Discover more from Writing Home
First notes on returning from Patmos
When Galileo first conceived miles per hour, or more precisely distance at a given time, he knew that he was breaking a taboo by relating time and space to each other as distinct entities. The here and now, hic et nunc, related so intimately to each other that you could not speak of the one without speaking of the other. Galileo claimed that he could observe time apart from space… He had the greatest difficulty in making himself understood.
— Ivan Illich
I came to these lines just now in my rereading of The Rivers North of the Future, the book that David Cayley made out of his late conversations with Illich, and it made me smile as I had already thought to write to you this morning about the strange knot of here and now from which I am in the process of returning and the experience of time as bound up with place.
Walking through the courtyards of the Monastery of St John at Patmos, I found myself thinking of the Lothlórien chapters in Lord of the Rings, where Tolkien’s travellers rest within a pocket of beauty which exists somewhere off to the side of the flow of historical time to which the events they are caught up in belong. The glory and the worldly powerlessness of the Elven kingdom have to do with this strange relation to time, and perhaps my Orthodox friends will smile at the connection. Whatever else, a place where the same prayers have been said and the same rituals followed for almost a thousand years should be a site on which to touch the hem of timelessness.
I won’t quarrel with such thoughts, yet what struck me was how the sense of being out of time followed us back down the hill to the little bay where we were staying, so that I came to feel it as a property not of the monastic stronghold that caps the island, but of the island itself. This spell was strengthened by the lack of tides and the stillness of the sea within the bay. From the quay where we sat, the hills seemed to stretch around it endlessly and the gap where a boat might enter or leave was hidden from view.
I will be circling around this time out of time for a good while to come. You may catch glimpses of it elsewhere, as those who were with us at the Black Elephant Meta+Physics gathering put their experiences into words. I caught it around the edges of’s latest Sunday post, and I look forward to the further instalments of ’s travel journal and the imminent launch of ’s .
For my own part, I find myself writing things that loop around the whorl of this experience like the lines on a thumb print, and no doubt this will shape what you read here in the weeks and months ahead. Meanwhile, for today, there’s gratitude to all those with whom we wove this knot of worlds, to those whose work made it possible, and to the island which held us for a little while.
Writing Home is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.