Now!

In the Bible, Job experiences now! with all the certainty of pain, and he expresses now! with all the ambiguities of trying to put pain into words.  In his response to the first of his three friends who tried to lecture him to get with the program and be happy that YHWH is giving him a hard time, Job tells Eliphaz the Tamanite that his only request is that YHWH “let loose his hand and cut me off!  This would be my consolation: I would even exult in unrelenting pain ….”  (Job 6: 9-10)  Having been lectured by Eliphaz about needing to hope, Job is not about to look at the quick passing of now! in hope that it means the end of pain.  No hope. No future.  Only now! 

Job even compares his so-called friends to desert caravans that never show up, the same image that Charlotte Delbo uses to introduce the anguish of her thirst in Auschwitz.

The caravans of Tema look,
the travelers of Sheba hope.
They are disappointed because they were confident.  Job 6: 19-20

After challenging his “friends” to put up or shut up, Job launches into a series of images for his pain, which Carol Newsom describes as “a kind of phenomenology of time.  …  Time is not open but is the time of ‘forced labor’.”  Pain as described by Job in Chapter 7 does not move towards some “resolution, but simply [ends] when the time is up.”  (Newsom [2003] 133)

Job focuses on the pain of the wounds in his body as he tosses and turns through the long nights.

My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt;
my skin hardens, then breaks out again.  Job 7: 5

Newsom (135) sees “the wounded body” as “a fundamental image” for Job “of the limits of narrative time” which “is a time of delay” ending “only after … an indeterminate number of necessary events” play out.  “But the time of the body in pain is a time of urgency.”  The future doesn’t mean anything to Job. Pain provides the same kind of certainty that the “tasteless” (Job 6:6) and “taste” (Job 6:30) provided to Charlotte Delbo.

Job moves from the image of the wounded body “tossing until dawn,” to his days that “are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle and come to their end without hope.”  (Job 7:6)  Newsom (134) explains that “without hope” is a pun on the Hebrew word that means both “hope” and “thread.” Literally Job says that “the shuttle … stops abruptly … ‘at the end of the thread’.”

Since Moby-Dick is steeped in the Bible, it is not surprising to see many of these same images re-appear in the novel.  The “months of emptiness and nights of misery” of Job’s “laborer,” can be heard in much of what the narrator Ishmael has to say about time. Ishmael is trapped in the present where all he experiences is a “universal thump”; and “hardly have we mortals by long toilings extracted from this world’s bulk its small but valuable sperm … when … away we sail again.” (Melville, Ch. 1 and 98)  Because he lives “an eternally repetitive present,” Ishmael feels “locked up in time.”  As Ishmael travels down the Acushnet River, he “describes the constricting present” (Brodtkorb 99) in which

one most perilous and long voyage ended, only begins a second; and a second ended, only begins a third, and so on, for ever and for aye.  Such is the endlessness, yea, the intolerableness of all earthly effort.  (Melville 62)

In Chapter 47 of Moby-Dick the image of the loom of time is used to describe this “present of repetitive tasks … an eternal now.”  (Brodtkorb 98) (my emphasis)

But the mingled, mingling threads of life are woven by warp and woof: calms crossed by storms, a storm for every calm.  There is no steady unretracing progress in this life; we do not advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one pause  ….  But once gone through, we trace round again; and are infants, boys, and men … eternally.  (Melville 373)

Melville/Ishmael may mean to make now sound like the movie Groundhog Day, but I am presenting this image of going round and round again eternally because it captures one way we feel the pain of now, not as an ontological definition of now.  Bill Murray’s character may seem frustrated in Groundhog Day, Brodtkorb may be correct that Ishmael suffers from existential boredom, but all of Job’s anguish (physical, psychological, existential) becomes present to us and to him in his urgent call to cut the web of pain now.

Aristotle ties himself up in knots trying to define “now” in a sequential, orderly, and measureable framework.  (Physics and Metaphysics)  All he had to do was to attend to his pains as they were happening.  With a huge yellow caution flag, I would say:

Now is pain.
Pain is now.

(Watch out for that “is.”)

Or as I said before, to hurt is to experience not!  Asking if the reciprocal statement is true, (is not! pain?) draws a red flag for falling into the trap of ontological thinking.  If you attend to now!, all you can experience is not!  What (?) you thought was now is gone before you can say “now.”  Another red flag if you ask whether the not of now is the same as the not! of pain.

We become aware of not when we pay attention to now. When we attend to now, we become aware of now become no longer, i.e., not.  Given our habit of using nouns, we might even say that there’s a different, a new, another now, except that to use “now” as a noun is to lie.  We don’t do now by calling it the “now.”  Here lies the root of Aristotle’s problem.  He doesn’t see now as doing, but as an “it” that he has to define. Then compounds the difficulty of starting with “it” by trying to close and close off (define, finish, finis, end) this it, this “now”  when doing now is always open.  And “always opening” does not mean “without end” because end, limit, finish never occurs as we do now.  When we hurt, however, we feel now as closed.  Job’s time of forced labor.  Ishmael trapped in the web of a repetitive present.

When we are really hurting, we have no choice but to be aware of not!  Neither not nor not! is.  Nor can we measure or order them in time or otherwise.  (More precisely we cannot do the procedures that Piaget calls ordering and counting when we hurt now!)  Not and not! are not things that can be counted. When we attend to pain, which gives us no choice (in fact, to hurt is to pay attention), we experience crashing.  Try to hold self and it feels the other crushing it.  In the urgency of pain we try to close now, to make now to be not, and in so doing we make not! now.

The Dutch physician and philosopher F.J.J. Buytendijk works towards this dynamic in his exploration of “the underlying principle of the phenomenon of pain, namely, the relationship … between self and body.”

Pain is hurtful only because it is a state of conflict between some part of our body and the centre of our personality. …  Pain is the sensation of crisis and tension, where our normal relationship with our body seems to be destroyed, while it asserts itself in protest in one of its parts.  We are conscious of the fact that the injured part belongs to us, but we are incapable of adequate reaction.  We must do something and we say to ourselves over and over again: ‘Painfulness is what we neglect to do.’  Buytendijk 57

Buytendijk is quoting Viktor von Weizsäcker, a German physician and physiologist.  Not! begins with “against” (Scarry) and becomes “what we neglect to do.”  Now!

(We will return to all the nouns that Buytendijk uses.  As far as Weizsäcker’s “neglect,” he is not blaming the victim, but is trying to express how we feel pain, into which we are in the middle of exploring.)

(Also, in the passage quoted from Chapter 47 (Melville 373), I have omitted its second strand, which runs from “infancy’s unconscious spell” to “boyhood’s thoughtless faith, adolescence’ doubt …, then skepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood’s pondering repose of If.”  We will pick up this strand again and its interweaving with the ages of life in the consideration of faith, hope, and love under “Whoever you are, I love you.”

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