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The symbolic world is above all dynamic; it is time that stuns this world into life and gives to it its very power to unite contradictory things. Thus the problem of defining time as "falling" has begun to be solved. Since time is united with space, falling is of the medium itself as well as through that medium. Time is what falls through itself. Or, as Merleau-Ponty puts it, time is both "a general flight out of itself"" and "a flow which never leaves itself." Time falls and accumulates its falling and accumulates the world of its falling, all in a motion which is itself, which is time.

All of this is illustrated in an extraordinary poem by James Dickey titled "Falling." Dickey's poem tells of an airline stewardess on a plane who is swept through an emergency door when it suddenly springs open. The poem, about two hundred and fifty lines long, accompanies her on her fall to the earth and recounts the horrible thrill of this experience "that no one has ever lived through." But the point of the poem is that everyone, in a sense, "lives" through this experience; everyone falls toward his death. Falling in the poem becomes the primordial experience of time that we all undergo. It is as if we were released from all the bulky interference that objectivity crowds us with, and the repressed experience that lies beneath that bulk were allowed to stand forth, or to "fall," naked. The last act of the stewardess, before the earth finally swells up to meet her, is to strip off her clothes and fall naked, an act that expresses the helpless freedom the bare experience of falling is.

"Helpless freedom" is only one of the many paradoxes that describe the feeling of the poem and that also describe the experience of time. Heidegger calls time an "anticipatory resoluteness," and this enables the stewardess to begin experimenting with her falling, to accept it and play with it. "She develops interest she turns in her maneuverable body," and in that turning feels for the first time the excitement of her body in its world, in its falling.

                                                        she clasps it all To her and can hang her hands and feet in it in peculiar     ways     and Her eyes opened wide by wind, can open her mouth as     wide     wider and suck All the heat from the cornfields     can go down on her back with     a feeling Of stupendous pillows stacked under her a    nd can turn      turn     as to someone In bed     smile, understood in darkness     can go away     slant     slide off tumbling     into the emblem of a bird with its wings half-     spread Or whirl madly on herself     in endless gymnastics in the growing     warmth

The stewardess's helpless freedom is fully helpless, but as she is realizing, fully free; she snatches at her existence, she makes it up, and she glides with it. The image of freedom is the bird, and she opens her jacket like a bird's wings, begins to fly, and "turns gravity / Into a new condition showing its other side like a moon." The other side of gravity is weightlessness, and the synthesis of weight and weightlessness is the stewardess's experience of falling, therefore of time.

This should be distinguished from the experience of time in Burroughs, where weightlessness and weight--flying, floating, being released, and sinking, settling, being trapped--are two separate polarities of time. Their combination occurs only in a kind of atomistic instant that is obsessively repeated, the instant when death takes place at the climax of sexual activity. Burroughs' world and the structures of Western thought have in common this obsession with the concept of "atom"; in general, the only way Western thought can conceive of time is to break it up into such atomistic instants (as in Hume or Descartes) as those that combine weight and weightlessness in Burroughs. But in Dickey's "Falling," weight and weightlessness stretch across time--they are time in their unity; not time broken up into a series of "nows," but time as it flows out of itself; not time as a system of objective, discrete positions, but time that unites and synthesizes total mobility and total immobility. In other words, the falling of the stewardess is also a floating; there is a stasis, a timelessness, at the heart of its movement.

This stasis, timelessness, or weightlessness, and its relation to the flow of time need to be more fully explained. Within the structures of Western thought, there have been attempts to overcome the atomistic bias of descriptions of time by comparing the flow of time to that of a river (as Bergson does). But this description doesn't address itself to that enigma by which the present slides by and yet is always here; it fails to account for the stasis at the heart of the movement of time. It polarizes these two aspects of time, stasis and movement; it extracts the presence of the present out of its unity with the flow of time and places it outside that flow as a kind of observer on the bank of a river, as an entity past which the stream of events travels. This is the implication of those descriptions of time that assert that a new present is always coming at us and the old one is going away, no matter how fluid this movement from new to old is conceived to be. Such descriptions always isolate us as an entity to which time happens; consequently we are returned to the problem this section began with: time falling through an external medium and defined at its border areas--and spatialized.

Needed is a description of time that can dynamically unite both the sliding away and the presence of the present, both its weight and weightlessness, without allowing them to fall apart into polarities and without uniting them only in atomistic instants. The existentialists have perhaps best accomplished this description; for them, time is what unites the presence and absence of the present, unites weight and weightlessness, movement and stasis, and, in general, Being and Nonbeing. Sartre puts it this way: "The present is precisely this negation of being, this escape from being, inasmuch as being is there as that from which one escapes.... Thus we have precisely defined the fundamental meaning of the Present: the Present is not.... It is impossible to grasp the Present in the form of an instant, for the instant would be the moment when the present is. But the present is not; it makes itself present in the form of flight." This is exactly the experience of Dickey's poem. There are no "nows" in the poem except the one that kills time, the moment of impact with the earth that throws time totally into the past. The only "instant" in the poem is that which was. And there is no polarity of stasis and flow, of the person who falls and the act of falling. There is rather a perfect unity of passing and presence, a perfect timelessness of time that allows the stewardess to glide, roll, and swoop, to "take up her body / And fly," to become into a totally open future.

The stewardess can become into an open future only by being propelled forward out of the great weight of a closed past. I should say a closing past, since the past, rather than being a static bulk, is always simultaneously catching up with the present and falling behind it. If the present is not, then the past unites the presence and passing of time. This argument applies also to the future: if the present is not, then the future combines the presence and arriving of time, since it is always falling back into the present and leaping ahead of it. The point is that the present is not because it is a unity of the two most contradictory things, the past and the future. It is a unity of these, not simply an intersection of them. This constitutes the central enigma of time, an extension of its weight and weightlessness, which Heidegger has expressed in the concept of the "ecstases" of time.

"Ecstasis" means "standing outside" (for example, Donne's use of the word in "The Extasie"), and the ecstases of time are the past, present, and future, the three relationships of time that stand outside each other. These are ecstases of a being that in turn stands outside of itself, a being that is present wholly in each of its parts. So time stands both in and out of itself; as Heidegger puts it, "temporality is the primordial 'outside-of-itself’ in and for itself. And Merleau-Ponty says, "my present outruns itself in the direction of an immediate future and an immediate past and impinges upon them where they actually are, namely in the past and in the future themselves." The past and the future are fully past and future and fully present. With regard to the past, this amounts to saying that falling is always a falling out of itself; it simultaneously retains the past and throws it away. As Sartre puts it, "everything happens as if the Present were a perpetual hole in being--immediately filled up and perpetually reborn." Or as Whitehead puts it, time is "the perpetual transition of nature into novelty." In this sense the future for the stewardess is always opening, and the past always closing.

But the concept of the ecstases of time also means that the opposite is true, that falling is a falling into itself, that the future is virtually present in the present, and that the future is always closing and the past always opening. This amounts to saying that the future impact of the stewardess with the earth intersects the perpetual present of her falling, and seals that present---the impact by which she buries herself in the world and dies is a condition by which she is always in the world. This radical sense of being-in-the-world is expressed by Dickey at both ends of the poem: at the beginning when he says, "She is hung high up in the overwhelming middle of things in her / Self," and at the finish when he describes her as literally buried in herself, or in the world.

Neither of these senses of the ecstases of time is true without the other: the future and the past are both always opening and always closing; each shifts and transforms with the movement of time, and falling is both a falling into and out of itself. Falling is always a momentum, and it gathers itself; but because it also loses itself, the expression of that momentum is in the future as well as in the past: in the earth below, as the poem makes clear, as well as in the sky above. Falling is growth: it is that action which both gathers and loses itself, that action in which the future pours into the past and swells it--and that action in which the past pours into the future and swells it:

    nine farms hover close     widen      eight of them separate,     leaving One in the middle     then the fields of that farm do the same     there is no Way to back off

The momentum of the poem tells us that falling is the present, but, Sartre says, the present is not. So falling is the past and the future united in a single act, not despite but because of the fact that the past and the future are where they are, in the past and in the future. Falling is an act that is not only a f ailing but also a rising. This is to say that if the stewardess is the world of her falling, then she is that world, as Heidegger says, which comes "towards itself futurally in such a way that it comes back." She is her world and she is not her world, since her world, the world itself, is rising up to meet her.

This is why the point of view toward the end of the poem shifts often to the world below the stewardess, and why the action of rising occurs with reference to that world:

            She goes toward the      blazing-bare lake Her skirts neat     her bands and face warmed more and more     by the air Rising from pastures of beans     and under her      under chenille     bedspreads The farm girls are feeling the goddess in them struggle and rise     brooding ...                                                             and will wake To see the woman they should be    struggling on the rooftree to     become Stars: for her the ground is closer     water is nearer

The stewardess is not her world, because her world is below; yet she is her world because her falling is also a rising. Thus she begins to feel the same rising sexuality that the farm girls feel as she runs her hands "deeply between / Her thighs"--also "for her the ground is closer." This dynamic unity of opposites, of is and is not, will cease only when the simultaneous rising and falling of time ceases, when the past and the future totally close by being passed and arrived (not passing and arriving), and when the stewardess is reduced to herself in the instant—"This is it THIS"--that paralyzes time and funnels the process of growth into death.

Time is and is not itself; it is falling. The way in which time unites opposites in Dickey's poem--weight and weightlessness, helplessness and freedom, immobility and mobility, passing and presence, falling and rising--and unites them not by reducing one to the other, but by preserving the full meaning of each, is an indication of the sense in which time is at the core of the symbolic world, as the very membrane which holds that world together. And as a unity of Being and Nonbeing, that membrane holds the symbolic world apart also, unites unity and multiplicity in such a way that they are and are not each other. The stewardess in "Falling" is her world by not being her world: she is, as Sartre puts it, "the being which is its own nothingness of being."