I don’t know what time is

I don’t know what time is. I don’t know what its real measure is, presuming it has one. I know that the clock’s measure is false, as it divides time spatially, from the outside. I know that our emotions’ way of measuring is just as false, dividing not time but our sensation of it. The way our dreams measure it is erroneous, for in dreams we only brush against time, now leisurely, now hurriedly, and what we live in them is fast or slow, depending on something in their flowing that I can’t grasp.

Sometimes I think that everything is false, and that time is just a frame placed around things that are extraneous to it. In the remembrance I have of my past life, the times are arranged in absurd levels and planes, so that I’m younger in a certain episode from my serious-minded fifteenth year than in another from my childhood surrounded by toys.

My mind gets confounded if I think about these things. I sense there’s a mistake in all this, but I don’t know where it is. It’s as if I were watching a magic show and knew I was being tricked, but couldn’t work out the technique, or mechanism, behind the trick.

And then I’m visited by thoughts which are absurd but which I can’t reject as completely absurd. I wonder if a man who slowly thinks in a fast-moving car is going fast or slow. I wonder if the identical speeds of a suicide who jumps into the sea and a man on a terrace who accidentally falls in are equal. I wonder if my actions of smoking a cigarette, writing this passage and obscurely thinking – all of which occupy the same interval of time – are truly synchronous.

We can imagine that one of two wheels on the same axle will always be in front of the other, if only by a fraction of a millimetre. A microscope would magnify this fractional distance until it became almost unbelievable – impossible, were it not real. And why shouldn’t the microscope be right rather than our poor eyesight?

These considerations are useless? Indeed they are. They’re tricks of reason? I don’t deny it. But what is this thing that without any measure measures us, and without existing kills us? It’s in these moments, when I don’t even know if time exists, that it seems to me like a person, and I feel like going to sleep.

Fernando Pessoa
Bernardo Soares, ''The Book of Disquiet'' (Text 328)
Photo: Elliot Erwitt

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