by Michael Leong
Oh my muse, my good friend,
how long it has been since we last spoke.
What did we talk about when days were grey
and when the sun shone through clouded skies?
What did we talk about when we watched the willows sway
and lay on the grass dreaming of better times?
What did we do before I became me and you, you?
Sometimes I wish we could see who we are.
In my mind I hold a time slice:
the air is moist and we are lying on damp grass
as Niven’s Arcadia spreads before us –
broad palms cast in gold over a still Symphony Lake
Capability Brown’s Colonial Eden, made just for the end of time.
We are breathing, and the world is passing us by.
That slice is an endurantist’s illusion. It is a perdurantists’ diagonal cut
across a four dimensional loaf cake.
Bought fresh from Cold Storage, the tin foil cradling it still cool,
and its elements are sweet and moist and soft,
just as you would expect Time and Space to be.
A part of you, drawn from your past,
With a part of me, drawn from mine.
a young garden, born of a naturalist’s pragmatism,
two hundred years before we first met.
The setting sun, taken from a nearby aeon.
And our hopes and dreams spanning our being and coming-to-be.
We talk and watch as time passes us by.
We hold, in this time slice, images of our more whole selves
You and I know that we are both temporal parts
One of an infinite number of selves, coincident and
having infinite conversations with each other
We are at every instant instantiated and ending.
We think of the loaf cake and
how we are like worms which bore through it,
Our entire existences, infinitely layered people stages
In this moment – but two segments of one slice.
But maybe I am wrong.
Maybe the presentists are right –
the past has long ceased to exist; there is only the eternal Now and
Our person stages – which once met spatially at the same time,
and temporally in the same place,
were really just persistent wholes now ever separated by space,
long faded ashes of a wistful ontology in which
you and I share no relation
Or at best, relations bound to an ever receding past.
And maybe for the better, anyway – for an eternalist only ever has
the eternal summer and its woes
and its sun shining just through the clouds.
- Lawrence Niven managed Singapore’s Botanic Gardens in 1860. Symphony Lake is in fact the name of the lake in the gardens on which music was performed. I did not know this.
- Arcadia is a nod to Stoppard’s play, which was full of perhaps unnecessarily quasi intelligent and obscure references, including something about Capability Brown and landscaping. It is also a nod to this poem’s own unnecessary references.
- Cold Storage is Singapore’s equivalent of a Sainsbury’s/Waitrose.
- Endurantism is the philosophical view that concrete particulars – objects like ourselves – exist only in 3 dimensional space, and they persist through time as a whole.
- Perdurantism is a view opposing endurantism, which holds that concrete particulars (objects) can have ‘temporal parts’. Time is taken to be a fourth dimension across which objects can exist. On this view, me at this instant would be but a temporal part of my whole four dimensional self, which persists through spacetime like a worm through a cake.
- Perdurantists embrace generous ontologies: ontologies being parts of their theories which specify what objects exist. The perdurantist is committed to accepting that there is an object which has as its temporal parts the Big Ben from 2009, my metaphysics tutor from our first tute, and you, the reader. Some think this is absurd. This is what a ‘slice’ through four dimensional space-time might look like.
- Presentism is the view that only the present is real. Endurantists tend to be presentists.
- Eternalism is the view that all points in time are equally real. Perdurantists tend to be eternalists.
- This poem expresses a desire to reconstruct a relationship by creating a sort of diorama made of parts stretching across the past. To be an eternalist and a perdurantist is to believe that the object ‘Me, you, the garden, the sun, and all of their beauty’ could in theory exist, forever. To be an endurantist and a presentist is to believe that there is only the eternal now, where the objects ‘Me’ and ‘You’ do not bear any spatio-temporal relation.