Tuesday, 26 December 2006

The mortality of space

'Time is money'. Why has no equivalent adage been coined, 'space is money'? Is it because, although we know from practical experience how limited space is--how in other words demand always exceeds supply for property, real estate, freedom from crowds and so on--nevertheless our sense of space is shaped by a fundamentally metaphysical understanding of space as infinite? Whereas time is inflected by our purely personal understanding of time as finite, as bounded by our individual deaths? Why this should be I don't know. Perhaps we do think of ourselves residually as plains apes, with the whole world spatially before us; as Natty Bumppos, as Tennysonian Ulysses forever roaming with a hungry heart, moving across a landscape 'whose margin fades forever and forever as we move'. It would be cannier, surely, to think in terms of the mortality of space, a separate, unanological but just as real equivalent to the mortality of time.

It puts me in mind of the last lines of Paradise Lost, a poem that ends almost with a metaphysical trade-off of, on the one hand, topographical containment and unbounded time; and on the other temporal finitude and 'the world was all before them ...' spatial openendedness. To put it another way, when the infinite time is lost to mankind via Adam's sin, the boundedness of Edenic space is rescinded. Metaphysically speaking, time and space are together a zero-sum, or infinite-sum, game.

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