The threefold "invention" of time: transcendental, transcendent, trans-temporal


Giorgio Buccellatti

Cotsen Institute of Archeology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1510, USA.


Euresis Journal, volume 7 (2014), pages 69-86

It was in the upper paleolithich, or late stone age (50,000 - 10,000 B.C.), that an articulate confrontation with time first became a reality. The general cultural context was that of art and language: they both show how human could begin to relate to their own brain functions as reifeid items, through which perception acquired an existence of its own. But the most specific evidence of this wholly new mental process, and the one that is most directly linked to our topic, is found in documents from the same general period that offer explicit notations of time sequences on bone and stone. Building on this documentary evidence, and on that of more complex calendrical and astronomical texts of early Mesopotamia, I will argue for a fundamental transformation in human and astrnomical texts that occurred in those early periods, templates that have remainedwith us ever since, with profound epistemic implications: the institutionalization of a scalar dimension in perception; the growth of a far-reaching sens eof control, based on the predictability of recurrent patterns; the "transcendentality" effect whereby the "invented" time frame came to be seen as ontological time; the definition of a homeostatic system based on a totally self-referential evolutionary scheme. The coherence of time came to be seen as the coherence of the mental frame, the coherence of being as the coherence of thought. Against this background there emerged a constrasting proposal, one aiming for transcendence as opposed to transcendentality. It was the fragile biblical proposal, fragile in its inception, because it was not nurtured by the same rich intellectual tradition of Mesopotamia, and fragile in its contextualization, because it remained obstinately consistent in adhering to an ontology that was intrinsically not derivative. The "view from Eden" proposes therefore an altogether different conceptualization of time in terms of its beginning and its becoming. In this perspective, the coherence of time came to be seen as posited from outside the sequence, the coherence of being as independent from the overlaid categorization system. A radical new dimansion was ushered in by Christianity. The "Christian" notion of time is a true cultural novelty, that will come as a susprise, one that can best be appreciated against the background of the previous two "inventions."