As some of my students reminded me this week, the people we loosely refer to as ‘the ancient Greeks’, held dear at least two, very different concepts of time – chronos and kairos.
The former is the idea of time with which we seem to be most familiar, i.e the ‘chronological’ time that gives order to our minutes, hours, days,weeks, months and years, and thus to our lives, identities and societies – or so we might like to think.
Kairos, however, demarcates a sense of time as event-ful, or event-ual, perhaps unpredictable and even unformed, enabling it to be laced and laden with a sense of event, possibility, drama, opportunity.
Interestingly, the plural of kairos also means ‘the times’, and in this familiar phrase we can discern a sense of the momentousness of the present, the zeitgeist perhaps, a qualitative rather than merely quantitative (chronos) notion of time.
When I started my ‘ONLY YOU’ blog a few years ago, I decided to combat the chaos of the internet by always posting the same amount of words (not more than 750) at the same time (by Friday at noon) every week. I took this idea from a retiring print journalist who had spoken of the way these old-school, lo-tec strictures had shaped the qualities, styles, excitement and pleasures of her profession.
Since I re-started my Blog a few weeks ago (after a gap of a year or more) I decided to relax these parameters. So now I have promised only to write ‘a few’ words a week here and now I have also decided to be more relaxed about the time of publication (though I still intend to keep to posting about once every seven days).
Politics and politicians have been buzzing in my mind all week, as I suspect they have yours too. In terms of chronos and kairos, they well know that politics has an inordinate amount to do with timing. They ‘kick cans down roads’ or consign policies and reports to ‘the long grass’. They also know that ‘a week is a long time in politics’ – suggesting it is not subject to normal measurement (chronos) but is far more unpredictable and strangely elastic (kairos).
For the artist of course, chronos is the burdensome, objective, mechanically and mathematically measured ticking down of a clock that reminds us of all we have not done or not yet done well enough. Fortunately we have kairos too to unexpectedly gift us a creative way forward just when we are feeling blocked, failing, miserable and lacking whatever might be necessary for us to rise to the occasion of and fulfill our best ideas and potential
It is, after all, chance, surprise (almost deified in our belief system) and the gift of creativity that we live for and live on. It literally feeds or starves us, allows us to be happy and fulfilled, or depressed and yearning, to pay the rent or to fear the loss of our home.
The logical, measured, mathematical, objective world of chronos may therefore appear to have the upper hand in this society, and yet the artist should always be assured that kairos is also our ever-present, indeed permanent companion, who, for better or worse, also represents the reality of our experience and determines our possibilities.
It is not particularly perverse or radically different to cultivate this relationship with kairos, after all, as above, our politics and politicians (as we clearly, currently see and are about to see even more clearly) are also au fait with kairos. The difference between the artist’s relationship with kairos and the politicians’ is, perhaps, that the politicians all too often attempt to intrumentalise, or even ‘weaponise’ kairos, using it to nefarious ends.
The artist meanwhile, initially has to learn to be available for kairos to use us, as when it so chooses, and only gradually, artfully and subtly, to cultivate this relationship in such a subtle way that its mysterious ways becomes part of our consequently esoteric and personal approach to practice.
It is difficult to think of an appropriate image with which to illustrate this post, so I have just chosen a few photographs, snapped at opportune moments with a phone camera during the past few days and week , and each showing a sense of changing light, event, or weather.
N.B. Kairos also translates as ‘weather’, hence the idea of an artist or politician or other influential person who is so successful in their endeavours as to, not only contribute to a given context, but to create an entirely new context, or ‘change the weather’.