I have been studying the use of time in literature, and the use of it in my own writing. A little while ago, I answered a writing prompt with a piece I called the Somellier. I mentioned at the time that I was using this prompt to write a longer piece for my assignment. It turned out ok, but what it also produced was an exercise in the study of time.
The Sommelier Exegesis.
The idea that time is in fact in a circle instead of a ‘timeline’ is not a new one. In the holy scriptures of Judaism and Christianity, the religions of Egypt, Buddhist, and Hindu texts alike, the idea that time is not a line is confirmed often. The theory is known as eternal return. It is the intent of this essay to show that time must be thought of as not linear, but as a circle. The exegesis will explore how this idea was manifest in the creative work and reflect on works studied and not studied in class to strengthen the argument.
Christianity shows that life itself continues beyond the grave, in the quote, “one must be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven” (“Biblegateway” NIV John3:2). Of course, the quote is not referring to rebirth of a known human kind, but that of an infinite kind. God himself said, “If they ask who sent you, tell them that I am” (Exodus 3:14), using present tense, not past. God says he is “the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end” (Rev 21:6) while both David and Daniel say, “His Kingdom is everlasting” (Psalm145:13 and Daniel 7). The prophet Ezekiel said of his vision that he sees everything as a wheel, within a wheel said that “everything has a season” (Ecclesiastes 3)
Whatever is has already been,
and what will be has been before;
and God will call the past to account. (Ecclesiastes 3:15)
Eternal return has been used as a theory of time for centuries and by many different religions. The Ouroboros is pictures as a snake eating its own tail to suggest that life goes on in a circle. The flower of life looks like a series of smaller circles inside a bigger one to represent the cycle of life being eternal. In Indian religions the belief in reincarnation is itself a belief in the circles of life. In tantric Buddhism the wheel of time is known as the Kalachakra expresses the idea of endless cycles of time and knowledge (“Eternal Return”).
The eternal return is an idea that was expressed in recent times by Friedrich Nietzsche (Ross). However, Nietzsche saw this as a burden rather than accepting it as inevitable. In Thus spoke Zarathustra the dwarf states that “straight lines hold lies, the truth is crooked, and that time is a circle” (“Thus Spake Zarathustra, By Friedrich Nietzsche” XLVI The Vision and the Enigma pt 2, line 9-17). This statement was said to be oversimplifying things. But the author of this essay and creative work feels that sometimes things need to be simplified to be understood.
In thinking of the cosmos as microsections of time, we can look at the minute, being 60 seconds. What happens when that minute ends? It starts again. 60 minutes make an hour, and then the hour starts again, and so on. It is why the clock is designed as a circle. The sundial tells the time in a circular pattern. The days, the years, the centuries are all repeated.
It makes sense then that humans each have their own circles of time. There is a season for each of us. The question is regularly asked. ‘How has your day been?’ meaning that the circle of time for the person asked differs from the one who has asked. When one meets an acquaintance, one might say ‘we have to catch up’ which means there is a need to synchronise the circles and recall and relay any news that has happened to each over a period of time.
In the creative piece this is also true. For the main character, Allen, he sees that his father’s circle has ceased to turn on the earth. Allen himself operates in his own circle of time, which includes wine, and Simon as well as city living. His father’s circle interacts with his own whenever Allen is with his father. This will include fishing, drinking strong black coffee and feeding the birds. Allen is unaware of his father’s circle of time when he is not present. But he wonders about it with the discovery of the photo in the phone.
Memory is a bit part of this story as Allen recalls times with his father. The photo brings the past into the present, as does the letter. They are both reminders to Allen of the life that his father once had but also of his own mortality. Memento mori… all that lives will surely die (“Memento Mori”). Sufis of Ethiopia are often called people of the graves because of their habit of visiting graves and contemplating the vanities of life.
The choice of music is used to calm the spirit but also to invoke memories of his father. This was a tactic used in dementia patients by Oliver Sacks and adopted by many others since. “Music evokes emotion and emotion memory.” (Sacks) The morning routine and seeing himself in the mirror as a younger version of his father are other ways in which this memory is expressed.
The letter in the story represents that Allen’s father also recollects times when they were together, when his love was expressed and the fathers awareness that Allen runs in a different circle than his own, with the revelation that the father has known all along that Allen is gay, and that Allen likes his wine. The letter is a way in which the father is again brought into the present through memory. The letter also shows that his father is aware of his own mortality, possibly prompted by the death of his wife (“Memento Mori”).
The repetition of dialogue also confirms that life runs in a circle, the same words, expressions, and routine, again and again, until finally the death of the father brings a deviation in the circle.
The idea that time runs in circles has been propagated by many religions in the world and is also the basis of many philosophies both modern and ancient. The creative piece seeks to show that not cycles of time are not just mega, as in the universe or community but also personal. Each person has his own circle of time, which is interrupted by interactions with other people’s circles. The interactions with letters, photos and music bring the past back to the present in the circle of time.
“Biblegateway.Com: A Searchable Online Bible In Over 150 Versions And 50 Languages.”. Biblegateway.Com, 2020, https://www.biblegateway.com/.
“Memento Mori”. En.Wikipedia.Org, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memento_mori.
Ross, Alex. “Nietzsche’S Eternal Return”. The New Yorker, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/10/14/nietzsches-eternal-return.
Sacks, Oliver. Musicophilia. Vintage Books, 2008.
Susan Sontag On Photography 1977 p15 (From Lectures)
“Thus Spake Zarathustra, By Friedrich Nietzsche”. Gutenberg.Org, 2020, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1998/1998-h/1998-h.htm#link2H_4_0053. Extra information XLVI The Vision and the Enigma pt 2, line 9-17