April 4, 2008KR BlogKR

On Time

The answer to “Where do the days go?” is that they don’t. It’s just convenient to use a conceptual metaphor to take an abstraction like time and cut it into nouns that have a habit of running away. But all week I have thought “Goodbye Monday,” and “Goodbye Tuesday.” And now I am wondering what Monday is up to these days.

Nothing!

Because time is cut into nouns, it has the privilege of getting to use verbs. It elapses and expires, as the David Lynn admits in the Editor’s Note in the new issue of KR:

Between the moment a story or poem arrives in our offices (electronically these days) – one among thousands – days
and weeks and sadly even months may expire before our handful of valiant and talented readers begins to read the particular submission. If deemed promising enough, it may then be passed along to me. I confess that still more time will undoubtedly elapse.

Just a little later, in Adam Day‘s poem “Gallows Portraits,” the speaker receives a phone call from “an impatient orderly” informing him that his grandmother has died: “‘Mrs. Day has expired.'”

Goodbye Wednesday, goodbye Thursday, Mrs. Day, Right Honorable Month.

And now my good friend Friday is back, and with it (him? I think of him as a him) the chance to write to you all again. I want to ask you what else could elapse. A story? A nation? It is our privilege as nouns called humans to reimagine our world by rephrasing it.

Lately I’ve been happily involved in a gathering together of texts that link language with time. One goldmine has been Tim Rohrer’s research page (via Silliman’s Blog), which focuses on “embodiment, metaphor, neuroscience, and cognitive linguistics.” In his “The Body in Space: Embodiment, Experientialism and Linguistic Conceptualization,” (pdf) Rohrer relates a fascinating example of how language and culture can shape spatial conceptions of time:

In Indo-European languages such as English and Spanish, time is typically conceptualized using two basic TIME IS SPACE metaphors–one in which the observer stands still while times pass by (e.g., “The end of the year is coming up on us soon”; and another in which the observer is moving through a landscape of times (e.g., “We’re coming up on the end of the year”) (Lakoff & Johnson 1980, 1999). However, in both metaphor systems the observer faces the future, while the past is behind the observer. Nu??n??ez and Sweetser (2006) have shown that for speakers of Aymara, who almost exclusively use a stationary version of the TIME IS SPACE metaphor, the past is in front and the future comes from behind. In Aymara, the orientation of the spatial frame of reference is reversed. Using videotaped interviews with bilingual Spanish and Aymara speakers both recounting Aymara legends and talking about their own communities’ immediate future, they demonstrate how speakers gesture to areas in front of them when referring to the past, while gesturing to future events with over the shoulder motions. Furthermore, the gestures reveal that more recent past events are closer to the speaker’s point of view than events in the more distant past. For example, as he contrasts ancient times with current events, an informant gestures by pointing outward and upward as opposed to pointing four times closer to his body. Together with their linguistic research on the Aymara conceptual metaphors for time, the Nu??n??ez and Sweetser research shows that the Aymara map the temporal frame of reference onto a viewer-centred frame of reference in an inverse direction to that found in English or Spanish.

This is not to say that we are bound absolutely by the cultural concepts into which we were born. Poets and writers especially can shift our metaphors and give us a glimpse of how time might otherwise be. Consider Daniil Kharms, whose “A Sonnet” allows him to “suddenly forg[et] which comes next, 7 or 8,” or C??sar Vallejo, who bends time all throughout Trilce and elsewhere. Clayton Eshleman translates the eighth section as follows:

Tomorrow that other day, some-
time I might find for the saltatory power,
eternal entrance.

Tomorrow someday,
it would be the shop plated
with a pair of pericardia, paired
carnivores in rut.

Could very well take root all this.
But one tomorrow without tomorrow,
between the rings of which we become widowers,
a margin of mirror there will be
where I run through my own front
until the echo is lost
and I’m left with my front toward my back.

So now I am facing the afternoon all evening behind me. It was raining. And it was going to rain.

The Kenyon Review was founded in 1939. The resources for the new literary journal were provided by Gordon Keith Chalmers, President of Kenyon College, while the inspiration to establish the journal and raise the national stature of the institution had come from his wife Roberta Teale Swartz, herself a poet and a friend and protege of Robert Frost. Frost encouraged the idea and visited Kenyon more than once. The poet and critic John Crowe Ransom was recruited to Kenyon by Chalmers with the express purpose in mind of his launching a distinguished magazine. During his 21-year tenure, Ransom published such internationally known writers as Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, William Empson, Mark Van Doren, Kenneth Burke, and Delmore Schwartz, as well as younger writers: Flannery O'Connor, Robert Lowell, and Peter Taylor, to name a few. It was perhaps the best known and most influential literary magazine in the English-speaking world during the 1940s and '50s. In 1969, discouraged by the quarterly's financial burdens and sagging reputation, Kenyon College ceased publication of The Kenyon Review. The journal was revived in 1979, and in June 1990, internationally acclaimed poet and editor Marilyn Hacker was hired as the Review's first full-time (and first female) editor. She quickly broadened the quarterly's scope to include more minority and marginalized viewpoints. In April 1994, the trustees directed that The Kenyon Review be continued, but with significant cost-reducing and revenue-enhancing initiatives. Hacker left and David Lynn (acting editor in 1989-90), Kenyon English professor, was named editor on a two-thirds time basis. The magazine's financial picture has since stabilized and improved dramatically. The creation of a Kenyon Review Board of Trustees and a renewed commitment by Kenyon College combined to guarantee the financial health of the Review and to free its editors to pursue increased excellence. Such is the status of The Kenyon Review today.