On the Impossibility of Return
Time can be perceived only by the change of occurrences – this is a common conception. The existence of time presupposes the existence of change. An occurrence is initially found in the future, after which it passes over to the present, only to ultimately be left to the past, in memory. And yet, is it possible to imagine time while simultaneously ignoring this order, while ignoring its course? Or to even make a step further, and feel own existence beyond the category of time?
In recent months, many pages have already been written on the subject of the pandemic, isolation, leisure time, freedom, liberation, dying, solitude, fear, anxiety, the new era… It is in human nature to defend oneself from the unknown by way of rationalisation. The earthquake and the pandemic have shaken confidence in the duration, in the tomorrow. That which is actually happening to our bodies, to our minds, psyche, faith and beliefs, to our struggles, may become clear only to some new people who will conduct analyses and examinations in the future so as to draw valid conclusions on that which we are now.
However, what about our future, our past and our presence? Is the ultimate state of human endurance the potential point in which temporal lines of force break without consequences? Or is time situated beyond reality already in itself, and mankind has no influence whatsoever over this fact, as well as over reality itself, while radical everyday life which we lived or are living right now is nothing but a clear sign that it is so?
“Whenever we judge anything to exist in time, we are in error. And whenever we perceive anything as existing in time -- which is the only way in which we ever do perceive things -- we are perceiving it more or less as it really is not.
We must consider a possible objection. Our ground for rejecting time, it may be said, is that time cannot be explained without assuming time. But may this not prove -- not that time is invalid, but rather that time is ultimate?”
These intriguing sentences are part of the treatise – once again topical in recent decades – by John Ellis McTaggart, English philosopher and one of the most influential metaphysicians of the 20th century, published in 1908 under the title “The Unreality of Time.” Around one hundred years have passed since the treatise has been published; since then, McTaggart’s theses on the unreality of time, i.e., the atemporality of reality have also found support (as well as rejection) in physics, as well as in numerous philosophical discussions. It is written that merely around twenty pages of his treatise have provoked tens of thousands of pages of reactions. One of the more recent ones, by philosopher Emily Thomas, entitled “Before, Now and Next,” indicates another aspect of McTaggart’s text applicable to the contemporary period. The fixation on the present, which she detects as a feature of the contemporary society, Thomas recognises in McTaggart’s very idea on the atemporality of reality.
“Over the past few centuries, philosophers of time have worried about divine eternity, absolutism and Kantian idealism. Our current fixation on presentness, and whether it is a real feature of the world, is a 20th-century fad. Ironically, it’s rooted in [McTaggart] who rejected the reality of time altogether.”
Now let us picture for a moment a photographer. Let us picture a concrete photographer, Darko Bavoljak, to whom lockdown – as did to many of us – brought a massive amount of free time. Let us imagine that he did not hesitate for a second as to what he would do with this unexpected gift, but rather took for himself that which he knows well, which he understands experientially and which he masters, that in which he believes, which he missed, and which he undoubtedly loves very much.
He reached for a large-format camera and decided to repeat the experience which, according to him, was unimaginable in pre-Corona time of short deadlines and quickened life. He embarked in the depths of Zagreb’s Medvednica mountain and spent weeks waiting for and forming the right frame. He allowed himself to wait. To reflect. To simply be.
It is quite certain that after the initial shock, a large number of people experienced lockdown as did Darko, i.e., as a great opportunity. As the possibility to be dedicated to that for which there had long been no time. To forgotten hobbies. To work begun a long time ago. To people. To themselves. Many undoubtedly recognised this period of compulsory self-isolation as the possibility of return.
We should bear in mind, however, that any attempt at returning carries the danger of facing irretrievable loss. It carries the risk of disappointment. Initially, you are confident that you will step on safe ground, into the known, and then a void larger than your hitherto experience gapes at your feet. To return to oneself and find something unexpected is one thing, to return to oneself and find no trace of that which has been experienced is something entirely different.
Let us pose the following question: What do the new photographs of a forest by Darko Bavoljak mean now? What do the forest, photography as a medium, and representation of the forest in the medium of photography mean?
“While observing the forest, to my own surprise, I no longer saw that which I had seen before the Corona pandemic. The latter has changed forever the concept of freedom, the space of creation, and concurrently the perception of the observer,” Darko Bavoljak explains in his artist statement. He no longer saw that which he had seen before. He did not see it, for it is not there. The repeated experience is no longer the same prior occurrence, which deems the very idea of return absurd. This thought is both frightening and liberating: time does not exist in reality.
It remains unknown as to what inspired McTaggart’s thesis; was it a mystical experience, an arduous personal event, or perhaps a trauma that is to an extent similar to this one of ours. Anyhow, we can also view his thesis as the promise of freedom.
Viktor Frankl teaches us that ultimate freedom, which man is left with even in the worst variant of life, is a choice of attitude. It is crucial to be able to abandon everything you used to be and that which you think you are, so as to have a chance of survival in radicalised circumstances.
This attempt at comparing a philosophic thought proceeding from mysticism with the conclusion derived from rationalising the experience of the Holocaust may perhaps seem frivolous. However, is there anything today that can be considered serious? Real?
Of one thing I have no doubt. To survive any kind of traumatic experience, curiosity is crucial. This is the curiosity that is also addressed by Frankl, which is immanent to man, and drives one further and further to struggle only to finally see how all of this will end.
12 black and white photographs, 50,8 x 61 cm, Ilford MG IV Multigrade IV RC DE LUXE, silver gelatine shooting on negatives 9x12 cm and 4''x5''
Camera Sinar Handy 4X5, Schneider 65mm f/8 super angulon