Sunday, 3 January 2010

The end of time?

There’s something miserable about the final day of the Christmas holidays. This year, because New Year’s Day fell on a Friday, there is a clear and widespread sense that tomorrow is the day everyone is going back to work and thus the holiday is over. This year, also, because, in each case unusually: I spent Christmas abroad in Chicago; the holiday period has coincided in the UK with 2 weeks of long lasting snow, heavy frost and hence barely passable country roads and urban pavements; and we have just said goodbye to the best of Doctors, it has seemed a very, er..., particular or singular time. This reminds me of the first time I really understood the everyday ‘mortality’ of time.

I’d been allowed to go on a cub-scout day trip in the year before I joined at age seven. Back home oddly melancholy I tried to explain my mood to my older brother. But it’s not a problem, he reasoned, I could simply join the cubs and thus go on the same trip the very next year. But that wouldn’t be the same, I realised, because it would be a different though similar event. The one I was already missing was the one I’d just had and would never have again.

So on a gloomy Sunday, independent of philosophical debates about the reality or otherwise of the past or future, it’s the mundane way we treat later events (next Christmas and New Year, for example) not merely as like past events but as somehow more thoroughly equivalent that seems of most interest. So it is not just that there will be cold days next winter but that there will be another New Year’s Eve, for example, the sibling of this year’s. It is an example of the general Wittgensteinian idea that what unites distinct instances under a rule is less than rampantly independent of us.