian psychoanalysis and goes on to explain that the nootemporal in art is often found in depictions of repressed feelings and the emergence of the sense that something is uncanny.

Fraser describes a difference between human and animal with particular reference to aesthetic ability. While butterflies are beautiful, their colouring is practical. Birds on the other hand do appear to utilise some sense of attractiveness. Fraser states that humans are different from animals in their experience of the moods of time, “…Animals could not share the biotemporal or eotemporal moods associated with sense experience, because these moods are the reactions of the mature mind to those respective Umwelts” (Fraser 1978 p.294). Fraser refers to animal behaviour again in the section on music’s related temporalities. He describes a Chimpanzee troop going on a carnival. They shout and beat tree trunks, Fraser describes the communication necessity of this action and others in the animal world. He mentions whale and bird song made for survival and for pleasure. He discusses rhythmic repetitions and states that they begin to hint at the marker of difference between emotive and intellectual utterance.

“Rhythmic repetitions determine par excellence an eotemporal world of pure succession; the unpredictable or only probabilistically predictable elements determine prototemporality. The spectrum of sound brings into play all the physiological and psychological faculties that we normally employ in time perception and in constructing our sense of time. In music we are called upon to use very short term and long term memories as well as expectations. Unlike the visual arts that modify, behold, and create an external reality that appears to be independent of the viewer, music and poetry enter directly into the audio loop that helps define the self. The tension and relaxation of musical metaphors and their multilevel play are paradigms of existential stress. For this reason, music can reflect emotive cosmologies, complementary to the cognitive cosmologies of science.” (Fraser 1978 p.297-298)

Fraser is talking about states of mind brought about by a feeling of timelessness. He lists musical sources in which moments of timelessness can be found; Zangetsu (Morning moon) by Kinto Minezaki, this piece evokes the timeless dawn. Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten has an introduction that has the same subject as above. Bolero by Maurice Ravel is repetitive and climactic. Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss uses musical representations of male and female orgasm. Fraser’s list includes examples of ecstasies in music that can be identified by his temporalities. His book concludes with a chapter of pages of questions that are in many ways informed by the books overarching enquiry into a temporality that characterises human experience.

FRASER, J. T. (1978). Time as conflict: a scientific and humanistic study. Basel, Birkhäuser.

1 comment:

  1. "The books introduction begins with an assertion that deductive reasoning is only useful in tandem with intuitive passions. This sensitive opening statement allows Fraser to tackle many aspects of the human experience of time."

    That is something that I believe. In a philosophy course, I read the book Descartes' Error, by Antonio Damasio. It explained the dependence of reason on emotion.

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