Annual Thinking (pt. 1)

Pat Deneen’s unique blog celebrates one year. An active political theorist (in terms of publication, speaking and arranging lectures) Deneen today gives a wonderful reflection of the turn of the (Gregorian) calendar. In “Keeping Time” he notes that this turn of the numerical year encourages one of the rare moments for the democratic soul, characterized by a dismissal of the past, acting without concern for the future and bent on rendering daily and seasonal rhythms meaningless, to ponder the nature of time.He writes movingly about the process of heating his home on Dec 31:

The day is marked out by intervals when the stove needs to be fed as the previous load fades to embers. Each piece of wood is the presence of the past in my hands. In passing I’ll think of its past as a tree, the accumulation of seasons of sunlight and rain, of ground and air. At times I lift a piece of wood whose shape or markings bring back to mind the day I split it (invariably, I remember the wood with knots or with twisted grain over which I spilled not a little sweat.

I am reminded of the heat and smell of the bonfire of fallen branches and trimmed hedges we do each year at our family place in Pennsylvania. Deneen connects this sensory appreciation with the “political of daily life”(the blogs subtitle):

How much our modern form of life has allowed us to escape thinking about the fullness of our temporal dimensions with such directness, such immediacy. Our gas furnaces, our automobiles, our industrially produced food – and yes, our housing tracts built in complete neglect of the direction of the sun’s rays or the placement of rooms in relation to the earth and sky – all contribute to a profound ignorance of the reality of time – past, present and future – as it was experienced when so much more was done by ourselves in providing the daily and annual sustenance of our lives. This night we momentarily recognize the circularity of the time that governs our lives, a circularity we have sought in every way to make straight and flat so that we can walk easily over it.

With modern technologies fueled by geologic – not annual – energy, we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are no longer governed by circular time. Tonight we recall the ending and return, if even momentarily. Tonight we are also one year closer to a time when we may no longer enjoy the luxuries of this illusory and fleeting experience of linear time and we will be forced to reacquaint ourselves with annual, cyclical time and the necessity, not the luxury, of community. [emphasis added]

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