Provisional Results Eternity as the Other of Time

Before turning to the question of time in the formation of scientific theories, I will provide a summary and interpretation of what has been achieved in this chapter.

In the biblical material, we saw that the content gleaned from the non-antithetical relation of time to eternity is more important than the formal definition of time and eternity. Speculations about whether time should be conceived cyclically or linearly and whether eternity should be thought of as endless duration or timelessness recede into the background in light of the eschatological relation of the "already" and the "not-yet." For this reason, in agreement with Ratschow, I found it justified from the outset to put reflections concerning the theological notion of time into a relational context. It is precisely the relational aspects that are difficult to deal with satisfactorily within an abstract, theistic framework. Also, neither a model that dualisti-cally contrasts the temporal world to an eternal God, nor a model that merges eternity and time, provides a meaningful description of a dynamic relationality between time and eternity. Time is more than a deficient eternity, and eternity is something other than multiplied time.

Because relation cannot be conceived without differentiation of the related partners, it was necessary to examine some differentiating models in detail. Of the three models studied, the quantitative model proved to be the most closed and the least capable of development; the ontological model, the clearest, but the least dynamic; and the eschatological model, the most dynamic, but also the most open—capable of development but also ambiguous. If the eschatological time difference is given preference, then the question of how God, in differentiated unity, can relate to old and new time becomes urgent. This makes the examination of Trinitarian models of relationship relevant. I saw their strength in the possibility of conceiving multitemporal, relational dynamics, and their weakness in an inability to develop a consistent assignment of the persons of the Trinity and of the temporal relationships.

In order to create a sufficient basis for further reflections in chapter 4, the Trinitarian-theological outlook had to be expanded by an anthropological perspective. This occurred in light of the phenomenon of death, where time and eternity indeed confront each other most clearly, but where, simultaneously, that which holds the two together, namely, relation, experiences its deepest crisis.

Until now, questions of definition related to the concepts of time and eternity have hardly been addressed. I chose this path consciously, in order not to limit myself from the very beginning by using the conceptual definitions of classical philosophy, for example. I did not want to offer definitions of the concepts per se, but rather, I made the attempt to start from relation-ality. The ensuing process led to the emergent portrayal of eternity as the Other of time. Until now, this way of talking has admittedly been rather imprecise. Tentatively, I will now provide some further clarification.

Speaking of the Other does not imply a negative, but rather a positive Other. It is about a basic differentiation having simultaneous relatedness. This, in turn, suggests that one is dealing with an effective Other, that is, one is not concerned with a negative abstract, but with a positive concrete. Speaking of the Other may assist us in escaping the pressure of a static dualism, without our simultaneously falling into the other extreme, namely, into complete relativism. The static exclusivity of a Platonic or Cartesian dualism can be overcome without thereby forfeiting the clear possibilities for differentiation. In other words: Duality—yes; ontological statics—no. It appears that a static dualism of res cogitans and res extensa is by no means insurmountable if Augustine could already locate time as extension [distentio] in the mind.

The concept of the Other should help us to achieve a dynamic methodology that deals with relation and movement. The focus of interest is thereby shifted from the essence of the concepts to their relation to one another, from the ontological status to the dynamic nature of the interaction, from a subject-object relation to a subject-subject relation. As things now stand, the lack of clarity in the concept of the Other appears to be the price that must be paid for achieving this dynamism.

When I look back to the insights that we have gained until now and forward to the topics in the next chapter, I see a certain confirmation of my own reflections in Emmanuel Levinas. In Time and the Other,415 Levinas does not describe time as a degradation of eternity, "but as the relationship to that which—of itself unassimilable, absolutely other—would not allow itself to be assimilated by experience; or to that which—of itself infinite— would not allow itself to be com-prehended."416

This incomprehensibility of the absolute Other417 is not the consequence of human inability, but should rather be understood as an impossibility in principle, since the relation appears as follows:

It is a relationship with the In-visible, where invisibility results not from some incapacity of human knowledge, but from the inaptitude of knowledge as such—from its in-adequation—to the Infinity of the absolutely other, and from the absurdity that an event such as coincidence would have here. This impossibility of coinciding and this inadequation are not simply negative notions, but have a meaning in the phenomenon of noncoincidence given in the dia-chrony of time. Time signifies this always of noncoincidence, but also the always of the relationship, an aspiration and an awaiting . . .418

In Levinas, time therefore not only stands in relation to something else, it is relation: "The situation of the face-to-face would be the very accomplishment of time."419 Time is the very relationship of the subject with the Other.420 The absence of time is solitude.421 Time—understood as relation—enables a pluralistic existence, without merging everything into a single unity.422 The relationship that is conceived as a relation between two subjects "does not ipso facto neutralize the alterity, but preserves it."423 One is thus dealing with a relation that preserves the alterity of the Other,424 and therefore precisely that which I have just characterized as differentiation with simultaneous relatedness.

Even if his motivation is somewhat different than mine (see pp. 109-16) above, Levinas also considers an analysis of death absolutely essential in the context of a study of time. Without death, which is likewise understood as an experience of passivity, as the moment when we are no longer capable of doing anything, time as relation is no longer conceivable.425 In his book God, Death and Time,4"26 death is not viewed simply as the end, however, but is instead seen, in light of the desire for infinity, within the ethical context of the responsibility for the Other.427 In order to understand this, one must explain how Levinas opposes an identity-oriented way of thinking. Instead of viewing time as the relation to the end (like Heidegger), he wishes to conceive of time as the relation to the Other. Thus, he wants to abandon a way of thinking that is oriented toward identity and, therefore, the stability of the self, since such a way of thinking constantly tries to assimilate the Other to this self. Moreover, it neutralizes "becoming" into "a stability, apt to present itself and to be represented, apt to hold itself together in a presence, and thereby to be taken in hand."428 The metaphor that corresponds to this understanding of time, Levinas says, is the flux, the trickling away of something fluid, of a stream of time loaded with moments as atoms.

Lévinas looks for other formulations for the restlessness of time, however, than those of continual movement. He likewise calls into question the analysis of all temporal phenomena based on their shortcomings and asks: "Is it not possible, in these phenomena, to think of their emptiness and their incompletion as a step beyond contents, a mode of relationship with the noncontainable, with the infinite that one could not say is a term?"429 Time is to be conceived as this relation to infinity, and Lévinas again emphasizes that we only seemingly are dealing with a shortcoming; in fact, however, we are dealing with the positive turn of the self to the Other: "The search or the question [for the Infinite] would be not a deficiency of some possession but, from the outset, a relationship with what is beyond possession, with the ungraspable wherein thought would tear itself apart."430

Precisely this tearing-itself-apart in thinking explains the constant questioning of the I by the Other and the restlessness of time as awakening, the temporality. Lévinas is concerned with the ethical consequence of this fracturing of the same by the Other, namely, the impossibility of resting in distant complacency. He wants us to see, above all, the nominative in the accusative.431 Contrary to all common sense and ontology, the goals of which are stability, self-identity, and contemporization as tangibility, the impossible becomes real in the desire for the non-comprehensible: "[T]he infinite, which places me in question, is like a more within a less."432 "Time would thus be the explosion of the more of the infinite within the less."433

Whereas in Time and the Other the future appears as the absolutely incomprehensible and as the actual relation to the Other,434 in God, Death and Time, the infinite is given a key position. Whether these philosophical assertions find their theological correspondence in the primacy of the eschatological relation of old and new time will still need to be considered.435 How eternity can then be characterized as the "other" of time requires more precision. Also the question of whether—or to what extent—time finds itself by recognizing eternity as its Other may be explored. In any case, the reflections that issued from the analysis of the hymns in the first chapter already point to the fact that an adequate understanding of time cannot be found without considering a relation of time to eternity.

Time in the Formulation of Scientific Theory

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment