Cyclical Time

Today, we understand time as being progressive and linear.  We are constantly seeing ourselves advance, improve, evolve, etc–especially when it comes to technology. Cloud Atlas seems to imply the opposite, that time is cyclical. According to one theory, prior to the 19th century, cyclical time was largely the view of time.  In a Modern Chinese Fiction class, we discussed this theory.  In this discussion, we talked about the rise of perspectivism in art. If you think about how landscapes are drawn, you can understand how this is related to the discussion of time. When you draw/paint a landscape, you start with something called a vantage point. This indicates the artist’s point of view. At this vantage point, everything is drawn at angles. Thus, some things appear closer or further away based on your point of view. In “landscape” art prior to this way of drawing, things are not presented this way. Some things appear closer than they should, and other things overlap. In perspectivist art, there is an obvious disconnect between the person who is supposedly viewing the landscape and the landscape. However, in the landscape painting prior to perspectivism, there is no disconnect. Everything overlaps.

Now how does this idea connect to cyclical time? Well, basically there is no separation or disconnect between moments in time. In cyclical time, events overlap. Look at this example. If you eat an apple, it satisfies you. If you eat a second one, it doesn’t quite do the same for you. If you eat a third, it’ll probably make you sick. But as time passes, and then you a fourth, it provides you with the same experience as eating the first. So these separate moments in time (the eating of the first & fourth apple) as the same experience. These events are overlapped, and there isn’t any sort of disconnect or separation between the events. In linear progression time, events aren’t necessarily related.

I know this has been a roundabout way of explaining the concept of cyclical time, and there’s definitely way more to just the concept of perspectivism. However, I think this explains some of what’s going on in Cloud Atlas. Stories, or events, separated by time, are somewhat overlapped because they provide similar experiences–character struggles that reoccur.

~ by leviathan on March 3, 2012.

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